Saturday 27 April 2013

Random Reasons to Love London #9

Recently, I was walking back to my office after an exclusive look into one of Piccadilly's lesser known but absolutely fabulous and unique buildings (one reason to love London). I decided to stop off and eat my lunch in the sun on the terrace at Somerset House, overlooking the Thames (another reason to love London). As I cut back through the courtyard of Somerset House, I encountered this scene:

Sheep at Somerset House. Yet another, completely, completely random reason to love London.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Neon Love

If you read my last post, you will have seen the neon rendering of graffiti on Park Hill in Sheffield. That piece of graffiti has become famous locally and, not wanting to lose the character of the building completely by scrubbing it too completely clean, the restoration kept it and literally highlighted it in lights.

Posting that image reminded me of another instance of northern neon love, which I encountered when I visited a friend in Wakefield and was browsing in the Hepworth Gallery.

12 Months of Love was a year-long project by two artists, Victoria Lucas and Richard William Wheater, which ran between Valentine's Day 2011 and 2012. Each month, a new love-based lyric was made in neon and mounted on the roof of a building in Wakefield, to intrigue and entertain passers-by and commuters on trains running nearby.

What a fun concept, don't you think? After all, who doesn't love neon? Okay, probably some people don't, but I certainly do. Who doesn't love a good love song though - whether it be sexy, giddy, heart-breaking or evoking any one of the many other manifestations of love? It would have been great fun to be a commuter in Wakefield on the first day of each month of that year, waiting to see what new lyric awaited you.

At the end of each lyric's run, the sign was auctioned off. That's definitely something I wouldn't mind having on the wall of my lounge room in my dream home... They did put together a book of all the signs, and there's pictures on their website, for those us who weren't lucky enough to score our own neon love lyric.

I wonder what lyric I would pick if I could have my own custom neon love sign... It would have to be something American, I think, from between the 1950s and 1980s... Perhaps a Blondie lyric? Any thoughts? What would you have? 

Sunday 21 April 2013

Sheffield... It's Proper (Love Letter from Sheffield)

I recently visited Sheffield for the first time ever, to see some friends who moved there about a year ago. When I mentioned that I was going there to my friend from Scunthorpe, he nodded and said, "Sheffield's proper". Note that this has to be said with a northern accent for the meaning to be apparent. Proper, meaning sound / good / cool. If you say "Sheffield's proper" in a southern accent, it sounds like you're saying proper, meaning posh / well-mannered. Which wouldn't really be apt... It's much more interesting than that.

Sheffield is of course famous for being the Steel City, booming in the Industrial Revolution as it supplied iron and steel products to the world. Stainless steel was developed here, the material which remains omnipresent in modern-day households. The prolific growth of the population and influx of wealth in the nineteenth century also gave the city some lovely Victorian public buildings.

It's also but a stone's throw from the Peak District and its pretty wee villages...

Country walks and sheep outside Castleton, Peak District

Church of St Edmund, Castleton

Castleton churchyard, with ruined castle on the hill behind

But no self-respecting architectural historian with a penchant for twentieth-century buildings could possibly visit Sheffield without taking in Park Hill, the infamous brutalist council estate housing. The intention for this complex was to improve the living conditions of Sheffield's impoverished post-war residents by transposing them from streets of run-down terraces to modern blocks rising upwards, re-housing old neighbours alongside each other in an ambition to retain the sense of community. However, the well-meaning concept of "streets in the sky" didn't really come off. This mammoth complex, built between 1957 and 1961, just fell into its own state of decay and notoriety, and according to many accounts, destroyed much of the old community that had previously existed. So, as a social concept, it pretty much failed... But it does form an awesome backdrop in many views around the city, towering above the train station.

It is now being very controversially restored, going from this: 

To this:

Why controversial? Well, some people just want it knocked down completely, some people think the restoration is over the top and fails to take account of the building's qualities and significance (it's a Grade II* listed building) ... and that's just the beginning of it. Far from being just an intellectual, architectural matter, the debate has many social and emotion facets for the people of Sheffield, with a great divide between those who love it and those who hate it.

So what do I think about it? Well, architecturally, I think it's an incredible building - exciting, impressive, and a fabulous landmark. What do I think about the reality of what it became and what do I think about its restoration? ... That, you will have to wait to hear, as I'm saving my treatise on it for another purpose. Yes, I am planning to start up another blog to run alongside this one - it will be my 'professional' blog, where this is my 'personal' blog. I intend to post links to my new blog here, so if you are interested in my architectural rants and want to learn some more about interesting buildings, you'll be able to check it out. Hopefully, I'll have the new blog up and running soon, and you'll be able to hear more about Park Hill, if you fancy it.

Until then...

Image source (this and below)

Saturday 13 April 2013

I Heart April Showers

... Even if they do make things slightly inconvenient for cycling. Or any other outdoor activity.

And though I may love the showers, I am still hoping that the slightly warmer weather they've been predicting for London comes through tomorrow...

Happy weekend, everyone, whether you have showers or none!

Sunday 7 April 2013

Love Letter to an Artist #3

Last weekend, I went to the current Manet exhibition at the Royal Academy. To be honest, I had been prepared to let this one pass me by. Though I do like Impressionism, I can't say that I have ever been particularly drawn in by Manet. I suppose that I haven't been exposed to that much of his work in the flesh and none of his most reproduced and lauded paintings have really spoken to me. In addition, the focus of the exhibition was portraiture and, unless it's the work of an artist I particularly love, I am generally less inclined towards straight portraiture than other subjects.

However, I was enticed into going by one of my friends, as his enthusiasm made me think again about my readiness to dismiss the exhibition. And I am so glad I allowed myself to be enticed because it was truly wonderful. It encouraged me to do some reassessment, it amused and surprised me, it presented some revelations and impressed me with its variety. It helped me to place Manet within the course of art history, particularly with regard to the hints of modernist techniques and style in his paintings. And, always a sign of a good exhibition, I was just stunned and overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.

One of the paintings which particularly captured my fancy was The Amazon:

Manet's The Amazon, c.1882 (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The painting shows a young female horse rider and I just thought her wonderful. Her androgyny particularly appealed to me - she could almost be a beautiful young man. Someone else might see it differently but, to me, it's rather an empowering female portrait. She feels very modern, she's dressed for action (perhaps it helps that she is cut off just below her waist, so you can't see the ridiculously impractical skirt she was probably wearing...). She looks like she knows what she's doing and you can imagine this young lady keeping up with the boys. And this all made me rather fond of her.

So, sure, I might let Manet paint me, if de Lempicka and Burne-Jones weren't available.

I'll leave you with a couple of more favourites from the exhibition.

In the Garden, 1870 (Image source: WikiPaintings)

Berthe Morisot, 1870-71 (Image source)

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Do the (Easter) Twist

I've been baking again! These little treats are called koulourakia.

This recipe comes a little bit late because they are actually Easter biscuits. Although, if you wanted to be pedantic, they are a Greek recipe and Greek Orthodox Easter isn't until the beginning of May, so they could be made then. Or you could just make them any old time because they're delicious (though I personally like saving special occasion foods for the right special occasion - it keeps them, well, special).

But less talky, more bakey.

You will need:

  • 190g butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/8 cup cream 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • white of 1 egg
  • sesame seeds
  • your most colourful, spring-time-appropriate apron

Cream butter and sugar until smooth. Beat eggs, add to mixture. Beat in cream.

Add baking powder and vanilla essence. Colour co-ordinate your nails with package, if possible. Gradually stir in flour, one cup at a time, until soft.

Knead for 10 minutes on lightly floured surface. Roll into strips 1.5cm x 20cm, then shape and twist.

Place on a greased baking tray.

Brush with egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Before doing so, check the already opened sesame seed packet you photographed in the ingredients pile, realise they're a year out of date, substitute with a fresh pack.

Bake in moderate oven for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Realise that you should brush the egg white more generously on the next batch so that the nice glossy browned finish comes up more evenly.

Recipe makes about 25-30 biscuits.

Finally, lick the bowl. Share the biscuits with your friends and loved ones.