Abstract Realities by Serge Najjar

I love architecture and I love photography and it is great to see these two art forms coming together and creating really striking images.
Yes, the architecture is already there, a space filling physical object which can be walked around and should, of course, be experienced first hand; but what sometimes makes a particular building or place somewhere that people want to visit can be down to the eye of the photographer.  A good photograph shows us what a thousand bad ones fail to show – the beauty, symmetry, elegance or humour of a place and it’s people.
The photo’s in the series ‘Abstract Realities’ by Serge Najjar (of Beirut, Lebanon) do just this.  They highlight the repetitive patterns and angles of the architecture and also feature a person, to give both scale and often light relief from the austerity of the geometric lines.
Here a few words by Serge Najjar on his LensCulture page:-

Every Saturday I drive my car towards a destination still unknown and guide myself by my instinct, by light and by whatever attracts my eye. This is when I stop, position myself and wait for something to happen.

Abstract Realities 1Abstract Realities 3Abstract Realities 2Abstract Realities 4 Abstract Realities 5Abstract Realities 6 Abstract Realities 7Abstract Realities 8Abstract Realities 9Abstract Realities 10

Hole in The Ground

So what would you do with a 76 foot deep circular hole in the ground situated at 400 N. Lake Shore Drive near the Chicago River?Chicago Spire HoleIntended as the site for a huge spiraling tower of apartments called the Chicago Spire (designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava).  It would have been the second tallest building in the world at the time of it’s intended completion and the tallest building in the western world.  The only part of the project that was actually completed was the foundations, consisting of the already mentioned hole in the ground.  Unfortunately financial problems, aided by the global financial crisis (but then again, what isn’t blamed in the global financial crisis!) over took the project and it was abandoned. The image below is an impression of what the Spire would have looked like; above is a photo of the current site, which has been abandoned since 2008.Calatrava's Chicago SpireAny ideas yet?

There have apparently been six proposals to re-use the site.

One is by SPACE architects and called ‘Mine The Gap’ – it uses the empty tube as an open air entertainments venue (although it will have a retractable canvas roof when necessary) and will be powered by wind turbines above.Mine The GapAnother idea is to turn the whole site in a mini nature reserve.  Called ‘Birds in Horto’ and designed by Peter Schaudt, the pit will be flooded and a walkway will allow people to pass through the site without disturbing the wildlife.Birds In HortoThe third idea looks far too busy and commercial for my liking.  Called ‘The Urban Island’ and designed by Michael Day, it appears to be an attempt to enliven a drab part of the city by creating a mess of shops around a transport hub and cultural space – I’m not so sure.

Urban IslandThe next idea is essentially a replacement skyscraper using the existing foundation.  I didn’t bother including an artist’s impression because it is a far too unimaginative use of the space – at least the others try to do something different and unexpected.  Although if you do want to see it, and all the others, they are here on designboom.

The fifth idea is beautifully simple – turn the place into a giant swimming pool which siphons the river water and filters it before returning it back to the river it cleaner than it was; it’s called ‘The Swimming Hole’ and is designed by Martin Felsen and Sarah Dunn.Swimming HoleThe last idea is ‘The High Tech Hot Tub’ by Clare Lyster and Alejandro Saavedra, which initially made me sigh with disappointment; but on discovering the reasoning behind it, it actually sounds quite good.  Why not use the hole as a huge data storage centre and cool the machines with the cold water of the Chicago River – the resultant hot water can then be used to heat hot tubs at the surface for the public to use.High Tech Hot TubIf you’d like to find out more you can read the original article on designboom, here.  It is interesting that most of the comments after the article on designboom think that the proposals are a waste of ‘valuable urban space‘ and it would be better to ‘try to finish the Spire or build an even more outstanding one (taller and grander). The city needs more skyscrapers‘.  I find this quite amazing from readers of a design orientated website.  It is a very unimaginative view of space – yes, it is a valuable commodity in a city, but surely not only in financial terms.

So which is your favorite – or do you have a better idea?

High Density High-Rise in High Definition – Photographs of Hong Kong by Peter Stewart

Cities are great places to visit, but I would not like to live in one.  The proximity of people, the confinement of endless streets and buildings, the noise and pollution.  Of course some cities are much better than others in this respect; but on the whole the idea of being squeezed into an apartment along with loads of other people where the nearest green space is a park full of other people, is really not for me at all.

This containment of human life is taken to an extreme in Hong Kong where tiny apartments, one repeatedly on top of the other, is the norm for many thousands of people.  This extreme environment is a perfect subject for photographic art – its repeated patterns with slight and occasional variation can create very structured and striking images.  This has been the subject of Peter Stewart‘s photography which has an elegance in its composition, yet the prison like scenes it depicts lends the picture a darker edge then the essentially abstracts grids they portray.

Lai Tak Tseun Apartments in Causeway Bay by Peter Stewart

Montane Mansion in Quarry Bay by Peter Stewart

‘little boxes’ Yick Cheong Buildings in Quarry Bay by Peter Stewart

Oi Man Estate in Ho Man Tin, Kowloon by Peter Stewart

Choi Hung Estate in Wong Tai Sin by Peter Stewart

Southbank Undercroft

When I was in London sometime last year, wandering along the South Bank, a group of people were asking for signatures to help save the skateboarding and graffiti area known as the Undercroft, beneath the Southbank Centre.  I did have some prior knowledge of this situation so I was keen to put my name to the list.National Theatre Philips LogoThe local council had wanted to clear out the skateboarders to make way for nondescript shops – my initial response was that if the purpose of the Southbank was to provide a hub for culture, why can it not accommodate the skateboarders and graffiti artists?  The Undercroft is the perfect place for this very urban culture, tucked out-of-the-way below the Queen Elizabeth Hall (next to the National Theatre).  It has existed there happily for decades – ‘culture’ much is broader than, and certainly not exclusive to, the established arts; it flourishes on many levels.

Here is the joint statement issued by Lambeth council and the skateboarders (quoted from the Long Live Southbank website):-

After 17 months, we can announce Southbank is finally saved – a massive thank you to all who stood with us. Happy reading…

JOINT STATEMENT:
LONG LIVE SOUTHBANK AND SOUTHBANK CENTRE SECURE
FUTURE OF UNDERCROFT FOR SKATEBOARDING AND URBAN ACTIVITIES
Following talks that have taken place over the last three months, Long Live Southbank and Southbank Centre are delighted to have reached an agreement that secures the Queen Elizabeth Hall undercroft as the long-term home of British skateboarding and the other urban activities for which it is famous.
The agreement has been formalised in a binding planning agreement with Lambeth Council. In the agreement, Southbank Centre agrees to keep the undercroft open for use without charge for skateboarding, BMX riding, street writing and other urban activities.
On the basis of the protections secured by the planning agreement, Southbank Centre and Long Live Southbank have withdrawn their respective legal actions in relation to the undercroft. These include Southbank Centre’s challenge to the registration of the undercroft as an asset of community value, Long Live Southbank’s application for village green status for the undercroft, and a judicial review of Lambeth Council’s decision to reject the village green application.
Long Live Southbank is pleased to support Southbank Centre’s Festival Wing project for the improvement of the Queen 
Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery, on the basis that the plans will now no longer include any redevelopment within the skate area of the Queen Elizabeth Hall undercroft.
Cllr Lib Peck, Leader of Lambeth Council said; “I’m pleased that Lambeth Council was able to work with both sides and find an imaginative solution to resolve this. Shared public space in London is precious and Southbank Centre is a great asset to the country’s cultural life. This agreement is a sensible way of protecting both and we can all now look forward.”
In addition…
Long Live Southbank would like to thank all our supporters and we would like to thank the Mayor of London for his intervention and Southbank Centre for its constructive approach to the negotiations that have achieved this outcome.
Kid jumping on a skateboard at the Southbank CentreThe saving of the Undercroft has had a major effect on the plans to redevelop the Southbank – for ‘redevelopment’ read ‘clad in glass’.  This attempt to ‘pretty-up’ the Southbank is a dishonest betrayal of the brutalist architecture.  Brutilism is a much maligned movement, a sentiment which in many cases is justified, but the bad examples should not be used to discredit all brutalist buildings – the National Theatre and surrounding buildings being a prime example.  Cladding it in glass is not a solution, it is a deception.

Southbank Centre proposed redevelopment, with 'floating' glass pavilion

 

Boat Buildings

When I was a lot younger I remember watching the 1935 version of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield – apart from W.C. Fields and the dotty, but loveable, Mr. Dick (played by Lennox Pawle) the one thing that stuck in my mind above all was Peggotty’s house on the seashore, which was constructed from an up-turned boat.  It felt so warm and snug against the stormy weather outside – I really wanted one (and I probably still do!).

The only picture I can find of this boat-house is on another wordpress blog called Paradise Leased, about the architecture and people of old Hollywood.  Apparently the boat-house ‘prop’ was moved and became the home of Mr. R.H. Stiles (pictured below), who intended to turn it into a seafood restaurant – whether he did or not, I really don’t know.Peggotty's House RelocatedThere are similar up-turned boats used as sheds and dotted around The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, just off the northeast coast of England (see below).Boatshed near Lindisfarne

But the main reason for this posting is to highlight how this quirky and quite Victorian-looking interpretation of recycling has been updated and turned into a very trendy winery in Mexico.

It is featured on the ever-bountiful designboom website.  The architecture uses discarded boats from a nearby port to form the ceiling and walls and is a wonderfully practical way to reclaim wood.  Not only do we get to see the curvacious lines which are usually submerged under water but, by the very nature of it’s original purpose, the underside of a boat is just as effective as the upside of a building.  The fact that there has been very little re-processing involved in changing one use to another is also a huge positive in environmental stakes.  Although the architect is not mentioned (which is a real shame!) hopefully this ingenious and elegant re-interpretation will inspire other architects to think a little differently about the materials they use.

Vena Cava Winery in La Villa del Valle 1

Vena Cava Winery in La Villa del Valle 2

Vena Cava Winery in La Villa del Valle 3

Vena Cava Winery in La Villa del Valle 4

Building Sculpture

Using derelict buildings seems to be becoming a trend in the art world – or has it always been so and I’ve just missed it!

In 2007 Richard Wilson created a piece called ‘Turning the Place Over for Liverpool’s Capital of Culture Year.  It was a huge, rotating, circular section in the side of an old multi-storey building.  At one moment in its rotation it looks quite normal, but then it becomes completely disorienting as it slowly spins round and out of its correct position.  Here’s a video – it’s definitely worth a look!Turning The Place Over

Another building sculpture I’ve noticed recently is ‘From The Knees Of My Nose To The Belly Of My Toes‘ by Alex Chinneck (the link goes to an article on designboom) where the whole front of a terrace house in Margate appears to have slid off the building as if it was made of rubber.   Follow the link and you’ll find an interesting little video on the construction of the artwork and to quote the little girl in the video – “the house is very, very cool and very, very artific.” – although, some clever dick in the comments noticed that the satellite dish was facing the wrong way.  There’s always one!

From The Knees Of My Nose To The Belly Of My Toes by Alex Chinneck

From The Knees Of My Nose To The Belly Of My Toes by Alex Chinneck 2