Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow-'almost new' cinema

30 may 2011

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (Artificial Eye 2010) is directed (and mostly shot) by Sophie Fiennes. The film is a documentary of the German artist Anselm Kiefer and his alchemical creative processes. It's a cinematic journey rendering in film the personal/sculptural universe Kiefer created at La Ribaute, his remote hillside studio at Barjac in the northern Gard, barely in the Languedoc, nearly the Ardeche.

The themes and images in this film are haunting: symbolism, mysticism and the occult. The music from Jorg Widmann and Gyorgy Ligeti is perfectly matched. Fiennes accurately portrays the unusual artistic practices and personal expression of Kiefer and his colleagues in the atelier in a completely 'fitting' way. Think Wilkie Collins or Carson McCullough?

Commencing with almost Gothic footage of the labyrinth of cellars and corridors of the old silk factory Kiefer inhabits, the film moves onto the manufacturing of large-and often bizarre-sculptural pieces, mainly of buildings...or building materials. Plenty of lead, concrete, re-bar (not always set properly!), straw, dirt and broken glass. Portions of the film are grissaille, which only increases the surreal character of the film. What is most fascinating for me, the architect, is the 'building' of a miniature City in ruins (or well on-the-way) with toppling towers, and stacks of battered lead 'books'.

Fiennes certainly provides an intimate portrait of an architectural artist at work: creation and destruction as motivating forces in his world. My only quibble is that some of Fiennes' cinematography looks a bit 'home-film 1960s' and the post-production is a little squiffy, too, but, in fairness, perhaps these are designed and part of the film's seductiveness.

Coda: Not long after 'completing' his amazing ruined City high above the Rhone and Ardeche rivers, Kiefer moved his entire body of paintings and smaller works to an abandoned warehouse on the Peripherique in Paris, leaving La Ribaute to the wind, rain and grass.

Not a lot of action and, indeed few words, so this is a film perfectly suited to visually articulate architects. Art film at its best?

'Riveting.' **** out of 5 stars.

P.S. Proper film critics have rated it c. 7/10. My friend, who's part of the modern crowd of BFI and Cannes and LA critics, agrees. So perhaps worth viewing?

Copyright Patricia Stefanowicz 2011

Saturday, 28 May 2011

New City Architecture Award for 2010

 The winner of the Company's  New City Architecture Award given for the building or structure which, complete and free of plannng conditions in the qualifying year, makes he most significent contribution to the stretscape and skyscape of the City of London was Broadgate Tower and 201 Broadgate. Designed by SOM for British Land. The judges felt that this made the biggest contribution to provision of new public space in the City, partly because it had the greatest opportunity. The opportunity has been taken with relish.  

The development comprises a tower and horizontal block, with a glazed roof connecting them, providing a through route which links seamlessly to the rest of the Broadgate / Liverpool Street Station area.

The drama of the space between the buildings stems partly from volume, but in particular from a series of huge buttress structural elements which take load from the tower. In terms of scale this was the most powerful design the judges saw, but at the smaller scale of public realm, attention to detail was evident in the paving, seating, and lighting installation. Last but not least, the inclusion of  a raised lawn element, and a hanging garden wall now growing, was a welcome complement to the hard landscaping of a development well worth visiting.

This year’s judges - Paul Finch OBE (Chairman), Edward King (Master),  Dr Mervyn Miller (Renter Warden), Howard Copping, Michael Bailey were assisted by the Clerk, David Cole-Adams in making their inspecton and deliberations.

A high commendation was awarded to the redevelopment of the site known as The Walbrook bounded by Walbrook, Cannon Street and St Swithin’s Lane. The architect was Foster and Partners, the client Minerva. The judges regarded this as an impressive contribution to the City’s streetscape, partly because of the way louvres have been deployed to blur the junction between elevation and roof in a pleasing way. This is particularly evident from the restored public courtyard garden next to the building, where the geometry of the roof is most impressive. The large (visible) foyer on Walbrook was admired, as was the neat turning of corners. The judges looked forward to occupation of the retail space.


Judges wished to mention the retail and residential project at 12-18 Artillery Lane E1 and 120 Middlesex Street, admired for its brise soleil in the attractive shared courtyard space. A positive addition to the area. The Architects was ORMS, and the client Artillery Lane Ltd.

A commendation was awarded for a pair of projects by the City Corporation’s Street Scene Team

 The first ( pictured left), carried out in conjunction with Architects Freeland Rees Roberts is the relocation of the St Lawrence Jewry drinking fountain to the south of St Paul’s Cathedral, by Carter Lane Gardens. The juxtaposition of High Victorian with Wren was enjoyed.

 The second (right) is the improvements to Bow Churchyard, an oasis of relative tranquillity off busy Cheapside – the collaborating architects are Burns and Nice.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Students and Mentors Gathering at St Mary Woolnoth

St Mary Woolnoth - Nicholas Hawksmoor's City masterpiece - the setting for the Students and Mentors Reception - May 2011. Built between 1716 and 1727 the church is a magnificent example of English Baroque.

Following the recent meeting of the Court those of the Company's students and thier mentors joined members of the Court for the chance to have a detailed inspection of this building including trips to the top of the tower courtesy of Alex Scott-Whitby who has, by dint of a piece of work he was doing as a university project been given use of the space in the belfrey as a studio.

There was also the chance for both some social interaction over a glass or two of wine and to hear talks from both Alex and Past Master Roger France. The first provided some background on the church (it boasts a memorial to John Newton whose preaching on the evils of slavery had a major influence on William Wilberforce and the anti-slavery legislation and who wrote that block gbuster entry in Hymns Ancient and Modern - Amazing Grace.  There are other memorials to the founders of both the Leadenhall Market and Lloyds Coffee House.

Roger France gave an impromptu talk of the work and influence of Hawksmoor. Those in need of CPD certificates may apply to the Clerk who will, if bribed by a suitable fee, be prepared to oblige.

Photographs of the event appear below.


Valencia Visit, Friday 13th-Caltrava's 'Ciutat des artes y las Ciencas'

13th May 2011

The afternoon was planned for a personalised tour of Santiago Calatrava's new (opened 2006) Opera House and some of his other buildings in the City of Arts and Sciences.

The 'sommelier' (a.k.a. husband) and I decided to walk along the 'linear park' created in the riverbed of the former river Turis. Variable, from un-
reconstructed to plenty of football pitches and lawn tennis courts (not red clay, sadly!) to lush gardens with mature trees of many species. This time of year, plenty of colour including late spring flowers, too. The cypresses, not yet mature are just a little odd, though.

The Opera House is impressive. The geometrics, including interlocking hyperbolic paraboloids, express Calatrava's engineering background and are evocative of Nervi's earlier work in Italy, but even more daring. The front is pure Calatrava, looks like the prow of a ship! Not totally like the images of Ysios in Rioja, but the structural design here is far more exciting. A couple of pin-pointed joints!

Raw concrete, blasted and then bleached to a bright white-fitting in this Mediterranean climate-suggests a huge seagull landing on the ground. We only saw a few of those around, though, despite being fewer than 3 km from the sea.

The water features are also Calatrava-designed and very good, although the lines of trees are almost French rather than Valencian?

Onwards and upwards...since our intimate tour with excellent guides Elena and Frederique started at top entry level to the main opera theatre. Fantastically romantic, actually, with its lovely palms and flowering plants and imaginative glass-encased elevator. ('Lift' seems a minor word for Calatrava's beautiful box!)

What else? Calatrava considers himself a sculptor, as well as engineer and architect, so every detail had to pass his judgement. A few of the clever, but not necessarily savoury, details include the door handles (female and male visages and male and female torsos, although the latter seem more androgynous than obvious.) Does this seem just a little weird to anyone apart from me?
That aside, the bright cobalt blue colour is evocative of the Mediterranean and of Calatrava's well-known love of sailing.

Calatrava extensively uses 'trencadis', a mosiac technique using broken ceramic tile shards grouted together, perhaps as a tribute to his favourite Spanish architect, Gaudi. Mostly bright white, but cobalt blue also features as an accent. Note the roof garden wall below with its reflections of sunlight off the trencadis.

Calatrava is obviously a bit of a control-freak, which sometimes works. The internal stair handrails are pretty slick, if a tad complicated.

Ultimately, it's the external formality and geometry of not just the Opera Palace of the Arts , but also those of the Hemisheric (IMAX Theatre), the Umbracle (botanical garden overlooking the complex), the Agora (in the shape of a winged helmet, used for amoung other activities the Tennis Open 500) and the Aquarium that are the most impressive. Plenty of complex interplay with views of the linear park, the sky and the land/water features.

Below: clockwise from top left: the Hemisphere, a view from the Opera towards the linear park, the Umbacle, the Science Museum and Calatravs's geometry at play (or opera!) with the unattached movement joint!

Enough, already! We're off to the fantastic Tapeteria de Borja, just off the Carrer de Caballeros, for jamon serrano con almendras (roasted almonds sprinkled across the top), pimientos de padron, alcachofas (artichokes with garlic), calamares a la plancha (grilled squid), pan (bread) and a delicious bottle of 2009 Ribero del Duero. Clearly a local-ish haunt, because we were the only English-speakers in the place! Then a walk up to see the Torres Quart (the other of the two surviving Old City gates) with a section of the old Roman wall attached. Beautifully lit at night.

Tomorrow, beyond the Ciutat Vella and the Ciudad de las Artes y las Cienas, followed by the Seafront...

copyright Patricia Stefanowicz BArch MArch RIBA AIA PE MW 2011

Monday, 23 May 2011

Valencia - the impressions of Patricia Stephanowicz - 1