Category Archives: Architecture

Life on the Streets

3 pics
In Death & Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs praises the humble pavement: its place in the city, she argues, is crucial to thriving urban life. Or, put another way, disregard for the cultural value of the pavement (and by extension the street) is profoundly damaging to cities.

That 20th Century urban planners looked to parkland as the ‘lungs of a city’ is to miss an oppertunity, she says, claiming that the isolation and often over-prescriptive design of a park does little to nurture ordinary city life. Given that many of us will be able to cite bleak urban parks, which often feel threatening to walk through, there is much in Jacobs’ argument to find convincing.

A recent trip to Porto attests to the fact that urban leisure and social exchange can successfully take place on the pavement. As one of the oldest cities in Europe, Porto is accordingly made up of small winding streets punctured by little informal squares or crossroads; the city is also built on the precipitous rocky banks of the Douro river estuary. Two factors that leave little opportunity for large public parks.

However, rather than discourage vibrant city life, these restrictions result in a city with intense civic culture, focussed on the pavement. Many factors influence this liveliness, not least the climate; however, it is worth remembering Danish cities such as Copenhagen or Aarhus demonstrate that cold weather does not necessarily discourage healthy street culture. So what other ingredients in Porto contribute its successful street life?

To begin with, Porto is relatively compact and dense: approximately 5200 inhabitants per kilometre. Physically, this is embodied in tightly packed streets with small shops at street level and apartments above. Street fronts are active, creating direct supervision of the street from the home, shop or café; and vice versa too of course.  What’s more, buildings generally house a diverse population: families, couples, the elderly, children, as well as tourists. This results in busy streets throughout any given day, which in turn makes what could otherwise be dark canyons, feel safe and inviting.

However, where feasible, pavements have been as generously sized as possible (especially when considered in relation to the city’s dense grain). Cafes and restaurants invariably extend into these pavements: at one end as grandiose and permanent fixtures and, at the other end, just as a few plastic chairs or a bench perhaps.

Street life is also encouraged at municipal level. The surface finish of most large pavements is treated as one might a building’s elevation: that is, with careful consideration for material and detail. And in implying such respect, the status of the pavement is raised to that of a genuine civic environment.

But what of transferability to the UK? Ultimately it is hard to reverse prevailing trends and policy. Central government, for example, is currently driving the creation of suburban ‘garden cities’; and in many major cities there is a move towards privatised ‘quarters’ and ‘villages’, be they covered (as in Westfield) or open air (as in Liverpool One). Ultimately, a regressive move evoking the zoning principals of 20th Century urban planning.

Neither of these moves is likely to encourage unplanned social activities or facilitate the passive supervision that the occupants of a street in Porto might naturally provide. Nor are the owners of malls likely to look favourably on the unauthorised ownership of streets by little plastic chairs. Shame really – it’s our loss.

Stuart McKenzie 2014

Pop Art Design at the Barbican

As part of our festive celebrations, Studiodare visited Pop Art Design at the Barbican. The exhibition brings together (for the first time apparently) the artists of Pop Art, who mostly responded to and depicted mass production, with the industrial designers who actually contributed to it: the artificial versus the actual.

Barbican Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein In the Car (1964) & Front cover from 75 Years of DC Comics (2010) Taschen

Perversely, it is where art and mass production are dissociated that Pop Art’s most iconic imagery can be found. Where the quotidian is represented under great labour, such as Roy Lichetenstein’s beautiful In the Car (1964), painted by hand but inspired by throwaway comic books. In this exhibition though, Lichtenstein is hung with agreeable paradox alongside four wall-mounted Eames fibreglass chairs, themselves undergoing something of a production/function identity crisis.

Barbican Eames
Charles and Ray Eames Wall mounted Case Study Fiberglass Low Rod Chairs

The grouping of industrial design with the purely visual (and in fact mostly whimsical) doesn’t seem entirely resolved, although the comparison is interesting and the effect is of a strong image of post-war America. Of particular intrigue though are the educational videos of Charles and Ray Eames, which combine the aesthetic with the informative and, pleasingly, a new art form with education.

Much of what we see as contemporary visual language is present in the exhibition too. The mural Alexander Girard designed as part of his branding for the La Fonda del Sol restaurant (1960) is particularly prescient and could easily be mistaken for a  proposed pop-up or hipster restaurant.  Conversely, a video of the Smithson’s House of the Future (Ideal Home Show 1956) is so wide of the mark as to be a gem of comedy.

Barbican Alexander Girard
Alexander Girard wall mural at La Fonda del Sol restaurant (1960)

Another curio in the exhibition is a series of photos that depict various Pop Art collectors in their homes. Most striking is an image of the Scull family (controversial patrons and latterly scoundrels of the art world) sitting at their decorative 19th Century dining table, the picture of domesticity completed by plastic seat protectors and a serving maid, all presided over by a gaudy room-sized pop art mural. A cheap shot perhaps, but an apt metaphor for the art itself.

Barbican AOC
AOC Architects Pop Art Design exhibition installation

The design of the exhibition itself by AOC provides a brave colourful contrast to the cavernous space of the Barbican gallery, and builds on previous successful exhibitions there such as the Surreal House, designed by Carmody Groarke. Catch it while you can!

Stuart McKenzie Jan 2014

Reflections


Much of London has been patently affected by the economic recession: boarded up high streets and part-finished building sites are constant reminders of this phenomenon.  However, turning west along the canal at Westbourne Park, a long forgotten industrial hinterland is an even more poignant reminder of a different kind of prosperity long neglected.

Abandoned industrial buildings address the water’s edge. The oldest, built to accommodate the unloading of freight barges, are now long-since obsolete by centuries of merciless change. Firstly, the creation of the railway network and then high-speed motorways; now just simply by an unsympathetic post-industrial society.


Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine that today’s portal-framed distribution centres, built efficiently out of metallic sheets at the slip roads of motorways, would present such a poetic backdrop to an afternoon walk.

Stuart McKenzie

Beaumont Road: Building Progress

Project:
Work is progressing well at 20-24 Beaumont Road, a 7 residential private development we’ve been working on for some time. The project is arranged in two blocks: one which maintains the street edge and a smaller block at the rear consistent with some smaller industrial buildings previously on the site.

A brief glimpse:
The demolition of the existing buildings exposed long covered-up perimeter walls; years of piecemeal extensions had concealed a tapestry of locally made bricks, cast iron frames and neglected service routes.


The proposals:
A blonde stock brick has been chosen as the external finish in our proposals. It is being laid in both stretcher bond and English-garden bond, the latter being the prevailing brick pattern in the area. The areas of bond are strategically mixed, subtly setting out each elevation.

Also, we have designed ‘projecting’ headers, arranged in large rectangles above the front doors of the rear houses. Casting soft shadows across the elevation, they add a rhythm to the elevation within the same material.

Stuart McKenzie

Forgotten Spaces 2011, Bee Project.

Studiodare’s ‘Bee Project’ has been shortlisted for Forgotten Spaces, 2011.This competition, organised by the RIBA, calls for architects and designers to think up new uses for neglected spaces in the Greater London area.

Our site is a 10m wide easement to a Thames Water ring main in Neasden, in the London Bor­ough of Brent. Triangulated by Neasden, Willesden and Cricklewood, the site runs through the Cricklewood Pumping Station. Originally constructed by the Met­ropolitan Water Authority, both the pumping station and ring main served an area of London stretching from the Thames to Hampstead.

The proposal itself is a combined urban park, ‘agroforest’ and bee-keeping apiary, which promotes a mutual dependency between the community and eco-system; it is a diversified growing system based on perennial crops, such as fruit bearing trees, plants and herbs. The urban park is achieved by carefully selecting, sculpting and arranging these crops to create vistas and frame views.

It is democratic and open; it can be enjoyed as a park for recreational purposes, an educational facility for school children and the unemployed, an activity for pensioners or a business for community organisations.

Highlighting our dependency on bees and the delicate nature of our ecosystem is central to the main idea. This is celebrated in the design of the beehives, which are constructed on an elevated plinth, providing focal points within the landscaped garden as well as protection against the colony.

Bee Project is designed to be ‘extendable’. Through community engagement, the project offers the potential to create an economic market for the exchange of produce, such as fruits, jams or honey. Produce is exchanged through a ‘farmers’ market and could link to similar other initiatives within neighbouring communities.

Encouraged by our shortlisting, we look forward to developing this proposal in more detail. We are also actively exploring opportunities to introduce the concept to a number of sites across London, taking it to local communities and key stakeholders.

Stuart McKenzie

The Adventurer Came Calling

In late 2006, we were asked to consider an unusual project; a new house on the beach in Morocco. How can you refuse of course, but in reality a project with an extremely limited budget. Construction costs and design fees were hopelessly inadequate (Mark won’t mind me saying this) but the idea was compelling, so Justine and I jumped on a plane and set off on what has become a 5 year journey.

Mark Anstice, explorer, adventurer, documentary television film maker & writer had bought the site, almost on the beach, in Moulay Bouzergtoun, close to Essaouira, the fabled ‘windy’ town on Morocco’s west coast, as celebrated by Hendrix, Stones and other musos of that era.

On site we were blown away by the sheer wonder of such a building plot, 130m x 50m sloping towards the sea. Met a local builder, spent a couple of days looking at construction, design and philosophy in the area; had a few nice tagine dish meals as well!

We were to use local materials; timber, stone gathered up from the site, the wonderful ‘tadilac’ render and importantly we were to use local labour and skills.

Maximum spans of 4.5m using the local un-sawn timbers set up the scale; random rubble walls, stone arches, no lintols and definitely no mechanical devices; no electricity at this point but simply a donkey for carrying the stones. A well, mansized,30m deep, was sunk; without water it would have been a non-starter (no mains) and Mark was off and running.

Slowly the shell rose from the ground, ably assisted by the donkey and supervised by goats. Mainly single storey (with a bit of two), a ‘tower’, several courtyards and five guest rooms, (Mark has ideas about running a wind/kite surfing school at some stage) the building now had a name ‘The Serai’ (Palace,Inn, peaceful haven).

The latest message from Mark, shows him and his new wife Ayelen, living in a partially completed building, some windows glazed, three habitable rooms, outside loo, tower bedroom and the beginnings of the tadillac render adding a bit of finish. The garden which is beginning to emerge, has terraces in honey coloured stone walls, and will eventually provide vegetables to compliment the ‘haggled for’ fish from the neighbour.

The project was and still is fascinating, and has cemented my commitment to using local, natural materials, local skills and traditional techniques. The harmony with the site, surroundings and environment is so evidently obvious. Lets think on that.

Footnote: the North African building techniques used in the Moroccan house are very similar to the examples of traditional construction that impressed me in my time in Nigeria in the ‘70s, I’ve got the books! but that is for another story or another blog.

By Ian Logan

Trip to E1027, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Architect: Eileen Gray

History     

1924: Villa is designed by Eileen Gray (with Jean Badovici)
1927: Building is completed
1932: Eileen Gray leaves the house
1937-39: Le Corbusier marks the walls with murals; Gray is displeased at his intervention
1951: Le Corbusier builds Le Cabanon next door
1960: A patron of Le Corbusier, Madame Marie-Louise Schelbert, buys E1027 at his behest
1956: Jean Badovici dies
1965: Le Corbusier has a heart attack and dies whilst swimming in the sea below
1976: Eileen Gray dies
1982: Madame Schlbert dies and a Swiss doctor (Dr. Kaegi) buys E1027
1996: Dr Kaegi is murdered in the villa by his gardeners
1999: Municipality of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and the French Government buy E1027
2008: Restoration begins on now dilapidated villa

The Trip

On February 12th 2011, our party visited the site of E1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera. Before the trip, we studied drawings and photographs of the villa; however, there is a sense of tension and uneasiness to the place that only becomes apparent once there.

Noticeably, the villa is held between two massive and opposing forces of nature. To the north, densely inhabited and rugged cliffs surround the building, dramatically signifying the capitulation of the land to the Mediterranean. By contrast, the sea itself is flat and endless.

Looking along the coastline, modern mansions can be seen occupying the most exclusive sites. Each manages to conspicuously convey the prosperity of their owners, yet the ubiquity of their designs fails to create any valuable architectural forms. It is hard to reconcile this current setting with the peace that attracted Gray to choose the site.

At the villa itself, aesthetic disquiet is further felt. This time it is by Le Corbusier’s Cabanon, which provides an overpowering and disconcerting architectural accompaniment to E1027. Perhaps synonymous with the designers’ relationship, Le Corbusier’s studio and hostel sit uncomfortably at the shoulder of Gray’s villa. It is also noticeable that Le Corbusier’s Cabanon has been meticulously maintained, whilst Gray’s building, like her legacy, has until recently been left neglected.

Thankfully, the restoration of E1027 is underway, scheduled for completion in 2011. Work to the dilapidated shell is almost fully complete, although the progress to the interior remains hidden. Sadly, the motivation behind the restoration, as a final bitter insult to Gray, is at least in part to protect Le Corbusier’s illicit murals.

By Stuart McKenzie

Pont Street – Steelwork in

The steelwork for the new mezzanine in Pont Street was installed last week by ISM Design. The space is starting to take shape after a long period dedicated to party wall issues, landlords’ permissions and adjustments to the proposed scheme.

We’ve been asked by our client to renovate this flat by creating a new mezzanine, offering more floor area and an open space underneath. The existing flat was a “modern bachelor pad” that needed a few adjustments to fit our client requirements and create an atmosphere better suited for living and studying. We’ve proposed a new column free mezzanine providing a big living and dining area underneath. We’ve allowed natural light to go deep inside the flat by having generous full height areas in front of the windows.

The next step consists of completing the floor and the ceiling for the new mezzanine, a glass balustrade with timber handrail and a purpose made curved nosing on the edge of the mezzanine designed specifically to reduce the structural impact of the steelwork.

by Olivia Desroches

Sketch

Sketch n 1. A hasty or undetailed drawing or painting often made as a preliminary study. 2. A brief general account or presentation; an outline.

To examine its definition, the sketch marks the beginning of a study; it is only a humble opening to be forgotten and improved upon. Perhaps though, and particularly in the context of the design process, it goes beyond the beginning and is of much more value in its own right.

To deconstruct what it is may possibly be an oxymoron of what it actually is; it can be a number of things, most often at once. Nonetheless, some of its qualities are highlighted below.

Portable

When travelling, the casual tourist carries a camera because it is convenient way to record things. Likewise, the sketcher need not be unduly burdened. To sketch, all you reasonably need is an inexpensive pencil and a piece of paper. The equipment, therefore, can be with you at all times (wherever you may be).

Analysis

To be able to put on paper what your eye sees, you have to be able to understand what it is you’re looking at; you have to look closely. Therefore, much more than the photographer with their camera, the person who has looked and drawn, comprehends in far greater detail what they have seen.

The idea

Design is not done extempore. Indeed the process of design is complex and non-linear; however, to the designer or artist, the sketch can be an instrument for starting to develop an idea. It might, in an instant, record the essence of an idea and become a constant source of reference as a design develops.

Communicative

The designer does not live in isolation. Neither does the design. Therefore, along its way, the idea must be told to others. The sketch communicates an idea to others at a point in time. It can immediately be developed, then amended again. It is not precious.

Conversely, the longevity of the sketch is seen in Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture, the most enduring record of which is arguably the explanatory sketch. This creates an interesting contradiction between the act of the sketch, which is in itself momentary, and the record of the sketch, which has, in effect, become permanent.

The case for the sketch is far reaching; it is not just as described above, but an aesthetic, emotive and even magical device as well. So perhaps then, it is the inherent flexibility of the sketch that is its strength; it is something that is simultaneously informative, a giver of pleasure and a democratic platform to record the thoughts of the mind.

You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.” John Singer Sargent

By Stuart McKenzie