Thursday, 22 September 2016

This week I have been mostly ...

I have been busy with domestic matters. It will be worth it in the end. 

Friday, 16 September 2016

Oxford Road Station, Manchester

"One of the most remarkable and unusual stations in the country both for the architectural form and the technological interest"

This extraordinary building, with its three laminated timber conoid shell roofs was designed by architect Max Clendenning of British Railways' Midland region, with structural engineer Hugh Tottenham of the Timber Development Association. It had to be built of wood because it sits atop a weak viaduct, which cannot bear the weight of a brick or concrete structure. The form of the roofs allows a large space to be covered without the use of internal columns, and giving the station a dramatic appearance, and a light and airy interior.

Here are some pictures I took on a recent visit.

It is described in the Pevsner guide to Manchester as
"One of the most interesting and innovative buildings of the period" 
"One of the most remarkable and unusual stations in the country both for the architectural form and the technological interest"
Here is a picture showing the roofs under construction, from the RIBA collections (click on the title for a higher resolution image):

Oxford Road railway station, Manchester: the laminated timber shell roof under construction

Despite its elevated situation, the single storey station is hidden from view by surrounding buildings, and by the curving approach road that leads to it.

The area around Oxford Road Sation is scheduled for extensive redevelopment, and there is concern that demolition of the existing buildings will destroy the character of the place. The famous Cornerhouse cinema just outside the station is closed and at risk of demolition, along with other nearby buildings.

I hope that this does not happen.

Historic England listing, with further references

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Clever, but ultimately pointless, for us anyway.

Have you seen this gadget? We discovered it some time ago, and we had been using it for years. It's used for washing dishes, and it's called a Dishmatic

It seemed like a neat idea at the time. Washing up liquid is poured into the handle. The sponge clips on to the bottom. There are holes in the plastic plate between the handle and the sponge, so that when you squeeze the sponge, the washing-up liquid flows into it. You can get a range of sponge heads, with different degrees of abrasiveness.

We realised, after more years than we care to confess, that it would be simpler just to use a normal sponge, and squeeze the washing up liquid onto it. In fact, I often did not even fill the handle up with washing up liquid, being too idle, and ended up squeezing the stuff directly onto the sponge.

It's made from recycled materials, which is nice. It's touted as an environmentally friendly alternative to using a dishwasher, which seems disingenuous, since that applies to all methods of washing by hand.

It's actually quite clever, but for all the effort that goes into producing it, and all the extra resources that are consumed in doing so, it seems ultimately a rather pointless and wasteful way of going about things.

Some reviewers liked it because they found that they didn't have to dip their hands in soapy water, but we always wear gloves when washing dishes.

Now we just use normal sponges.

We find them just as effective, and much simpler.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Palace Hotel, Manchester

A beautiful, ornate, monumental and friendly hotel, with magnificent public areas

During a recent trip to Manchester for the Urban Sketchers Symposium, we decided that we'd rather like to visit again. We were sitting in the bar of the Palace Hotel, and a quick online search showed that we could get quite a good deal for a short stay over the coming August bank holiday, so we decided to book a room, and duly returned a few weeks later for a stay.

The red brick and terracotta hotel is a grade II listed building originally built for the Refuge Assurance Company. It's an enormous, monumental structure, one of the landmark buildings in the city. The first phase was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, and built in 1891-1895. Alfred Waterhouse was, of course, the architect of the Manchester Town Hall, and the Natural History Museum in London. His son Paul designed the second phase, along with the 66 m tower, which was built in 1910-1912. A further extension was added in 1932 by Stanley Birkett. The Refuge company moved out in 1989, and the building was disused for several years. In 1996 it was converted into a hotel by Richard Newman. Prior to our visit, it had just undergone another major refurbishment.

The inside of the hotel is even more striking than the exterior. Richly decorated and faced with glazed brick and faience, there is a wealth of detail lots to look at. The refurbishment has been very well done, with contemporary lighting and furniture that fits in perfectly with the Victorian / Edwardian interior.

There is a very attractive and comfortable bar, where you can admire your surroundings over tea, a drink, and even some food.

Beyond the bar, the restaurant where we breakfast was served. The breakfast, by the way was excellent.

Adjacent to the restaurant, a covered courtyard known as the winter garden.

More details:

We were fortunate to be allocated a generously proportioned room on the first floor, with a high ceiling and a very large window. If you want a room with a high ceiling, note that the ceilings get lower as you go up the building, as you can tell by looking at the façade.

The room was very comfortably furnished, without being ostentatiously luxurious. The mattress on the bed was firm, the way we like it.

There were sensible reading lights on stalks attached to the headboard.

The desk was just right for someone wanting to do a bit of work, with a USB port in the power socket. The television was mounted at a sensible height for comfortable viewing from the bed.

The wardrobe had an ironing board, and proper hangers (not those hotel hangers fixed to the rail). Our bathroom, as it happened, was designed for disabled users, with an excellent shower.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the Palace Hotel. It was a beautiful, sensitively refurbished and furnished, and perfectly at ease in the 21st century. It was comfortable but not ostentatious or swanky. The staff were friendly, helpful and professional. It's not a budget hotel, but not as expensive as the really posh establishments. For your money you get extremely comfortable and well appointed rooms, and a really superb breakfast. The public areas are staggering in their grandeur, and of course you don't have to be a resident to enjoy them.

The Palace Hotel
Oxford Street Manchester,
M60 7HA, UK
Tel: +44 (0)161 288  1111

Friday, 26 August 2016

Book review: Voyage Le Corbusier: drawing on the road, by Jacob Brillhart.

The drawings that Le Corbusier made on his travels. 

Ever since I first came across my father’s copies of Le Corbusier’s books Towards a New Architecture, and The Home of Man, I have been an admirer of Le Corbusier’s drawings, and the way he managed to illustrate a point about architecture or town planning with a few simple lines.

In his youth, after graduating from high school, the young Pierre Jeanneret (as he was then known – the name Le Corbusier was adopted later) undertook a series of journeys across Europe, which he documented exhaustively with drawings and watercolours. This was a formative period in his education. He never studied architecture at a university, and when he set out on his travels he had not yet decided whether he wanted to be an artist or an architect. Towards the end, he had made up his mind.

This beautifully illustrated book charts his development through these trips through his drawings and sketches.

The author is an architect, who had previously used Le Corbusier’s journeys as a basis for his own trips, and he has assembled a chronologically arranged selection of drawings that Le Corbusier made on his travels.

The book will be of interest Corb fans of course. But it will also appeal to those who enjoy drawing buildings and the urban environment, even those who are not especially interested in Corbusier, or indeed modern architecture.

This is not a book about how to draw buildings and cityscapes, although it does discuss the materials and techniques used by Le Corbusier. But it is a book which illustrates how the process of drawing is something which we can use to help us learn to see the and understand the world around us, and in the conclusion, the author urges the reader to pick up a pencil and start drawing.  For those who enjoy such activities, or might like to, it’s an inspiring book. By showing a selection of pictures produced over time by the same artist, the author has illustrated several points.

To Le Corbusier, drawing was a means of exploring and analysing the things he saw. The pictures and the commentary illustrate how he often made several drawings of the same building or place, each one depicting a different aspect which he wanted to show.

This drawing is about the surface decoration on the capital of a column in the church of San Vitale in Ravenna. The carving is shown in great detail. The rest of the building is shown, but in less detail.

These drawings of the Doge's Palace in Venice depict the characteristic Venetian gothic windows, but they are also about the relationship between ornament and structure, and show the way the stonework fits together.

This drawing shows the Baptistery at Pisa, and is about the relationship of the buildings to each other.

This earlier drawing of the Baptistery, on the other hand, is about the surface detail.

We see how Le Corbusier was able to deploy a whole range of techniques, depending on what it was he wanted to show, as illustrated by these two pictures of Notre Dame in Paris, made during the same trip.

The later drawings are less detailed, emphasising the buildings as volumes in relationship to one another, with less emphasis on surface detail. Drawings like this are generally more familiar, many of them having been used to illustrate his books.

However, behind that simplicity was a high level of technical skill, as his earlier works attest.

Voyage Le Corbusier: drawing on the road.
Jacob Brillhart

W.W. Norton, Feb 2016
ISBN 978-0-393-73356-3
7.6 × 9.6 in / 192 pages
Publisher's site
Amazon UK
Amazon US