Monday, September 24, 2012

Two for the road

Two articles - one a review - by architectural journalist Rowan Moore on topics of significance to this blog and I hope other readers.

First, Moore's review of a book of essays by Jonathan Meades, the cultural commentator and 'contrarian'. Meades has made several fascinating documentaries for B.B.C. television, mostly recently a series on France (Jonathan Meades on France). Meades carries on where others leave off when it comes to pulling off wings from cherished contemporary or near contemporary ideas about culture and society; it is helpful in this regard that he has a mastery of the one liner, the metaphor and the quip direct that few do possess.

I pick out from Moore's review the following to give a flavour of the whole:

Architecture, the most public of endeavours, is practised by people who inhabit a smugly hermetic milieu which is cultish. If this sounds far-fetched just consider the way initiates of this cult describe outsiders as the lay public, lay writers and so on: it's the language of the priesthood. Architecture talks about architecture as though it is disconnected from all other endeavours, an autonomous discipline which is an end in itself. Now, it would be acceptable to discuss opera or sawmill technology or athletics or the refinement of lard in such a way. They can be justifiably isolated, for they don't impinge on anyone outside, say, the lard community – the notoriously factional lard community. To isolate architecture is blindness, and an abjuration of responsibility.

"Notoriously factional lard community" is pure Meades.

Better yet: –

It doesn't matter what idiom is essayed, it is the business of attempting to create places that defeats architects. Architects cannot devise analogues for what has developed over centuries, for generation upon generation of amendments. They cannot understand the appeal of untidiness and randomness, and even if they could they wouldn't know how to replicate it.

That is post Nairn.

The second piece is Moore's views on art and regeneration ("housing market renewal" – a term that stinks of the focus group) published in the London Observer (23 September 2012) focused on Liverpool, a city that has been kicked about for all sorts of reasons, none of them good or even true. Yet, these observations apply equally to Newcastle and a dozen other cities and towns across the country.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Your place or mine?

Since summer departed the skies have largely cleared of cloud and some bright, albeit cold, days have encouraged me back on the beat.

I've wanted to record the progress being made on the large and imposing student blocks being built on Portland Road overlooking Battlefield a.k.a. the City Stadium; but grey skies discouraged me. Until now.

The slideshow below records my recent walk from Sandyford in a loop around the district. Apart from the sizable new addition to the skyline, please note the wonderful facade of the Biscuit Factory art emporium receiving the reflected light from neighbouring existing student accommodation on Shieldfield Lane; next, the replacement of La Gabbia restaurant by the 'Ernest' café bar (of which I have heard good reports already) and The Tower (plus vintage shop), of which I hope to learn more.

As yet no sign of work beginning on the planned several more accommodation blocks of equal size on the former paint factory site; these should have been finished by this date. These were to house the expected influx of students, Chinese leading the way, that were expected to join expanding courses at the two local universities. That particular business model has been broken by the Great Slump, Credit Crunch, or whatever you like to call it ... That and, as I have mentioned previously, news filtering through of China's (very clever) move to build it's own universities en masse* and thus attracting overseas students (including, I expect, many Brits) to China to study at considerably less expense than they would incur studying in the United Kingdom.

In more ways than one, watch this space.

* B.B.C. 2 television's 'Newsnight' (08.12) reported China is 'planning to build a hundred new universities'; one well informed old friend told me this figure is by a long way an underestimate.