Split Pediment

The musings of a Brighton-based architecture dweeb and town planner in training.

Tag: Modernism

Modern Colour

Modern Colour

There’s probably an awful lot to be written about colour photography and its relationship to what we consider the Modern or perhaps current world. There’s also a fair amount to say about monochrome photography of supposedly Modern buildings, about how this is used to denote timelessness and how it has influenced the colour pallettes of architects in the 20th century. I’ve not got time right now to explore any of that. These early colour photographs of Paris in the early 20th century, however, are a valuable antidote to the too-easily accepted dichotomy between colour=modern/monochrome=old. Here we see a Paris that is remarkably, incredibly, polychromatically similar to the Paris we know and – more importantly – represent today.


Don’t mention the “A” word.

And no, I don’t mean “anthropomorphism” or even “abstinence”, though I loathe both with a passion. This is an architecture-free post, so sorry if you came looking my learned comment upon the self-serving ramblings of Andres Duany and his wholescale dismissal of post-War Modernism, or to share my dismay at hearing of the recent death of the brilliant Jørn Utzon, because it won’t happen here. Nosiree. Read the rest of this entry »

A very posh development for very posh people

I frequently visit London and mainly travel there by train, arriving at the great sheds of Victoria station and emerging – fresh and buoyed by my blessed Brighton – into the drizzle and hustle of London, its streets notsomuch paved with gold as sodden in silver lamplight and reflections of grey Portland stone – but no less marvellous for that.

On recent visits I’ve been monitoring the construction of an interesting building that appears just on the left after you cross the Thames (and just after one of the finest Mansard roofs in all London). From the rear the building looks like a big metal box, punctured with a few slittly vertical windows and decorated with an odd camouflage-like patterning etched into the facade; all thoroughly ordinary. However, from the front, the building is far more interesting and intricate, as you can see:


Ooh! Isn’t it interesting! The maze-like frontage on the building is really very cleverly done; it successfully breaks up the boring box shape and gives the building some depth, aided by the way some of the openings aren’t closed off at the ends of the building. Why is depth important? Depth gives us a couple of things: it gives the building thickness, which implies prestige and quality (think of the bodywork on a Rolls – it always looks about three foot thick); and depth gives the building weight – the building looks heavier and more likely to stay standing.

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Municipal Modernism

We all know about the prevalence of Modernism in municipal building in Britain in the post-war years. Modernism, in a variety of varieties, became the norm for public structures, be those housing, concert halls, churches, libraries, schools, universities

It is a cliche to say that Modernism became the style; that the explosion of Modernism came initially from the need to build quickly after the war and then to house and provide the infrastructure for the baby-boom generation; that Modernism was quick and new and clean and honest and cheap. It is another cliche to say that Modernist buildings were often too cheaply constructed; that the over-zealous experimentation amongst the so-called Brutalist architects led to depressing or alienating structures; that the financial crisis of the Seventies gave rise to massive under-investment in new municipal building; that the well-intentioned political desire to house and educate and punish and entertain the less well-off en-masse, with not enough resources, led to the current state of many of those buildings.

Hove Trial Centre is, thankfully, not a cliche. It is fantastically horizontal in an almost Frank Lloyd Wright kind of a way; the top storey is faced in thousands of mosaic tiles rather than the usual concrete; it is heavy, certainly, but not overbearing – the mild ziggurat is offset by both the lowness of the building and the steps and sloping gardens along the front. Buildings associated with justice usually try to overawe and dominate the unfortunates who end up traversing their thresholds – and that’s just the lawyers. That was a joke, you may laugh.

Suit yourself. Anyway, I may be wrong but I can’t help but see an allusion to fairness in the architecture of this building – the literal eveness of the roofline and the obviousness of the facade hint at equality; but it’s balanced by the solidity and mass of the building. I really like it.

So it’s been just simply forever and a little longer too

and for that I entirely apologise. Really both of you deserve much more from this astonishingly unproductive non-blogger. Especially now. As Sarah the Travelling Cukoo sharply spotted, this minor bog of ours now appears as the top result on a popular internet search engine. You know the one – provides censorship on behalf of human-rights-infringing regimes; infringes copyright; rhymes with “frugal” – that sort of thing.

So I’ve not been up to that much of late in architectural terms. I suppose I’m still mildly hungover from NYC, so here’s some leftover pics for a nostalgic tripette down memory lane.

The Woolworth building, another of those that once held the “tallest building in the world” title. It’s basically a big Gothic spire, almost Disneyesque in scale and form, set atop a bigger rectangular base. There’s an amazing picture on Wiki of the tower being built. It brazenly fronts onto City Hall (entirely dominating the area), giving a rather clear message of where the money really is.

Mmmm... capitalism

This is an astonishing building in the NoHo/East Village part of the world. It’s actually still being built, though it appears occupied at night. As you can sort of see from the picture, there aren’t many other buildings this tall in the nabe; there is some doubt and dislike locally, as there is to all tall buildings. Architecturally speaking though this building is incredible: the taughtness in the skin is both playfully thin – it seems to be stretched between the floors – but it doesn’t seem fragile, as it exposes the structure (the central and side pillars and the floors). And the shading in the glass and the panelling emphasises the smooth curve and the change in light in the window reflections. Anyway, enough twittering, here it is:

And now that I’ve whetted your proverbial, I’m off. Sorry ’bout that.

Brighton Deco

At the West end of Brighton, just before it rudely interferes with Hove, you’ll notice a couple of Art Deco-ish gems standing proud along the promenade.

Embassy Court for so long was a run-down, rusting, dilapidated hulk of a building that, when I was living just up the road from it, it proved a useful marker when giving directions (“turn left/right at the big ugly block of flats”). However, I always felt a pang of guilt when describing it as such, and were anyone else to do so I would instantly leap at its defense. No! I’d cry – it may look like a dodgy concrete tower block but it’s a fine Deco lady, once home to Rex Harrison none the less.

Now, though, since its revamp it’s once again been restored to its former stature and is (as in this photo) a fine complement to the beautiful peace statue beneath.

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