Old Basel

I only had time for a quick walk across the Rhine and up the hill into the Altstadt:-

Past the Blaues Haus, designed by Samuel Werenfels for Lukas Sarasin, who, together with his brother who lived next door, owned a silk factory:-

Then up the Augustinergasse:-

I ducked into the Natural History Museum:-

Past an eighteenth-century fountain:-

And the cathedral:-

And down the Rittergasse to the Kunstmuseum:-

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Peter Zumthor

I had the honour of presenting Peter Zumthor with his Certificate as an Honorary Royal Academician over lunch in Basel.   There was a bad moment when we thought he might not arrive as he is reputed to be reclusive, living and working in a village up in the mountains, where contractors from Los Angeles make their way to do their presentations.   But he was born in Basel, trained at the Kunstgewerbeschule, and is currently drawing up detailed designs for a trio of new buildings for the Beyeler Museum.   Other people having lunch may have been baffled by the presentation of the red barrel containing the Certificate, as perhaps was he, but it felt good that he should now more formally be an Honorary RA, which he has been since 2014.

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No 1 Poultry

Of course, I left out the second half of Palumbo’s narrative which was to commission a building without the accompanying square designed by Jim Stirling, who was by then in his postmodern, historicist phase, and itself the subject of a second public enquiry held in 1988, given permission by Nicholas Ridley, and completed in 1997, when Stirling himself was dead:-

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Mansion House (2)

I was prompted by Peter Palumbo’s talk last night to go and see the area which would have been turned into a large public square had Mies’s 1969 scheme gone ahead.   Paradoxically, the area is now occupied by a building as large as any in the City – the new Bloomberg headquarters which has been designed by Norman Foster and has taken over an immense site immediately west of Mansion House:-

What I realised – I know it’s obvious – is the extent to which the City has been a battleground between rival philosophies of urban development:  the Roman, planned, coherent, based round the ideal of the forum;  and the medieval, more organic, haphazard and unplanned, more small-scale.

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Mansion House (1)

I have just been to an amazing talk in which Lord Palumbo reminisced about the long experience of trying to get a building by Mies van der Rohe constructed in the heart of the city of London:  how he had been inspired by his mother who was passionately interested in contemporary classical music;  and by a teacher, Oliver van Oss (he did not say it was Eton), who introduced his pupils on Sunday mornings to the work of single artists – Jan van Eyck and Barnett Newman, Palladio and Mies van der Rohe.   After working for Hambro’s and Cluttons (he left out the fact that he was at Oxford), he went to work for his father, a property developer, and bought a single building in Bucklersbury.   This led him to travel to Chicago in 1962 to commission a building by Mies van der Rohe, a shy man who normally never got up before lunch, telling him that there was no chance that the building would be built for at least 25 years.   So, it was always going to be posthumous.   The project got preliminary planning permission in May 1969.   It was then the subject of a famous, or infamous, planning inquiry, in 1984 in which the ghost of Mies, supported by John Summerson, battled against the massed ranks of the conservationists.   Patrick Jenkin as Secretary of State rejected the scheme on the grounds that it was bad mannered – out-of-scale with its surroundings and built of bronze.

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Howard Hodgkin

I missed the opening of Howard Hodgkin’s exhibition Absent Friends and have only just caught up with it, remembering poignantly that the exhibition coincided with his death.   I was particularly interested to see his portrait of the dealer, Peter Cochrane, which was accepted by the NPG in lieu in 2010.   It’s definitely a portrait and a fine one.   Elsewhere, one of the captions says that Hodgkin didn’t like talking about art and he certainly may always have been reticent, but it’s worth remembering that he became a Trustee of the Tate Gallery in 1970 which will have required him to talk about art.   I prefer, as everyone does, his pictures post-1975 when his style suddenly loosens and becomes more freely imaginative, described by Hodgkin himself as ‘more about myself now, or incidents which personally involved me, at least’.   He carried on painting right until his end.

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Crinkle crankle walls

I meant to look up about the definition of crinkle crankle walls.   They’re one brick thick, built in curves because if they were built in a straight line, they could easily be pushed over – or topple of their own accord;  and they normally face south (as they do at West Horsley) and were used for growing fruit:-

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West Horsley Place

We went last night to the first night of Jenufa at West Horsley Place, the beautiful, now slightly ramshackle, medieval house, with its long, low Jacobean front, which was inherited by Bamber Gascoigne from his aunt, the Duchess of Roxburgh, and is now the location for what is described as GPO, the former Grange Park Opera, which Wasfi Kani has resurrected in a brand new opera house, built in eleven months from scratch, in the grounds.   It is quite an astonishing achievement to have built a version of La Scala de novo behind the crinkle crankle walls in the woods of a Surrey country house:-

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The Streets of Spitalfields

I took quite a number of photographs of the streets of Spitalfields, impressed, as I always am, by the quality of houses, their detailing, the carving of the doorcases, and the fortunate survival of the streetscape.

Fournier Street:-

And then Princelet Street, one street parallel:-

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Verde & Co. Ltd.

I called in at Hervey Cabaniss’s new shop and cafĂ© at no.3, Fournier Street, which has had to move from beside Spitalfields Market owing to the hike in the business rates.   The shop is just as nice as it was before, a touch more spacious and overlooking the side of Christ Church:-

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