H/T to Tim Harford for the link.
March 20, 2013
February 2, 2013
It’s not open to the general public — and given what’s built on top of it, that’s probably no surprise:
Like the Pentagon, its better-known counterpart in the United States, Britain’s Ministry of Defence building is a fairly mundane, if gigantic, office block camouflaging a much more exciting subterranean realm of secret tunnels, bunkers, and — at least in the MoD’s case — a perfectly preserved Tudor wine cellar.
This stone-ribbed, brick-vaulted undercroft was built in the early 1500s by Cardinal Wolsey, as part of a suite of lavish improvements to York Place, the Westminster residence of the archbishops of York since the thirteenth century. The additions, which also included a gallery, presence chamber, and armoury, were intended to make York Place into a palace splendid enough to host the King. They succeeded well beyond Wolsey’s intentions: when Wolsey fell from favour, due to his inability to secure the papal annulment Henry VIII needed in order to marry Anne Boleyn, the King decided to move in.
[. . .]
York Place became the Palace of Whitehall, the principal residence of the English monarchy in London for nearly two hundred years, and Wolsey’s expansive cellar (he apparently received the first delivery of Champagne ever exported to England) became King Henry VIII’s Wine Cellar, the name by which it is still known today.
In Tudor times, the wine was stored in barrels, which presented a certain problem for service: “The barrels are historical reconstructions to represent how wine was stored in Tudor times. Henry VIII’s court consumed something like 300 barrels of wine each year, mostly exported from France and delivered to the palace by river. Interestingly, the wine was drunk very young by today’s standards — an August harvest might be on the table by November — and it was carefully blended with water, honey, and spices to mask its increasing sourness, as half-drunk casks allowed air into contact with the wine, which gradually oxidised into vinegar.”
September 13, 2012
Andrew Gilligan tells the sad story of the Cutty Sark‘s new “home”:
The architectural trade journal, Building Design, has announced that the historic tea clipper is the 2012 winner of the Carbuncle Cup, the wooden spoon for the dregs of British architecture.
The architects, Grimshaw, have taken something delicate and beautiful and surrounded it with a building that looks like a 1980s bus station. Clumsy and ineptly detailed, their new glass greenhouse around the Cutty Sark totally ruins her thrilling lines, obscures much of her exquisite gilding and cynically forces anyone who actually wants to see her to pay their £12 and go inside. The sight of people pressing their faces forlornly against the smoked glass to try to see something of the ship is one of the sadder in London.
Grimshaw have also punched a shopping centre-style glass lift up through the middle of the ship — and put two more lifts in a new square building, the size of a small block of flats, next to and towering over the ship herself. They’ve plonked a glass pod on the open main deck for a staircase (the old housing was wood, but that’s so nineteenth-century). They’ve installed lights on the masts which make it look like a Christmas tree. Above all, of course, they’ve hoicked the ship up on girders, dangling above the dry dock to create an “unparalleled corporate entertaining space” underneath — an act of vandalism that prompted the resignation of the chief engineer, who said it would place the vessel under unacceptable strain and end in its destruction.
Cutty Sark was severely damaged in a drydock fire in May 2007.
April 10, 2012
When we used to travel more frequently to the UK, we were members of the National Trust. It was a great investment for anyone interested in historic properties, and quite a bargain at the time. We let our membership lapse because we were no longer able to visit on a regular basis. Kelvin Browne discusses the great things the National Trust is doing and wonders why there’s no Canadian equivalent:
The Trust has lofty ambitions, but it’s not elitist: They know that without wide enthusiasm for the organization, it won’t survive.
Founded in 1895 to save Britain’s architectural heritage and open spaces, the organization’s initial purpose hasn’t changed much. In fact, many of its goals relate to today’s pressing issues, including stewardship of the environment and concern for the preservation of small communities.
The Trust protects and opens to the public more than 350 historic houses, gardens and ancient monuments. They also look after forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, downs, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, castles, nature reserves and villages “for ever, for everyone.”
Its operating model addresses many of our own concerns related to preserving pieces of Canadian history. However, unlike our system, Britain’s is completely independent of government. the Trust relies on income from membership fees, donations and legacies and revenue raised from its commercial ventures such as cafés, event rentals, the sale of produce from its gardens and farm properties and from leasing a number of its smaller properties to individual tenants.
In other words, no additional taxes are raised to save heritage properties and no meddling bureaucrats inefficiently telling the Brits about their history.
As he points out, the reasons for Canada not having a direct equivalent are two-fold: we are a far younger country and therefore have far fewer truly historical buildings, and we default to expecting the government to take care of preservation of what little we have.
March 2, 2012
Sarah Bakewell at the Guardian on the wonderful products of the railway building era in Britain:
Once I saw merely bridges, tunnels and stations, and mostly I didn’t even notice these, so busy was I rushing to get over or through them. Now, I see a delicate ecosystem of rivets, cleats, plates, gussets, joggles, spans, arches, ribs of attenuated iron and steel.
Scholars can already study railway archives in repositories all over the country, but Network Rail has just put part of its beautiful archive of Victorian and Edwardian infrastructure diagrams on the web. This amounts to an invitation to anyone, anywhere, to contemplate such images out of sheer curiosity and love of beauty. They give us plans of the high-level bridge at Newcastle upon Tyne, with its columns trailing down the screen like tall sepia waterfalls, and Bristol’s neo-gothic Temple Meads station, in ethereal ink outline. The Forth bridge of 1890 appears side on, elongated and webby as if someone had pulled a string cat’s cradle as far as it would go. Its vertical columns climb visibly week by week; target dates are marked at each level, like the tracking of a child’s growth against a wall.
Maidenhead bridge, designed in brick by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1839, has two middle arches spanning the river in great cheetah leaps. They were lower and broader than anything previously constructed in brick, and the Great Western Railway’s directors feared the bridge would collapse: they insisted on the bridge’s temporary timber supports remaining even after it opened. Annoyed, Brunel secretly lowered the supports a bit so they did not actually support anything.
(All links in the original article.)
May 26, 2011
I remember something about Fuller’s potentially revolutionary design for housing from a few mentions in Robert Heinlein’s work, but I’d never followed up those hints. Charles Stross did:
. . . the Dymaxion House was probably the most fascinating of his failures, because it was nothing short of an attempt to revolutionize how we live.
Modernist architects of the 20th century generally designed two types of house: those for rich architects and other members of the upper classes to enjoy, and grimly regimented concrete cookie-cutter apartment blocks for factory workers. Fuller’s approach to housing was cookie-cutter-esque, insofar as he planned to mass-produce Dymaxion Houses on converted B-29 Superfortress production lines after the second world war, and ship them to their owners in freight containers, but as far as I know it was radically different in conception, purpose, and design from any of the other modular homes of the period. For one thing, he was interested in portability and nomadism; while a concrete foundation with utility connections was necessary, Fuller’s idea of moving house was that you could pack your house down into a container that would fit on a truck, drive it to your new neighbourhood, and deploy it again — the design influences of the traditional Mongolian yurt should be obvious. The Dymaxion House used aluminium sheeting for floors and structures, suspended by wires from a central steel structural shaft: saving weight was a priority. As he famously asked an architect on one occasion, “why are your houses so heavy?”
For another thing, he took an early interest in minimizing the human impact on the environment. The Dymaxion House had passive air temperature control and a pressure-triggered roof vent to survive near-misses from tornados (by releasing over-pressure inside the building so that it didn’t rupture). It had a then-unique mist-spray shower and a grey-water system to reduce water usage; Fuller was also interested in non-flush toilets.
Finally, it was intended to be mass produced for $6,500 per house in 1946 money — the cost of a high-end automobile — with a design life of 30-50 years. Early development was funded by the Pentagon, for reasons that should be obvious: WWII generated unprecedented demand for accommodation on bases overseas and, later, demand for housing in war-ravaged regions.
The story of why we aren’t all living in Dymaxion houses today is a convoluted epic of business failure (for one thing, starting up a production line for houses using cutting-edge aerospace technology was something that had never been done before; for another, Bucky’s business sense was not, sadly, as good as his design sense) that has been recounted in numerous biographies. What interests me about it is that it’s a far more humane approach to the problem of providing housing for the masses than his Brutalist contemporaries, whose designs tended to be fixed, immovable, made cheaply out of low-end materials, and built with high density mass housing in mind rather than low impact customizability. It was also way ahead of the field in terms of awareness of environmental constraints; while we could design better today, we’d be making incremental tweaks, whereas Bucky came up with the original idea of modular, lightweight, mobile low-impact housing ab initio.
Image detail from Tim O’Reilly’s Flikr photostream.
January 23, 2011
Noreen Malone wants us to sober up and “stop slobbering over abandoned cityscapes”:
When I sat down to my keyboard recently to Google the city of Detroit, the fourth hit was a site titled “the fabulous ruins of Detroit.” The site — itself a bit of a relic, with a design seemingly untouched since the 1990s — showed up in the results above the airport, above the Red Wings or the Pistons, the newspapers, or any other sort of civic utility. Certainly above anything related to the car industry, for which the word Detroit was once practically a synonym. Pictures of ruins are now the city’s most eagerly received manufactured good.
We have begun to think of Detroit as a still-life. This became clear to me recently, when the latest set of “stunning” pictures of Detroit in ruins made the rounds, taken by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre for a book, The Ruins of Detroit. They were much tweeted and blogged about (including by TNR’s own Jonathan Chait), as other such “ruin porn” photosets of blighted places have been, and were described variously as wonderful, as beautiful, as stunning, as shocking, as sad. They are all of those things, and so I suppose they are good art. But they are rotten photojournalism.
[. . .]
I suspect it’s not an accident that the pictures of Detroit that tend to go viral on the Web are the ones utterly devoid of people. We know intellectually that people live in Detroit (even if far fewer than before), but these pictures make us feel like they don’t. The human brain responds very differently to a picture of a person in ruin than to a building in ruin — you’d never see a magazine represent famine in Africa with a picture of arid soil. Without people in them, these pictures don’t demand as much of the viewer, exacting from her engagement only on a purely aesthetic level. You can revel in the sublimity of destruction, of abandonment, of the march of change — all without uncomfortably connecting them with their human consequences.
H/T to Felix Salmon for the link.
October 26, 2010
Canada’s parliament buildings have been sporadically under repair since 1992. The original estimate for all required work was $460 million. It has, of course, gone well past that budget:
The cost of renovating Parliament Hill is expected to hit $5 billion by the time the 25-year project wraps up, CBC reported Monday.
According to documents released by the Department of Public Works, the repairs to almost every building on Parliament Hill, originally pegged to be $460 million in 1992, will have ballooned to more than 10 times that amount upon completion.
Renovations started on the aging buildings in 1992, when builders began renewing Parliament’s West Block. The project was shelved in 1998, then restarted in 2005, with an estimated budget of $769 million. That total has since risen to more than $1 billion, according to CBC.
As Ezra Levant points out, “Burj Dubai, world’s tallest building, only cost $4.1B”.
Update: Ezra also pointed out that the “Bank of China tower in Hong Kong was $1.66B. Taipei 101 was $2B. “.
June 30, 2010
Chateau de Guedelon is a real 13th century castle, or at least, it will be when they finish building it:
The Chateau de Guedelon was started in 1998, after local landowner Michel Guyot wondered whether it would be possible to build a castle from scratch, using only contemporary tools and materials.
Today, the walls are rising gradually from the red Burgundy clay. The great hall is almost finished, with only part of the roof remaining, while the main tower edges past the 15m (50ft) mark.
Builders use sandstone quarried from the very ground from which the castle is emerging.
[. . .]
The Guedelon site was chosen because it contained all the necessary materials: plentiful oak from the forests, as well as clay and water. Stone from the quarry had actually been used in the building of real-life medieval chateaux.
October 20, 2009
I’m not sure if the word "condo" is from the Latin translation "poor workmanship", or from the French "to work without pride".
John Schubarth, letter to Canadian Home Workshop, March 2000