Scuze me while I…

… kiss the sky. One thing you must do when in Chicago is… ‘look up’! Many places may claim to be home to the skyscraper, but few can challenge Chicago for architectural variety and significance when it comes to  construction in the vertical plane. And where better to appreciate the visual feast (and strain your neck), than messing about on the Chicago River?

River view by day

The ‘Jewelers Building’ to the right in the following picture dates back to 1926. The four corner crowns were an elaborate way of disguising water tanks. To protect the valuable commodities, this building originally accommodated basement drive-in elevators that would take vehicles up to the required floor.

River architecture [1]

Immediately opposite are the 1969 and 2009 stages of modernism. To the left is the IBM Building designed with energy consumption at the heart of its architecture. While to the right is an example of personal ego, emblazoned with the name of someone who has fragrantly ignored contemporary concerns for climate change and conservation (viewed from many angles the name can be avoided, but if you get the light and shade correctly aligned it may occasionally read ‘RUMP’).

River architecture inc Trump Tower

Then come the visually twin towers of Marina City aka the corn cobs. A futuristic vision emerging from the early 1960’s.

Riverboat trip [4]

Who says urban high rise living lacks a stunning aesthetic? Unfortunately, to live here might well require a stunning bank balance. This isn’t going to be the revolutionary vision for ‘The Projects”!

Riverboat trip [15]

Gently floating along the river parallel to Wacker Drive, it is quite easy to imagine you are in the midst of an urban re-enactment of a Grand Canyon stylised landscape. No? just me on some far out visionary trip then.

Riverboat trip [16]

Then comes an architectural mystery. How can you build up so high from such a narrow v-shaped base? Economics and advances in technology eventually combine to give rise to 150 North Riverside, limited at its base between a river and an active railroad. To counter the effects of wind on the whole structure, 12 rooftop tanks contain 1000 tons of water to counteract natural movement.

Riverboat trip [29]

Formerly the worlds tallest building, the Wills (nee Sears) Tower uses a bundled tube framework for its design, to enable stability at the increased height. The younger neighbour (with a neon crown) uses contrasting detailing in its shape and design, in order to create its own unique contribution next to the towering icon.

Riverboat trip [28]

Meanwhile, back at the confluence of the y-shaped rivers, one of many navigation-based reflective themes to be seen in the riverside designs presents in a striking fashion. In 1983, the 333 West Wacker Drive building adopted the curve of the river as its over-arching theme. the tinted glass is also a reflection that harmonies with the water below.

Riverboat trip [31]

As dusk sets in the skyline adopts a new magical presentation…

Riverboat trip [42]

Riverboat trip [46]

… and the illuminated Tribune Tower provides a beacon for the return to dry land for the intrepid architectural enthusiasts…

River architecture [3]

Until we speak again, a special thanks goes out to the Chicago Architecture Foundation for providing such a fabulously insightful historical excursion.

Lessons from Dubrovnik

Cats just have that way about them that exudes majesty, as they survey all below them, by day or by night. Here is the Queen of Dubrovnik eyeing a late night inebriate on their way home after a particularly pleasant evening of wining and dining…

Going back to apartment [5] cat

Dubrovnik isn’t twinned with Cardiff… unfortunately. But if it was, we would have some very important lessons of history and culture to learn. As you are my one and only regular reader you will know I’ve recently had an issue about how the good burghers of Cardiff are lacking in their sense of civic pride and vision regarding some gems of historical architecture. Juno and Bella used to occasionally make reference to the ‘old git’, but history matters; it defines a place, it bestows a sense of uniqueness, it says something about the values of the people who live and work in a place.

Even by Juno and Bella’s standards of personal ridicule I was not around to capture historic Cardiff quite in the following way…

Old Cardiff pic [1]Old Cardiff pic [2]

But we do have our moments; take St John’s Church late on a summers evening…

St John's at night

Then take a look at the Old City of Dubrovnik, and we really can see why Game of Thrones executives identified it as the perfect location for King’s Landing. A breath-taking view awaits those who venture upward on the cable car to Mount Srd:

Old City from Mt Srd [1]

And a tour of the city walls takes in the complete circumference of the Old City, with stunning views at every turn:

City Walls [4]

Though rumour has it, possibly passed down by cats across time, that back in the 7th & 8th centuries the quirky meandering of the wall was determined by a need to accommodate the dominance of the car:

City Walls [3]

By day (Place Gate) or by night (Stradun), there is no doubting the beauty of the preservation of historical artifice, and the restoration of pride following the fierce bombardment of the city in the war of 1991-5:

Ploce Gate [7]Stradun at night [1]

But still those damn cars get in on the act!

Bell Tower at night

Whether it is the views from the city walls, the narrow streets, or the major civic buildings, Dubrovnik speaks loud and clear about valuing your heritage…

From City Wall [8]

Prijeko [5]

St Blaise Church [2]

And even a quiet walk back to the apartment at night manages to intrigue the imagination, on a stroll back in history:

Going back to apartment [1]Going back to apartment [2]

Rumour has it that cats don’t like water, so next time I will look at how Cardiff Bay and Dubrovnik Old Port stack up. Until we speak again, may all of your horizons be broad.

 

Butetown Beauty

It sounds like a horse entered into the Architectural Handicap at Chepstow races. There are certainly many runners and riders that should be restored to their formative days of being stallions and mares of great repute, only to have been left in the knackers yard by indifferent owners.

Butetown is a significant area of Cardiff locally known as ‘down the docks’; the part that also enclosed the famous Tiger Bay. In the last post I outlined the precarious existence of the area’s true jewel in the crown, the Coal Exchange. But what is left of this great industrial powerhouse of the early 20th century deserves to be seen as a crown, with many trinkets of architectural beauty crying out for Welsh visionaries (with more than a little cash in the back pocket).

As a nation, Wales is once again at a cross-roads challenged to define what it is. ‘Pride’ is a word that we locals like to frequently purloin when describing what it is to be Welsh. We have an opportunity in Butetown to put our rhetoric into practice; but on the surface it looks like we have been talking not walking for many years!

In developer-speak we have Merchant Place, a prime development opportunity… Aka: bring on a high enough wind to blow down the rotting carcusses that blight the sensibilities of the financial Masters of the Universe. In reality we are talking about the Cory Buildings and Old Post Office

Corys Buildings [3]

Corys Buildings [2]

Old Post Office

On nearby West Bute Street a classic old bank has stood idle for 20 years…

Old Bank entrance

Old Bank on West Bute Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

And how more welcoming can a sight be to a weary traveller, than the eponymous Cardiff Bay Station (see previous blog post comparing this landmark to the understated presence of St Pancras Station in London)!

Tumbleweed junction [4]

Tumbleweed Junction 9

Cadogan House [2]

 

Meanwhile, nearby Cadogan House seems trapped in a bygone era when air conditioning was in its more experimental phase!

Until we speak again, spare a thought for all of those poor buildings under threat of being ‘listed’… a blessing or a curse… discuss.

Architectural assault

Where was the first £1 million deal struck in the world? Threadneedle Street in London… think again. Wall Street in New York… nickels and dimes. It was right here in Cardiff, the Coal Exchange to be exact…

Interior [1]

From the fledgling years of the 20th century, when ‘coal was king’ and the Port of Cardiff dominated world trade, the floor of the Coal Exchange buzzed with the chaotic sounds of commerce. Even beyond the age of heavy industry in South Wales this iconic location was set to become the home of Welsh Government at the end of the 1970’s.

Interior [2]

Despite functioning as a home to a few small offices and a brief life as a concert venue, years of neglect and indifference took their toll:

Coal Exchange [1]

Coal Exchange [6]

References to the need to find a new purpose for an icon are difficult to accept as being anything more than a cynical cover for patient neglect to the point where the building could possibly be demolished…

Coal Exchange [2]

It appears that the City Planning Department lacked any vision for the jewel on their doorstep. A 15 storey residential block seemed to be the height of corporate ambition! We don’t need to look far around our city to see that money lies in throwing up blandly mediocre residential and office developments, whilst simultaneously allowing historic buildings oozing character to fall into disrepair. This serves to remind me of the good decision I made to abandon a career in Town Planning 33 years ago while it was still in its infancy!

Coal Exchange board sign

With huge acknowledgements to Nick Broomfield and BBC4 for the striking programme ‘Going, Going, Gone…’ (for the source of internal photographs used here), we know that parts of the building are far from dangerous, but those that are can be restored and put to good use…

Exterior Decay

Interior decay

In fact, large parts of the building appear in excellent condition, just calling out to be seen and used again…

Interior [3]

Interior [8]

With details to be loved as much now as they undoubtedly were by their creators…

Interior [5]

Interior [4]

Interior [7]

Civic pride from public authorities means nothing in these days of corporate greed and power. We have seceded architectural virtue and the values of beauty and historic appreciation, bowing to the whims of the money-tocracy, as the privileged few profit on the backs of the many.

Rumour has it that plans are being discussed to restore the Coal Exchange building on the basis of housing a boutique hotel. This would be a welcome development by the many who appreciate the importance of this building, provided some areas are opened for wider public access. Talk is one thing, but this is an icon that is in desperate need of action… NOW!

Until we speak again lets all hope that talking is matched by walking for this beauty. Then there is the issue of halting the local avalanche of historic building neglect that could then transform the city centre and bay areas of Cardiff into a mix of historic and contemporary pride (pigs are flying as I gaze out of my window across the aforementioned areas).

Durham Cathedral

I must say I have never been a cat of any particular religious persuasion, but I do find the buildings fascinating. So, in the interests of architectural splendour and site-specific grandiosity, I sent my ‘frustrated architect’ on a trek to record a day in the life of Durham Cathedral, a World Heritage site along with its neighbouring castle. This is true history, with the current cathedral dating back to 1093, and widely regarded as one of the finest of all examples of Norman architecture. The ‘mercenary missionary’ was on some other work-related junket anyway, and happily informed me there was more than enough external magnificence without incurring the wrath of any gods by sullying the inside.

The view from Prebends Bridge early in the morning provides an outline of a building that dominates the city skyline as the light of the day blinks into action…

[1]

The bridge itself affords an insight into how historic this renowned city is. The current stone arched incumbent dates back to 1778, replacing the previous structure dating back to 1574 but destroyed in a flood in 1771. This is one of three stone bridges across the River Wear in the centre of Durham, located on the bend in the river that circles the cathedral and castle…

Prebend Bridge [1]

Prebend Bridge [2]

Meanwhile cats like to meander, and this riverside offers tranquil opportunities to stroll with views up at the majesty of the building…

[5]

[4]

“It’s only in the detail that you will find the devil”, if it’s okay for me to be evoking Beelzebub in a missive regarding a house of religious practice. As afternoon beckons a walk in the woods below the cathedral offers views of the architectural detail…

[6]

[9]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[7]

[8]

But, as night descends the cathedral takes on a completely different form of illumination, with views from the city centre and the railway station respectively…

[11]

[10]

Crossed legsGod knows when my ‘eye on the world’ gets time to do the work that the trip was supposed to be about. Looking at all of this walking about has taken its toll, so until we speak again this Bella is taking a well earned rest!