Category Archives: Engineering

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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London Docklands from Olympic Stadium roof

It has been a while since I last posted anything here.  this has been due primarily to the pressures of my commissioned work but while I was shooting at the Olympic Stadium project today I took this from the very top of the structure.  It wasn’t the best lighting but it remains a fine view and one that is not often seen and once the project is complete it will be seen even less!

 

OlympicDocklandsView©Greshoff

Time-Lapse in Middlesex

It has been a busy few months as is witnessed by the dirth of postings here!

I’ve just finished installing a long-term time-lapse set up on a construction site in Middlesex for those pillars of the civil engineering world: Conway.  Time Lapses are slightly curious things that can make even the mundane buildings interesting,  I guess seeing the passage of time (in the case many months) compressed into a minute or two kind of compresses the fascination too.

I’ve developed a PV powered system for this project that will, I hope circumvent the temperature and battery drain issues I’ve experienced in the past, particularly through the winter months.  Short duration projects don’t have this issue but battery drain plagues long term set ups like this one.

So here is how it looks this month:

27_09_13800

View of Excel Conference Centre from over the Thames on the Emirates Cable Car

©Robert Greshoff

View from Thames Emirates Cable car crossing

On a recent trip to Excel, the huge exhibition centre to the East of London, I decided to travel via the (Emirates) Cable Car which runs from Greenwich North straight to Excel.  (For those who don’t live locally but who may find yourselves in need to visiting Excel I recommend this way of getting there!)

The last time I did the trip, the sky was full of those characteristic cloud and sunshine combinations that make the weather here so great (and so difficult) for photography.  Just as I passed the mid point across the Thames and was approaching the north bank, the sun broke through and illuminated the structural spars of the exhibition centre.

To me, the picture has a lovely calm despite the dramatic atmosphere.

Hadlow Tower, Kent – Britain’s tallest folly now folly restored

Here is something I thought I had posted a couple of weeks ago but realised just now that it slipped through without a look in!

I visited the marvellous and recently refurbished Hadlow Tower a few days after it opened last month.  The project has been completed by the Vivat Trust with the support of English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund and sees this once derelict folly restored to beyond it’s original glory – I say beyond because whereas it was not built with any particular use in mind other than standing tall, now it has a real function and houses a pretty swanky  three bedroom house on it’s lower five levels as well as a museum on the ground floor.

The original structures were designed in 1838 by the architect George Ledwell Taylor,for a client who had benefited from a substantial legacy and so  had no need to work but did need to do something with his time.  (the best kind of client, I should think!).  Taylor was recently made redundant from the military, where he supervised a number of mundane projects and the Hadlow Tower was one of his early commissions as a private practitioner and he was obviously relishing the break from military architecture.

Enjoy

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Relevant Links:

The full Wiki article is here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadlow_Castle

The Vivat Trust is here: http://www.vivat-trust.org/properties.php?pid=121

Kings Cross Station, Dome Roof, London (MacAslan, Vinci & Arups)

Kings Cross, John MacAslan, Arup, London

I took a train to Nottingham last week and had a few minutes in the station waiting for it to come in.  Having just had it’s first birthday the John MacAslan structure is looking good and well worth a few pics while waiting.

It was built by the French company Vinci and was engineered by Arups.

Here is a time-lapse of the construction courtesy of The Telegraph:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/9142586/Timelapse-building-new-Kings-Cross-station-dome.html