Tag Archives: Interior

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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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.


Follow Robert Greshoff This is the way in


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


Follow Robert Greshoff I loved this mechanical drawing creature


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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

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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

The Skinners, a City of London Livery Company

I often find myself in one or other of the various Livery Halls dotted around the City of London (Not as a guest but rather pursuing my own trade for which there is no company!).  Last week I was doing a regular annual shoot for the Architects Benevolent Society who hold their event in a different Hall each year.  This year it was the Skinners and it was one Hall I had not visited before.

For those who may not be familiar with the traditions of this land, the Livery Companies all go back a very long way, (in the case o the Skinners, they were awarded their charter by Edward the Third in 1327) and they are essentially trade associations that exist to protect and promote their particular trade.  There are 108 of them (I have only visited a small handful) and many of them are rather wealthy institutions.  Originally they had strong links to the church but nowadays these links are rather know tenuous but many still do a great deal of charitable work.  The Skinners is a case in point.  In fact the Skinners as a trade ceased to exist a couple of hundred years ago but the company is still doing very well and currently supports four schools in Kent and London, runs Sheltered Housing accommodations and make generous grants to other charities.  And then of course they have their fine building, right next door to Cannon Street station and within spitting distance to the Thames river.

An interesting aside is that in 1484 the Skinners and Merchant Taylors had a argument about who whose barge go in front during the Mayor of London river procession.  In the end the Mayor himself had to intervene and decreed that henceforth each company would take turns to be in front and when the fixed order was finally arranged they alternated between positions six and seven.  This probably gave rise to the phrase “to be at sixes and sevens”

I had a few minutes to kill last week so I made use of my time by looking at things that interested me.  (This is not meant to be a comprehensive study of the hall!)  In particular I really liked the huge chest with it’s impressively ornate locking mechanism in the lid, which was accidently closed and it took all the skills of the locksmith to get it open again and only once he had been given a photograph of the workings!  Otherwise they are all quite self-explanatory.

Skinners Hall, London Skinners Hall, London Skinners Hall, London Skinners Hall, London Skinners Hall, London Skinners Hall, London Skinners Hall, London Skinners Hall, London Skinners Hall, London Skinners Hall, London

All Saints Church, Icklingham, Suffolk

Granted, All Saints was built as a church but given that this building hasn’t been in use for over 100 years to call it a “Church”  is perhaps something of a misnomer.

I swung by Icklingham on my way back to Kent after a shoot in Suffolk a week or so ago as it was only a 3 mile detour. All Saints Church is a Churches Conservation Trust museum piece and whilst it certainly was a church it has more of a museum feel now.   It is interesting that while I wholeheartedly support the work of the CCT they are effectively creating a network of little museums across the country, preserving the structures of buildings that have lost their spirit and in a sense their way too.  However this church remains a fine example of a thatched Suffolk Church and is positioned on what once was an ancient and important trade route.

The setting of this particular building is rather plain, pretty but nothing extraordinary although the key guardian was exceptionally cheerful and friendly which did add a kind of warm glow.

Inside, the building has a slightly curious kind of double nave which is in fact a nave plus side aisle but the huge window at the end of the side-aisle kind of elevates it’s visual significance to me.  Unfortunately nearly all the stained glass is long gone that the little that remains is not in the same league as the Canterbury Cathedral glass I have been photographing for the Getty Museum recently.  So I guess the space is very much brighter than it would have been originally, no doubt the fact that it was a gloriously sunny day when I visited, added to this.

Side aisle with large winbdow

Side aisle with large window

There were a few things that caught my eye:

I liked the well chewed pews, no doubt worn down by generations of small children (pre 1900) anxious to get out and play.

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A gnawed Pew

I was also intrigued by the curious short spiral staircase built into the wall dividing the main nave from the (single) side aisle.  This didn’t seem to go anywhere except to a small opening a few metres above the entrance which presumably was used as a pulpit, giving the priest a commanding view of his gathered flock.

The spiral staircase and pulpit

The spiral staircase and pulpit

The early 14C font had some crude but pleasing carvings around it’s perimeter and I particularly liked the faint but lovely octopus-like carving on the sarcophagus by the side door.  This door also sported a fine anchor shaped knocker.

All Saints Details

All Saints Details

The thatched roof was also interesting:

Icklingham Church, Suffolk, CCT, Conservation, thatch roof

You can read the CCT blurb about this church here:  http://www.visitchurches.org.uk/Ourchurches/Completelistofchurches/All-Saints-Church-Icklingham-Suffolk/

And I’ll let the pictures do the talking now:

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The Nave

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Looking across the nave towards the side aisle

Icklingham Church, Suffolk, CCT, Conservation, thatch roof

Light from the side Aisle Wndow

Icklingham Church, Suffolk, CCT, Conservation, thatch roof

Those chewed pews again

Icklingham Church, Suffolk, CCT, Conservation, thatch roof

Side aisle window

Icklingham Church, Suffolk, CCT, Conservation, thatch roof

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

St Mary the Virgin Church, Fordwich, Near Canterbury, Kent

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent ©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent
©Robert Greshoff

Popped in to see St Mary the Virgin in Fordwich after doing that traditional Sunday activity of visiting the DIY shop.   This is one of seventeen Kent churches entrusted to the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, a charity who sole function is to ensure that the historical and material aspects of local Churches is maintained and that they can remain open to the public.

Fordwich sits comfortably and sleepily on the banks of the Stour as it winds it’s way to the sea.  The present town bears very little relation to the buzzing place it must have been when it served as the main port for the arrival of Caen stone from France during the Norman reconstruction of the nearby Canterbury Cathedral in 12C and 13C.  Nowadays it’s main claim to fame is that it is the smallest place in the country to have a Town Council and it also has two fine pubs one of which is conveniently opposite the miniscule Town Hall!

Having negotiated my way past innumerable gravestones I arrived at the Church door.  The church itself is very much more substantial than the Romney Marsh building I visited last Sunday and the setting is no where near as unique but that said it does have some interesting features.  I guess from an historical point of view the sarcophagus (that supposedly once contained the remains of St Augustine of Canterbury) is of note. dating from 1100, it is carved with columns and with fishscale tiles on the sloping top  making it look a bit like a Greek temple but but beyond that the thing itself is pretty featureless.

The painting (1688) above the tympanium represents the Royal Arms of William III and Commandments but the best thing about it is the way it exactly follows the shape of the chancel arch below and so serves to emphasise the architectural structure of the building as well as to remind us to be good and pious.

And then there is the fine hand-pumped organ with a large lever protruding from the rear which, no doubt,  someone who didn’t pay enough attention to the commandments above the Chancel Arch was obliged to pump up and down until given the signal to stop from the organist.

And finally, the crowning glory has got to be the curious bully-beef tin hooked on the side of one of the pews.  It certainly never had the honour of holding any relics but what a fantastic piece of folk art – and I have no idea what it was made to hold!

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent ©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent
©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent ©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent
©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent ©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent
©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent ©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent
©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent ©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent
©Robert Greshoff