Oslo (1)

I can’t say that it’s the perfect introduction to Oslo because it’s cold and very damp with snow on the ground in the countryside. My first impressions ? Easy to walk, not much traffic, the late nineteenth-century heart of the city still reasonably intact, low-rise and green. I saw some of the grand new building on the docks, but am hoping for better weather tomorrow. Meanwhile, I was able to admire the cathedral, with its bronze doors of 1938:-

And its adjacent neo-Romanesque Basarhallen, designed by Christian Heinrich Grosch in the 1850s as butcher shops:-

Nice art nouveau detailing on the Norges Bank building just behind the Architecture Museum (completed 1906):-


The Tulip Tower (1)

I see that the Tulip Tower is being talked up in the hope that Michael Gove will overturn most of the advice that he has been given and grant permission for the construction of the Tulip Tower, which would become the tallest tower in the City, a grand symbol of its vanity and ostentation.

It seems an odd project because it’s essentially just a tower with restaurants and a viewing platform – in other words, a latter-day reincarnation of the Post Office Tower whose revolving restaurant has been closed for the last forty five years as a security risk.

Also, it looks much less like a tulip than a prominent piece of male anatomy, which is somehow appropriate as a monument to the current generation of City Fathers.



The rituals of travel

I got an email last week asking if I would like to go to Oslo to review the new Munch Museum. Of course ! What could he nicer ! Except that I have nearly forgotten what it’s like to travel in an aeroplane, having not been near one for nearly two years, so am horribly out of practice with the rituals of travel – getting up at dawn, the button going on my trousers just as I was saying goodbye, the long trip out by the District and Piccadilly lines (my ex-PA disapproved of the Heathrow Express), the fact that my braces always show up as a security risk, trying to buy handkerchiefs at Terminal 2. It’s quite like old times, apart from the rising COVID rates.


The Custom House (2)

The Gentle Author has drawn attention to the fact that the Custom House – a fine, but very austere public building facing onto the Thames just by the Tower – is due to be turned, like the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, into a luxury hotel by its owners, an offshore company based in Bermuda.

He treads lightly over the oddity that HMRC, the previous owners of the building, transferred ownership to an offshore company in Bermuda long ago, on condition that they remained in the building for twenty years.

It’s not an easy building to convert and it is in a tricky location, but could surely be turned into something a bit more interesting and imaginative than another hotel. But it’s difficult for anyone to make proposals because of the overseas ownership. It was a clever way for HMRC to do it, because it avoids public scrutiny and because those who were responsible for it will by now have retired – perhaps in Bermuda themselves.



Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones

There is a very good interview with Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones in this month’s RIBA Journal, which gives a sense of their respective personalities (see below).   Considering how much important work they have done, particularly in central London – the Royal Opera House, the Ondaatje Wing at the NPG, the opening up of the Somerset House courtyard and King’s Place, not to forget the Saïd Business School in Oxford – I often feel that their work has not been as much studied or appreciated as it deserves, partly because they set up in partnership relatively late, partly because the Royal Opera House is very sensitive to its scale and relationship to its surroundings and partly because, in different ways, they were both influenced by the change in attitude towards history and modernism during the 1970s, as indeed was Jim Stirling, but this doesn’t seem to have affected his fame and reputation. I worked with them very closely at the NPG and subsequently at the National Gallery. I still regard them as the nicest and best of architects – a good double act, both of them working together on both projects, although they tended to work not quite so closely thereafter. I particularly like the photograph of them in 1973 as young, hippy idealists, which they partly remain.



Stirling Prize 2021 (2)

An interesting choice of winner for this year’s Stirling Prize: good that the Town House, commissioned by Kingston University, acts at the intersection of town and gown; good that the prize has been won by Grafton Architects, intelligent, lowkey Irish architects. The Cambridge Central Mosque by Marks Barfield may have been a bit too obvious. One faintly wonders if the jury were really able to see the Windermere Jetty Museum in situ. My own limited experience of architectural juries is that one can’t help but be influenced by the way a project is presented by its client and by the quality of construction, which doesn’t show up in photographs. So, the bookies got it wrong.


Bishop Auckland

I came back last night from a day visiting the astonishing and wonderful new Spanish Gallery in Bishop Auckland, financed philanthropically by Jonathan Ruffer in what was a bank in the market square:-

There’s a new entrance to the square by Nìall McLaughlin, based on a siege tower:-

He has also designed what will be a new Museum of Faith in the Castle grounds:-

I particularly admired the tomb of Bishop Trevor in the medieval chapel, not to mention the Zurbaráns in the dining room:-


Museums in the 21st. Century (2)

I realise that I hadn’t mentioned watching the three-part series about the Met., made last year which was its 150th. anniversary and which gave a remarkable insight into the individual and collective trauma of having to close its doors in the year that it should have been celebrating.   Things that stick in the mind are Keith Christiansen, the chairman of the department of European Paintings, explaining that he felt it was time to hand on the baton; the intensity and fervour with which Daniel Weiss, its President, explained how the institution had to change; and the overall sense of them all coping while New York was in crisis. There have been plenty of other films about museums – I think particularly of Frederick Wiseman’s epic about the National Gallery – but few which have given such a clear and fair-minded idea of their workings behind the scenes. On BBC Four and well worth watching.


Museums in the 21st. Century (1)

I happened on the attached podcast in which theee museum directors – of the National Gallery, the Met and Yale Center for British Art – discuss the consequences of COVID on their institutions: their closure to the public, 300 days for the National Gallery which had to close three times over; the migration online and development of new digital programmes; what to do about suspect sources of funding, in which Gabriele Finaldi and Dan Weiss imply, but do not state, that their institutions depend on philanthropy, so are under some degree of obligation to honour the terms of historic gifts; and new ways of interpreting their collections, in which Courtney Martin in Yale has been the most radical.

My own recent experience of the National Gallery has been the benefit of fewer surrounding crowds which makes possible more close and concentrated looking, which runs counter to the drive to increase visitor numbers (and revenue).

All three directors talk interestingly about the challenges of COVID, but surprisingly little about the loss of revenue and staff.



A full tank

I was tipped off that one of our local petrol stations has fuel, so nipped off to fill up.

I read today in the Times that Johnson will remain in power as long as the British secretly enjoy the Blitz spirit. But I am not totally convinced that sloping off to enjoy a buckshee holiday in the Spanish sun is exactly in the blitz spirit; more that of a quisling.