Monday after I’d finished work for the day we got on the No. 4 tram heading north and stayed on board to the end of the line. It took us to Munkkiniemi, one of the more affluent areas of Helsinki, by the sea in the north west of the city.

Right by the tram stop there’s a rather nice café that I’d visited during my last visit to Helsinki, 3 years ago.


It was a good spot to grab a drink and a bite to eat overlooking the sea on a very pleasant evening. There are plenty of seats on the outside terrace, but although some hardy locals were sitting outside we stayed in the warm.


After eating we took a short stroll along the sea front then cut in land to have a look at the nearby Aalto House – the home of the renowned Finnish Modernist architect, Alvar Aalto. I’d visited the house when I was last in Helsinki. Of course, it was closed but we got a good look at the outside.


We then walked the short distance to his studio in a nearby street, again taking a look from the outside.


Afterwards we cut  back to the sea front and walked back to the tram stop to catch a tram back to the city centre.

The Australian War Memorial

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After 5 days of weather typical of an English summer (i.e. cool, grey, intermittent rain), the day we were leaving Canberra was hot and sunny. C’est la vie! Our flight to our next destination, Melbourne, wasn’t due to leave until around midday so we had a couple of hours to kill and took the opportunity to walk up to the Australian War Memorial, about 20 minutes away on foot.

It’s in a dominant location in Canberra, standing on a hill at the north end of the city’s ceremonial land axis, which stretches from Parliament House on Capital Hill along a line passing through the summit of  Mount Ainslie.  There are three parts to the Memorial – the Commemorative Area (shrine) including the Hall of Memory with the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, the Memorial’s galleries (museum) and Research Centre (records). The road leading up to the Memorial from the city centre and along the axis is known as the  Anzac Parade  and is lined with memorials to various campaigns the Australian armed forces have been involved in.

Conceived in the 1920’s, indecision about the design and the Great Depression in the 1930’s delayed it’s construction and it was only completed in 1941, after the outbreak of World War II.  It was designed by two architects from Sydney, Emil Sodersten and John Crust. The main feature, the Byzantine domed  Hall of Memory is a Modernist, Art Deco structure.

Time was very limited, so we didn’t have much time to look around once we’d reached the memorial, and could only get a quick look around the Shrine.


In the courtyard there are  a series of bronze plaques, the Roll of Honour, which lists the names of 102,185 Australian servicemen and women killed in conflict or on peacekeeping operations. The poppies are not an official part of the monument but have been left by relatives visiting the Shrine who have left the poppies next to the names of their relatives. A moving, unofficial, tribute bringing a human touch to the monument.


We returned to our hotel via the Anzac Parade. Here’s a few photos of some of the monuments lining the avenue.



78 Derngate

A couple of weeks ago I had to drive down to Hertfordshire on a Sunday as zi was working down there on the Monday. An 8 o’clock start meant a stay over on Sunday evening. Rather than just belt all the way down the Motorway I decided to break the journey, pulling off the M1 at Northampton, with a view to visiting 78 Derngate, a house where the interior had been designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.


The house was owned by a local industrialist, W J Bassett-Lowke a man of Progressive ideals, Fabian politics (he knew G B Shaw who visited the house and stayed in the guest bedroom), had, for the time (the early 20th Century), rather modern tastes.

One of a row of Georgian houses in the centre of Northampton, Bassett-Lowke’s father  bought the relatively small house for him in 1916 when he got married. Being right in the middle of WWI it wasn’t possible to build a new house (which I guess he would have preferred) so he set about getting it modified so it would be more in line with his Modernist inclinations and he hired Mackintosh, who was living in Chelsea at the time, to help with the interior design.


The Bassett-Lowkes lived in the house 1926 when they moved to a newly built Modernist home designed by Peter Behrens. It passed through several owners until 1964 when it was bought by Northampton High School for Girls who initially used it for offices and then later as classrooms.   When the school decided to sell off the house it was bought by Northampton Borough Council. A Trust was formed who restored the house and it was opened to the public at the end of 2003. The house itself is quite small so the Trust has also bought No’s 80 and 82 which houses the reception desk,  gift shop, museum, restaurant, art galleries, meeting rooms and offices.

Although visitors can explore the house and garden on their own, there are regular guided tours, which take just over an hour, and it’s well worth joining one. I arrived about 45 minutes before the next tour was due to start so I spent some time looking around the small garden (it was a fine, sunny, autumn afternoon), the museum and the galleries where there were exhibitions of works by a local artist, Roy Holding, and the Northamptonshire Guild of Designer Craftsmen. The guided tour, which started with a short video, was led by a knowledgeable volunteer and was excellent. After the tour I had about 45 minutes left to have a quick look round on my own to take a closer look at the rooms and furnishings.

Bassett-Lowke had a number of structural changes made to the house. A rectangular extension was added at the back to enlarge the kitchen and the dining room and creating balconies for the two bedrooms. It isn’t clear how much of these changes (and, indeed the décor) Mackintosh designed.


Mackintosh was hired during a period when his architectural and design work had largely dried up, so he must have welcomed the commission.  Bassett-Lowke must have been a difficult client to work for, though. He had had some architectural training and had his own definite ideas about what he wanted and certainly didn’t leave mackintosh to get on with it, organising the work himself. His wife, who it seems had more conventional tastes, didn’t get much of a look in! But  Mackintosh’s touch is clearly evident throughout the house. The décor is a little different  to his earlier work, being more angular and almost prefiguring what became known as “Art Deco” style.

After watching the video which covered the history of the house and an overview of the interior,  the tour started in the garden. We could see the rear elevation which looked very Modernist and nothing like a Georgian property.

This planter looks very “Mackintosh”, but it’s not certain he designed it.


Moving inside the house, first stop was the kitchen. No Mackintosh touches here but quite modern for the early 20th century. Bassett-Lowke was very keen on having all the latest electrical gadgets including an electric kettle and other appliances, many which had to be specially imported.


The kitchen would have been the domain of Lotte, the Bassett-Lowkes’ servant. She was Austrian so an “enemy alien” during the war, so I don’t know how they managed to keep her employed.

Moving upstairs to the dining room


Mackintosh’s main contribution to this room was the walnut cabinets to either side of the fireplace.


Across the stairwell and we were in the living room (the house is only two rooms wide)



This screen beside the staircase is probably Mackintosh’s “tour de force”.



He designed the décor, an angular pattern representing trees, which is predominantly black, making the room rather dark.


Mrs Bassett-Lowke did not like it so it was changed to a much lighter design, which was shown in a display on one of the rooms on the top floor of the house


Up another floor and into the main bedroom. There wasn’t much furnishing in here.


but the guest bedroom on the next floor has been recreated.  This is where G B slept when he stayed in the house. The striped décor is very striking and must have looked so radically different in 1917. It could easily have been designed in modern times.


Mrs Bassett-Lowke did not like it at all.



Across the corridor the bathroom had all the mod cons for the time


I spent almost 3 hours in the house, much longer than I expected. It was certainly well worth the diversion!

Some More Amsterdam School Buildings


After visiting De Dageraad I spent some time exploring the south part of De Pijp looking at the many Amsterdam School buildings that were constructed during the early years of the 20th Century as part of Plan Zuid. Like De Dageraad, the majority were built on behalf of housing co-operatives to provide good standard accommodation for ordinary workers who had previously lived in slums in the Jordaan, the old Jewish Quarter and other older parts of the city.

Although the  Amsterdam School movement is considered to be part of international Expressionist architecture, there are features reminiscent of both Art Nouveau and Art Deco in their buildings. As with most architectural movements, each building has it’s own features, but there are some common characteristics.

  • The architects’ emphasis was on the outward appearance of a building and less on its functionality – “Form before function”
  • the buildings are mainly constructed from bricks – often different shapes, textures and and colours of brick are used.
  • The windows are often eye-catching shapes,
  • There is great attention to detail and ornamentation, including sculptures, wrought iron decorations and stained-glass windows.
  • The facades often have curves and bulges, concave and convex shapes
  • The corner buildings or buildings at the end of a complex, often emphasized by a tower-like element.
  • The entrances and staircases are often highlighted by a special shape or decorations in stone or wrought iron.








This building was a public bath house



The Amsterdam School architects also designed many bridges over the canals in Amsterdam


There are Amsterdam School buildings in other areas of Amsterdam. These are a few I spotted wandering round the city centre








De Dageraad


During the Saturday afternoon of my short visit to Amsterdam I took the tram to the south part of the De Pijp area of the city. I wanted to take a look at the Amsterdam School buildings that had been constructed in the area from 1917 as part of town planner Hendrik Petrus Berlage’s Plan Zuid to provide housing for the city’s workers who were living in sub-standard accommodation (i.e. slums). This had become feasible due to the enactment of a special law (Woningwet, 1901) that made provided finance for the municipalities and the housing cooperatives to build dwellings for workers.


I particularly wanted to visit De Dageraad (‘The Dawn’) complex which had been built for the socialist housing association of the same name. It had been designed by Piet Kramer and Michel de Klerk two of the leading architects of the “Amsterdam School” and it’s a particularly impressive example of this style of architecture.  Between them, the two men designed residential and commercial buildings and the complex also included two parks, and a library.


The Amsterdam style is characterised by by buildings constructed of brick with decorative elements, and there are plenty of those at De Dageraad – curves, steps and towers, and abstract forms dominate. There hardly seems to be a square corner on the blocks of apartments. These features added to the cost of the project and the architects were criticised by conservative elements who didn’t think workers needed to live in “fancy” buildings. But de Klerk and Kramer were Socialists who believed workers had a right to live in “palaces” which would inspire them and where they could build a better life – a similar philosophy to the Arts and Crafts Movement in the UK. The three- and four-room units provided a considerable improvement in living standards for their tenants. The decorative elements also provided work for unemployed craftsmen and stonemasons.


There’s a Visitors’ Centre in the complex which is open at weekends. I signed up for the next guided tour. it transpired I was the only one for that time slot, so I got a personal tour of the complex!

“Ladder style” windows dominate


Curved projections on the roof line


Here roof tiles are used for a decorative, rather than functional, purpose. Different colours of brickwork are used to create a decorative effect and the dark bricks are laid at vertically rather than horizontally.


Deep recesses in the roof and tall chmineys



A curved corner tower


More decorative use of roof tiles, balconies and a rounded corner tower


An interesting stairwell tower


Curved corners wrap around the entrance


Here we can see how different coloured bricks are used to create a design element


Brickwork laid to create a decorative feature


A rooster representing the Dawn



A monument to Socialist Alderman Floor Wibaut (1859-1936), who was the driving force behind this large-scale public housing project in the Amsterdam School architectural style.


A doorway. Notice the distinctive font used for the house numbers



An associated complex the Coöperatiehof (Cooperation court) is an ensemble of three blocks of workers’ houses and a library. This might not seem particularly revolutionary to us but at the beginning of the 20th Century in Amsterdam workers did not have easy access to books and there were few libraries.


As the Dagaraad was a Socialist housing Co-operative the library was meant to provide an alternative to the church on a Sunday. Workers were encourage to visit and choose and read their own books rather than go to church and have the bible foisted on them. The building was even provided with a bell tower which symbolises the intellectual elevation of the worker


On the back wall of the library there’s a monument to J.W.C. Tellegen (1859-1921), who was Director of Municipal Housing and Building Control from 1901 to 1915 and Mayor of Amsterdam from 1915 to 1921.


Trinity Court, London


I was down in London for a day on business this week. I had a breakfast meeting in the morning but having woken up early I had a few hours to kill. I didn’t really fancy hanging around the rather horrible Travelodge I was staying in (I’ve vowed never to book in one again!) so decided to go out for a bit of a wander and do some “street haunting” around Bloomsbury.

Wandering down Grays Road I spotted this rather attractive Modernist / Art Deco building so stopped to take a couple of snaps on my phone.

It’s a simple design with interesting ironwork on the balconies and front door


The Modernist Britain website tells us

Trinity Court is an eight storey apartment block, rectangular in plan, with the shorter sides parallel to the street. The front and rear elevations project slightly at each side giving a Roman ‘I’ footprint to the building. The main elevation features a central entrance with double doors, with decorative tracery in the windows. Above the doors the entrance features a stepped pediment carrying the building name.

and that it

was built between 1934 and 1935 to plans drawn up by the London-based architectural practice of F Taperell and Haase.


My pictures, taken with my phone with the camera playing up (a software problem I resolved later that day) aren’t that great. But there’s some good ones here.

Aalto Sites – Part 1

While researching the Alvar Alto before my recent visit to Helsinki I discovered AALTOsites, an app I could download on to my phone that would help me locate buildings by the architect in the city – there’s quite a few of them. So I downloaded it onto my phone and used it to find a number of the buildings during the short time I had available for exploring. It provided an interesting focus for my visit.

The Academic Bookstore, part of the Stockman Department store but in a separate building, which was completed in 1969, was just over the road from my hotel. From the outside it looked like a Modernist office building with a facade of windows glazed with reflective glass set in dark grey concrete. I thought it was quite attractive.



But it’s the inside of the building which makes it rather special. Aalto created a light, airy atrium three floors deep with two levels of balconies, lit from above by angular prism shaped skylights and with white Carrara marble walls.



This cross section of the building, from here, shows the relationship of the atrium to the building. Note that there are a number of underground levels

The Academic Bookstore


A great place to browse for books (providing you can read Finnish!). There’s also a café (Café Aalto) on the first level balcony.

Just around the corner there’s an earlier work, the Rautatalo building from 1951, built for the Finnish hardware dealers’ federation. Today it’s occupied by some expensive shops and offices of the Nordea bank. Again, the facade is glazed with reflective glass set in copper coloured concrete. The first floor has larger windows.



Looking on the Alvar Aalto’s Architecture website I could see that inside there’s an atrium with balconies lit by skylights.

'Rautatalo' commercial building

This striking building stands at the far end of the Market Square, at the start of the Katajanokanlaituri peninsula just below the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Locals refer to it as the “Sugar Cube”


It was built to serve as the head office for the Enso-Gutzeit company.

The main facade faced with white Carrara marble, is divided up into squares. Each square contains a window and vent surrounded by an inward-slanting marble frame.



This rather curious little structure located on a traffic island oppostie the Swesish Theatre was Aalto’s first commission in Helsinki. It was designed as the entrance to an emergency air raid shelter. Today it’s used as  the entrance to an underground car park.



The Aalto House


My main reason for the trip out to Munkkiniemi was to visit the former home of the Finnish Functionalist/Modernist architect Alvar Aalto on Riihitie.

The house was designed by Alvar and his first wife Aino, also an architect and designer who worked with her husband. They acquired the site in 1934 in what was then a relatively unspoilt area, semi-rural on the outskirts of the city. The house was completed in 1936. Aalto lived there with Aino (she died of cancer in 1949 aged 54) and then with his second wife, another architect Elissa Mäkiniemi  who had been working as an assistant in his office who he married in 1952. Today it’s owned by the Aalto Museum which is based in Jyväskylä. Visits are by guided tour only.

The house was designed as both a family home and an office, although Aalto was careful to separate the two. The working part of the building, the studio, was segregated to one end in it’s own wing.

Aalto’s version of Modernism incorporated the use of traditional and natural materials in his buildings. This can be seen in the use of wooden cladding on the exterior of the residential part of he house. 


The studio wing is constructed of whitewashed brick – so a separation of the building’s two functions is apparent externally


Aalto believed that there should be a unity between the interior and the exterior of a house and he incorporated this idea into his own home. The large windows open out onto the garden which is effectively an extension of the main living areas on the ground floor – at least, in the summer time, the winters in Finland are cold and harsh – and there’s a roof terrace which extends the upstairs living space.



The design of the house makes maximum use of natural light and insulating materials are used to protect against the cold of winter.

Aalto’s desk is in the corner of the studio with a view outside through two large windows. Today it overlooks a sports field and nearby buildings but in the 1930’s he had a view towards the sea.






The studio is separated from the living quarters by a moveable wooden screen.

Aalto’s approach was to see the design of building and it’s interior as a whole, and this is reflected in the residential wing of the house where furnishings and fittings have been carefully selected – largely designed by Aalto and Aino for their design company Artek.

There are two main rooms downstairs that form an open plan living space with large windows overlooking the garden/






Upstairs there was another cosy living room


with a roof terrace


a guest bedroom


and three family bedrooms.







It was a very pleasant and cosy home. relatively modest, but it must have been a fantastic place to live and work.

To me, there were many similarities with Erno Goldfinger’s home in Hampstead and also the Bauhaus Masters’ houses – all Modernist buildings used as both family homes and workspaces.

Aalto eventually needed more space for his architectural practice so built a separate studio a short distance away in 1955. The Studio also belongs to the Museum but isn’t open on a Sunday, so I was only able to take a peek from the outside.


The Carreras Cigarette Factory


Another short trip to London this week. On business this time, but I found some time to seek out an Art Deco masterpiece a short walk from Euston Station.

The former Carreras cigarette factory was built in 1926-28 on what had been a semi-circular park on Mornington Crescent. Obliterating the green space in front of a Georgian crescent would probably not be allowed in this day and age, but it clearly wasn’t a problem in the 1920’s!

The architects were Marcus Evelyn Collins and Owen Hyman Collins with A G Porri and Partners as consultant. The Egyptian style of the building was fashionable at the time, following the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter.

Production ceased in 1959 and the building was converted into offices and many of it’s distinctive features removed. But it was renovated in the late 1990’s and most of the original decoration was recreated.

It’s a massive building and impossible to get a shot that includes all of it, but there is a photograph of the factory and it’s environs here.



There are 10 columns in the central bays with Egyptian style decoration



Two giant black cats flank the entrance (the black cat was used as a logo by the cigarette company)



There are cat motifs high up below the upper storey windows


And the name of the original occupants is spelled out in “Egyptian style” lettering


There’s more info and photographs herehere and here.

The Didrichsen Art Museum


Time flies and it’s a few months now since I was in Helsiinki. I’m heading back over there in a few weeks so thought it was about time I wrote up my visit to the Didrichsen Art Museum.

The Museum is located on on Kuusisaari island, a 20 minute or so bus ride from the Central Station. It holds temporary exhibitions and has permanent displays of ancient Chinese and pre-Columbian artefacts, although during my visit the indoor rooms were devoted to an exhibition of works by Edvard Munch – The Dance of Life. There’s also a sculpture garden with some excellent works including pieces by  Henry Moore and Bernard Meadows.

The museum was originally a private residence owned by enthusiastic Modern Art collectors Marie-Louise and Gunnar Didrichsen. It’s a Modernist building designed by architect Viljo Revell  in 1958-59. An extension was added six years later to house the owners’ art collection.


It’s an attractive house in a beautiful setting in the woods by the sea.



There’s a photo of the inside of the house here (it was too full of people on the day I visited to get a decent shot)


As a former private residence the Museum is quite small, but they have an excellent collection. Due to the Munch exhibition (which was excellent) I was only able to see the works in the sculpture garden. Here’s some of them.


Adrift (2013) by Jenni Tieaho – a Viking longship in an appropriate setting


Atom Piece (1964) by Henry Moore


Reclining Figure on a Pedestal (1960) by Henry Moore


Stele del Offerende (1960) by Mario Negri


Augustus (1962/3) by Bernard Meadows


Auringonkukkapelto (1975) by Eila Hiltunen


Mama Europa (2009) by Tilla Kekki

and its companion piece


Mama Africa (2009) by Tilla Kekki


Turoulenssi (1996) by Eila Hiltunen


Arctic Aphrodite (1972) by Laila Pullinen


Strange Rain Last Night (2008) by Matti Peltokangas


Crescendo (1982) by Eila Hiltunen