Friday, July 24, 2015

Modern Medieval: Chelsea's New Football Cathedral

Here in the States, sports stadiums can be either hit-or-miss, and their styles are all over the map. There are traditional venues, like baseball’s Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, popular newer venues like Baltimore’s Camden Yards, or huge mega-parks, like the Dallas Cowboy’s AT&T Stadium. The design of sports stadiums is a specialist trade, generally dominated by a handful of successful firms.

With this in mind, I was fascinated by the design for Chelsea’s new football (soccer) stadium, developed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, who have unveiled plans for a gargantuan new home for Chelsea FC, “inspired by the design of Westminster Abbey”. As The Guardian points out in a recent article about the design:
“If football is England’s national religion, the sport may soon have its very own majestic cathedral…”

With concept drawing currently on display, the design is said to take its cues from the gothic architecture of the Abbey, in whose diocese the stadium once stood. The new plan was commissioned by the club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, and is expected to cost at least £500m.  The plan will also boost overall crowd capacity from 42,000 to 60,000.

Clearly, based on the concept drawings, the proposed stadium looks nothing like what you might expect, using massive masonry, heavy brick piers and soaring vaults. Parts of it recall London’s Victorian railway viaducts, while other parts do resemble a soaring, buttressed cathedral. The design was also created to blend into the dense, urban location of the stadium, as elevated brick walkway will bring supporters directly into the stands above a world of bars, shops and cafes located in the arches beneath the structure.

From what I can see from the rendering, the concept is a little fantastic, a little outrageous, and utterly brilliant. It is highly difficult to integrate the massing, style and unique design elements of medieval architecture into the modern urban landscape without the result looking like a Disney theme park or something that’s just downright ugly. While I’m sure not everyone will love this design, I see it as highly original, and a very successful effort in using medieval architecture as a modern design inspiration.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Yes - This IS a Tudor Home

I happened to come across this story about an old, original Tudor-period home in Surrey [UK] that was about to receive a £1.5m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for restoration.

The money is set to be used for updating the building so that it can continue to preserve local heritage and attract more visitors. The scheduled repair work will involve solving problems with dampness, removing modern fixtures and restoring the home’s original features.

As I looked at the photo of the house, I wondered if some of those original features would include half-timbering, which may very well be hidden underneath the white clapboard exterior of the present house. In some regions, a number of original Tudor homes were clad in wooden clapboards during later centuries, so their appearance on an actual Tudor house is not entirely out of context. In some cases, it may even be preferable to leave them in place, since it’s often good preservation practice to recognize some of the changes and alterations that have been made to a building over the years.

In any case, it struck me that most people wouldn’t even recognize this as a Tudor house at all, since it lacks the half-timber work that most Americans associate with the style. Most realtors I know would call it a Colonial; indeed, exchange the house’s white color for gray and it would be very reminiscent of the well-known House of The Seven Gables in Salem, MA, or even the “Witches’ House, also located there.  That is certainly “colonial” – but what those houses represent is an older, vernacular Tudor timber structure, clad in the clapboard that we associate with “colonial” homes.

In overall shape, structure and massing—the high-pitched roof, the jettied porch over the front door, the leaded casement windows—these houses can’t be anything but Tudor. The house in Surrey is a great example of this.

My own home (see photo at left) is an example of this as well. Aside from some faux half-timber work in the gable, it’s entirely clad in clapboard-style siding. But it also retains the high pitched roof and the jettied porch over the front door, supported by large corbels at each side. It’s a more modern interpretation to be sure (including the garage) but it is probably more “Tudor” in form than the brick-and-half timber “contemporary” house across the street, which most Americans would probably think of as “Tudor” –if asked to identify the style. To avoid any confusion, I often identify the style of my house as “Olde English” rather than Tudor-Revival, in recognition of the cladding materials and the fact that it was inspired by older forms, rather than attempting to copy them.

For the knowledgeable, this is no great obstacle, but for the casual observer, it’s important to see past the cover and look more thoughtfully at the book. The renovation of the Surrey house is a good story. And a good lesson.