Areopagus Volume XXXIV
Welcome one and all to the thirty fourth volume of Areopagus - and this week's is a very special edition. Last Friday I asked you to send me your favourite architecture: the hidden masterpieces, everyday delights, and lesser-known wonders.
The response was overwhelming. And so I've decided to dedicate this volume of the Areopagus to your submissions. I've shared both the words and photographs sent to me without any editing. Apologies to those whose submissions have not been included - it is no reflection at all on the quality or character of what you sent, only on the limitations of space. Finally, I should add that the answers to last week's critical thinking question will be rolled over to next Friday.
And so, here is your collective ode to the beauty and charm of the world at large...
This is a photo of St Bartholomew’s Church in Winstone in the the English Cotswolds, that I took when I happened upon it by chance a year or two ago.
The nave is Norman (11th C), with a breathtaking simplicity of form and light (echoing Junichiro Tanizaki’s thoughts on light)… it reminds me, too, of an isolated church/cathedral I came across in Spain many years past - I sadly can’t remember where now - which had a vast interior space lit only from windows high up in the tower. There were no other windows that I can recall. This had the effect of drawing ones’ eyes up to the light, as if to heaven. Such a simple device, but so effective and memorable.
I wanted to share two of my photos of the porticoes of Bologna.
The porticoes are, of course, highly functional, but so much more than a simple pavement and an immediately recognisable aspect of the city. I used to stroll the almost empty streets during the pandemic when the geometric shapes, seemingly disappearing into infinity, were quite hypnotic. I often found I'd walked for hours. And with the blocks of sun and shadow moving across the pink and orange arches throughout the day, no stroll was ever the same.
Sending you some photos from my favourite buildings in Spain (where i'm from and I live and work) though, if anyone asks me, I would say my favourite building is Hagia Sophia (as I am byzanthinist, I cannot look any other building in the world the way I look Hagia Sophia). Anyways, I love my country's architecture, specially in Andalucía, where I live, and these are some of my favorites.
The first one is a view from "Las Setas" (the mushrooms, it's a popular name) it's a new decorative structure in one of the most centric places of Sevilla's old town, where you can have a panoramic view of the Giralda (the tower of the cathedral) and lots of domes from the multiple churches of the city.
Then you can see Plaza de España, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in Sevilla. In that photo, I took the shape of the ceramic benches because I absolutely love the colors.
Then there's the palace of La Alhambra, in Granada, from the Garden of La Victoria (Carmen de la Victoria). It is so well known, but nevertheless stunning.
Fourth, that's a photo of La Magdalena church, an amazing baroque church in Seville. I took the picture during Passion Week, when Cristo del Cachorro was passing by in the procession of Good Friday.
Last, there's Plaza America in Sevilla, which is next Plaza de España and work of the same architect, Aníbal González, and it was location of the Hispanic-american Exhibition in 1929.
In Falkirk there are several churches (including the "Faw Kirk" which gives the town its name) but I particularly like Saint Francis Xavier. I've attached a photograph I took a couple of years ago of the statues and windows at the side of the church that faces the street.
The statues are apparently the four evangelists depicted as lion, man, eagle and ox. The church was designed by Alexander Ritchie Conlon to replace an earlier church which had been destroyed by a fire.
The Doulton factory and shop on Lambeth High Street. Doulton is no more, sadly. The detail in the friezes and the contrasting brickwork is lovely.
My favorite architectural work is Villa Kerylos in the Côte d’Azur. Villa Kerylos was built by the French Archeologist, Théodore Reinach, during the Belle Époque. The villa's was designed by Emmanuel Pontremoli and was primarily inspired by ancient Greek noble houses. To furnish the home, Reinach even commissioned exact copies of ancient Grecian chairs, tabourets and klismos furniture.
What I personally find so incredible about this building is the perfect balance between drawing on inspiration from the past and embracing the modern. If one were to ask if Villa Kerylos is more Ancient Greek or more Art Nouveau in style, there is simply no right answer because it is both in equal measure. I imagine living there was an immersive trip to the past while simultaneously being able to enjoy the comforts of modern life. Having window views out over the coast of one of the most beautiful areas in the world doesn't hurt either.
I have a picture of the staircase of my old university, Norwegian University of Life Sciences. I thought I’d send a picture of the buidlings and the park, because it is beautiful, but turns out I did not really have any good pictures. Instead I found this picture of one the staircases inside. It shows wheat, which is something the university do a lot of research on. The university used to be an old school for agriculture. I am myself very fascinated by the evolution of wheat and other grains, and how important cultivating grasses to grain has been for the humanity. These staircases aknowledges this importance.
Im sending this mausoleum from the general cementery of my hometown, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
This mausoleum is for the family Midence Soto, they were the first family to have 1 million pesos in Honduras in the late 1890s.
I'd like to share my appreciation of two contemporary chapels which I feel have a design dialogue between themselves. The Bruder Klaus Chapel, built by Peter Zumthor in 2007 and The Wooden chapel by John Pawson, completed 2018. Both chapels have an aesthetic purity born of the materials that made them. Primarily, the tree.
Zumthor's chapel began as a 'wig-wam' of tree trunks, creating textured formwork for concrete to be poured atop of before being burnt out. Their charred vestiges embedded in the walls while the exterior is a smoothly textured box that Pawson described as a 'landlocked lighthouse' upon visiting before designing his own chapel. In Pawson's chapel, the entirety of the tree trunk is used as a building material, making minimal cuts to allow in dapples of sunlight. It has a similarly bold external appearance to Zumthor's chapel but the inside has a warmth and one can imagine smell to it.
From a modern perspective this shows a mastery of material and natural light to create spaces for prayer and contemplation. I could ramble on about these but best keep it succinct and let the pictures do the talking.
This is quite a contrast with many of the classical buildings which are often built with brick and clad in an expensive stone masking their construction. The 'honesty' of materials, as you are probably aware, is one of the central tenants of modern architecture. It is often executed with mixed success but it's interesting to dwell on the cultural values which have given this approach significance.
Thought I’d share two places from Australia, and mention why they are interesting.
- Flinders Street Station - Melbourne (attaching two photos, one is mine and one is a good one from the Internet) Any Australian would instantly know this place as it is a cultural landmark used to signify the city Like the Eiffel Tower for Paris or Big Ben for London, if it has to be established visually that a plot is set in Melbourne, all that is needed is a shot of this Edwardian building with thousands of people buzzing around. For the first train station in Australia, a proper Edwardian building was built over 10 years from 1900 to 1909, and still stands to this day with all its glory. Rumour and apocryphal stories abound that the plans for this Edwardian East India looking building was mixed up with the Gothic looking Victoria terminus (CST now) in Bombay (Mumbai now), although the timelines don’t match, but an interesting tale nonetheless. The fact that this building has so much function and form, and a lot of interesting stories makes it a stand out.
- General Post Office - Martin Place, Sydney (attaching two photos, one is mine from inside the building and one is a good one from the Internet). While not as famous as the obvious Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Opera House that everyone associates with Australia or Sydney, this is my favourite building in Sydney for all its history. Built as the General Post Office (one of the most important public offices there was at that time), it housed the postal, telegraph and at times an exhibition place for scientific achievements. Meant to be the grandest building in the Southern Hemisphere when it was conceived and built, it did have that honour for 100 odd years till the Opera House and other buildings came around. The architects have an interesting way to put their imprint and whimsical nature in this building - it has one face representing each of Britain’s colonies, then all the states of Australia and some Roman god/goddesses. However, the whimsical part is in the backside of the building where common people like fishmongers, sailors, postmen and even an architect (some claim it is the architect himself) which caused quite a stir by common-placing something so solemn with normal people It is now a hotel who have impeccably restored it and offer some great walking tours.
This is the Old DuPage County Courthouse in Wheaton, Illinois. It's about a mile from where I live, so I see it all the time, but there's something about it that makes me want to pause and look every time I pass by. It was built in 1896 and was used until 1990, when they built a new county courthouse in another part of town. For me, it's not just the style (which I love), but there's something about the color of this building that gets me.
It isn't quite a building but I hope it counts. I'm choosing this Ring or "Fairy" Fort in Abbeytown, County Sligo in the west of Ireland.
I'm fascinated by such ancient architecture as they represents a more humble approach to creating a space for us to live in. When we build now we extract material from the Earth and cut, mill, and cement it together often after transporting hundreds if not thousands of miles from the source.
Structures like the Ringfort are different. Instead they mold the Earth around them, forming it into homes, defenses, and (allegedly) treasure troves in the cellar! Although maybe a more primitive approach to construction it ensure the legacy of the people who built it are imprinted on the landscape and eventually become part of the landscape itself!
This approach also gives these kind of structures an otherworldly feel which might be why they are so often tied to folklore and superstition. You can find them up on weather-beaten hilltops, out on lonely moors under great skys or huddled down in groves in deep, dark woods and it's not hard to imagine the denizens of other planes of existence living there.
They harken back to a different age of architecture when we built with and into the landscape, creating a shared space between nature and humanity. In contrast to the entirely human environment most of us live in now! (Although a bit a central is still nice).
There is a large Balinese Hindu temple or Pura located in Belgium, claimed to be the largest Balinese Hindu temple abroad, precisely in Europe. It goes by the name Pura Santi Agung Bhuwana within Pairi Daiza zoo, in Brugelette, Belgium. I visited it back in 2015 and we had a religious prayer and ceremony at the end of the Galungan & Kuningan celebration. While it is located in a public zoo, the temple is open for religious ceremonies for the local Balinese communities and maintains its traditional practices as well as values. In its presence, you do feel like you're (back) in Bali, and it's an immensely moving experience
This is "Palacio de los Olotes" from my hometown in Ciudad Guzman Jalisco, Mexico.
This is Masia Freixa. This house is a hidden jewel of catalan modernism located in my city, Terrassa (Catalonia).
Per your architecture request, this may not be a masterpiece in some eyes, though it did achieve a certain reputation when completed, the Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada) Central Public Library has captured the hearts of our city.
Generational, non-traditional design, truly a multi-use space, a loose stack of books that occupies a central downtown block, a magnet for so many.
Please find attached my photograph of the Sihlpost building in my adopted home city of Zurich, Switzerland. Among the many things about it I appreciate is the way its top storey is slightly set back, which reminds me of Erich Mendelsohn's (sadly no longer extant) Columbushaus in Berlin: a building I learned about for a tour of Berlin with students years ago.
In my home village next to the school here's a farm that was renovated to be habitable and have little rooms for associations and co, as well as a refectory for the school and a whole section for after school center that looks super cute, and it's super pretty, I love the style, cozy, wooden, but clean and modern, with use of old stone for the walls and visible pretty roof futters,there's a whole aesthetic I draw from a lot.
Hello, on reading your request for photographs of our favourite architecture, I immediately thought of the door of the cathedral in Rochester, Kent, where Iive. Yes, it's a cathedral, but it's not a GREAT cathedral like Salisbury, or Canterbury, or Reims. It was built by the Normans so it's sturdy rather than elegant, and the diocese was never rich enough to rebuild it in a more refined style. But there's a tangible depth of history in these stones - Bishop Gundulf started building it in 1083, when it must have been a stark display of foreign domination, along with the castle built next to it, less than 20 years after the Battle of Hastings. One of my favourite elements is the main door, or more precisely the semi-circular relief above it (I believe called a tympanum). As you can see, the central figure is a seated Christ, but his face has been hacked off, presumably in a bout of iconoclasm during the Civil War. I love how the statues of bishops Gundulf and John that flank the tympanum have been restored, but Christ's face has not - it tells such a story of belief and religious strife. The rest of the tympanum contains carved figures of dragons, sirens, animals and plants, and even vomiting cats, apparently a reference to the 13th century Cathar heresy. There's a real feel of Rodin's Gates of Hell in the jumble of creatures, both real and fantastical.
I will describe, as a layman, why I was enraptured by St. Peter’s Cathedral in Riga, Latvia, as I quickly snapped the below pics.
1) It is old, having been built, in stages, from the 1200s to the late 1400s.
2) The nave has windows around the soaring ceiling, which lets in unadulterated sunlight, as it did this day. Though I’m not religious, this design seems to be a pure form to allow worshipers to commune with the heavens.
3) The steeple, which burned down and was rebuilt in the 1940s, is interesting with its multiple, narrowing, circular (balconies?),like a telescope, hesitating as it ascends. This seems like a gentler protrusion into the heavens than a spire, which, now that I think about it more, is a pretty overconfident church topping. The staggered spire on St. Peter’s seems to stop and ask, “may I,” along the way.
I’m from Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv. Besieged by ruzzian invaders last year, it was shelled extensively but still stands strong. Kharkiv is not an incredibly old city but since it’s founding in 17th century it’s been a melting pot of various styles, from imperial baroque to Ukrainian modernism, Stalinist empire style and brutalism.The building I wanna highlight is not really an obscure one, but I think it requires more recognition.
The Derzhprom (Ukrainian: Держпром) or Gosprom (Russian: Госпром) is a Constructivist skyscraper, at the time of construction the highest building in the USSR (by some sources, second-highest in Europe). Build from concrete using mostly manual labor, it dominated the central square of the city. Derzhprom is currently on the UNESCO Tentative World Heritage list.
And that's all
I hope you enjoyed these as much as I did. It was a stunning reminder of how big the world really is, and of how much beauty - in all its many forms - is concealed therein. An edifying, illuminating, and delightful experience. The Areopagus shall return with seven short lessons next Friday. Until then, adieu, and thank you for all the architecture!