Abroad in Britain

2014.02.11

I’m not in Berlin at the moment, indeed for a while (till the spring?). I started setting up an ‘abroad’ blog, but basically couldn’t be bothered, so will just post my any non-Berlin ramblings here for a bit.  Sorry.

Anyway, what’s the oldest thing in the picture below?

It’s the VW Beetle. Because this is Poundbury – Prince Charles’ curious urban extension to Dorchester. The oldest part has recently reached the venerable age of twenty (of Poundbury that is, not the oldest part of Prince Charles, who apparently dates from the late middle ages.)

A grim, rainy day found me passing nearby, and having never seen it, I was curious. More curious at least than my wife, who sat in the car listening to Radio 4 for an hour as I wandered about, taking photos and annoying the locals. True, it wasn’t ideal flaneur weather.  And rather than the villagey hamlet location that I’d envisaged (and that perhaps the architects also envisaged?) Poundbury is actually on top of a hill, in a surprisingly windswept location.

Ignore for a moment, if you can, the architectural style(s). I use the term style advisedly, as the actual function of each of the buildings is almost aggressively divorced from its appearance. More on that later.

In fact, the thing that immediately struck me first and most forcefully was not the toy town appliqué of different historical periods, but cars, and how they are treated. Poundbury in the flesh seems much less about designing for people, or even pastiche architectural gestures, than about the car: how best to avoid annoying our four-wheeled friends with the irritation of road markings or signage, with matters as mundane as finding a parking space?

The car-based nature of the development was discussed to some degree in early reports, but perhaps it should have been at the centre of every discussion. Oddly, there is no road/street signage of any kind; no one-way systems, yellow lines, parking bays, meters or any such street clutter. Anyone can park anywhere they like, it seems. Surely therefore, parking should be a major problem? It isn’t, I think for two reasons: one is that the Poundbury is in the middle of nowhere – the place is not swarming with tourists (I was, I suspect, the only tourist, and for all the wrong reasons). But secondly, the spaces that at first glance appeared to be walled back gardens are on closer inspection… car parks. The contrived, ‘kooky’ alleyways what you would expect to lead to interesting inner courtyards (as they do in Berlin) or to other streets, in fact lead to… more car parking. Tudorbethan garage doors are studiously avoided; the architecture is more ambitious than that. Instead, whole fake coach houses are constructed as ‘instant conversions’.

It’s the VW Beetle, obviously, because this is Poundbury – Prince Charles’ curious urban extension to Dorchester. The oldest part has recently reached the age of twenty (the oldest part of Poundbury that is, not of Prince Charles, who apparently dates from the late middle ages.)

I found myself passing by (don’t ask why – I’m cruising round some odd parts of Britain-on-Sea at the moment) and having never been, I was curious. More curious at least than my wife, who sat in the car listening to Radio 4 as I wandered about, taking photos and annoying the locals. True, it wasn’t ideal flaneur weather. And it didn’t help that Poundbury turns out to be at the top of a windswept hill, rather than the down-in-the-valley hamlet location you might have envisaged. If you’d envisaged at all. Perhaps its architects had been similarly misled.

But I went with an open mind, because one should.

The development, which is now greatly expanded from the small first phase completed twenty years ago, has been largely forgotten by the architectural (and other) press.

Ignore for a moment, if you can, the architectural style(s). I use the term style precisely, by the way, as the estate’s buildings are almost aggressively divorced from those same buildings’ appearance. More on that later.

In fact, the thing that immediately struck me first and most forcefully was not the toy town appliqué of different historical periods, but the cars, or rather what is done with them. For in the flesh, the Poundbury concept seems to be much less about design for people, or good-end pastiche, than about how to keep cars contented. How best to avoid our four-wheeled friends being annoyed by irritating road markings and signage, with matters as mundane as “finding a parking space”.

The car-based nature of the development was discussed to some degree in early reports, but perhaps it should have been at the centre of every discussion. Oddly, there is no road/street signage of any kind; no one-way systems, yellow lines, parking bays, meters or any such street clutter. Anyone can park anywhere they like, it seems. Surely therefore, parking should be a major problem? It isn’t, for two reasons: one is that the Poundbury is in the middle of nowhere – so not much pressure on parking from out-of-towners. But mainly, it’s because the spaces that at first glance appear to be walled back gardens are on closer inspection… car parks. The contrived, ‘kooky’ alleyways what you would expect to lead to interesting inner courtyards (as they do in Berlin) or to other streets, in fact lead to… more car parking. Tudorbethan garage doors are studiously avoided; the developers are more architecturally ambitious than that. Instead, entire fake coach houses are constructed as ‘instant conversions’.

In fact, the thing that immediately struck me first and most forcefully was not the toy town appliqué of different historical periods, but the cars, or rather what is done with them. For in the flesh, the Poundbury concept seems to be much less about design for people, or good-end pastiche, than about how to keep cars contented. How best to avoid our four-wheeled friends being annoyed by irritating road markings and signage, with matters as mundane as “finding a parking space”.

The car-based nature of the development was discussed to some degree in early reports, but perhaps it should have been at the centre of every discussion. Oddly, there is no road/street signage of any kind; no one-way systems, yellow lines, parking bays, meters or any such street clutter. Anyone can park anywhere they like, it seems. Surely therefore, parking should be a major problem? It isn’t, for two reasons: one is that the Poundbury is in the middle of nowhere – so not much pressure on parking from out-of-towners. But mainly, it’s because the spaces that at first glance appear to be walled back gardens are on closer inspection… car parks. The contrived, ‘kooky’ alleyways what you would expect to lead to interesting inner courtyards (as they do in Berlin) or to other streets, in fact lead to… more car parking. Tudorbethan garage doors are studiously avoided; the developers are more architecturally ambitious than that. Instead, entire fake coach houses are constructed as ‘instant conversions’.

Despite attempts to form small parks, squares and meeting places, the royally-patronised exurb’s beating heart (I use the term wrongly) is a vast windswept space on the eastern side of town. I don’t think it was intended to be such a location, but it’s where Waitrose is located, so that’s that. The space is essentially a big car park, but without any road markings or parking bays. Instead, the vehicles using it just kind of circle each other slowly, each giving way to the other, like absent-minded kerb-crawlers. There’s an idea at work here (I think) – the transposing of Dutch-led thinking on the mixing of cars and pedestrians by doing away with traffic control clutter, meaning that drivers have to slow right down and be more aware.

To criticise the architectural styles used (as opposed to the architecture) is perhaps to miss the point. But hell, let’s go for it anyway (when in Rome…). Friends have often accused me of being a lover of that most unfashionable of styles, postmodernism, and there’s some truth in that. But Poundbury’s architecture is not postmodern; it lacks the humour, the nod-and-a-wink that made Pomo such fun. These are po-faced, pompous buildings that take themselves entirely seriously, a careful attempt to replicate… well what exactly?

The oddest thing, for Charles and the New Urbanism movement that claim to value the organic growth of the urban landscape, is that Poundbury’s mix of styles is simply too mixed. There is no medieval core, surrounded by Georgian streets, added to by the Victorian and ending in 1930s sprawl. Instead, architectural styles spanning, I would say, about three centuries, are exactly evenly mixed and disbursed, entirely pointlessly. A late medieval market building, a Victorian pub, Georgian Cottages, some Arts & Crafts er, luxury apartments. Of course the styles end at the dawn of the 20th century. There’s no modernism here. No tilts towards the Bauhaus, but also no interpretation of classicism to create something new, as Lutyens did. Poundbury is pastiche in its dullest, well-built form.

And the odd incongruity; I’ve long been mystified by the British way of incorporating (or failing to incorporate) solar panels into the roofs of newbuild homes. Perhaps the idea here was to make the building look older than the photovoltaics:

And let’s just call this, er, unsuccessful by Poundbury’s own standards:

I said at the beginning that the buildings’ functions are often completely at odds with their appearance. Obviously houses are houses, but some of the houses are offices, supermarkets, light industrial units and in two cases, offices for emergency services (a fire station and an ambulance station). Leaving aside my taste-based critique of the architecture*, my stroll about town brought to mind some of Poundbury’s chief planner Leon Krier’s writing on cities and architecture. His gripe in that particular piece (and many others) was that the modernist ’style’ lacked validity because it presented every building typology in the same way; a church, a factory a school all were apparently interchangeable in appearance. Odd then that his theory is the first to be thrown out of the (Neo-Georgian) window. Know what this is? (below)

This is offices, I think. And Waitrose:

And this is an ambulance station. You can tell it is, only because someone has thoughtfully painted a big sign on it, saying “St John Ambulance Station”.

To be fair, the local community hall looks the part:

…if it had been built in the late middle ages.

Despite Poundbury being pretty good in terms of build quality, it’s not ageing in the way it would if the buildings were ‘real’. Render is, ultimately, not stone.

Some of the designs are sweet…

Some are frankly a bit scary…

Some are almost convincing. A sort of arts’n'crafty Charles Rennie Mackintoshy anyone?

And some of it is just a bit eighties. I partly take back my positive inflection about Pomo – some of it was good, much was terrible. And enough with the f*****g balls on top of things, already:

Maybe all of this is unfair. Mr snobby architecture critic  comes along**, imposing his taste on others. Those who aspire to live in Poundbury are not comparing the homes offered here against the best that contemporary architectural design has to offer. They are comparing Dorchester’s new car-based exurb with other places’ new car-based exurbs. I spoke to/accosted a few people about town, who seemed to genuinely either like living there, or were at work and would like to live in Poundbury if they could have afforded it (tellingly).

*God save me from eclectic taste, as Grayson Perry recently said.

**I wish. I’m neither a good enough writer nor well connected enough to be an architecture critic. But a boy’s gotta dream…

Der Hinterhof in Berlin – Brennpunkt des Berliner Städtebaus

2013.07.03

Short notice, but I’ll be giving a short talk tomorrow with Prof. Harald Bodenschatz at the TU, as part of an event for the launch of the Berlin Urban Design book (see earlier post).

I’ll stick to the point, and they’ll be slides!  All details below:

Der Hinterhof in Berlin
Brennpunkt des Berliner Städtebaus

Abendveranstaltung
anlässlich des Erscheinens der zweiten, erweiterten Auflage von
* Städtebau in Berlin. Schreckbild und Vorbild für Europa
* Berlin Urban Design. A Brief History of a European City
Verlag DOM publishers

Zeit: 4. Juli 2013, 18 Uhr
Ort: orangelab, Ernst-Reuter-Platz 2

In der städtebaulichen Debatte fungierte der Hinterhof über Jahrzehnte als schlimmste Verkörperung unmenschlichen Wohnens, als finsterer steinerner Ort ohne jede Nutzungsqualität, als Hölle für aufwachsende Kinder, als Mahnmal der nicht erhaltenswerten, ja unbedingt zu beseitigenden Mietkasernenstadt. Heute ist der Hinterhof wieder rehabilitiert, als ruhiger, oft grüner Raum, dessen Struktur bei Neubauten sogar eine Wiederauferstehung feiert. Kein städtebauliches Element wurde in der jüngeren Städtebaugeschichte dermaßen verteufelt wie der Berliner Hinterhof, und kein städtebauliches Element hat ein solch atemberaubendes Comeback erlebt wie eben jener Hinterhof.

Begrüßung und Moderation
Prof. Dr. Cordelia Polinna, TU Berlin

Von der Hölle zur Idylle
Zur Karriere des Berliner Hinterhofes
Prof. Dr. Harald Bodenschatz, TU Berlin

Comment: An English Perspective on Berlin
Jim Hudson, www.architectureinberlin.com, Co-Übersetzer der zweiten englischen Auflage

Das Berlinbuch: Start der Reihe „Grundlagen“
Natascha Meuser, Verlag DOM publishers

Eine Veranstaltung des FG Planungs- und Architektursoziologie der TU Berlin
in Kooperation mit dem Verlag DOM publishers

Tour of the Berlin 1987 IBA, Friday 31st May

2013.05.20

So it’s about time I did another one of these – people often ask, and I never get round to it.

On Friday 31st May I’ll be running a tour of a selection of projects form the IBA (International BauAustellung) of the 1980s.

My blog has much detail on this, my favorite subject, so I won’t repeat it here – see this page for an intro http://www.architectureinberlin.com/?p=119

I’ve run the tour a few times before, and although I add and remove bits, it will be much the same as if you’ve been on it already!

Meeting details:

3pm at the corner of Kochstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse. We’ll begin with projects from the western, “Neubau” end of the IBA, followed by a short bus trip to the eastern, “Altbau” end. Will be around 3hrs, ending at a local Kreuzberg bar or cafe, near to Schoenleinstr and Kottbusser Toe U-bahn stations. A fair bit of walking involved!

Price: 15 euros.

Group size is limited, so please only say you’re coming if you’re REALLY coming by confirming direct to me at jimhudson40 (at) gmail.com. Saying ‘I’m coming’ on Facebook doesn’t count!

“SO 36 – Riots, Ruins & Regeneration” tour

2013.05.15

I’ll be running a social history-come-architecture tour of the SO 36 district on Saturday 25th May, in association with Slow Travel Berlin.

Starts at 3pm, duration 2-3 hours (usually followed by beers and chat in a local bar) meeting on Spreewaldplatz near Cafe Marx, 15 € per person.
Please book through Slow Travel, or if not possible let me know by email and pay on the day: jimhudson40 (at) gmail.com

A little about the tour:

Since its origins in the 19th century, the eastern half of Kreuzberg (still known by its long-defunct ‘SO 36′ postcode) has long been one of Berlin’s most vibrant districts. In the 1960s, the Berlin Wall left the area as a somewhat isolated part of West Berlin, but by the late 60s the district had become famous as a place where students, artists, anarchists and immigrants came in search of a life of low rents, freedom and non-conformity. Venues such as the SO 36 club, still very much alive, formed the centre of Berlin’s punk and new wave subcultures, frequented by the likes of Iggy Pop and David Bowie.

Surrounded by the Wall on three sides for half a century, some strange situations arose, with streets, communities and even a mainline station being divided between East and West.

SO 36 is still famous for its annual May day riots, although things have been calmer in recent years. But the large number of squatters, political groups and alternative communities who protested each year led to some radical experiments in living and housing, most interestingly the regeneration projects of the 1980s, which were in part an attempt by West Berlin to rescue the area from becoming a slum. The Berlin Wall fell before some of these projects were even complete, and ironically, these community-led projects paved the way for the full-scale gentrification now taking place.

The walking tour is a mix of urban history, architecture and anecdote giving an insight into the past, present and possible future of the this fascinating district.

Last minute reminder – Battle of Ideas, Wednesday night, 14th November

2012.11.13

I’ve mentioned it in previous post(s), but don’t forget tomorrow night’s ‘Triumph of the City‘ debate, at which I’ll be a panellist.  I know, standards are slipping.

Hardt-Waltherr Hämer, 1922 – 2012

2012.09.30

Sad news that Hardt-Waltherr Hämer, the father of ‘careful urban renewal’ (’behutsamen Stadterneuerung’) and director of the Altbau half of the IBA 1987, died on Thursday.

http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/zum-tod-von-hardt-waltherr-haemer-retter-von-kreuzberg/7190412.html

Hämer was a key plyer in the movement against the excesses of modernist planning of the 1960s and 70s, which in Berlin reached its nadir with the redevelopment of Kottbusser Tor in Kreuzberg.  He took the (at the time radical) view that cities could be revived by retaining the existing built fabric and working with local residents to improve their own homes and environment.   This stood firmly against the orthodoxy of the time – the scorched earth policy of urban renewal through large scale demolition and rebuilding, including major new road networks, which was of course much more profitable for investors and contractors than Hämer’s ’slow architecture’ approach.

His much publicised and successful project to put these ideas into practice at Chamissoplatz in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district led to his heading of the Altbau element of the International BauAustellung of the 1980s in West Berlin.  The legacy of his work here was later to be largely ignored during the redevelopment of Berlin following the fall of the Wall, with rabid gentrification, displacement of long-standing communities and the general blandifying of large parts of the city.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Wednesday 19th Sept, 7.30pm

2012.09.15

So, finally getting things moving with our first archi film night, this coming Wednesday.  Free entry, imported British beers, cake and more.

As usual, at Hudson’s, Boppstrasse 1, nearest U-Bahn Schönleinstraße.

Although I’m planning some ‘pure architecture’ films, including Rem’s Houselife, and Berlin Babylon, they’ll be mixed with movies that ’swim in an architectural sea’. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is one such: a film from the days before CGI (but all the better for it) – a kind of darkly comic take on Orwell’s 1984, sharing at least one film location (Battersea power station) with the ’straight’ version of 1984 that came out the previous year. Yet Brazil is by far the better of the two films.

Gilliam has a madly architectonic eye, with virtually every scene a reference or in-joke about a particular building or failed utopian plan. It’s also a distopia where nothing mechanical or electronic ever works properly, a state of affairs with which I have much sympathy (and possibly the only film whose villains including heating and plumbing engineers?).

Anyway, it’s a great cast and an endlessly inventive film, that should be enjoyable even if you’re not a nerd like me.

Architecture Book Club, 22nd August

2012.08.07

A chance to read then discuss books about architecture and related subjects. Can be fact or fiction, specialist architectural theory best avoided!

Each month to have two books, which you’re encouraged to read beforehand, to make the discussion as interesting as possible.

J G Ballard – “Concrete Island” (a satirical novel about an architect who crashes his car and is trapped on an island formed between motorways)

Rem Koolhaas – “Delirious New York” (Koolhaas’ alternative urban history of the city – work of genius, or entertaining nonsense?).

Both available from Amazon and elsewhere.

Hosted at Hudson’s Cafe, at 19.30 on Wednesday 22nd August: http://www.hudsonscakes.com/

See also

http://www.facebook.com/events/137377596400908/permalink/145350668936934/

Architecture Meetup, Wednesday 4th April

2012.03.27

So the next architecture meetup will be on Wednesday 4th April from 7.30pm

At my place again: Hudson’s Cafe, Boppstrasse 1, 10967 (corner of Schönleinstraße, nearest U-Bahn Schönleinstraße)

And there’s a theme: ‘the Media Spree, Ostbahnhof, Stralau and Rummelsberg’.

My idea is that we put our heads together and organise ourselves a bike tour of the area, getting access to buildings. Where to have lunch obviously a critical element. Perhaps a constructive half hour or so, then more booze and the usual socializing.

A few possible ideas:

  • Tour of the ongoing reconstruction of Ostbahnhof
  • A look at the stupidly glossy Nhow hotel (I may have a new contact there shortly who can show us around)
  • Someone from the ‘Spreeufer für alle’ anti-Media Spree to talk en route?
  • Tour of RadialsystemV
  • A group lament on the loss of Bar 25, Kiki Blofeld etc and how horrible the O2 is.
  • Maybe go up to Kraftwerk Klinkenberg?

Look forward to seeing you.

A few things to do to start the year.

2012.01.08

Architektur Galerie are still producing those handy selected listings, so in a lazy kind of a mood, thought I’d reproduce it here, in case you’re looking for some architecture-related things to do.

Happy New Year, by the way.

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