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Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

I love visiting London, particularly if I’m able to travel there by train. On each occasion, my excitement mounts as we draw nearer to Paddington as there is always something new to discover in the big smoke, whether it is a ‘must have’ item of clothing (Oxford Circus is my first stop, for Top Shop and Uniqlo!), or a fascinating exhibition or show. Travelling by tube is the quickest way of getting from A to B if time is short but the best way of seeing London and really experiencing it is, like anywhere, by foot.

If you happen to wander down any side street from the main thoroughfares of the city, you’d be surprised not only by the relative calm and quiet, but also by the interesting architecture that you’d find. I had some time while I was in London last winter and decided to walk back to my hotel rather than catch the tube. It was a fair distance but very much worth it.

The rows of red brick houses in a residential area just behind the main shopping areas of Knightsbridge were a sight to behold – what a lovely place to live! Row after row of multiple storied terraces snake around the back streets, perfect examples of Victorian architecture.


They remind me of typical Amsterdam canal houses!

Just look at this doorway too:

Not far on my walk, the shape and look of the buildings changed. The ornate design of these streets gave way to the more subtle charm of beautifully presented Georgian period homes, of which this was a lovely example:

It’s hard to believe that such homes lie only a stones throw away from the hustle and bustle of the city!

On my travels I was also excited to happen across the Bibendum restaurant, of Terence Conran fame. See the wonderful stained glass windows featuring ‘Bibendum’ himself, otherwise known as the ‘Michelin Man’. I love that he is holding a cigar, just like Mr Conran is wont to do:

I would have liked to have had the opportunity to have stopped for a bite to eat or at least to have viewed the interior, but I was in a bit of a rush by that point, what with all my walking and pausing to behold the interesting sights. Oh well, there is always next time…

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It’s long overdue, seeing as my California road trip was back in May, but it is time for me to lovingly reminisce about the fortnight I spent in the sunshine state, particularly as the autumn is creeping in here in the UK.

Our first stop in Los Angeles was, as anticipated, the architectural highlight of the trip, John Lautner’s Chemosphere being the main attraction, of course! I snapped houses at the side of main roads all the way around the state and will include them in my blogs, but wanted to start with the homes that line the canals in Venice, CA.

Venice beachfront is a crazy place, with all manner of weird and wonderful people. Just a block or so inland, however, are what is left of the canals. The calm and peacefulness, where householders tend to their gardens and ducks make their merry way through the water,  is a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of the beach.

Venice 1

All of the homes were extremely attractive. The pristine white clap-board bungalow above was my own personal favourite – it has so much character – but every one of them was a picture, particularly for a modernist afficianado like me!

Venice 2

There were also some strange but wonderful homes. This one reminds me of an aardvark!

Venice 3

Other houses were more traditional but still just as beautiful. I was surprised that there were no other tourists wandering around the canals, enjoying the peaceful ambience and the interesting architecture. They are a little hidden away though, which might explain it – a real gem amongst the rough! I would have liked to have had longer to explore Venice but our whistlestop tour meant that we had to move on to the next wonderful place…

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Pink House 1

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I was on my annual visit to Dartmouth Royal Regatta last week. It’s always an enjoyable way to spend a few days and this year was no exception. As usual, it was a good opportunity to go wild with my camera and, in particular, focus on the way that the people of Dartmouth decorate their homes for Regatta as well as the way their homes are decorated all the year around. One of my previous posts talked about the ice-cream colours beloved of seaside residents and I loved these pink houses, seen whilst enjoying the Regatta festivities.

Pink House 2

I also loved the festoonery of bunting and flags that adorned many of the homes! Well done, people of Dartmouth – you gave us a lot more than the sailing, rowing and air displays to admire!

Bunting 1Bunting 2

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While I was thinking of ice cream colours on buildings and ‘icing’, I remembered the wedding cake-like summer houses that line the banks of the Bosphorus outside of Istanbul, on the way to the Black Sea. The architecture in Istanbul itself is just breathtaking, and these houses are a kind of juxtaposition to the enormity of the Aya Sofia and Blue Mosque. They are so pretty, some with little boats tied up outside. I daydreamed about living in one of them whilst sipping my çay on the ferry…

Istanbul Summer house 1Istanbul Summer House 2

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I recently spent a weekend in Torbay, Devon, and as we drove through Teignmouth, I was struck by the prettiness of the architecture. Houses are really different by the seaside to in land. In my neck of the woods, I’m surrounded by either Bath stone, rough stone, or red brick. The seaside buildings of England’s ‘Riviera’ display a host of ice cream colours and shiny white cast iron swirls of balcony and gable, like icing.

In Torquay, vast Victorian manor houses, now retirement homes, hotels, or split into apartments, line the hillside outside of the town, with beautifully landscaped gardens. We walked part of the coastal path there and stopped for a drink on the terrace of the Osborne Hotel, a bright white Georgian-style crescent, looking out to sea.

We walked the breakwater in Brixham and beheld the higgledy piggledy terraced houses nestled into the slopes leading up from the harbour, painted every colour in the rainbow. They looked like little jewels in the evening sun, the windows glinting in the light.

Beach Huts, Broadsands_WmThe beach huts that line part of the sea front of Paignton are all white clapboard with the doors and roofs painted in different colours. They are extremely photogenic and just delightful to see in their long rows. Alek, on her blog ‘From the Right Bank to the Left Coast’ recently commented that it would be wonderful to live in a hut by the sea,  and illustrated this with pictures of a fabulous contemporary beach hut. Well, these little huts are too small for living in, but they’re lovely for a day at the British seaside – just add a deckchair and bucket and spade!

http://www.fromtherightbank.com/2009/07/contemporary-beach-hut/

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from http://mervynseal.com/MervynSeal/60%27s%20House%20design.html

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Mervyn Seal was something of a trailblazer of modern design in the otherwise sleepy fishing town of Brixham, Devon. His architecture must have been a real talking point at the time with, no doubt, much ‘opinion’ being voiced.

The façade of his Parkham Wood House conjures up thoughts of space travel and Futurism and the positioning of the windows and the light and dark behind them forms a geometric pattern that is also reminiscent of the work of Piet Mondrian.

Its location is awkward, perched on a cliff, and the cantilever engineering allows it to seem as if it is floating, almost like a tree house. Overcoming such difficulties and assimilating buildings with nature is a heavy nod to Frank Lloyd Wright – Fallingwater in particular. Seal has bravely taken on a location where more traditional home designs would not have been possible or appropriate, and injected a sense of modernist glamour.

The innovative use of materials and techniques, such as cantilevering, steel, concrete and plate glass, is very much like Wright, but also the work of John Lautner and Mies van der Rohe. The budget must have been, however, a fraction of what these renowned architects had to work with.  It does have an undeniable charm, nonetheless, and was and still is the only building of its kind in the town.

The shape of the roof slants from the left, creating good drainage and a pleasing ‘space butterfly’ shape. The building is entirely composed of long horizontal lines and makes good use of the split-level style, as well as the almost entirely glass frontage. The almost precarious balancing of the house on the cliff, among the trees, makes it all the more intriguing. It is reminiscent of a Bond villain’s cliff-top lair, and is a superb example of 1960s British architecture.

In the same way as Frank Lloyd Wright, Seal also worked on the interior design of this home, building in furniture and using stone cladding, again like Wright and Lautner. Inside, as outside, there is evidence of innovative design and techniques, the ‘fishbone’ steel staircase and the modern take on a chandelier – coloured glass tubes extending from the wood panelled ceiling – in particular. The split-level design makes maximum use of space and light and the sunken living area is as unashamedly 1960s as the exterior is modernist and futuristic.

The Twentieth Century Society was making a bid to have the Parkham Wood House listed. Another of Seal’s designs, the equally accomplished and grander scaled ‘Kaywana Hall’, Kingswear near Dartmouth (1961), has recently been demolished.

Pictures and details of his work can be seen on his website: Mervyn Seal – 60’s House Design

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Chemosphere, John LautnerJohn Lautner’s Malin House or ‘Chemosphere’, Hollywood, 1960

Is this the coolest house ever built? Well, it is certainly one of the most inspired and inspiring…

John Lautner, born in Michigan in 1911, began his love of architecture and building at an early age, helping his father to build a log cabin at the age of twelve. He became an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright’s without formal architectural training, and worked at Taliesin, Wright’s home and studio, for six years. It may be that Wright’s ‘Falling Water’ was an inspiration for his own later work, in overcoming perceived obstacles to design, and working with and incorporating nature into his architecture. Lautner’s own approach was what he called ‘real architecture’, buildings that actually improved people’s lives.

He began his own practice in Los Angeles in 1940, recognising that this was a city that would welcome his designs. He worked prolifically in southern California, creating interesting and valuable architecture throughout the city and beyond. Other favourite work includes the Stevens Residence in Malibu, the Sheats Residence in Los Angeles and the Harpel Residence, Hollywood. Lautner attached enormous value to the ‘idea’ or ‘parti’ behind each brief, and, although his intrinsic style is present in all of his work – his fearless use of different/’new’ kinds of materials incorporating challenging engineering and technology, the linear nature of his designs, his embracing of nature, his forward-thinking, uncompromising approach – each of these three examples, and, it could be said, all of his work, represents a different parti, sensitive to the requirements of each client.

The design of the Chemosphere solved the problem of the steep land that Lautner was posed with. The single column allowed the landscape to remain untouched while also providing a residence that had breathtaking views from the Hollywood hills. It is around 30 feet above the ground and is reached by either an ‘inclinator’, a funicular cart from the garage area below, two hundred steps, or over a link bridge from the adjacent hillside. It is an octagonal shape, with eight steel braces supporting each side, which are in turn attached to the column. Lautner also designed the built-in furniture, as he did with other projects, and gave much consideration to the flow of air and possibility of vertigo. A piece written about the Chemosphere by Walt Lockley considers that Lautner’s design could be replicated on any hillside in any part of the world. It is such a strong solution to the problem of building on steep land that it is lamentable that Lautner’s model was not adopted as a common architectural method.

Despite this, the Chemosphere has had a high profile since its conception, and has appeared in two movies. It ‘starred’ in the 1984 film Body Double and the exterior was used in the Charlie’s Angels film of 2000 (the interior was a set). This is not surprising, given its unusual looks and the fact that it is perched on a single stilt. It conjures up ideas of Bond girls and glamour, perfectly capturing the zeitgeist of forward-thinking 1960s architecture and design while also possessing a futuristic quality that means it could have been built at any point in recent times or in years to come. It is a classic – it still does not look dated, its flying saucer appearing to want to take off at any time – and it deserves to be lovingly appreciated by a knowledgeable owner who will ensure that its legacy continues for future generations to enjoy it.

It is said, however, that Lautner did not receive the accolades he deserved for his architecture in his own lifetime, although he did have ardent followers. My own pilgrimage to the house was memorable and moving. I had first seen it in the Charlie’s Angels film, and although I didn’t know what it was then, the image of it stayed with me so that when I became seriously interested in design and architecture, I recalled it and resolved to find out more and to see it one day.

That dream came true a few weeks ago when I was on a road trip around California. I had only a few short days in LA, but seeing the Chemosphere was at the top of my list. I programmed 7776 Torreyson Drive in the satellite navigation and held my breath. When I first entered Torreyson Drive, I couldn’t think how the house was going to emerge from this narrow, leafy and windy road, and got to the end of the street, looking up at the sky the whole time (I wasn’t driving, don’t worry), disappointed that it perhaps was not going to be visible from street level. We turned the car around and drove back very slowly, I was just about to ask an old gentleman about it when there it was, its stilt hidden by trees, but the flying saucer very much in view. I got out of the car and marvelled at it for a while then took pictures for posterity. I didn’t want to get back into the car – I felt honoured and enlivened.

The Chemosphere is a completely unique building. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world and it is an outstanding achievement. It represents a way of living that has yet to be realised – even almost fifty years later, it is still the future of design. To me, it will always be the coolest house ever built.

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