Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Doppelhaus, by Lütjens Padmanabhan

On a restricted suburban plot by Lake Zürich, Lütjens Padmanabhan has brought a new wit and richness to the semi-detached house

The semi-detached house is a peculiarly British architectural compromise. An expedient answer to the problem of housing the burgeoning middle classes, the “semi” exploded in popularity between the wars as the perfect solution for those keen to escape the anonymous barracks of the terrace, but not quite able to afford the extravagance of a single standalone dwelling. Now more than a third of the UK population lives in one; it has come to represent the essence of cosy suburbia, the accidental icon of middle England.

For the proliferation of the standardised semi, we have John Claudius Loudon to thank, whose 1838 manual, The Suburban Gardener and Villa Companion, set out a catalogue of rules for what was then confusingly termed the “double detached house”. One of the key objects of combining two smaller houses in one building, he argued, was “to give dignity and consequence to each dwelling by making it appear to have the magnitude of two houses”...

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Originally published in BD, 25 May 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hepworth Wakefield, by David Chipperfield Architects

Chipperfield’s gallery, which opens this week, draws on the power and heritage of its mill-town setting

Huddled together at a crook in the River Calder, a cluster of concrete containers rises out of the churning waters at the bottom of a weir. Their canted planes and inclined rooftops collide in a dynamic, aggregated bulk. Polygonal cells of crystalline matter, the forms have a tough elemental geology, as if chiselled from the bedrock – Yorkshire’s answer to the Giant’s Causeway.

This mysterious shape-shifting mass is David Chipperfield’s latest building, the Hepworth Wakefield, a vast new vessel for the city’s collection of art – named after local daughter Barbara – and the country’s largest purpose-built gallery space outside London...

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Originally published in BD, 18 May 2011

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel, by RHWL and Richard Griffiths

The painstaking restoration of St Pancras station’s neo-Gothic Midland Grand Hotel by architects RHWL and Richard Griffiths honours George Gilbert Scott’s original vision, despite some disappointing fit-out choices.

’Architecture is the art which so disposes and adorns the edifices raised by man … that the sight of them may contribute to his mental health, power and pleasure.” So wrote John Ruskin in 1849, in the opening sentence to the Seven Lamps of Architecture, his extended essay that attempted to define the guiding principles of the Gothic Revival. To this sentence, 30 years later, he added a barbed footnote: “This separates architecture from a wasp’s nest, rat hole and a railway station.”

In between these years, from 1867-77, one of the most extraordinary neo-Gothic buildings in the country was built. It was a Ruskinian dream of soaring spires and pointed arches, a polychromatic mountain of brick and stone, encrusted with carvings of birds and beasts and entwined with the tendrils of abundant foliage. It was the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras – a palatial frontage for a railway station...

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Originally published in BD, 4 May 2011