Kościół Opatrzności Bożej w Kaliszu

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The Church of Divine Providence in Kalisz, Poland.
Just around the corner from the Church of Divine Mercy is this concrete monster. Not quite as bonkers as its neighbour, but just as striking. All exposed concrete, and in many places, the reinforcing steel is showing through too.
As with its mate though, the money seems to have been spent on the interior…

As I’ve said before, I’m not religious, I just find this car-crash architecture fascinating. There’s nothing subtle about either of these buildings, but they are photogenic.

Church of Divine Mercy, Kalisz, Poland.

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Poland has a liberal sprinkling of utterly bonkers churches, but this is one of the best/worst that I’ve found so far.
Designed in 1958 by a couple of jokers called Jerzy Kuźmienko and Andrzej Fajans, it wasn’t actually built until the 70s.
It seems to have been built by people with a fairly rudimentary knowledge of construction techniques and health and safety requirements. The surface of the concrete roof is as rough as it looks, with the reinforcing metalwork poking through in many places.
It certainly is striking though (and huge. I hope that comes across in the pictures). Continue reading

Two Thirds Of Jim Stirling’s Red Trilogy

It’s only recently that I’ve begun to pay attention to architecture and the built environment around us, but the more one reads on the subject, the more often certain buildings and their architects are mentioned. Despite there being few James Stirling buildings around, they seem to cause great debate and division. They are hugely important in the development of modern architecture and the re-development of the UK after the war.

He created a trio of university buildings during the late 50s and 1960s that were radical, futuristic and controversial. He designed them at the limits of material technology – for example, all three use huge expanses of glass, but when they were built, the glass and it’s supporting aluminium frames tended to leak and suffered poor thermal performance. It seems that as well as this experimentalism,  they suffered from budget constraints and an over-optimism about the rate that they could be built, meaning that they were always going to be up against it.

But despite this, they all still stand, and importantly, still perform the function that they were designed to do.

The first of the three to be built is the nearest to home – the Engineering Building at Leicester University, designed by Stirling and James Gowan and completed in 1959. It’s made up of a large workshop building, along with towers containing lecture theatres, laboratories and offices and was squeezed into the corner of the university plot.

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This view shows the workshops to the right, the podium and entrances, and the sloping floor of larger of the two lecture theatres. Stirling Leicester 3

This is the rear of the workshop areas, where it is on three floors. This cantilever allows cranes to lift plant and equipment through hatches in the floor, directly off the delivering vehicle. Stirling Leicester 2

This is the rear entrance between the workshops on the left and the towers. Both towers have a lecture theatre above the podium, and the other accommodation stacked above. In this, the lower tower, are four floors of research laboratories and as with the workshops, the overhang allows equipment to be hoisted directly in through removable floor panels. Stirling Leicester 5

Like the other buildings in the trilogy, this building features red faced walkways and handrails. In Cambridge they’re white and very obvious. Here, they’ve been painted red to match the brick. The podium is windowless, monolithic concrete, clad in tiles and brick.

The second of the three is the Faculty of History Library, Cambridge of 1968. Here, many of the themes and finishes used in Leicester are applied to a very different brief. This building was to be a showpiece development while also being practically useful. The resulting glass pyramid provides exceptional natural light to the reading rooms and offices, but again, cost cutting during construction led to cheap materials and processes being used.

It remains visually stunning (although smaller than it looks) and like other Stirling buildings, is intuitive and ‘makes sense’ to someone visiting for the first time.

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The main entrance and the signature lift towers.
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Shortly before construction began, the whole plan was rotated through 90 degrees meaning that the main entrance should have been more central to the campus layout.IMG_5611

The top of the tapering, glass roof to the reading room.IMG_5612

These are two magnificent structures, that get ever more interesting the more one explores (both the buildings and their history). I look forward to a return to Oxford to photograph the third, and possibly most maligned in the trilogy, The Florey Building.

Hove Town Hall

Hove Town HallAnother brutalist treat from my trip south this week. After the unrelenting strangeness of Richard Seifert’s hotel on the Brighton seafront, just a mile away I found Hove’s town hall, after seeing a timely tweet about it (thanks Gemma, Iain and TBH).

The 20th Century Society describe it like this: ‘It is a bold-looking building, with a massive overhanging roof canopy and ribbed natural aggregate panels, somewhat lightened by stepped glass curtain walling. The varied proportions of the glazing panels and their thin transoms and mullions appear to reduce the bulk of the building’ and ‘the bold design, with a massive overhanging roof canopy and ribbed natural aggregate panels, is modulated by the vertical framed glass panels that make up the majority of the facade. Sited well back from the pavement line to create a piazza, this startling and unusual building is tucked away on a leafy residential street in the centre of the town’.

Plans are afoot to replace that giant canopy and the glass of the front elevation and to clad the current, period interior, but not if the Society can prevent it. While we can be consoled that it isn’t being demolished like so many of its contemporaries, it seems a short sighted thing to do to tinker with a design that is so much ‘of its time’. The building is unique and something that the authority and locals should be proud of, especially when compared to many civic buildings. Mr Meads gave an hour’s worth of reasons why such building should be treasured, which, providing you’re not from the BBC or otherwise interested in copyright infringement, you can still see here.

Hove Town Hall 5The building also houses the Hove police headquarters, although they don’t seem too concerned about law-breaking on their doorstep.

Hove Town Hall 4The town hall has a concrete car park directly opposite with matching, ribbed or striated cladding.

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Hove Town Hall 2

Hove Town Hall 1Not everyone seemed as interested in the building as me…

Brutalist Brighton – the Holiday Inn

Opened on 16 September 1967 on the site of the old Bedford Hotel, this was the first major new hotel development in Brighton for over half a century. Designed by one of the stars of British brutalism, Richard Seifert, the 17-storey block includes a 127-room hotel and the private flats of Bedford Towers. At 168 feet tall, it can’t be missed amongst the 19th century hotels along the sea-front.

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Seifert gets his own chapter in John Grindrod’s book Concretopia, that begins:

Arguably the biggest impact on the British skyline in the whole postwar period was made by a controversial, art-loving, Swiss-born architect who hid behind his round-framed spectacles – a tirelessly mercurial figure who even changed his name and nationality along the way […] a curious figure, born Reubin Seifert, who fearlessly took our skyline and inserted into it some of our most notable, ambitious and controversial buildings.

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This last picture is a 75 second exposure, shot from a promenade shelter through the torrential rain.

The building looks in decent condition and was receiving further maintenance with new windows being fitted into the already patched-up balconies. Because of its position on the prom (and between the town centre and the sea) it remains a bold statement of the mid-century optimism as Britain was re-building, and while it isn’t quite as striking as Seifert’s NLA Tower in Croydon, it’s easy to see the lineage.