Category Archives: Heritage Architecture & Restoration

Brutalism 50 years before Brutalism

Roof of entrance hall

Roof of entrance hall

I recently had the good fortune to pass through Dornach, effectively a suburb of Basel and an area very close to the German, Swiss and French borders. This unusual location is one reason why the the Austrian thinker and philosopher Rudolf Steiner chose to build his flagship headquarters building here in the early 20C. Sitting in a very prominant position midway up the hill overlooking the town and commanding fine views into Switzerland, Germany and France, you’ll see the second Goetheanum.

Steiner’s first attempt at this building was a very different affair but also had some ground breaking elements. It was an entirely wooden structure sitting on a concrete podium based around two intersecting domes made of of laminated timber, preserved in beeswax. The interior was entirely hand-carved and the building incorporated carved glass windows. It must have been a remarkable structure but it was also a giant fire-lighter. It burnt down a few years after it was finished, leaving just it’s concrete base behind as a stark reminder of what was there.

Front Facade

Front Facade

Rear Elevation

Rear Elevation

Front Facade

Front Facade

The second building was, not surprisingly, built entirely of unadorned concrete. It is not the most attractive of buildings and looks like a lump of grey clay. But it is the way the forms have been made that is interesting (don’t forget that this was conceived in 1920) and the fact that there isn’t a right-angle in sight which must have been a bit of a headache for the engineers and builders. I do not particularly like the building but I do find it curiously compelling and rather frustratingly I am unable to pinpoint why. I think it may be to do with the kind of haphazard nature of the forms. Unlike his contemporaries in the Expressionist “movement” who drew direct inspiration of nature and organic forms (Bruno Taut’s Glass Pavilion in Cologne for example), Steiner’s building seems to come from another place.

We are now used to seeing walls and surfaces fabricated out of poured concrete and are equally familiar with the unfinished nature of surfaces at The National Theatre and RCP(Lasdun) and of the Hayward Gallery (Engleback,Herron & Chalk). But our experience of these structures (to my mind anyway) is dominated by a pretty rigid adherence to grids, flat planes and right angles. However to use this technique of construction without a right angle in sight is a technical marvel if nothing else.

Main Staircase

Main Staircase

Main Staircase

Main Staircase

The large window at the top of the stairs places the building squarely in the early 20C and shows an unusual display of right -angles.

The large window at the top of the stairs places the building in the early 20C and shows an unusual display of right -angles.

Irrespective of one’s views about either its effectiveness as an architectural style or the ideas that gave birth to its creation, it remains an intriguing structure and one that I think was rather more influential in the domain of 20 century architecture than it is given credit for. Hold those great concrete edifices of Lasdun and Alison & Peter Smithson in mind and the hereditary link to the Goetheanum is clear. The unadorned concrete, exposed forms and solidity were key aspects of Steiner’s design and were reincarnated in architectural expression fifty years later. There are important differences however but these are to do with style rather than structure. A key and defining difference is the avoidance of right angles here vs the dominance of right-angles. The Goetheanum is clearly a building designed to fulfill a purpose beyond it’s practical function – I guess Steiner would argue that in fact the form of his building is defined precisely by it’s function but that the function itself is as much to do with spirit as it is to do with human practicalities.

As for me – I am still making up my mind about it!

Main Staircase

Main Staircase

Main Staircase

Main Staircase

Main Staircase

Main Staircase

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Steel versus Stone

Cutting edge engineering of C18th Bath Abbey VERSUS cutting edge engineering of C21st London Olympic Stadium

I recently had the good fortune to spend a weekend in the lovely city of Bath and visited the Bath Abbey with it’s explosion of fine English perpendicular architecture. It might not be as old as Canterbury but despite it’s relative youth it remains a fine example of some of the highest-tech engineering solutions for the time.

It occurred to me that the works I am photographing as part of the ongoing commission at the London Olympic Stadium Transformation project perfectly illustrates the same high tech and cutting edge engineering brought up to the minute. So I thought it might be interesting to look at the two buildings alongside each other:

THE NAVE OF THE STADIUM

Image: Robert Greshoff

THE NAVE OF BATH ABBEY

Image: Robert Greshoff

STRUCTURAL DETAIL OF COLUMNS AND ROOF SUPPORTS – LONDON STADIUM

Image: Robert Greshoff

STRUCTURAL DETAIL OF COLUMNS AND ROOF SUPPORT – BATH ABBEY

Image: Robert Greshoff

THE CEILING OF THE LONDON STADIUM

Image: Robert Greshoff

THE CEILING OF BATH ABBEY

Image: Robert Greshoff

High Street at St Helier, Jersey

I was working on the Channel Islands last week shooting a number of fine and recently completed retail spaces.  The last one was in St Helier, in a prime location on the high street surrounded by quality establishments but pretty much the same ones you might see anywhere in the UK or Europe.  All the big brands were there but directly opposite the store I was photographing was a rather different space.  One that had seen better days certainly but one that also had a personality and charm of it’s own and neatly contrasted with the homogenised shops everywhere else.

Whilst waiting for the light to fall I went and spoke to the proprietor who I found seated in a little glass booth in the middle of the shop surrounded by decades of remaindered stock and predominately empty shelves.

We had a short ten minute conversation but amazingly were able to cover international banking, island life, the internet, the upholstery trade, shopping habits as well as a run down of the history of both his shop and his family history.  It was around closing time so I asked if I could take a few pictures to which the proprietor agreed, but I had just started when he ushered me out in a polite but firm manner that could not be easily countered.  So regrettably I wasn’t able to do the portrait I hoped to shoot and neither was I able to really do justice to his amazing shop, but here is what I did get in the bag in those last few minutes…

Fabric and Upholstery shop, Jersey, Retail, sales, Robert GreshoffFabric and Upholstery shop, Jersey, Retail, sales, Robert Greshoff Fabric and Upholstery shop, Jersey, Retail, sales, Robert Greshoff Fabric and Upholstery shop, Jersey, Retail, sales, Robert Greshoff Fabric and Upholstery shop, Jersey, Retail, sales, Robert Greshoff

 

 

 

 

From the heady heights of LA to semi-rural Hertford

I was doing an editorial shoot this week at Hertford County Hall and got there early.  It was a glorious day so I filled my time by doing a few snaps of the building showing that even rather dull early 20C civic architecture has it’s little highpoints, including the handbasin in the gents!

Hertford County Hall, Skylight

Hertford County Hall, Skylight

Hertford County Hall, Colonnade

Hertford County Hall, Colonnade

Hertford County Hall

Hertford County Hall

Hertford County Hall, Sink in gents

Hertford County Hall, Sink in gents

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#Getty Museum, Los Angeles – #Treasures from Church & Cloister – THE EXHIBITION

I had a welcome message this week from the #Getty including a selection of fine views of the exhibition installation in LA.  Wow! It looks like they and the #CanterburyCathedral Stained Glass team have done an exemplary job.  It is wonderful to see how the images have been used and it is gratifying to see how fantastic the exhibition as a whole and my pictures in particular look  – roll on New York!

And thanks Leigh for sending them across.

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Canterbury Cathedral, St Albans, Treasures from Church & Cloister Exhibition, Getty Museum, LA

Quimper’s Saint Coretin Cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral and the local church of Locmarie

On a recent stay at Quimper in Brittany we devoted some time to the Cathedral:  Cathédrale Saint-Corentin de Quimper and it was interesting to experience this building and compare it both to our local Canterbury Cathedral that I know so well and also to the local and much less grand church around the corner from Saint-Coretin.  (Coretin was the city’s first bishop by the way)

Saint Coretin Cathedral, Quimper with the Odet River

Saint Coretin Cathedral, Quimper with the Odet River

Chapel at Saint Coretin Cathedral, Quimper

Chapel at Saint Coretin Cathedral, Quimper

Side Aisle of Saint Coretin Cathedral, Quimper

Side Aisle of Saint Coretin Cathedral, Quimper

Nave of Saint Coretin Cathedral, Quimper

Nave of Saint Coretin Cathedral, Quimper

Flying Buttressing at Saint Coretin Cathedral, Quimper

Flying Buttressing at Saint Coretin Cathedral, Quimper

Both the Canterbury cathedral and Saint-Coretin share an unusual feature:  Both buildings have unusually kinked aisles and whilst they are both of elderly – Canterbury has the edge in being more than a few hundred years older –  and Canterbury is significantly larger I found the spaces contained within Saint Coretin  curiously un-mystical and they left me cold. This may be slightly unfair as my favourite part of Canterbury is the crypt and whilst I feel sure Saint Cortetin has one, it isn’t open to the casual visitor so I didn’t get to experience it.  The building is altogether a more uniform structure, the whole comes across as being conceived by one mind or at least one conception and seems to be of a time which contrasts strongly to Canterbury that is a really cobbelled together structure and as Jonathan Foyle puts it is a journey through time.  I found the grey local stone rather unappealing lacking the warmth of the limestone used at Canterbury (that ironically was imported from Caen in Normandy!)  The inside however did have some marvellous colours that Canterbury does not have.

And not surprisingly, given Canterbury’s position as home of some of the finest medieval glass in existance, the stained-glass was universally poor by comparison, with some of the best examples being quite modern and I use the word “best” relatively.  (I note that Wikipedia suggests that the 15C glass is “exceptional” but then I guess that is a relative term) So overall, I came away feeling very happy to have visited the Cathedral but rather unmoved by the experience.

This was not the case at the church of Locmarie just across the Odet from the cathedral.  Here we found a marvellous space with no stained-glass at all and none of the grace to be found at either Canterbury or Saint Coretin but with so much more spirit than the latter. The church of Locmarie predates the cathedral by some three or four hundred years and is an entirely Romanesque structure featuring the massive walls, round arches and tiny windows that define the period.  But although its rough hewn interior had none of the finesse of St Coretin,  it does hold a truly magical feel that more than makes up for it’s inadequacies in other respects.

The church was built in 12C and there is surprisingly little more information about it.  The west wall was rebuilt a few hundred years after it was originally built but that aside, it kind of just is.  This is in itself refreshing as it allowed us to simply appreciate what was there, rather than thinking about who did what when and where etc etc.

Side Aisle of the Church of Locmarie, near Quimper

Side Aisle of the Church of Locmarie, near Quimper

Side Door at the Church of Locmarie, near Quimper

Side Door at the Church of Locmarie, near Quimper

Quimper-149

Side Chapel at the Church of Locmarie, near Quimper

Side Chapel at the Church of Locmarie, near Quimper

Nave of Side the Church of Locmarie, near Quimper

Nave of Side the Church of Locmarie, near Quimper