Niemeyer’s Brasilia

I recently found these stunning photographs on designboom by Andrew Prokos of Oscar Niemeyer’s architectural modernist fantasy that is Brasilia – it’s one of the reason why I’d love to visit Brazil!

Rarely does a single architect get the opportunity to plan and construct on such a grand scale, and we are very lucky (when so many 20th century buildings are being bulldozed due to a combination of ignorance and neglect) to have such a wide-reaching example in Brasilia.

Brasilia is a rare example of architectural design on such a large-scale.  Throughout history there have been occasional opportunities for an architect to construct city-wide, but rarely have been completed if they were begun at all.  One opportunity that did not come off was after the Great Fire of London in 1666 – if the finances and political will had been in the right place Christopher Wren would have remodeled London after the great fire, but it wasn’t to be, so we are left with the old medieval street layout and Wrens elegant avenues are left to the imagination.  Another opportunity, which was successful, happened when reseating the capital of India to New DehliEdwin Lutyens created an Anglo-Indian fantasy which “still ranks as one of the most elegant urban landscapes anywhere in the world”.

On a smaller scale, modernist architecture has not fared well, usually only the buildings that house national institutions (like the National Theatre on the South Bank of the Thames) have a chance of survival, although they are often under threat of alteration.  Certainly in the UK, a lack of maintenance often leads to local disapproval and ultimately destruction – the Tricorn in Portsmouth is perfect example.  The alteration of modernist, particularly Brutalist architecture, is another threat – the recent plans to encase the South Bank Centre in glass and move out the skateboarders – how very 21st century!  Lets remove the graffiti pit and hide all that concrete behind some glass and make it look all shiny and ‘nice’!  What happened to architectural or design honesty, or is that too old-fashioned?

Have a look at these photos and see just what Modernism could be if looked after…

Congresso Nacional at Dusk , Brasilia

Museu Nacional de Brasilia

Cathedral of Brasilia at Night

The Palacio do Planalto

Palacio do Itamaraty at Night, Brasilia

Praça Duque de Caxias at Night, Brasilia

Brasilia on Designboom

Derelict Detroit, or is it?

I’m sure that we have all heard on the news that Detroit has gone from the wealthiest city in the United State in the 1960’s to being officially Bankrupt in 2013.  It is a terrible state of affairs that a whole city and it’s inhabitants should be in such dire straits, and it is more than likely yet another example (although an extreme one) of political laziness and corruption.

One of the inevitable casualties of this situation is the city’s historic buildings.  Without the necessary money to maintain and/or restore them they are falling into disrepair and dereliction.  Many cities and towns will have a least one building of historical interest and many have had great buildings bulldozed over the years – usually in the name of progress, but actually due to a simple lack of imagination.  If an interesting building has to be demolished it should at least be photographed extensively before it is lost forever.

Philip Jarmain, a Canadian photographer, has visited Detroit and managed to take a series of beautiful but elegiac photographs of the city’s decaying elegance (some of which are included below).  I came across the pictures on the Designboom website, but it is interesting to note that the article has received a comment which completely alters your initial perception of the city.  The decay and dereliction presented by both the photographs and the associated article is not necessarily the truth of the situation and proves that although ‘a camera cannot lie’, it cannot tell the whole truth either.  The comment reads thus:-

These photos aren’t entirely accurate. It should be noted that the Book-Cadillac Hotel underwent a $150,000,000 restoration and reopened as the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel in 2009. It’s no longer “decayed” as the photographer implies.

Here is the website:

Also, the Whitney building is the David Whitney Building (not to be confused with the Whitney historic mansion/restaurant 2 miles north). The David Whitney building is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation into an Aloft Hotel (parent company is Starwood Hotels).

Downtown Detroit is slowly experiencing a renaissance and that should be shown along with the blight / ruin porn that many seem to enjoy.  James Dawson, sept 10 2013.

Westward Presbyterian Church (1908), photo by Philip JarmainWestward Presbyterian Church (1908), photo by Philip Jarmain

Eastown Theatre (1930), photo by Philip Jarmain 2Eastown Theatre (1930), photo by Philip Jarmain

Highland Park Police Station (1917-2011), photo by Philip Jarmain 3Highland Park Police Station (1917-2011), photo by Philip Jarmain

Fisher Body Plant No. 21 (1919), photo by Philip Jarmain 4Fisher Body Plant No. 21 (1919), photo by Philip Jarmain

David Whitney Building (1915), photo by Philip Jarmain 5David Whitney Building (1915), photo by Philip Jarmain

Book-Cadilac Hotel (1924), photo by Philip Jarmain 6Book-Cadilac Hotel (1924), photo by Philip Jarmain

Huge Staircase

Usually a staircase is built to fit inside a house, but with the Panorama House (in Chungcheongbuk-do, South Korea) it looks more like the house has been designed around the staircase.

Staircase 1

In this building the staircase acts as much more than just a way of getting from one floor to another.  It is a multi-functional part of the building – it’s a room divider, a slide, a study, a library,  cinema and, by the way, it’s also a staircase!  The architect was Moon Hoon, the photographs were by Namgoong Sun and I found it on  It’s interesting, but for me it’s a little too dominating for my idea of a comfortable living space – would you like one in your house?

Staircase 2

Staircase 3

Industrial Staircase

Industrial Staircase by Prince Cavallo

I thought I’d introduce one of my own photographs in this week’s blog posting.  This photograph is a few years old now, but I really like the composition of the staircase and the decay of the old industrial building.  Where this appreciation came from I do not know, but it throws up a number of questions – does this appreciation only come from the eye of a romantic modernist, is it’s appeal in the composition or the decay or both, and was there an appreciation of the beauty of grime and industry before modernism?

If you would like to see some more of my photographs on Flickr, try here.

Floating Concrete

Although it sounds like an oxymoron, floating concrete structures have been around for at least the last seventy years.  Of course I’m thinking of the Mulberry Harbours used on the Normandy beaches during the Second World War.  There are probably numerous other historical examples from before this time (the harbours were essentially giant caissons) but the shear scale of these structures (some up to five stories high!) mark them out as a significant achievement.  Essentially the Mulberry Harbours were hollow concrete rafts which were towed into position and sunk where needed, allowing roadways to be constructed for the military machinery and supplies to get easily from ship to shore.  Below is a photograph of a Mulberry Harbour in action which I found on a very informative page, here.

Mulberry Harbour

The use of polystyrene filled chambers to create the buoyancy of floating concrete structures has been in use since at least the early 1970’s and can be seen at many a marina or other waterside development.  Usually they are rectangular blocks which are anchored but allowed to rise and fall with the tide, while connecting walkways and mooring bays.

I could talk about the much maligned material that is concrete, and how it’s reputation was scarred by third rate architects producing prefabricated tower blocks in the 60’s and 70’s – but that is another story.  There have always been designers who saw the potential in the material and have created objects of great elegance and beauty – I only need to mention the stunning TWA Terminal (New York) design by Eero Saarinen in 1962 as an example.

TWA Terminal

TWA Terminal by Eero Saarinen

I know, I’m getting off the point a little.  But Saarinen’s designs prove that concrete is not just a leaden weight, a grey lump resulting in poorly designed and decaying flats – when used imaginatively it can float, even when it’s on land.

One use of floating concrete I came across recently was Floaty by AB Concrete Designs in Germany.  I am assuming they use the polystyrene filled chamber technique and they use it to create a range of curvaceous pebble-like floating islands.  These can be moored just about anywhere and provide stylish rest points for swimmers.

This is just one of many examples of an attractive, small scale and practical use for concrete.

Floaty 1

Floaty 2

Floaty 3

A Guide To All Things Hip and Retro

Trellick Tower Teatowel

No, don’t worry, I’m not about to proclaim a personal hip manifesto or lay down he rules of vintage cool.

I’m merely highlighting a website called Retro To Go which covers all things design from fashion to architecture and everything in between, but with an eye to best bits of the past.  Think 50’s to 80’s and you’re about there (although it does sample other decades too).

From a 1970 UFO style portable record player to showcasing reproductions of classic film posters, a Trellick Tower tea towel (pictured) to a book of 1930’s fashion – if you like your hip to be retro then this is a good place to start.  Updated daily, this site will keep you informed with the best of yesterday and how you can get hold of it.  With original items from the past, reproductions, or modern items with a retro feel – it’s all there.

Statement Architecture And The Home

Sculptural is a term often used to describe architecture which is unusual or out of the ordinary.  Statement architecture is another description – it usually refers to the type of building where the aesthetic of the structure is more important than its function.  But should a building ever be more important than its contents?

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainThis approach can work in terms of a museum or for putting a city on the map – the Guggenheim Museum (designed by Frank Gehry) certainly put the industrial city of Bilbao on the map in 1997, but I don’t believe it is a good museum.  I remember the building completely, but none of the art that was on display (or was that the fault of the art?).

On the other hand, although the Jewish Museum in Berlin (designed by Daniel Libeskind) did not work as a museum in the traditional sense (the exhibits were extremely minimal), it worked in a very different Jewish Museum, Berlinand quite unique way.

Again, I remember none of the exhibits displayed at this museum – yet even now, ten years since my visit, I can still remember how incredibly powerful the experience was.  I am surprised that the museum is not better known, this is probably because it is not a curvaceous or attractive as the Guggenheim, yet it is like no other structure I have ever experienced – the building itself manipulated my emotions.

So, sculptural architecture can work for grand statements – but can it work as a home?

Clip House, MadridThe Clip House in Madrid (designed by F. Javier Bernalte and Jose Luis Leon) is such a home.  It was apparently short-listed in the European Copper in Architecture Awards 2oo9 (is that a real award!).  It is certainly a striking building and definitely has the ‘wow’ factor and I would love to have a really good look around.  But is it livable?Roof of Clip House, Madrid

Like many other people, I am not qualified to answer this question.  I will never have enough money (or a big enough ego) to make such a statement.  We can only surmise from pictures what it may be like to experience on a daily basis.  This is not as easy as it may seem – photos of interiors are usually bereft of life, they are taken before people move in, everything is perfect and uncluttered by reality.  If you Clip House by Bernalte León y Asociadoscan imagine these perfect caves messed up a bit, would they really look as good?  Maybe – but if they still feel as lifeless I don’t think they’re really suitable for cosy living.  But if a generous person is willing to let me stay in such a building, I am quite willing to be proved wrong…

My Daily Design Fix

Unfortunately I have not had the time to write anything of substance this week and as I am on holiday for two weeks after this one it will be some time before I can contribute a meaningful posting.

In the meantime I suggest having a look at the 2Modern blog which highlights a wide range of art, design, architecture and craft ideas from around the web (including the occasional DIY project if you’re so inclined) – it always has something of interest to sate your design desires.  It is updated daily, usually with a number of postings, and is well worth a regular, if not daily, visit.  The blog is associated with 2Modern, an American online shop selling modern furniture and lighting with a similar style to Heals.  The images I’ve included are from previous postings on the blog to show the range of subjects they cover – a photograph of a horse by Miriam Sweeney and the Nordpark Cable Railway Station in Innsbruck by Zaha Hadid.