Open House London 2017 ~ That History Girl’s Guide!

Open House London celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! That’s 25 years of making architecture free and accessible to Londoners and the 19 million tourists who visit this beautiful city every year.

The first Open House London was organised by Victoria Thornton on 7th November 1992. It comprised of just 20 buildings. This weekend over 800 homes, museums, schools, palaces, embassies, and many more will open their doors to the public for free! The range of buildings available is simply astounding, and a little daunting when it comes to choosing where to go first, so I’ve made a list of some of my favourites, some of the essentials and some more unusual buildings slightly off the beaten track!

My top tip for the weekend is to volunteer! You get to explore a new building that you might not have chosen otherwise, and to contribute to such a wonderful, educational two days of fun! When you volunteer you also get a badge that lets you queue jump at other sites (except those with pre-booked tours, or public ballots). Trust me, it’s worth it, especially when venues such as The Foreign and Commonwealth Office can have queues going around the block! Oh, and did I mention the volunteers party, where you can meet other like-minded architecture nerds! Sign up here!

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The Durbar Court at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Open both Saturday and Sunday from 11am-4pm The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a must-see! Built in 1861 by Sir George Gilbert Scott and Matthew Digby Wyatt the gorgeous Durbar Court will have you gazing around in awe (it’s also highly instagrammable, for those of you that way inclined). The Grade I listed Victorian building has plenty to see and do, see if you can spot all 12 signs of the Zodiac in one of the ceilings! It’s a fantastic insight into the running of our government, and not usually open to the public, so don’t miss out!

 

 

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The Ceiling of the Grand Staircase at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Crystal Palace Subway

 

The Crystal Palace Subway in Bromley was originally built as a passageway leading directly from High Level Station to the Crystal Palace, which burnt down in 1936, designed by Joseph Paxton in 1854. The subway itself was constructed in 1865 under architect Charles Barry Junior. Not normally open to the public you can step into Victorian life! The subway is open all weekend from 11am-4pm, however a capacity of 80 means queues are likely!

Lloyd’s Register Group

Perhaps one of the most photographed and shared buildings in the City, although I swear there’s a new building popping up every week! The original late Victorian building, designed by Thomas Collcutt, was extended by Richard Rogers Partnership, winning a RIBA award! Although only limited areas are open to the public you can hear a lecture about Richard Rogers’ expansion every half hour. Download the Open House app to see all the other buildings nearby to visit while you’re there! N.B. Lloyd’s Building is only open Saturday 10am-5pm.

 

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A view of The Hackney Empire from the stage. 

Hackney Empire

 

Hackney Empire was somewhat of an accidental discovery! I signed up to volunteer late last year, and figured as a somewhat of a theatre-holic it would be interesting to see it behind the scenes! What a wonderful surprise! Built the same year as the original Lloyd’s building (1901) Frank Matcham’s Hackney Empire is considerably different inside, see how many Art Deco features you can spot! The Hackney Empire was built and used as a Variety Theatre before falling into disrepair. Only 1 tour is running this year, at 9am on Saturday. Book here.

 

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A Hall from a 1630s Middle Class Home at the Geffrye Museum.

Geffrye Museum

 

The Geffrye Museum is situated in Hackney, and open Saturday 10am-4:30pm, a perfect secondary location to visit after a tour of the Hackney Empire! The Geffrey Museum is situated in an old Alms house, and currently houses a museum dedicated to the history of the middling class, and how their homes have changed over the past couple of centuries. Usually free to enter, the staff are running object handling sessions.

 

 

 

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Roof of the Sukkot Shalom Reform Synagogue, the shape was inspired by the hull of a ship.

Sukkot Shalom Reform Synagogue Wanstead

 

The Sukkot Shalom Reform Synagogue is open Sunday from 10am-4pm. The Synagogue building was originally part of the Merchant Seaman’s Orphan Asylum, designed by Somers Clarke, dating back to the 19th century. The rest of the Asylum has since been converted to flats. The building used to house the chapel, and the signs are evident in the architecture and embellishments around the walls. It was converted into a synagogue in 1995. The volunteers here are extremely knowledgeable, and it’s a nice, unusual building.

 

The Battle of Britain Bunker, Uxbridge.

Another slightly out-of-the-way building, but a must-see for any 20th century history enthusiasts! It was built in 1939, and was part of the main control centre coordinating one of the greatest aerial battles in history! Open both days, 10am-5pm pre-booking is required so check out the Open House website for more details!

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Inside Crossrail Place Roof Garden

Crossrail Place Roof Garden

This year Foster + Partners are celebrating their 50th birthday this year, and the Crossrail Place Roof Garden is a shining example of their beautiful architecture! Situated in Canary Wharf, atop the new station, it is a beautiful partnership of architecture and nature. The garden was a collaboration between Foster+ Partners and landscape designer Gillespies Landscape Architects. Gillespies are hosting hourly tours between 10am and 4pm on Saturday.

 

 

Trellick Tower

Designed by Erno Goldfinger in 1972, Trellick Tower has become a sacred site for Brutalism enthusiasts! Now a Grade II listed property it encompasses exhibition and education, housing a woodworking workshop, as well as a furniture showcase. Trellick Tower is open Saturday 10:30am – 6pm, and Sunday 11am – 5pm. If you’re a fan of Brutalism you could also check out the Embassy of Slovakia, a RIBA Award winning Modern Brutalist building also situated in Kensington and Chelsea.

I hope you found this mini guide helpful! Let me know what your favourite buildings were this weekend, and any I should add to my list for next year!

Happy Architecture Hunting!!

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2017 Serpentine Pavilion by Francis Kéré

Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Bjarke Ingels and Ai WeiWei. These are just 3 of the 17 world-renowned artists and architects who have been invited to design a Serpentine Pavilion since the initiative began in 2000, with Hadid’s famous structure.

Every year an architect who is yet to design an England-based project is invited to create a pavilion in Hyde Park, next to the Serpentine Gallery, and this year Francis Kéré joined their ranks.

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Kéré’s 2017 Serpentine Pavilion. 

Francis Kéré, who was born in Gando, Burkina Faso in 1965, works for Berlin firm Kéré Architecture. Kéré moved to Berlin to train at the Technical Academy, and has since contributed work to exhibitions at MoMA and Royal Academy, London, as well as solo exhibitions at The Architecture Museum, Munich and The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Over 250,000 architecture enthusiasts visit the pavilion every year, and Bjarke Ingels 2016 structure was one of the Top 10 London Free Exhibitions. After the success and complexity of the 2016 Pavilion, I’d heard from a quite a few friends that this year’s structure fell a little flat, so I have to admit I went in a little skeptical, secretly hoping to be wowed. I wasn’t disappointed!
It is certainly true that the structure itself is fairly simple when looked at as a single entity. But the beauty of the structure I believe comes from the simplicity matched with the balanced detailing. Kéré’s inspiration for the pavilion is drawn from trees. Trees are often a central social hive in Burkina Faso, providing shelter and a social space for residents. The pavilion echos this with its wide blue base and golden canopy that funnels rain water, and shelters those beneath it all made from wood.

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Detailing of the wooden panels that make up the base of the pavilion.

I was lucky enough to visit the Pavilion during a torrential rain storm (although it didn’t feel that way at the time, having failed to bring either umbrella or rain coat, thank you English summer). Underneath the canopy is dry, but the design of the roof streams the rain water into a waterfall in the centre of the structure; it is beautifully soporific.

Despite every inch of covered space being filled by patrons sheltering from the rain, having coffee, reading and drinking in the atmosphere, the rain dampens any noise except the waterfall in the middle. The happy shouts of children playing in the rain cut through the quiet, which I’m sure Kéré would love.

 

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An Entrance to the Pavilion

Burkina Faso has one of the worst rates of education and literacy in the world. One of Kére’s projects there was the construction of Gando Primary School, which like the Serpentine Pavilion had a canopy to provide shade, and was designed to allow cool air to circulate throughout the structures. The school was built to house 150 pupils, and now has over 1,000 students!

It is true to say that unlike previous structures this pavilion isn’t designed to wow, or impress, it doesn’t push the boundaries of architecture, and for that it has received criticism. Having said that, I believe it is a great success. It is true to Kéré’s style of architecture, and has succeeded in providing a social area for people to gather and relax in all weather conditions, and for that reason, I really enjoyed it!

The 2017 Serpentine Pavilion is open until 8 October 2017, entrance is free. While there it is worth also checking out the Grayson Perry exhibition The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! at the Serpentine Gallery, entrance also free.

Bethnal Green Station; The Hidden Tragedy of WWII

In a war that claimed over 50 million lives, a single incident that lead to 173 deaths can seem like just a drop in the ocean, but the tragedy at Bethnal Green Tube Station still stands out as one of the most devastating incidents in wartime London. What isolates this incident is that, in reality, it was entirely preventable.

In 1936 it was decided that the Central Line would be extended to run beyond Liverpool Street to Stratford. As building the new line was halted during the war the tunnels and stations were left empty, and subsequently East Londons began using Bethnal Green as an air raid shelter, rather than the uncomfortable Anderson and Morisson Shelters provided by the Home Office.
The shelter at Bethnal Green was massive, fitted out with 5,000 bunks, with room for 2,000 more, and complete with library, musicians and entertainers. Londoners whiled away many hours here in the subterranean community while bombs rained down above.

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Bethnal Green Station today

On 3rd March 1943 however disaster struck. Following heavy bombing of Berlin London was preparing for retaliation, so when the alarm sounded locals rushed for shelter as usual. The steps down to the shelter were dark, only 1 light illuminated them, there was no markings on the side, or central hand rail, and as was customary London was in Blackout conditions. As East-Enders began making their way down the stairs a lady carrying a baby and a roll of bedding tripped and fell on the stairs, an elderly gentleman tripped over her, and thus began a devastating cascade of human dominoes. In the darkness nobody knew of the danger ahead, and Londoners kept hurrying down the stairs. The arrivals of two buses full of people looking for refuge only accelerated the disaster. A few miles down the road, in Victoria Park new bombs were undergoing secret testing, giving the impression of a German air-raid and only increasing the crushing panic.

In a matter of minutes 173 people were dead, including 62 children. A further 90 were injured. The bodies pulled from the staircase were purple and bruised beyond recognition. One child was only identified by a cobbler, who remembered adding a nail to her shoe the day before!

On the 3rd March 1943 not one German bomb fell on London, in fact, not even one enemy aircraft was spotted, there was no danger to London, and yet there had been huge civilian casualties!  Upon hearing of the disaster Churchill ordered that it be covered up. Survivors and witnesses were told of the importance of their silence, and some never spoke of it in their life times. Churchill believed that news of the Bethnal Green disaster would lead to a huge drop in morale and public spirit, and thus a cover-up was initiated.

It wasn’t until 2 years later that the Home Office released their official reports, along with the autopsy reports from the Police Surgeon. Even to this day no memorial stands to the victims, save a small plaque, which frequently goes unnoticed. The Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust has been fundraising to install a memorial by the tube station, of an inverted staircase. Designed by Harry Paticas, the memorial was entered in to the Royal Academy of Art’s prestigious Summer Exhibition in 2012. Whilst more funds are still needed to complete the memorial, the Trust are still highly active, and every year on 3rd March, a memorial service is held.

Over 70 years later, it is astounding that the deaths were covered up so easily, and that the tragedy is still so unknown! Family members of those killed were given only a pittance as compensation (around £950 for adults and £250 for children), and many took the psychological scars to their graves. A list of those who were injured, or died can be found on the Stairway to Heaven website.

 

People Power: Fighting for Peace @ The Imperial War Museum 

Fighting for Peace is somewhat of an oxymoron, and today it is seen all too often as the justification for Britain going to war. It is east to forget that the routes of the expression date back to WWI and the conscientious objectors.

People Power: Fighting for Peace is the first exhibition of its kind, you’re taken on a journey through the anti-war movements from WWI to present. Today we live in a world constantly on the brink of war, between North Korea, Trump and Russia the prospect of a hot nuclear war draws ever closer. In light of this the exhibition elicits a more emotive response response than I was expecting!

2017-06-08-17.09.54.jpg.jpegIn 1916, for the first time in the history of the British Army, conscription was introduced. It would last until 1920, and called all men aged 16-41 to join up and fight during the First World War.

Those excluded from conscription included those doing “vital work” on the home front, those with medical conditions or for the sake of their home life. A Military Service Tribunal would determine who got sent to war, and who was saved. There were 16,000 conscientious objectors during the first world war, generally hailing from Quaker families. The Quakers first set up the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) in 1914 at the out break of war. Referred to unkindly as “conchies” by other soldiers, they often performed vital work under the new Non-Combatant Corps. William Coltman, a conscientious objector who worked as a stretcher bearer during the war was awarded the Victoria Cross, as well as a Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar, Military Medal and Bar, and Mentioned in Dispatches, all without firing a single shot.

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CRW Nevinson The Doctor (1916)

The exhibition also looks at the art of war. One of my favourite artists, CRW Nevinson, features heavily throughout the exhibition, including some of his famous works such as Paths of Glory and The Doctor (pictured right). Works by Paul Nash, and handwritten poems by Siegfried Sassoon are also featured.

By the Second World War, pacifism was becoming a recognised movement. When in 1939 the National Services Act was passed around 60,000 conscientious objectors protested. I was surprised to discover Paul Eddington, best known for his roles in The Good Life and Yes Minister was among their number. He hailed from a Quaker family, and spent his war working for with Entertainment National Service Agency, starting his acting career. As with WWI the conscientious objectors were demonised by their fighting comrades. In one of the audio archives in the exhibition, a CO recalls a soldier yelling to others to “throw him into the river” as they were lead past under arrest.

One of the notable pacifists explored by the exhibition is John Bridey, who was a member of RNVR (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves). A physics teacher by trade, he refused to fight, but spent his war using his knowledge of physics to diffuse bombs, constantly putting his life on the line to save others.

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The longest, and most moving section of the exhibition focuses on the Cold War, and the Ban the Bomb protests. Seamlessly flowing from the attacks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki which occurred on the 6/9 August 1945 you’re taken into the 1960s. On the wall is states the death toll of the stated nuclear bombs. 215,000 died instantly, a further 155,000 were injured, not to mention those who died later from radiation poisoning. The number is staggeringly vast, the cruelty incomprehensible. It is so easy to forget the scale of this event, very few people alive remember the moment as it happened, and yet if this was to be repeated today the scale and destruction would be considerably worse. The size of nuclear weapons possessed by so many today could wipe out the whole earth 4 times over.

Fighting for Freedom includes many multimedia components, including a soundscape of audiobytes from protests, recorded accounts from various conscientious objectors from each conflict. My favourite multimedia section was the one within the Cold War area. Having visited the York Cold War Bunker (click here to read the blog) it was fascinating to see it from another point of view. The public service video sent out in 1965 to advise British citizens how to build a nuclear shelter/bunker in their home or garden, which is counterposed with the 1965 film The War Game by Ian Dury, which explores the world if the war had gone hot. It is a stark reminder of what could easily come to pass today!

The final room explores protest art, the posters, banners and photographic art produced including video of artist David Gentleman.

Overall the exhibition is incredibly well curated! It took me just over an hour to complete, only listening to half the audio recordings and only watching a section of the final documentary! I went early afternoon on a weekday, and the exhibition was very quiet, although I expect it’s busier on weekend! A very stimulating, emotive, very reasonably priced exhibition!

N.B. Once you’ve finished the exhibition check out the Syria and Afghanistan exhibition on the same floor! They go very well with Fighting for Peace, and only take an extra 40mins-1hr to do both!

“The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides ~ A Review 

Well. Where to begin. I don’t think any book has ever taken me on a journey with as many swings between loving it and hating it. At no point did I think the book was average. It was essentially literary Marmite.

Jeffrey Eugenides has taken it upon himself to rewrite the marriage plot, and thus where the book starts is with Madeline Hanna, a soon to be graduated English Literature major. There are 2 men in Madeline’s life; Leo a brilliant scientist who suffers from Bipolar disorder, and Mitchell, a theology major whose obsession with religion dominates his life. Mitchell has been in love with Madeline since he first met her, Madeline is in love with Leo, and Leo’s love for Madeline seems highly dependent on the state of his mental health.

The first main thing I would say is you can tell the book has been written by a man. The dialogue is always in 3rd person, although is written from the point of view of Madeline, Leo or Mitchell. Eugenides masterfully carries all 3 unique voices throughout the book, however the overarching misogyny continues throughout, and I think this is where the narrative and I came to mental blows.

Mitchell is highly obsessive. His love for Madeline and his passion for religion are so intense they border on toxic, occasionally leaping a good mile into toxic territory. The language used in Mitchell’s internal monologue is scarily sexually aggressive! Set in the 1980s, far before the term friendzoned came into common use, Mitchell displays all the signs of the butt-hurt white man, who is so determined to make Madeline his he forgets she is her own person. He has decided in his mind that he will marry Madeline, and he doesn’t seem to care that she has made it quite obvious that she has absolutely no interest in him in that way. That is what makes his head such a disturbing, terrifying place to be.

The privileged white male with a bruised ego is a dangerous beast. The number of women sent to an early grave by men who couldn’t stand their sexual prowess or self image being called into question is staggering. As a young female, the idea that any man has an internal monologue similar to Mitchell’s is disturbing, and reading other reviews put forward by male critics, their refusal to separate themselves from this, or even simply acknowledge this seems to be indicative of the institutionalised male entitlement that is rife in our society.

Leo’s voice is calmer, and mainly deals with his struggles with mental health, and balancing his swings between mania and depression with his love and work life. Eugenides is masterful in his ability to portray and describe the daily life of a manic depressive, against the backdrop of the ’80s, where the stigma surrounding mental health was even greater than it is today.

Everything else I have to say about the book contains spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book stop now, below the asterixes lie spoilers, and you continue at your peril, so here’s my mini conclusion!

Overall I didn’t like the book, personally it rubbed me the wrong way. It is entirely possible that was what Eugenides was aiming to do! I would however encourage you to read it, and I would be interested to hear what you thought of it, maybe I’m becoming too feminist if such a thing exists, or being hyper-sensitive! Either way, leave a comment, or drop me a message!

SPOILERS AHEAD

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So, if you’re here, you’ve either read the book already, or you’re not planning to read the book at all and subsequently don’t mind finding out the ending.

There’s one scene that made my blood boil. It isn’t even a whole dialogue, or theme, it’s less than 10 words, but it makes me doubt Eugenides supposed feminism. When Leonard has stopped taking his lithium and he starts becoming manic, Madeline describes the return of his ability to perform in the bedroom and the dramatic increase in love making. Madeline describes an occassion when Leo is trying something new, and she starts begging him to stop. He doesn’t. Eugenides goes on to applaud Leo for this, claiming it satisfied her as she’d never been satisfied before.

I don’t know what Eugenides describes as consent, but here, his understanding of it is severely at a loss. This is not a sexy moment, this is not Leo knowing Madeline’s body better than she herself knows it, as she uses for her justification, it is rape. Clear and simple. Consent was withdrawn, the act was no longer voluntary, it was rape. And Eugenides glorifies this, puts in on a mental pedestal, and this is not acceptable. It’s not a literary device, nowhere is it even hinted that either he, or Leo believes this was assault. It is portrayed normal, and it is clearly a male view of what a woman should think, not what is actually felt.

Over the course of the past few months, a devastatingly large number of women have come forward to share their experiences of sexual assault, both by celebrities and other members of the public, and for once society seems to be on their side. We have come leaps and bounds since the ’80s at tackling sexual assault, and perhaps this is a vivid example of how views have changed, but as a 2017 reader it made for uncomfortable reading.

Trent Park – The Listeners

Sunday mornings are usually times I reserve exclusively for sleeping, making up the inevitable deficit from the preceding week. Therefore it can be assumed that if any activity is partaken of before 11am, it is probably something pretty good. In this case, it certainly was!

By 10am, I had made my way from North East London to Cockfosters, right at the end of the Piccadilly line, and enjoyed an invigorating walk through the park to the cafe. The invigoration was necessary; having started watching 13 Reasons Why at 10pm the previous night I was running on around 90 minutes sleep (seriously, you can’t stop watching, its gripping!). At the cafe I was greeted by a surprisingly large group of people.

As seems to be my usual method of stumbling upon activities, an event recommended to me by Trent Park’s Facebook page popped up on my news feed, advertising a history walk. As someone who both loves walking, and history, this seemed like the perfect morning plan, and having met over 50 people who had also risen early on a Sunday morning, my sentiments are definitely shared!

I’d first discovered Trent Park after listening to Radio 4 with my grandmother. Having just returned from a trip to Bletchley Park the news of a new museum opening, considered to be Bletchley’s human intelligence counterpart, peaked my interest. Trent Park was one of the secret locations run by British Military branch MI 19 during World War II, used for spying on senior German Officials, aimed at getting them to reveal important information, without duress. MI 19 capitalised on senior officer’s arrogance that, with their senior positions they were entitled to preferential treatment, being allowed to live out the rest of their war in relative comfort. British Spies were sent in, disguised as German officers, expected to build their trust and lead conversations on to matters of German intelligence, such as the plans of the U-boats, whilst intelligence officers recorded the conversations with microphones, and listened in from another region of the house. When Churchill discovered it’s existence, he instantly condemned it, but luckily his ordered were ignored, and the British continued to obtain valuable information about the German Military, saving countless British lives.

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Camlet Moat

Trent Park House sits within the gorgeous Trent Country Park, a 320 hectare park. Our history walk too us around the grounds, leading us through the history of the land, from its use as Henry VIII’s hunting ground, to Cromwell selling off the land to pay for his army, to its most recent owner Philip Sassoon (cousin of Sigmund Sassoon, my favourite war poet). The Sassoon family, descended from Iraqi Jews, moved to London quickly rose to High Society.

Sassoon’s hospitality was known across the country, even little Queen Elizabeth, visited the house! He would go to great lengths to be the perfect guest to celebrities from across the globe, and he designed the estate to be the perfect location for entertaining. Visitors such as Charlie Chaplain, George Bernard Shaw, Thornton Wilder and Edward VIII (accompanied by Wallis Simpson) frequented the house, and Winston Churchill even painted the house and its interior on several occasions.

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Sassoon’s Obelisk where his guests would gather for some shooting!

In 1924 Sassoon lavishly purchased large quantities of rose bricks from the recently demolished London palace, that once belonged to William Kent. It is from these bricks that the Georgian style house is built from today, designed by architect Philip Tilden. In the grounds, Sassoon designed a beautiful Wisteria Walk, as well as a Japanese Garden and swimming pool. An avid flyer he even build his own Aerodrome, where he housed his Percival Gull, Percival Petrel, de Hallivand DH90 Dragonfly and de Havilland Leopard Moth.

In 1939, just three months before the outbreak of World War II, Philip Sassoon died after developing influenza that spread to his throat, and subsequently to his lungs. After a small private funeral his ashes were scattered over Trent Park.

Trent Park today has subsequently been sold off to property developers Berkeley Homes. After a long campaign, the Save Trent Park campaign,  it was announced that Trent Park would house a new museum. The Trent Park Museum which will occupy part of the ground floor will open in 2019/2020.

For further information check out Trent Park Museum’s website here!

Post War Japanese Architecture ~ The Japanese House @ The Barbican Centre

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The Barbican Centre

It’s 1945, the war is over, Japan lies in ruin. Tokyo and many other cities have been badly destroyed, and a housing crisis is imminent. Architects search for a quick and convenient way to ensure Japan’s citizens are housed, and single family homes become the new favoured architectural style. The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 takes you on a journey through Japanese architecture, from the post-war era to present day.

The exhibition is set over 2 floors, and there’s plenty to see and do here. It is incredibly tranquil and relaxing. The first room examines the role of Architects in 1950s Japan. In 1952 the Treaty of San Francisco was signed, and the Allies left Japan, after 7 years of occupation. Japanese national identity was thrown into crisis, so architects and artists looked at ways to amalgamate both traditional designs with the modern needs of the nation.

Two styles were chosen as a basis for modern design; Shinden-Zukuri, dating back to the Helan-period of 794-1185CE, designed around raised floors and open spaces (as shown below), and Minka which was generally used in rural houses and featured natural earthen floors, with large columns and roofs, dating back to the ancient Jomon period (10,500-300BC).

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Mountain retreat designed and inhabited by Architect Junzo Yoshimura

The mediums the architects had to work with were reduced by the post-war economy. Architects began looking at concrete in its raw, rather than industrial forms. As over 60% of Japan’s land area is filled with forests wood has always been a fairly limitless resource. In combination the two proved to be incredibly resistant to earthquakes, and in design the stark difference between the warm nature of wood and cold industrial nature of Concrete somehow work. An example of this is seen left, in Yoshimura’s own house, where the concrete floor joins seamlessly into the forest floor.

During 1967-1969 the people of Japan rose up, and although this resistance was quickly dissipated it gave architects inspiration for a new styles. It also killed old styled. The Japanese style of Metabolism, an idealist style aiming for “Progress and Harmony for Humankind” did not sit with the younger generations.

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Photo of a minimalist, open house in Japan.

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Spot the dining room table.

After this, architects moved away from city life, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s larger, open spaces become more common. The 1950s/60s rush into enclosed urban housing moved away to the beautiful rural areas of Japan. Large open spaces and courtyards became more common, as can be seen in the model on the left.

 

 

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The ceiling light in the Tea House.

The exhibition continues downstairs, allowing you to explore 2 Japanese Houses. The first house is a 1:1 recreation of Ryue Nishizawa’s 2005 Moriyama House, built of 10 individual units, and filled with hundreds of objects, including books, house plants, a washing machine, records and other house decor. The replicated house originally belonged to Yasuo Moriyama, and demonstrates how Japanese architects moved away from the traditional idea of a house.

Outside the house you can watch Ila Beka and Louise Lemoine’s new film Moriyama-san which I didn’t get to watch fully, although it is very tempting to return, and watch the whole thing.

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Part of the interior of Fujimori’s Tea House

The second half of the downstairs area comprises of a second house and moss-themed garden. Terunobu Fujimori, a Japanese architect and historian commissioned this tea house and garden. The tea-house is simply built, formed of a single room with a timber exterior and white plaster interior, with walls covered in irregular rock pieces. If you remove your shoes, you can enter the house (4 people maximum at a time). It is wonderfully tranquil and ultimately minimalist.

 

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Scale model of one of the houses in the shinden-zukuri style.

The exhibition is beautifully laid out and fairly compartmentalised;  upstairs houses all the models, and plans for various Japanese housing designs, and contains most of the information, whilst the downstairs houses the two houses described above. Admittedly I went on a Sunday afternoon, so it was never going to be deserted, but the exhibition did seem a tad crowded at times, mainly upstairs where there were a couple of bottle necks, although the downstairs felt spacious, although you may have to queue to enter the house.

 

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Inside the House

The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 runs at the Barbican Art Gallery until 25 June, and tickets range from £5-£14.50.

N.B. If you’re under 25 listen up! This is the first time I’ve taken advantage of my Young Barbican membership, and I’m sad I haven’t used it more, especially given I lived there for my first year of uni! The exhibition was only £5, and you can see loads of cinema and theatre for between £5-£15, which for London is a bargain! Don’t miss out, sign up today! It’s free, and is one of the best Young Person’s schemes available!

Degas to Picasso at The Ashmolean Museum

The Ashmolean Museum has long since been one of my favourite Museums in Britain; Its grand exterior, huge collection and extensive range of content have always drawn me, from my first visit nearly 10 years ago on a school Latin trip.

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The artists featured in the exhibition

Having learnt Ballet from the age of 11 I’ve always been enthralled by Degas’ beautiful oil paintings of dancers from unique, novel standpoints; the impressionist fluidity brings beauty to the eye of all beholders! I recently started learning more about Pablo Picasso, after visiting a wonderful exhibition at my favourite modern art museum (Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark) entitled ‘Picasso before Picasso’, housing many of his early sketches and pieces produced while he was still studying. Naturally, having seen a sign on the Underground “Degas to Picasso”, my interest was peaked, and a return megabus trip to Oxford was booked!

Housed across a single floor at the top of the museum, the exhibition isn’t the largest space you’ll see names such as Matisse, Chagall and Renoir displayed, but it’s certainly not cramped! Going on a quiet Thursday afternoon in term time, I was surprised at how busy the exhibition was, and I can’t imagine what it must be like on a Saturday afternoon, expect queueing to see your favourite artists works!

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The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The exhibition takes you chronologically from the start of the artistic revolution. Historically starting post French Revolution and beginning with the works of Jaques Louis David, often perceived to be the founder of the Neoclassical movement in the art world. His painting The Oath of Horatii was wildly popular within the 1785 Paris Salon. Along side this you will discover a wide range of works, including Géricault’s often brutal and realist paintings of war, balanced against some lighter political satire from the 1860s by Daumier; think classical Banksy.

From the revolutionaries the exhibition takes you forward to a new era in art history. In 1874 a small group of artists split from the Paris Salon to pave the way for an astounding new artistic movement; Impressionism. Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissaro and Cezanne set a blazing trail in to the unknown genre, free from any prerequisite rules of the classical art world.

Gris Painting

Still Life with Guitar – Juan Gris

The final section of the exhibition focussed on Picasso, and other innovators of cubism, modernism and surrealism. The Ursula and R. Stanley Johnson Family Collection provide a selection of both his work, and the work of artists such as Braque. My favourite pieces in this section, were those by Juan Gris, demonstrating the beauty of cubism, as seen on the left (image borrowed from Google).

Overall, the exhibition is a fantastic introduction to this era of art. It may not be the longest exhibition, but it is well worth the trip to the museum! It’s not often you find yourself with the opportunity to be in the same room as so many great pieces of art work; 5*s!

“Monarchy” by David Starkey ~ A Review

I think I have spent more time in charity shops over the past month than the rest of my life combined. Directing a play requiring a lot of furniture on a budget (which I may have gone over, shhh) meant Charity shops became my dramatic lifeline. They’ve subsequently become somewhat of a hobby to search through avidly; conveniently they also match quite nicely with my addiction to the BBC’s Antiques Roadtrip. Charity shops have also become the only way I can feasibly afford to buy books. If you have a voracious appetite for books, soaring prices can quickly amount to hundreds and hundreds of pounds.

It was in a little Oxfam bookshop that I stumbled across David Starkey’s Monarchy. I was familiar with his work by reputation, but I hadn’t ever seen any of his TV shows, or indeed read any of his other books. Shamefully, the history of the British Monarchy has been something that always eluded me. Having dropped history at school before GCSE in favour of the easy A* Geography provided (I was a very lazy teenager), my knowledge essentially consisted of the Tudors,  and what I had picked up watching The Crown. Needless to say I was expecting to have the book more as a reference text to dip into when a pub quiz question left us baffled.

I was wrong.  Starkey has such a light, engaging tone of writing that you’re hooked from the moment you start reading! Beginning at the War of the Roses, Starkey takes you on a journey of intrigue; brotherly envy leading to execution by cask of wine, babies concealed in warming pans, treasonous plots, and deadly battle between Parliament and Head of State.

Starkey’s writing is definitely acessible to those for whom  Monarchy is their first dabble into the history of the Royal Family, but equally I’m sure an avid history fan who’s watched every episode of The Tudors, and has every history documentary on Netflix preemptively added to their To Watch List for rainy days, would also find it very engaging.

What I loved about the book was, although I was constantly learning, Starkey never came across as preachy. At no point did I feel patronised, the style was more conversational, albeit one of the most eloquent exchanges you’ll ever have, than teacher and student. Factoids were gently worked in, which unfortunately is not a given in the world of history. I attended a lecture on Jewish history at Senate House a couple of weeks ago, during which dates were simply barked at us whenever a new historical figure was mentioned. On average 3 times a sentence, killing the pace and giving the impression we were simply listening to an essay with superlative parentheses being needlessly read out. Not on Starkey’s watch!
So, in essence, charity shops are fantastic, the history of the British Monarchy is fascinating, and everyone could enjoy Starkey’s delightful book! Easily 5🌟s!

Eltham Palace ~ An Art Deco Day 

Just south of London lies a modest country house, once the childhood home of King Henry VIII.

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Virginia Courtauld’s Bathroom

Eltham Palace has recently become renowned for its beautiful Art Deco interiors, it’s halls still ringing with ghosts of extravagant dinner parties hosted throughout the 1930s. It’s history however, has not always been so glamorous.

The first recorded sign of Eltham Palace is found in the Doomsday Book of 1086, listing it as Eltham Manor, belonging to William the Conquerors half brother, Odo. The house changed hands many times over the next few centuries, with owners gradually adding to the architecture of the estate. By the 14th Century, Eltham Palace was one of King Edward III’s royal palaces. The palace was surrounded by a moat, complete with drawbridge and high walls.

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Stained Glass Windows in the Great Hall; a Throwback to Tudor times.

The children of Henry VII were brought up at Eltham, which served as a Royal Nursery for future monarchs and royals, including Henry VIII. Henry VIII however preferred  Hampton Court, and started building and decorating there instead of Eltham, whilst Greenwich Palace served as his London Palace, being closer to Westminster and more easily accessible.

Throughout the Civil War (1648) Eltham was used as a base for Cromwell’s troops, and subsequently fell into disrepair. By the turn of the 19th century the once regal palace was reduced to a farmstead, the Great Hall now a barn, the palace in ruins.

Stephen and Virginia Courtauld discovered the dilapidated Eltham Palace in 1933, and set about restoring it to glory. Having hired architects Seely and Paget to rebuild the estate they looked to Christopher Wren’s work for inspiration and decided on a brick and Clipsham stone exterior. The development was haulted by a battle with the Society of Antiquaries who were concerned with the loss of areas of historical interest. Once this had been pacified, and reassurances had been sought that several features, including the 15th century timber gables in the great Hall would be preserved, building work began.

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The exterior of the Palace

Eltham Palace was a haven of modern technology; electricity powered many internal systems including the clocks, servants bells, lighting, they even had their own internal telephone exchange. Eltham also boasted a centralised vacuum cleaning system, only seen to this day in larger houses. It’s mechanism can be seen in the basement.

During the Second World War Eltham suffered badly; in 1940, during the Battle of Britain 4 bombs landed on the great Hall causing extensive damage, a further 100 bombs fell within the grounds. A year later a parachute mine damaged the great Hall again, and in 1944 a flying bomb severely damaged the greenhouses. Stephen  Courtauld, an avid orchid collector, had thankfully evacuated his previous plants in 1939. Throughout the war the basement was turned into a dormitory, and the family welcomed anyone who needed shelter, having invited her relatives initially Ginie opened her house to those in need.

The war however left the Courtaulds scarred, and they eventually decided to move to their Scotland estate on Loch Etive in Argyll.

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The Art Deco Drawing Room where Ginie hosted Lavish Dinner Parties

In its time, before the devastating effects of the War, Eltham was seen as the Gatsby mansion of London. Ginie enjoyed throwing lavish parties, as well as small dinner parties for  selected few. Stephen designed cocktails for every occasion and they flourished as the elegant, affluent hosts. The great Hall frequently housed chamber orchestras, bands and singers whilst guests danced the night away in perfect luxury.

Upon arriving at Eltham you’re provided with an audio guide that takes you on a guided tour of the house and gardens, complete with interactive multimedia it gives you a sense of what the house would have been like in the 1930s. You can meet the family, and the beautiful lemur, experience the parties, even listen to some of the guests accounts!

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Park of the Beautiful grounds of the Palace

There are special tours for children to enjoy,  as well as activity packs for them to work through and a play area too. On site there’s a lovely cafe and beautiful gardens for everyone to enjoy, and just a short bus ride from Greenwich it’s easy to get to from central London too! Bristling with Tudor history and Art Deco architecture it’s the perfect day out for everyone!