Sometimes in order to understand something complex, we break it down into its parts. So it is with me and cities. A city is an infinitely complex amalgamation of people, things & spaces, and so will confound someone like myself who has a (naive) desire to know it.
So in my quixotic quest to know the city, I have developed a strategy – to get to know the systems which make up the city. Finding the complexities of social systems perplexing and less than seductive, where better to start than with the most quotidian of construction systems – the brick.
To that end, I have begun a collection, and already I have learned the difference between English and Flemish bond, a stretcher and a header, the difference between herringbone and basket-weave.
Already threads are emerging in what pictures I take – fractures, repairs and joints in the system, or even, as in the photo from San Gimignano below, fake repairs to the system. Perhaps this simplest of urban systems may work it’s way into becoming analogous of other building blocks of the city.
So often the tools used to make objects are just as intriguing as the objects themselves. Patination caused by past pours and handwritten part numbers add to the charm of this fibreglass concrete casting mould.
In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain.
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities trans. William Weaver (London: Vintage 1997) p. 68
As you walk along the south bank of the Thames, opposite the City, you can’t help feeling like London is in a state of metamorphosis. The old icons; the Tower Bridge, The Tower of London, and the historical attractions; The Golden Hind, HMS Belfast, are now in the company of so many gleaming glass towers that the feeling is of a city with one foot in the past and the other firmly in the future.
The delightful thing about visiting a historical house is that you just don’t know what you are going to come across. Sure, you have ideas – the descriptions on the heritage society’s website were enough to pique your interest – but you really never know what will be around that next door, in that next fireplace, framing that next piece of panelling. The pictures above and below are a few such details from a recent visit to Kenwood House – one of English Heritage’s flagship London properties at the North end of Hampstead Heath. Above: Doors of imposing proportions with quite tiny (but lovely) brass door hardware.
Ornate Corinthian carving on a mantlepiece.
A beautifully formed radiator sits under a window.
An elegant piece of simply inlaid french-polished furniture.
Exquisitely restrained external detailing.
The geometry of a painted mock-stone wall thrown into relief in the winter evening light.
By the term “agonistic” I wish to evoke the idea of an architecture which continues to place emphasis on the particular brief and on the specific nature of the topography and climate in which it is situated, while still giving high priority to the expressivity and the physical attributes of the material out of which the work is made.
Kenneth Frampton, ‘Towards an Agonistic Architecture’, Domus, 3 October 2013. Available at: http://www.domusweb.it/en/op-ed/2013/10/03/_towards_an_agonistic_architecture.html (accessed 30 December 2013).
This week I was fortunate to visit the nearly complete Reading Rail Station, a Grimshaw Architects project in Berkshire.
The station is dominated by a series of rather heroic up-and-over canopies which steadfastly carry a linear motif through the assemblage despite the imposing Vierendeel transfer deck which hovers box-like over the tracks.