Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

Whatever happened to original architecture?

Wednesday, April 26th, 2023

In domestic architecture the ‘Hampton Style’ is popping up all over Australia, even in Hampton, here in Melbourne.

But it’s not from here. 

The current iteration comes from The Hamptons, on the East Coast of Long Island in New York.

Even this style was influenced by Colonial India.

The Indian Bungalow, known as a ‘Bangla’ originated in Bengal between the 1760s and 1850s and was developed to house British colonial officials.

This style was first introduced into Australia in the 1840s and became known as the ‘Queenslander’.

In the past, the United States had Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) and Australia had Robin Boyd (1919-1971). However in the last 50 years, no one seems to have stepped up to leave their mark on domestic architecture.

I have always bitched about the lack of originality, especially in the US. 

However now we seem to have adopted their boring approach of just copying the past.

A developer’s dream.

Tuesday, April 19th, 2022

The Burnham Beeches Mansion sits within the ‘Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens’ in Sherbrooke.

It was originally built for the sales magnate Alfred Nicholas, the founder of the Nicolas Aspro company, in the late 1920s and 1930s.

It now sits idle and in disrepair, much like the gardens.

It was built in the Art Deco Streamline Modern style and designed by architect Harry Norris.

Norris was also the architect of the Coles Bourke Street store (1930), which he designed for G J Coles. This was after he was sent to Europe and North America, by Coles, to study the latest trends in chain-store design and construction.

Harry Norris was a neighbour of Alfred Nicholas and the two became friends.

The brief to Norris from Nicholas was to build a house with: “Fresh air, sunshine and an outlook of command, yet under control”

The design is said to be reminiscent of an ocean liner. There is a deco zig-zag design on the wrought-iron balcony balustrades and Australian motives of koalas and possums, in moulded relief, on the reinforced concrete walls.

After the death of Nicolas in 1937, his widow Isabel and their two children lived there until the outbreak of war in 1939. It was then loaned out and became a children’s hospital.

Between 1948 and 1950 it was redecorated and then in the 1950s and 1960s two additional wings were added.

From 1955 it housed the Nicolas Institute research centre until the gardens were donated to the Shire of Sherbrooke in 1965 and named the Nicholas Memorial Gardens. 

The house was eventually sold in 1981 and became a small hotel for about ten years.

Since then there have been a number of attempts to redevelop the property but unfortunately nothing has come of them. 

Burnham Beeches is a wonderful example of the Art-Deco style and must be preserved. All it needs is the right developer, who has cash, taste and sense of history.

Hagia Sophia – what’s good and bad about Turkey.

Sunday, July 12th, 2020

After 85 years the conversion of Hagia Sofia, from a museum back to a mosque, marks a turning point for modern Turkey. 

The basilica of Hagia Sophia, built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian 1, was inaugurated in 537 and apart from a few changes, especially to the dome, is largely intact.

The emperor had building material brought from all over the empire, including Hellenistic columns from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

It held the title for being the world’s largest cathedral for nearly 1,000 years and was a marvel of architecture and engineering.

Following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453, four minarets were added to the exterior.

As part of the secularising of Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1935, the basilica was tuned into a museum. 

This UNESCO World Heritage site is the most popular tourist destination in Istanbul. In 2014 over 3.5 million people visited the museum. Since then numbers had dropped off, due to terrorist concerns, but have steadily risen again with 3 million visitors in 2019.

It has been a wonderful example of how Turkey spans both the east and west, faiths and cultures.

This retrograde step is yet another move by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his conservative, popularist government to turn back the clock on history. It’s a rejection of the secularism that has made Turkey such a diverse and interesting country.

Hoddle’s Grid.

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

The Hoddle Grid is the street layout of Melbourne’s CBD.

It was named after its designer, Robert Hoddle (1794 – 1881) Hoddle was an accomplished artist and surveyor.

Hoddle’s Grid covers the area from Flinders Street, in the south to Queen Victoria Market in the north and Spencer Street in the west to Spring Street in the east.

The State Library of Victoria have just released an iPhone app that has used over 300 images of old Melbourne and combined them with stories and historical detail.

“The app uses your location to reveal rarely seen photos and stories of the surrounding buildings and streetscapes, as well as amazing aerial views.”

I have only spent a brief time using it while walking around the city and found it fascinating. It sadly reveals just how many old buildings have fallen to Whelan the Wrecker’s demolition ball.

Hoddle’s Grid: Street history of Melbourne is only for iPhones so Android users will unfortunately miss out.

The old fish market in Flinders Street (gone)

The old fish market in Flinders Street (gone)


Korea, the yin and yang.
Busan and the South East.
(October 2013)

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Wet and dry.

On the first day in Busan the weather was beautiful and we took the Haeundae Route of the Busan City Tour from near our hotel. We then changed to the Taejongdae Route and went to Taejongdae Island, where we had a pleasant 5.6 km stroll to the lighthouse and back.

As I have mentioned before, the Koreans love to walk.

Here in Busan, they wear enough kit to climb the Jungfrau, even if they are only going for an easy stroll around a city park. There are dozens of shops, both in the streets, the malls and even in the freeway rest stops, selling shoes, apparel, poles and packs.

The contrast between the modern section, near our hotel, and the older Busan, near the Central Station, is amazing. Busan is obviously a city that has had rapid growth. The older part of town has been left behind and replaced by high rise towers, shopping malls, hotels and an impressive system of bridges and fly-overs.

Even in Busan westerners were in short supply and we only encountered a few groups on our travels around the city. The majority were young Americans here for the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). Held annually, it is regarded as one of the most significant film festivals in Asia.

It was Saturday and the streets were crowded with day trippers and there was only standing room on the bus for the ride back to Central Station.

There was still light in the sky so we went for another walk, this time around Dongbaok Park, also known as Camelia Park, which was opposite our hotel. By the time we reached the far side the sun had set and the city lights had taken over. We then had a great view of Gwangandaegyo Bridge, the city and the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) building, which was in the foreground.

The next day we were up and out early for a day trip Gyeongju Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto, Tumuli Park and the Naional Museum.

Our guide, John, was the perfect partner, especially with the holy sites as his understanding of religion was excellent. He was widely travelled and had even spent time living in the Middle East, so his knowledge of all faiths helped to put what we were seeing into an historical perspective.

Gyeongju  Bulguksa Temple is known as the Paradise of Buda and was built by the Silla Kings AD 751-774. The temple was the centre of Silla Buddhism and of prayer for protection against foreign invasion.

It didn’t work, as the temple was burnt down in 1593 by the Japanese.

From 1969 to 1973 it was completely restored and in 1995 it, along with Seokguram Grotto, our next destination, was designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Seokguram Grotto is based on Indian Buddhist grottos and built in 751. Considering its age it’s a marvel of engineering, being constructed entirely of granite, without the use or mortar and with a tolerance between the joints of less than one millimeter.

Then the rains came as we were on-route to Tumuli Park and by the time we were there it was torrential. John was in no way deterred by the change in weather and soon had us trudging through the pouring rain.

Tumuli Park is the ancient burial grounds of Silla Kingdom 500-600AD and there are dozens of these earthen mounds in the park. The larger ones, reserved for important people, have a wood-lined chamber, covered with large river rocks and then encased in earth.

Only two of these tombs have been excavated. Cheonmachong, or the Flying Horse Tomb is 47m in diameter and 12.7m in hight and when opened revealed a wealth of artifacts for the King to take to the ‘next life’.

Our final stop on a long day was the National Museum where many of the artifacts from the Cheonmachong Tomb are kept.

Soaked to the skin, and leaving watery footprints wherever we went, we raced through the museum visiting only the essential exhibits.

It was then back on the bus and back to the hotel to try and dry out.

Monday was spent drying our saturated clothes from the Sunday tour and a walk around Busan. This included the Zenith Towers, a three tower residential block, with the ‘Premium Brands’ section. This will soon become a samples and seconds retail outlet as no one was there and half of the shops had already closed.

Continuing our stroll and with an eye on the darkening sky we discovered the Sooyoungro Presbyterian Church, an excellent example of contemporary church architecture.

Our final stop was the Shinsegae Department Store.

We had been told that it’s the world’s largest and once we were inside we could see why. There were five or six floors of shopping opportunities, with fashion, food, cosmetics, an ice rink and a floor devoted entirely to hiking gear.

On our last day in Busan the skies cleared for our trip to Junam Wetland Park and Haeinsa Temple. John was again our guide.

The Junam Wetland Park is the largest natural wetland in Korea. It consists of four swamps with a total area of 602 hectare.

This is a tourist bonanza for the area so the government pays the local farmers to grow rice to feed the birds.

Ironically it has to import rice to feed the people.

It’s a haven for migratory birds with 10,000 – 20,000 arriving daily in winter and 5,000 – 6,000 in summer. The birds migrate from Siberia and the ducks and swans are huge. They are the A380s of the bird world and obviously too well fed on free Korean rice.

John said, “You have visited the Paradise of Buda at Bulguksa Temple, now you have seen the Paradise of Birds at Junam Wetland.”

It was a long drive to Haeinsa Temple and we noticed just how mountainous Korea is, with every piece of flat land being occupied with either agriculture or industry. The thousands of high rise apartment blocks, that are part of every city, are squeezed up against the mountain sides.

Haeinsa Temple is built near a fast flowing river, with the water tumbling over giant boulders on its way to the valley below.

It is interesting that the Christians built their churches on the highest point, to be closer to their god, while the Buddhists built their temples in the mountains to be closer to nature.

There was a local festival and the streets to the temple were lined with stalls selling food and herbal treatments. There was also an art festival, the Haein Art Project, with sculptures and installations throughout the temple grounds.

One of the main features of Haeinsa Temple is the Tripitaka Koreana, a registered UNESCO World Heritage site. Housed in four buildings are three collections of Buddhist Scriptures, dating from the 13th Century. There are 81,350 carved wooden blocks, made from naturally treated pine and wild cherry wood.

They are protected from insects and vermin by layers of salt, charcoal, powdered lime and sand, that are 3 meters deep. The building is also totally ventilated, on all sides, to allow for a natural flow of air, again to protect the wooden tablets.

The other temple buildings are decorated, both inside and out, with paintings telling stories of life, enlightenment as allegory. In many ways they are similar to the Painted Monasteries of Moldavia in Romania, that we visited last year.

John was telling one story about Man’s journey through life. It shows an elephant running away from the fire and as a result of the rampaging beast Man jumps out of harms-way, only to find himself is a worse predicament. He is clinging to a vine, above him rats are chewing through it, while below, a pit full of snakes are waiting for him to drop.

There is a bee hive, dripping honey, above Man’s head and while he is in mortal danger, he still can’t resist the pleasure of the sweet nectar.

Life, death, pleasure, pain. More yin-yang.


Korea, the yin and yang.
Seoul and Hwaseong Haenggung.
(September 2013)

Monday, September 30th, 2013

The concept of yin-yang is used to describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world and yet interrelate to one another.

That perfectly describes Korea.

It’s therefore no wonder that the Korean flag uses yin-yang to symbolise balance within the country and its people.

Black and white, night and day, male and female, red and green, old and new.

Opposites is what South Korea is all about, especially when you consider the difference between the North and South.

Seoul is also a city of contrasts. You often see an old Korean palace, from the 17th Century, set against a backdrop of a towering steel and glass skyscraper.

It’s hard to find a rubbish bin yet the streets are free from litter.

We arrived as the Mid-Autumn Festival was in full swing in the streets around our hotel in the Insadong area. The Hotel Sunbee is well located and close to the palaces, restaurants, bars and the Metro.

On our first full day we took the ‘Hop-on-hop-off’ bus tour to get a good perspective of the city. It rained in the late afternoon so we didn’t do too much ‘hopping off’. On the two occasions that we did get off the bus we visited Gyeongbokgung Palace, first built in 1395 and then reconstructed in 1867, and Gwanghwamun Gate and stood beneath the impressive statue of King Sejong the Great, 1397-1450. At Gyeongbokgung Palace we bought a ‘Combination Ticket’ which gave us access to five sites.

The following day we visited Jongmyo Shrine, built in 1394 and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. We arrived just in time for the English guided tour. From there we walked along Cheonggyecheon or ‘The Stream’, an artery of life set below the madness of the city streets.

Contemporary architecture is a feature of Seoul and there is no better example than the new City Hall. This is literarily ‘New Wave’ architecture and when you see it set against the Old City Hall you can see how well the old and new complement each other.

More yin-yang.

Later that afternoon we arrived at Deokstgung, one of the Five Grand Palaces built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. This time, we were just in time, for the changing of the guard, a colorful display of  command shouting, drum pounding and band marching. The palace was a little more subdued with beautifully crafted traditional Korean architecture and and a quaint, western inspired, pavilion designed by a Russian architect at the turn of the last century.

The following morning we had a guided tour arranged and visited the Korean Folk Village at Hwaseong Haenggung and then travelled a few minutes down the road to Suwon Hwaseong Fortress.

The Korean Folk Village is as much a film set as a museum as many of the famous Korean historical dramas are shot here.

It’s also a great place to bring bus loads of Korean school kids for an outing. There were hundreds of them, all in their brightly coloured uniforms, having a wonderful time. When it came to lunchtime they all sat in neat rows and quietly ate their meal.

The Fortress was built to protect the main city and originally ran for kilometers around it, now there is only a small section remaining.

The next day we visited the Secret Garden at Changdeokgung Palace, another UNESCO World Heritage site and also built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). Unfortunately it rained again and we had to shelter under the very wide eaves of the garden buildings as we moved around. It continued raining as we moved from the garden to the palace but at least there was a bit more shelter there.

We went to find a shopping mall but instead discovered Seoul Central Railway Station built in 1927 and with many similarities to Flinders Street Station, built 73 years earlier. Inside we discovered an avant-garde typographic exhibition, ‘Typojanchi 2013’, with three floors of exhibits covering 50 years of experimental typography.

On our final morning, after a stuff up with our hotel transfer we managed to get to Yongsan Station with just a minute to spare, for our high speed train ride to Jeonju in the south west.

But even that had its upside.

Architecture and Oranges. (November 2012)

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Valencia was a total surprise.

From the moment we arrived at the beautiful Art Nouveau, Estación de Norte, the Valencian architecture continued to delight.

This was our first trip without the Renault, so we were relying on the Spanish railway network.

Our commuter Renfe (Red Nacional de Ferrocarriles Españoles or Spanish National Railway Network) took us from Montgat straight to Sants Estació, where we picked up a long distance Renfe to Valencia.

Our hotel was walking distance from the station, so it was a rather effortless four hour journey.

We had arrived early enough in the afternoon to take the last city tour on the Hop-On-Hop-Off, tourist bus, This was around the historical centre of Valencia and gave us a good idea of where the sites were.

Our bus tickets were valid for 24 hours, so the next morning we took the second half of the city tour. This was around the new area of the city and down to the port.

It was cold and wet but the driver insisted that the best views were from the top of the bus, so he put up the vinyl roof and dried off the seats. There we were, the only tourists on the bus, with the best seats. In fact we had been the only takers the previous evening, so had the best seats then as well.

Having got a good perspective on the city, we decided to walk around the old centre in the afternoon.

This took us to the Central Market, where we bought some juicy Valencia oranges for lunch. We then visited the Silk Exchange, Generalitat Palace, Our Lady’s Basilica in the Virgin Square, the Santa Catalina Church Tower, the Bullring and finally back to the Estación del Norte, to take some more snaps.

Oranges are a feature of the station’s decorative mosaics, both inside and out.

The highlight of the old city was the Lonja de la Seda or Silk Exchange, built between 1482 and 1548. It’s a world renowned example of a secular building in the Late Gothic style and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This is the 16th Century version of today’s stock exchange, with a large decorative trading hall, where the riches of the East and the New Wold were traded.

There were other beautiful buildings close to our hotel, like the town hall, post office and the Bank of Valencia.

Even our hotel had an ornate Art Nouveau entrance.

That was the old, now for the new.

Our second bus tour took us along the Antiguo del Rio Turia. This is the bed of the river Turia that was diverted after a catastrophic flood in 1957.

This area has now become a sunken recreational parkland and home to the City of Arts and Sciences.

Designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, the City of Arts and Sciences it is a group of breathtakingly contemporary buildings and bridges that has become the cities most popular, ‘modern’, tourist attraction.

This complex has done for Valencia what Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum did for Bilbao.

Integrated inside this complex is L’Oceanogràfic, the largest marine park in Europe with 45,000 animals and 500 different species of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and invertebrates.

Not surprisingly it’s centered round the Mediterranean, Atlantic and the Americas.

It was getting late in the day so we wandered back to the hotel along the riverbed. The light was low and I could’t resist taking a few more snaps of the stunning architecture.


Paradores de Tourism de España. (October 2012)

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

After experiencing the wonders of Gaudi’s Barcelona we decided to see the city from a different perspective and climbed both Montjuïc and Mount Tibidabo. They are on opposite sides of the valley and the views give you an excellent understanding of the city’s layout.

We then drove along the coast to Tarragona, past the Roman aqueduct and on to Tortosa to start our Paradore experience.

The first Spanish Paradore was opened by King Alfonso XIII in Gredos, Ávilia, in 1928.

There are now over 90 of these luxury hotels spread over Spain and the Canary Islands.

There are even some in North Africa.

Many of the hotels are in former palaces, fortresses, castles, convents and monasteries.

Being built in either public or religious buildings, a large number of Paradores occupy the high ground.

Our first night was in Paradore Tortosa.

This hotel is in a converted 10th century castle, it dominates the skyline and sits proudly over both the town and the river below.

The Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria of Tortosa has a flat roof, this is very evident when you view it from the the Paradore above. Inside you wouldn’t know, as it has all the arches and vaults of a traditional Gothic Cathedral.

Apparently many churches were built with this flat roof style.

From Tortosa we drove via Valderrobres to Paradore Alcaniz, formerly a 12th Century Castle housing the convent of the order of Calatrava in Teruel.

We took the tour of the castle, not knowing it was only in Spanish, then tried as best we could, to understand what was going on.

It was a good lesson in what it’s like for tourists who don’t have a narration in their native tongue, or English as a second language.

We did learn, mainly from the leaflet that was in English, that these Gothic wall paintings are unique, in that they show civil scenes as well as conquests and religious themes.

The next day we went via Lleida to Cardona.

The Cathedral at Lleida also has a flat roof but again you wouldn’t know if from the high, lofty interior.

The Paradore ‘Ducs de Cardona’ is built in a ninth century castle with a tower dating from the second century.

It was the most spectacular of the three we visited.

There is a long, steep, winding driveway that takes you to the top of the hill and the Paradore. From there you have an commanding view of the town and the salt mines that have made the area famous.

It is estimated that the mountain of salt, that is opposite the hotel, is 2km deep.

We drove down into Cardona in the evening and were lucky enough to capture the sun setting on the Paradore high up on the hill.

On the way back to Barcelona we climbed the 9km of winding road to visit Monserrat.

The weather had turned stormy and the clouds hung low over the mountain, creating an erie backdrop to the monastery.

The beauty is in the detail. (October 2012)

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Barcelona owes a large debt to Antoni Gaudi.

It’s October and the crowds are still flocking to see what this genius of Art Nouveau architecture has done to churches, parks and private property.

I first visited Barcelona in 1972, Franco was in power and the Sagrada Família was a fraction of the size it is today. It has been under construction since 1882 and not due to be completed until 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s death.

I visited again in 2005 and the workers were still there.

They are still there today however the interior is almost compete and it has now been consecrated.

What struck me most this time was the detail of the interior. The organic nature of Gaudi’s initial Nouveau designs have been echoed in every aspect.

The exterior view is still marred by cranes and scaffolding but it’s the interior that gives you an insight into Gaudi’s vision.

On the same day we also visited Casa Milà or La Padrera, an innovative example of domestic architecture, designed by Gaudi and built in 1912.

He even included an underground car park.

Again I was taken by the detail of the interior. There seems to be no angular surfaces and everything has a fluidity.

Inside La Padrera is a museum that illustrates how Gaudi, influenced by nature, approached his designs in an organic rather angular way.


Autumn. (September 2012)

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

When we left Barcelona the heat had subsided and we were experiencing the comfort of temperatures in the mid 20s’, not mid 30s’.

It was still warm and humid but a lot more bearable.

When we arrived in San Sebastian, only 570km north, everything was very different.

Autumn had arrived.

The temperature had dropped 10 degrees, the skies were overcast and it was raining. This was something we hand’t experienced in 4 months.

We were on the road to England through North East Spain and France, so I guess this was to be expected.

After San Sebastian we headed into the famous region of Bordeaux. Apart from wine the area is also known for the city of Bordeaux, a beautifully preserved 18th Century, UNESCO World Heritage listed city.

Certainly not part of the UNESCO listing, but still interesting, is the remains of the German U-Boat pens in the old port area.

From the city of Bordeaux we made a slight detour east, to Saint Emilion. The vines were changing colour and the grapes were plump, ripe and ready to pick.

The next few days were spent touring around Brittany, visiting some of the famous French Chateaus like Trécesson, Josselin, Kergrist and Tonquédec. On the way we also discovered some interesting ancient churches like the Chapel at St Cado and the Parish Close at Guimiliau as well as the Enchanted Forest at Huelgoat.

The current chapel in Saint Cado was built in the 12th century on the site of the original Romanesque church built by Saint Cado.

Saint Cado was a Welsh monk and a prince of Glamorgant who came to Brittany in the 6th century. He later returned to Wales where he was martyred.

Its not surprising then that many place names around this area sound decidedly Welsh.

The Parish Close at Guimiliau, dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, a is an elaborately decorated church surrounded by walled churchyard.

Apart from the historical wonders of Brittany and Normandy, there is one geographic peculiarity that make this area unique.

Massive tides play an important role in day to day life and have also had a big influence on the regions architecture, especially the ancient fortifications around Saint Malo.

At the end of the 17th Century, Louis XIV commissioned the famous military engineer, Marechel de Vauban, to strengthen the defenses around Saint Marlo. Vauban cleverly used the topography of the many tidal islands to build a series of fortifications.

And Saint Malo certainly needed defending as it was the main port of the Bretton Corsairs, who continually plundered British ships as they sailed into the English ports, laden with riches from the East.

In fact there was so much wealth in Saint Malo that Louis borrowed money from these Corsairs to pay for some of his exploits.

In more recent history, 80% of Saint Malo was destroyed during WW2 but has been painstakingly rebuilt. A walk around the 2.5km of ramparts gives you a wonderful appreciation of this wealthy pirate town.

These super tides have also had a big influence on another of the region’s landmarks, the famous island of Mont Saint Michel.

Another UNESCO Word Heritage site, Mont Saint Michel was at risk of losing its status as an island. Heavy silting from the damming of the canal, that was built at the end of the eighteen hundreds, had reduced the distance from the mainland to the island, from 1.5km to just a few meters.

Started in 2010 and due for completion in 2015, there is now a massive engineering project underway to restore the surrounding waterways.

The car park and causeway will be removed and a low profile bridge built, that will link the island to the mainland. Mega tones of silt will be trucked away, allowing the sea to surround Mont Saint Michel once again.

As impressive as the Abbey and the surrounding town is, the real feature of Mont Saint Michel is the way it dominates the landscape from many kilometers away.