Curator Valeria Carullo interviews architectural photographer Richard Bryant about capturing images of Carlo Scarpa’s work…
The work of architect and designer Carlo Scarpa engages with the context and conditions of a place, most notably through considered use of materials and light. Scarpa’s designs subtly worked Modernism and craftsmanship with the ancient buildings of Italy, especially in the Veneto region. Curator Valeria Carullo (Robert Elwall Photographs Collection, RIBA) interviewed architectural photographer Richard Bryant to find out more about Scarpa’s work and the experience of seeing and recording this master’s work in Italy.
You can see more examples of Scarpa’s work on RIBApix.
Justine Sambrook looks at the best shots from a day exploring architectural photography…
In October, a hardy bunch of photography enthusiasts braved the high winds and storm threats to venture into the Barbican estate to learn about architectural photography.
‘Run, Jump, Shoot’ began with a look at the history of architectural photography using items from the RIBA’s exceptional Robert Elwall Photographs Collection. Participants had the opportunity for a closer look at some prints from the very dawn of photography in the mid-19th century before moving on to examine some iconic images from some of the 20th century’s most adept chroniclers of British architecture. Andy Day then led a session looking at what makes a successful photograph as well as looking into the fascinating relationship of people and architecture in photography.
We set off to the Barbican where Andy was on hand for technical advice and tips on how to get the best results from a rather gloomy day. The results were impressive, with many people taking on Andy’s pointers to look for contrasting textures and frames within frames. It was tough, as always, for us to pick our two winners who will each receive a print of their choice from either RIBApix or kiell.com. We have picked Ron Hewitt, a repeat participant whose work also impressed us at Alexandra Road, and Carolina Alvarez.
Participants’ photographs of the Barbican:
If you’re feeling inspired and you’d like to try your hand at some architectural photography then why not come along to one of our photography workshops next year? Further details will be announced soon in What’s On.
Curator, Robert Elwall Photographs Collection, British Architectural Library, RIBA
Ben Smith looks at the ground-breaking building that put healthcare provision within the reach of ordinary British people...
Berthold Lubetkin’s Finsbury Health Care Centre stands at the forefront of universal public health providers. The Public Health Act of 1936 enabled local councils to provide medical services for poorer inhabitants, in Finsbury Lubetkin was tasked with designing this highly ambitious and unprecedented building.
The building exemplifies Lubetkin’s maxim that “nothing’s too good for ordinary people.” The building is low-lying and features a light-filled lobby alongside commissioned artwork designed to persuade people towards healthier lifestyles. Stylistically the building shares many features with Lubetkin’s nearby Priory Green and Spa Green estates.
The centre was due to occupy a larger area, incorporating public gardens, libraries, public baths and nurseries; however, due to World War Two and changing political priorities only the health centre was completed.
The building is Grade I listed and was partly restored in by Avanti Architects in the mid-1990s.
Information Assistant, British Architectural Library, RIBA
The final Perspectives on Architecture talk in 2013 came from Jo Ashbridge, 2012 RIBA Boyd Auger Scholarship recipient, on Tuesday 12th November. At the time of receiving the award she was already in Bangladesh working with a local, shelter related organisation called Simple Action For the Environment (SAFE) in collaboration with Engineers Without Borders (EWB-UK).
Below is a transcript from the talk:
“The research focuses on earthen solutions within a disaster risk reduction framework in areas across Bangladesh; areas that are subject to an array of water related concerns and can be broken down into three phases:
One of the most important drivers was the participatory approach, to include the local population in all aspects of the work and use a range of human centred methods to not only gain a real insight but also ensure transparency and in the end ownership of the intervention.
Bangladesh is a relatively new prospect for many and therefore it is important to understand current conditions:
When you look at an issue such as earthen architecture and its role and relevance in society it cannot be studied in isolation. Geography, society, economy, politics and environment all play a part in how and why earthen architecture is still prominent and whether it has a future.
The study looks at three divisions (Bangladesh has seven in total). In the northwest, Rangpur is famous for its rice production. It is a relatively rural region which lies in one of the highest earthquake prone zones in the country and districts such as Dinajpur suffer from particularly strong winds during September and October.
Along the southern coast, Khulna and Barisal divisions. This is shrimp farming country, which in itself is causing severe repercussions for the environment. The coastal districts frequently experience tropical cyclones and storm surges, the effects of Cyclone Sidr in 2007 still felt today.
Earthen architecture and construction can be sustainable, low cost and beautiful, but is it relevant in such a climate?
Wintertime in Bangladesh, particularly in low income communities is a real concern. Temperatures drop as low as 5OC and hundreds are estimated to die every year in a large part due to inadequate housing. More and more you see NGOs incorporating the distribution of blankets within their responses. The thermal mass of earthen solutions keeps spaces both cool during high summer and warm during winter. A simple earthen plaster applied to a loose bamboo weave wall can also provide a level of protection against wind, rain and abrasion.
Humidity levels in Bangladesh are recorded to reach 90% in July. The porous nature of earthen walls means that they absorb and release water and therefore have the potential to act as a modulator for indoor humidity. Many earthen solutions do not require expensive tools or technical knowledge, so again are potentially suited to low income demographics.
Earthen solutions complement other sustainable materials such as bamboo, jute and coconut timber which are all native to Bangladesh. And, earth is potentially free, either harvested from your own plot or less legally from government land.
So far so good.
So what are the challenges to using this material?
Well, although the tools and techniques may appear relatively simple, there is a need for local knowledge of climate, soil suitability and weather patterns. Earthen solutions work best when they are not in isolation, when they are complemented by design features such as adequate footings and roof overhangs. Without water resilience measures or stabilisation techniques there is a risk of erosion and impact. This then leads to ongoing maintenance requirements which can add an additional burden to the daily tasks of many low income families.
Poverty Economics, written by A. V. Banerjee and E. Duflo has become a key text in my life:
“Our real advantage comes from the many things that we take as given. We live in houses where clean water gets piped in – we do not need to remember to add Chorin to the water supply every morning. The sewerage goes away on its own – we do not actually know how…
We have no choice but to get our children immunized – public school will not take them if they aren’t and even if we somehow manage to fail to do it, our children will probably be safe because everyone else is…
And perhaps most important, most of us do not have to worry where our next meal will come from…”
For better or worse we live in a somewhat paternalistic society. For many of the communities I was able to visit the list of daily tasks is momentus… elements of our lives which we take for granted. If we could lift those burdens, such as the necessary maintenance of earthen walls, imagine what could be achieved with the time saved?
The next questions are of course:
Is earthen architecture and construction commonplace in Bangladesh? What earthen solutions are used? Which techniques are favoured and which are not? Which demographics use this material and what are their housing visions for the future?
The project focuses on three divisions and although there were differences in earthen vernacular across these divisions I would argue that it is very much a material used within low income communities and people really do know how to use it.
There are essentially three categories: plinths, walls and plasters. In all categories the tendency is to use a sticky mud, essentially a simple mix of earth and water (sometimes with the addition of animal dung or fibres such as straw). How sticky the mixture is depends on the individual craftsman or artisan and how they like to use it.
In all three divisions you see earthen plinths and the latest Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) Populations and Housing Census indicates 74% use of earthen floors. Plinths elevate residences above standing water due to monsoon rains and help to protect individuals and their assets during flash floods. This technique is also seen for animal shelters. They are compacted in a variety of ways, using local ramming tools and there is often little external protection which is a real problem in areas where flood waters are yet to recede.
One village I visited in Tala union of Khulna division had been underwater for nine months, we had to row boats to reach people’s front doors, new bamboo bridges were being created for general access and certainly there was a real issue with undercutting. Life however does go on and ingenuity is witnessed at every corner.
Earthen walls vary, from thick adobe structures where sticky mud is thrown in layers rather than rammed to sundried earthen blocks laid with earthen mortar and rammed earth walls. Earthen plasters also feature in all three divisions. In Dinajpur basic single storey bamboo frames with split bamboo weaved panels are plastered, in Khulna and Barisal you see a lot more jute and coconut timber again plastered to a smooth hand finish. Other earthen based solutions include fired products such as bricks, terracotta roof tiles (which are sadly out of fashion) and clay products which support daily life.
One of the most intriguing aspects talking to residents in the various communities I was fortunate enough to visit was their perception of earth as a construction material. It is very much seen as a ‘poor mans’ material, as are other natural materials such as bamboo.
An interesting example is the Practical Action prototypes project run in collaboration with RESET. Four one room shelters were designed and built within one community of Shyamnagar. The designs were standardised but the materials differed. The idea was to document the environmental performance of each and the perception of beneficiaries.
When you walk into the houses topped with terracotta tiles or golpata leaf it is noticeably cooler than walking into the two that feature corrugated iron (CI) sheets. In fact those are quite unbearable during the heat of the day. Talking to all of the beneficiary households everyone responded that they would prefer a brick house with CI sheet roof rather than an earthen wall or plastered structure with terracotta tiles. They were fully aware of the comfort issues, but believed longevity to be important.
In a society which relies heavily on status there is a real desire to upgrade houses with more ‘durable’ and expensive solutions. This stage of the project led to many discoveries about the current use of earth, past practices and future ideas.
So is earth a primary building material in the shelter responses of NGOs?
One of my first questions to head quarters and field staff when I was arranging my logistics and site visits was, “Does earth feature in your design solution?”. Most of the time I was met with a no and prior to my analysis this seemed a missed opportunity. Although in most solutions I couldn’t say earth was a primary building material, in all those I visited it did feature.
In the NARRI design, the largest shelter programme to be rolled out across Bangladesh, the field staff were working with residents to promote plinth embankments to help support the brick retaining walls which had been designed only using a single leaf… the lateral pressure has caused some failures.
BRAC, the largest NGO on the planet, provided 43 cyclone resistant houses on stilts in Adarsha Gram, one of the most vulnerable areas of Bangladesh along the southern coast. They worked with local craftsmen to improve upon handmade terracotta tiles, celebrating this solution which was once commonplace across the region.
To make a house a home, some beneficiaries had plastered their houses or infilled junctions to achieve a more watertight finish.
Earth doesn’t feature high on the agenda of NGOs, and this is largely due to time constraints, logistics and potential savings with manufacture of parts off site and bulk purchase. However, as these shelter responses are minimal in the whole scheme of a country that is growing at such a rapid rate there is a real opportunity to work with populations to support them in improving the quality and longevity of their existing earthen residences.
In phase two and three I worked with SAFE to develop and test such improvements. This included field tests to identify locally sourced and freely available natural additives that could compete with synthetic alternatives for use within earthen plasters. Cement, lime and bitumen are an option to improve water resilience but low income households are often unable to afford these additions.
Not to go further into detail but we were able to identify a local tree mulch that performed wonderfully against a 5% cement and SAFE are currently creating a tree nursery to reintroduce this species back into the landscape. For more information download the publication, http://issuu.com/joashbridge/docs/water_resilience_of_earthen_plasters
Secondly we built a prototype house to directly test a range of earthen solutions. This house was designed with the beneficiary household and community and the work supported by building for safety workshops, community meetings and design consultations to disseminate ideas and offer a platform to discuss the solutions.
Again, the participatory approach, design, techniques and handover process could be a talk in itself, but to give a brief overview it is a double storey scheme with a raised brick plinth and compacted stabilised earth floor. The ground floor walls are constructed with compressed stabilised earth blocks (CSEBs), rammed using a locally made machine featuring recycled bicycle components. A series of stabilised earthen plasters allow the walls to breathe and although the second storey is predominantly constructed with bamboo the upper floor is a stabilised earth, thrown wet.
With the funding available, we were only able to provide one prototype but it is very much an experiment in itself and I am receiving ongoing feedback from SAFE.
Additional financial support from friends, family and strangers enabled a holistic design response. Although this is a prototype to test solutions it is first and foremost a home for a family of five: Shayarani, Tarindaro, Himan, Dorithri and Bilash. So the house is complemented with a ventilated improved pit latrine, the first latrine in this para and a designated kitchen with improved cook stove.
There is a need to work with local communities to strengthen the capabilities of individuals and families, to improve shelter construction technologies and techniques based on successful existing practices, to offer modest improvements and this includes the use of earth. A participatory approach is just one of the many aspects needed to encourage community self-reliance rather than dependence on aid.
Architects are a luxury, engineering advice is costly. People all over the world are building their own houses and will continue to do so. In Bangladesh from my experience, earth is a key component of construction in areas with limited assets and it is very much part of the future of this country.
I am currently working on a publication to document the entire project. If you are interested to know more or would like to receive a pdf once it is complete please do drop me an email (email@example.com) and I’ll add you to the distribution list.
The presentation includes a short video of the places I witnessed, the design process and the people that welcomed me into their homes; my life over the past 13 months in a country of true hospitality. The accompanying song was written by one of the most famous and loved Bengali poets, Rabindranath Tagore; the first ten lines of which were adopted as the National Anthem in 1972 following the Bangladesh Liberation War.
The video is dedicated to my building team who I miss a great deal.”
All images copyright of Jo Ashbridge.
A record of over one and a half centuries of architectural history, the RIBA’s Periodicals Collection records the news of past technological developments…
The telephone is still evolving with the release of new models and the high-profile demise of older ones. Beginning in the 1960s, the rotary dial was replaced by push-buttons, then superseded by touch screens and, since the 1980s, the telephone has moved from being a fixed device to something we carry with us (and sometimes lose).
It was 50 years ago this month that the first push-button telephones were introduced, which would spell the end of rotary dial models. In the Periodicals Collection there is a near-complete set of Ideal Home, and in this magazine’s November 1963 issue it mentioned statistics which indicated how, in one way, Britain was lagging behind:
The article said the General Post Office thought: “that the British are not particularly telephone-minded”. While the GPO was using advertising to change the public’s supposed antipathy to talking to each other remotely, Ideal Home pointed out that there were already 50,000 people on the waiting list to have telephones, some waiting three weeks or more for a device to be installed. But in 1963, if you did manage to get a telephone, Ideal Home said it would allow you access to services such as:
Today the telephone may seem like a rather mundane piece of equipment, but its growing popularity was an example of how Britain was changing in the post-war era and in September that same year, British Prime Minster Harold Wilson made his famous “white heat of technology” speech. This was happening as the Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower), a potent symbol of a new technological age and a major part of the country’s communications infrastructure, was under construction. 50 years on, both the telephone and BT Tower are still very visible.
Ideal Home, “Telephone Talk”, November 1963, vol.88, no.5, pp.2-8
Jonathan Makepeace on the news that RIBApix, the RIBA Library’s image database, recently reached a landmark of 75,000 images online…
This, the 75,000th image looking up the Bell Harry Tower, Canterbury Cathedral, and almost as if viewing through a kaleidoscope, is one of 500 digital images of the work of Richard Ingle FRPS (1927-2010). Ingle’s interest in churches was sparked when he visited the Norman church at Peterchurch following evacuation to Herefordshire at the beginning of World War II, but it was not until 40 years later that he was finally able to devote sufficient time to photography. Greatly influenced by Edwin Smith, he largely photographed medieval churches and cathedrals using a large format Japanese-made Wista 5 x 4 camera with the intention of communicating “the sense of wonder and peace” which they inspired in him. Not only did he meticulously note the exposure and printing information for each image, but also details of events happening in and off the scene he was recording.
Imaging Services Manager, British Architectural Library, RIBA
Exploring, making, fun and learning for the whole family at the RIBA during half term…
Half term is a good time to discover new places. A few days ago, families were invited to drop by and explore the RIBA’s HQ at 66 Portland Place. Architect George Grey Wornum may have designed a beautiful building for the RIBA, but could it be improved? Participants were asked to reimagine his design and add their ideas together to a giant collage in the shape of his building.
It’s not always about sticking to the brief, so some participants made models too. It was great to see the architects of the future making, drawing and talking enthusiastically about their designs. Thanks to everyone who came! Here’s a few pictures of the day:
A last look at the landmark overlooking the Thames, before it is brought back to life as a new neighbourhood of London…
On 31 October 1983, the generation of power at Battersea Power Station ceased forever. If you were around in 1983, it’s possible your Betamax videocassette recorder or Commodore 64 was powered by the last watts of electricity from James Theodore Halliday and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s giant brick masterpiece.
Derelict for much of its existence since its closure, and a victim of several failed proposals for redevelopment, the site welcomed thousands of visitors as part of Open House London weekend last month. I was fortunate to get in; I was also eager enough to get there before the gates opened and to queue for over two hours – it was worth it.
In the RIBA’s collections in the British Architectural Library are historic photographs, drawings and books (view some of them on RIBApix) that anyone can access to find out more about this landmark in Battersea and its architects. I used these as reference in preparation for my visit, but those images were of a fully-functioning power station in its prime belching smoke. What I was to see in person was radically different.
Entry into the site that weekend was from the riverfront at Chelsea Bridge, past the jetties supporting the two rusty cranes that once received the British coal, carried by ships on the Thames, used at Battersea. Once inside the building, entering between the two chimneys facing the Thames, I walked through the boiler house and there I saw the extent of the dereliction caused by the removal of the roof in the 1980s.
From here, all four chimneys defining each corner and the interior side of the crumbling walls could be seen. The presence of hundreds of excited people in the same space gave a jovial atmosphere to a scene of sombre industrial abandonment.
Many visitors (me included) were taking pictures of the same things: the instantly recognisable chimneys, the great expanses of stained brick walls, panoramic views of the turbine halls and the reflections on puddles of water.
The turbine halls on either side of the boiler house are in better condition, sadly without the machinery that once gave these spaces a purpose (see previous blog post by Jonathan Makepeace).
Much of the site around the power station has been cleared, with some parts partially landscaped with wild flowers.
If you want to get a view of the whole site, climb the Accumulator Tower (also open during Open House) in Churchill Gardens estate on the opposite bank. You’ll get a fine view of the whole city and discover the unique way homes on the estate was once heated using waste hot water from the power station.
In contrast to the long queues at Battersea, over at 66 Portland Place waiting times were less. It’s a public building and, to celebrate Open House, building tours were offered by RIBA staff to reveal hidden spaces and the history of the RIBA’s Grade II listed headquarters. Tours are available throughout the year and the building is open Monday to Saturdays. Everyone is welcome to visit.
Did you go and see Battersea during Open House or do have memories of the station? Share your thoughts with us.
Images by Wilson Yau
Justine Sambrook looks at a drawing that reveals the Barbican’s network of internal and external spaces …
This perspective section demonstrates the vast scale and intricacy of space at the Barbican. The development in the City of London was conceived as a way to fill the 35 acres of land left bare after a single night of the Blitz destroyed almost every building from Moorgate to Aldersgate Street leaving only the church of St Giles Cripplegate standing.
Chamberlin Powell & Bon were commissioned to prepare a scheme for what is now the Barbican Estate in 1957 but work on the residential blocks was not completed until 1980. It was conceived as an urban village with shops, a school, a pub and the now thriving arts centre.
Curator, Robert Elwall Photographs Collection, British Architectural Library, RIBA
A record of over one and a half centuries of architectural history, the RIBA’s Periodicals Collection holds news about the new imperial avenue being carved from London’s ancient streets…
We are often told Paris and London are very different, only recently Time Out published infographics comparing statistics for the two cities (by the way, in numbers London wins). The influence of Baron Haussmann on the physical fabric of Paris which has led to the one of the more obvious differences. In what was described as the “’Haussmannization’ of London” in the journal Planning Perspectives (1), the London County Council at the start of the 20th century embarked on an ambitious urban improvement project to build new streets, straight through slums and alleyways such as Wych Street, in the London district of Holborn. This project led to the creation of Kingsway and Aldwych.
Imperial House opens
A hundred years ago on the 31 October 1913, Building News (2) reported on the completion of a new building, Imperial House, on Kingsway. It was completed after the street was officially opened by King Edward VII in 1905, and many more buildings were to follow until the 1930s when the last plots, such as the site for India House, were built upon. On its own Imperial House was not special, indeed its architects Trehearn and Norman designed many more on Kingsway – 1913 alone saw their Regent and Windsor Houses completed – but together with others it formed part of an idea that London could be improved through large-scale planning and architectural harmony through shared style, height and materials of its buildings. The specifications for Imperial House showed the advances made in construction and building services in the Edwardian period: electric lifts, steel framework, stone cladding and hot water on demand and for heating. Visually Kingsway stood out as one of London’s few boulevards and technologically as having the only underground tunnel in Britain for trams.
Despite the progress on creating a wide thoroughfare graced with grand edifices, an article critical of the Kingway-Aldwych scheme appeared in the Observer newspaper in August 1913, which was to provoke agreement in both the Architects and Builders Journal (3) and the Builder (4). The Builder’s responses came in an article titled “The Lost Opportunities of Kingsway”, whilst the Architects and Builders Journal said: “throughout there is a painful disregard of scale, as though each building had been designed without reference to its neighbours”. Many of the these buildings were Classical and Renaissance in character, but it was Sir John Burnet & Partners’s Kodak building (now Grade II listed), with its modern, clean lines and use of glass, which was to gain more approval.
An unbuilt legacy
Unlike with Paris, this Haussmann-style scheme wasn’t repeated in London and the city would retain much of its unplanned character until after the Second World War. Kingsway and Aldwych sit alongside projects such as Regent Street and St Paul’s Cathedral as past efforts by some of our greatest architects and planners to impose order on our capital.
It will soon be half term, here are five ideas we have for fun and educational activities for young designers and architects whilst they are away from school…
There’s no excuse for anyone to be bored during half term, there are activities that can be done at home, outdoors or the RIBA and to get the whole family learning about the buildings and spaces around them. We’ve put together just a few things everyone can do:1. Make models
Collect some toilet roll tubes, coloured paper, cardboard, scissors and glue to create 3D models of your own home, famous buildings or your neighbourhood – but factor in a few minutes for tidying-up time! There are no restrictions on your imagination, so experiment with size, shape, material and colour. There’s lots of images on RIBApix of buildings from across the world, browse it for inspiration.
Go further and create your own design for a building and think about:
Older students should think conceptually: Explore the patterns and shapes in nature, at geological features and abstract paintings to see what new structural forms you can create for your models.2. What will your home look like in the future?
Re-imagine your home and think about how you will live in the future, perhaps in the next century: Will houses float in the air, be unusual shapes or need rooms for alien visitors and hover cars? Draw or make models of your vision of the future. If you want to be ambitious, think of ideas for futuristic cities and the new technologies that could change our lives.3. Explore!
There’s much to be learnt from exploring the spaces around you, as you might discover things you’ve never noticed before. Sketch the room you’re in, think about how you’d like to change it. Look outside you window, what can you see? Explore your local street and beyond and record in words and images what’s there using a sketchbook, tablet or camera. Also, look at these buildings closely, have they got unusual textures and patterns on their surfaces? See if you can create rubbings from the buildings you see.4. Exhibitions and galleries
Visit museums and galleries for inspiration. The V&A+RIBA Architecture Gallery is a permanent exhibition of architectural models, drawings and photographs to explain the history of world architecture. The gallery is open to the public from 10am to 5.45pm daily and 10am to 10pm on Fridays, entry is free.5. Join us at the RIBA
The RIBA have organised a series of events at 66 Portland Place to get children and students designing and learning from real buildings and the architectural collections of the RIBA. There will be workshops led by professional artists and educators, where participants can work with others and unleashed their creativity in topics such as animal architecture and the city, whilst learning new skills, including how to make models, the design process and new drawing techniques. Some events are drop-in, others will require advanced booking, check listings in What’s On for details of all RIBA events. 66 Portland Place also has facilities for adults; the cafe, Library, exhibitions and bookshop will be open as normal throughout half term.
Half term events at the RIBA, 66 Portland Place:
We hope everyone has a great half term and all the teachers get a good rest. We look forward to seeing some of you at 66 Portland Place in a few weeks!
All images © RIBA, British Architectural Library
The different collections of the RIBA when used together can tell fascinating stories about art, design and history. Watch curator Justine Sambrook as she brings together material from the RIBA’s extensive collections of photographs and periodicals held in the British Architectural Library, and looks at the work of 20th-century photographer Tony Ray-Jones for the Architectural Review’s short-lived Manplan series.
What else would you like to see revealed from our collections? Share your thoughts below.
Justine Sambrook looks at an architect who achieved much in his lifetime and left behind landmarks throughout Britain’s cities…
This month marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Charles Robert Cockerell, the first recipient of the Royal Gold Medal, in 1848, and the first professional architect to become RIBA President (1860-1862). His best known buildings include the Bank of England and the Ashmolean Museum but perhaps his most evocative structure is the National Monument to the Napoleonic Dead in Edinburgh.
Inspired by their Grand Tour of Italy, Greece and Turkey, Cockerell and William Playfair based their design on the Parthenon. The monument was allegedly left half-finished when funding ran dry and the city was too proud to accept charity from its affluent neighbour, Glasgow, triggering the nickname ‘Edinburgh’s Disgrace’. The truth seems to be that it was conceived with only 12 columns, a fact borne out by the architect’s original drawings.
Curator, Robert Elwall Photographs Collection, British Architectural Library, RIBA
Justine Sambrook on the optimism and vision that made a new city in the middle of Brazil possible…
It’s over fifty years since the creation of Brazil’s utopian, purpose-built capital Brasilia. The aim was to invigorate the centre of the country and engender a renewed sense of national pride. To design a forward-looking city, without the cultural restraints of existing structures, was a Modernist’s dream and Oscar Niemeyer grasped the chance, recruiting Lucio Costa as urban planner.
Costa’s bird-like plan, consisting of two vast intersecting axes, represents the cross erected by Brazil’s pioneers to symbolise the birth of a new civilisation. Niemeyer’s buildings are among his most emblematic, the juxtaposition of alien volumes with tracts of empty space producing a strange yet monumental landscape.
Curator, Robert Elwall Photographs Collection, British Architectural Library, RIBA
A record of over one and a half centuries of architectural history, the RIBA’s Periodicals Collection holds news about plans to build a small mountain range to house bears and goats in the heart of London…
World-class institutions, such as London Zoo, grow over time through many small and large-scale decisions to add new staff, collections and facilities. Building News on 26 September 1913 was illustrated with images of the latest proposed “notable addition to the attractions of the Zoological Gardens”, the Mappin Terraces. What seemed astonishing a hundred years ago, still has the power to impress with its bold angular forms massed into peaks 70 feet (21 metres) high.
The architects were John Belcher and John James Joass. What else other than reinforced concrete could have created the irregular shapes their design required? This was at a time when the material was still considered quite new by Edwardian architects. By 22 May 1914 the Builder reported on the terraces, which were still under construction, and described it as being “quite unique in this country”, due to the innovative use of concrete and the water tanks concealed within the body of the terraces to replenish the ponds below with rainwater.
This artificial mountain habitat was designed for bears, goats and deer, though today it is the home for the zoo’s residents originating from Australia; despite the intention to provide a natural-looking home suitable for its original inhabitants, modern standards of animal care means the terraces are more suited to wallabies and emus. It was later adapted to incorporate an aquarium. Today, it endures as a vital piece of architecture supporting the work of the zoo in promoting the conservation of animals and their habitats.
Many major institutions have a rich history that have left them with buildings of significance, and London Zoo boasts a range of listed buildings, including the Mappin Terraces, currently Grade II listed. Amongst the other names to have designed buildings for the zoo are: Decimus Burton, who designed some of the Regent Park site’s earliest structures; and Lubetkin Drake & Tecton, responsible for the widely-admired penguin pool.
The original drawings of several schemes from the firm of Belcher & Joass for the Zoological Society are held in the RIBA’s Drawings and Archives Collection.
This summer, 66 Portland Place was enlivened by a series of children’s workshops…
Whilst teachers and students enjoyed their well-earned summer break, the RIBA have been helping children get to grips with architectural ideas, make new friends and explore the secrets of 66 Portland Place.
Aimed at 7 to 12 year olds, the RIBA’s summer sessions included workshops on model making, pop-ups and eco-design. Talent and enthusiasm were not in short supply! All participants got stuck into investigating architecture and the city, whilst learning new making, drawing and other creative skills along the way.
If you like the look of this summer’s programme for children, keep your eye on the What’s On section of architecture.com to find out about the next holiday workshops coming up in the half term of October 2013 – more details of these will be online soon. Artists and educators will be leading half-day hands-on sessions for your little ones to be inspired by ‘Animal Architecture’ and ‘Model-making from Nature’ during October half term. Like the summer sessions these workshops will use the RIBA’s rich collections of books, periodicals, photographs and drawings to inspire young minds and equip students with useful skills.
To all the participants of this summer’s workshops: we hope you enjoyed the summer holidays and good luck with the new school term!
Contact Library Education Curator Ros Croker if you have any questions or want to be added to the mailing list for future workshops.
Ros Croker, Education Curator
Tel: +44 (0)20 7307 3732
For the latest Final Frame, Shiri Webb looks at the challenges posed by the site for Robin Hood Gardens and the recent fight over its future…
What was once an intersection of three major motorways leading north, south and east of Poplar has since become an area defined by its increasingly unpopular social housing scheme. Designed by Alison and Peter Smithson and completed in 1972, Robin Hood Gardens was an urban solution to an impossible site overwhelmed by the cacophony of traffic noise. The Smithsons devised two reinforced concrete blocks which acted as noise barriers against the Blackwall Tunnel, an ample landscaped garden separating the blocks and 10ft high acoustic walls at street level. However, where the Smithsons succeeded in noise reduction, they failed in providing adequate standards of living for dwellers. They imagined the secluded deck access as ‘pause-places’, which instead encouraged criminal activity. The overall maintenance of the two blocks declined and the housing failed to receive listed status in 2008 despite a convincing argument by the Twentieth Century Society. It faces demolition this year and will be replaced by 239 new homes designed by Jestico + Whiles.
Photographer and Digital Imager, British Architectural Library, RIBA
In 2010, Robert Elwall looked at the engineering landmark that crosses the River Tyne…
Newcastle is justly famous for its bridges, among them this road bridge linking the city to Gateshead. The need to maintain full navigational clearance during the bridge’s construction dictated a single span bridge with a level deck. The plans prepared by the engineers Mott Hay & Anderson were a reduced version of those they had already drawn up for Sydney Harbour Bridge. Dick, a local architect, was responsible for the detailing of the massive Cornish granite twin pylons at either end of the bridge. Their structural role was minimal but they contributed to an ensemble that has fired the popular imagination and created an enduring image of the city.
From an article by Robert Elwall, Assistant Director, British Architectural Library, and originally published in February 2010.