Wednesday, November 27, 2013

christmas design temporium

This is the rather grand name given for the pop-up shop at The Architecture Centre over the next few weeks. I’ve got some of my drawings on sale there… alongside beautiful stuff from Ruth+Hannah and some other amazing, talented artists. I’ll also be manning the shop from time to time and just hope I can work out the technology and the various shop systems (friends who remember my lovely Iona bookshop experiences will no doubt recall that I’m pretty good on the customer service/smiling/friendly word bit and not so hot on the technology!). Fingers crossed!
It’s a lovely place to work – looking out across the harbourside (like my previous harbourside market experiences – pretty cold with the door open all day BUT at least we're protected from the rain and wind!).
I know that, from comments I’ve already received from customers, that there seem to be an awful lot of Bristolians who are delighted to see a shop  return to The Architecture Centre (I think the regular shop there closed some two or three years ago).
By comparison with all the other work in the shop, I feel a bit of a fraud - my drawings are just a hobby, everybody else’s work represents something far more significant. The other artists RELY on being able to sell their art in order to make a living and we all know how difficult that is in the present financial climate!
The quality of the other work on sale and the industry, enthusiasm, inventiveness, humour, determination of the artists is, frankly, rather humbling.
Photo: shop entrance… showing some of Ruth’s and Hannah’s work

Sunday, November 17, 2013

New Birmingham Library

I had the opportunity to visit Birmingham’s new £189million library last Friday.
From the onset, having had brief glimpses of the building emerging during the construction period, I’ve had very real reservations about its external appearance… perhaps this has something to do with a certain amount of resentment that the new building has sadly replaced the Central Library, opened in 1974 (and the fact that I had worked for The John Madin Design Group in the very early 1970s at the time the Practice was designing that building)?
The external appearance is a series of interlocking metal rings set around gold cladding and vast walls of glass… for me, the following three competing images come to mind:
a)    “well, we had a whole load of Olympic rings left over after last year and it seemed such a shame to throw them away…”
b)    as above, but substitute “Christmas street decorations” for “Olympic rings”…
c)     melted/spun sugar decorations applied to buildings.
I’ve subsequently seen its external appearance described as a “decorative box”, “three mattresses with a roll of duct tape stuck on the top” and The Observer’s Rowan Moore reckons its appearance “the goldy-glittery exterior is a bit Vegas, but it stays this side of trashiness. The interior of atrium and escalators could be like a shopping mall, but it isn't” - so I’m clearly not the only one who remains a little sceptical… although I’m afraid I DO find the exterior rather “tacky”.
Architect Francine Houben, of Dutch studio Mecanoo, cites “gasometers” as the inspiration for its hoops and claims that “the 5,357 circles on the outside frieze of the building reflect the city's industrial heritage - the craftsmanship, the factories, the canals, the jewellery quarter…”.
Frankly, I’m not convinced and feel that such descriptions are contrived and arbitrary, at best.
Having said all this, I WAS impressed by the building’s interior. Atriums, escalators and landscaped terraces are key features. The spaces are exciting and colourful… and it certainly encourages visitors to explore (and the external hooped decorations work much better when viewed from the inside!).
Photo:  Building frontage viewed from the basement lightwell.
PS: With the anticipated huge number of visitors, the passenger lifts (providing access to the roof terraces and the Shakespeare Memorial Library) seem inadequate in terms of both number and size.

Monday, November 11, 2013

TED talks in bristol

Moira+I spent today at Colston Hall listening to some 16 speakers (and six previously-recorded TED talks from around the world) on the subject of “Failure”. I must stress here that we didn’t attend because we thought we were failures… (of course not!).
Although it proved to be a fascinating and interesting day, we both came away feeling rather disappointed. I had watched several TED talks on-line and had invariably been highly impressed. Yes, I realise that the majority of those high-calibre speakers will probably have been well paid for their efforts and that this Bristol version inevitably showcased a range of rather more local, not-so-well-known contributors, but it was all something of a disappointment.
There were certainly SOME original and entertaining speakers (eg. Paul Archer’s around-the-world-in-a-black-cab talk and Sophie Mather’s passionate presentation on sustainable textiles) but, overall, we came away feeling a little tired of the much-repeated message of “failure breeds success” from entrepreneurs, life gurus and people who simply seemed to be there to promote their own businesses in one form or another…  as Moira observed “failure can be more subtle than that”! It also seemed geared towards a scientific and/or technological audience (actually, that’s probably a little unfair!). In our view, none of the speakers had impressed us as much as any of the “Bristol Festival of Ideas” talks we’d attended (eg. Richard Holloway or Julia Unwin).
There were, however, a number of plus points: a) we only paid a concessionary rate of £10 for an entire day’s talks, and b) the event attracted a wide age range, particularly from 20-30 age group.  
A good day… but one that didn’t quite live up to our expectations.
Photo: the Bristol TED talk stage.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

october-november 2013 books

More book stuff:
Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell): This is a truly remarkable book. It’s a work of exceptional imagination and insight which (in critic Justine Jordan’s words) “knits together science fiction, political thriller and historical pastiche with musical virtuosity and linguistic exuberance”. It encompasses six interlocking lives in a story that takes readers on a rollercoaster ride from the C19th to a post-apocalyptic future. The trip is exhausting (the book is 529 pages long!), exhilarating… but well worth it!
Suspicious Packages and Extendable Arms (Tim Dowling): Published in 2007 and consists of articles that have previously appeared in the Guardian. He’s certainly got a wonderful “way with words” and I do find him very funny (mostly) but, have to say, I prefer his more recent stuff (he has a weekly column the Guardian Weekend) – where he’s fast becoming a grumpy old man… just like me (except that he’s only 50)! 
The Village against the World (Dan Hancox): I’ve previously blogged about Hancox’s experiences of the village (Marinaleda) and village life, now I’ve read the book! It’s the story of this small, remote, Andalusian village’s fight against poverty, over the past 30 years or so, to create a communist/communitarian (is that a word?) utopia. Fascinating, inspiring, passionate, sad and thought-provoking.
The Story of Forgetting (Stefan Merrill Block): This is a fascinating novel about the very early onset of Alzheimer’s disease (the author’s grandmother had the condition). Somewhat amazingly, Block was only 26 when he wrote it. Despite the poignancy of the subject, Block’s story is also one of hope and optimism. It’s a wonderful informative, inventive and intelligent book which I enjoyed very much.
Jane and Prudence (Barbara Pym): This is our Book Group’s latest book and one the joys/challenges of belonging to such a group is that you get to read books you perhaps wouldn’t normally choose to read. Fortunately (for me), this year has provided some excellent book choices… unfortunately, this was definitely NOT one of them! Pym paints a picture of middle-class life in England in the early 1950s (far removed from my own working-class childhood experiences of that period!). It felt as if I was reading a Jane Austin novel that had been re-set to take place in a Miss Marple television film set. The focus seems to be all about women being able to find a suitable husband and concerns (in this time of food rationing) that men should be provided with enough meat! Having said that, it was interesting (and depressing) to be reminded of a time when women (even Oxford graduates) were largely discounted when it came to work and politics. It was a very easy book to read but, frankly, I found it pretty pointless and light-weight (and, dare I say it, not a “man’s book”!!). I think (out of respect for the person who chose the book) I’m just going to have to bite my tongue when it comes to our next book group meeting… or make my apologies!
PS: I’ve just looked up some “goodread” reviews and it seems that I’m clearly in a minority… everyone else seemed to LOVE it (and Jilly Cooper apparently reckons it was Pym’s finest work!)… give me strength!

Friday, November 08, 2013

karine polwart… again

Moira+I went along to St George’s Bristol on Wednesday to hear Karine Polwart perform (alongside her talented guitarist brother Steven and accordionist/percussionist Inge). I think this was the sixth time I’ve been to one of her concerts and, as you might imagine, I’m a huge fan!
It proved to be another stunning evening – powerful, intelligent, thought-provoking, political, beautiful, poignant music at its very best (the programme blurb also included the following: “tenderness, triumph and sorrow, raised flags of rebellion and independence, flashes of anger at power abused and misused” and “perhaps, most frequently, she deals in spare, unsentimental empathy, often with those who have been dealt with the least playable hands in the game of life”).
I’ve been feeling very disenchanted by politics (and politicians in general) recently and made a comment on facebook about wanting Stephen Fry to be leading the country instead. Well, I came away from the concert thinking that I’d like Karine Polwart to be a leading member of his Cabinet!