A building worth listing – and it’s from the 80’s

Posted on Updated on

Listing a building can be a nightmare for property owners and occupiers alike – but some buildings are so special that they need to be protected for future generations to experience. Whether they like what they see is irrelevant in my view – architecture is a personal thing. But what I do know is that completely demolishing our history (as they did in Nottingham when the Broad Marsh Centre was built in the 1970’s) is not a good thing.

So earlier this year when I saw that an industrial distribution building had been Grade II* listed I was really pleased….

Renault website

I have to admit a love of this building, it was built in the early 1980’s in Swindon a town close to my family home in Wiltshire, so I have known it from its construction. It also featured briefly as a backdrop in a Bond movie (A view to a Kill), which gives you an idea of just how ‘out there’ it was when it was built. English Heritage say in their listing that it is ‘one of the very finest examples of a hi-tech building’.

The architect was Lord Foster, a man who has gone on to design some of the most iconic buildings in the World today – including the Gherkin, the Millennium Bridge and the rebuilding of Berlin’s Reichstag.

Built originally for Renault as their UK parts centre the 25,000 sq m building has had a chequered history since then – but it is now protected for the future which makes me very happy, it is just a shame that we have so few iconic commercial buildings in this country worth listing…..

A final ‘hit’ of Gaudi

Posted on Updated on

Last day in Barcelona, so time for a final Gaudi ‘hit’ to keep me going. I don’t believe I have saved the best to last – but this is an amazing development in it’s own right. We are talking about La Pedrera.

Completed in 1910, this fantastic, undulating apartment block, with its out-of-this-world roof and delicate wrought ironwork, is one of the most emblematic of all Gaudí’s works. La Pedrera, also known as Casa Milà, was Gaudí’s last great civic work before he dedicated the last 40 years of his life to the Sagrada Família (as described in a previous blog).

Restored to its former glory during the 1980s, La Pedrera now contains a museum dedicated to Gaudi, a furnished museum apartment, as well as private residences.

What makes La Pedrera so magical is that every last detail, from door knobs to light fittings, bears the hallmark of Gaudí. Where Sagrada Familia is Gaudi to excess, this is ‘everyday Gaudi’ as it is designed to be lived in. Don’t imagine this waters down the effect though! It is still stunning and totally worth a visit!

It is the outside that drives this building, the roof and it’s chimneys and rising and falling areas leads into the swooping lines of the upper Walls and inner courtyards (there are two).

Internally the apartment is surprisingly normal – the doors are not square, but the rooms themselves lack any major Gaudi features. What is very noticeable though is that none of the rooms are square, all appear to have been ‘fitted in’ to the external dimensions as an after thought.

So a worthwhile visit, but it is the externals that are most impressive here.

An interesting week for Architecture!

Posted on Updated on

Very much a week of ‘ups and downs’ and with a Scottish bent!    

On Monday a van managed to demolish a 16th-century stone gate at Scone Palace in Perthshire (it will be rebuilt I gather).    

But there was more constructive news from the V&A Museum who unveiled six impressive potential designs for a new cultural outpost on Dundee’s waterfront, aiming to be opened in 2014.    

Dundee might not be the first place you’d think to open a new cultural institution. Paris, yes, Venice, definitely, but not Dundee, home of marmalade, Dennis the Menace, and little else.     

The Stephen Holl design


But when one of the world’s most prestigious museums, London’s V&A,  invites designs for its first outpost outside the capital, the worlds architects started to show interest. Architects from around the world have been shortlisted for the opportunity to revitalise the city’s drab waterfront by producing designs for a sleek modern building, marking something of an image change for the city!   

Delugan Meissl design - Wow!


 Local authorities hope that the museum will bring the “Bilbao effect” to Dundee – which refers to the revitalising effect of architecture on a city’s financial prospects, as exemplified by the draw of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim museum in the Spanish city after it opened in 1997.    

The Scottish design - boring?


The shortlisted designs include a building sunk into the river bed by US architect Stephen Holl and a rock-shaped building which balances precipitously by Vienna-based firm Delugan Meissl.     

Interestingly the least exciting offering is from the only Scottish practice to be shortlisted – the US appear to offer the most imaginative designs.    

REX partnership design - now we are talking!


Are we losing our ability to produce fantastic ‘leading edge’ buildings in this country? If our own Nottingham Contemporary Art Centre is anything to go by perhaps we are!

Always worth a second look

Posted on Updated on

I had thought I had blogged my initial thoughts on the Nottingham Contemporary after visiting the opening Hockney exhibition, however it appears I didn’t (must be my age). The centre just did not work for me, yes the galleries were good, but the lower floor was very “separate” from the rest of the gallery. and it just didn’t feel ‘right’. I loved the way the gallery doors worked (sad I know) but overall was not ‘blown away’ as I had hoped to be.
This week however I went to see the current exhibition “Star City”. As an exhibition it was always going to be of interest to me as I grew up during the space race (and still have a scrapbook of press cuttings somewhere). I really enjoyed the exhibition, but the real revelation for me was the downstairs gallery! This was a cinema at the Hockney exhibition, and to be honest it didn’t occur to me that it could be anything more – how wrong one can be!

The gallery has been used to full effect this time, a massive space suit covers the entire floor, the viewing window at the half landing also allows an overall view of the exhibit. Having this window on the landing does now draw the two sections of the building together and make it much more cohesive.

The lower gallery

Just goes to show that it is dangerous to make decisions on just one visit!

I still don’t like the external architecture – a lost opportunity for the City. But internally it is now growing on me. I will be a regular visitor!