Saturday, May 30, 2009

Postcard from the palace

Blenheim, not Buckingham. The Queen has yet to invite me to her home; while the Duke of Marlborough is a little more welcoming to guests – pay up and you can come in. And palatial would be the word to describe the state rooms: magnificent proportions, designed to impress and packed with treasures, both commissioned and collected.

I doubt there are architects and designers working today whose names will last through history as those of the folk associated with Blenheim have. This is just one example of the work of Vanburgh, Hawksmoor and 'Capability' Brown; and it's a good one.

There's another name linked to Blenheim which will resonate for a while too: Winston Churchill. He was born there and was a frequent visitor, producing many paintings of the grounds in between finding the time to be a memorable leader. He was following the example set by his ancestor - the first Duke of Marlborough – in that. Perhaps it's an effect of the credit crunch that we can't afford to let today's architects spread their wings, and we're lacking in charismatic leaders too.

Of course there's more to Blenheim than the dazzling state rooms. Tall yew hedges give the maze an extra frisson of danger, and make you more appreciative of the open parkland once you find the way out. And you could walk for hours in those grounds, build up an appetite for a visit to the cafĂ© – I can report that the cakes are exceedingly good.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Postcard from the Globe

Not the original building, obviously! London's south bank looks rather different from Shakespeare's day. I don't think there are records of what the first 'Globe' looked like, but this one was constructed using the best available information and traditional techniques. It's certainly more attractive than the concrete hulk of its near neighbour, the National Theatre.

Walking along this stretch of the Thames is an architectural cocktail. As well as the theatres, Tate Modern looms out of the old Bankside power station, the OXO tower casts a long shadow over the river and the path diverts into cobbled streets, including the site of the Clink prison. It's not all grim; there are plenty of pubs and even the odd stretch of 'beach'.

Distinct lack of forest though. Which gives the opportunity to post this photo that nature watchers will realise is a few weeks old. These bluebell woods are in Warwickshire and are reputed to be part of the original Forest of Arden, where Shakespeare may have wandered and which provided him with his setting for As You Like It – a play you could see if you visited the Globe this summer. I don't just throw this stuff together you know!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Postcard from the window

A quiz for the Londoners - work out where I was standing to get that photo! It's quite a view, and would certainly distract me if I worked in that building all the time.

Standing there, taking it in, got me to thinking about a few things, but mainly the fact that you don't often get that perspective on what a beautiful city London is. And the main thing which makes it so is the Thames running through it. Well, that's (unsurprisingly) my take on it. I gave a similar thought to Kerry in Map Reading a while back though. She's up Ben Nevis in this scene, looking out across the Great Glen and reflects:

'Living in London I forget about the horizon,' Kerry said. 'I'm always indoors or on the tube and, unless you get up high, you never get a good view of your surroundings. Then you cross a bridge or look out the window in a tall building and - there it is: London laid out in front of you. It is beautiful, just in a different way to this.'
Quite a contrast in view, but I'm with her – both are beautiful. Apparently, there are studies into the psychological benefits of different types of views. All to do with depth of field of vision, natural or man-made, etc. I don't want to analyse it that much, I just know that variety suits me; I wouldn't want to have to make a definitive choice between architecture or mountains and glens. Maybe it's just the presence of some kind of water in the view that appeals to me.