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Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

Remarkable examples of beautiful and truly generous design are popping up all around the world. By generous, I mean places designed for people to use, enjoy and improve – at no cost and for no profit.  Here are five examples of which I am a big fan.

1. Copenhagen Harbour Baths, Denmark

I first visited the harbour baths when they opened in 2002. To this day I would still say that they are the single greatest example of generous and intelligent design anywhere in the world.  

The baths form part of Copenhagen harbour and are in water that only 15 years ago was so heavily polluted with sewage, algae, oil spills and industrial waste that it posed a tremendous health risk. Today, after extensive work on behalf of Copenhagen municipality, the water is clean for swimming and the harbour hosts five pools, two of which are for children, and three diving areas, catering for more than 600 people at any one time. On the bank, umbrellas and chairs have turned the area into a city centre beach. This is a remarkable area filled with leisure activities for all age groups.

 This is clearly not a PR stunt. This is magnificent generous design at work.  It has allowed people to colonise this once harbour area and make it one of the most popular spots in the city. I think it has been so successful and affective for four reasons:

1. It is different, edgy and it breaks the rules. Swimming in a harbour? With big ships? Open to hundreds of people at one time and unguarded diving boards! It is exciting and inviting and you know if you lived there you would have to have a go. 

2. The design is both beautiful and unique. Clearly, the function of a public bath would always be popular, but take a look it at. People cannot stop photographing it; social media pages and photo sites are filled with pictures taken from every angle. The look of it means people want to share their experience of being there and to talk about it.  Given nowadays many live by Twitter and Instagram, the baths do as good as any job in getting a place in front of people. Fantastic promotion.

3. It is not overly policed. The signs are ‘swim at your own risk’. You get to make your own decision. How liberating is that? Can you imagine this in a canal or somewhere in the UK? Health and safety alone would heavily alter it. Tight rules and restrictions are not part of the game here. Just enjoy yourselves.

4. It is free.  It’s genuinely for everyone. 

And, I should add, it cost just over £0.5m. It is staggering what can be achieved for what is, comparatively, an affordable amount for most cities. These baths have been so popular that another one just like them was opened at nearby Amager Strand Beach in January this year. This is place people want to copy. It is replicable because it works.  Just remarkable. 

2. Magdeburg Library, Germany 

Magdeburg, Germany, hosts an open air 24-hour free library. To do something so interesting in a city that is not a capital is really special. The rest of the story is even more interesting.

The industrial city was once part of East Germany and since reunification its city centre has had trouble recovering, with commercial vacancy rates approaching 80%. An extraordinary effort was made to create this open-air library after interest was expressed by residents, and it is remarkable that they pulled it off.

The library, designed by Karo architects, was initially assembled as a 1:1 scale made out of donated beer crates to demonstrate to potential supporters that the library could work. The community then raised enough money to build it. This is not just about an open-space library – it is also completely accessible to everyone. No registration is required. The 70,000 books available are borrowed on an honour system and it is staffed during the day by volunteers.

To do things like this, you have to give people the benefit of the doubt. And if you do, people will respond positively. In this case the benefit of being created by the community really works. The design and the place is so impressive and shows how simple it can be to offer something extraordinary to everyone.

3. Merida Youth Factory, Spain

The scale of this project in Spain is mind blowing. Described as ‘less a junky jungle gym and more a creative community centre’, the array of activities on offer is staggering, ranging from rock climbing to dancing. A skate park winds through the plazas connecting the buildings (almost all the ground is actually skateable), and there is a concert stage, lessons in street art lessons, circus training and, if you head indoors, music and dance.  And the whole place has Wi-Fi.  Have you ever seen anything like it?

This is such a draw for kids of all ages. The design is just brilliant – modern, vibrant and fresh. 
 
I am particularly enamoured with the approach towards skating. It really feels like it has been designed by people who know what skaters want. There are no assumptions and most importantly of all it is also not tucked away in a car park or somewhere the public cannot see. The message is that skating should be promoted, exposed and watched.  
 
Equally, it’s not just about skating. The activities are for all ages, interests and skills. The place itself is so colourful and open (designed inside out) it stops it turning into something shady or dangerous.  This is as good as it gets –  a purpose built modern version of a youth club.  

4. Stormwater pipes, India

This installation in India feels so right for the area it inhabits. Stormwater pipes are a common sight through cities in India. In Surat architect and designer urfun lab had an ingenious idea of covering one end of the pipes with coloured cellophane. When the evening sun filters through, beautiful and colourful patters are cast.  
 
It is an innovative and cheap way to create interesting design. The pipes are so visually exciting that people want to explore and create. It is as simple as it gets. 
 
Indians are often very good at upcycling and this is another example of that approach to improving something and giving it a whole new meaning.  It needs only the smallest budget – and some creative thinking. 

5. Blackpool Comedy Carpet, UK

Created by artist Gordon Young, and designed in collaboration with Why Not Associates, the Blackpool Comedy Carpet is a celebration of comedy on an extraordinary scale. Referring to the work of more than 1,000 comedians and comedy writers, the carpet gives visual form to jokes, songs and catchphrases dating from the early days of variety to the present. Sited in front of Blackpool Tower, the 2,200m2 work of art contains more than 160,000 granite letters embedded into concrete, pushing the boundaries of public art and typography to their limits.

A remarkable homage to those who have made the nation laugh, it is also a stage that celebrates entertainment itself.

More than anything else, I love how many mentions I have seen in the press. If there is one thing Blackpool needs, it is positive press. 
 
This is urban design and art in the landscape working together in a seamless and perfect fashion. It celebrates kitsch, history and modernity, and has something for all tastes.

Visitors love the Comedy Carpet and they cannot stop photographing it and talking about it. Just look it up on Twitter or flickr or Google images, it is staggering how many images you’ll see. Bingo – success. 

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It’s now 13 years since I wrote that infamous article about mass housing in the Independent and coined the phrase “The Wimpeyfication and Barratification of Britain”. My tirade about how ill conceived some of Britain’s housing developments were taken up by Newsnight. My new found voice about urban design was given an airing and my views somewhat supported by Jeremy Paxman.

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Peter Johnson, the then Chairman of Wimpey Homes (now Taylor Wimpey) agreed with some of my comments and we ended up leading the vision on a 750 plus homes development on a long term unused brownfield site in Dunston, a largely unloved, but brilliantly located part of Gateshead.

In the 24 month design period before work started, and during land reclamation period, Gerardine and I immersed ourselves in urban design and toured the world looking at great and not so great examples. The inspiration we found in northern Europe and the Nordic countries, the urban designers Klas Tham (Western Harbour Malmo) and Jan Gehl (Copenhagen) we met, and the “human” developments like Vauban in Freiberg and Almere in the Netherlands that inspired us to put landscape, play and homezone streets ahead of architecture proved to be a stimulating education.

Our own experience of where we grew up in affordable housing in Lancashire and the experience of the team that was assembled to deliver the Staiths with us. Mark and Jane Massey from IDP, the Glen Kemp team (who had worked on Byker), Tanya Garland and the team from CoolBlue, Gordon Mungall from Arups, a Gateshead Council planning department who really showed a sense of ownership and a truly enlightened team from Wimpey North East, proved to be a “dream team”.

Those early years were full of debate and arguments over “secured by design”, “homezones”, communal barbeques, the table tennis tables in the streets, “shared pocket parks”, cycle routes and restrictions on car ownership. We really were questioning accepted practice and Gerardine and I were also being questioned by many architects and planners as to our suitability for the project. “Q…What could a couple of fashion designers know about housing ? A…We have bloomin’ well lived in them for 4 decades each and we care about the quality of life!”

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But we stuck to our guns and fought like we have fought so many times in the past. The Staiths South Bank got off to a great start; people queued to buy the first homes. The Arts Council came and researched the residents and produced the affirming “The Power of The Barbeque” showing how the generosity of the landscape was a key to the good feeling that the “pioneering” new residents were experiencing.

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The Staiths went on to win many awards, is visited by international groups and has continued to be in demand in terms of sales right the way through the housing downturn.

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We completed the design a couple of years ago now and are not on site that often. However at the end of April 2013 Gerardine and I were passing through Newcastle and popped in to the site. We left happy. To their credit Taylor Wimpey have kept up the standards set in phase 1.

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The Staiths is maturing wonderfully and judging by the amount of residents who came out to say how much they were enjoying living there and the emails that positive that keep coming in, the development is certainly a liveable one. 

Is this our greatest achievement in our 30 odd years as designers? It could just well be.

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Preston Bus Station

At HemingwayDesign we consistently show how timeless design can be appreciated across the generations. Our Vintage brand came to Preston for A Vintage Guild weekend and tens of thousands of Lancastrians showed their appreciation of classic design. Preston Bus Station is an iconic piece of architecture which surely with some intelligent thought can be part of a regenerated Preston City Centre. It’s important to remember that three of Britain best loved buildings and most well used buildings The Barbican, The Southbank Centre and Tate Modern were all, not too long ago, deemed carbuncles.Image

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Benidorm Postcard

I have just returned from a conference in Benidorm and am still in a state of shock. I was last in Benidorm in 1977 as a post O level, first foray aboard with my school mates. Even back then it had a reputation for English Pubs selling full English Breakfast and English beer (which as 16 year olds on our first holiday without parents we gorged on!).

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As a kid and then when Gerardine and I were courting, I loved going to Southport for its beach that never seemed to end (its often a mile and half walk out to the sea), for its pier that never seems to end (it’s the second longest pier in the UK), for those views across  to Blackpool Tower and for its shopping street, Lord Street, that again just seems to go on forever.

Like many British seaside resorts, Southport’s fortunes waned during the 80s and 90s. However a few years ago when I started to see pictures of the modern pavilion that had been built on the pier I felt this was the sign of a forward thinking council that understood the role that great design could play in regeneration. So Gerra and I took a detour and went to visit Southport. The new pier pavilion does in fact look cool.

In our Land of Lost Content collection of 20th century British memorabilia we have some great images showing Southport in its heyday .

This picture below shows the old pier pavilion

And this one shows the prom in the 30s

So imagine our horror when at the other end of the pier this carbuncle had been built on the prom …the last buildings before the lovely beach

I have nothing against a cinema, restaurant chains and a bowling alley being on the prom, BUT  having them housed in god-awful industrial boxes, surrounded by crap landscaping and totally turning their back on the prom (the entrances face inland with blank walls facing the sea… it creates an ugly, uninteresting face to the sea)  is just downright stupid and goes against common sense never mind good planning practice.

What were the planners thinking ?

They have just consigned Southport’s sea front to needing substantial regen money needing to be spent on it in the not too distant future and for what it’s worth, this family won’t be going back in a hurry !

I am sick of writing moans about bad planning so I am going to end this on  a good note, enjoy this movie I took on our way back to the car…it cheered me up anyway!

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We get some uplifting letters and this was one is worth sharing. Many of us like the idea of building homes, many of us like the idea of building low energy homes, not enough of us are brave enough to have a go, this guy was very brave.

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There has been a lot written by architecture critics recently about there being too much bog standard, generic public buildings being built. At the same time there are calls from within public service and from outside for good design and thoughtful, intelligent, forward thinking and creative designers to be recruited to help design a better public service and better public service buildings and infrastructure. I wholeheartedly support these calls and know that if the creative community were allowed to be let loose on a public service that in many cases need some creative TLC that we would all be better off. However there are barriers in the way, that make it impossible for small and most medium size creative companies to win work with the public service. I know from bitter experience that when we receive a bid document from most parts of the public service our hearts sink. There are so many pointless hoops to jump through, so many irrelevant British Standards and qualifications that bidders need. If we spent time jumping through all the hoops we wouldn’t have time to design and earn a living. And don’t get me started on the OJEU and OJEC procurement process! (more…)

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