Thursday 30 May 2013

Modernism, an elegant swimming pool and Red Vienna

Vienna is rightfully well known for its art nouveau, baroque and classicist architecture, but few visitors realise that the city is also a treasure trove of modernist buildings, dating mainly from the 1920's, many of which were designed by some of the century's leading architects. Furthermore, overwhelmed by the opulence of the Ringstrasse area, many visitors are unaware of Vienna's experiments in social housing during its first period of socialist city government that commenced in 1919 and is often referred to as Red Vienna. On my recent visit to the city, I was able to visit many of the remaining modernist structures of the period and to learn some of the stories connected to their development.

I first discovered the architect and designer Josef Frank on a visit to Stockholm a few years ago. Frank was born in Vienna and worked in the city as an architect until leaving Austria in 1933 for the United States and then Sweden where he settled, driven out of his homeland by anti-semitism. He was to go on to join and lead the famed Swedish design company Svenskt Tenn, which continues to produce high quality interior design items today.

Vienna, May 2013 by Yekkes

Although Frank had been the only non-German architect to participate in the Weissenhof project in Stuttgart in 1927, he felt that this scheme placed too much emphasis on new building technologies and construction styles. He was more interested in exploring spatial and functional solutions to housing and managed to persuade the GESIBA, the municipally owned property development company, to approve and support a new project in Vienna. Work began in 1930 at a time when an economic crisis was looming and Frank was only able to continue due to the private financing of his project. He managed to persuade a stellar cast of architects to work on his scheme for 70 homes of different sizes, shapes and layouts. His team included Dutch modernist Gerrit Rietveld, Frenchman Andre Lurcat and fellow Austrians Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos, Richard Neutra and Otto Niedermoser as well as the female architect Grete Schutte-Lihotzky.  With other colleagues they managed to design a stunning ensemble of modernist buildings on the leafy outskirts of Vienna that is perhaps the finest group of modernist buildings in Europe with its iconic tower block by Lurcat (pictured above) and its variety of takes on the style.

Vienna, May 2013 by Yekkes

The architects experimented with a variety of approaches - Lurcat with a system of prefrabrication, Loos with a reduced spatial plan and Neutra blurred the divisions between interior and exterior - all methods that were to become commonplace in future years. The Werkbund Siedlung is located in Hietzing, one of the city's greener and most affluent areas. Visitors are free to walk around the estate but should remember that people live here and that it is not a museum. As well as Lurcat's towers, I especially like Hoffman's villa at Veitingergasse 85 (pictured above), and yes, that is a life size figure of Tin Tin and his dog looking out of the window! The rear of the property has a beautiful lush green  field-like space that makes visitors feel like they are in the country rather than a busy capital city. The small block at Woinovichgasse 14-20  (pictured below) by Rietveld is another favourite of mine. It looks extremely modern, belying its 83 years of history and has a decidedly Dutch or Scandinavian look compared to its neighbours. 
Vienna, May 2013 by Yekkes

Frank had originally intended the properties to be rentals for middle income tenants but the prevailing economic conditions precluded this and they were sold off privately at huge prices. Today, the whole site is highly valued by Vienna and by architectural historians. In recent years the city authorities paid for restoration to all of the properties but only on the proviso that no material changes were made to them. Quite right too.

Frank himself designed some of the homes, but in my view, his best work in this part of the city can be found at Wenzgasse 12 - the Haus Beer, named after Julius Beer who worked on the house with Frank. Built between 1929 and 1931 it overlaps with Frank's larger project but is a significant work in itself. It is about half way between the Hietzing U-bahn station and the Werkbund Siedlung - but be warned, it is a very long walk with practically nowhere to stop on the way, so it might be better to research buses and trams. Also, there were no taxis to be seen at the station despite there being a formal taxi stand there.

The design of the house is important as it represents a departure from what Frank considered to be unnecessary uniformity, with an asymmetrical facade, various kinds of windows and openings and one part of the structure mounted on stilts. When I visited the house appeared abandoned and the postbox on the perimeter fence was sealed up. It was hard to see the property from the street due to the garden being overgrown so I bravely tried the gate and snook in to take a few pictures. The Iranian Embassy is in the same street and it appears that an adjoining property also belongs to the Iranians - both interesting buildings but not a good idea to photograph them and no chance of sneaking into the gardens! Frank considered Haus Beer to be one of his best works. It is pictured below.

Vienna, May 2013 by Yekkes

But modernist Vienna is not all white modernist neatness. There is also a grittier end in the shape of several real social housing projects developed in the 1920's and early 1930's during the city's period of socialist rule. Perhaps the most well known is the Karl Marx Hof at Heiligenstadt in the north of the city. This huge block with 1,382 residential units was built between 1926 and 1930 and has been called "a kilometre of art deco".  It is the work of architect Karl Ehn who won a design competition for this project which stands on a narrow strip of meadow between a main road and a railway line. Maybe that's where Fairview got their ideas from (!) Ehn cleverly placed the structures around the borders of his site, enabling the provision of a huge green space at the rear of the main block (pictured below) which includes six broad arches and a six towered edifice. Ehn intended the arches to welcome the returning masses of workers to their homes after a hard days labour.

Vienna, May 2013 by Yekkes

Ehn also had an eye for public art and four ceramic sculptures by Josef Riedl adorn the middle green space-facing facade, representing "Freedom" "Care" "Enlightenment" and "Body Culture". Opened by the socialist mayor, Karl Seitz on October 12th 1930, the Karl Marx Hof came to be seen as a model for socialist workers or communal housing. As well as apartments, the project contained two central laundries, two large bath houses with steam baths, two kindergartens, a dentist, a mother's advice centre, a worker's library, a TB clinic, a youth centre, post office, pharmacy, restaurants , 25 shops and many other facilities. The provision of worker libraries was felt to be a key element of all of the Red Vienna housing developments. By 1932 over 1,000 volunteer librarians staffed these 60 or so libraries across the city with over 2 million books being borrowed from them in 1932. That's a staggering statistic and one that many London local authorities would be proud of today. The larger estates also had a separate reading room and a small children's library. Hygiene, well being and general health were encouraged through the provision of the washing facilities but also through providing physical exercise rooms and in 1931, the city went so far as to build a new stadium in just 23 months to stage the second Workers' Olympiad!

Many of these developments took place within ten years of the devastating effects of the First World War, with limited amounts of money and during a time of great paucity of good quality affordable building materials. Whatever one's political views the committed and determined approach to progress has to be admired. It is possible to walk through the estate and see (from the outside) some of the modernist and art deco features normally associated with homes of the wealthy, that have been incorporated into this huge social housing project. Some of these features are reminiscent of the approach of the Amsterdam School in the Netherlands. An example of this is the unusual block pictured below with its port hole windows, contrasting colours and decorative corner brickwork.

Vienna, May 2013 by Yekkes

One of the laundries is now given over to a small but fascinating museum on Red Vienna. Unfortunately the museum's captions are only in German, but for 3 Euros visitors can buy a small English language booklet that explains the key exhibits. As well as photographs, banners and posters from workers movements and election campaigns, the museum has a small May Day exhibition and film on the upper floor whilst the plan of a typical apartment is marked out in the main exhibition, showing just how little private space working people had even in this much improved accommodation. 

The exhibition also covers some of the leading characters in the labour movement during this period, including Viktor AdlerJulius Tandler, Hugo Breitner and Robert Danneberg all of whom although not  religious Jews were born into Jewish families. Nowhere does the exhibition acknowledge this or the Jewish contribution to improving the lot of the poor in Vienna during this period, amazingly, even where it mentions the deportation of several leading figures to Auschwitz, Theresienstadt and other camps.

Whilst in Vienna, I was also able to squeeze in visits to a couple of other projects from this period including the Raben Hof housing complex in the third district. Another huge site, Raben Hof has 1,100 units and is located on the site of a former barracks. It predates the Karl Marx Hof having been built between 1925 and 1928. Designed by architects Heinrich Schmid and Hermann Aichinger, former pupils of the great Otto Wagner and who completed several projects for the Social Democratic city government.

Their designs for the Raben Hof include decorative brick paneling closely resembling that of the Amsterdam School as well as some charming and unexpected communal courtyards such as the one pictured below. As with the Karl Marx Hof, the Raben Hof provided access for its residents to a kindergarten, public library and central laundry whilst its former main foyer was converted into a theatre in 1990. A "red carpet" is painted on to the approach to the theatre doors, making a star of everyone!

Vienna, May 2013 by Yekkes

Part of the Social Democrat city government's programme for working class housing conditions was to make wider improvements in the field of public hygiene. This included the provision of social and cultural facilities, perhaps the most significant example of this is the Amalienbad public swimming pool at Reumannplatz in the tenth district. As well as a swimming pool, the Amalienbad includes a therapeutic baths, showers, hairdressers, a restaurant and rentable bathtubs. Designed by architects Otto Nadel and Karl Schmalhofer and built between 1923 and 1926 for 1,300 visitors, the lobby (pictured below) features stunning ceramic mosaic walls and floors with entrance portals giving the feeling of having entered a temple. Perhaps this was the intention of the architects - that it should be a temple of good health for the workers of Vienna. The baths are still in use today.

Vienna, May 2013 by Yekkes

Vienna's brief period of social progress and change that followed the First World War ended abruptly in 1933 when the Austrian Fascists seized power and Parliament was dissolved. May day marches were forbidden and the city descended into chaos with shooting in the streets between left and right wingers. The Karl Marx Hof residents experienced this first hand during the disturbances of 1934 when the Fascists opened fire on it. The next few years saw increasing repression from the home grown Fascists which ended with Anschluss or union with Germany in 1938. Many of the leading lights in the Red Vienna period were murdered over the following several years, but their legacy remains in the city's built heritage.

See more pictures of Vienna's architecture here.

Sunday 19 May 2013

2 Willow Road - Goldfinger in Hampstead

During the 1930's Hampstead became a magnet for progressive artists and writers due (amazingly today!) to the then relatively cheap property prices and the attractions of the Heath. An artists colony developed from the lower parts of Hampstead Village as far as Belsize Park. By the late 1930's, there were even rival factions in the colony with the Surrealists and the Abstractionists following different manifestos, despite both being politically left-wing. 

This creative milieu was joined by many refugees from Germany, Austria and other parts of central Europe as the European mainland became increasingly uncomfortable for  Jews, left-wingers and progressive artists and intellectuals. Architect Erno Goldfinger had come to London from Paris in 1934 and together with his British born wife and young son moved into a flat in the iconic High Point 1 apartment building in Highgate. High Point was designed by Berthold Lubetkin, who like Goldfinger was an Eastern European Jew - Goldfinger having been born in Budapest and Lubetkin in Tbilisi (now Georgia, formerly the Soviet Union) - and a professional rival.

Goldfinger wanted to build a house for his wife and family and acquired a piece of land in Willow Road, occupied by four small cottages built partly below the level of the road. His proposal was to demolish these buildings and to construct a modernist home for his family as part of a block of flats, but his detailed designs were rejected by the Council and he had to re-think his project. The final design included three properties (as today), the largest being the Goldfinger family home in the centre (number 2), flanked by smaller properties that were to be sold to finance the construction. 

Again his designs met with opposition. The then Hampstead Borough Council demanded a greater proportion of wall to window than he intended for the central feature windows at the front of the house. As if this wasn't enough, one Henry Brooke, secretary of the Heath and Old Hampstead Protection Society wrote a letter to the local press that sparked controversy and ran for several weeks before Goldfinger finally secured the necessary approvals. Numbers 1-3 Willow Road were finally completed in summer 1939, just a short time before the outbreak of war in September of that year. The much longed for family home was short lived as the by then two Goldfinger children, were evacuated to Canada - although they did return towards the end of the war. 

So what of the house? Many of its original features have been retained by the National Trust who now have care of the property. The ground floor lobby gives immediately on to a spiral staircase leading to the upper floors. The staircase is narrow but captures light from a skylight which together with the lobby lamps makes interesting shapes and patterns on the walls that must change throughout the course of the day. The balustrade is made of rope and Peter Goldfinger, the architect's son remembers it being re-tensioned every two or three years. Speaking of interesting shapes, the glass walls at the entrance are frosted - that's a good thing as they afford views of guests using the ground floor toilet!

The first floor is perhaps the most interesting space. It is extremely flexible and can either be a single large space or three separate rooms by virtue of a series of sliding doors. The short film that visitors see before touring the house makes reference to the glittering parties that the family held here over many years and which were attended by artists, writers, architects and other leading cultural figures of the day. Much of the furniture was designed by Goldfinger who also collected sculpture, painting and various objets d'art. The family art collection is impressive and includes works by Marx Ernst, Fernand Leger, Marcel Duchamp and Henry Moore. Like many intellectuals of their time, the Goldfingers were pro-Soviet and in 1942 staged an art exhibition in their home, the proceeds of which were donated to the Soviet war effort. Also like many left wing intellectuals of their time, they were what might be termed "champagne socialists" keeping servants to help run the house.

Still on the first floor, the spaces include a dining area, a room once used as a studio by Ursula, Erno's wife and a member of the Blackwell family (as in Cross and Blackwell - the soup people) and a sitting room at the rear of the floor. The studio is particularly fascinating, with a platform lit for posing and a collection of Erno's magazines, books and some of his professional papers. It seems that over time, the room became less of an artist's studio and more of a home working space for our man. The lounge is a fantastic space with a white painted convex screen wall, which supports a decorative cast-iron fire back held in a dark steel frame. There is also a green marble hearthstone which is flush with the parquet flooring. Just beautiful.  This room includes one of the quirkier pieces of art - a circulating spiral decorated, blue and white disc by Marcel Duchamp. It is operated from a wall switch and must have been extremely technologically advanced for its time. I looked at it for all of thirty seconds before feeling dizzy. I can imagine viewers becoming hypnotised by its never ending spiral!

There are books everywhere at 2 Willow Road. There are books on art, science, history, cookery and just about anything you could think of. There are also many works of fiction, which brings us to the "other" Goldfinger, known to fans of James Bond films and novels. Goldfinger had a reputation for being almost impossible to work with. Many employees parted company with him after very short periods of time - weeks for some, days for others due to what appears to have been a somewhat over-bearing personality, unable to tolerate dissent, disagreement or mistakes. However, there are also stories about him displaying unsolicited acts of generosity and of being able to accept a different point of view - so long as he could claim it as his own afterwards! For some reason, Ian Fleming, writer of the James Bond novels did not like Goldfinger and used the name for one of his "baddies". Erno Goldfinger was an extremely tall man but the film of the book cast an extremely small actor Gert Frobe in the role. The book describes the villain as a complete megalomaniac and an utterly obnoxious individual. Erno considered suing, but was advised against it by friends. The reasons for Fleming's depiction of Goldfinger are not clear, however he was openly anti-semitic, so who knows if this was a consideration?

Back to the house. The upper floor is where the five bedrooms are. These are fairly spartan spaces, not especially large and with only minimal furniture. The back three rooms are currently set out as a single room. This space was once the nursery, divided into three with the nanny's tiny room in the middle and her two charges in he rooms on each side of her. In later years, Erno's mother, Regina, moved into this space bringing her heavy Austro-Hungarian style furniture with her. I wonder what he thought of that! These rear rooms look over a large and beautiful garden that was once home (for more than 20 years) to a Henry Moore sculpture, left there by a family friend who eventually took it back to sell it!

The main bedroom has built in cupboards, again, extremely modern for the 1930's, one of which is not a cupboard, but a door into a rather roomy and stylish en-suite bathroom which contains a number of small items in 1930's packaging - a nice touch. There is also an enormous wash-basin hidden in a cupboard in the very spartan guest room and a second bathroom on this floor. 

Goldfinger has a mixed legacy. The Willow Road house is acknowledged as a significant modernist building, but he achieved notoriety for the design of two enormous social housing projects for the former Greater London Council, Trellick Tower in North Kensington and Balfron Tower in the east end. Much criticised in later years, Goldfinger truly believed in his designs, going so far as to move his family into a flat on the 27th and top floor of Balfron Tower for a couple of months in 1967. He also designed the monolithic Alexander Fleming House for the Ministry of Health at the Elephant and Castle. Following many problems in the 1970's and 1980's, all three of these buildings have had major works completed and are being sold off at huge prices. Alexander Fleming House is now a residential development known as Metro Central Heights with substantial prices being paid for flats there whilst in January this year a flat on the 31st and top floor of Trellick Tower was sold for more than 330, 000 pounds!

In fairness, Goldfinger's career was interrupted by the war. When building began again in the 1950's he was competing with younger, homegrown architects and found it hard to gain commissions. However 2 
Willow Road remains a real treasure of British modernist architecture and perhaps opinion on his larger, later works will change as their value increases. 

Friday 17 May 2013

Picture post 18 - Majolica House, Vienna

Vienna by Yekkes

This time next week, I will be in Vienna for the first time since 2006. Looking through some old photographs as part of my preparation for the visit, I came across this one from last time.

Numbers 38 and 40 Linke Wienzeile, better known as the Majolica House, and pictured above, are probably my favourite art nouveau buildings in Vienna and are the work of the architect Otto Wagner. Born in Penzing, now part of Greater Vienna, in 1841, he was responsible for many of Vienna's iconic buildings as well as, rather interestingly, the Rumbach synagogue in Budapest. He was also a founder member of the enormously influential Vienna Secession together with Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Joseph Hoffman and others.

Wagner took both contracting and architectural responsibilities for this ensemble meaning he had almost total creative control and practically free reign to realise his vision. This included covering number 40 in   colourful stoneware tiles which led to the building acquiring its "Majolica House" nickname. It is the colours and floral designs that first strike the first time visitor, together with the gold plated relief medallions that decorate the facade of number 38. The medallions were designed by Koloman Moser. The photograph above centres on the small, rounded balconies where the two addresses link, the deep green "vegetation" on the tiles and the leaf motifs on the iron work must have been designed to give the resident a feeling of having their own garden!

The block became the epitome of modern city living not just because of the beautiful exterior, but because Wagner installed bathrooms and elevators and used a clever floor layout to configure space in an optimal way. The apartments also had uniformly designed basic furnishings - predating the more recent trend to this approach by a whole century! Critic and writer Ludwig Hevesi wrote "The interior furnishings of these houses, as a unified whole in the thoroughly modern form, at once aesthetic and practical, is really something epochal". It certainly was.

The block extends around the corner, taking in number 1 Kostlergasse and it is in this part of the building that Wagner established an apartment for himself. Described as a "night lodging" to differentiate from his real home in Huttledorf, it still boasted a bathroom, water-closet, kitchen, dining room and an ante-chamber, but lacked the salon and library of his other residences. But who needed extra rooms when the bathroom was a colossal 5.28 by 2.91 metres with a ceiling height of 3.6 metres. Not to mention the bath being made from glass with a nickel painted frame construction. The bath became so celebrated and well-known that it featured in an 1898 exhibition organised to celebrate Emperor Franz Josef having served fifty years on the throne.

The Majolica House is located directly opposite the wonderful Nachsmarkt and a short walk from the Secession and other important sites. There are many cafes close-by too - and we all know about Viennese patisserie...

More pictures of Vienna here and here.
UPDATE! For more on art nouveau in Vienna see here.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Children of the sun - Gorky at the National Theatre

Moscow September 2012 by Yekkes

Early on in Maxim Gorky's "Children of the Sun" currently playing at the National Theatre, Protasov, the chemist, complains that if no-one watches his experiment heating then it will boil over and be ruined. The same principle is explored thoughout the course of the play with Protasov (and others) neglecting to watch over their relationships and more importantly, neglecting to watch over developments outside of their comfortable surroundings.

Written in 1905, the play follows the relationships of a group of bourgeois intellectuals, their quarrels, desires, infidelities and inadequacies, played out against the background of growing discontent amongst the villagers, representing the "masses" of Tsarist Russia, most of whom lived in abject poverty and ignorance. These people are represented by the servants and a random vagrant who are treated as either figures of fun or part of the furniture by the circle of scientist, veterinarian, artist and their company. 

The old, accepting working class is represented by the ever dutiful elderly nanny who is also treated disrespectfully despite her devotion, whilst the younger servants grow openly scornful of their masters and in their own way rebel or revolt against them. Furthermore, as the hapless Melania, searching for love but not knowing how to find it, eventually recognises - everything in this society appears to be for sale - cloth and meat - and people too. Melania wants to buy love from the married and unobtainable Protasov whilst other characters discuss the cost of their love - in roubles. Meanwhile, Protasov's delicate sister Lisa has premonitions of approaching tragedy but is considered to be "unwell". This theme of "sickness" recurs throughout the play, again connected to poverty and ignorance.  

Gorky wrote the play in 1905 in response to the failed attempt at revolution that took place during that year and despite setting it in the 1860's, non-one was fooled. At first the Tsarist authorities banned it. When the ban was lifted, it was first performed in the Moscow Art Theatre in October 1905 where the performance had to be halted in the third act when off-stage noises from the mob caused panic in the theatre with patrons thinking the noises were coming from the street. The original cast included Olga Knipper, Chekhov's wife as Lisa and Vassili Kachalov as Protasov. It was Kachalov that calmed the audience enabling it to continue.

Gorky was briefly imprisoned during the Tsarist regime and became close to the pinnacle of the Soviet regime, including to Stalin. However, the dictator turned against him, placing him under house arrest, and it is widely thought that Gorky's death was the result of poisoning on Stalin's orders in 1936. Cynically, Stalin was one of the pall bearers at Gorky's funeral. During one of the many show trials of the late 1930's, former Soviet Bukharin was accused of being party to Gorky's murder. It is unlikely that the truth will ever be known.

Returning to the current production, there were outstanding performances from Lucy Black as Melania, Emma Lowndes as Lisa and Gerald Kyd who was thoroughly convincing as the self-centred dilettante artist, Vageen. Florence Hall as the servant girl Feema also put in a cheeky performance! As ever at the national there was a wonderful set and a special note on the costumers, especially those of Lisa and Yelena, Protasov's wife which were brilliant replicas(?) of Russian arts and crafts style of the early 20th century. A nice touch. The play runs until July 14th.

(Picture above - staircase from Gorky' House in Moscow)

Friday 10 May 2013

Change in Haifa שינוי בחיפה

Israel by Yekkes

בעבר הגיעו עולים חדשים לארץ דרך נמל חיפה, אולם בשנים באחרונות הנמל חוזנח. הבניינים זקוקים לישפוץ ואנשים לא מגיעים לנמל כי אין שם מה לעשות. בערב המקום נראה מסוכן ולא בטוח. אבל לראש עיריית חיפה יש תוכנית לשנות את פני הנמל. התוכנית כוללת שיפוץ חלק מהבניינים למגורי סטודנטים, הקמת בתי קפה ובנית מלון חדש ברחוב הראשי. בנוסף, רוצה ראש העיר להביא לנמל אומנויות מבל הסוגים. בימי שישי יתקיים שוק אומנויות ברחוב משה אהרון עם מוסיקה חיה. בשוק יהיו דוכנים ואפשר יהיה לקנות חפצים מעניינים. נראה שיש עתיד לנמל חיפה

The port of Haifa  was where many new immigrants arrived in Israel. However, over  several  years  the  port was neglected . Many of the buildings  need repairs  and people do not come to the port because there is nothing to do there.  In the evenings, the port appears dangerous  and unsafe.  The Mayor of Haifa has a plan to change the face of the port.  His programme includes  renovating some of the buildings as accommodation for students  and establishing new cafes and hotels  in the main street.  In addition to this,  he wants to  bring  all  kinds of art to the port.  Every Friday there is an art  market in Moshe Aharon Street with live music and there are stalls where you can buy interesting items. It looks like there is a future for the Haifa's port after all!

Israel April 2013 by Yekkes

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Avishai Cohen - with strings!

"This is the project". That's what Avishai Cohen said last night at the Barbican at the end of two truly stunning sets of old, new and re-worked songs in the company of his regular trio partners, pianist Nitai Hershkovits and 20 years old drummer Ofri Nehemiah with five outstanding musicians - cellist Yael Shapir, violinist Cordelia Hagmann, viola players Amit Landau and Noam Heimovitz-Weinschel and oboist Yoram Lachish. Ms. Shapir also joined Cohen on some of the vocals. Very nice. "The project" was Avishai's reference to his latest musical development, incorporating stringed instruments into his musical repertoire.

The gig began with "Overture" an original Avishai Cohen composition that he said he had worked on for a very long time and which had a distinctly classical feel to it. The audience which included many regular Cohen concert goers seemed a little surprised at first at this approach but very quickly warmed up as he worked through a couple of Hebrew songs - his version of what he described as an old fashioned innocent love song and then Natan Alterman's slightly psychotically worded poem Nigun Atiq, which pledges undying love and devotion but also includes threats of death and destruction stemming from jealousy!  

Cohen's Ladino repertoire was well represented with Alfonsina, Morenika, Puncha Puncha and Yo Menamori all well received. There was a reference to Cohen's jazz roots with Thad Jones "A Child Is Born" which was completely beautiful with our man's playing, a terrific solo from Lachish, and the strength of feeling from the strings bringing at least one listener to the brink of tears. And those strings were frighteningly effective during a new arrangement of the old favourite "Shalom Aleichem" - the strength of Cordelia Hagmann's violin playing being the revelation of the evening for me. This piece showcased each of the musicians with Hershkowitz's oriental flavoured piano and Nehemiah's drumming also getting huge cheers from the totally involved crowd.

Three times the audience brought them back, with a cheeky solo of "La Cukaracha" from Cohen, "Seven Seas" from the whole ensemble and "Remembering" from the trio. And they really could have played all night if the audience had their way. This is indeed "The Project". The addition of strings, the new arrangements and the obvious joy of those musicians at joining our hero made for a very special night.

Now, when are we going to get an album of this? Avishai Cohen, you are a genius and we are priveliged.

Monday 6 May 2013

London art deco - part three

I have already written about some of London's art deco treasures here and here, but there are many more gems from the deco and modernist period spread throughout our city. The deco style influenced the design  of residential, public, educational and retail buildings. This post has a look at examples from each of these functions.

Agatha Christie fans may find the building pictured below to be familiar. That's because it was used as the fictional home of Ms. Christie's detective Hercule Poirot in the TV series of his adventures. In real life, Florin Court is a private apartment block situated in a beautiful quiet square less than five minutes from the busy Barbican Underground station. Completed in 1936 and designed by architects Guy Morgan and Partners its most arresting feature is the undulating facade, which is a gift for photographers who can play with the "movement" of the building. I also like the recessed upper floors (there are nine floors and 120 flats in all) and the stylish main entrance with its deco features. A "deco style" swimming pool was added to the building for residents' use in 1980. There is also a small gym and a library. Unfortunately the original features in the lobby were tiled over some years ago. Time to take the tiles off?

Florin Court is located in Charterhouse Square, EC1. It is a beautiful, quiet London Square which is home to a number of older and interesting buildings as well as a private park restricted to residents of the square, who, according to the notice, can only take their dogs in "with permission". Quite right too. Residents, with or without dogs can stroll in this little park and admire its very beautiful cherry blossom - in full bloom when I passed yesterday. You can see more pictures of Florin Court here.

London art deco by Yekkes

Diverting eastwards from Bloomsbury to Holborn, brings us to another great example of 1930's architecture - Summit House in Red Lion Square. The former home of the Austin Reed company, the house was built in 1925 and was the work of architects Joseph Emburton and Percy James Westwood. Emburton was responsible for several modernist/ art deco buildings including Simpson's Department Store on Piccadilly (now Waterstones).

Summit House (pictured below) is a six storeys, steel framed building clad in toffee coloured faience and which extends from Red Lion Square along Dane Street. It has recessed windows on each storey with black, metal frames. A low level wall at ground floor level shields the basement storey and includes decorative iron railings with a lotus leaf finial at the corners and on either side of the main entrance. The wooden doors have carved panels by sculptor and designer Percy Metcalfe. The House also has a blue plaque dedicated to John Harrison (1693 - 1776) who invented the marine chromometer which allowed ships to accurately calculate their longitude when at sea.

Today the House is home to internationally known lawyers Mishcon de Reya. Holborn has many other interesting sites. You can read more about them here.

Summit House, Red Lion Square, Holborn,London by Yekkes

London boasts many art deco freezes and sculptures from the 1920's and 1930's. The once controversial Jacob Epstein sculptures at London Underground's Broadway House were mentioned in the first of this series of posts on art deco. Somewhat less controversial but also well known are "Tragedy and Comedy" by Alan Durst that grace the Gower Street entrance to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Just a short step from another major art deco building - Senate House - these figures from 1933 can easily be added to a visit to see the the next building in this post - the former Daimler Garage, which is perhaps a ten minutes walk away.

London Art Deco by Yekkes

Hidden away from the main road, but in the heart of the west end, Herbrand Street's former Daimler Garage is one of London's hidden treasures. Designed by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners and completed in 1931 it is a precursor to their much larger (and in my opinion) masterpiece, the Hoover Building in west London. Originally the home of Daimler-owned cars in addition to up to 500 private vehicles, it has been tastefully refurbished as offices for the McCann-Erickson Company.  The exterior includes the  beautiful curved glass entrance lobby, the glazed stair well, the pristine white colour and several examples of the deco "rule of three" in terms of decoration. As well as being visually outstanding, the garage was also extremely modern in terms of its approach to service, making use of then cutting edge technology. It boasted an electronically operated pressure washing plant with a waiting room and an attendants office. Open House people - it would be great to get a look inside here some time!

There are other art deco or art deco influenced buildings very close to Herbrand Street. The huge apartment block, Russell Court is just around the corner in Woburn Place. It retains very stylish entrances and external metalwork in addition to its concave northern end which bears the legend "Woburn Place Car Park". There are also deco influences in one of the blocks on Coram Street, which you will have your back to if you are facing the old Daimler Garage.

London art deco by Yekkes

I am lucky enough to be able to see one of London's best remaining examples of art deco almost every day as St. Olaf House (pictured below) in Tooley Street, is just a short walk from my office. Beautiful as it is, it is quite easy to miss if approaching from London Bridge because of the road layout and also because the many tourists that throng this part of London visiting the wonderful Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Tate Modern and the many other attractions in the area rush by not noticing it tucked away in its corner. But it really is worth taking the time to spend a few minutes admiring this building.

Built of Portland stone, it is the rear entrance of the Thames-side Hay's Wharf Company built from 1928-1932 and designed by architects H.S. Goodhart-Rendel. Its distinctive features include the stylised signage, differently arranged windows on the side columns and a figure of St. Olave, King of Norway, produced by sculptor Frank Dobson. This is a reference to a church of the same name that once stood on this site. The House faces the River Thames and the water side has a series of Dobson designed panels that will the subject of a future post. Today the building houses London Bridge Private Hospital's consulting and administration rooms. 

London art deco by Yekkes

And finally to retail. T. Fox and Co. Limited at 118 London Wall, EC2 is a great example of an art deco designed shop which has retained most of its original features. Fox was an umbrella and walking stick manufacturers and although the business has now gone, the new owners "Author" have retained the streamlined frontage, merely adding their name to the facade. Built in around 1935, the facade is made of black vitrolite and was designed by the Pilkington Brothers. The original shopfitting was by Pollards. Very close to Moorgate station, it is dwarfed by the the more recent skyscraper buildings but still has a real presence due to its simple but timeless style.You can see the whole of the facade here.  Given that it is a short walk from nearby Florin Court, I wonder if Poirot bought his umbrellas and walking sticks here! 

London art deco by Yekkes

Friday 3 May 2013

Picture post 17 - Ades Syrian Synagogue - Jerusalem

Israel April 2013 by Yekkes

I have tried several times to visit the Ades Synagogue in Shilo Street, Jerusalem only to find it closed. A few weeks ago I finally managed to see inside the building. I was not disappointed.

The very plain exterior of the building in the Nachlaot neighbourhood of the city, close to Shuk Mahane Yehuda hides a beautiful and unique interior with a high ceiling, chandeliers, wooden benches and a women's gallery. But the two most outstanding features are the Ark covering the entire eastern wall, which is made of walnut and covered in a geometric mother of pearl design and of course, the breathtaking murals which were the work of Ya'acov Stark of the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts.

The synagogue was built in 1901 to serve the increasing number of Syrian Jews arriving in Jerusalem, fleeing blood libels and pogroms in Syria as well as economic migrants from the decline of the Ottoman Empire. It takes its name from the two cousins who financed its construction - Ovadiah Josiah Ades and Yosef Isaac Ades, the latter being a member of the Jerusalem City Council. The murals were added in 1911-12 by the aforementioned Stark who was born in Galicia and came to Eretz Israel as part of the Second Aliyah with a number of other artists who gathered around Boris Schatz, working with him to establish and develop the world famous Bezalel School.

Stark was a committed Zionist and wished to reflect this in his art - something the Ashkenazi congregations were not so keen on. The more liberal Syrian congregation of the Ades were accepting of his proposals. He worked for very little amounts (sometimes for nothing) and left an extremely important work to the city (and the world) featuring the 12 Tribes of Israel, a menorah, flora and fauna of the land of Israel and signs of the zodiac. The building sustained damage in the First World War and also during the War of Independence in 1948 but the greatest damage was inflicted on Stark's masterpiece in 2001 when a French artist commissioned to restore the mural did what is widely acknowledged to have been a botch job and which is now thankfully, being properly restored at the Government's expense.

Stark died of malnutrition - the fate of many impoverished Jerusalemites in the early part of the twentieth century and until recently he had all but disappeared from history. Efforts have been made to locate Stark's descendants which turned up an Israel Prize winner for law and resulted in the re-discovery of his grave on the Mount of Olives which had a formal stone setting late last year. In an interesting twist of fat, the house he lived in, in Nachlaot is now occupied by Yigal Tamir who restored the Ark in the Ades syanagogue. The house still contains a granfather clock given by Stark to Tamir's grandmother, the former owner and Stark's landlady, in lieu of rent. 

During my visit I witnessed some of the restoration work taking place and had a brief discussion with one of the workers who was delighted to have the opportunity to be involved in such an important project. I was delighted to have finally got inside the building...and what a treat it was!

See more pictures of the Ades synagogue here