Monday, 28 March 2011

Japan I Miss You: Kyoto-Matsue-Kobe

^The vast catalogue of spatial games that is the ludic Kyoto Train Station by Hiroshi Hara, who should have gone on to build the world (also see the best Pomo tower in the world, the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka by him and the Yamato HQ in Tokyo)

I was supposed to be in that world on the other side of the looking glass we call Japan right now, but have put off the trip to another, more appropriate time. Instead ive gone back into my archives and trawled up a few images from my last voyage in 2006 (sadly I seem to have lost my images of Shin Takamatsu's work), during which I had unfortunately been resolved to go nowhere near a camera -to get my sketching skills back up to scratch- but during which I had luckily at a couple of points clearly directed my brother to point and shoot at a few of my favourite moments.

^Double staircases at the back of a building facing the platform in Matsue Train Station 

^Arcades under a railway viaduct in downtown Kobe 

^The most densely packed block in Kobe. Howl's Moving Castle tethered to the Kansai streets... 

^its side 

^during the day 

^matchbox houses in Kobe 

Saturday, 19 March 2011

The Original Drapers Gardens (demolished)

One of a clutch of post-war, first generation skyscrapers that have either been demolished (122 Leadenhall, 20 Fenchurch Street) or re-clad and redeveloped (Britannic House, London Stock Exchange, & the soon to be reclad Guys Hospital), Drapers Gardens was one of Richard Seifert's many insertions into the London skyline, although along with Centre Point -which was finished one year before this- a particularly graceful one, sporting the same bowed frontage, which here was emphasised with continuous recessed horizontal glazing, tinted a bright green.

Finished in 1967 and standing at 100metres tall, with a pronounced presence on the skyline, up close it still felt like a small building, through a combination of small floor-plates and the way Seifert's office set it back from the street on a plinth, and created an intimate entrance sequence and range of surrounding spaces. Above you can see the rectangular courtyard (replete with cute water feature and overabundant planting) embedded in the two story plinth of offices through which you would approach the base of the tower cantilevering over an entrance in front of you, and to which you would enter from the street via a sottoportego (which you can see just to the left of the planting). To your right were a large set of stairs (from where the photo was taken) that rose with one landing to the roof of the rear of the plinth.

Rather forlorn when I visited, after the building had been vacated for some time, the second floor raised plaza to which the stairs led was a weird no man's land pressed up against the back windows of all the surrounding offices, its uneven paving watched over by several CCTV cameras and ventilation for the spaces below. It was a valiant attempt to create an open space for the tower to stand within and be admired from, but was made far more interesting, and far stranger than a successful tabula rasa through its compromise with the dense collection of ugly backsides of buildings facing it, pressing in onto it, and the way the plaza was irregularly shaped, distorted and squashed by the limitation of the irregular London plot.

With a long thin projection out towards a neighbouring road, between two adjacent offices, and sporting a concrete frame structure that was either the remnants of a building, or whose purpose I just couldnt make out (perhaps a part of the City Skywalk that was meant to extend to here someday?), but from where you could get a perfect, front on dramatic view of the bluging facade of the tower as if from its very own little axial boulevard (see photos 3&4 below). 

Like Centre Point and the Nat West Tower (the tallest Cantilevered building in the world) he lifted the main body of the building off of the plinth with some sculptural fingers that looked as if they used to be dramatically lit at night.

The space at the level of the raised plaza having no program in it apart from the core and stairs rising through it, so that you can easily see through the building to the full breadth of the site.

It was one of Seifert's more delicate designs and incorporated itself into the dense grain of the City in a layered, spatial manner that offered itself up gradually as you moved around, entered and navigated its levels, whilst still having a strong presence at each point. A much more considerate citizen of the Square Mile in its relation to the street than say all those 1980s KPF mimicking quasi-contextual beasts that covered their block-filling first three floors in granite and thereby claimed vernacular sensitivity...

and definitely much more interesting and worthy than its 2010 replacement by Foggo Assoc, that couldn't even bother with that, and just filled out the entire plot with the now typical Humungous-ginormous bank-loving trading-floor-worthy floorplates, all the way up to 73 metres, canyonising the surrounding streets and bringing a hacked and chopped up bit of Canary Wharf to this ancient site (it had been undeveloped since Roman times when the 1967 tower was built). I understand that clients want trading floors now, and a building with a floorplan like Drapers Gardens is impossible to let in the current climate (Centre Point is perennially difficult to rent out), but Im sure one can do better than what this was replaced with. I would have loved to do a simultaneous post on Britannic House, that great beast who was so much more impressive than Shell Mex House, which but for lack of a bit of stone never got listed, and that I took photos of with my old analogue camera, the photos from which have all been dispersed sometime ago in one or another move between flats somewhere in London...

^view from the street

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Page Street Housing by Edwin Lutyens

Page Street is a weird and interesting architectural in-betweener. Built on a large chunk of land given over to social housing in the 1920s by the Duke Of Westminster, it was designed by his then favourite architect Edwin Lutyens, who was mostly known for his palatial Country House designs, although he had been involved in the master-planning of Hampstead Garden Suburb just prior to this project, which meant working closely with Raymond Unwin, the great social housing designer of that period in the UK.

The grid marches across all but the internal facades of the blocks, framing traditional sash windows, and on the long sides looking like some RCA architecture student's project where hundreds of Georgian town houses have been collaged together in photoshop to make a fusion between the Bloomsbury conservation zone and the Heygate Estate. To make things odder, some of the main entrances facing the street are ornamented with heraldic sculpture, are fronted with imposing broken entablature arches with what look like little cenotaphs sticking out the top of them, and have a recessed central section and slightly projecting wings that make them look like Elizabethan palace fronts.

They also have remarkably early examples (for the UK, the first?) of deck access to the flats, reached from central courtyards, an area in the project where there is little stylistic reticence or ambiguity surrounding its programatic modernity, although the moment where (you can see it on the left and right of the image above) the deck balconies hit the sash windows and fragment to become part of the sash-window/brick/white-cement grid that covers the rest of the facades is pretty magical.

The strips of space between the U-shaped blocks is taken up with landscaped communal gardens and play areas which are a little desolate and dont get too much light, but they at least have a good sense of enclosure, and are directly watched over by lots of windows (easy to shout at your kids to come back upstairs or stop hitting each other), and rather cutely newsagents, hairdressers, shops etc are housed in little lodges arrayed along the road between the blocks and in front of the courtyard areas at the centre of the Us.

A bit like the Arts & Crafts building on Riding House Street in Fitzrovia (a workshop and offices) by H. Fuller Clark, this project is an imposing glimpse of what strange and contradictory buildings might have been designed if those british architects from Shaw through Arts & Crafts to Lutyens had brought their rhetorical talents to bear in the country's cities, and brought new programs, pressing social issues, and structural innovation together into dialogue with their wonderful & arcane stylistic concerns.

For more info, plans, sections, photos etc check out the development's page over on HousingPrototypes.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Tel Aviv Post Modern

^I particularly like the peeling-back motif, and the vertiginous staircases that come out of the core and rise up to the rooftop pool.

^For more on this temple electricity substation see here.

Unfortunately my favourite, and by far and away the wackiest is under renovation and behind scaffolding. Hopefully they are not neutralising its oddness.