Facadism gone wild: a visit to Washington D.C.

The image of Washington D.C. forged by television and film is usually confined to government buildings, the river, and monuments. Most people are familiar with the city’s low-rise skyline, dominated to this day by the stark white obelisk of the Washington Monument. Venturing into the city’s streets brought the great lengths the city’s preservationists have gone to to freeze architectural progress somewhere in the late 19th century into very clear focus.

Much has been made of the District’s strict height limit and recent efforts to lift it. The height limit does undoubtedly lead to monotonous streetscapes of squat-looking office buildings, however this was not the most surprising part of Washington’s architectural fabric. This is what really caught my attention:

DC Facadism

Did the architect of this massive office block think we’d not notice it with the thin veneer of brick three-story facades tacked on the front? Granted, D.C. is not the only city where facades are preserved as a part of new construction. However, it’s the only place I’ve seen something as bizarre as this:

Facadism in Foggy Bottom

I can’t help but think it looks like a 100-something year-old building was extruded out of the front of a 1990s office building. The massive white property line wall certainly helps cement this image, however I’m not sure how much better it will look if another building is built next door.

While the first two examples are unsuccessful and bad, the final example I’ll show manages to transcend being simply bad by being so completely honest about the fact that a new building was built completely around the older structures:

Crazy DC Facadism (Mexican Embassy?)

Upon doing more research, I discovered that the facades were originally part of a group of rowhouses known as “The Seven Buildings” that dated from the 1700s. President James Madison and his wife Dolley lived there from 1815 to 1817 while the White House was being rebuilt following the War of 1812. You can read more and see a photo of the historic plaque at The Grumpy Old Limey’s site.

Buffalo’s Grain Elevators: The Destruction of the Beginnings of Modern Architecture

Buffalo Grain Elevators
Standard Elevator

It’s been a few months now, but in July I had the chance to witness the destruction of one of Buffalo’s concrete grain elevators. Written about 30 years ago by Reyner Banham, and in the early part of the 20th Century by Corbusier and other European Modernists, the grain elevators on the Buffalo River are one of the world’s most important intact architectural landscapes. While many are currently sitting unused, their solid construction allows them to maintain their imposing presence even as windows get broken and their metal fittings rust.

I was initially alerted to the demolition of one of Buffalo’s elevators via the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website but it was shocking to see the demolition actually taking place. The silhouettes of these structures are so seemingly permanent on the Buffalo landscape it is nearly impossible to imagine them disappearing or being altered, even when I consider all of the other important buildings I saw demolished while living in Western New York.

Buffalo Grain Elevators
Grain Elevator Demolition, July 2011

Buffalo Grain Elevators
Marine tower adjacent to the Wheeler Elevator, July 2011 (prior to demolition)

Seeing the gaping hole in the outer concrete wall of the building was a shock, knowing how quickly it was being demolished after standing on this site for 101 years. While the elevator complex being demolished is not the most architecturally significant of the structures that line the Buffalo River, the importance of the Buffalo elevators lies more in the complete http://buysoma.net landscape created by lining up a variety of these structures on a narrow river in the midst of an urban neighborhood. As buildings are demolished one at a time, the overall landscape is diminished- a landscape that is a testament to both the industry of the late 1800s and early 1900s and to the history of architecture.

Buffalo Grain Elevators
Cargill Electric and American Elevators

South Buffalo at Sunset
South Buffalo Sunset, 2010

The elevators are not all empty, Cheerios are still manufactured here and Gold Medal Flour is still milled in the same building photographed by Erich Mendelsohn in 1924 (one of these is reproduced in Reynar Banham’s Concrete Atlantis). 700+ foot-long lake freighters coming from the west still dock in this port and occasionally make their way through the sharp turns of the Buffalo river, yet the glory days are long over. In 1900 Buffalo was one of the ten busiest ports in the world, despite its inland location and the winter closure of its harbor each year. Now it’s the 28th-largest in the United States.

Buffalo Grain Elevators
General Mills Complex

On a positive note, I did visit a new public park that has been created on formerly industrial land across the river from the under-demolition Wheeler Elevator. By allowing people to enjoy the river and encouraging urban kayaking and boating, I can only hope that the appreciation for this landscape grows in the general public or soon it will be too late.

Buffalo River park
Buffalo River Park

Buffalo Grain Elevators
Great Northern/Pillsbury Elevator

Sonoma / Mendocino Part II: Sea Ranch & South

From there, it was further down the coast to the community of Sea Ranch. Laid out in the 1960s by the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin with buildings by architects including Charles Moore and Joseph Esherick, Sea Ranch is a pilgrimage site for San Francisco architects (and architectural tourists). It is incredibly unwelcoming to visit if you are not staying there or on a tour, however. The roads are private and marked as such. Our sorry-looking rented car with 120,000 miles on the clock (yes, really) would have been a dead giveaway that we didn’t own oceanfront property on the California coast so we stuck to the public ocean access trails and dropped into the Sea Ranch lodge.

A view of the lodge from across the fields:

Sea Ranch, California

The sea nearby. The wind was blowing so hard I nearly lost the camera:

Sea Ranch, California

Portions of the lodge itself are going to be torn down as part of a development being undertaken by the new owner:

Sea Ranch Lodge

Even the public toilets are done in the “Sea Ranch style”:

Sea Ranch Public Toilet

From there it was south to Jenner, where I encountered one of the windiest beaches I’ve ever set foot on. There were seals with their pups at the end of the beach but I never got close enough for a particularly good photo. The beach itself is spectacular:

Jenner Beach

After an overnight stay in Guerneville, it was on to see Armstrong Redwoods State Park. The Armstrong Tree, the largest in the park, is one of the key attractions:

The Armstrong Tree

It’s a spectacular park and nowhere near as crowded as the parks closer to San Francisco (like Muir Woods). I assume it’s probably more heavily used on weekends or in the summer but if you’re in the area it is worth a visit.

Armstrong Redwoods State Park

Northern California: from Wine Country to Manchester with a bit of Angela Lansbury

It’s been a few months, and in those months I’ve relocated back from Northwest London to the San Francisco Bay Area. Much of my time in California has been rather uneventful as it has been taken up by things like looking for a place to live and buying household essentials, though there was a recent trip up to Mendocino and Sonoma counties.

The first stop was the Sonoma wine country town of Healdsburg for lunch. I took at look at the new H2 Hotel, designed by David Baker + Partners Architects of San Francisco (my former employer):

H2 Hotel, Healdsburg CA

Several doors down you’ll find the Healdsburg Hotel, and eariler David Baker project:

H2 Hotel, Healdsburg CA

Heading north we checked out the Quivira Winery, a biodynamic wine producer that is a big proponent of raising chickens and using solar power. The wine in the tasting room was excellent.

Quivira Winery, Sonoma

The town of Mendocino sits on a wind-blown peninsula. It’s beautifully preserved wooden houses are out of another era (thanks to the entire town being a historic preservation district). Our hotel was out of another era too: 1985-1987, the years “Murder, She Wrote” aired. The show was occasionally shot on location in Mendocino, which stood in for the town of Cabot Cove, Maine. Our hotel, while not authentically old, was occasionally used for filming. Their sign even reflects the fictional location:

The Hill House Inn

For anyone who might be willing to question the hotel’s role in the production of the television program, I refer you to the wall of fame in the lobby:

The Hill House Inn

The Blair House, the home where Jessica Fletcher lived on the show, is now a bed and breakfast with a suite named after Angela Lansbury. If you’re interested in buying this house, it is currently on the market for $1.65 million.

The thing I liked most about Mendocino (aside from the ocean) is the design of many of the old homes. While it is known for its Victorians, the “tower” style houses are far more interesting. They have a variety of different sizes and forms, but most have similar general proportions:

Mendocino Tower House

Another design feature of the town is its rustic yet carefully considered style. I love this fence:

Fantastic Rustic Fence in Mendocino

From Mendocino it was up the coast to Manchester. Manchester? Yes, just like the one in England I didn’t manage to visit while I was living there. The California version of Manchester is noticeably smaller and more rural. There is also a large state park that is full of deer:

Deer at Manchester Beach

Across the road from these deer is an incredibly high-security facility known as the Point Arena Cable Station. This is the landing point for the fiber optic cables that cross the Pacific to Japan. There are a number of other cable stations up and down the coast with cable to a number of countries and Hawaii. This one ended up in Manchester because it is the closest place in the US to Japan. I was a bit nervous standing in the trees snapping this photo:

Manchester Cable Crossing

What else was there to see in Manchester Beach State Park? The spectacularly empty (of people) beach, of course:

Manchester Beach State Park

Then it was on the Point Arena, home of this lighthouse:

Point Arena Lighthouse

Join me in my next installment as I share tales of Sea Ranch and Guerneville.

An Invitation to a New Way of Living: The Modern Motel

Author Alain de Botton is on a mission to convince people that they could live in modern houses. I read his book The Architecture of Happiness last year and wasn’t particularly impressed. After reading Will Wiles’ article in the November 2010 issue of Icon magazine about de Botton’s new company, Living Architecture, I became more interested in his mission. Would people really want to live in a modern house if they were educated to appreciate it? In de Botton’s own words:

Each is designged to challenge preconceptions about modern architecture and, with luck, win over sceptical Brits in the course of a weekend break.

Living Architecture didn’t go for half-measures: known as  “The Balancing Barn,” one of the first buildings available for rental is a shiny-metal clad house cantilevered over a hillside by the world-famous Dutch firm MVRDV.  At £725 for a 4-night break (the Living Architecture website cheerily points out it only costs £23 per person per night), the house offers people the chance to try out a comfortable yet strikingly modern lifestyle. I’m not so sure that de Botton’s goal of luring the British public to live in modern homes will be very well-served by this tactic: it seems only those already enthusiastic about staying in a modern home designed by a famous architect will rent this house. At present, the company has four properties and  they are planning to build more, but it seems like a drop in the bucket if there is any hope for a mass conversion to modern tastes.

You would think that if only de Botton’s company could roll out the program on a larger scale, the cottage-loving public would change their minds about domestic architecture, but I don’t think it is that simple. While in graduate school I examined a very similar phenomenon that took place in post-WW2 America in a paper titled “Modern Motel Architecture: Your Night in the Future.”

While the motor inn had existed in a variety of formats since as early as the 1920s, it took its clearly defined form as the motel after World War II. With the expansion of the U.S. interstate network, staying at these roadside establishments became very commonplace: 59% of Americans stayed at motels while on vacation in 1955 versus only 36% in traditional hotels. How were these new motels marketed? With modern architecture.

Googie sign, Tod Motor Motel - Las Vegas
The Tod Motor Motel in Las Vegas (2006)

While the signs announcing these businesses are often the most dominant feature, the motel buildings themselves were a drastic departure from the tourist cabins and traditional hotels that preceded them. Owners of these businesses needed to shake the “no-tell motel” image of the pre-war era that had been reinforced through popular culture. Hitchcock’s Psycho plays off of the public’s associations with run-down motels as a set up for the film’s plot with Norman Bates’s character living in a creepy old Victorian house that looms over its surroundings. Proprietors would use garish colours, large sheets of glass and modern methods of construction to set the modern motel apart from all forms of accommodation previously known to most Americans. Subsequently, the modern motel would be the first time most ordinary Americans would be invited to spend the night in an Architecturally findviagra modern building.

Reno, NV
Motel in Reno, Nevada (2003)

Venturi, Brown and Izenour discuss motels in Learning from Las Vegas and categorize them as “Pleasure Zone Architecture,” a category with qualities that include “lightness, the quality of being an oasis in a perhaps hostile context, heightened symbolism, and the ability to engulf the visitor in a new role.” (1) LFLV also points out the role that this type of architecture plays in allowing people to imagine the future, claiming that “for three days one may imagine oneself a Centurion at Caesars Palace, a ranger at the Frontier, or a jetsetter at the Riviera.” (2)

Outside of Las Vegas, the buildings were smaller and a little less grand, but still communicated the idea of a better life through modernism as motels spread across the United States, following the new interstates. Steven Izenour wrote about this phenomenon in short workbook in 2001 titled “Learning from Wildwood” about blue-collar resort motels in Wildwood, New Jersey. Families unable to afford a trip to the Carribean could instead spend a few nights at a beach-themed modern motel on the side of a New Jersey highway with a flat roof and large picture windows.

Did Americans clamour for modern homes after experiencing the future in these motels? The short answer is no. While modern-lite ranch homes did become somewhat popular, they still retained many traits of  traditional American homes. Communities like Levittown in New York and Lakewood in Southern California were the real look of the future, rather than space age motels. Modern methods of production brought the factory to the job site, but the end product was more Cape Cod than Buck Rogers:

Levittown, 1948: the post-war American Dream
Levittown, 1948: the post-war American Dream

Modernism was a fashion of the 1960s, and it fell out of favour. In an interview I conducted in 2005, Victor Newlove (the third partner at famed Googie architecture firm Armet & Davis, later known as Armet Davis Newlove) pointed out that people tired of modernism just as they had tired of tailfins on their cars. Architectural historian Alan Hess ties the death of modern commercial architecture to the rise of  highway beautification and the environmental movement of the early 1970s. (3) In any case, the era was definitely over when McDonald’s started to build brown brick restaurants with over-scaled Mansard roofs in the latter part of the decade. (4)

I doubt the situation in Great Britain in 2010 will play out much differently, especially now that the recent modern-ish housing in most British urban centres has become associated with the bubble economy of the last decade. With the new government comes a focus on localism in planning policy, which doesn’t look good for those wanting to build modern houses not “in keeping” with their surroundings. It is hard to change what is perceived as a centuries-old tradition of housebuilding with a few nights’ stay in a modern rental property.

1 Robert Venturi, et al. Learning from Las Vegas revised ed.(Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1998) 53.

2. Veturi, et al. 53.

3. Alan Hess, Googie Redux (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2004) 178.

4. Philip Langdon, Orange Roofs, Golden Arches (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986) 140-141.

Disasterville in the Cotswolds

I was looking at the town of Moreton-in-Marsh on Google Maps and discovered this area of strange-looking streets that clearly looks like an airport. It turns out this was a base for Wellington Bombers during World War II, and after the war it was converted into the Fire Service College where fire brigades from around the UK can go for training. The facilities guide on their website is great- it provides a 3D view of the site with various incident-training site identified, simulating almost any disaster you can imagine. Facilities include a ship, a high-rise, a stricken Boeing 737 and the M96 motorway- a fictional motorway for “simulated large vehicle incidents.”

Fire Service Training College
Photo by Chris Juden on Flickr (Some rights reserved)

In the heart of the Cotswolds, there is a new disaster brewing every day.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh meets summer skiing in Glasgow

House for an Art Lover

Adding to the growing worldwide trend of building works by famous architects long after their deaths, Glasgow has a relatively recently-built version of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s “House for an Art Lover.” Designed in 1901, and built between 1989 and 1996, the project was originally designed for a German ideas competition but was disqualified for being submitted late.

House for an Art Lover

With many of the interiors built from perspective sketches done by Mackintosh, the building presents an opportunity to experience a famous historical building that never existed (until now). What I found most interesting about the project was its context. While it is set in a lush park, the most obvious feature of the site is the artificial ski hill across the parking area.

Fake ski hill, Glasgow

Snowboarding on fake plastic “snow” at the side of a damp car park within the city limits of Glasgow is no more strange than touring a building constructed from competition sketches 60 years after the architect’s death. Both experiences require a similar suspension of disbelief and a willingness to admit that authenticity is not necessarily important if one accepts the limitations of the simulation.

East Sussex/West Sussex Road Trip

Coming from America, I assumed there must be a huge East Sussex/West Sussex rivalry of the 2Pac vs. Notorious B.I.G. variety, but upon visiting I was proven wrong (or else I was looking in the wrong places). The trip was a brief (2 day) excursion, but we were able to see far more than I imagined in such a short amount of time.

Arundel

The first stop was Arundel, located in West Sussex. A small market town, it is located on the lovely River Arun. It is famous for being the location of Arundel Castle, which is the home of the Duke of Norfolk. The castle was built by the Normans in 1068 to protect the coast from invasion from the continent, but much of what you see today has been reconstructed since the 1700s. In fact, a large portion of the accommodations were built solely for a Royal Visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1846.

Arundel Castle

The view from the keep:
Arundel Castle

The high point of the visit, for me, were the extensive gardens. Despite some rain, they looked fantastic and included greenhouses and outdoor plots where a large portion of food consumed by the Duke’s family is grown. The ornamental and water gardens were spectacular too. Most of the garden had been a car park since the 1950s, and only in the last five years has it existed in its current form.

Arundel Castle Garden

The water gardens were bordering on excessive. I loved them.

Arundel Castle Garden

One of the stranger things in the tour is the “Dancing Crown” fountain. The fountain is inside Oberon’s Palace, a building built in 2006 from a set design by Indigo Jones. The design of the “Dancing Crown” dates back to the Renaissance.

Upon leaving the castle, this family of swans passed by in the river just outside the wall:

Arundel - swan family in the river

Littlehampton

After leaving Arundel, it was on to Littlehampton. In comparison to the picturesque quaintness of Arundel, Littlehampton looked rough around the edges (though more in a Weatherspoons way than in an inner-city Detroit way). There was a pedestrianised area in the middle of town, with ample cheap parking, and this decrepit arcade:

Littlehampton Arcade

There was also a regenerated area, of sorts, that held a number of particularly unattractive buildings that face a marina Note the requisite pun in the name of the exhibit.

Littlehampton Marina

There is also a run-down looking amusement area, with a castle that is slightly less impressive than the one down the road in Arundel:

Littlehampton Castle at the Pier

The following morning, before leaving town, we checked out the “Longest Bench in Britain” by Studio Weave. It is part of a seaside regeneration project, and apparently some people were not happy about its approximately 1 million pound cost.

Longest Bench - Littlehampton

It is incredibly uncomfortable if you actually decide to sit on it because the little blocks of wood are too far apart. The ends of it turn into small pavilions:

Longest Bench - Littlehampton

Worthing (The War Pigeon Memorial)

From there, it was on to Worthing. The only thing I knew about Worthing was that there was supposed to be a pigeon memorial to the birds that took part in World War II, many of which didn’t come back. The memorial is in the middle of Beach House Park, and it is actually a small fenced off garden for use by birds (how appropriate). The inside of it looks like this, from the other side of the fence:

Worthing War Pigeon Memorial - Beach House Park

This is the matter-of-fact sign that lets you know it’s not for you, it’s for the birds:

Worthing War Pigeon Memorial - Beach House Park

Beachy Head

From there, it was on to East Sussex and to Beachy Head. We stopped at a car boot sale on the way, where I purchased a ceramic owl-shaped planter and a coloured glass vase (perhaps a post of its own someday). The setting was gorgeous, especially if the weather had been better:

Boot Sale in Peacehaven

The cliffs of Beachy Head were spectacular, the path was moved in recent years when the old one went over the edge as the cliff face eroded.

Beachy Head cliffs

Eastbourne

Not much to say about Eastbourne, except that there was nice brickwork everywhere and there was an airshow going on while we were walking through town. Here’s the entrance to a building that formerly housed the “Eastbourne Artizans Dwellings”:

Eastbourne - Brickwork

Lewes

From there, it was back to London with a quick stop in Lewes on the way. It was also very quaint, but there was nothing particularly photogenic though I did capture the Argos next to the river in the dead centre of town:

Lewes - Bridge

Gehry’s Art Gallery of Ontario is Retro Frank Gehry at His Finest

Art Gallery of Ontario

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) completed an extensive renovation in 2008 that transformed its building on Dundas Street in Toronto. Work began in 2004 and cost $276 million. Led by Frank Gahry, Instead of starting afresh, Gehry took the existing building and its somewhat chaotic slew of previous expansions and unified it into a functioning whole. The expansion was a controversial strategy, with many people concerned that a large amount of money was being spent without obtaining a signature Gehry building.

Upon entering the building under an expressive glass-clad cantilevered upper gallery (see above) one enters a low ticket hall. Passing through this area and into the Walker Court at the heart of the building, this well-lit atrium space shows one of Gehry’s most dramatic interventions in the old fabric of the building:

Art Gallery of Ontario

In order to reach the stair, shown above, visitors must walk upstairs to the upper level of the atrium and walk around the perimeter. The new portion of the construction is finished in light-coloured wood and touches the existing early 20th Century building very lightly:

Art Gallery of Ontario

The insertion and interaction of the new within and attached to the old looks strange when compared to most of Gehry’s recent highly sculptural work, but when looked at in relation to his work from the late 1970s through mid 1980s it clearly references an important part of his tradition.

Frank Gehry's House
Frank Gehry's House, photo by Kristo

His own home in Santa Monica is the best example from this period. By taking a “Dutch Colonial” home in a typical Santa Monica neighbourhood and  building an armature around it, while also strategically removing portions of the old house, Gehry deconstructed the experience of home life itself (see a collection of photos and drawings on Arch Daily here). He also collaged together many of the building blocks of suburbia in an unexpected juxtaposition- one that disturbed his neighbours. They obviously had no problem with corrugated metal or chain link fences (they were common on other homes in the area) until Gehry decided to get creative with them.

Moving up further into the AGO via the curved stair shown earlier,visitors move through the exposed structure (most original steel) of the atrium and then through the roof, where the outside of the stair has a glazed strip that runs at eye level.The views open up when you get above the original atrium, giving you a view of the jumble of parts that make up the building.

Art Gallery of Ontario

At the top of the stair, the modern/contemporary galleries are spread over two floors with high ceilings and glass walls to the north and south. The south wall is protected from the sun by exterior shading that appears to be operable.

Art Gallery of Ontario

Moving back down the building requires you to go down a similar stair to the one on the north, except the view is better here as you descend into a park with the CN Tower in the background:

Art Gallery of Ontario

There are also views of Will Alsop’s building for the Ontario College of Art and Design next door:

Art Gallery of Ontario

The stairs, clad in grey metal, do reference the Bilbao/Disney Concert Hall side of Frank Gehry. They also go back a bit further in his career, specifically his Vitra Design Museum of 1990 in Germany. The Vitra project was not conceived entirely as a sculptural object, as I would argue works like Bilbao are, but was designed equally as an experience. The Vitra is also formally similar, one only has to look at the enclosed twisting stair to see the lineage:

Vitra Design Museum, photo by Rory Hyde
Vitra Design Museum, photo by Rory Hyde

The other impressive interior spaces in the refurbished AGO is the Galleria Ilalia. It cantilevers over the sidewalk on the front of the building and it is attached to the old front wall of the museum. Unlike other Gehry buildings I have been to, it is very well-detailed and well-proportioned.

Art Gallery of Ontario

The weakest part of the building is its unfortunate exterior on the south side. Hovering over the adjacent park and facing downtown, the façade is a particularly obnoxious shade of blue metal that looks more like a roadside office park from the 1980s than an urban museum. The sight of the AGO next to Alsop’s OCAD building reads like an obnoxious “battle of the starchitects”:

Art Gallery of Ontario with Ontario College of Art & Design

It’s a shame they succumbed to the use of coloured titanium on the exterior of the building, which reminds me of Gehry’s equally obnoxious Experience Music Project in Seattle. That aside, I think it is a fantastic building and a sensitive and sensible re-use of an existing asset. I would like to see more renovation projects from Gehry’s office- they rose to the challenge in Toronto in a way that is far more nuanced and effective than on many new-build projects.

Castle Overload: a trip to Cardiff and Swansea, Wales

Wales has a slogan that is something along the lines of “Wales has more castles per square mile than probably anywhere else in the world.” While they do use the “probably,” (to avoid a lawsuit I’m sure) I did manage to see four of them on a three day trip last week.

The trip began with a short (about two hour) train ride from Paddington to Cardiff Central last Wednesday evening to meet up with my wife who had already arrived to attend a conference. Our hotel, cleverly named “Sleeperz” could not have been any closer to the train line running into the station:

Trains Near Cardiff Central Station

The hotel was actually very nice, and the location near the station is well-situated for walking around Cardiff. The windows were nearly soundproof, so the trains weren’t an issue and allowed me to see a wide variety of passenger trains that seemed to be far more eclectic than what you’d typically see in London.

I ventured to Cardiff Castle on my first full day in town. The first line of its Wikipedia entry summarises its history beautifully:

Cardiff Castle (Welsh: Castell Caerdydd) is a medieval castle and Victorian architecture Gothic revival mansion, transformed from a Norman keep erected over a Roman fort in Cardiff, the capital of Wales.

The Castle also has a small museum where a portion of the original Roman wall has been excavated, and there is a Welsh military museum in the basement. On the castle ground, the keep was (quite literally) the high point of my visit. It was once connected at high level to the outer wall, but when landscape architect Capability Brown was hired to re-plan the grounds approximatley 200 years ago he had many of the ancient structures on the site dismantled and had the moat around the keep filled in (it’s since been re-watered).

The Keep, Cardiff Castle

Moving indoors, the house at the Castle has seen the most drastic changes over the years. While Henry Holland made changes in the late 18th Centrury, it was the Third Marquess of Bute and his architect William Burges that reinvented it during the Victorian era. The lavish interiors have recently been restored to most of their original beauty. This tightly-cropped shot shows the ceiling in the “Arab Room,” which was often used as a guest bedroom:

Arab Room, Cardiff Castle

For a more complete history of Cardiff Castle, there is an excellent archeological summary here, provided by Cardiff University.

I spent most of the rest of the day wandering around Cardiff. It’s hard to miss Millenium Stadium by Populous Architects (formerly HOK Sport)- it’s wedged between the Taff River and the city. I’d probably like the stadium more if it weren’t for the fading coloured panels that encircle it, it already looks dated. In any case, here it is poking out from behind a number of other buildings:

Millenium Stadium

The rest of the day was a whirlwind tour of Victorian and Edwardian arcades:

Arcade in Cardiff

Followed by a trip to Cardiff Bay:

Millenium Centre and Surroundings

While nearly every photo of the Millenium Centre (designed by Capita Architecture) shows only the enormous front facade with Welsh lettering cut out of metal panels above the entrance, I think it’s important to show the surroundings. The area surrounding the development at Cardiff Bay is pretty decrepit, and I question spending so much money building a shopping/culture/entertainment area when there are numerous underused older buildings standing literally across the street. The Millenium Centre is not impressive as Architecture, it’s poorly detailed and built from a cacophony of external material that come together awkwardly at the corners:

Millenium Centre detail

The back of the building is a sea of red brick and security devices:

Security at the Millenium Centre

The high security is owing to it’s location next door to the Senedd, the National Assembly for Wales (by Richard Rogers):

National Assembly of Wales

I’ll reserve judgment on this building for now. I am sure it looks better in nicer weather, and I didn’t get to go inside.

The following day, I traveled via train to nearby Caerphilly where I saw Caerphilly Castle:

Caerphilly Castle Model

That’s not the real Castle, it’s a model that stands across the moat from the “real” thing:

Caerphilly Castle Water Defenses

The word real is in quotes because much of the castle was built in the 1930s as part of an extremely ambitious restoration (reconstruction) process funded by several of the Marquesses of Bute- the same family behind the work done at Cardiff Castle. Replica siege engines have been built, and the Great Hall has been restored. Not only were demolished buildings at the Castle rebuilt, a large part of the town that had grown up around the Castle walls was torn down in order to re-water the moat in the mid 20th Century. The Castle was originally built in the 1200s, and is one of the largest in the UK. It’s an early example of a concentric castle- the combination of outer walls and lakes would have made the castle very difficult to approach.

Caerphilly Castle

The next day, my wife and ventured over to Swansea, an hour from Cardiff by train. The remnants of a castle site next to a fountain and central square which had a temporary merry-go-round set up:

Central Plaza in Swansea

Note the exceptionally hideous BT Tower that sits directly behind the castle. It appeared that some condos were under construction about four metres from the side of the ruins as well, but it was hard to tell whether they’d been stalled by the recession or not.

We also ventured to Mumbles by bus. Mumbles (don’t you love the name) was a Victorian seaside resort and has the requisite pier to prove it. Too bad they couldn’t install some Old-Timey wrought iron CCTV cameras:

Mumbles Pier Entrance

Mumbles, in reality, has a history that stretches back far beyond the 1890s- the area has been inhabited for about 3,000 years. Neighbouring Oystermouth contains the ruins of a castle (aptly named Oystermouth Castle). We saw people in costumes running around inside and assumed they had broken in to play a role-playing game, but I later discovered that they were most likely rehearsing for one of the open air Shakespeare productions that take place inside during the summer.

Oystermouth Castle

I’ll leave you with a final image of “The Big Apple” in Mumbles, tragically damaged by a reckless driver (according to the bus driver who dropped us off there). It is supposedly under repair:

The Big Apple near Mumbles Pier