Friday, 20 July 2012

A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves*

However, before I start, a general word of caution around predicting the British weather (and by default getting our hopes up due to our pervasive and misplaced meteorological optimism…);

“Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rung the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way... well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't…” (Michael Fish).

It’s one of the most famously misattributed quotes in Met Office history (I know that makes it sound terrific but I suspect there aren’t actually many others)… you may need to ‘Google it’ to get the point – put simply, don’t believe everything you hear on the weather forecast – the meteorological boffins won’t actually admit it, but they don’t really know where the jet stream is going wander off to next…

Anyway, and don’t quote me on this, with the weather supposedly set to improve during the course of the next week (just in time for the Olympics, although rumour has it they are also going to seed the clouds with silver iodide in advance of the opening ceremony like they did in Beijing to make it rain and clear the skies), we might all finally get to use our waterlogged outside space and BBQs. This will be a huge relief for my husband who bought an absolutely spectacular Weber BBQ two months ago (which is so big it casts a shadow over our house) and it hasn’t stopped raining since. I and most of our friends have been blaming him almost exclusively for the truly awful summer to date…

Now I know it’s an oft used cliché, but the whole concept of ‘inside out’ – taking your home/living space to your garden – is becoming even more important (and super cool). In short, what’s the point of having a nicely designed home if your garden lets the whole scheme down? Gardens and patios are becoming another important space in the home (particularly in Londinium, where space is always at a premium), with more and more people wanting it to act properly as an additional room in the house – a space that functions as an additional living room, a dining room and a kitchen (but preferably not as a bathroom)… As a consequence, outdoor furniture has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. Now you will typically find that lots of outdoor furniture is barely distinguishable from items that you might find inside your home (but also worth bearing in mind that this stuff needs the care and attention that we associate with traditional outdoor furniture – very easy to forget when it looks like a sofa). More and more furniture is being designed to meet the design brief of ‘an outdoor living room’ and as a consequence the furniture is becoming more comfortable and with higher quality upholstery/finishes (refer once again to the important point on care and attention…). For many clients, the most important factors when it comes to outdoor furniture are comfort and durability. So, forget cheap rattan and painted metal – these are being replaced by more technologically advanced and durable materials and, with the development of synthetic fibers, new sun and weather resistant materials and new advanced molding techniques, the possibilities are almost endless… Just a few years ago, the number of attractive outdoor fabrics was also hugely restricted – again, these have come on leaps and bounds. There are now a number of fabric houses that produce outdoor fabrics that are so fantastic I have on occasion considered using them inside…. in fact, I actually did on the design of a super yacht I have just completed.

Here are just a few images of gardens that I would love to be chillaxing in during the next few days – the days between when the Met Office says that the weather is actually supposed to improve and the artificial downpours created by the silver iodide in the clouds over London… As for the sun, I’ll genuinely believe it when I see it…

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(Image from blissblog via aubrey road)

*Marcel Proust (yet another French novelist…)

Friday, 6 July 2012

Tala íslensku? No, didn’t think so…

We have just returned from a much needed long weekend in Iceland, which was genuinely wonderful – it is a truly amazing and inspirational country. The landscape is out of this world (literally – I have no doubt it’s where they filmed the Apollo moon landings and are currently scouting locations for the missions to Mars)… from the huge contrasts of inhospitable black lava fields to the glistening white glaciers – it’s just breathtaking…. In addition to the wondrous landscape there was one piece of architecture the really blew me away – a new Icelandic landmark – the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall, which opened in 2011 and sparkles in the Icelandic sun (which at this time of year shines 24 hours a day, which is pretty awesome in itself – it also makes you freak out a bit so it’s no wonder they’re all mad…).

The initial concept design was developed in 2004 and it is clearly a product of Iceland's recent past… a product of the years of ‘magic money’ rather than the new normal - it definitely arrived late for the party. And in a town where the standard building type is a two-storey house clad in corrugated steel, it really stands out.

When the bank financing the development crashed during the global financial crisis many, if not all, Icelanders took an obvious position – with people losing their homes and jobs and industries across the country dying, an expensive oversized concert hall was not a priority. But its structure was already four storeys out of the ground and, faced with the alternative of abandoning it as an unfinished build and symbol of failure, the government pressed on towards completion. Now the official blurb declares Harpa ‘a symbol of Iceland's renewed dynamism’… Marketing. Bless.

The facade of Harpa is actually the work of an artist, the Icelandic-Dane, Olafur Eliasson (who gets more attention than the architects, Henning Larsen). Olafur Eliasson came up with a tilted cliff face made of multiple hexagonal glass tubes, which he calls quasi bricks – these are stackable twelve sided modules manufactured in steel and glass, with coloured and mirrored panes inserted here and there to break things up and to add contrast. Unsurprisingly, he was inspired by shapes and patterns made by nature - Iceland is rich in unique natural phenomena, such as the crystallised basalt columns, which the quasi brick resembles.

The exterior wall of the opera house is a double wall of glass ‘cells’ – the hexagonal tubes have glass at the back as well as the front, which provides natural depth. It means that light inhabits the facade rather than just bouncing off it. Eliasson's crystals filter, reflect and fragment the light very effectively – they catch it, play with it, animate it and make it move.

Unlike the Sydney Opera House, Harpa is as impressive from the inside as it is from the exterior. Inside, the hexagons continue, forming a faceted and mirrored ceiling to the foyer. Between Eliasson's light and the main auditorium, which apparently has ‘a clarity of acoustic that has reportedly moved performers to tears of joy’ comes the architecture of Henning Larsen, and an inner core of dark concrete (the colour of Iceland's lava fields), which acts as a foil for the exterior and a container for the interior. This inner core stands inside the glass box, and forms the basis for the inner walls, balconies and stairs of the foyer.

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Love it or hate it (many local people think that the Harpa is misplaced and looks like ‘a 64-inch TV inside a caravan’), I personally thought it was an absolutely astonishing piece of architecture… and don’t get me started on the cathedral…
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