Friday, 16 May 2014

A few hours in Macau

I recently visited Australia and had a brief stopover in Hong Kong on the way back. Whilst there I was able to spend a few hours in Macau, visiting the old, historical part of the city, exploring a place that I have long been fascinated with. 

Livraria Portuguesa.
I reached Macau by taking the ferry from the City Harbour terminal on Kowloon's Canton Road. The ticket office is huge, noisy (very noisy) and full of hundreds of people wanting to travel to Macau and to other destinations from a bewildering range of ferry companies. I decided to buy a ticket from the company whose ferry would be next to leave and boarded with several hundred other people for the one hour crossing. The experience was similar to boarding an aeroplane with passport checks, a departure lounge and numbered seats allocated to passengers. The crossing was comfortable and involved passing many small islands in the bay that give an idea of just how peaceful this place must have been before a century or more of development changed it forever. 

Sixty minutes later, I disembarked, went through a passport check with Macau immigration and emerged into a busy city to wait for the number three bus to take me to Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, which runs through the heart of the old city. This former Portuguese enclave was handed back to China in 1999 after more than 400 years of Portuguese control, having been leased from the Ming court in 1557 and the Portuguese influence can be seen everywhere in the old city, but more of that later.

The short bus ride from the ferry terminal to the centre took me past some amazing sites - and to be honest some amazingly ugly sites. Macau is known as a place to gamble, rivalling Las Vegas and since changes in legislation in 2001 opened up casino licensing, many new hotels and casinos have sprung up, vying with each other to be bigger, bolder and brasher in an attempt to win over gamblers. I just hope they don't get to encroach further on the old city and ruin this unique place.

Sam Kai Vui Kun Taoist temple
Normally I plan a route for my exploration but on the day I visited Macau I felt like wandering and seeing what I could find. The old centre was extremely hot - so hot that I could feel the skin on my arms burning and more worryingly, my hairless head. Not wanting to arrive back in Hong Kong looking like a tomato, I scouted around for a cap, finally asking in a t-shirt shop if they sold caps. The assistant smiled very nicely and said "no sorry" before I turned around to see a wall display of maybe 50 caps. Mmm. OK, my Cantonese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Patau are doubtless worse than her English. I got my cap and proceeded. 

My first stop was at the Taoist Sam Kai Vui Kun temple in Rua Sui do Mercado de Sao Domingos. At the moment there is a building site next door, but stepping through the door of the temple made negotiating the mess around the entrance worthwhile. The name means "a community hall for three streets" and once acted as a meeting place for merchants and then an adjudication court until 1912. Dedicated to Kwan Yu, the god of war and justice, the temple is filled with smoke coming from the joss sticks being burned to honour him and to offer prayers for a range of favours. Guests are welcome and I was able to wander freely, but respectfully, with my camera. The interior of the temple is alive with colours - reds, golds and greens with discs and spirals suspended from the ceiling and spectacularly colourful scenes painted on the interior of the main doors. The temple is a great place to spend a little quiet time in this crowded, busy city.  

Sam Kai Vui Kun Taoist temple - detail from door.
Just a short step from the Sam Kai Vui Kun temple and I was in the Lago do Senado standing in front of the yellow facade of the Church of Saint Dominic. Built in the 17th century, this baroque church is light and cool and has a beautiful altar and a timber roof. The green shutters on the facade add additional character to this landmark building. The church is surrounded by colourful buildings showing both Portuguese and Chinese influences whilst the Lago is covered in cream and black tiles…and hundreds of shoppers and sight seers. There is a museum within the building - the Treasury of Sacred Art containing religious themed paintings and objects. 

The peaceful atmosphere inside the church belies its sometimes tempestuous history. In 1644 it was the scene of the murder of a Spanish officer opposed to the colony's relationship with Portugal. Having entered the church to seek refuge from an angry mob he was killed at the foot of the altar whilst mass was being said. In 1707 soldiers were sent to the church to uphold a papal liturgical ruling to find that not only had the Dominican friars had closed the church, they also threw rocks at them! 

Church of Saint Dominic
The Lou Kau Mansion in Travesa de Se was built in 1889, commissioned by local merchant Lou Wa Sio, also known as Lou Kau. Lou was born in Guangdong and arrived in Macau in 1857. He originally worked in banking but introduced the Chinese lottery to Macau and became known as the city's first king of gambling. The Mansion was one of the highlights of my very short time in Macau. Built in Cantonese style but with clear Mediterranean elements, the simple grey facade conceals  a number of open and semi-enclosed rooms and courtyards, integrating inside and outside areas. The decorative motifs in the building show both Chinese and European influences and I particularly liked the wooden and stained glass screen dividing the reception area from the first courtyard. Free guided tours are available at weekends from the very friendly and welcoming staff.

Lou Kau Mansion
Lou Kau Mansion
Regular readers will be very familiar with my love of art deco architecture. I did not expect to see very much of this style during my few hours in Macau. I was then, very surprised that the first building I saw when getting off the bus on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro was the former Apollo Theatre built in 1935. It occupies a prominent spot opposite the Lado do Senado and has a green and white painted exterior, a glazed facade including curved glass and vertical lettering on the corner. A lovely example of style moderne it no longer operates as a theatre and the ground floor has been given over to retail. Its a bit of a showstopper - what a shame that part of the facade is covered with an enormous advert for Esprit. I understand that there are more modernist and art deco buildings elsewhere on Macau  and hope to track them down should I return. However, I did see the Macau Methodist Church which has some deco features on its exterior with its glazed stairwell, curved canopy over the entrance and decorative internal doors.

Former Apollo Theatre
Macau Methodist Church
As I wrote at the beginning of this post, the Portuguese influence can be seen everywhere. There are still a number of restaurants selling Portuguese food and the delicious Portuguese tart - the pasteis de nata - can be seen in many places. And of course, I sampled them! Azulejos - the traditional Portuguese ceramic tile can be seen everywhere, in the courtyards and on the walls of buildings and also on the walls around the outside of small squares where the locals sit to talk and relax. 

The Leal Senado building back on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro was built in 1784 in a style that had been popular in Portugal during the 14th and 15th centuries. Built as Macau's first municipal chamber, it retains that function today but is open to visitors who are able to walk through the inner courtyard and rest in the garden at the rear of the building. The stunning blue and white azulejos are complemented by the yellow flowers, emphasising the Mediterranean feel of some parts of Macau. The name of the building comes from a title bestowed on Macau by Portugal's King Joao lV, exiled to Brazil during the 1580-1640 Spanish domination of Portugal. Macau remained loyal to Joao, who in return gave the city the title "City of our name of God Macau, there is none more loyal" - leal being the Portuguese for loyal.

Carrying on the Portuguese theme, one of my favourite buildings is the Livraria Portuguesa (Portuguese book shop on Rua do Sao Domingos. The shop occupies the ground floor of a corner high rise building  which stands out due to its beautiful balconies decorated with blue and yellow ceramics. The Livraria is well worth a visit too. It stocks books in Portuguese and English, including fiction, travel and photographic books, many of them about Macau, as well as postcards and small souvenirs.

The Leal Senado
I had just three hours in Macau from getting off the ferry to getting back on the bus to the return terminal. The old centre is very compact and it was easy to see a lot in this short time and even to have a short coffee and ice cream break too! However there is a lot more to see and visit here - much of it listed in the UNESCO World Heritage listing. 

A few more pictures from Macau...





Sunday, 11 May 2014

Australian Art Deco - Melbourne City Centre

Melbourne's city centre, known as the CBD (central business district), is busy, bustling but relatively small. It is home to some world class galleries, museums, theatres and music venues. It is also home to a large number of well maintained, visually striking art deco and modernist buildings. The compact nature of the centre makes it possible to see several of them in one day.  In this post, I will explore some of my personal favourites, but there are many more to enjoy.

Bourke Street has many art deco buildings. Its one of those streets where you need to look up to see  the most interesting things as in some cases ground floors can appear fairly non descript due to their current use whilst the original features are still visible further up. One of the most striking is the former Norman's department store remodelled in 1935 to designs by Marcus Barlow. Outstanding for its decorative roofline and pink facade, it is now home to a branch of fast food chain Hungry Jacks but still retains an air of grandeur, guarding a prominent corner spot. Barlow was a bit of a trail blazer being the first to incorporate an escalator and air conditioning in his buildings. He also had a social conscience and was appointed to the Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board in 1936. His work is prominent in the city centre as he was also the architect for the landmark Century and Manchester Unity buildings.

Norman's Department Store, Bourke Street. Remodelled 1935, Marcus Barlow.
Yule House is tucked away in Little Collins Street behind the Royal Arcade, which is itself well worth a look and has a great coffee and cake stop at Caffe e Torta, an old style Italian cafe with great patisserie, snacks and atmosphere. The original building on the site was destroyed by fire in 1931 and the current Yule House, complete with fire proofing, was completed in 1932 to a design produced by Melbourne architects Oakley and Parkes who were also responsible for Kodak House in Collins Street. The House takes its name from one William Yule who owned the land from the early 1900's onwards. 

The building was one of Melbourne's earliest to exhibit streamline moderne features. The facade is covered in terracotta faience tiles with thin recessed strips of green tile defining the five floor levels. Large steel framed windows running the width of the building at each level maximise the light in this dark street and there is an asymmetrical parapet on the roof. Both the building's name and the year of its completion are displayed prominently on the facade in extremely elegant sans-serif typeface. Today there is retail space on the ground floor with offices above. Yule House was added to the Victorian State Heritage Register in 2010 at the suggestion of the Australian Art Deco and Modernism Society. It is a difficult building to photograph due to the very narrow street and the almost constant shadows. However, there is an upside to this, as the many detailed features are interesting to focus on. For fans of Dame Edna Everage, the alley to the side of Yule House has been named Dame Edna Place!

Yule House, Little Collins Street, 1932, Oakley and Parkes.
Yule House, Little Collins Street, 1932, Oakley and Parkes.
Alkira House in Queen Street was built in 1937 and was designed by James Wardrop. It was commissioned by soldier, lawyer, politician and businessman Harry Cohen and his mother Annie. Born in St. Kilda, Cohen was the first Jewish boy to attend St. Xavier's College, going on to be wounded twice during the First World War and to develop a successful business career before being elected to Parliament in 1929, representing Melbourne South. He twice served in a ministerial capacity before narrowly losing his seat in 1943.

But back to Alkira House. Despite being obscured by an extremely large tree (and therefore difficult to photograph), this is one of Melbourne's most attractive buildings from the 1930's. The facade features grey, green and black terracotta faience tiles as well as an imposing panel of glass bricks covering the stairway. It displays influences from the Netherlands and Germany where experimentation with glass, vitrolite and terracotta was taking place at the time the House was built. Despite the presence of the tree, Alkira House is an extremely flamboyant building with its contrasting colours, stylish lettering, a curved canopy above the ground floor and fins rolling back over the parapet. The facade carries a plaque noting the historical significance of the building and its inclusion on the State Heritage Register.

Alkira House, Queen Street. 1937, James Wardrop
Alkira House, Queen Street. 1937, James Wardrop
I love Mitchell House. Dominating the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets, I can't resist those columnless curves at the corners, crisp white exterior and the gold lettering at the roofline, announcing the name of this glorious building. Designed by Harry Norris and built in 1936 as an office block it still has a commercial function with a number of small businesses based on the upper floors and retail on the ground floor.

The side entrance at 358 Lonsdale Street also carries stylish lettering, and is clad in green tiles. When the main door is open its possible to see the green and orange terrazzo floor in the lobby and even to pass through the automatic doors and see the original lift entrances. Norris was also responsible for the former Coles department store - now David Jones - in Bourke Street. I understand that at one time there was a plan to demolish this treasure but fortunately this seems to have been dropped. Phew.

Mitchell House, Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets. 1936, Harry Norris.
Entrance, Mitchell House, Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets. 1936, Harry Norris
Some of the city centre's buildings are particularly interesting for their details. The exquisite mosaic mural on the facade of Newspaper House in Collins Street is perhaps the best example of this. Designed by Napier Waller for the Stephenson and Meldrum designed building in 1933, it bears the legend "I'll put a girdle around the earth". Located at first floor level and reading from left to right, it displays technological advance. Divided by two windows, the mural has retained its vibrant colours - golds, reds and greens - and continues to draw admiration from passers-by more than 80 years after its inception. When pointing my camera upwards from the road I aroused the interest of a small group of shoppers who also stopped to look at Waller's work. The building was originally home to the Herald and Weekly Times newspaper. One Theodore Fink, a director of the newspaper suggested the theme and title of the mural.

The Australian Natives Association building, in Elizabeth Street, was completed in 1939 also has an interesting decorative facade. The central panel includes four green tiled columns and images of native Australian fauna - a kangaroo and an emu. The Association was formed in Melbourne in 1871to promote national awareness. Over several decades the Association campaigned on a number of issues including women's suffrage, minimum wage, Aboriginal welfare and soil and water conservation.

Mural, Newspaper House, Collins Street. 1933, Napier Waller.
Detail, Australian Natives Association building, Elizabeth Street. 1939, Marsh and Michaelson.
The Manchester Unity building at 220-226 Collins Street has been a Melbourne landmark since it was built in 1932. It was commissioned by the unusually named Manchester Unity Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a charity and friendly society as their new headquarters. Marcus Barlow who we met earlier was commissioned to design the building and took inspiration, in part, from the Chicago Tribune building of 1927.

Built in record time - less than one year and 50,000 pounds within budget at a total cost of 600,000 pounds it is an example of speed and efficiency rarely seen today. Fire proofed and constructed from concrete and steel, the building benefitted from ultra modern technology included lifts, an air humidifier and air cooling in the warm weather managed by a huge basement level water tank and several tons of ice. It also had its own generator able to power the building should the electricity supply fail. 40 tons of mother of pearly coloured glazed terracotta were used in construction as well as more than 40,000 panes of glass. 

There were 23 shops and 7 kiosks on the ground floor and a cafe and tearoom in the basement. Businesses that have made their home in the building over the years include florists, dance teachers, dressmakers, jewellers, watchmakers, furriers, milliners and medical practitioners of all types, as well as more exotic professions including private detectives and a banjo school. There are many decorative features, especially at ground floor level where a series of designs showing aspects of Australian life are sand blasted on to black marble panels and freezes. A number of stories, rumours and scandals have been attached to the Manchester Unity building over the years including tales of flashers, conmen and occasional suicides whilst in 1978 three jewellers were murdered on the eight floor during what appeared to be a gangland diamond robbery.

In 2005 an extensive condition survey was commissioned by the Committee of Management of the Owners Corporation and a great deal of restoration has taken place since then. The Manchester Unity continues to be a busy landmark building and a symbol of the city.


Manchester Unity Building, Collins Street. 1932, Marcus Barlow.
Detail, Manchester Unity Building, Collins Street. 1932, Marcus Barlow.
Ground floor lift entrance, Manchester Unity Building, Collins Street. 1932, Marcus Barlow.
You might also like Australian Art Deco - treasures in Melbourne's suburbs and Australian Art Deco - Glenelg and Port Adelaide. For more pictures of Melbourne's art deco buildings click here.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Australian Art Deco - treasures in Melbourne's suburbs

Melbourne has a huge collection of stunning art deco and modernist buildings. Some of the best can be found in the city's suburbs and on my recent visit, I was able to see several of them thanks to Robin Grow and Robyn Saalfeld of the Australian Art Deco and Modernism Society. Many of the art deco and modernist buildings state from the latter half of the 1930's and a period when Melbourne was beginning to recover from economic depression. The extent of residential development during this period, the quality of design and technological and social issues addressed in some of these buildings demonstrate a new confidence in the city and for me are evidence of the real age of "marvellous Melbourne".

Tuffnell Lodge, Garden Avenue, East Melbourne. I.G. Anderson, 1939-40.
Garden Avenue in East Melbourne is a short drive from the city centre. It contains a former guest house and a number of apartment blocks from the 1930's, all designed by I.G. Anderson which accounts for the unity of the design style, despite each building being unique. This cul-de-sac was part of a response to demand for well designed, functional homes at an affordable price for young white collar workers. It would be easy to write a whole post on Garden Avenue, but I have selected two buildings to focus on.

Tuffnell Lodge was jointly designed by Anderson and Frank Butt and built between 1939 and 1940.  A triangular site containing 12 flats, it emphasises style moderne features and has angled and stepped forms. I particularly like the stepped concrete band that recedes from the angular balcony at the corner of the building and the glazed, steel framed staircase tower. Tuffnell Lodge is extremely close to the railway line and so required additional concrete to reinforce the foundations.  

Technically, Quest is in Wellington Parade, but this spectacular apartment building, originally known as Glensborough and built in 1938, stands at the junction with Garden Avenue and is a key component of the development. At one stage it was also known as Islanders Place. This is because it was for a time the property of the Republic of Nauru and was used to accommodate Nauruans working or studying in Melbourne. Originally built as a guest house for young city workers it had a communal lounge, dining rooms, laundries, two 2-bedroom units and 47 single rooms. It must have been the classiest "hostel" in Australia! The curved steel framed stair window at the south-east corner is the most outstanding feature, and makes use of curved glass. Quest was refurbished in 2006 in order to be used as serviced apartments.

Quest, Wellington Parade, East Melbourne. I.G. Anderson, 1938.

Arthur W. Plaisted was a prolific architect during the inter-war years, designing residential properties, shops, offices, garages and churches in a variety of styles. Park Towers, a three storey block of 18 apartments in Adams Street, South Yarra is one of his most significant works. Built in 1938 it consists of two centrally facing staggered blocks maximising street views and enabling a driveway leading to an open court at the rear as well as drive-ins to the basement garages that can accommodate 22 cars. There are deliciously curved balconies (although some have been enclosed) whilst the blocks are entered through twin doorways with plate glass windows, surrounded by polished hardwood frames and featuring green glazed tiles. Originally, each flat had a large bedroom, modern kitchen and dining area with telephones and disposal chutes leading to hidden incinerators. Central refrigeration and heating was also provided. Luxury indeed.


St. Kilda is a popular seaside suburb with a long history of attracting visitors to its theatres, shops, cafes and famous Luna Park. It is also home to several great art deco buildings. One of my favourites is Woy Woy on Marine Parade. Designed by Geoffrey Mewton and built in 1935-6, it is a simple three storey modernist building. Woy Woy is devoid of ornament and shows influences picked up by Mewton on his European travels, for example those of Mies van der Rohe in the Weissenhof Seidlung development in Stuttgart. I like the sheltered entrance and of course, the lettering used to display the building's name over the entrance lobby. The lettering is the only decorative element on this most austere building. The block is named for a coastal town in New South Wales.

Woy Woy, Marine Parade, St. Kilda. Geoffrey Mewton, 1935-6.
The Elwood suburb was named after Quaker Thomas Ellwood who had a passion for English poetry which explains why so many of the streets in the area are named after poets. In the second decade of the twentieth century, a significant amount of swampland was reclaimed there, which made it possible for rapid development to take place in the 1920's and 1930's, leaving a significant collection of apartments in our favourite style. 

Windermere at 49 Broadway is one of Melbourne's (and the world's?) best examples of Streamline Moderne design for residential buildings. It is a work of art and which has prompted my friend, architectural historian Valentin Mandache to refer to it as "dreamline" and I completely agree with him. Designed by Melbourne architect James Esmond Dorney, it was built in 1936 for a Mrs E.B. Mitchell. Dorney was  a leading architect in the style and was responsible for a number of apartment buildings in Elwood. Windermere is a two storey apartment block with three flats on each floor. Although the finish is primarily render, there are some interesting exposed brick details between the windows on both floors. The facade of the building is breath taking with its semi-circular projecting balcony, cylinder above the roofline and asymmetrical design. The building name is discretely lettered at ground floor level and there is a flat roof with a sun deck. A thing of great beauty, I could have happily gazed at Windermere for a very long time!  

Windermere, Broadway, Elwood. James Esmond Dorney, 1936, 
Windermere is a real favourite of mine, but has a rival in Awatea, a large house in Redcourt Avenue, Armadale. Built in 1938 and designed by R. and M. King, Awatea is a Maori word meaning bright pathway. Built for an hotelier, the original design included a ballroom on the ground floor and a billiard room above the double garage at the rear of the building. Brick rendered, the facade features lines of vermillion-orange tiles and dark red bricks that attract the viewer's attention. There is also a stylised metal front door and a futuristic letterbox that could be mistaken for a spaceship! 

Mon Reve is just around the corner from Redcourt Avenue in Hampden Road. Designed by  our friend, Melbourne architect, I. G. Anderson and built in 1937, this two storey, flat roofed, steel reinforced concrete house is another Melbourne show stopper and would not look out of place in Miami. The exterior includes a stair tower with narrow windows bearing geometric designs, a series of balconies and the pole supported entrance canopy, whilst the original interior included a ballroom (another one!) and then ultra-modern items including an incinerator, underground electrical wiring and a bomb proof room beneath the tower. Clearly the owners were ready for anything from parties to an air raid! Mon Reve suffered significant unsympathetic change over several years before being restored to its original state by the current owner.

Awatea, Redcourt Avenue, Armadale. R. and M. King, 1938.
Mon Reve, Hampden Road, Armadale. I.G. Anderson, 1937.
Melbourne also boasts a large number of non-residential buildings in the art deco and modernist styles. The Orrong Hotel on the corner of High Street and Orrong Road in Armadale was built in 1940 to the designs of architect James Wardrop. It's prominent corner location shows off its wonderful streamline styling, dominated by a stepped vertical fin. The signage on the upper level of the fin and the red stripe at the top of the lowest level add a splash of colour to this otherwise monotone building. Robin told me that the hotel has a long horse shoe-shaped bar which was designed to deal with the 6 pm panic that took place in Australian bars during the years that this was "drinking-up time". Wardrop worked on a number of projects with Phillip Hudson and together they designed the Melbourne War Memorial, completed in 1923. He was also responsible for the stunning Alkira House in the city centre, which I will write about separately.

Orrong Hotel, High Street and Orrong Road, Armadale. James Wardrop, 1940.
There are also a number of art deco sports facilities in Melbourne. My tour of the suburbs included a visit to the original home of Hawthorn, the Aussie Rules football club at Glenferrie Oval. Designed by Stuart Calder, it opened in 1938 on an extremely tight site that meant that the crowd were very close to the players - and to the referee who I understand was occasionally the recipient of discarded beer cans thrown by disgruntled fans! Its hard to believe that in 1965, almost 37,000 people crowded into the stadium to see Hawthorn play Carlton. 

The stand is full of delicious curves and lines, glass bricks and portholes that add to the nautical appearance of the stand. Hawthorn has a larger, more modern stadium these days, but Glenferrie Oval is a thing of great beauty and an amazing example of great architecture on a challenging site. Like Wardrop, Calder had a good pedigree in the art deco/ modernist world having had a hand in the design of the former McPherson's building in Collins Street in the City Centre.

Former Hawthorn Football Club, Glenferrie Oval, Hawthorn. Stuart Calder, 1938.
It is only possible to give a few examples of Melbourne's wealth of art deco and modernist buildings here, but there are two excellent books that are well worth purchasing. A new edition of Melbourne Art Deco by Robin Grow is about to be published so is an absolute must buy for art deco fans (and I will post details on this blog as soon as it is available), whilst A Spirt of Progress by Patrick van Daele and Roy Lumby is a more general survey of the style in Australia.

More posts coming soon, but in the meantime you might also like Australian art deco - Glenelg and Port Adelaide