Saturday, January 31, 2009

London to Amsterdam

On the Ferry

Leaving Joseph's house at 5.30am to take the 6:18am train from Liverpool St Station to Harwich International the trip back to Melbourne felt like it had begun. After a few weeks of uncertainty it was a pleasant feeling heading towards Liverpool St and making a commitment to attempt to travel back to Melbourne without using a plane.

The sun rose over the frozen English landscape whilst I was on the train and so began a brilliantly clear and calm winter's day and perfect weather for crossing the North Sea by ferry.

The ferry was a pleasant 5 hour trip and as there were very few passengers surprisingly peaceful and quiet. Certainly more peaceful than traveling by plane. Looking out the window I thought of Hiroshi Sugimoto's Seascapes and the calming feeling of looking to the horizon across the ocean and knew that it could be a few months before I saw the ocean again and knew that I would miss it.

Arriving at Hoek van HollandNorth Sea

Friday, January 30, 2009



For the last twelve months I have been living in Milan and New York. It has been a fantastic experience and during this time I have been thinking a about where I would like to base myself for the next few years. It has become clear that Melbourne is that city. As I result I have decided to return home. A few years ago having lived in a number of European cities over the course of three years I returned to Melbourne on the Trans-Siberian Express. The transition period from living in Berlin to living in Melbourne was an excellent opportunity to travel for an extended period of time and also adjust to the change from Germany to Australia and reflect on my time in Europe, and was also an excellent excuse to drink vodka for breakfast.

At some stage I began to think about another overland trip that would take me back to Melbourne following the next time I lived overseas along a different route and with more frequent and longer stops. This trip began two weeks ago.

During the next four to six months I intend to attempt to travel from London to Melbourne by land and sea. The route will take me through Eastern Europe, the Middle East, across the Himilaya and through South East Asia. The majority of the travelling will be done on train and will also include journeys by bus, ferry and boat.

The trip is divided into four sections; From London to Istanbul via Eastern Europe, Istanbul to Bangladesh via Iran, India to Singapore via Nepal and China, and finally from Singapore to Melbourne.

As a way of documenting the trip I will be producing an architecture blog on which I will record my experiences and descriptions of buildings that I visit during the trip. Descriptions and photographs of projects will also be added to the online architectural database MIMOA to assist other people who wish to visit the buildings and contribute to an excellent resource for architects. I hope that people who are interested in architecture and travel will find the blog useful and informative, and possibly, interesting.


Overland : Stage 1OVERLAND : STAGE 1

The first section of the trip will take me from London, the largest city in the EU across the North Sea to Amsterdam. Since living in Amsterdam for 12 months in 2000 the Dutch have built a number of interesting contemporary buildings and completed a few large scale urban developments in and around Amsterdam. During my time in Holland I will also visit Almere, to see buildings by SANAA and OMA and Utrecht to see Wiel Aret's Library and re-visit a number of fantastic buildings on the University Campus and Rietveld's small Modernist gem, the Schroeder House.

From Amsterdam I will travel by train to Essen to see the recently completed Zollverein Design School by SANAA building and then onto Cologne to see Peter Zumthor’s ‘Kolumba Museum’. From Cologne I will travel north east to Hamburg before heading across to Berlin, my favorite city, and Dresden. Leaving Germany I will continue south into Prague, where Josef Plecknik produced his most famous work, and Brno to see Mies van der Rohe’s Tugendhat house.

From the Czech Republic a train will take me to Vienna, home of Adolf Loos and the Secessionists. Following a few days in Vienna I will travel by hydrofoil along the Danube to Budapest and then onto Sofia before arriving at Istanbul. Finishing stage one of the trip with a visit to the Hagia Sophia and the Turkish Baths.

The Economist Building

The Economist Building

The Economist Building (1959-64) designed by Alison and Peter Smithson. This complex of three small towers set onto a plaza is located in central London. It's smaller than expected scale gives the plaza and buildings a more humane feeling than similar buildings and urban compositions of much larger scale. The scale is appropriate to the surrounding context of St James and the fossil-rich Portland stone gives the buildings and plaza a more durable quality and atmosphere than concrete buildings of the same period.

I was surprised how much more elegant these buildings are than I had expected. The scale was also surprising being compact enough to create an intimate relationship between the towers and comfortable scale of the plaza and pedestrian routes. The buildings integration with the surrounding context and connection to the surrounding streets also prevents it's plaza from becoming a barren wasteland like so many similar buildings of the 1960's. This probably has more to do with the existing context and location in central London than it does from any particular characteristics of the design.

The Economist Building

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lunch at 30 St Mary Axe

Lunch at the top of 30 St Mary Axe

Richard, who works in the building, kindly invited Joseph and I up to the top of 30 St Mary Axe for lunch. The building is one of my favorite in London. An exquisitely detailed tower that appears contemporary in a way that fits beautifully in London. The tower's jewel like qualities bring to mind the traditional jewelery and ornament found in the various palaces and galleries of England. It appears as an enormous precious object in the centre of London.

The rooftop bar is located at the top of the tower and crowned by a glass dome. It is a beautiful space with fantastic views of London and it was a fantastic and unexpected opportunity to be in this space as it is not open to the public.

Royal Naval College

Royal Naval College

Royal Naval College designed by Sir Christopher Wren, 1696 to 1712.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hussein Chalayan at the Design Museum

Panoramic The Tangent Flows

Everytime I have visited London there is at least one exhibition on which I really want to see. Last year it was the Jean Prouve exhibition, this time it was the Hussein Chalayan exhibition at the Design Museum. Despite repeatedly referencing the work of Chalayan during my studies and being fascinated by his unique combination of fashion, art, culture and unusual and innovative use of materials I had never actually seen one of his pieces in reality and could not recall having seen a photograph of his famous graduate show pieces.

Born in Nicosia, Cyprus in 1970, Chalayan moved to London and graduated from Central St. Martins College in 1993. His graduate collection, The Tangent Flows, featured silk dresses that had been covered in iron filings, buried for months and then exhumed. The texture and color variations of the dresses are incredible and beautiful in an unexpected way.

Before Minus Now Before Minus Now

Chalayan has a studio in East London and during the last 15 years has produced fashion collections, exhibitions and art installations as well as short films and costumes for opera and dance performances.

The range of ideas that are fused into a beautifully crafted single garment gives the work a depth and richness that is rare in fashion. Chalayan explores ideas drawn from genetics, aeronautics, technological progress, displacement, migrancy and cultural identity. Themes which are derived from his own history and cultural identity and experience of living and working in London. ‘He describes himself as being part-Aegean, part-Anatolian, part-Balkan and part-Mediterranean filtered through the synthesizer of London.’

The textures and rich materiality of the garments was something that I had not been able to appreciate from photographs and was struck by how unusual the materials of the garments were and yet how effortless the application of the materials felt.

It was an inspiring exhibition which left me thinking about how one can represent ideas through design in a subtle yet rich manner and the qualities of the work that triggered those ideas. The exhibition was a very comfortable size and each room carefully curated to allow the viewer to focus on each piece and follow the development and themes of his work as one moved from room to room.

Airborne Readings

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Design Museum London

Design Museum

The Design Museum (1989) designed by Conran Partnership is located in a converted banana warehouse on the south bank of the river Thames. The gallery contains two floor of gallery spaces, a store and a cafe.

Monday, January 26, 2009

London City Hall

London City Hall

London City Hall (2001) designed by Norman Foster is located on the banks of the River Thames. The building houses the offices of the Greater London Authority. The curvilinear glass building has been designed to express the transparency and accessibility of the democratic process. The form of the building has been designed to minimise the surface area which is exposed to direct sunlight and has been generated by geometrically modifying a sphere.

The interior features a 500m spiraling ramp that ascends to the top of the building. A similar ramp was used in Foster's renovation of the Reichstag.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Barbican Estate


Barbican Estate (1982) designed by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon.


Lloyd's of London (again)

Lloyd's of London

Lloyd's of London (1979-1984) designed by Richard Rogers Partnership

Lloyd's of London

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tarling East

Tarling East

Tarling East (2008) designed by S333. Having worked for S333 in Amsterdam for 12 months I was very interested in visiting their first completed project in the UK. The building continues their exploration into alternative solutions to medium density housing and a design approach which involves careful analysis of context.

Tarling east contains 32 dwellings which range from one-bedroom apartments to six-bedroom family homes. The block includes rows of three storey homes which relate to the traditional terrace block and has the horizontality and scale of the brick estates found all over East London. Roof terraces provide generous safe and protected external areas.

The variety of apartment types provides housing for a diverse range of inhabitants, some of which are uncommon in new inner-city residential developments. The obvious attention to the importance of light, sun and garden spaces for the residents add to the amenity of the dwellings.

Tarling East

Elektra House

Elektra House

This small house designed by David Adjaye in 2000 for two artists presents a windowless rectangular façade clad with phenolic resin faced ply. Windows are visible on the white rear façade but reveal a blank wall within the house and provide a view of the sky from the interior.

As the house gives nothing away of it’s interior which, because it is a private house, was I unable to visit. The ground floor is one space with a small kitchen and a small external area. The first floor that is set back from the front and rear façade contains three bedrooms and a bathroom. Natural light is provided by roof lights and in two rooms a window looks onto a blank wall.

Elektra House

Idea Store

Idea Store

The Idea Store (2005) designed by David Adjaye is a public library located in one of the poorest areas of East London. The coloured glass façade presents and optimistic and playful character in an otherwise bleak urban environment. Reflecting the activity of the street market located on the footpath in front of the building. The disused main entrance protrudes from the façade and has a strong presence on the footpath bringing the visitors up onto the first floor of the building on an escalator. The current entrance is located at street level and I imagine the escalator would provide a much stronger threshold between the bustling street and the quieter interior. The provision of a side laneway to the local supermarket further integrates the building with the context and daily activity of the community

The Idea Store is a combination of a community center, youth center and library and contains classrooms, studios, workshops, libraries and a café that are loosely arranged and mixed throughout the building ensuring intensive use of all areas. The materials are economical and carefully detailed suggesting the building was constructed on a small budget that has not diminished the importance of the program or character of the interiors.

Idea Store

Friday, January 23, 2009


South Kensington

It is my fourth visit to London and a city which becomes more interesting with each visit. This is not surprising given that London is the largest metropolitan area in the EU covering an area of 1,570 km2 and has been an important settlement for over 2000 years. London’s population of 7,556,900 within Great London and an estimated 14 million in the metropolitan area is diverse with over 300 languages being spoken in the city all served by one of the oldest and most extensive public transport systems in the world.

The major sites and galleries can easily keep you busy for weeks or months and I am hoping to visit some districts and buildings of London I have not seen before and spend some more time in Shoreditch drinking pints and watching the rain.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Goodbye New York

Goodbye New York

After four months it is time to say goodbye to New York. It has been an amazing experience thanks to DD who made the trip possible. There is so much to see and do and the city so complex that I am glad that I got to spend even a few months there and begin to understand a city that is so influential and relevant to contemporary culture and society.

It was hard contemplating leaving New York, it is like a giant magnet that pulls you in and slowly erases your memory of a world beyond. The people so diverse, the sites, galleries and events so plentiful and the constant activity leave little room for contemplation of that which exists outside it’s borders. The people and objects represent so much of what is beyond that experiencing them in New York temporarily dulls the desire to see them anywhere else.

Being in New York during the Presidential debates, elections and subsequently watch the inauguration of President Obama in Harlem was interesting. It was an exciting series of events to witness and one that would have felt rather more abstract had I been elsewhere but were bizarre, interesting, inspiring and exciting nonetheless.

The flight to London was an appropriate departure, flying from Newark and along the length of Manhattan, millions of sparkling lights making the whole island visible. It was a final chance to marvel at such a magnificent city but it will not be the last.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hearst Building

Hearst Building

The Hearst Building designed by Norman Foster is situated on top of the original six-storey headquarters buildings that was designed by Joseph Urban and constructed in 1928. The preservation of the façade has resulted in an effective balance between the need for a new building and corporate identity for the Hearst Corporation whilst maintaining and renovating the original streetscape, responding to the two distinct urban conditions of New York City; the original facades of older buildings at ground level and the glittering towers of the New York Skyline. The tower’s sculpted geometry and exposed structural steel frame has created a strong image of a 21st century skyscraper.

The building is the first ‘green’ high rise office building in New York City. The building employs a number of devices including an under floor heating and cooling system using polyethelene tubes filled with circulating water, and rain water collection that is used for the cooling system, irrigation of plants and the water sculpture in the lobby. The efficient diagonal steel structure was constructed with 80% recycled steel.

As with other recent works by Foster the environmental sustainability of the design is a key consideration yet is carefully concealed in the design as not to compromise the design or highlight the buildings ‘green’ credentials and are excellent examples of how this can be achieved.



The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is a collection of important buildings located on 53rd St in New York that have been artfully combined into a single gallery by Yoshio Taniguchi in 2004.

The importance of the gallery to architecture has a long history. Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson curated the exhibition ‘Modern Architecture: International Exhibition’ in 1932 which bought European Modernism to a wide audience in America. In the title of the touring exhibition and accompanying book the phrase ‘The International Style’ was coined by Hitchcock and Johnson. MoMA then constructed Americas first International Style Building in 1939.

Philip Johnson was the first director of the museum’s department of architecture until 1934 and constructed the sculpture garden and a new wing in 1954. Cesar Pelli built a 53-storey residential tower on top of the museum in 1984 which provided funding for the museum’s growth.

In 2004 Yoshio Taniguchi created a major expansion of the museum spaces and integrated the existing buildings into the enormous gallery that MoMA is today. The restrained geometries and materiality of the neThe Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is a collection of important buildings located on 53rd St in New York that have been artfully combined into a single gallery.

The gallery has successfully expanded and reinforced it’s importance as a leading world gallery and is an excellent example of the way buildings can respond to contemporary needs and requirements for expansion whilst maintaining the best of it’s various original buildings through innovative ways of bringing them together.

Lever House

Lever House

Located opposite Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building Lever House’s tower and podium is as copied and rarely equaled as the Seagram building. Together these two towers define 20th century skyscraper architecture.

The single-storey mezzanine base is supported by columns creating a public pedestrian area beneath. The tower sits on top of the podium with the lowest floor of the tower recessed to reinforce the seperation between the two elements. The opaque glazing of the top three floors conceals the machinery and reflects earlier skyscraper design by creating a capital at the top of the building and balancing the geometry of the base.

At only 24 stories the building is dwarfed by the surrounding towers but it’s diminuitive scale does not diminish the impact of it’s high quality and elegant design. Lever House was one of the first SOM buildings that brought the firm to prominence.

Seagram Building

Seagram Building

Considered on of the most elegant skyscrapers in New York, Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram building has been copied countless times yet rarely equaled. It’s elegant proportions and innovative placement on the site that creates a forecourt with reflecting pools and a low boundary wall in green marble sets the building apart from it’s context and announces it’s opulence and quality. The successful translation of ideas from his seminal Barcelona Pavilion (1929) to a large scale project gives the building a distinguished presence at both street level and within the streetscape.

One of the defining features of the Seagram building is the application of bronze I-beams to the exterior of the building. The I-beams create a subtle ornament and texture to the otherwise flat facade and reinforces the verticality and proportions of the building.

The exquisite detailing and command of new and old materials gives the Seagram building a quality and richness that is lacking in so many skyscapers. The relationship of the inhabitant and the materials and their ability to define space and create atmosphere with minimal means is remarkable. The relationship between the various parts of the building and different materials through precise detailing reinforces the consistency of the ideas and language of the building.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Blue Tower

Blue Tower

This seventeen storey tower located in the Lower East Side contains thirty-two apartments and rises to a height of 55m. The building is Bernard Tschumi's first residential tower and his second building in New York City.

The building took two and a half years to design and construct and was influenced by the constraints of NYC zoning laws and market-driven commercial forces. Despite the attempt to create an interesting form which adheres to building codes and creates a unique building the impression of the building is one that was built with an insufficient budget and is a poor response to the context.

The blue pixelated facade stands out against the sky as it rises far above the neighbouring buildings of the historic Lower East Side neighbourhood when it would be better if the building was more inconspicuous. The design of the facade is supposed to represent the diversity and the dynamism of the neighbourhood, as well as the internal organisation of the building, but how a pixelated facade of varying shades of blue represents diversity or distinguishes different internal areas is unclear as the building appears as a boldly singular gesture.

Designing a striking building in a historic neighbourhood with a modest budget and strict zoning laws is challenging. The Blue Tower has made an attempt to balance and exploit these conditions but in doing so unfortunately highlighted it's failure to respond to each of these conditions successfully.

Blue Tower


40 Bond Street

40 Bond Street

The luxury apartment building on 40 Bond St in New York designed by Herzog & de Meuron is a sparkling reinterpretation of the traditional cast iron and brick loft buildings of the surrounding area.

The 11-storey building contains 27 luxury apartments and 5 townhouses creating a new typology of apartments which combine housing with the services and amenities of a 5-star hotel.

The facade is constructed of concrete wrapped in blackened copper and luminescent curved glass. The materials of the facade have been treated in numerous ways which create an ornamental ground floor and shimmering upper floors that respond to changes in light. At street level the private entrances to the townhouses are protected by a large cast aluminium graffiti inspired gate. The pattern is repeated on a number of beautiful materials, etched into corian in the foyer and pressed into polished metal panels at the main entrance.

The building fits comfortably into it's context by reinterpreting the typical noho loft buildings and their materiality whilst standing out through the interesting and unique use of new materials and manufacturing processes.

40 Bond Street

40 Bond Street


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Leaving Mexico

Mexico City

Leaving Mexico was hard, leaving the sun and the food and the holiday behind. Flying out of Mexico City the view was unbelievable. Rows and rows of buildings as far as the eye could see. The sheer scale and impact of Mexico City was incredible.

It was a fantastic two weeks in which we discovered a small part of a country that was more diverse and complex than I had expected. It was nothing like the pre-conceived ideas that I had from films and news media which represent a small part of the culture and a part that is more or less invisible to the tourist. The food, pleasant cities and ancient ruins was a great place to have a break from New York City and get some much needed sun.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Casa Luis Barragan

Casa Luis Baragan

After two unsuccessful attempts to see the Casa Luis Barragan I finally got to see the house on my last day in Mexico. I had high expectations of what the house would be like. Expectations that were not only satisfied but the atmosphere of the house was more moving than I could have anticipated.

Luis Barragan built the house and studio for himself in 1948. The house is considered one of Barragan's masterpieces and one of the truest manifestations of his architectural ideas. The three storey house and large internal garden covers a total of 1,161m2. Despite the scale of the property the internal spaces have an intense personal and monastic feel and has a serenity and silence which is moving. The internal spaces are built as rooms within rooms, divided by a series of walls and screens which do not reach the ceiling. The movement through the spaces is controlled by changes in direction and open staircases which are highlighted by small moments of intense beauty as one is invited to pause and contemplate the beauty of coloured light falling onto a piece of art, a surprising change in the texture or colour of a wall or a mysterious glow from an unseen source, or an unknown and captivating view into the garden.

The robust timber ceiling, rendered walls and relationship between the building and garden are typical of traditional Mexican architecture and have a hand made textured quality which appeals to the senses. The building combines both traditional and modern architectural elements. It is simultaneously simple and complex and at all times surprising without being challenging. The influence of the International Style and Espirit Nouveau on Barragan had evolved into a deeply personal and contextual architecture which was to be greatly influential on future generations of architects, both local and international.

When accepting the Priztker Prize for architecture Barragan stated, "In alarming proportions the following words have disappeared from architectural publications: beauty, inspiration, magic, sorcery, enchantment, and also serenity, mystery, silence, privacy, astonishment. All of these have found a loving home in my soul." (CASA MEXICANA" ©1989 Tim Street-Porter)

Photography was not allowed in the house, however, it is the intangible qualities that Barragan describes above which make his architecture so special, qualities which cannot be fully described through photography or words but rather by experiencing the atmosphere of the house in reality.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera

Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera

This Hacienda built at the end of the 17th century and located 2.5km west of the city center was the home of Captain Gabriel de Barrera. The Hacienda was opened as a museum in 1979 and both the house and gardens have been carefully restored and maintained.

The Hacienda is arranged around a large internal garden which has been divided into a series of smaller which are seperated by level changes and high thick walls. The cool and dark interior spaces are reached through large covered verandas and patios which act as external rooms and create an interesting narrative of spaces which continually leads one in and out of the building. The views to the garden and to other patios from the external rooms creates a complex series of relationships between the various areas of the Hacienda and changing views through the building and to the garden.

Luis Barragan was heavily influenced by the architecture of Mexican Haciendas and the materials, relationship to the garden, overlapping of rooms and spaces, level changes, and internalisation of domestic life that is used in the Hacienda can be found in the architecture of Luis Barragan and in particular his own house and studio in Tacubaya.

Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera

Saturday, January 3, 2009



Guanajuato is a gorgeous city of winding narrow streets and brightly coloured buildings stacked on the steep slopes of a ravine. The area was settled in 1559 because of the silver and gold deposits in the area which were among the world's richest. The difficult topography has resulted in a dense city filled with some beautiful architecture and a fascinating subterranean world of tunnels which act as main roads across the city today. The city was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1988.

The series of small squares which are located along the main road are lined with small cafes and restaurants and overlooked by important cultural buildings or churches. The public spaces give the city a relaxed quality where public life is played out in the squares and streets.

The city is most easily navigated on foot, as the steep terrain and winding roads makes driving difficult. The lack of cars on the streets and squares off the main road and large pedestrians zones and number of people walking gives the city a safe and sociable atmosphere.


Friday, January 2, 2009

Museo Nacional de Antropología

Museo Nacional de Antropología

The Museo Nacional de Antropología (1963) designed by Pedro Ramirez Vasques is the centerpiece of the Chapultepec museum district. The gallery spaces are located in low rise late-modernist marble buildings around a large internal courtyard which is covered by a large canopy supported by a single carved bronze bronze column.

The building is surrounded by gardens which create a valuable buffer between the gallery spaces and Mexico City and are visible through large windows which let natural light into the gallery spaces. This important Mexican museum contains exhibitions that describes the history of Mexico and contains many important artifacts.

Museo Nacional de Antropologia

Museo Nacional de Antropología