Modernist Estates blog 3rd Feb 2015

Here is a short post Alex did for the Modernist Estates website. They ask people to explain 5 modernist projects that they admire.....

You can see the full article (with pictures) at

http://www.modernistestates.com/tagged/Modernist%20Dreams

1. The Grange School Hartford Nr Northwich – A place to learn

This was my first school. When I was 4 it seemed enormous. To a small boy there were towering slender white columns protecting our external pay area, a timber lattice entrance frame with an elegant curve making a safe place to wait for our parents at the end of the day . There was lots of glass for our class rooms.

It was a prototype dating from 1938 but it feels like it dated from the 1950’s. This shows how far the architects, Leslie Martin and Sadie Speight, were ahead of the game. Although the school is very basic as it was intended for efficient roll out to other locations. The design includes some of the characteristics to be found in the design for the Festival Hall some years later. I am very lucky to have spent time in this school and can still recall how fresh it felt, when compared to any other building I experienced at this age.

 

2. The Hamlet -  A place to live

My luck and love for light, white modest and optimistic architecture has continued. Today I live in a modernist estate of 32 houses in Camberwell.  These were built in 1967 to a design by the architect Peter Moiret

Like my primary school there is white painted timber, large windows, high ceilings but most importantly a social aspect to the design.

The houses are arranged around a central green space as in many of London’s conventional garden squares. This green space, is well used, naturally surveyed, safe and not gated. Many of the houses were bought off plan and are lived in by the original owners. This speaks volumes of how well the designs fit modern London life and fosters a community.

The house plans are compact and intelligent. Everything lacks fuss. Living here is a constant source of reference in my work designing new houses today.

hamlet.jpg

3. Town Hall, Synatsalo, Finland – A place for a community to come together.

This building, designed by Alvar Aalto, is a multifunctional building for a small town based around a plywood plant in central Finland.

The design is totally focused on the community it serves. It pulls together many of the town’s functions including a library, few flats, a travel agent, a hairdresser and a bank. These are located around the outside of a cloister. They face outwards towards the town and welcome people in. The Debating chamber and municipal functions, on the upper level and tower, face inwards onto a more private, calm elevated garden cloister.

The materials are simple, rustic and durable. A single brick type forms the floor, steps, internal and external walls which adds to a feeling of permanence and longevity which imbues a commitment to the community. The simplicity of the palette is a form of commitment not to waste the community’s precious funds.

To me this building expresses the modernist dream of an egalitarian and caring society. It is something to aspire to both as a design and as a community.

SaynatsaloTownHall4.jpg

 

4. Marcel Breuer’s Cape Cod Cabin – A place to escape

This little house shows how even the most sociable, erudite, urbane, forward looking, global modernist needs a modest rural cabin to escape. In this quite game of chess in the cabin surrounded by pine trees Breuer’s son looks as if he is slightly impatient that the great man is struggling to make the next move.

Breuer designed many houses often with an eye to making them repeatable and affordable. He designed several for himself and for me these are the best as they are often the most modest. This cabin was built around 1948 when he was also working on the prototype “model house” that was exhibited in the MOMA garden.

I consider that Marcel Breuer had the best. He is a massively under rated modernist. He worked, in the true modernist way, across all scales.  His work ranges from his early tubular furniture, to individual buildings such as the Whitney Museum to huge masterplanned monasteries in the America desert and ski resorts in the French Alps.

5. The Longhouse – A place for later life.

True Modernist dreamers from the 20th Century are generally youthful and optimistic. Today there are many people who have grown up with modernist attitudes and are now reaching later stages of life.

However the homes that today’s society provide for those over 60 are often replicate the traditional. They are full of chintz, mouldings, pine stained to look like teak and have small windows. They feel designed to squeeze out any forward looking, fresh, youthful optimism that residents have. They make you feel old in minutes of arriving. They enforce a traditional hierarchical society rather than express an integrated caring society.

The Longhouse Company provides an alternative. I am currently designing the first of a series homes, for those in later life, which provide the functional requirements of step free access and combine it with an open plan, light filled, fresh and forward looking modern home.

List / Develop / Demolish Debate - 67 Peckham Road

On 18th June Alex Mowat, creative director, Urban Salon took part in a debate called “Demolish / develop / list” as part of the London Festival of Architecture.

Five participants pitched a case for a building to be listed. The proposed building had to be in London and completed since 2000.

Alex Mowat proposed listing 67 Peckham Road by 6a architects.  The text below was the pitch.

'Tonight is about what makes important architecture. What is worth preserving?

Much architecture that purports to be important is brash, iconic and attention-seeking.

This architecture puts architecture and sculpture expression first and people second. This architecture is perfect on opening day and then starts to deteriorate from its shiny vision.  Listing them means preserving them with high maintenance costs and preserving their egos and their pasts not their futures.  Listing these types of building says that it is these virtuoso brash buildings that we value as a society. What we choose to list reflects the values of our society.

I want to suggest something different : A building is both ordinary and extraordinary. A building that is subtle at first, that grows on you, doesn’t show off but always has something interesting to talk about. There is a reason to visit more than once.

At first glance, it’s a normal Victorian house next door to an art gallery on a busy bus route. The type that you find everywhere in the UK. The type that are often extended with white render and glass jewel boxes stuck on the back without regard to place or purpose.

67 Peckham Road shows us a different way of treating these buildings spacially and texturally. It is a small domestic café on the front.  In the attic, there is always an up and coming artist in residence. (Today’s art history could be being made up here right now). On the middle floor are two small galleries where the public from below meet the artists in the middle.

The rear extension is not a horizontal Bauhaus box but a vertical space, textured on the outside, golden artwork on the inside.

At the back of the garden is the best garden shed in London, a room for experimenting, discussing and learning and trying new things. It opens up when you need, closes down when you want quiet. It connects contemporary fine art to the Seaux housing estate at the rear through a secret back door, democratizing contemporary fine art.

Architecturally every detail is considered, not modern but not replica. Each detail is a lesson in itself: disabled wc, handrail, art under the paint set into the patio, rooftop handrail.. Even the wifi code makes you smile.

It is the antidote to what the Saatchi campaign in the 1980s said about the “V&A : ACE CAFÉ WITH MUSEUM ATTACHED”. By housing the commercial functions of an art gallery in a smaller and separate building, it does not let the commercial necessity swallow the art gallery. It lets the art gallery breathe. It is a vital part of the main gallery and thus needs to be included as part of the listed main building. It keeps the main building alive.

Please vote for 67 Peckham Road, vote for its theoretical listing, it will stay alive and it can become your friend that you can visit many times.

Thank you'.

 

A pinterest page of images of 67 Peckham road is available on our pinterest site.

http://uk.pinterest.com/urbansalon/67-peckham-road-south-london-gallery/

 

The event was part of the London Festival of Architecture and was curated by Michelle Sweeney. Other participants were Tomas Klassnik, Tarek Merlin, Benney O'Looney and Carl Turner. 

 

Time for a museum freecycle

Newness, fresh ideas, displays that you have not seen before and specific atmospheres are all key elements in the creation of stimulating temporary exhibitions. Temporary exhibitions have a role to showcase research and help museums boost visitor numbers and thus need to be in a state of constant change.

What this means is that many of the materials, settings and showcases end up in the skip as soon as possible after an exhibition finishes in order to make way for the next. Imagine what this amounts to when added up across the nation’s museums each year. Measured in either physical waste or financial cost to the taxpayer, it is equally problematic.

Display cases, picture frames and mannequins are expensive and resource-intensive to make. After only three or four months use, they are still very much reusable if they find the right home. Storage space within museums is at a premium and often it is simply not viable to keep large items on the off chance that they will get reused.

To some extent, this reuse is already happening. In the recent Italian Fashion exhibition at the V&A, we reused many elements from a previous exhibition. The Barbican Art gallery gave a second home to display cases we had designed for Royal Manuscripts at the British Library. However, this recycling tends to be ad hoc and time-consuming as the donor museum needs to find someone who needs a similarly proportioned exhibition element and who can pick it up on the exact day it gets removed from the end of a temporary exhibition. The odds on this happening are small.

One way to boost the sustainability of temporary exhibitions is to enable museums to recycle their temporary exhibition elements more easily. One solution that could help museums to do this, is the creation of a museum Freecycle website - an online tool, working in the same way as a webshop, to connect museums who are discarding setworks and elements from temporary exhibitions with other organizations looking for new elements.

People who want things could enter details and receive notifications when anything matching their criteria are offered. Once expiry dates for pick-up periods have expired the item could be automatically deleted from the site.

As an online tool, and not a physical warehouse of junk, it would not need a new organisation, a roof, insurance, staff or overheads - just a simple template and a core of high-quality museums making offers.

The first thing that is free is this idea… please take it and make it happen. It would be a simple way of saving taxpayer’s money and reducing waste.