Archive for the Architecture Category

Arrivederci L’Aquila!

Posted in Architecture, Biographical with tags , on October 17, 2014 by telescoper

So here I am, then. In the British Airways Lounge at Roma Fiumicino Airport waiting for a flight back to Gatport Airwick. This morning’s bus journey from L’Aquila was as incident-free as the outbound journey, and I actually got to the airport about 10 minutes early. As I always do I planned the journey so I’d arrive in plenty of time for my flight, so now I get to relax and drink free wine among the Business Class types until I’m called to totter to the gate.

Fiumicino is strange airport, clearly built in the 1960s with the intention that it should look futuristic but with the inevitable result that it now feels incredibly dated, like a 1950s Science Fiction film.

Anyway, I’ve at last got a bit of time to kill so I’ll take the opportunity to brush up on my Italian. Let’s try translating this:


It’s obvious of course. House of Wind.

Ciao Ciao

The Slow Rebirth of L’Aquila

Posted in Architecture with tags , on October 10, 2014 by telescoper

This morning there was a gap in the programme at the workshop I’m attending here in L’Aquila so I took the opportunity to dust off my camera and go for a walk around the town. It’s hard to convey in words the extent of the structural damage you can still see more than five years after the earthquake, so I’ll mainly let the pictures to the talking. What you see here is the rule rather than the exception. To preface the pictures, however, I’ll say that the main square, the Piazza del Duomo, which clearly used to be the hub of the city is a strange place now as most of the buildings around it are so badly damaged as to be unsafe. The few shops and cafes open basically operate out of the ground floor.

L’Aquila isn’t exactly a ghost town – there were quite a few people around last night when I walked back to my hotel after dinner – but it’s clearly a shadow of its former self. Only a few per cent of the properties near the city centre are habitable.

Leading out from the Piazza del Duomo is a labyrinth of narrow streets flanked by tall buildings, and most of the them now also unoccupied. The numerous shops inside the galleries that run alongside the larger thoroughfares are all closed. The earthquake happened in the early hours of the morning so there would not have been many people out and about at that time, but it would have been a terrifying experience to have been caught between rows of buildings shaking, with rubble falling down everywhere.

A couple of things are clear having walked around all morning. One is that if there’s so much work still to be done after 5 years then it will take a very long time indeed for L’Aquila to be rebuilt. You can find the phrase L’Aquila Rinasce all round the city, but if there is to be a rebirth it will be a slow and painful one. The other thing is that there must have been a very drastic triage to decide which buildings to repair and which to simply shore up and leave for later. Many seem to me to be so badly damaged that the only practical option is to knock them down and start again. Only a few are fully restored, most of them key civic institutions, although clearly a lot of work is going on in the historic centre especially on old churches.

Buildings of Sussex (University)

Posted in Architecture with tags , , , , , on May 24, 2013 by telescoper

Shamelessly ripped off from the University of Sussex Staff News comes an interest snippet. Nearly 50 years after it first came out, the revised Sussex edition of a renowned series of architectural guides is about to be published – with our own Falmer House on the front cover.

Falmer House

The news item goes on

The Sussex volume of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s comprehensive and authoritative 46-volume series was first published in 1965. It includes seven pages on the “uncompromising” 1960s Sussex architecture by Sir Basil Spence – the subject of an exhibition on campus in 2012.

“The campus has worn well,” writes Antram, who is sensitive to the original, listed Spence buildings and those of the later, evolving campus.

“There is a carefully controlled relationship between landscape and buildings, sometimes formal, sometimes informal, the established park and Downland setting omnipresent …

“The buildings are remarkably homogeneous, their leitmotifs being heavy, chunky slabs of in situ cast concrete vaults, often used as bands, contrasted against the red brick walls …

“Roman indeed seems the epic monumentality of the Sussex buildings with their rhythmic arches and grand exterior staircases, even if that formality is softened by the materials and the asymmetrical layout.”

The campus tour of individual buildings begins with Falmer House, the first 1960s building in the country to be given Grade I listed status by English Heritage.

Pevensey 1 is described as “high drama”, the Chichester Lecture Theatre as an “awesomely plain brick drum” and the Library as a “rather brooding presence”.

Swanborough, meanwhile, is “unassuming”, and East Slope consists of 13 “troglodytic blocks stepped up the hillside”.

In my experience, opinions are generally rather divided about the architectural quality of the buildings on the University of Sussex campus. Mine are too, actually. I think the overall plan is wonderful with its accurately aligned central axis visible in the jacket photograph. On the other hand, some of the buildings – especially the John Maynard Smith Building (when I was a student here  it was called BIOLS) is not very good at all and may well be demolished soon to make way for new Science Buildings. I agree that East Slope is dire. The building I am in – Pevensey (formerly MAPS) -is actually rather nice, and most staff seem to like it here. My favourite building on the campus, however, is the Library; largely because Sussex still has a “library” as opposed to a “Learning Resources Unit” or some such nonsense. In any case I don’t find it at all “brooding” so I’m  mystified by that comment.

Some have called it brutalist but I think the relationship between the campus buildings and the surrounding countryside has been managed very sensitively. It’s purely a matter of taste, of course, and no doubt some locals will want to express differing opinions through the comment box!