Friday, 31 December 2010

The Daily Express Building and A Papal Visit

On the same day as London Open House the Pope was visiting the city to give a fantastically camp service in Hyde Park, although perhaps not as camp as this recent performance in the Luigi-Nervi reception hall in The Vatican. So as well as visiting the lobby of the Art Deco Daily Express Building, I went to see a bit of the Hyde Park hysteria, and stumbled into the anti-pope protests in both Hyde Park Corner and Whitehall. I bought some devout paraphernalia including a Union Jack with the Papal symbol on it, and a Pope badge, as well as later being treated to a free "Arrest The Pope" T-shirt by the protestors, which of course I simply had to join all together into a perfectly poised outfit that cancelled itself out, representing my slightly elated amusement at the whole shebang. Check out how painfully/amusingly low both sides slung with their rhetoric, encapsulated by Richard The Lionhearted Atheist, Mr Dawkins, in his speech to the protestors. I have issue with church-led state funded schools, a policy which blurs the line between religion and state, a line that in England and Wales needs to be rendered clearer and sharper, but I have absolutely no problem with the Catholic church and its followers per se.

I probably have more issues with the silent monster that resides behind this spectacular stage-set lobby on Fleet Street. Goldman Sachs renovated the building a few years ago as their new European Headquarters, cleaning the lobby and returning it to its original state (minus all the hustle, bustle and activity), but placing it behind curtains that are almost always shut, contrary to English Heritage suggestions that the little 1930s costume jewelry box should be visible to the general public from the street.

The whole space feels like being on the stage of a great, dancing, 1930s production on Broadway, everything glittering and reflected in chrome plate, silver leaf, and gilt metal, paper thin surfaces, and shallow reliefs organised in exotic motifs, all used to theatrical effect.

Its just so strange that this lobby, clearly meant to show off in a very public way, the open face of an old media empire, personifying its illustrious figurehead in the public's imagination, should now be shrouded, hidden away as the private accessory of one of the most publicity averse organisations in the finance industry, the company often seen as the faceless behemoth of corporate rapacity, harborer of an extreme form of singularly unproductive individualism.

Anyway, it is/was a fun space, naive and silly as a carnival float, even if a bit sad in its current clinical emptiness, but still nowhere near as fun as playing the game of 'spot the funniest pope placard' that followed when we got to the protests. 

 some of the protestors were intentionally humorous

Others were themselves quite hilarious in their miscalculated ridicule, like below, the distinctly illiberal and repressive slogan for a march for 'liberty': "Dont like being laughed at? Then dont have such funny beliefs"

The best for me had to be the one above quite eloquently comparing the pope to the evil Emperor in Star Wars, and you have to admit that the similarity is both terribly unfortunate, and very funny.

^free t-shirt

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Three Flourishes From Paris

^Man altercating with his drum on a Moving Walkway in (i think) Chatelet metro station

^box of eyes in a dolls parts stall in the Marché aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignancourt

^ Painting in the Gustave Moreau Museum

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Severin's Observatory

In the German pavilion at the Biennale there is a tall box, about the same size as a phone booth, in one of the rooms flanking the main hall, which emits the deep sound of a man speaking, his voice can only be made out as you approach the rear of the box and lean in to a window in its side.

Through the window is a model of what looks like a monumental observatory, whose real size is belied by the windows on the walls behind, which seem to dwarf its pomp to that of a doll's house. The voice is slowly, in a manner somewhere between that of a documentary and a fairytale, telling over and over again, in italian, english and german, the story of Eugene Severin, an amateur astronomer from the early 20th century.

Severin was paralysed from an early age, and was fawned over by his wealthy parents, who did everything to ease the child's difficult life, eventually building him a study room in an empty garden house at their estate, where he spent most of his youth in the care of his maid, conducting science experiments, studying astrology, and dreaming of one day becoming an astronomer, of discovering vast new worlds from the tiny and enclosed world he inhabited. As a young man he came into a large inherited fortune, and bought a plot of land outside Berlin, where he planned to fulfill his dreams, commissioning the architect Olaf Malmhoff to build him a magnificent observatory in which to live and work for the rest of his life, gazing at the stars. He would spend days in anticipation of the newfound pleasure of living there, of how different it would be to the isolation of his life up until that point, imagining himself as a recognised scientist making important discoveries, holding court to famous parties for the elite of the city at his observatory. He filled his time thinking such thoughts as the period of construction dragged on and on, with the architect embezzling vast sums of money from the project, and failing to mention to Severin how vast, towering tenement blocks were being erected all around his little observatory, right up to the edge of its little plot, blocking out the daylight, and at night, all but a few stars in Orion's belt. Severin only found out when he visited the building upon its completion. With no money left of his fortune, having had it whittled away by the lengthy construction and Malmhoff's embezzlement, Severin moved into the observatory together with the same maid he had lived with since childhood. He continued to live there, staring through his telescope at the small patch of sky that could be seen through the cornices of the tenements, until his death in the early 60s. His niece, a failed writer, now opens the house to visitors for a small fee.

The theme of the German Pavilion, brilliantly illustrated in Severin's story box, is Sehnsucht, or a powerful feeling of longing twinned with a sense of irretrievable loss, and how this concept manifests itself in the urban realm, addressed elegantly in Severin's story through the weaving together of the pity of a personal tragedy, the sting of rural retreat, the meanness and avarice of industry, and the communal pathos of the restricted urban horizon and the confined gaze, all compressed into one powerfully evocative architectural scenario that manages itself, silently, to contain and convey the sense of longing and sadness of the entire tale.

The main hall is full of architect's sketches responding to the notion of Sehnsucht (one of which below), mostly not managing to connect with its potentially powerfull emotional content, possibly because so many of them seem to be ideal proposals, nostalgic constructions from the creator's imagination that achieve something they have always desired, or long missed. And these completely negate the power of sehnsucht, which exactly lies in the deferral of arrival, it gains in potency the further it is from reaching that which it longs for, and indeed gains strength the more vague the object of longing becomes. The architects and their sketches construct answers to the feeling of longing, as if it were a problem with a solution, when really the beauty of it is in its contemplation, in the exploration of the actual feeling of longing itself as a shared contemporary condition that unites all of us, and which can be stimulated in us, connecting us more intimately with each other and our surroundings through stories, and places like those of Eugene Severin and his little eclipsed observatory.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Plant-Pets, Good Metabo, An Illuminated Cedric Price, and An Upturned Boat at the Venice Biennale 2010

Above is a film of some of the stuff in the Biennale, quite a bit of the Serbian pavilion by Skart, which I adored, along with everyone who visited it (as evidenced in the film and by the fact everyone I have spoken to ended up talking to people they didnt know, playing with them, and giggling together like little kids), the Cloudscapes installation where a micro-climate was regulated in a part of the Corderie, a cloud hovering at the height of a bridge that took you right up into it, as well as some Olafur Eliasson atmospherics (where were the naked dancers?!), a couple of super-cruise liners, some washing being taken in, an orchestral sound-bath, the nail house in Shenzhen, and alot of wind and umbrellas...

The Serbian pavilion was clearly the best at initiating interaction between both the visitors themselves, and between the visitors and the actual objects in the space, which was filled with see saws and cyborg-like plant-objects that looked like cute cartoon animals crossed with everyday objects of motion, each of them inviting you to take it for a walk with a little handle and bicycle bell.

The japanese pavilion was a triumph of architectural curation, seamlessly co-ordinating a take on what is best in the contemporary japanese urban condition, as a set of potentialities, with how those possibilities can and are being taken up at the scale of the building to produce a sort of city-as-household (presented as a form of atomised, total democratic space), grounded in the minute calibration of daily activity and its relationship to the exterior, and all of this represented through large doll-house models that let your imagination immediately occupy the kinds of places that the words and the videos were describing, a set up that got around many of the usual conundrums of curating architecture in its actual physical absence. But the routines, activities, and manner of living implied in the architecture of Atelier Bow Wow are a known quantity, they are buildings that deftly handle the needs of a class of inner city professionals whose scope of existence we are all familiar with, and there was something slightly suffocating by the end of the last collection of cubic containers, a sort of lack of space to dream in: the Serbian pavilion saved it for me, provided a ludicrous and delightful addendum,  acting as a kind of what if, or but... and maybe -it zoomed in on that one scale which was purposely left out -or rather rendered implicit- in the Japanese designs, the manner in which people's relationships to their surroundings can be reconfigured in refreshingly liberating, and impossibly re-imagined ways, rather than subtly practical ways. There was a suggestion in the Serbian pavilion of Architecture coming to life, of buildings and spaces actively participating as agents of pleasure and delight in our everday lives, like dogs, cats and garden-plants, silently waiting to be patted and causing people in their interiors, rooms and by their walls to stop, talk and play with them a bit, like people stopping to ask the name of another stroller's dog, and how old he is, and give him a brisk cuddle, whilst getting to know the other owner too. Then the nature of architecture as a container, and a delicate calibrator of things and people begins to shift, and it transforms into an active agent, not a controlling manipulator, but an agent of creative occupation and imaginative play... a loosening agent and one that by making everything strange again, opens up the possibility of us being and acting differently too. As we all seemed to be doing in Skart's laboratory.

In the Italian Pavilion at the Giardini, also curated by Kazuyo Sejima, I got caught in a wonderful little lozenge-shaped side room off of some exhibit or other, in which there was a table with one pair of headphones and a screen, showing a series of interviews by Hans Ulrich Obrist of Cedric Price, which I believe were interrupted by his untimely death in 2003.

Sharp but bumbling, inspirational and radical but so intensely British, Cedric came across as immensely charming, remembering stories about his projects with a delight that was glowing with the cheekiness of a naughty child, savoring his counter intuitive rebelliousness with the sensibility of a character situated somewhere between that of a stone thrower in the Paris streets of 68, and of the well intentioned prankster in the corridors of any post-war English Grammar School. He recalled one project in Sheffield (I think it was there) where he was in charge of an installation event for publicizing a theatre festival in the city, and he decided to paint dimensions onto the facades of certain well known buildings in the centre, but to put incorrect figures like 16inches on a 12storey high tower, and so on, an action that rapidly led to an outcry at the inaccuracy, with local people writing to the local newspapers and radio stations indignant at being taken for idiots, demanding to know what the meaning of such tomfoolery was, and in the act of complaining and generating a fuss, of course providing more free publicity than would have ever otherwise been possible (as well as the fact that the dimensions provided a trail straight to the entrance of the said theatre).

His cheekiness seemed as he talked to go hand in hand with a love for human nature, for freeing up people's potentials by giving them opportunities to achieve their dreams through a type of negative architecture that provided room for difference and desire, a strong element of his proposals for the Fun Palace and Non Plan, where in the one he provides the framework for re-imagining the city around it through play (he made the point in the film that it was not meant to be an escape, "to escape awful london, no it was a key to realising how wonderful life was. It was the launchpad to delight, and perhaps the delight was freedom of choice. It was the thing that would make you pleased to open the door of your home and see, however it was your life looked, that it was good"), and in the other an imagined libertopia free from paternalistic judgements on taste and spatial organisation where local character would evolve itself out of the space between dialogue and individual design, a plan that has recently been posited as an unwitting intellectual predecessor to Thatcherism's, and then Blairism's Development Districts, exemplifed by the London Docklands (and its now deceased LDDC) and its sprawl of isolated, unplanned, unrestricted developments. But for me the difference at its heart comes down to his genuine care for and focus on the individual human, and groups of people, and his or her or their capacity to actively participate in a creative environment and re-imagine his or herself or themselves as better and more qualitatively fulfilled people, whereas Thatcherite planning policies had the abstract noun "Consumer" at their heart, basically a euphemism for her debased version of the "market", not even subhuman, but rather automatons that were meant to choose between a set of options that were given to them by the companies which dominated and distorted the real estate market, eliminating any of the fine grain of true liberty imagined in non-plan, turning the city into a collection of huge assets to be speculated on rather than worked on and enjoyed, a sort of total antithesis to the Tokyo presented in the Japanese pavilion: Tokyo Midtown rather than the small streets around it, Seifert rather than Betjeman.

In relation to that point of differentiation, the idea of dialogue via architecture kept coming up, the point and place where individuals mediate their desire into something shared: "For years architecture was a way of imposing order, that everything will be okay if you behave. Thats religion's role. Architecture shouldn't do that. Its too slow anyway, and in any case I don't want to do that. It should create dialogue, perhaps thats its only reason." He then went on to tease Obrist by saying that theres a set of criteria that some famous old guy came up with, he couldn't remember who, perhaps Ulrich would know: Commodity, Firmness and Delight! He went on "Commodity is money, good house-keeping essentially. Firmness is the structure, and delight, thats the one, thats the dialogue." "The dialogue, its isnt hello theres the birds and the bees. It might be quite harrowing. But it will look towards a better future." And thats the strongest kernel I took away with me from the part of the interviews I watched, that staunch belief in the difficult task of maintaining the idea of a better future,

He kept getting up to look for projects to show Obrist, but somehow never managed to find anything, and he always kept looking in the same place, telling Obrist jokingly how he was making it look like he didnt have a proper filing system, all of which looks as if it was bought from the Rymans around the corner, together with the brilliantly standard Rymans calendar hanging on the wall behind him, which one sees everywhere in Britain from the dentist and GP to Uni and the office. Three images above you can see a diagram which was scribbled on some paper on his desk that Obrist filmed as he panned around the room whilst Cedric was answering what sounded like one of those old phones that people now copy the ringing of on their iphones. Two of the walls were covered with blown up images of Cedric's ideogrammatic sketches that are about as eloquent and charming as he is in the interview, standing up in my mind in immediate and strong opposition to Leon Krier's closed, and sarcastic equivalents.

There is also more of Ulrich Obrist and his encyclopaedic tendencies over in the Corderie where there is a room of interviews with other architects and artists (each with a little screen, its own dvd player, and a SANAA designed chair), and of the 24 hour Marathon in the Serpentine Pavilion 2006 (which I worked on whilst at OMA), a part of which I ended up watching with Shumon Basar and Iain Sinclair being interviewed by Obrist and Rem Koolhaas, Sinclair starting off with a virtuoso display of Rhetorical conceit, and Shumon winning hands down in the fashion stakes with a totaly ott white blazer.

And to finish I am posting some images of Stirling and Wilford's upturned boat bookshop in the Giardini (the last building finished before his death), a beautiful remnant from a lost and fascinating era that greets visitors to the Biennale like the Diplodocus in the entrance hall to the Natural History Museum in London, indistinct as to its full biology, context and reasons for existing, but intriguing and allusive, drawing you in to wonder and imagine as to where this building came from, and what it signifies...

Actually one more thing... a quote from Phillip K Dick's 1978 Lecture "How To Build A Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later" that I picked up in the Belgium Pavilion, and which I think pin points an important line between the ends that techniques are used for and those techniques themselves, and that involves power accrued and abused in relation to techniques of simulation and effect that are too easily rejected from architecture, powerful tools that they are, because of their association with malignant forms of capital and power:
"So I ask in my writing, what is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have alot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know, I do the same thing.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Gehry's Whale And Zaha's Billboard In La Rioja

Gehry's Hotel Marques De Riscal in Elciego, La Rioja, gives plenty to its surroundings, lots of floaty-lite shiny pretty purply wavy surfaces of ooooh so lovely titanium that glint in the sun and reflect sunsets and glitter at night and stuff like that, and which also -by an incredible sleight-of-hand- simultaneously imprison its well-healed guests in a cage of mad steel beams that stab mindlessly in every direction, sticking into the body of the place like pins into a vodoo doll, whilst also managing to -almost- completely hide the remarkable mediocrity, the total early nineties "rent-a-plan" banality of its interiors.

Perhaps this is an ironic double reflex against the pretensions of the guests and the owner? The empty heart of the icon and the wealth it carries... Perhaps its confusing array of wavy corridors that leave you disorientated not because of any crashing forms, but because of a total lack of any distinguishing mark, together with their alienating in-between spaces populated with Gehry furniture that no one will ever sit on, perhaps they are a 21st century take on Kafka's institutional interiors, but here being an analogised space of global abstraction and endless seriality, which on purpose leaves the occupant lost with an overwhelming sense of sickening deja-vu.

Perhaps, but really its that Gehry must have only ever looked at the pretty sexy model from the outside, and thats where all the money went (the budget for this was around 100million euros, a comparable amount to the bilbao guggenheim). The interior is detritus, the result of a struggle to fit all the program in between the wavy-wavies, while still adhering to Spain's building regs.

In case you ever get lost -which I guarantee you will- there is always a handy scribble neaby, blown up to A1 and framed, to remind you that you are in the result of a moment of genius, from the mind of a genius, and that the sinking feeling in your stomach as you pass another huge window overlooking another bunch of steel beams, must actually be a conceived part of it, must have been intended, otherwise it might mean either that you cant comprehend the immensity of his genius, or its all a ridiculous joke that you, sucker, wasted 300 euros on, and either of those options is best pushed to the back of the mind. For now.

Thankfully, underneath the hotel, in a huge hidden sockle, are the wine-making facilities of the Bodega, where some real doing goes on. Some hardcore aging, bottling and packaging of around 6million bottles a year of that great stuff, Rioja wine, which (if you can drink enough of it, and perhaps mix it with some of the fortified stuff) can easily and surely take you, and whoever is drinking with you, to an equally curvy, and far more exhilarating place, wherever you happen to be, than the preposterous one squatting above the workers and their wine, like some colossal dead beached whale covered in carnivorous beatles.

And nearby is the Vina Tondonia by Zaha, a forlorn "building" whose spirit is definitively broken, its amazingness left behind in a thumbnail somewhere on some design blog, archived in January or February 2009. 

All thats left now is what looks like an unused car park, but an unused car park with markings that would definitely not help any car park, or do anything, except, rather excitingly after a couple of minutes trying to figure it out, realise that they all eventually line up with the lines on the building's facade. Amazing!

I dont normally care much about details, but when the structure of the building, and the panels of the floor are so proportionately unfit for showing the items that they were intended to display, pushing them to the periphery, stacked any which way and in any awkward corner,

the situation tends to bring the details out to the fore, as a possible saving grace. Perhaps if the space as an object were beautifuly resolved, one could somehow forgive it being so resolutely unfit for what it was actually meant to do as a wine shop. Needless to say nothing was saved, and there was little grace creeping up between the yawning gaps in the floor,

or falling from the shattered glass of the rain-proofing canopy -which according the the staff, allegedly shatters again every time, soon after being replaced, and allows water through;

and there definitely wasnt enough space for any saving graces in the miniscule room for the three staff members squashed in the back, who apparently cant move their elbows freely for want of knocking into each other.

However there might, just possibly, be some of the stuff slipping off from the corpulent facade, and down into some colourful signs that at least there are some children in the area who like spending time around the place.

The guy working there at the time was quite up front with us, saying that the owners had wanted the building to be a billboard, to bring people in, and that despite certain grievances with its high cost, and with the practicalities and condition of it after only four years, they were pleased that it was indeed bringing international visitors to their bodega. I couldnt help shaking the feeling that if a building's main purpose is to be a billboard, it should perhaps be more eloquent, or at least louder, and less, well, shabby. Gehry should have done something here -the interior almost not having a purpose- and zaha, judging by the luxurious LG Hi Macs perfection of her floor at the Hotel Puerta America, should have hopped over to Elciego.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Arts & Crafts Goes Budget and Comes To London: The Mary Ward Settlement in Bloomsbury

^ photo by  George P. Landow

I visited the Mary Ward Centre (previously Mary Ward Settlement) during London Open House. It was a socialy radical experiment spearheaded by the writer Mary Ward, one of those great late Victorian women who, like Dame Henrietta Barnett, the founder of Toynbee Hall, and builder of Hampstead Garden Suburb, combined in one great personality the strong conservative, religious and politicaly reactionary beliefs (Ward was head of the Anti-Suffrage league) of a lady of the empire, with a vehement moral outrage towards the rather despicable condition of the poor and underprivileged in society. She actively put into practice unusually progressive social principles in the settlement, however they were always orchestrated with typically rigorous Victorian ethics. The local population, of all classes, paid a small sum, and through the settlement had access to free legal representation, a library, music classes, concerts, training facilities for the unemployed, after-school care, as well as England's first school for physically handicapped children. The tension between upright order, and creative flexibility, between ancient tradition and equality and free will -so characteristic of Britain at the time- plays itself out as much through the architecture as it did through the services the building provided, or the character of its Grande Dame. Barely eight years after the publication of News From Nowhere, and built the same year as Ebenezer Howard founded the Garden City Association, the settlement was one of the first practical steps taken towards realising the utopian values of the Arts and Crafts movement in the civic, and particularly, the urban realm. Arts and Cratfs architecture had been almost exclusively private country houses up to that point, and the following Garden City developments by Unwin and Howard would be essentially anti-urban, diluting the city into a an endless quasi pastoral landscape, but the Mary Ward Settlement was placed in the heart of London's dense, crowded Bloomsbury, right near the intelectual hub that was UCL (Mary Ward's circle was a precursor to the later Bloomsbury set), serving the existing situation rather than running away from it, or trying to build an entirely new one elsewhere.

It makes me wish that more architecture like it had been built in London. The way it sets up its own symetrical monumentality with its two corner towers and central range, and then proceeds to joyfuly break it down means that the building both has its civic, formal presence for the wider street, but dissolves into a dynamic collection of distinct facades as you walk around it. This happens because what would usually be the focus of attention, the central wall and huge overhang, are here left blank, whilst the peripheries are busied with decoration (a pagan tree of life motif, in brick relief, decorates the southern elevation) and compositions of small windows. Important openings are also uncomfortably crushed up underneath the eaves (they even look like Palladion Windows with the central arch cut off by the roof), lifted up into a massively top heavy inhabited attic, and pushed down to the lower ground floor, just peeping up above street level, again moving focus away from the unity of the building, the breaking up of which is completed with the off-centre entrance pavilion in Portland Stone.

Inside there are similar techniques of compositional juxtaposition and interpenetration. Each of the walls of every main room has its own classicaly or country-cottage inspired decorative scheme, which usually does not match up with the scheme on the neighbouring, or opposite wall of the same room, each of which houses a fireplace, a nook for sitting, or a wash stand, so that the room is not only visually broken up, but actually pulls activities towards each of its sides, as if each of the walls belong to separate rooms that were all turned inside out to make a new one.

In the larger rooms the recurring Palladian Window motif of the building is used to further divide the space by spanning the whole of one side of the room, partially separating, but also framing a subsidiary area.

These Palladian Windows appear all over the place, being a clear and constant reminder of the building's relationship to the past, a double sign of fidelity and freedom. They are played with in a way that couldnt say more clearly that while they are a classical trope, they are entirely at the service of the architects and the effects they want to achieve, being variously stretched, squashed, simplified and elaborated, depending on whether they are being used as dormer windows, partitions, doorways, furniture, and whether they are meant to convey a sense of grandiosity and weight, mark the depth of a wall, or celebrate a spatial transition. The same goes for all the historical allusions whether reffering to country vernacular, Queen Anne or Palladianism. Nothing is used slavishly or in an Academic manner, it is all reformed and reconstituted, transformed, distorted and joined together in a technique which treats History as a creative process, rather than as a sequence of either contextually contingent singularities, or as a set of virtually inviolable precedents.

The largest space, for concerts and music classes is a large barrel shaped room placed on the top of the building. Its height, and the high positioning of its windows, is how the architects got away with the large area of blank brick and render on the facade facing Tavistock Place. On three sides you have variations of their Palladian Windows, while the fourth has the stage which looks like a structure assembled within the great tubular room, a pile of cubes containing the stairs in and out, and a hidden raised choir stall, again composed as a distinctly separate entity within the overall space, and oddly looking like the front of the Sphinx with its head and shoulders lopped off by the ceiling. The overall effect is similar to the Refectories or Dormitories of Romanesque abbeys, where a large barrel vault often has staircases and a room built into them at one end, like this one here in Thoronet. Like most places in the building, The hall is reached by two small, winding staircases that emphasise the sense of arrival, and taken together, as you move around the building through all the thin top-lit corridors, through rooms that can only be accesed through other rooms, and other staircases, you lose your orientation, and it begins to feel like an endless three dimensional labyrinth.

In many of the places where there is a punctured thickness to the walls, there are seating areas, either looking like abstracted thrones, or benches. In the photo below, there is some glass in the arch above the nook, which is an internal window to a corridor above, a trick that is used in several places, and which lets a soft glow of natural light into the corridor, and lets the occupants of the room see people passing by.

Now, although -to my great disappointment- there are no inglenooks in the settlement, there are five lovely (that i saw) bright green fireplaces, each of which was designed by a different famous Arts and Crafts architect of the time, all of them invited by the young Arnold Dunbar Smith and Cecil Claude Brewer to adorn their first work with a little celebrity touch.

English Heritage never managed to definitively attribute them to their respective designers, so the game is left to us to discern the hand of  Lethaby, Troup, Voysey, Dawber and Newton (and nice link to the great Norman Shaw there, as Newton trained at his office) 

This is Arts & Crafts on a budget, and while most of it is really quite pared down and bare (a state of uncrafted nudity that doesnt suit this style, that relies so much on exquisite detailing, finish and craftsmanship, very well) there are some moments of beautiful joinery evenly scatted throughout, like the monumental cabinet below, with its squashed and stretched proportions.

The photo above is of one of the corridors that wind their way through the building. The window to the side opens to a room below, and there are Soane-like lanterns placed often enough that there is always a gentle indirect light in these tiny, long spaces, so that while you are disappearing further into the labyrinth, you are always aware of spaces adjoining yours, and a can see up and out of the building.

Wherever rooms open up into one another, there are small spaces that mark the event, above simply by cutting away the corner and opening a tiny window with a ledge onto it, which happens in a couple other places, and below with a pair of free standing columns, and little alcoves for displaying objects.

The same principle of celebrating, and using, the meeting of two spaces manifests itself in constant level changes between areas, normally only a step or two, but below rather grandly displayed as a little Michaelangelesque moment of one room literally spilling into another. 

Its makes for a childlike experience of the building as a place to climb around, to peek around corners, in fact the effect of the breaking down of the building as a whole into so many small (and some large), composed spaces, and spaces within spaces, and winding stairs, corridors and rooms leading onto rooms, reminded me of how I used to experience large buildings as a child, never abstracting the place as a whole, as a coherent object, as I generally do now, but constantly lost in a cascade of separate moments that are discovered one after another, each almost forming a complete building of its own.

And to end -the North facade, again feeling like another building entirely to the west side facing the street, with the largest Palladian Window (the one in the music hall opposite the stage), and another strange set of tiny windows, that read instead as little solid bars, becoming a simplified entablature holding up the triumphal arch above. Go see it next September, its well worth the time.