Category Archives: Cityscape

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 Pinhole images from early 1990’s

Pinhole Pics
I have begun 2015 by embarking on the mammoth task of producing hi-res digital files from my Uncle Jan (Greshoff’s) film archive. (My brother Martin is already well underway with the lower res scans and he regularly uploads some of these to the Jan Greshoff facebook page: (https://www.facebook.com/Jan.Greshoffs.Photographs?ref=br_rs).

So I have got my film scanner out of retirement and have upgraded my software but it still takes forever and the post-production takes even longer but it is actually quite refreshing not to be working on my own work with all that entails and to be putting myself in someone else’s mind to try and produce the kind of images that he would have printed. We have lots of his prints so it is relatively easy to see the kind of quality he was aiming for.

However, I digress… during a New Year sortout I came across a small pile of pinhole prints from negs that I did in the early 1990’s with an adapted Sinar. As my scanner is out again I thought I put them through and here they are. There are a few more tucked away somewhere but someone else can scan those when I am pushing up the daisies.

I just love the feel that pinhole images produce and still find it entirely amazing that they are possible in the first instance. I shot a few more a couple of years ago, using my last remaining large format camera (all the Sinars being sold off ages ago), a baby Linhof but the rolls of film are still waiting to be processed I am ashamed to say. I even bought a 6×12 custom-made wooden pinhole camera that is still waiting to be used, I am even more ashamed to say!

Maybe 2015 will be the year of dusting off my processing cans and reels as well as my scanner.

So here is the inside of Smithfield Market:

Image: Robert Greshoff

And one of the Loading Doors:

Image: Robert Greshoff

These are the fine bridges that are a signature feature of Conran’s Butlers Wharf development just east of London Bridge in SE1. It wasn’t long finished then.

Image: Robert Greshoff

Here is Greenwich’s finest gasometer, it is still there going up and down like a great breathing lung. This picture was done when it had just breathed out:

Image: Robert Greshoff

A slight gear change, this is the view towards Kent from near London’s oldest ancient woodland that is Oxleas Wood:

Image: Robert Greshoff

Back to the city, this is a random view in South East London very close to where IPC magazines used to be. (It is in fact the building adjacent to the then HQ for Sainsbury’s), I guess they have probably moved by now. I did this after dropping off some pictures for Homes and Gardens I recall:

Image: Robert Greshoff

And here is the Sainsbury’s building itself, with the reflection of the local bolthole for all those overworked subs and picture editors there were lot’s of them then:

Image: Robert Greshoff

I have saved the best, or my favourites at any rate, till last. Here is Canary Wharf when it was newly finished, at the height of the recession and pretty devoid of tenants. Interestingly, there were no private security guys then either. If you tried to to this shot now (you can’t because there are now buildings where I was standing) or indeed use any camera bigger than an iphone you will be pounced on by 2 or 3 security guards and they are amazing adept at appearing out of nowhere very fast:

Image: Robert Greshoff

And finally my most favourite pinhole from that period has got to be this view of the Houses of Parliament from the south bank, complete with marvellous with pinhole flare:

Image: Robert Greshoff

Better get back to my scanning now…

Leaves on the Road

It’s been a busy few weeks since my last offering here but I was working at Tavistock Square this week, on the 5th floor of the BMA building and whilst waiting for my subjects, I watched the world pass by below me.   I like the way the leaves seem to have a distinct preference as to what side of the road they fall on to!

 
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

 

 

 

 

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

ART14 @ Olympia, Kensington, London

I was lucky enough to receive, from Kate at #Updown Gallery, a complimentary ticket to this year’s Art14 show at London Olympia. It was an interesting few hours and also allowed me do dust off my happy snapping camera that I haven’t used for a while.


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Follow Robert Greshoff This is a piece by Stephen Melton being closely examined by a small child and her parents.


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Follow Robert Greshoff I loved this mechanical drawing creature


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