Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy 2010

Copenhagen, Cat in the Hat style:

Resolutions? You could do worse than signing up:

Enjoy what's left of 2009. Back soon.


Sunday, 27 December 2009

What I did today - a walk on Hadrian's Wall WHS

We forgot to take the flag - and this is a colour pic.

Cold and snowing, but decided that the computer screen pallor needed to be removed, so went for a walk.

This is Walltown, Northumberland, the former quarry, then Walltown Crags and a section of Hadrian's Wall. Magnificent views north to the Scottish border on a clear day! Then back again through the quarry, to complete a circular walk.

It was snowing lightly, hence a few blobs on the camera lens, but feel certainly better for the exercise and air, although memo to self - boots leak and really must buy new (but they are such old friends and so comfortable...).

This is a Picasa open view web album, click on pic below to open to thumbnails, then click on each pic to enlarge. Yes these are in colour...

The ducks seemed happy enough.

Walltown: Hadrian's Wall World Heritage Site, Northumberland, Dec 27th 2009

More info:


UNESCO World Heritage Site information:

The “Hadrian’s Wall” which was previously inscribed on the World Heritage List, is part of the transnational property “Frontiers of the Roman Empire”.

Roman Wall Blues

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I've lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I'm a Wall soldier, I don't know why.

The mist creeps over the hard grey stone,
My girl's in Tungria; I sleep alone.

Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don't like his manners, I don't like his face.

Piso's a Christian, he worships a fish;
There'd be no kissing if he had his wish.

She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.

When I'm a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky.

WH Auden


Thursday, 24 December 2009

Joyeux Noel

Have a good one all, don't drink too much. Or at least not unless I'm there.

And well done Andy Marshall,  Twitter @fotofacade,

just got SPAB News (Cornerstone) with your magical photos on the cover and inside, and I agree that Holy Trinity Church in York is a gem:

also for the pics and article re Hopwood Hall, listed at II* and  on the SAVE Buildings at Risk Register

Hopwood Hall is a largely 17th and 18th century building with parts of an early 16th century timber framed structure incorporated. Built of brick with a stone slate roof, on a quadrangular plan, the hall has a symmetrical gate-house with access to the courtyard. On the rest of the two storey building, there are interesting details such as transom and oriel windows, the latter with a castellated parapet above, decorated with two coats of arms. Many of the interior features originated in Victorian remodelling. To the west there are additions including one of the 20th century. The condition of the Hall is poor, mainly due to lack of maintenance, and there is some dry rot.

The most recent use of Hopwood Hall has been for educational purposes, as part of the neighbouring college. However, in the more distant past, it is believed that Hopwood housed Byron whilst he worked on "Childe Harold". Now, however, it has been vacant for five years, while plans for new uses have been explored but never implemented. Currently, the council and the Cygnet Trust are working together to ensure that the building is weather-tight, safe and secure. It is also hoped that a new use will be found soon; the greatest possibility so far is of a conversion with enabling development, but other ideas would be welcome!

There is very little to report from the Hall on a year by year basis - but there is no doubt that deterioration of this fine building which has some outstanding interiors, is steady. The threat of further vandalism is a constant and the council who own the building are not doing sufficient to protect the hall. Although not being marketed, we would still encourage any party interested in the reuse and restoration of the building, to contact Rochdale Council, as an offer just might be accepted.
Hopwood Hall is located between Rochdale and Middleton.

(Further details from SAVE)

And very good stuff also from Gareth Hughes, his review of Pevsner Wales: Gwynedd, and a useful and informative article by Clem Cecil and Yelena Minchyonok  about what is currently happening in St Petersburg, especially the protests against the RMJM Gazprom Tower, of which I have written a great deal in this blog (further updates to come).  All publicity regarding that fiasco is good.

Excellent news that Edinburgh World Heritage has won the Sustainable Social Housing Refurbishment Project Award 2009 for Gilmour's Close:

Historic buildings can be adapted for the 21st century, and surely that's good for the planet?

Here's the entry and a picture in the wider context of the World Heritage Site from Britain's Best Buildings:

And also splendid that AJ had nice things to say about the Malcolm Fraser Architects Scottish Ballet building in Glasgow. It's not all bad, isn't this modern stuff... I like the industrial aesthetic.

And I note that Malcolm Fraser is now officially HOT (at no 42):

42 Malcolm Fraser

Accoladed architect

This year Fraser’s practice completed a versatile new base for Scottish Ballet at the Tramway in Glasgow, as well as working on commissions from a field station in Glen Nevis to a sensitive yet forward-thinking plan for the redevelopment of Stromness Pierhead. As the newly appointed Edinburgh University Geddes Professorial Fellow he is leading public and academic debates about how to integrate modern architecture and city planning with heritage concerns. (LE)

N x

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Lancaster - Sec of State turns down the Centros plans

Mitchell's Brewery Lancaster

Briefest of blogs to relate that the Secretary of State has decided that the Centros application, backed by Lancaster Council, should be refused, following the farcical Public Inquiry.  That was a welcome message in my inbox this morning!

For past posts and pics and links

(the Sec of State refused the Hebden Bridge plans too: )

It's Our City has put the docs on the website:

As can also be read there,  the SAVE  injunction against the owners of Mitchell's Brewery to prevent the demolition of the brewery (which they already have begun) lasts until the 29th, pending Judicial Review. Mitchell's is refusing to allow English Heritage on site to re-assess the buildings for listing; there is new and significant information regarding the building which hasn't been considered in the past. Meanwhile Lancaster Council is still refusing to protect the building with a temporary BPN, and has suspended the public consultation, already begun,  to have the building placed in the Conservation Area.

Surely, with the refusal of the Sec of State to the plans so far to spoil so many historic buildings and turn Lancaster into a clone shopping town, it's time Lancaster started to act in the wider public interest, and not the interest of a private developer?

The Stonewell 'nose' Lancaster

So, one battle won; next stage is to persuade Lancaster to adopt a more sensible  regeneration scheme, based around the historic buildings and areas. It could do worse than look at the scheme drawn up by Richard Griffiths for SAVE:

and consider this report:

Message from It's Our City:

A massive thank you to all who have stuck with the campaign against this scheme over the years and for everything you have done to support us. This victory belongs to the whole community. In the New Year, we expect the Council to reassess their plans for the canal corridor north site in the light of this decision, so watch this space.

Tonight (Tuesday 22nd Dec) some of us will be meeting up in the Gregson Centre at around 8.00pm to celebrate. Everybody is most welcome to come and join us.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to All !


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Trafigura, Carter-Ruck and the BBC

 UPDATE April 25th 2010

The BBC has won a major international award for its Trafigura investigation. All the footage is linked to below, for anyone who wishes to view; meanwhile, of course, although it can be shown outside England, the libel laws are as yet not reformed, so the BBC is still gagged and has handed over to Trafigura a fat sum of our cash (charitable donation) over the televising of the documentary.

The Centre for Public Integrity

ICIJ Names Winners of 2010 Daniel Pearl Awards for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2010 — A gutsy, collaborative series by four European news outlets about toxic waste dumping in Africa and a surprising exposĂ© by a freelancer on payoffs by U.S. military contractors to the Taliban won the 2010 Daniel Pearl Awards for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting.

The winners were announced tonight at the sixth Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. The Pearl Awards are presented by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a project of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C.

The winners are:

■Kjersti Knudsson and Synnove Bakke, Norwegian Broadcasting Corp.; David Leigh, The Guardian; Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean, BBC Newsnight; Jeroen Trommelen, de Volkskrant (Western Europe), for “Trafigura’s Toxic Waste Dump,” which exposed how a powerful offshore oil trader tried to cover up the poisoning of 30,000 West Africans...

UPDATE Friday 18th December

Yesterday, BBC Newsnight backed down over its Newsnight report on Trafigura, following a High Court hearing of the libel case against it brought by Trafigura, and last night broadcast a (somewhat less than convincingly sincere) apology.  Meanwhile, for the moment the information and video removed from the BBC Newsnight site is still freely available via the internet, see post below. What is clear is that this country's libel laws require alteration. Other countries have reported the Trafigura case openly without fear of litigation.

It is worth noting, however, that United Nations Special Rapporteur Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu had earlier concluded in a report published on 3 September 2009 that:

On the basis of the above considerations and taking into account the immediate impact on public health and the proximity of some of the dumping sites to areas where affected populations reside, the Special Rapporteur considers that there seems to be strong prima facie evidence that the reported deaths and adverse health consequences are related to the dumping of the waste from the Probo Koala.

Is Trafigura now going to take action against the UN Special Rapporteur?

English PEN and Index on Censorship have expressed dismay at the outcome.

Their joint statement says:

We believe this is a case of such high public interest that it was incumbent upon a public sector broadcaster like the BBC to have held their ground in order to test in a Court of law the truth of the BBC’s report or determine whether a vindication of Trafigura was deserved. The deal is neither open nor transparent.

Both  believe that costs were the major factor behind the BBC’s decision. They cite the leading media lawyer, Mark Stephens of FSI, that the cost of such a case would have been in excess of £3 million.

The campaign to reform libel law is growing; you can read further, sign the petition, and e-mail your MP:

A growing number of MPs are signing this Early Day Motion:

423 LIBEL LAW REFORM 09.12.2009

Harris, Evan

That this House notes that human rights activists, scientists, writers and journalists are prevented from publishing, and the public prevented from reading, matters of strong public interest due to the chilling effect of English libel law; further notes that libel actions in England and Wales cost 100 times more than the European average; further notes that the costs of defending a libel case are usually prohibitive and that even successful defendants do not recover their full costs; further notes the report of the United Nations Committee on Human Rights which criticises English libel law for its stifling of free expression globally due to libel tourism whereby foreign complainants bring cases against foreign writers for alleged libel in overseas publications; believes that public interest is endangered by powerful vested interests and corporations being able to intimidate writers into not publishing; recognises the recent report by Index on Censorship and English PEN, Free speech is not for sale andfurther notes the campaign for scientific freedom by Sense About Science; welcomes the formation of the Libel Reform Coalition to campaign for law reform; and calls for a re-casting of the libel laws such that, while individual reputation is protected against malicious or reckless smears, lawful free expression is not chilled and there is a fully effective public interest defence for both scholarship and responsible journalism.


Claim Form Issued 15 May 2009

My Lord, the Claimant is the UK subsidiary of the Trafigura Group, whose principal activity is the trading, supply and distribution of petroleum-related products. The Defendant is the BBC.

On 13 May 2009, the BBC's Newsnight programme broadcast an item concerning Trafigura and also published a related article on its website. These reports focused on the discharging in August 2006 by Trafigura of gasoline waste in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast which was subsequently dumped by a local company. The reports stated that Trafigura's actions had caused deaths, miscarriages, serious injuries and sickness with long-term chronic effects.

In September 2009, a joint statement was agreed and issued by Trafigura and the solicitors representing around 30,000 Ivorian claimants who had brought personal injury proceedings in the English High Court. The statement (which was endorsed by Mr Justice MacDuff, the Judge who had been due to hear the trial, as "100% truthful") recorded that the experts instructed in that case had been unable to identify any link between exposure to the slops and the deaths, miscarriages and chronic and long-term injuries alleged.

Following Trafigura's complaint over Newsnight's story, the BBC carried out a detailed further review of the available evidence and of Trafigura's detailed response in its Reply in these proceedings. The BBC accepts the conclusions reached by the experts in the personal injury action and reflected in the Reply. The BBC therefore acknowledges that the evidence does not establish that Trafigura's "slops" caused any deaths, miscarriages or serious or long-term injuries. Accordingly, the BBC has withdrawn those allegations and has agreed to broadcast an appropriate apology on Newsnight, to join in the making of this Statement in Open Court, and to publish the Statement on its website.


My Lord, on behalf of the BBC I accept everything my friend has said. The BBC withdraws the allegation that deaths, miscarriages or serious or long-term injuries were caused by the waste and apologises to Trafigura for having claimed otherwise.

The BBC hopes that by the joining in the making of this Statement it will assist in setting the record straight.


My Lord, it only remains for me to request leave that the record be withdrawn.

Carter-Ruck BBC Litigation Department

On behalf of the Claimant On behalf of the BBC

As the Guardian reported it yesterday:

BBC settles Trafigura libel case

Apology and charity payout over allegations that Trafigura waste caused deaths is accompanied by combative BBC statement

David Leigh, Thursday 17 December 2009 13.55 GMT

The BBC today made what it presented as a tactical climbdown in its libel battle with the oil trading company Trafigura.

After negotiations with Trafigura director Eric de Turckheim this week, the broadcaster agreed to apologise for a Newsnight programme, pay £25,000 to charity, and withdraw any allegation that Trafigura's toxic waste dumped in Africa had caused deaths.

But at the same time, the BBC issued a combative statement, pointing out that the dumping of Trafigura's hazardous waste had led to the British-based oil trader being forced to pay out £30m in compensation to victims.

"The BBC has played a leading role in bringing to the public's attention the actions of Trafigura in the illegal dumping of 500 tons of hazardous waste" the statement said. "The dumping caused a public health emergency with tens of thousands of people seeking treatment."

Trafigura had only brought the libel action against a single aspect of Newsnight's reporting, the BBC statement went on: "Experts in the [compensation] case were not able to establish a link between the waste and serious long-term consequences, including deaths."

In a confidential out-of-court settlement earlier this year, an agreed joint statement was issued by Trafigura and lawyers Leigh Day, representing almost 30,000 claimants in the Ivory Coast. It described the consequences of the waste dumping as "low-level" illness, rather than deaths or miscarriages.

This left an earlier Newsnight programme exposed to litigation: Trafigura claimed Newsnight had specifically accused them of causing deaths, and that they were therefore entitled to recover damages under British libel law.

The BBC's decision to settle caused dismay among some journalistic staff today. One commented: "This result is very unfair. It is completely outrageous that Trafigura should never yet have been brought to a court verdict on their own behaviour, but the BBC should have been penalised for trying to report on it."

BBC sources said one factor in the management decision to settle was the fear that Carter-Ruck, Trafigura's libel lawyers, could run up potential bills of as much as £3m if the issue came to a full trial, particularly in the uncertain climate of British libel law. A hearing would have to be conducted before controversial libel judge Mr Justice Eady.

In a court statement before Eady at the High Court this morning, it was agreed that "The BBC accepts the conclusions reached by the experts in the personal injury action [and] acknowledges that the evidence does not establish that Trafigura's 'slops' caused any deaths, miscarriages or serious long-term injuries. Accordingly, the BBC has withdrawn those allegations and has agreed to broadcats an appropriate apology on Newsnight."

The outcome represents a partial success on behalf of Trafigura for Carter-Ruck partner Adam Tudor. Trafigura's attempts to enforce a "super-injunction" against the Guardian, preventing parliamentary reporting, led to political uproar.

A reproving statement from the Lord Chief Justice followed, plus a parliamentary inquiry and the eventual collapse of an attempted ban on publication of the contents of a scientific report disclosing that Trafigura's waste was potentially highly toxic.

De Turckheim issued his own statement this morning, repeating the contentious claim that "The slops were... dumped illegally by an independent company called Compagnie Tommy – a deplorable action which Trafigura did not and could not have foreseen."

Internal emails published by the Guardian show that Trafigura executives were in fact aware of the hazardous nature of their waste, and the need for specialist expensive disposal.

Trafigura is currently facing prosecution in Amsterdam, for allegedly lying about the nature of the waste during an earlier attempt to dispose of it cheaply.

Meanwhile, the campaign to reform this country's libel laws is gathering pace.


Follow the links, read the story, watch the videos...

UPDATE Wednesday 3.30

Guardian runs the story:

UPDATE Wednesday 12.00 has run the story:

UPDATE 7pm Tuesday


 Old link was here

Let's see how many other of the mainstream media do it ...

Brilliant - Get Carter Rucked, or Trafigura, the Movie

 The pulled video

Come on Trafigura, Carter-Ruck - it's all over Youtube.

Yes I was a #trafigura Twitterer when you tried to gag the Guardian, but truth will out, one way or another. Gags don't work.

Drop it and stop trying to gag the BBC. You can't gag us all.

Sign the petition, e-mail your MP here:

There is still this page out there, but for how long?
 Download the files now!

Great Wiki article on the Trafigura issues

It's all out there in the public domain!


Monday, 14 December 2009

Old New Towns, New Old Towns

David Heathcote in Billingham

Until this evening,  the following programme will be available to watch online, or you can download and watch for a wee while longer (unless some kind soul has a means of permanent capture and can put it on youtube...)

The relevant part is approximately ten minutes in, a ten minute segment of a longer programme.

As it says in the Beeb blurb:

How often do you ever hear good things about our new towns? You are more likely to hear people say we should knock them down and start again. But is that the answer? Architecture historian David Heathcote thinks not - in fact he's got quite a soft spot for concrete.

Alongside the programme there is the blog of the series presenter

and several comments under which are pertinent and which has a telling video of what went wrong with Killingworth New Town which shows what replaced the demolitions. However, raised in the comments is the fact that that so much of Killingworth was neglected, and the question has to be asked - why? Is the cycle of build, then neglect so people demand action,  demolish, build not able to be broken? Are the principles of town planning laid down by Patrick Geddes, of 'conservative surgery', removal of the bad, small scale interventions not mass clearances, repair then renew, never to be learned?

What was touched on on the programme was that the new 'town centre', in fact a glorified shopping mall of little architectural distinction, is now a covered over privatised space. Public rights are none.  It presumably seems a grand idea, to certain councils, to hand over land and what should be civic space and public realm to private companies, but for those who think so, I would suggest a reading of Anna Minton's book Ground Control.

For a flavour of it, here's Will Wiles review for ICON magazine:

A glimpse is shown of one of my favourite pieces of post war architecture, the Ryder Yates & Partners Killingworth Gas Research Station , thankfully now listed:

Of the three places featured, I was struck again by how pleasing Billingham town centre is, if only it could have a few quid spent on it and removal of tacky plastic signage.  Its heart is human in scale, with carefully designed buildings which are of their time,  and not a pastiche of any previous era. There's greenery and places to sit, with robust street furniture which isn't fakery 19th century, and a whimsical walkway from which you can either consider yourself centre stage or use to view your fellow humans and the architecture. There's a mix of scale and some drama, too, in the wider view, and the larger civic and other buildings, although it's clear that too much has been allowed to be run down.

Thankfully, the campaign to have the Forum listed succeeded, and the threat to demolish has receded;  but I gather that there are plans to 'regenerate' Billingham centre and hand that 'regeneration' over to a private company. So no doubt all that is decent, interesting, human scale, accessible, sustainable, all the right buzzphrases, will vanish into landfill, and be replaced, instead of repaired and refurbished. Dissent will be stifled, consultants will be hired to talk about 'renewal' and 'vibrancy' and something will be built with a lifespan of around a few decades.  How much 'public realm' will persist remains to be seen. Of course, as at Killingworth, there will be sweeteners in the form of 'community facilities' such as a library and meeting rooms, but is this a substitute for handing over yet more land into private control, for many decades to come?

Glimpses of  Billingham  can be seen in this video, which takes in the good and the not so good at Billingham:

Also mentioned in the Inside Out programme is Peterlee, and in particular the restoration of the Pasmore Apollo Pavilion.  Peterlee was one new town which didn't rely on massive tower blocks, and allowed for green space, but which also used architecture of its time which seems to have succeeded; no-one is calling for mass demolitions of homes.

The story is here:

and a great deal more information on the post-war 'New Town' movement:

...The aspirations of the initiative, with the emphasis on green and open quality and their successful balance between living and working, were inspired by the garden city movement launched by Ebenezer Howard and Sir Patrick Geddes. Howard’s book Garden Cities of Tomorrow was a source of inspiration to planners, legislators and politicians alike....

...These New Towns were not intended to be suburbs or industrial estates but rather self-contained communities combining the convenience of town life with the advantages of the country. They would have their own local shops and amenities and art was regarded as a vital aid to ensuring that all classes would benefit equally.

The Conservative government, which took over in 1951, maintained Labour's ambitions. However the spiralling costs of the programme resulted in stringent limitations in building costs that severely affected the quality of provision.

Of the 11 New Towns designated in Britain between 1946 and 1955, eight were London overspill or satellite towns. But a number were built for other reasons. Aycliffe (1947) and Corby (1950) were designed to provide better quality housing for existing employment areas and Peterlee (1948) was intended to provide an urban centre and alternative employment options for a mining area.

By the late 1950s some of the earliest New Towns were coming to the end of their main development phase. They were disparaged for their rushed construction, their tendency to feature car-oriented layouts, and for the fact that the new communities, having no collective history, lacked social cohesion.

While many of these issues were addressed in the later New Towns (the third generation towns in particular had substantial resources invested in developing a social infrastructure), New Towns have intermittently continued to receive poor press...

And so here we now are, in the 21st century, again in the throes of building 'new towns' or extensions of old towns, with a claimed agenda of sustainability, work/housing/community mix, with the buzzword of 'eco' thrown in, to deliver what is perceived at government level as a housing shortage. Of course re-use of existing buildings, the halting of the Pathfinder demolition programme, looking at ways of using the many empty homes and spaces on the upper storeys of existing town centres which are lying empty should all be considered as priorities, but alas, those part solutions aren't attractive to developers.

Whatever your views on expanding housing provision in this manner, whatever the arguments for some housing renewal, and I accept that it does vary from area to area and blanket solutions/condemnations may not be appropriate, what I find heartily depressing is the fact that many of these new developments will be built on the 'Poundbury' principle, of so-called 'traditional' building, which of course is in too many cases nothing of the sort, being modern construction under the generic 'traditional' facades, and dressed up with a town square and a clock tower.

The post-war New Town movement, whatever its perceived failings, and surely lessons could and should should have been learned about what worked and what didn't, had new architecture at its heart.  Where today is that vision?  What, assuming global catastrophe hasn't annihilated  humankind, will we be handing over to future generations as 'of our time'?

Why are we in many cases building Toytown?

And when we aren't, why are we building so many banal buildings and removing sound ones which could be retained and refurbished? A 'clean sweep'?


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

This is just to say...

I am working on a slightly longer blog, honest, one about buildings, but thought I'd bring more Festive Cheer in the meanwhile.

So: here's @fatcharlesh latest blog on er... bogs:

But it's the RIBA ones so that's OK.

Here's the best Advent calendar of the year:

I like the idea of a game of family Squabble after the stuffing and roasties.

And I'm not sure how I lived without an executive plum warmer...

although of course here's a cue for

a) a favourite poem

b) a ref to architecture

Dr. William Carlos Williams (sometimes known as WCW) (September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963), was an American poet closely associated with modernism and Imagism. Williams has a theatre named after him in his hometown Rutherford, called “The Williams Center”

This is just to say...

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast.

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

Which reminds me to tell you to add @byleaveswelive to your Twitter lists (The Scottish Poetry Library Embra

Malcolm Fraser's small but beautifully formed, a haiku of a building in fact, Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh World Heritage Site, (it's an outbreak of Christmas peace... ) courtesy of Geograph and is © Copyright Brian D Osborne and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence  for larger version and for more pictures and writing and stuff

Here's the website of the Williams Centre, a rather fetching historic theatre and cinema once called the Rivoli:

Do read the history, even if you turn off the 'soothing' muzak, although for the fraught in need of soothing it's just the thing.

All that remains of communities and civilizations, all that remains of their worth and dignity exists in the arts they leave William Carlos Williams

More Christmas lights, Disney's Hollywood Studios. Fab.

Just don't think of the carbon emissions...

and here's all the latest news from the North Pole:


Monday, 7 December 2009

Good cheer!

The joys of festive food - a load of hot air?

So I'm usually Bah! Humbug about December, but I thought I'd try today to join in the Festive Spirit and bring Tidings of Comfort and Joy To All Mankind. It's hard but...

OK, reasons to be cheerful:

No 1: There a was a fair bit of glorious Edinburgh and a glimpse (are you reading this Malcolm?) of one of my favourite contemporary buildings, the Storytelling Centre, on telly last night. This was on The South Bank Show, with National Treasure Carol Ann Duffy. CAD said after Venice it was her favourite city, one of the world's most beautiful, and how I agree.

 Let's hope also that in the first UNESCO City of Literature, the plans (Malcolm Fraser/Edinburgh World Heritage) to enhance the 'literary quarter' (please call it something else than quarter though... ) come to a fruitful conclusion. So I've put that on the wish list to send up the chimney to Santa.

Pics probably copyright of someone so if anyone wants a credit or have them removed tell me...

No 2: Here's my favourite Christmas Lights video. Don't try this at home folks, not if you live anywhere near me or value your carbon footprint:

No 3: The excellent blogpost by @WillWiles (see linked blogs) re London 2010, as predicted twenty years in the past, which has this weekend gone mega on Twitter, with many re-tweets:

Edinburgh residents might enjoy this page, predicting the Age of the Tram (hah!):

Pic courtesy of Spillway, Will Wiles blog, shamelessly reproduced here, in the cause of advancement of  knowledge

Great read,  and even better, this find of Will's gives me an excuse now that I can use when the OH is telling me I should have a clearout of all the 'archive material' (my view) 'clutter' (his) for hanging on to all those quirky back issues of things I can't bear to part with.

No 4: Another fascinating blog from Charles Holland @fatcharlesh on Twitter

I have a deep interest in all things connected with fortifications, and the allied topic of defensive dwellings, probably as a result of living in a landscape dotted with 'em, many even more ancient than those at Dover.

Slightly connected, in as much as the Underground was used as refuge in WWII from the bombs, is this site:

exploration of those ghostly disused stations on the London Underground.

For more on the history of the tube, there's always Christian Wolmar's book, and don't let this review put you off as there's no obligation to read the bits you aren't interested in, although it probably says something about me that there was none of it I wasn't interested in:

Wolmar does have an eye for the choice phrase, unearthing such Victorian gems as a description of the stations as “commodious”, the fetid underground air as like “crocodile’s breath” and a newspaper report about the under-used (and eventually closed) Aldwych branch which described a labourer who travelled “in lonely grandeur to the Strand”.

No 5: A little more cheering news from Chicago!

see previous blogpost for the bad news:

Friday, December 4, 2009


We are elated to bring you good news from the Illinois capital of Springfield. Today, the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council (IHSAC) voted unanimously in a roll-call vote to support our nomination of the Michael Reese Hospital Campus to the National Register of Historic Places.

This is a major step forward in our campaign to bring to light the incredible and unique architectural assets of the Michael Reese Hospital Campus, which of course comprises the only built work of Walter Gropius in the State of Illinois.

Earlier this year, the City of Chicago’s Landmarks Commission, acting in a purely advisory capacity, voted twice that the Campus and our nomination did not meet the criteria required for listing on the National Register. Today’s action by the IHSAC, which is a binding vote that effectively rejects Chicago’s objections, confirms the invalidity of the shortsighted and damaging position issued by Chicago’s Landmarks Commission.

The Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council is a non-biased body that is strictly charged with overseeing nominations to the National Register of Historic Places in a scholarly and open fashion. The Council is comprised of volunteer, expert members from all around the State of Illinois. As a body that solely addresses matters pertaining to the National Register of Historic Places, the Council is the ultimate authority in the State of Illinois concerning nominations such as our own.

The Council meets four times per year. After Chicago’s initial rejection of our nomination, and despite its advisory role, the Gropius in Chicago Coalition acted in good faith, meticulously responding to each of Chicago’s numerous concerns. This revision process unfortunately caused us to miss the October meeting of the IHSAC, making today’s meeting the first available time for our nomination to be heard in its revised state.

Meanwhile, Chicago rejected our nomination a second time, despite revisions, and had concurrently begun to demolish the historic resources at Michael Reese Hospital.

Today’s vote by the Council reaffirms the importance of Michael Reese Hospital. The Council’s vote signals that the Michael Reese Campus as it stands today, regardless of the deliberate losses from Chicago that have eroded its historic value, still remains an important part of the cultural legacy of the State of Illinois.

Read on:

No 6: The latest in the series of Pevsner Architectural Guides: Newcastle and Gateshead by Grace McCombie (who is a co-author of Northumberland Pevsner) has just arrived, and I can curl up in front of the fire and enjoy.

Pic by me, taken from the top of the Keep; click for HUGE

Above shows Newcastle: the Bridge Hotel, 1901 by Cackett and Burns Dick (serves a good pint), Armstrong's Swing Bridge, 1868-76, and Stephenson and Harrison's High Level Bridge, 1845-9, crossing the Tyne. The High Level Bridge won a 2009 Europa Nostra Award:

...The High Level Bridge in North East England was built by engineer Robert Stephenson and opened by Queen Victoria in 1849. Consisting of an upper deck for train traffic and a lower deck for road vehicles, the bridge is the oldest of those currently spanning the river Tyne and is one of the UK's most historic railway structures.

Not all humbug then.


Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Those who 'really don't give a fuck'*... and those who do...

An 'iconic' building, inspired by...

A great deal of blogging news to catch up on, dear readers, but here's a start.

First, a  history, which is required reading, so NO SHIRKING this part:

Anti-Viruses and Underground Monuments: Resisting Catastrophic Urbanism in Saint Petersburg

 10 January, 2008

By Dmitry Vorobyev & Thomas Campbell

Saint Petersburg is besieged by elite-backed architectural mega-projects and micro-interventions. Dmitry Vorobyev and Thomas Campbell describe the dominant strains of 'renovation' and the popular resistance to them arguing that, in St. Petersburg, class conflict takes the form of opposed visions of urban renewal and historic preservation...

Continued here:

Here's another little something which should be read, although maybe all who read may not agree it's thought-provoking stuff:

The Architect as Totalitarian

Theodore Dalrymple

Le Corbusier’s baleful influence

Le Corbusier was to architecture what Pol Pot was to social reform. In one sense, he had less excuse for his activities than Pol Pot: for unlike the Cambodian, he possessed great talent, even genius. Unfortunately, he turned his gifts to destructive ends, and it is no coincidence that he willingly served both Stalin and Vichy. Like Pol Pot, he wanted to start from Year Zero: before me, nothing; after me, everything.

and a quote (this is getting to be a bad habit, see previous posts, but hey, I agree with him here, as actually I think he does give a fuck):

...we have to find a way forward between the anodyne and the hubristic...

Malcolm Fraser, brand spanky newly appointed Geddes Honorary Professorial Fellow at Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and ' leading Scottish architect' (despite being a Stirling finalist, MF seems doomed to be forever so described, usually in the Scotsman, a sort of  latter day Carr of York, who did excellent work elsewhere too, but I digress as ever) writing about Richard Murphy's Haymarket Tower, planned to dominate / be a bold addition to, depending on which side of heritage zealotry you are on, the World Heritage Site skyline of Edinburgh. This 'leaf shaped' 17 storey tower was  refused, greatly to Mr Murphy's much-publicised disgust:

'Terrified and timid' policy attacked by top architect

by the Minister earlier last month following a planning inquiry, and a great deal of local opposition. It was, really, 'fuck you' architecture.

Thanks to the SOOT campaigners blog, I repeat this here:

Apart from building my own house, my ambition in Edinburgh is to build one big public building before I die" Richard Murphy

For those interested in that sort of thing, you can read the docs and final report here:

and fascinating it all is too.

However, Malcolm Fraser's is a quote which really needs to be considered in other contexts.

Recently  an e-mail pinged into my inbox from St Petersburg, bearing the latest news on the RMJM Gazprom (Okhta) Tower, which is already causing destruction of important archaeology and encountering a great deal of heroic opposition. I have posted a number of times about this, and so won't repeat it all here, simply to point to past posts, describing the violence inflicted on protestors by hired thugs, the manipulation of law and public policy and the apparent unwillingness of RMJM's Tony Kettle to engage with any issues other than the ones which will bring about the desired result for his architecture firm.

The status of St Petersburg as a World Heritage Site is at risk, and there is no doubting UNESCO's deep concern. However, as with Liverpool, Bath and Edinburgh in the UK, and of course Dresden, whose Elbe Valley was struck off the World Heritage list this summer over the building of a particularly brutal bridge and the unwillingness of those responsible to consider any compromise, those who put  such status at risk, or bring worries that such status isn't high on the priorities of those who should care more,  appear unable to consider that there are always alternatives. Short termism and large egos, blinkered city officials aided by elected representatives with motives which at times seem far removed from the real needs of World Heritage cities and their residents, the desire for fat profits... and Philistinism... all are part, and more besides, of the root of the difficulties. Yes, it's complex, each city will tell you they have to move on, silly phrases about 'setting in aspic' and 'economic development' will be spouted,  and those who try to urge caution and work for a better solution are always derided as wishing to hold back 'progress'.

This morning I re-read Owen Hatherley's blog post (see right hand blogs column, and his related article in Building Design) and I quote part of it:

Patrick Lynch said some really very interesting things... and the sharpest of these, which was too long-winded an argument to shoe-horn into my round-up, bears repeating. That is: one of the central appeals of the *****ICONIC***** building to their clients is a sort of reflected glory, wherein the CEO or Manager thinks 'wow, Zaha or Santiago *really don't give a fuck, they treat their workers abominably, they don't let anyone get in the way of the realisation of their ideas, they stomp around in firm conviction of their own genius - just like me...'

Thanks Owen, it's about the gist of what I want to say, but so much easier to nick your words. I quote also your comment from your blog on this subect of September 3rd:

 Gazprom's Okhta Tower, a tossed-off glass excrescence designed by RMJM...

and also this illuminating piece from the Comments section:

Anonymous said...

I was quite close to (a few desks away from) this project as it was being designed - the main (nay, the only) idea that went into it was a slight twist to the tower. Why? Not in reference to the dialectical torsion of Tatlin's tower, oh no, but merely because they'd seen some twisted towers in the latest Blueprint or whatever and thought that they looked pretty snazzy, so might as well rip em off...

In a month when a new building proposed  for Sheffield Hallam University (architects: Bond Bryan) is shown covered in cutlery and with a vague gesture on top towards the trad factory 'saw-tooth' roof as an in yer face, over the top reference to one of the industries which made the city prosper, lest we forget,

(Student wit in years to come:

"Excuse me, but can you give me directions to the library?"

'"Of course, you pass the fork n knife n spoon building..."  OK , an oldie but still a goodie...)

and in a year where we have seen the completion of Pelli's lumpen Liverpool Gone West, apparently shaped like a ship to 'reflect' Liverpool's past maritime status:

then little would surprise regarding the 'inspiration' cited by some architects to justify paying the mortgage. However, if the quote above is true, then the twisted Okhta spire rising out of a blob of collapsed blancmange can be credited with even less intellectual rigour applied to its design than those two gems I cite. So, why?  Is it just ego and 'fuck you' architecture?

The  latest from St Petersburg sounds a little more encouraging:

Here's our reposting of the new story by Sergey Chernov from The St. Petersburg Times about the crazy debate between Okhta Center advocates and opponents aired on Channel One's "Judge for Yourself" program. The advocates... included RMJM architect Filipp Nikandrov and Okhta Center deputy director Vladimir Gronsky. There really does seem to be a (positive) shift going on: more and more high officials coming out against the project and more opposition from establishment cultural figures, including the host of this program.

We've enhanced Sergey's article with the video of the program (which, alas, I gather you won't be able to understand), video of the beatings at the Sept. 1 public hearing, and lots of links...

Here's the beginning, do read the rest, follow the links:

The St. Petersburg Times

November 20, 2009

TV Campaign Against Gazprom Tower Mounts

By Sergey Chernov

The controversial Gazprom Tower found itself under harsh attack last week on Russia’s main state television, Channel One, for the third time in the past four weeks — and its supporters struggled to offer any good reason to back the 403-meter-tall skyscraper in close proximity to the city center.

First slammed by the Kremlin-controlled channel in its primetime weekly news roundup on Oct. 18, the Okhta Center, as the building is officially known, was derided in the comedy show “Prozhektorperiskhilton” (Paris Hilton’s Spotlight) a week later, and last week became the subject of “Sudite Sami” (Judge for Yourself), a political talk show hosted by Maxim Shevchenko.

This time Okhta Center representatives — communications director Vladimir Gronsky and the project’s chief architect Filipp Nikandrov of the British firm RMJM — were given a chance to present their case for the skyscraper, which is planned to house state energy giant Gazprom’s headquarters and was described by Bloomberg News critic Colin Amery as “just another global corporate monolith — banal, dull and inappropriate.”

The unsuspecting Okhta Center team, which enjoys full administrative support in St. Petersburg, arrived at the studio to discover that the show was to be called “The Tower Against the City.” They were then refused the opportunity to show their presentation of the project, and were instead confronted with a barrage of questions — including ones they had ignored or mocked during the heavily policed public hearings held in St. Petersburg. With no backing from City Hall, OMON special-task police or menacing individuals scattered around the room pushing and kicking opponents, as there were at the public hearings, the Okhta Center’s representatives appeared helpless and confused...

Read on:

...Summing up the debates, Valery Fadeyev, editor of Expert magazine, said that the planned tower should be thoroughly discussed on a national level.

“We should return to the first phase of this project,” he said.

“The project has now gone outside of St. Petersburg. This problem has become national.”

I'd say it was a little more than that. I would suggest this, as a World Heritage Site, concerns us all.

There's more to say, other links to add, but I think I'll today press 'PUBLISH POST' and please, readers, consider this as a draft.

I'll return later, I hope you do also.


Monday, 30 November 2009

Hard Day's Night

John, Ringo, Paul and George, just for the record.

Back soon with a longer blog. Meanwhile, here's a little something which should amuse/give pause for thought to all those historians and researchers and archaeologists out there, oh how fallible we are, and thanks should go the wonders of Twitter for drawing this to my attention:

Beatles 3000

Ah yes.

History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's dam is the history we made today.

Henry Ford, Interview in Chicago Tribune, May 25th, 1916

Paul McCartney once winked and said "Hello"  to me, John Lennon stood on my hand... and I still have my well worn copy of Love Me Do, one of the first 45 rpm records I ever bought.  Surely soon, I will be recognised as the repository of so much wisdom and information I will be able to relate all these memories as a National Living Treasure on obscure telly progs watched only by geeks like me and readers of this tiny corner of cyberspace? Programme makers for the Open University, where are you?


Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust - news

The heartfelt message written on the hoardings surrounding the proposed 'Caltongate' development site, in Edinburgh's Old Town,  part of the World Heritage Site, November 2008, for the UNESCO mission visit. The not-very-much -loved council offices overlook the site.

A  rapid blog post to bring the latest news in the campaign to save Edinburgh's Old Town World Heritage Site from inappropriate development and death by the promotion of tourism above a living city. This is moving on from the campaign to 'Save Our Old Town' from the 'Caltongate' development, which would have seen historic views blocked, a listed building demolished and inappropriate facade schemes for other listed and historic buildings.

Far more on the SOOT campaign here

Following the UNESCO mission visit last November, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee was critical of the Mountgrange scheme, and asked for changes.

Mountgrange went into administration earlier this year, and the future of the site and the buildings is currently uncertain.

Proposed building by Malcolm Fraser for the Caltongate development

A development trust, working with the City of Edinburgh Council and other interested parties, in partnership with a more sympathetic developer who might actually listen to what local residents want, and not carefully manipulate 'consultation' alongside a discredited PR company, may possibly be a way forward.

So in response to the jibes by one of Mountgrange's Caltongate architects, Malcolm Fraser, at a talk he gave recently in Edinburgh in his position as newly appointed Geddes Professorial Honorary Fellow at the Uni, repeated in the Scotsman, as I said here at the end of this blog:

another time another post. So here we go.

The setting up of an Old Town  Development Trust  has been a long time in the making, and is not a sudden reaction to what Malcolm Fraser had to say, in the report here:

Professor Fraser, about to eat his hat and words?

...I have been appointed, jointly by Edinburgh University and the Art College's new, combined Architecture Department, as their "Geddes Honorary Professorial Fellow". Trained as a biologist, and a friend of Charles Darwin, Edinburgh's Patrick Geddes is regarded as the father of town planning, and understood that cities had to evolve, not stagnate. He's a hero, and I am proud to receive this honour.... 

Indeed. And think what an opportunity for good it can be,  for

and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests - Patrick Geddes

Malcolm Fraser: I am keen to use the position to help the city debate the issues around how it should evolve...

And he outlines certain proposals he is keen to see during his tenure

Here's one: Caltongate and community advocacy: when Mountgrange – my clients and the developer of the Caltongate site – went belly-up, I approached the "Save Our Old Town" community group, that have so lambasted the proposals, to suggest that, with legal and organisational advice from "Local People Leading" and finance from the Nordic Enterprise Trust (a Norwegian Oil Trust, looking to invest in social projects), they could step forward to lead. They told me that they would prefer to stay in their bunker and wait to lambast the next developer. Edinburgh needs communities who will take more responsibility than simply insulting those that wish to invest, and I asked they reconsider their refusal.

Well, there seems to have been some (I'm being charitable) crossing of wires here, and possibly Mr Fraser was too busy in his own bunker on North Bridge to bother to read what another Edinburgh architect, James Simpson, had to say in response to Mr Fraser lobbing a grenade out previously in an opinion article in the Scotsman on April 1st. James Simpson's Scotsman response of April 4th detailed the discussions, consultations and investigations SOOT members were making , and had been making, regarding the setting up of a development trust:

At its meeting on Wednesday evening, SOOT initiated the establishment of a Canongate Community Development Trust which intends to open discussions with the City Council, with a view to bringing the existing buildings on the site back into use as soon as possible, temporarily landscaping the main part of the site and developing new proposals for the incremental development of the site for a mixture of uses, including more houses. This may be what the citizens and all those who care for Edinburgh as one of the great cities of the world - including, perhaps, Malcolm Fraser - actually want!

No doubt he will be very welcome as a member of the Old Town Trust, with his expertise and experience and contacts and offer to help with funding?  Meetings have already been held, and discussions have taken place over a considerable period, regarding this.

As James Simpson went on to say (text of the full response to Malcolm Fraser is here):

Have we forgotten the efforts of civilised architects like Sir Robert Matthew and Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith, of campaigners like Eleanor Robertson, Colin McWilliam and Oliver Barratt and of Desmond Hodges and Jim Johnson in the Old and New Towns respectively? These were the people who brought international recognition to Scotland’s capital, and who secured its place as one of the great cities of the world... Sound principles for development in historic cities were first laid down in the early 20thC by Sir Patrick Geddes, pioneer town planner and father of urban conservation. Geddes believed that cities were living organisms and, in his theory of “conservative surgery” argued that change in established settlements should, whenever possible, be small and incremental. Why was all this (re Caltongate) ignored?

     PRESS RELEASE Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust
     Immediate Release 24.11.09
    Will a New Community Trust Help Stop Edinburgh's Old Town from Dying?
    This is one of the questions that the newly established Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust , will be asking at its first public meeting this Thursday 26th November at Augustine United Church, George IV Bridge from 7.30pm - 9.30pm.
    Catriona Grant a local resident and director of the trust, said today "Last week in Venice the last remaining long term residents held a mock funeral to dramatise the flight of residents from their city's heart. We may be holding one here soon, if we do not take action now. Like the Venetians we need affordable and also non HMO sized family housing, which encourages people, especially families, to stay or move into the area. Like Venice, prices are steep in the historic centre, and many landlords demand much more money, by advertising over the Internet to short stay visitors than with long-term rentals to residents." She added "We however as residents then have to live with the consequence of these which are often large hen and stag parties. We have become unpaid concierges and are disturbed at all hours, it is only because of a loophole in the law that they are turning the Old Town into one big unregulated hotel. There are health and safety issues that no one has addressed yet, as well as the obvious almost daily loss of long term inhabitants, with the knock on effect of losing local shops and perhaps even the last remaining school, along with other vital community facilities which ensure a living neighbourhood."
    Sean Bradley, a director of the trust and Chair of the Grassmarket Residents' Association said today "A community's greatest asset is its residents. The Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust is an historic opportunity for the people of the Old Town to shape its future for the benefit of all - that means improving opportunities and the quality of life for everyone" Last year's community research, The Canongate Project, (see below) showed that more support and facilities are needed for the residential population if a ‘living city’ is to be maintained in the Old Town. The research also highlighted the need for affordable housing, family sized homes, a better mix of local shops, community facilities, play space, public toilets, safe and usable green public space, along with residents having a say in future developments in the Old Town.
    The meeting is to include discussion on the trust's possible projects and Ian Cooke, Director of The Development Trusts Association Scotland will give an introduction to the fast growing network of development trusts across Scotland, and highlight the real differences they are making to the communities in which they are based. Catriona ends “So we are urging those who live in the area and outwith to come along and become a member of the trust. Help shape the future projects and the role the trust can play in an area, which is becoming increasingly dominated by tourism and the night-time economy often at the expense of those who call it home”
    ***Notes for Editors***  Meeting Details - The Public Meeting of The newly formed Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust which also covers the Dumbiedykes area is on Thursday 26th November `09 at Augustine United Church at 41 George IV Bridge EH1 1EL 7.30pm-9.30pm
    Google News on Venice: 
    The Development Trust Association Scotland: 
    Party Flats Edinburgh: 
    The Canongate Project:
    (Probably the 'worst type' of 'heritage zealot' as described by Mr Fraser, and proud of it.)
      This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent on the leaves. By leaves we live. Some people have strange ideas that they live by money. They think energy is generated by the circulation of coins. Whereas the world is mainly a vast leaf colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass: and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests - Patrick Geddes

      The words of Patrick Geddes, set in stone outside the entrance to Malcolm Fraser's Poetry Library, Edinburgh