Tag Archives: Architecture

Days of the counter-culture

 

Supplementing a recent BBC4 documentary, the Roundhouse website includes some great historical information about how the 160-year-old former railway shed evolved into one of London’s most active and vibrant arts venues.

The early days of the Roundhouse included performances of the new “psychedelic” pop/rock music, so it was not surprising on the documentary to hear some music by Jefferson Airplane.

Their song “White Rabbit” struck me as eerie and other-worldly when I first heard it several times without knowing its identity on a university union jukebox in 1974-1975,  with its snare drum, climbing guitar line, building crescendo and Lewis Carroll-influenced dreamscape lyrics. It still casts a decently strong eldritch spell today.

 

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San Francisco, from whence came Jefferson Airplane. Photographed in 2000.

 

The programme and web-site impressed on me that Arnold Wesker’s Centre 42 plan for the Roundhouse in 1964 must have been one of the first times anyone envisaged that a former industrial work space might be adapted to arts and cultural use. More recent high-profile examples in the UK have been the Tramway in Glasgow, the Tate Modern in London and the Baltic gallery in Gateshead.  

 

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The Baltic art gallery, constructed from a former flour mill on the banks of the river Tyne at Gateshead. Photographed in 2003.

 

 

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A time to meet in Ayrshire

 

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The A Frame of the former Barony coal mine in Auchinleck. “The Barony A Frame” was the title of a piece of music by Scott Lygate given its world premiere at the Cumnock Tryst this year. The coal mine closed in 1989.

 

Three years ago, a Leaf Collecting post drew similarities between contemporary composer Sir James MacMillan and the earlier Benjamin Britten.  If I had waited another year, I could have added the further similarity of their two music festivals.  

MacMillan’s Cumnock Tryst is still small by the standards of other festivals, but it is significant for being a classical music weekend in an area which does not normally host such things and which will benefit greatly from any such cultural and financial investment. Cumnock, the former mining town where MacMillan grew up, and its smaller neighbour Auchinleck together boast several handsome churches and other buildings which can ably stage classical concerts, especially of sacred music. 

 

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The interior of the Catholic Church of St John the Evangelist in Cumnock is the more striking, but its sloped, wooden-framed entrance vestibule still catches the eye and hints at the varied influences of its architect William Burges.

 

I was thrilled to be at the first concert of the first festival in 2014 to see the world-famous and brilliant choir The Sixteen conducted by Harry Christophers, in the church of St John the Evangelist, Cumnock, with its sumptuous Arts and Crafts/Gothic interior by architect William Burges. Their programme included a mix of works by the 16th century English composer Sheppard and modern compositions based on the “Stabat Mater”.

 

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This view of Cumnock Old Church displays its proportions but not really its prominence in the centre of The Square in the town.

 

Nothing in the second festival line-up enticed me like The Sixteen, but the concert at the Cumnock Old Church was still highly satisfactory. It included Fauré’s “Requiem”, some Bach and a MacMillan première, performed by the collected forces of the Hebrides Ensemble, Genesis Sixteen and the newly-formed Festival Chorus.

This year I was back at St John’s Church for a performance by the aforementioned Genesis Sixteen, the younger “apprentice” ensemble of The Sixteen, conducted by Eamonn Dougan. Their varied programme included Renaissance composers like Lassus, Bertolusi and Ramsay and 20th century names like Peter Maxwell Davies, Kenneth Leighton and Roderick Williams.

 

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The exterior of Trinity Church in Cumnock, where Nicola Benedetti performed as part of a trio at this year’s Cumnock Tryst, is echoed by the distinctive shop fronts next door.

 

One tiny criticism of the Cumnock Tryst is that twice in three years it has featured another Scottish classical music celebrity, violinist Nicola Benedetti, and thus might create the impression that it is too heavily reliant on two local star individuals. Another is that the use of the 18th century Robert Adam-designed Dumfries House, already a great tourism and commercial development for the area since a Prince Charles-led consortium secured its future in 2007, unbalances the shape of the Tryst as it has hosted three Sunday finale concerts with the most expensive tickets which have all sold out quickly.

 

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Dumfries House, designed by Robert Adam and his brothers in the 1750s.

 

However, I know these criticisms are not really fair.  Benedetti is the designated patron of the festival and her appearance this year was as part of a trio in a varied programme which included the contemporary music by Mark-Antony Turnage, which I would rather liked to have attended myself. And why should the fans of the splendid Dumfries House not enjoy their rare chance to hear live music in its period setting? Elsewhere throughout the weekend, the Cumnock Tryst celebrates less famous composers and musicians, plus some fine buildings in Cumnock and Auchinleck.

Next year, I should go more often than once to this valuable social and cultural enterprise.

 

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The widespread influence of La Serenissima

 

Would it be fair to say that most people think of Venice in the Middle Ages as a powerful and successful republic but not as an imperial power? The mercantile background of The Merchant of Venice rather than the military one of Othello, in other words. In fact, Venice had a number of colonies around the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Aegean Seas. One of these, for more than 400 years, from 1204 to 1669, was Crete. On a recent trip, I was struck to hear our guide describe Rethymno in Crete as the most Venetian town outside Venice.

 

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The Fortezza (fortress) in Rethymno, built in the 16th century.

 

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The former Venetian Harbour, with its later lighthouse.

 

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The Rimondo Fountain, built in the 1620s.

 

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The Archaeological Museum is located in the former church of a Franciscan monastery.

 

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The Loggia was built around 1600 as a meeting place for the nobility of the period.

 

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The former Nerantzes Mosque was first built as a Catholic church.

 

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Porta Goura was built in the 16th century.

 

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The Catholic Church of St Anthony of Padua. Although built only at the end of the 19th century, the building shares some of the proportions of the grander Baroque churches of Venice.

 

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The Arsenale in Venice, part of its complex of former shipyards and armouries.

 

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A canal view in Venice.

 

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A church exterior in Venice. These three photographs of Venice were taken in 1994.

 

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London East

 

35 years ago, I visited London for the first time and I’ve been lucky to visit it many more times since.

On my first visit in 1980, it felt very large and overwhelming and I felt very young and parochially Scottish. On my most recent, in 2010, surrounded by so many young people of different ethnic backgrounds (many who were clearly residents rather than tourists) speaking so many languages, I felt very old and very British but still definitely not a proper Londoner!

I have always been fascinated by the history and geography of the East End of London: those names like Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, Stepney, Poplar, Limehouse, Rotherhithe, Deptford. My interest was certainly encouraged by early reading about the Jack the Ripper murders and the fact that the locations of those dark ghoulish crimes were so close to the wealthy privileged areas of the City. Later came the understanding that the districts in which the poor and underprivileged of London lived were not merely scenes of crime but also centres of political activism and working-class learning and culture.  Before the Industrial Revolution, at the time when Nicholas Hawksmoor was designing his churches, the East End was of course one of the parts of London where people of all classes and trades lived side by side.

I saw one tiny part of that East End,  Petticoat Lane market, on my very first visit to London,  and other places on subsequent trips. Regularly looking at the web-site Spitalfields Life keeps  the area in my mind.

 

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Nicholas Hawksmoor’s famous Christ Church in Spitalfields, in 1992

 

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Also in 1992, the property in Elder Street, Spitalfields, which was the former home of artist Mark Gertler.

 

Spitalfields Life is full of brilliant photographs and information about the present-day residents of the area but I do find it most fascinating on cultural and architectural topics.

Like many formerly working-class districts, Spitalfields has seen a good deal of gentrification over the decades. Although London is a city which usually appears to value its built heritage, recent reports in Spitalfields Life show that not all battles have been won. The Spitalfields Trust is currently striving to defend some streets in the district of Norton Folgate which are at renewed risk of unsympathetic development. The latest news, sadly, is that the first round of this battle has been lost.

 

 

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Folgate Street, Spitalfields, part of the old Liberty of Norton Folgate, looking west towards Bishopsgate, in 2010. The crowd is gathering for a visit to the brilliant Dennis Severs’ House.

 

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On the edge of Spitalfields, in 2010, lower buildings of various periods are dwarfed by the space-ship shape of Norman Foster’s “Gherkin” building, whose formal name is 30 St Mary Axe.

 

 

 

 

 

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Music for beautiful buildings

 

A church-going Christian would be used to the practice of ensemble singing alongside prayer and contemplation, but exactly how and when the idea of religious practice blended into artistic appreciation?

Possibly from my earliest TV Christmas carol concerts, and certainly enhanced by discovering Radio 3’s Choral Evensong on midweek afternoons some time in the 1990s. Although that programme broadcasts all year round, it seems particularly suited to the dusky and dark afternoons of autumn and winter, possibly because of the format’s similarity to the Christmas Eve broadcast of lessons and carols at King’s College Cambridge.

 

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The chapel of King’s College Cambridge.

 

I would agree with Tom Service that the musical pleasures of choral evensong are inevitably associated with the medieval churches and cathedrals which still retain professionally-led choirs able to perform it.  If you love to visit a historic Christian church it’s surely easy to listen to some of the music which has been designed to be sung within it.

 

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The medieval choir stalls at Chester Cathedral.

 

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Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

 

My most memorable personal experience of attending a religious service involving such a choir was at Mass in the Gothic style (but Victorian built) St Mary’s Catholic cathedral in Sydney, Australia. The music included William Byrd, as I remember.

 

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St Mary’s Cathedral, photographed from a conveniently high vantage in 2000, probably from the AMP Centrepoint complex. The adjoining 19th building century building, contrasting with other larger and newer ones, is the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

Yes, perhaps such music is an old-fashioned taste even for a church-goer, the sort mocked by Philip Larkin in Church Going After all, it is now more often specially planned and performed for secular audiences,  for example at the Three Choirs Festival , rather than as natural parts of the religious life of a community.

I confess to preferring plainchant and polyphony and contemporary composition (which usually requires the skills of professional singers)  rather than hymns from the 19th and early 20th centuries where a choir sings in hearty unison to organ accompaniment just as they might do in your local parish. Probably a bit of snobbery, that. Whichever, you have the strong sense that this is a form of cultural expression which, as the 21st century progresses, will become more rare and select.

 

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The medieval chapel in Iona Abbey.

 

 

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Somewhere bright and Baroque in Venice, probably the Church of Santa Maria della Salute.

 

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One of the older churches in Jerusalem, St Anne’s near the Pool of Bethesda, built by the Crusaders in the 12th century.

 

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The startling interior of the Church of the Transfiguration, designed in the 1920s by Antonio Barluzzi, on Mount Tabor in Israel.

 

The website Saturday Chorale  contains a huge treasure trove from all periods and there are extracts of the excellent BBC series Sacred Music with performances by The Sixteen on You Tube.

 

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Spanish modernism’s second stage

 

Barcelona is a city of such global celebrity that it is striking to discover that Mallorca, a less famous part of Spain, shares some of the same visual features.

Many of the buildings on the island which date from the turn of the 20th century were designed in the modernista style similar to that practised by Antoni Gaudi.

 

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The former Gran Hotel in Palma de Mallorca, now an art gallery. It was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, a Barcelona architect who designed many buildings in that city.

 

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The adjoining buildings of Can Rei and L’Aguila in Palma. The latter was designed by Gaspar Bennassar.

 

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The two adjoining Modernist buildings in Placa Mercat were commissioned by the owner of a bakery business.

 

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The entrance to the Ca’n Prunera building in Soller. It was designed by Josep Rubio i Bellver who worked with Gaudi on many of his famous Barcelona projects. The former residence is now open to the public as a museum of modernism and art gallery.

 

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Another interior view of Ca’n Prunera in Soller.

 

 

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More Manchester – the Royal Exchange Theatre

 

The National Theatre,  subject of much media coverage currently because of its 50th anniversary,  opened its building on the South Bank in London in 1976. That same year saw the opening of another theatre which is also still thriving : the Royal Exchange in Manchester.

 

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The Manchester Royal Exchange was the subject of a great deal of building and rebuilding in its time, and this frontage actually dates from the time of World War 1.

 

The auditorium is a multi-angled theatre in the round built inside the classical proportions of the former cotton exchange.  When I saw an Arena TV programme about the theatre at the time of its opening 30-plus years ago, it seemed like a really startling avant-garde design, and, on my visiting it recently for the first time, it fully lived up to my expectations.

 

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The steel and glass auditorium inside the former trading hall, with some of the latter’s information boards still intact on the wall, complement each other sympathetically.

 

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The Royal Exchange closed in 1968, but these trading boards were retained as the building changed its use.

 

 

 

 

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The reds of Manchester

 

Can it really be the case that most of the foreign visitors to Manchester are drawn to the home city of the globally famous Manchester United football club, rather than to its many other historical and cultural connections such as Peterloo, Marx and Engels, the Industrial Revolution, Pankhurst, Lowry, the Hallé Orchestra, the Smiths and the Stone Roses?

If so, then it is surely appropriate that the city’s brilliant Victorian and Edwardian architecture includes, in addition to classical and gothic stone exteriors, many buildings in red brick, whether huge hotels, warehouses and university buildings or more modest terraces.

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The Midland Hotel, built opposite the former Manchester Central railway station.

 

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Two views (here and below) of the Sackville Street building of the University of Manchester.

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Lancaster House, a former commercial warehouse.

 

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Formerly part of Manchester Grammar School, this building is now part of Chetham’s School of Music.

 

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Although most widely known as a fire station, this building opposite Piccadilly railway station also housed a coroner’s court, a police station and an ambulance station.

 

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St Mary’s Catholic Church, known as “The Hidden Gem” after a description by a bishop in the 19th century. This building dates from the 1840s, but the parish originates from 1794.

 

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Part of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, with the former fish market on the right and adjoining shops.

 

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Hanging Ditch Buildings opposite Manchester Cathedral.

 

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From this direction, the red bricks of the former warehouse Chepstow House are somewhat overwhelmed by the green tiled facade of the Peveril of the Peak pub.

 

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Finally, an unidentified warehouse on Princess Street across from Manchester Town Hall.

 

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The beauty of New Lanark

 

John and Julia Keyes write in their Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland, “Coming upon New Lanark…is a startling experience. No amount of preparatory research can give a true idea of the scale and unspoilt integrity of the 18th century industrial village hunkered down on the banks of the Clyde.”

A grand claim, but that was exactly my own experience when I first visited the location 25 years ago.

 

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If my recent visit made a less dramatic impression, it was only because I knew what to expect, because it is still an amazing place to see. Both for its architectural uniformity and beauty, and to reflect on the Robert Owen-led community in its heyday, with houses, shop, school and community hall gathered around the huge cotton mills.

  

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Equally amazing that it was not allowed simply to deteriorate and be demolished in the 1970s when its commercial function was over. Instead it was taken over by the New Lanark Conservation Trust, and has ever since been maintained and developed, in the Owen tradition, for educational, social and employment purposes.

 

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Some more (professional) photographs of New Lanark here as part of Alan McCredie’s project  100 Weeks of Scotland

 

Reference :  Keyes, John and Julia (ed)  (1994)  Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland   London : Harper Collins

 

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St John’s Town

 

Most of Scotland’s towns and cities grew up during, if not before, the Industrial Revolution, but today most betray many signs of more modern thinking about planning and architecture.  An exception is Perth. Unlike most places of equivalent size in Scotland, much of Perth’s town centre looks as it would have done 50 or 60 years ago, and to its advantage.

Although its shops often serve different purposes than they would have done previously, its buildings and streets retain an attractively personal shape and scale.

 

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In the centre of this street is the pre-Reformation Church of St John the Baptist, after which Perth had its earlier name of St John’s Toun.

 

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Former corn mills in the centre of Perth.

 

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Former industrial warehouses, now used by the local council.

 

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The Salutation Hotel claims to be the oldest still operating in Scotland, having started life as a coaching inn in 1699, although this facade is apparently more 19th century.

 

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The Watergate (on right) is one of the oldest streets in Perth.

 

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Reminiscent of Edinburgh, the central property of this terrace is the former Perth Academy.

 

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The long-established park of North Inch as viewed from the 18th century road bridge.

 

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Tay Street, facing the river, retains most of its attractive Victorian buildings.

 

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This stretch of Tay Street features several baronial touches.

 

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A strongly baronial street corner.

 

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Perth City Hall, built in 1911, is a victim of the success of the town’s new Concert Hall – its future use is still the subject of local argument.

 

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A familiarly classical appearance for a palace of culture : Perth Museum and Art Gallery, first built in the 19th century, extended in the 1930s.

 

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