Tuesday, September 12, 2023



Back in Basingstoke. I walked in to Sainsburys this morning. Get some exercise and replenish my salads war chest. How to live a healthy balanced lifestyle (as a 72 year old with prostate cancer) looms large in my thoughts and habits these days.

But it has to be "for" something also, right? In my case that means a passion for buildings, backed up by drawing, painting, modelling, music... All as hands-on as possible. (who invented that little portmanteau "hands-on")?

These are shots from my morning walk. They made me think of Gordon Cullen and his Townscape sketches /manifesto. He had a wonderful knack for conveying the joys of urban life, space, mystery. Those things that seem so abundant in towns that "just grow" but desperately hard for central planning to achieve.



I burst upon Paris on a beautiful sunny evening. Thank you Eurostar for a smooth and interesting ride, all the way from my favourite station in London to the heart of Paris. Definitely part of the same modern world but immediately slightly different in terms of culture and "ways of building"

It was already dark by the time I emerged from the jerky old metro. Not so hard to navigate for a first timer with "age issues" but different enough from "the tube" to cause small moments of confusion 🤣🤣🤣 All part the experience. How fortunate I am, in so many ways. Hallelujah! (if a grumpy old atheist with a belated respect for religious belief is allowed to use that exclamation 🤔)


Greek Doric, engaged columns attached to Tuscan pilasters, that's my interpretation anyway. The plinths are just wierd 🙄. The whole ensemble is an interesting variant of the Triumphal arch motif that Soane used on the Bank of England (Lothbury Court, bullion gateway) Columns with statues above the entablature, to define an entrance.


Didn't have time to explore the station further. Just "grab a baguette and go" mode. Hungry to soak up more of the experience of being in a city I last visited 45 years ago. 🤣🤣🤣




Windows and wine (in the afternoon!) Tokens of my parisian experience on a glorious late summer afternoon.

Have we forgotten how to frame an opening? Flemish Bond with rusty red and cream coloured bricks. See how the 6 course deep, flat arch fits into the bonding. Very carefully worked out, down to the air-brick over the keystone. Is that to ventilate timber floors?

Shutters fold so neatly into the reveals. They are closed on the upper floors, just visible at the top. And what about the Juliet balcony? Just a hint of Art Nouveau in the wrought iron.


This is just some random building in the suburb I happen to be staying in. But it caught my eye, instinctively as we walked past. All the analysis comes afterwards as the conscious part of my thinking apparatus takes a second look.

Date? I'm guessing at early 20th Century, just before the move to rational abstraction kicked in. Verbal rhetoric replacing the cultivated instinct we used to call taste.

Which brings us back full circle to wine, I guess. Just the one glass with some spicy tofu, parsley and thinly sliced bread. A proprietor with excellent taste doing the choosing, off the cuff on learning that I don't eat meat.

Superb first day.



Struggling with the heat and other factors, so I chose a morning walk from Trocadero, taking in Rue Benjamin Franklin and crossing the river by the Bir Hakeim bridge to finish with a vegetarian crepe and cappuccino, before returning for a bit of a midday nap.

One of Auguste Perret's first projects was my primary target. In my youth as an architecture student, it was heralded as a steppingstone towards the ideal of structural honesty during the early days of the reinforced concrete frame.

Certainly, he was a pioneer in terms of using this technology, and his work evolved over time. But I take exception to the idea that there is a weakness in this design because the frame is expressed rather than exposed.



The entire frontage is faced with ceramics of different pattern and form. The structural frame is picked out in plain cream terracotta. Most of the infill features a remarkable "leaf & berry" treatment, with great variety of depth colour and texture: almost a bas-relief sculpture. But there are other treatments in specific areas.

I can see why the modernist die-hards find this building troubling, despite being such an early example of structural expression by an office where Lee Corbusier spent a couple of formative years. From close up, it's just a riot of tactile decorative surface.

I love it.



More snippets of texture from Auguste Perret's apartment block on Rue Benjamin Franklin in Paris. Such a delight to see this at first hand, if only from the street.

Most of the images you see in books fail to convey the richness, let me call it "subtle exuberance" of the external surfaces. From a distance, or at low resolution, it appears to be a bland, unexpressive design. The infill panels could almost be chipboard or OSB

There is barely a hint of classicism or any other nameable style. Perhaps Vienna Secession would be the closest. But maybe this was the intention. Do you really want your apartment block to stick out like a sore thumb? Maybe not. But some sense of individual identity from close up, that's hardly controversial.

Another "where's Wally" moment. Spot where he signed the building. Maybe the style of lettering he chose gives a hint at his intentions.


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