Tag: Europe

Scotland and the EU

Brexit has rekindled the voice of the foreign adventurer, the buccaneer, among some in the UK and also (incredibly), Imperial dreams. But most Scots feel differently. We don’t, I suspect, feel the need to stride the world stage anymore. Cautiously and in small stages, we have been allowed to become aware of the consequences of past UK actions. The harm we have done to others. We understand that the military adventures in the Middle East which have followed the collapse of the British Empire have been disastrous and unsuccessful. We are aware of the pain we have caused, the societies we have ruined, the neglect we showed to our own kind, and the lies that were told to ourselves and others while this happened. We no longer trust the ruling establishment, the ambitions of the rich and powerful or those of the old left. These people and their actions disgust us.
The EU, on the other hand, has proved to be a force for good and has acted as a check to some of the wilder UK ambitions.
Given a chaotic post-Brexit landscape, we choose to move forward with the EU. It seems a stable and responsible organisation, where decisions are made by and for 27 separate states. No single state has too much power over the others, and there is a strong emphasis on working for the common good.
We need to give this feeling political expression. We realise that it is better to live in harmony with our neighbours and we want to co-operate with them.
We benefit from them already, and here’s how.

Scotland gets 5.6 Billion Euros in grants via CAP, EU Structural Funds and the Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

The European Investment Bank is also lending to Scotland. To borrow from it you have to be a member state.
“The European Investment Bank is the European Union’s nonprofit long-term lending institution. The EIB uses its financing operations to bring about European integration and social cohesion.

It is the world’s largest international public lending institution.”
(source-Wikipedia)
Here are some current EIB lending projects:-
Hospitals – Edinburgh Sick Children’s €112,072,090
Dumfries and Galloway Hospital €154,811,270
sub total €266,883,360

 

Roads-Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route €340,982,279
M8 Motorway €212,830,016
sub total €553,812,295

 

Further Education – Edinburgh University “Capex” €256,953,812
City of Glasgow College € 95,285,774
Horizon Funds”-mainly to education €296,000,000
sub total €648,239,586

The Beatrice windfarm off the Caithness Coast has also attracted EIB lending.
It will give energy to more than 400,000 homes. That’s equivalent to one in every six Scottish homes.   An EIB document states that:-
“The €605,335,484 EIB loan will support more than GBP 2.7 billion of overall investment.” (source-EIB)

That makes a total in these examples of over seven billion Euros. These sums really matter. They represent Infrastructure spending on a scale which, in the past, the UK government has rarely bothered with.
After Brexit, would the UK maintain this?

Now let’s look at the rest of the built environment. Wherever you live, in Scotland’s towns, villages and cities, how many old or worn out buildings can you see? Many date from Victorian times or earlier. Why is that? Why haven’t they been replaced or renovated? What else was the money spent on? Over the past hundred years, shouldn’t UK governments have been concentrating on those things as well, or were we just too far away or to insignificant? Did we just not really matter?

Europe can also have a positive influence on our personal lives. Today we have a set of living expectations which UK politicians have struggled to satisfy, and make no mistake, we want these expectations met.

We want good quality jobs, to be safe at work, to work for an ethical employer.
We want a balance of work/life time which enhances our lives.

We want to be satisfied that our lives and time are well spent. We want to have a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.

We want all our people to live free of deprivation. To have an income which gives a good living standard, to live in good quality housing.

We want to have good physical and mental health.
We want to live in conditions which promote a happy, full and long life for all. And while we live that life, we all want access to good quality health care.

We want to protect our environment. We want a sustainable future that we can build on and pass on to our children.

If you want Scotland to grow and prosper, you need a Scottish Nation engaged with Europe.

Again it is worth emphasising that the UK government has struggled to satisfy these demands and often seems uninterested. Yet these same demands represent no more than citizens of other European countries enjoy today.
Much recent EU legislation and regulation has been put in place to help to give us these things. We recognise and value that fact. EU law and treaty obligations have made improvements to our quality of life when the UK did not, did not wish it, or did not care about it. Now that this link with EU help is being cut by a UK decision, we are seeking a secure future within EU structures. Scotland can prosper in Europe.

D

The Luxembourg Gardens, stress free Paris D

Our first visit had been in late September. It was a warm, dry day and began with a challenging morning, navigating across Paris to see Le Corbusier’s studio. The tourist directions were imprecise. Several streets and half an hour later, we were climbing the seven flights of stone stairs to see the apartment on 24 Rue Nungesser et Coli, near the western edge of the Peripherique.

It was worth the climb, as we and about 40 Chinese architecture students, discovered. Not much was being said, but everyone was looking really hard, judging, evaluating, admiring and remembering it all.

We remembered features like that little grey spiral staircase that leads to the roof terrace or the huge asymmetric pivoting room dividers. A very special place.

Back in the centre of Paris, we had had a quick lunch. Then, for the first time, we went into the Luxembourg gardens by the gate on the Boulevard Saint-Michel.

The gardens sit close to the Sorbonne on one side and Montparnasse on the other.We walked, surrounded by people both coming and going, down a broad avenue under a canopy of tall trees whose leaves were beginning to go brown. You could have been in a painting by Renoirpark-cafe

Originally built for Marie de Medici in the 16th century, and in Italian style, what was once only for royalty is now free for everyone. People have made this space their own, for this park has been much altered, changed, and added to.

It is a place with a great sense of space, elegance and style. People go there to take a break from shopping, business or study and to relax and to enjoy the company of others. Its a great place to people watch.

It is very much a planned park with an axial layout from the pond and Senate building to the north down to the Observatory gate to the south. It has many individual, even quirky features including an “English Garden” with broad, curved gravel paths and glimpsed vistas in the South-West corner.

There are touches of formality which mingle with informality, for groups can sit on patches of grass on the long axis to south, near the children’s play area. Otherwise there is no walking or sitting on grass here.

Instead, this Paris garden has something better to offer, chairs! Chairs in profusion, of different shapes for sitting up, for reclining and even for putting your feet upon. Sturdy, hefty metal chairs which you can arrange in any number or way you want, so if there’s three of you or eight of you, you can suit yourselves as to how you fix the arrangement. None of your British style fixed park benches here. Citizens and visitors alike get to choose where they sit. The garden’s most enviable feature is the ease with which ordinary people relax and luxuriate in such splendid surroundings.

general-view

At what I like to think is the centre of the gardens, there is a large octagonal pond with a central fountain, surrounded by a broad circular walkway. Here there are fancy and beautiful flower borders of great variety which are close to the paths.

On both sides there are broad flights of steps leading up to balustraded terraces, topped with big floral urns. The walkways round the pond have good sized palms and oleanders growing in very large Versailles tubs, punctuating the space and offering small pools of shade. These broad, very grand terraces also have a number of sculptures, some of which are very beautiful. A natural arena is formed, and this is a very popular place, with plenty of people coming and going. Amongst this, the gardeners go about their work, pruning and tending the trees and borders.

To the north of this is the Palais du Medici, the home of the French Senate and a seat of Government business. From its northern entrance, on the Rue de Vaugirard, black government cars come and go.

We were sitting below the terrace under a palm, when we faintly heard the sound of a band playing in the distance. So, along with various others, we moved towards the sound, found seats, brought them over and sat to listen. Again we were positioned comfortably, this time under dappled shade, a little distance from the bandstand. The music combined with the setting to give a feeling of perfect contentment. People would walk by, hesitate, then pull up a seat and listen. Just as freely, some rose to leave.

Every time the band stopped, the bandmaster stood up and solemnly and at some length addressed the crowd, but we couldn’t hear a thing as he had no microphone. Then he would sit down and the band in their dark blue uniforms with silver buttons, would start up again. It was very funny, and the audience were quietly amused.

view from the Pavillon de la Fontaine cafe
view from the Pavillon de la Fontaine cafe

After a while we felt thirsty, and spotted the Pavillon de la Fontaine Café where you can eat or drink. Its very popular, quite costly, but very good and fairly close to the bandstand. It has outdoor seating, with umbrellas, and its another great place for people watching. As the long, hot afternoon wore on towards evening, like many others, we had found the perfect spot, the temperature was just right. We were sitting in a little crowd in open shade under tall trees while one of us had a glass of beer and the other a glass of wine. We were talking about the morning’s visit, comparing notes and photographs. It was so comfortable that seven o’clock came round before we knew it. The conversation turned to dinner. Where to eat, and would it be necessary to book a table?

So a slow journey then, past the children still in the sandpit at the Observatory end, past the office workers hurrying home, and back up over gently rising ground towards the sound of Paris traffic, towards Montparnasse and our hotel.   

 

evening in montparnasse
evening in montparnasse

D

D the Sonneveld house

      An article about something exquisitely beautiful, but with a sting in the tail.

“If you decide to visit it, remember to bring your suitcases, as you’ll want to move in straight away!”

Sonneveld house

The Sonneveld house

 

The Sonneveld house – by Brinkman and Van der Vlugt, Rotterdam, 1933
The building has stylistic links with Le Corbusier, De Stijl and German modernism. It is also has an industrial link. Sonneveld was a director of the Van Nelle factory which was used to produce metal components for the building.

A compact, private detached town house for the family of a wealthy industrialist which includes living space for servants.

Perhaps not so well known here, but a real gem of European modernism.
The fabric of the building and the contents have recently been restored and appear as they did in 1933. Throughout the building there is evidence of great thought as to the suitability and provision of each convenience. Extraordinary care has also been taken during the sensitive and painstaking restoration

The Sonneveld house is essentially a rectangular box shape with additions. It is over three floors and it also has a small basement and roof terrace. It has a flat off-white exterior surface with silver coloured metal detailing, black exposed steelwork and extensive tiling to ground floor. Those facades facing the streets nearby are mainly blank and offer privacy while those facing the garden have generous windows. sonneveld-front-corner-2There are separate service and owner entries. There is a lovely exterior spiral staircase which leads down into the garden.
staircase-to-garden
Metal detailing is prominent in the rear elevation. rear-view-of-sonneveldWindow and door modules are carefully fitted almost flush with their facades. Each window module has an external blind cassette incorporated for shade. Most noteworthy is how the parapet rail to the first floor terrace becomes the spiral stair handrail.

The simple exterior hides a fairly rich and complex interior subdivision. There are an entry, office, service areas and a garage on the ground floor. Living and bedroom spaces are on the floors above. These spaces are beautifully detailed.

 

corner of office and window to garden
corner of office and window to garden
office desk
office desk

More on-line images of the Sonneveld house can be seen here.

Here are a few more of our own photographs.
Colour is a an important feature of this house. Rooms are colour themed. This is the the yellow dining room. It has red accents.

the dining room viewed from the first floor terrace
the dining room viewed from the first floor terrace

There are individual architect-designed room colour schemes throughout. Most of the furnishings are also original.
So most unusually, one can see the entire original colour scheme, and one can see how extensively the architect used of colour as part of a modernist design scheme.

red dining room trolly
red dining room trolly

The glasswear included in the dining room display cabinet was also locally produced. Examples of similar wares by these manufacturers appear occasionally on the present day Netherlands second hand market for modest prices.

dining room glasswear
dining room glassware

Here is a servant’s bedroom

servant's bedroom
servant’s bedroom

Notice how the same bed, table and chair type is used by all the house inhabitants.

Work areas are red Here is a kitchen detail.

the dining area used by the servants
the dining area used by the servants
master bedroom furniture
master bedroom furniture

Gispen manufactured much of the furniture in the building including these beds in the background .  A similar version of this chair is still in production. Today the Delft factory still produces furniture and it is possible to buy examples of the some models shown in the Sonneveld house.

The garden is as was established in the early 30’s. It is simple with quite a lot of lawn and bushes used for perimeter screening to the rear, and as a lower boundary definition to the front.

rear garden view
rear garden view
office window to rear garden
office window to rear garden

 

Because the construction methods and materials date to the 1930’s, a great deal of renovation has been done. In the book produced by the Netherlands Architecture Institute a telling detail is the nationality of enormous number of firms involved in restoring and refurbishing Sonneveld house, These include Project management, Supervision, Providing public information, Advising on Restoring, Advising on Refurbishing, Restoration work Main Contractors, Restoration work Sub Contractors and Suppliers, Refurbishment work and Suppliers and finally Lenders and Donors. All of these, with one exception, are Netherlands firms or organisations with Netherlands addresses.

To the thoughtful person, this building is an example of many things. Foremost, is an example of true modernism at work, linking ownership, manufacturing, design and utility.

This building also reveals the Netherlands in microcosm.
The entire project from its origin in the 1930s through to its renovation is an example of Dutch confidence and competence. In it’s own way this building shows how the people of the Netherlands think about themselves and their place in the world. It’s clear that they are quite capable doing these things themselves, that they have the resources, skills and training to manage and complete such a project with little, if any assistance from other nationals.

It also shows how successful people in European cities may be able think differently to their British or Scottish counterparts.

This may seem like the country house in the town, but couldn’t be more different from the British Imperial Model of a country house. There are no Classical porticos, no fake grandeur. It’s beautiful, practical, modern and usable. It was the first house in Rotterdam with a fully equipped, built in garage. So this is no-fuss high quality private domestic architecture in the city, right there on the street, with easy public access. The building’s position included the owner in society rather than excluding him from it and hiding him away in a private estate in the countryside. A statement of belief in the city, the individual, aspiration, success; an example of the successful citizen in society- engaged in and part of the modern world. Of course this quality of private architecture in the heart of a great city enhances the standing and the status of both.

It is also an example to we Scots as to how how we could do better. How we could contribute to revival of run down Scottish towns centres and the attractiveness of Scotland’s cities. Where are the projects in the pipeline or recently constructed which do just that?
Then there’s the house’s furniture and manufactures.
Are our education systems, designers and architects and the Scottish business world able to produce to this quality without reaching beyond Scotland’s borders to do so?
When can we expect reasonably priced home-designed and mass-produced examples made in Scotland, which we can accept and be proud of, made by present day Scots and which will astonish and delight the world? Where and how will these people receive the craft and organisational training to enable them? And if you said to me that in various forms, these things exist in Scotland, how do we pull them together to make it all happen?
After all, if you like the look of a Gispen side-chair in the Sonneveld house, you can nip along to the nearby factory and buy one for yourself to take home today.

This building can cause me to think about many things. What can our response be to a proposition like this? Should we just move in because its so agreeable?

Can a different response be made? One which looks towards a better Scottish future?

D

D What does it mean to be Scottish and European?

An introduction to this occasional blog

For me as a schoolboy studying higher Art in the 60’s, Europe was about the architecture of classical Greece and Rome.

For me as an Art teacher in a Scottish Secondary School it meant Art Nouveau in Scotland Vienna, Belgium, the Netherlands and France.
It also meant two trips with school kids to Venice to see some of the best of European art and architecture from the late Gothic and the Renaissance.

But Modernism and the International style were the things which I found more relevant to the way we live, to making Art and to Designing. Of course as a teacher, there was always also the influence of the Bauhaus, with the magnetic pull of it’s teaching methods and its achievements.
As I studied Modernism and read more deeply about it, I realised it was much more than just a “cool” look. It was in fact underpinned by great ideas, a way thinking and a philosophy, and that these ideas were European ideas, not British. For Modernism and its ideas found little comfort in the Britain of the Empire.
Instead, these ideas about architecture and design popped up in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Czechoslovakia the 1920’s and 30’s before the Nazis came to power. These same ideas then found their way to America and flourished there.

Now today in Europe and America some exceptional buildings in this style survive. Some have been painstakingly restored and can now be visited.
And these visits are a revelation, for they showcase the best that can be done – we can see genius at work.
Nor is it just about the buildings themselves, but about wider the communities in which they are located. It’s also about the complex social organisation and daily life of European towns and cities today.
This then, is quite a different European experience to two weeks on a beach in the sun. But there’s something else. For knowledge of these buildings also poses questions for us, such as “How do we in Scotland ensure our cultural connections with such beautiful and desirable European ideas?” “How can we show people what’s out there?” “How can we share our appreciation of this fantastic stuff?”. And, of course how can we continue to do this in the midst of British political indifference, even hostility?
And also, why should we put this connection at risk? This thought coupled with the feeling that having the right European connection may also depend on moving towards Scottish Independence.
So I do declare my preferences. Brexit is not for me!

The posts and videos on this site, record something of my reaction to what I found In Europe, whether about Art, Music, Performance, Film or Design. Occasional blogs are added from time to time.
As for travelling there and having a look for yourself?
I would recommend it to anyone!

D

D The Bauhaus, can we stick a kilt on it?

      The Bauhaus – Walter Gropius, 1926

         Dessau-Rosslau, south of Berlin

the bauhaus entrance
the bauhaus entrance

Gropius was also the founder of the Bauhaus at Weimar in1920, when it took over the Van der Velde building.

Mies van der Rohe was its last director from 1930 to 1933.

The name

The Bauhaus school was established in Weimar in 1920.The name signifies “Construction house” or “Building House”, but its about much more than that. Its meaning is more like “The House and Everything in it”. It occupied a building designed by Henry van der Velde where, from 1907 until the outbreak of the first World War, Van der Velde sought to reform design and handicraft and architecture teaching. When the school transferred to Dessau, Walter Gropius designed a purpose built school in1926. There is a good video here. It was variously a Design, Architecture and Craft School with an evolving curriculum partly caused by political pressure. There was a focus on Design for Industry. The location of the Bauhaus in Dessau was because Dessau saw itself as an aspiring industrial city, thought to have good prospects for new designers. Dessau was also located in an area of similar towns forming the central German Industrial Zone, also an area of new industries, south of Berlin.

The Building itself has stylistic connections with Gropius’s other work (See The Fagus shoe factory, the Haus am Horn, Gropius house) and the International Modernist movement in architecture.

Both Mies and Walter Gropius were members of the Deutscher Werkbund, a movement in Art and Design in Germany which had seen explosive growth prior to WW1. It had also evolved from its late 19th Cent origins as a craft guild with a strong Gothic influence-similar to the Arts and Crafts movement in the UK, with its emphasis on individual hand crafted production. By the early 1920s, all be it with strong disagreement from some members, it had become a strong advocate of designing for industry- Industrial Design as we know it today. This change in approach also took place in the Bauhaus at about the same time. Almost co-incident to the building of the Bauhaus, the 1927 Werkbund exhibition at the Weissenhof Siedlung in Stuttgart explored an important theme – “Die Wohnung (How Should We Live? The Dwelling)” It looked at how people lived, what sort of housing was most suitable for them, how these ideas were evolving. It was one of a number of Werkbund exhibitions during the 1920s and is an example of how active, powerful and well organised the Werkbund was at the time of the building of the Bauhaus. Because of this, and its good professional reputation, the Bauhaus it was able to draw on the services of some the best and most influential designers, architects and artists when it came to appointing teaching staff.

The building

The complex layout of the Bauhaus sits on fairly flat ground in a generous grassy area. It has a flat roof and is of steel, glass and concrete construction.

For the most part the building is set out in distinct blocks with three floors over a more rustic ground floor/basement. One wing has five floors over a ground basement floor. These blocks are linked by access corridors. (see a diagram of the building layout here)window-to-front-door

upper landing view
upper landing views

As the examples shown above illustrate, there are unexpected vistas in the corridors and stairwells as you move through the building. These inside/ outside views give you a powerful sense of integration, of being part of the building as you go through it.

foyer and staircase
foyer and staircase

The interior surfaces are white, grey and occasionally black. The studio spaces can be spartan and much less glamorous than the facades. There are occasional red accents both inside and out. The crisply detailed reception area has a buff floor.

studio space
studio space

You can catch an occasional glimpse of a studio space as you go round.

theatre doorway
theatre doorway

There’s that famous theatre to see and the building has a very good cafeteria- its well worth a visit!

The Bauhaus shows what a superb architect Gropius could be. Visiting the building is a wow! To move through the building is to be delighted by each aspect you see. Its so good, so well done. For the building is a tour de force, it has a great presence, and a strong sense of mass and order.

bauhaus-duo
exterior view

Its a big statement visually  and the overall effect is of carefully integrated materials forming harmonious facades to all elevations.

glass facade
glass facade

An obvious difference with more recent buildings is the size and number of panes of glass which make up an individual glazing area and the noticeable black glazing bars which give a rich articulation to the large glass facades. Drama comes from contrasting these facades with white concrete.

the teaching

The influence of the Bauhaus on design education has been very important. A unified art, craft, and technology syllabus was taught at the Bauhaus. There were artists, designers and architects teaching there. They understood that “It’s all one big sea we swim in” when it comes to Art and Design. Each discipline needs the other. For all students, both then and today, coming to terms with that is part of Art or Design’s great beauty and its difficulty when learning.

course diagram
course diagram

The Bauhaus course structure which evolved during the 14 year life of the Bauhaus showed how theory and practise could come together. Social concerns arising from the thinking of the Deutscher Werkbund were also recognised and included as a part of Bauhaus teaching.

The Bauhaus as a Design School only operated until 1932.

The Nazi Party was rising in power in Germany and when they took control of Dessau city council, they forced the then Director, Mies Van Der Rohe, to close the school. He then moved to a factory in Berlin, but was unable to continue there. The Bauhaus closed for good in Germany in1933, and Mies dispersed the students and teaching staff.

This act helped to spread the ideas and influence of the Bauhaus throughout Europe and the wider world. A few came to the UK, built a little, and stayed until the outbreak of war. They then moved to America and post-war, in the USA, the New Bauhaus or Second Chicago school was founded.

In Tel Aviv, there is the “The White city of Tel Aviv”, a very large collection of modernist buildings built by German Jewish architects who emigrated to Palestine after the rise of the Nazis.

Even as far away as Australia, a school was established for a time teaching Bauhaus methods.

The building itself survived the Second World War, but fell into a dilapidated condition. The Communist GDR then operated it as a reorganised Design and Architecture School but not linked to Gropius’s thinking and two restorations took place. Since 1974 the Bauhaus has been the home of “Bauhaus Dessau Foundation”, and teaching continues. Post-graduate programmes have been run there since 1979, and you can visit the building. Associated with the building are a number of “Masters Houses” in a small building development nearby. They have been restored or partly reconstructed and it is also possible to visit them.

Its success in giving its students an understanding of how to to design for production using modern materials is well known. Some of the best known examples of work associated with the Bauhaus are in the field of modern design.

Marcel Breuer chair
Marcel Breuer chair
cesca chair-Marcel Breuer
cesca chair-Marcel Breuer

A much employed material was tubular steel. These chairs are examples of its furniture design. It is also well known for teaching typography, and for being a centre of excellence in Graphic Design.

bauhaus-costume-1

bauhaus-costume-2

3 examples of costume design
3 examples of costume design

The course was also surprisingly modern in other ways, as well as wide ranging, extending to discrete elements on such unusual and modern topics as Film and Photography, dance, theatre design- including, as in the above examples, costume design. It was this broad and thorough approach which equipped its students to succeed in modern life.

Conclusion and relevance

The admission of social concerns into design teaching, and their expression as either architecture or designed objects, raises a question for or us in Scotland. I’m talking about the aspect of social need in the production of objects for consumption. Too often production is described as good if it merely makes profits or creates jobs. That is not nearly enough. How we live, design and make is just as important today as it was 90 years ago. Today in Scotland we choose to aspire, to dream of a better tomorrow, where all the citizens of our country have their rights respected, and their needs met as far as it is possible to do so. The goals of our educational institutions similarly need to be addressed for they are the engine of desire which will power this transformation in social achievement. The model of the Bauhaus, often misunderstood, is that it successfully harnessed the energy and the opportunities of it’s times. We see the fruits of this labour, but not the nourishment which preceded it. Given the energy generated during the 2014 referendum campaign and the continuing expression by many of a better Scotland via independence, how can that desire for a better life be expressed through design and architecture?

For then as now, the question is “How shall we live?”

D