An early start for the YSP

It was our wedding anniversary last Saturday (6th July), a cause for a celebration. But there was another reason why it was a special day.

We were up early, despite it being a Saturday, to drive over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s a favourite place which we usually visit 2 or 3 times a year to see exhibitions and enjoy a walk through the park. This time, however, we were going to a special event. For Christmas I’d paid for my wife’s name to be cast in iron as part of the “Walk of Art 2” on the pathway leading into the new visitor centre, the Weston. The second section of the walk, which includes her entry, had been recently installed and we were attending the official opening.

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There were speeches by Peter Murray, the YSP’s Director, Gordon Young, the artist who designed the work as well as his granddaughter

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Peter Murray
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Gordon Young
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Gordon Young and Sophie, his granddaughter
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We then went outdoors where the artist and his grandchildren cut the ribbon to officially open “Walk of Art 2

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Cutting the ribbon
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The names are cast in iron on a series of plates (my wife’s entry is on Plate 27) . Newly installed they were reddish-brown but will change over time due to weathering. The first set of plates, installed a few months ago, had already weathered and were more of a silvery-grey colour.

My wife’s name is on one of these plates

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but you’ll have to guess which one it is!

The new visitor centre is at the far end of the park, on the car park nearest to the M1. It’s quite a lot smaller than the main centre, but has a restaurant, small gallery and shop. The design is quite clean and simple, constructed from layered pigmented concrete with lots of wood and glass

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The architects have designed in sustainable features such as natural ventilation, an air-source heat pump, a low-energy environmental control system and a wild-flower roof .

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Inside the Weston’s gallery

The new visitor centre has opened up the far end of the park for displaying art, which make it even harder to see everything in one day’s visit!

Currently there are a number of works by Damien Hirst, the Leeds born artist, on display as part of the Yorkshire Sculpture International exhibition which is being run in partnership with the Hepworth Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.

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After the ceremony we strolled across the park to visit the new exhibitions that have opened in the Underground Gallery and the Chapel – I’ll be writing them up in a couple of other posts – and to have a wander round the park looking at some new exhibits as well as some old favourites.

Salford Quays

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Despite being about 40 miles from the sea, at one time Manchester was the third buiest port in England. This was due to the Manchester ship canal, opened in 1894, which allowed ships to sail almost into the city centre. However, their heyday didn’t last long. With the move to containerisation in the 1970’s the Port of Manchester began to decline as larger vessels couldn’t get up the canal, and they finally closed in 1982.

The biggest docks on the ship canal were in actually in Salford, covering 120 acres of water and 1,000 acres of land.  After their closure a substantial proportion of the docks were purchased by Salford Council and redevelopment began in 1985 under the Salford Quays Development Plan. Improvements were made to infrastructure and water quality and the derelict docks were developed for leisure, cultural and commercial use.

The first landmark building – the Lowry, which contains theatres and art galleries – opened on 28 April 2000 followed by the Imperial War Museum North, designed by Daniel Libeskind, in July 2002 (although that’s actually over the water in Trafford).

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Residential property has been constructed on the waterside

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and the most recent development is “Media City”, which spans both sides of the canal and it’s tenants include the BBC and ITV

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After we’d had a look round the Lowry we had a mooch around the quays, looking at the buildings and bridges and snapping some photos.

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Samuel Beckett Bridge

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This attractive, dramatic structure is one of the newest bridges over the River Liffey in Dublin. It’s located at the east end of the city, connecting the quays north and south of the river near the docks. I pass it every time I drive to and from Dublin port during my fairly regular trips to Ireland. During my visit this week I went into Dublin on Tuesday after work to watch a play at the Abbey Theatre. After braving some horrendous traffic along the quays I arrived with an hour to spare. It was a lovely evening and so having been stuck in the car for over an hour I decided to take a walk along the quays to stretch my legs. I snapped this photograph from another modern bridge, the Sean O’Casey footbridge.

Opened on December 10th 2009, the bridge was designed by the Spanish architect, structural engineer and artist, Santiago Calatrava. It’s a cable stay structure, designed to rotate ninety degrees to free the river channel for water transport crossing the river.

The shape of the main span was inspired by the harp, the Irish national symbol. And with the 31 cable stays it supports, I can certainly see the resemblance when viewed from a distance,

Calatrava has designed bridges for cities all over the word, including one in Manchester. I’ll have to go and have a closer look at it sometime.

Modern Buildings on the Clyde

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My hotel in Glasgow was just a short distance from the Clyde and on Monday evening I decided to get outside for a walk.

Not that long ago the banks of the Clyde were thriving as a major centre of shipbuilding, but not today. It’s hanging on by its fingernails at the Govan yard owned by BAE Systems but other than that there is little evidence of the industry which employed thousands of workers.

Walking south from my hotel following the M9 I reached the Clyde where the motorway crossed the river and turned right to follow it downstream towards an area that has been regenerated in recent years.

There was some evidence of the area’s industrial past.

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The Titan Crane , on the north bank of the river, is now a visitor attraction

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The giant 150-ton cantilever crane was erected around 1907 on the west side of the fitting-out basin of the John Brown shipyard in Clydebank. The refurbishment has been carried out in time to celebrate its 100 anniversary. The crane was used to lift the engines and boilers into numerous warships, as well as vessels like the Lusitania, Queen Mary, Britannia and the QE2.

I crossed over to the south bank via the Clyde Arc, better known as the “Squinty Bridge”

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I walked past the BBC Scotland building (I’d seen the local news broadcast from here during the morning on breakfast TV). The architect was David Chipperfield who also designed the Hepworth in Wakefield.

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A little further south, on the former Prince’s Dock, is the Glasgow Science Centre, designed by the Building Design Partnership. Standing next to it is the Glasgow Tower  designed by Richard Horden, with engineering design by Buro Happold and an IMAX cinema.

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On the north bank the Clyde Auditorium, better known as “the Armadillo” is probably the best known of Glasgow’s modern buildings and something of an “icon”. It’s distinctive design is meant to represent a series of interlocking ships’ hulls, commemorating the Clyde’s shipbuilding heritage.

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It was designed by Foster & Partners and opened in 1997

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Nearby is the most recent of the buildings, the SSE Hydro arena, also designed by Foster and Partners. It’s a 12,500-capacity arena used for major concerts and sporting events.

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Libeskind’s Imperial War Museum North

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We’ve not been over to Salford Quays for a while, but on Sunday we were showing our young Japanese friend, who we met when visiting the Bauhaus in Dessau last year, around Manchester. She’s an architecture student so a trip to Salford Quays to see the Lowry and the Imperial War Museum was a must.

The Imperial War Museum stands on the Trafford side of the quays. It’s a striking aluminium clad structure designed by Daniel Libeskind standing by the waterside.

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Liebskind is renowned for his dramatic metal clad buildings including the Jewish Museum in Berlin, his first major international success, which we’d visited last year. He also designed the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin which I made a point of going to see during a recent visit to the city.

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The architect’s website describes the concept of the building

The design concept is a globe shattered into fragments and then reassembled. The interlocking of three of these fragments—representing earth, air, and water—comprise the building’s form. The Earth Shard forms the museum space, signifying the open, earthly realm of conflict and war; the Air Shard serves as a dramatic entry into the museum, with its projected images, observatories and education spaces; and the Water Shard forms the platform for viewing the canal, complete with a restaurant, cafe, deck and performance space.

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Inside, the architect has deliberately employed the curves of the building, sharp angles and sloping floors to disorient visitors to simulate the effects of war and conflict.The design of the lighting, long angled luminaries, which are very similar to the arrangement of the windows and lighting in the Berlin Jewish Museum, contribute to this.

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The air shard – the tower – is an aluminium clad skeleton, which is empty other than a viewing platform about two thirds up that is accessed via a lift or stairs. We didn’t go up this time for the views over the Quays. It’s a little scary as the floor of the pattern is metal gridding which you can see through – right down to the ground many metres below.

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Kiasma – Architecture

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Kiasma – the Modern Art Museum in Helsinki reopened after being shut for refurbishment the day after I arrived in Helsinki for my recent visit.

The building was designed by the American architect, Steve Holl. Construction started in 1996 and it opened two years later in May 1998. It’s located in the city centre and with the Music Centre and Finlandia Hall forms a cultural axis leading towards Töölönlahti.

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I’d sum up the architecture with three words – curves, light and space.

From the outside it’s a structure of glass and aluminium cladding.

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Large windows at both ends of the building provide views over the city.

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Inside there hardly seems to be a straight line in sight.

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Access between levels is via a series of curving ramps and stairways

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Walls of windows and skylights bring in plenty of the limited Nordic light to illuminate the interior.

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Aalto Sites – Part 2

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One thing I especially like about Alvar Aalto is that as a Modernist architect he was able to break away from the “white cube” and use more traditional materials to construct his buildings. An example of this is the Cultural Centre in Helsinki which is located north of the city centre a short walk to the east of the main Mannerheimintie road and north east of Töölönlahti. A relatively sort diversion during my walk around the bay took me there.

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This is a multi-purpose building he designed in 1952 for the Finnish Communist Party – combining the party headquarters, association facilities, and a cultural centre. The office block and a connecting wing are very similar to his Rautatalo building and Academic Bookstore – a copper clad facade dominated by reflective glass windows. But he most interesting and original part of the complex is the red brick faced auditorium.

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It’s irregular, curved structure is about as far away from a white box as is possible!

Aalto designed a special wedge shaped brick for the auditorium

which allowed him to create the complex asymmetric curves

(images of bricks from cargocollective website)

Much of the building work was done by volunteers. This sculpture that stands in the courtyard between the three wings is a tribute to their efforts.

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After visiting the Aalto House I walked a short distance down Riihitie to take a look at a complex of apartment blocks designed by Aalto to house workers employed by the National Pensions Institute.

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There are four blocks that face onto a pleasant grassy “piazza”

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Housing for National Pensions Institute

One of Aalto’s final and most well known buildings is Finlandia Hall in the centre of Helsinki, on the south shore of Töölönlahti. It was originally intended to be part of a cultural quarter that was never realised. It was completed in 1971, a few years before Aalvo’s death.

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It’s a substantial building clad in Carrera marble, a favourite material of Aalto’s although not particularly suitable for the harsh Finnish winter climate. The marble soon began to crumble and safety nets had to be erected to protect pedestrians. Eventuaky the decision was taken to reclad the building with a more suitable white marble, keeping the appearance the same, at a cost of over 3 million Euros. But the replacement panels are also being affected by the cold winters.

A further problem is that the acoustics  are notoriously poor. Not great for a concert hall!

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It’s a striking building, but something of a flawed masterpiece.

The Lewis Glucksman Gallery

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There were plenty of interesting older style buildings in the centre of Cork, but nothing in the way of Modern architecture. However, I’d heard that there was an example of a modern building – an art gallery – on the University campus, a 20 or 30 or minute to the west of the town centre along the south branch of the River Lee. So after walking round the city centre I decided to set out and wander over for a look.

I wasn’t disappointed. It was worth the walk- indeed there was a lot to interest me on the University campus – a post or two to follow.

The Lewis Glucksman Gallery, stands on the river side, just inside the main entrance of the University. It’s named in honour of Dr Lewis Glucksman who the Gallery website as

a successful investment banker and renowned philanthropist

The architects were Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey of the Irish firm O’Donnell+Tuomey, which they established in 1988.

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Entrance is through the podium which is at street level. As the street is raised above the level of the river there’s a storey underneath which accommodates a restaurant.

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The base of the building is a concrete structure clad with limestone with galvanised steel windows. The gallery spaces are clad in timber (Angelim de Campagna, a sustainably sourced hardwood), which, according to the architects

is intended to be understood as a wooden vessel which resonates with its woodland site.

The timber clad section is supported on a concrete ‘table’ structure cantilevered from columns. The concrete was sandblasted to reveal reflective mica in the surface of the structure. There are galvanised steel bay windows projecting from the structure, allowing light to enter the galleries.

The architects tell us that

The intention is that the natural finish materials (sawn limestone, galvanised steel and untreated timber) should age and weather into the landscape.

Inside, the gallery spaces are accessed by wooden staircases

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With white walls and large windows, the gallery spaces are very bright and airy

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The curved structure and large projecting windows and positioning of internal walls has created some interesting spaces

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The building is set in a very pleasant green space with a large lawn at river level and is surrounded by mature trees.

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Amongst awards it has received it was the RIAI Best Public Building in Ireland 2005, the RIBA 2005  European category award winner and was shortlisted for the 2005 Stirling Prize.

I thought it was an exceptional building, that fulfilled it’s function well and looked beautiful, and which both complemented it’s surroundings and was enhanced by its setting.