Tag Archives: Design

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

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

Permanence and Transience – New Rapha store

Last week I spent a few hours in the new Rapha store and coffee shop in the heart of London’s trendy Soho.  The store has been open for a couple of weeks now  and this kind of retail development makes an interesting contrast to the unchanging (or very slowly changing) environment that is Canterbury Cathedral.  That said, whilst the store undoubtedly lacks the gravitas of a Cathedral, on the the grounds of cool and funky, this place wins hands down.

It was put together by Brinkworth Design who seem to make a habit of this kind of slightly edgy kind of work and to their credit I think they’ve done a pretty good job. The store is an interesting attempt at creating a slightly different retail environment for their brand (Rapha is a cycling brand, who have done collections with Paul Smith I believe, but fashion is really not something that interests me so don’t quote me!).  The coffee shop and fashion stuff sit comfortably together united by the exposed services and rough unfinished surfaces.  The place seemed to be popular, judging by the frequently changing muddy courier bicycles hanging up on the rack by the door and I particularly liked the fact that the front cab of the corrugated steel French van was made into an office, albeit a rather cramped one.

And they served an excellent cup of coffee!

You can see more images at:

http://www.greshoff.co.uk/gallery/132264-Rapha/G00008egxtdZS270

Rapha Store, Brewer Street, London, W1, Brinkworth

Rapha Store, Brewer Street, London, W1, Brinkworth Rapha Store, Brewer Street, London, W1, Brinkworth Rapha Store, Brewer Street, London, W1, Brinkworth Rapha Store, Brewer Street, London, W1, Brinkworth Rapha Store, Brewer Street, London, W1, Brinkworth

The New Beaney Building, (Sidell Gibson) Canterbury City Centre

Given that this blog is a new venture I thought it might be an idea to show some of the projects and schemes photographed last year in more depth.  (I’ll add other archive projects in between the new and/or current projects which will follow in due course.)

First off is the new Sidell Gibson Beaney building in the city centre which I covered in September shortly after it opened. The project was partly Heritage Lottery funded and was engineered by Campbell Reith

Here is the original High Street frontage:

The New Beaney; Canterbury; Kent; Sidell Gibson Architects; Exhibition; public Library; Gallery

And this is the new rear structure in context:

The New Beaney; Canterbury; Kent; Sidell Gibson Architects; Exhibition; public Library; Gallery

Designed to replace and expand the existing (1897) Victorian structure, the new building retains much of the original but adds significant aspects to the rear of the site including a new entrance to the large library, new gallery space upstairs, cafe on the groundfloor, lift access etc.

This is a view of the library:

The New Beaney; Canterbury; Kent; Sidell Gibson Architects; Exhibition; public Library; Gallery The New Beaney; Canterbury; Kent; Sidell Gibson Architects; Exhibition; public Library; Gallery

A couple of views of the main atrium staircase and ramp:

The New Beaney; Canterbury; Kent; Sidell Gibson Architects The New Beaney; Canterbury; Kent; Sidell Gibson Architects; Exhibition; public Library; Gallery

The Library againThe New Beaney; Canterbury; Kent; Sidell Gibson Architects; Exhibition; public Library; Gallery

The common area between the old and new buildings

The New Beaney; Canterbury; Kent; Sidell Gibson Architects

Looking out towards the new side entrance:

The New Beaney; Canterbury; Kent; Sidell Gibson Architects; Exhibition; public Library; Gallery

The new entrance canopy

The New Beaney; Canterbury; Kent; Sidell Gibson Architects; Exhibition; public Library; Gallery

And the very gradual stairway up from street level to the main level of the building

The New Beaney; Canterbury; Kent; Sidell Gibson Architects; Exhibition; public Library; Gallery