Category Archives: Architecture

Pictures at an Exhibition

Part One: 12 Henrietta Street

A couple of weeks ago I styled the poster for the Opera Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Don Giovanni. Starring David Kempster, Kip Carroll shot the photos, and the location was number 12 Henrietta Street.


The Heritage Council describes Henrietta Street as “one of the first and finest planned Georgian streets in Dublin” and it served as a blueprint for much of Georgian Dublin as we now know it.

Number 12 was built in 1730 on a street so grand that, by 1792, it housed one archbishop; two bishops; four peers and four MPs.

Photo: William Murphy

Photo: William Murphy

Following the enactment of the Act of Union in 1801, (ie: The dissolution of the Irish Parliament) many of the politically significant residents of Dublin would move to London to take their seats in the new Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland. The socially significant went with.

Whole streets of grand Georgian dwellings were left in the hands of agents. House prices plummeted and the slum landlords cashed in, at a time when famine-stricken families were arriving into the city in droves, looking for work and a place to live.

By the 1890s many houses on Henrietta Street had been bought by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alderman Joseph M. Meade.

Under his direction the houses were divided up into the maximum possible number of tenement rooms.

The 1901 census records 11 separate dwellings within number 12, occupied by 73 people, ranging in ages from 1 to 76. These were for the most part semi-skilled and skilled workers: Carpenters, Iron Roofers, French Polishers and Upholsterers, Bridle Stitchers, one ex-Lancashire Fusilier, one 70-year old Nurse.


The house still bears the scars of the many divisions and sub-divisions required to provide accommodation to so many people.

Much of the restoration has involved stripping back those modifications, and allowing the bones of the house to be seen again.

Photo: Leona Lee Cully

Photo: Leona Lee Cully

Ian Lumley, the owner, and Built Environment & Heritage Officer for An Taisce, Ireland’s National Trust, rents out the house to film crews and for photo shoots and that money then gets ploughed back in to restoration. As it stands – made safe but still some distance from its original beauty – it is a very lovely, very photogenic space.


Photo: Ian Lumley

Photo: Ian Lumley

Beauty only goes so far, though. Sanitation was non-existent. Those stunning high ceilings and huge windows make the place a bitch to heat, the house becomes damp, maybe you lose a few roof tiles in a storm and, without constant maintenance, a building like this starts to crumble.

In 1913 seven people were killed when two tenement houses on Church Street collapsed.

In 1963 two people were killed when a four-storey house collapsed on Bolton Street. Ten days later another two people died when two buildings on Fenian Street collapsed. The solution?

Headline from Irish Independent, July 1963

Headline from Irish Independent, July 1963

And now here we are in 2015. Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose.



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Filed under Architecture, Dublin looking pretty, History

Cross Stitch & Digression

My new toy these days is Cross Stitch, which I’ve found to be as addictive as Angry Birds except instead of ending up with RSI you end up with RSI and a thing!

In these stitchin’ and bitchin’ days I find it odd how difficult it is to find a cross-stitched thing I’d actually want though. Possibly there is a community of cross stitchin’ punks out there, and please leave a comment if you know of any.

To date I’ve found these, which are great but for the fact that they don’t give you the right amount of thread in the kits – I’ve way too much green, nowhere near enough grey and they didn’t  put in any thread for the sky. Also in retrospect it might have been a tad ambitious to take this on as my first ever project given that the image isn’t printed on the fabric – you have to count each coloured stitch. Each stitch is about 1 millimetre across. So when I say they’re great…

Anyway. A bit about Battersea Power Station, now half-owned by the Irish people, via NAMA the National Assets Management Agency.

photo by Reuters

I lived in London briefly in the ‘90’s and would see the power station most days on my way into work. I was very fond of it. I vaguely remeber seeing the Pink Floyd album Animals at home, my sister was a fan, but I think I responded more to the aesthetic of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s great brick cathedral, described as “A Temple of Power”.

Funnily enough, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott also designed the iconic K2 red telephone box. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, To design one London landmark may be regarded as luck, to design two looks like talent.

Photo by Steven Dalton, from the 1996 Thames and Hudson book, London Minimum by Herbert Ypma.

Work started on Battersea Power Station in 1929, with Sir Giles Gilbert Scott brought in a little later to assuage public worries that the station, which occupies a 15 acre (61,000m sq) site, would be an eyesore. In fact it has had an enduring popularity.

In 1975 the A station was closed, following falling ouput and rising costs. (There are two connected stations; B was built shortly after the second world war)

Michael Heseltine declared it a heritage site in 1980 with a Grade 11 listing which denotes buildings that are of ‘special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them’.

In 2007 the listing was upgraded to Grade 11* a listing given to ‘particularly important buildings of more than special interest’.

As my cross stitching took shape (and it’s been a looong time coming) it started to remind me of Charles Sheeler. Sheeler was an American photographer and painter whose methods and subject matter hymned the Machine Age. His best known photographic work is his River Rouge Ford plant series.

Criss-Crossed Conveyors, River Rouge Plant, Ford Motor Company, 1927 Charles Sheeler

He achieved an equivalent photographic quality in his paintings and even his abstracts had a sort of machine-like precision.

Charles Sheeler, “On a Shaker Theme #2” (1956) From Hyper Allergic Labs Tumblr site

His subject matter should not be seen as one-dimensional however. Yes he depicted an urban and exurban world of work, often empty of people, but it is “Work” rather than ”Industry” that is glorified by Sheeler. In addition to his factories and foundries he painted and photographed Amish barns; between 1926 and 1934 he produced a series of interiors that depict his home in South Salem, New York filled with Shaker furniture and simple ceramics.

Here are some images of Sheeler’s to remind us all of a time when “The makers of things” as Barack Obama had it, and the places in which they worked were accorded a dignity forgotten for a while, but hopefully experiencing a renaissance.

Classic Landscape, Oil on Canvas, 1931
Side of White Barn, Bucks County, Gelatin Silver Print, 1915
American Interior, Oil on Canvas, 1934

Click here to see the work I do for my soul and not for “The Man” (man).

Classic Landscape, White Barn and American Interior from Area of Design


Filed under Architecture, Art, Cross Stitch

The Ship Moored For A Long Time

Is it a little tasteless to blog ones honeymoon? Yes, I suppose it is. So here goes: Lopud is a very small island off the coast of Dubrovnik, Croatia. It has an area of roughly 5 sq km, with a population of just under 400. There are no cars on the island, and we were there at the very end of the season. The night we arrived there was a storm. In short, it was perfect.

Most of the hotels, restaurants and private houses are slung out along the bay that faces toward Dubrovnik, with the island rising to a wooded hill before sloping down again on the far side to Sunj Bay, a large sandy beach.

Just beyond the pier where the Dubrovnik ferry arrives is a 15th century Franciscan monastery – the church still in use – and there are tiny little churches no bigger than shrines really tucked in between the houses.

Apparently at one stage Lopud had between 22 and 36 churches. During the Fifteenth century it was the regional headquarters of the Republic of Dubrovnik with its own shipyard and a fleet of about 80 ships.

What I found most lovely and then most intriguing about Lopud though is a fragment of their more recent history. In the 1920’s and ‘30’s Lopud became very popular as an up market holiday destination. The Glavovic family (who still have a hotel on the island) commissioned Serbian architect Nikola Dobrovic to build a hotel.

 Old Postcard showing the bay at Lopud

Old Postcard showing the bay at Lopud


Vintage advertisement in Hotel Glavovic, translates as: "Speedboat 'Maro' available for individual and joint excursions"

Vintage advertisement in Hotel Glavovic, translates as: “Speedboat ‘Maro’ available for individual and joint excursions”


Nikola Dobrovic subsequently became one of former Yugoslavia’s most well known Modernist architects, going on to design the Army Headquarters in Belgrade (From where the levelling of Vukovar, siege of Sarajevo and random bombardment of Dubrovnik were ordered.)

*Click here for a fascinating article on the Army Headquarters and its destruction by NATO*

In the 1930’s Dobrovic had only one or two projects to his name so it is a testament to the Glavovic’s taste not only that they recognised his talent but that the end result, The Grand Hotel, is considered to be one of the best buildings of his career.

 Old postcard showing Grand Hotel, Lopud

Old postcard showing Grand Hotel, Lopud


Like a great deal of Croatian property the Grand Hotel has had quite a chequered history since it was first built and is derelict at the moment, but its beauty is still apparent. The hotel looks out onto the sea and was built to represent “The ship moored for a long time”.



It was made entirely of reinforced concrete, inside and out, but there is enormous warmth in this material or maybe it’s the curves that lend it its humanity. Either way, I find it Modernism at its most seductive.

And it wasn’t just a pretty face. In 1939 it was able to generate its own electricity, and the excess electricity produced was used to light up the whole town.

Also dating from this period, and in the same style, is his memorial to Czech poet Viktor Dyk who had died on the island in 1931. Construction of this monument was financed by a donation of Czechoslovakian government, and will hopefully soon be renovated by the Czech Embassy in Croatia.



During the Second World War Croatia sided with the Nazis, and under the authority of the Italians the Grand Hotel was used as an internment camp for Croatian Jews.

Through a combination of the goodwill of the people of Lopud and deliberate bureaucratic foot-dragging on the part of the Italians most of the Jewish refugees survived.

After the War the Communists, led by Tito, came to power and nationalised many of the hotels on Lopud including the Grand Hotel.



In 1990 a Property Restitution law was passed, to restore nationalised properties to their former owners. However, various shenanigans were to follow that ensured the Grand Hotel stood idle for a few more years.



In 1998 the Dubrovačka Bank, who held the Lopud hotels as part of their portfolio, was involved in a financial scandal that threatened the entire Croatian banking system, implicating senior politicians, police and Miroslav Kutle, a businessman and media tycoon previously convicted for embezzlement.

In 2001 the hotels were forced into bankruptcy, a move designed to benefit Baroness Francesca Von Habsburg. Von Habsburg has previous on Lopud: In 1997 she secured a concession over the Franciscan monastery. The contract obliged her to restore the church, cloister and citadel but to date she has not invested a single penny.

Finally in 2005 Atlanska Plovidba, a shipping line and travel agency, purchased Grand Hotel, and according to their website “Renovation shall commence in the very near future”. At present workers from Bosnia are staying, well, squatting in the Grand Hotel while building another hotel further up the bay. You can see their clothes hanging in the windows and balconies, and in the mornings we’d hear them from our hotel room as they went to work, then we’d turn over for another snooze.  For the rest of the day the place is as silent as the tomb.



Thanks to Vlasta and Ljubo Glavovic for their fantastic food and conversation, and click here to see La Villa, the hotel we stayed in.


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Filed under Architecture, Croatia, History, Modernism, Nikola Dobrovic

>Frozen Music


I was lucky enough recently to work backstage at The Scottish Opera’s touring production of La Boheme starring Celine Byrne. While I am vaguely predisposed to opera I don’t really know a huge amount about it so I wont embarrass myself by attempting a review. Plus, as a dresser, even if I had been able to hear all of it I couldn’t really see the stage from where I was standing backstage.

What I did hear and see was beautiful, kudos all round, but the best bit about my week was definitely the ‘commute’ – a 30 min walk – culminating in Daniel Libeskind’s beautiful Grand Canal Theatre.

Walking from Portobello Bridge to Grand Canal Square along the Grand Canal you move from a small-scale world, which is old and bucolic and lush, through to this great opening out of sky and water.

From this...

From this…

...And this...

…And this…

...Through here...

…Through here…

...Past this...

…Past this…

The theatre is jagged and complicated, like an origami crane. It is deeply assertive, deeply dynamic in its angles, in its sheer audacity.

The architectural concept of the theatre is based on stages: the stage of the theatre itself, the stage of the piazza, and the stage of the multiple level theatre lobby above the piazza. How this translates in execution can be seen from the photos below.

However, this didn’t immediately strike me as its primary intent. What I loved about the theatre was how ephemeral it looked in certain lights.

Libeskind has harnessed the reflections in the glass frontage of the theatre, bouncing images of itself back on itself and reflecting and refracting the buildings surrounding it. He has made something more shimmering than solid, something that interacts, is almost dependent on its environment.

Around the corner from the theatre

Around the corner from the theatre

The Convention Centre across the river

The Convention Centre visible across the river

Stage Door side of the theatre

Stage Door side of the theatre

Looking toward the piazza

Looking toward the piazza

Angling into the sky

Grand Canal evening

Grand Canal evening

Had I been asked to define its concept on first viewing I would have talked about the parallel between the constantly shifting light and the fleeting moment that is live performance, whether that be rock, theatre or opera.

Architecture is, as the cliché goes, frozen music…

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Filed under Architecture, Daniel Libeskind, Dublin looking pretty, Grand Canal Square