Monday, 5 December 2016

Openness at the German Pavilion, Venice Architecture Biennale 2016

A thought-provoking, moving and inspiring display

For this year's Architecture Biennale in Venice, the Germans, with the permission of the authorities, created large openings in the walls of their listed Pavilion, to symbolise openness. The theme of the display was "Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country", an investigation of the "urban, architectural and social conditions of arrival cities in Germany".

Dsiplays on the walls of the pavilion illustrated eight principles pertaining to how things should be set up in "arrival cities", the places where refugees and migrants live. The points they made were sensible, well thought-out, and not always self-evident.

I found it an inspiring and moving exhibit, especially in the light of recent events in the UK and the US. It was a good symbol for a country which has now been thrust into the role of leader of the liberal and decent world. A refreshing change from the poisonous, xenophobic bigoted mood in contemporary Britain.

Here are some pictures I took. It's worth reading the text.

More information on the project is available at .

Monday, 28 November 2016

Cadorin exhibition at the Fortuny Museum

Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949) was born in Spain but settled in Venice, and is best known as a designer of beautiful textiles. He was also a stage and lighting designer, painter and a designer of interiors. His house and studio in Venice was given to the city by his widow in 1956, and is now a museum. It is used for temporary exhibitions during which works by other artists are displayed alongside Fortuny's own work, fabrics, and other objects he owned and produced.

This must be one of the most beautiful interiors in Venice. It is also a nice place to be reminded that artistic production continued in Venice after the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797.

The museum is only open for temporary exhibitions. We visited it during an exhibition dedicated to the Cadorin family, which was marvellous, as are all the exhibitions held at the Fortuny.

For more details, see the Fortuny Palace website.

Here are pictures taken during our visit, presented without any further comment.

Palazzo Fortuny
Campo S. Beneto, 3780, 30126 San Marco, Venezia VE, Italy

Monday, 21 November 2016

Flying to Venice? Try not to be posh.

We are now in Venice, having flown from London City Airport last Saturday. This small airport, which caters mainly to business travellers, is much more pleasant and more relaxed than the larger ones. For us it's easier to get to as well, and I think we'll try to use it in future if we can.

We were fortunate to be able to get seats on the starboard side of the aircraft. The flight path from London to Venice is such that you get a wonderful view of Venice from the starboard windows, while the port side windows mostly face away from the city and towards the Adriatic.

On the way out of London City Airport, you also get fantastic views of the Thames and its estuary.

It was foggy and raining as we flew in to Venice, and the city was somewhat obscured, but this served to emphasise the size of the lagoon. We could also appreciate how shallow it was, as it seemed like we could see the bottom of it.

And what about the term "posh"?

Well, it originated from the days of the British Empire, when the best cabins on ships going between England and India were on the port side going to India, and on the starboard side when sailing from India to Britain. These would be cooler as the sun shone in from the south. Hence Port Out, Starboad Home, P.O.S.H.  Nowadays, if you are flying to Venice form London, it should be Starboard Out, Port Home (not P.O.S.H.).

And just to clarify, for those who don't know the terminology, starboard is the right hand side when facing the front of the vehicle, and port is the left. There's a mnemonic for tha t: "A little red port left in the bottle". Red refers to the lights on th side of a ship. Red for port, green for starboard. Got that?

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Napoleon, by Abel Gance

New release of the 1927 epic, digitally restored

What an amazing film it was!

Today I watched the silent movie Napoleon, made by Abel Gance in 1927, and now digitally restored by Kevin Brownlow, an extraordinary project that has taken 50 years of hard work. The film is about 5 1/2 hours long, and it was shown today at the Barbican with two intervals plus a lunch break, so it was a whole day watching one great, epic movie.

The film is immensely sophisticated, both in the way the story is told, and in its cinematography. The range of techniques is extraordinary, and despite having been made in 1927, it feels very modern. It was shot in monochrome, but the film was tinted red, yellow, blue and orange in different scenes. In the final act, the film has a triptych format, with three contiguous screens.

It tells the story of Napoleon's early life and his rise to power, and deals with issues of personality, childhood influences, love, and the nature of leadership. It addresses things like the consequences of revolutions, autocracy, demagoguery. I don't want to give any spoilers at all, except to say that there are things in it which are pertinent to recent events in Britain, the United States, and Europe.

The term silent film is misleading, because although there is no spoken dialogue, there was a marvellous soundtrack, an original work by Carl Davis, based largely on works by Beethoven (I recognised his 3rd, 6th and 7th symphonies, and the Egmont overture), as well as other tunes, some of which that were familiar to me. It does have something of the music video about it. It's certainly a treat for Beethoven enthusiasts (and a good introduction to Beethoven for someone who does not know his work). It's like a grand, magnificent operatic epic without spoken dialogue.

The film will be released on DVD and Blu-ray, and available on the BFI website. However this is one for the big screen, preferably the biggest screen you can find. I'm looking out for an IMAX screening, or any other screening, because I'd certainly go to see it again.

More reading:
The story from the BFI
More about the film (i.e. spoilers) from the BFI

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Induction works fine with woks

I've always assumed that to heat a wok properly you need one of those big triple gas rings. This sort of thing:

However we have a good quality induction hob and I though it did the job pretty well, getting the wok up to a high temperature rapidly.

As it happens, my circumstances have been such that I have personally never done much cooking with a wok on one of those big gas stoves, but I was thinking of getting one as part of our house refurbishment.

However, my mother, who is a very good cook, and who does have lots of experience cooking with a wok on a gas stove has been to visit. She was surprised at how well the induction setup worked, and how hot the wok got. In fact, she is now thinking of replacing her ageing gas burner with an induction hob. That's good to know, and I won't bother with gas either, since I prefer induction for everything else as well.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

More from the London Design Biennale 2016

A few other brief snippets from the London Design Biennale, where the theme was Utopia, interpreted in a variety of ways at different national pavilions

Shenzhen: New Peak by URBANUS

The population of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, has grown in 35 years from 300,000 to over 17 million. In this exhibit, the architecture team from URBANUS illustrated a proposal for a megastructure, as an alternative to urban sprawl. In the middle was a model of the megastructure. What struck me was that it was not a solid monolith, but had lots of openings and spaces within it, so that there would be lots of light and fresh air even in the middle of the structure.

There’s nothing new in the concept of a megastructure housing an entire city, but I thought this one was rather well illustrated, with a video on the wall of the pavilion showing it being built on the proposed site, and another animation showing what life might be like in one of these  places.

I’m sure that none of the technical issues have been worked out, and I don’t know if such a structure could actually be built. The animation did look a little like a video game, but it was nevertheless a seductive vision. If something like that were to be built, I’d quite like to visit.

More details from the designers' page here.

AIDrop by Yaniv Kadosh

This is a system which allows 3 kg packages of  supplies to be air-dropped to disaster zones. The payload is carried in a unit, inspired by the sycamore tree, which rotates and thereby slows its descent without the need for a parachute.

This seemed like a clever idea. The item itself was on display, and it would appear that it has actually been tested and does work.

Here is the designer's website.

Eatopia by Rain Wu, Shikai Tseng, et al

This was a beautifully designed room, with dishes laid out on a table. The food was meant to “explore the creative melting pot of Taiwanese identities”. It looked pretty, but unlike the Lebanese pavilion, it was not for public consumption, except during special events. No matter, it was lovely to look at, and enjoyable to walk through.

here is something I saw by the reception desk at the Spanish pavilion which you could make yourself for your own home:


Sunday, 23 October 2016

Eggs. Coddled? Coddled.

I first became aware of coddled eggs in the 1980s, when they were offered to a passenger in an Air Canada TV advert. The stewardess asks a business class flyer how he’d like his eggs.

"You can have them boiled, poached, fried or coddled," she says.
“Coddled?” he says, in wonder.
“Coddled,” she replies.
And that’s what he has.

I never really knew what they were, and thought that they might the same thing as oeufs en cocotte, eggs cooked with butter and cream in a ramekins, in a bain marie , as described here

Recently, on a visit to the antiques village in Battlesbridge, in Essex, I came across a pair of Royal Worcester egg coddlers, in a box, with instructions. Which I duly purchased.

It turns out that coddled eggs are not the same thing as ouefs en cocotte.

This is how you do it:

Fill a pan with enough water so that it comes up to the neck of the coddlers, and bring to the boil. Butter the coddlers, put an egg into each one, season with salt and pepper. I add extra butter. Screw the lid onto the coddlers. Lower them  into the pan, and simmer for 6 minutes, then remove them carefully.

Cooked gently in this way, the whites are just set, and the yolks are runny. The results are delicious, especially if you use good quality eggs. Eating them out of coddlers adds to the enjoyment.

We enjoyed them so much that we though we ought to get more coddlers, so that we could have 2 eggs each. Royal Worcester started making egg coddlers in the 1890s, but I'm not sure if they still produce them. However, they are easy to obtain online from eBay and Etsy, so we bought a few more.

According to Wikipedia, coddled eggs can also be prepared by pouring boiling water over the eggs and leaving them to stand for 10 minutes. This is in fact more or less the technique used in Singapore and Malaysia for half-boiled eggs, which are eaten for breakfast with soya sauce and buttered toast, as described here. It turns out that the eggs I had eaten for breakfast as a child were also coddled.