Category Archives: Architecture

Does it always have to be for our own financial gain?

As a preservationist this is a question I often ask myself. When I’m driving around the Swedish countryside I see the most amazing houses. Small cottages, big mansions, dilapidated rectories. Often they stand empty and majestic in the most stunning surroundings and not a single soul seems to care. Overgrown orchards and tiredlooking flowerbeds that hasn’t been tended to for a very long time. The cheap plastic paint is falling off façades by the bucket load, and the panelling needs looking after.  It all gives the impression of being weary and forgotten. And in the midst of all this, the beauty lies. Like a budding flower, with the right amount of love and attention these houses will bloom if someone just decides to take care of them. But it is a costly business, so who will?

In general, municipalities, borough councils or the state won’t do anything as long as they can avoid the responsibility. On the other hand, why would they. It is not (always) their immediate fault that the imaginary building for this post is in such a dire state. What happened to the responsibility of the owner? But one has to remember, we can never know what the whole story behind a dilapidated building is. There might be a single owner who could not care less, but there are numerous examples with siblings or cousins having been left houses in a will and they can’t agree what to do with it, so they simply let the house stand empty. A shame, but that’s a reason as bad as any I guess.

This takes me back to my initial query; does caring for a house or a building always have to be for our own financial gain? It is as though if we can’t sell a house for a healthy net profit in a few years it is not worth having. If we can’t make money out of refurbishing there is no reason to invest. But what about our built national heritage? What about the importance of a specific regional architecture, or building style which is a more prudent phrase for the vernacular buildings in some parts of the European countryside. What about preserving localy important buildings like old dairies, post offices or railway stations. They might not have been used for a hundred or so years, but does that mean they are of no importance to us today? Hardly.

This is where the hardcore preservationist comes in to play. When someone is prepared to invest their own hard earned time and money in a house simply to save it from demolition or from falling down, other people shake their heads and call them ”crazy idealists” and, sometimes, less flattering names. Though, when the village post office from 1863 is saved for the future these same people stand looking on, saying how marvellous it all looks and isn’t it great some people are prepared to preserve these building for our grandchildren and future generations to come. And it certainly is. There are times when we have to be prepared to save cultural national heritages, also the built, even if we might not become millionaires on the spot. But our local region, our town or village will for sure have become much richer. That can be reason enough.

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Filed under Architecture, Architecture Matters, Byggnadsvård, Preservationist

Our architectural heritage matters!

Ever since I started working at the age of sixteen I have had the privilege of working in the most fantastic historical environments. Living in and travelling to equally fascinating cities and countries has also been amazing. And from this I have learned one thing: architecture counts and matters enormously for cities or countries identity and the picture it sends to visitors as well as the people living there. Imagine New York without its high rising buildings, London without the Houses of Parliament with the fairly famous clock tower attached. Imagine Paris without the Tour d’Eiffel, Rome without Colosseum (though the Romans do everything they can making it crumble down piece by piece, but that’s an issue for another day) and China without the Great Wall. Even though one might not be an architectural nerd like myself, these buildings matter. To everyone.

The famous Swedish architectural preservationist and spokesman for the built cultural heritage Lars Sjöberg speaks about an internal, almost like an inherited compass for beauty, when he talks about the history of buildings. If we are to believe him they help us see and understands the world we live in. And I believe he has a point. When buildings are demolished and by bulldozers loaded on a truck to later be driven off to become landfill somewhere, we have lost a part of what we could have referred to as “home”. When big parts of Europe’s old city centers were demolished in the 1950s and 60s we lost parts of our identity. There were good reasons at times, I am the first to accept that, but there were also times when the demolishing frenzy was due purely to laziness from politicians that found preserving our built heritage too tiring and expensive. When the same thing happens today I feel obliged to cry out “hey, wait a minute! Haven’t we done this mistake before?” When this happens I think we have to start thinking very carefully about how we want our children and future generations to experience their environment. Not just when it comes to recycling and the biological environment. The physical environment is equally as important, and often these two causes go hand in hand.

Wanting to preserve the built heritage, whether it’s a Georgian country estate in the Swedish countryside or a Victorian office building in central London, the will and passion to preserve and care about earlier generations historical footprints, the architectural ones being the very rare exceptions one can actually see and touch, the engagement does often coincide with a general passion to take care of the environment too. If only more of us could see the common objectives. The more of us that get engaged in the case of saving our built heritage all over Europe, the more beautiful will future generation’s environments be. And as opposed to us, they will thank our generation for it and not berate us like we berate the generation that demolished the world we could have lived in. World War II made a terrifying and effective demolishing-job for us, though how some people found that an excuse to start a War on Beauty is astonishing. Let’s not continue that war. Let’s make peace and embrace the architectural beauty of our cities and the built heritage in our countrysides. This will be my New Years resolution for 2012.

Happy New Year everyone!

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Filed under Architecture, Architecture Matters, Arts Funding Cuts Europe, London

A year in Amsterdam

I have now been living in Amsterdam for almost a year. Time flies, and I would like to share some of my pictures from the last year with you. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, full of life, versatility, different cultures. Great buildings, beautiful parks, nice beer. If you are looking for a few days away: go! You’ll love it. I won’t write too much about my experience of the country as a whole, that’s for another post. But here we go, enjoy the photos and I hope you will buy a ticket to go to Amsterdam soon.


Almost by Nieuwmarkt

One of my favourite spots is Het Spui, a small square with loads of bookshops selling books in all languages imaginable.

ABC, Het Spui



Athenaeum, Het Spui


Church Towers


Pretty corner house on the Amstel



Similar, but different, corner house



There’s a lot of small, private boats in Amsterdam



The Amstel at dawn


Bikes, the first love of the citizens of Amsterdam

Small man-made canal in Buitenveldert, Amsterdam Zuid

Bridge between Blauwbrug and Eremitage

Cyclist

Bike theft is common…

XXX is the city crest of Amsterdam

Nice private house on Prinzengracht

If in Amsterdam a canal tour is a must!

Traditional gas lamp outside private house on Herengracht

Telecom Tower, Amsterdam Zuid

Dawn by Sotheby’s Auctioners, Amsterdam Zuid

Autumn morning in Amstel Park

New York and London are miles better at Christmas lights. Dissapointment…

Snow storm in December by Station RAI

They love their tulips over here

More Tulips

From the roof terrace of the Public Library in July and December respectively

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Filed under Amsterdam, Architecture, Art, The Netherlands

In search for a World past

It is a bit pretentious to say that one is looking for a world passed when what we have really is amazing. Fine, we can complain about the wars going on, the consumerism, the stress, that today’s news are yesterday’s news etc. Though, every time I think about the Georgians, the Victorians or even the Edwardians I say to myself  “thank God we have penicillin, that the child mortality isn’t 40% any more, that a lack of coal won’t kill my family”. Because to be honest these are simple things we seem to forget easily when dreaming about the good old days of an untouched, virginal, more honest world.

I am happy to admit that the architecture, the art and music of bygone eras can be more appealing to the eye and ear. I also dream of the untouched countryside that seem to disappear more and more for each major supermarket opening their “24/7” monstrosities. Still, we are the ones who let it happen. If we create the need, the companies will be there filling their pockets by “supplying the needs of the modern lifestyle”.

After having been away from the UK for almost six months now I look back on my time there with love and affection. I hope to be able to go back one day, one way or the other. One of the things that fascinate me most with that country is their relationship with their own past. There is a love-hate relation to the Victorians that surprises me. Why this hatred towards the people who created the world they (and big parts of the Western World) live in? Imagine London without the houses from the mid-late 19th Century. Imagine the North of England and Scotland without the power and grandeur from the industrial revolution.

But maybe that’s why? Since the momentum of that era is gone forever, it is hard to find an identity in a world that no longer exists. The society and cultural climate that once was, isn’t any more. And now they need to find a way of accepting it. Of accepting the realities in a hierarchical society with incredible social differences and an antique educational system which is so elitist the elite who’ve partaken can’t see why it could possibly be wrong.

Maybe this is where they ought to look? By accepting the problems and dealing with them, maybe you can let go of a dark social past that still lingers in every nook of the British society. Because at heart, like most Brits if you give them the chance, there is warmth, passion and even love for your fellow man in the British society. Even in a Tory.

But, as long as the society chooses to look away from the facts of the hardship, unfairness and reality of it all, the only thing that will remain is the disrespect and hate towards the old, Victorian society and outdated values that still rule one of the most interesting countries in Europe. Let it not be like that. Embrace the past and see it for what it is, and what it can give us today. And then: move on. Just don’t touch the old architecture.

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Filed under Architecture, Art, London, Longing

Where is home?

Constantly travelling. Always in new accommodation. Never your own furniture. Never sleep in your own bed. You know, the one you bought six years ago to suit your length, weight and your spine perfectly? It’s in storage somewhere with three complete homes shipped from different parts of the world.

You never know when to be able to move “home” again, all depend on where the work is. It is tiring sometimes, to never know for how long you’ll be staying in a particular place. Will it be for three months? Maybe two years? Or, maybe this is where “home” will actually be from now on? God only knows.


But still, a freelancer’s existence is exiting. It gives you experiences that hardly anyone else gets early on in their career. You see new places, get to travel far and wide, enjoy the hospitality of new colleagues and friends from the most diverse backgrounds, both ethnic and geographic.


The new cuisines you get to try, oh can they not be the most interesting? You try food you fall in love with immediately, some grows on you, and some are simply inedible. Not to forget: languages. You learn a phrase here and a word there and all of a sudden you’ve picked up another language.


I think for me though, what stays with me the longest is the beauty of a place. Sometimes the cities or towns you visit are appallingly boring and you can’t wait to get away. However, the times you spend in major cities and beautiful countryside settings can be enormously rewarding.


Being able to walk in the Cotswolds on your day off, or take a stroll along the Seine before you need to be at the theatre for an afternoon session is just incredible. It is such a grace to have the opportunity of seeing all these places and spend prolonged periods of time abroad. To get to know new countries and cultures, and still being payed to be there. Isn’t that just amazing?


Still, home is always home. The saying my home is my castle couldn’t be more accurate when you spend months, sometimes years, away from the warmth of your own home. But I’m sure that one day I’ll be able to unpack all those boxes and take out all the furniture of storage. To once again be able to create my own castle, wherever that might be.


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Filed under Amsterdam, Architecture, France, Gothenburg, London, Paris, Sweden

Perfect Art?

It is easy to get tired of pictorial art in all its classic monotony.
Figurative art that repeats itself over and over again. Walking between the exhibition rooms I wish it would be more interesting. More alive. I’m getting tired of the predictably beautiful, classical art. Room upon room with van Dyck Rembrandt, Titian and all I can think of is “please give me a Picasso, a Mondrian, a Rothko or, even, a Manet or Monet”. But no. Nothing expressive or challenging for the imagination. Too often is it classical and uniform. Boring.

Having realized that it is the exciting, the challenging, the unpredictable which appeal to me in art, I wonder why everything should just be beautiful and pleasing on the eye? The traditional art does so easily become monotonous, and, dare I say it, unimaginative. It becomes a ready and predictable product seen before, if so in a different, but oh so familar, shape. Because beauty in all its excellence, in all its splendid perfection, just isn’t enough. It is not enough to engage the mind, raise questions, not enough to get reactions out of our numb contemporary minds. Perhaps beauty, harmony, balance and perfection was enough three hundred years ago. Not today though. Today, we need to be shaken out of our slumber. Shaken out of our comfort zone. Beauty, or reflections over beauty can be seen everywhere at any given time in today’s society. Walk along any street in any town in any country and we are inundated with pictures and reflections of “perfect people”. Young beautiful women advertising perfume or lingerie for Victoria’s Secret. Well muscled young beautiful boys advertising the latest jeans cut for Abercrombie & Fitch. We don’t need to go to an art gallery to see perfection and beauty. Simply open the door, walk a few steps along the street and we’ll drown in it. Beauty. Perfection. Ideal bodies. Expensive fabrics.

So why isn’t perfect enough? It seems a contradiction in itself that one wants more than what is created into perfection. But exactly because of that, I’d say. Perfection is predictable and boring. It is not challenging for the intellect. We humans must be challenged to use our senses adventurously. Complete perfection within art doesn’t allow our minds to expand, our imagination to fly, our minds to be filled with experiences that can not be had anywhere else.  It is within that the greatness of the art lies. To be able to create a window in the mundane everyday situation that one otherwise cannot look through. We are robbed of this opportunity when, and where, perfection rules. The art must be mind blowing. It must stimulate all senses. When you leave an exhibition and say “well, that was rather nice” the art has failed. When the art has raised something within us we didn’t knew we had, set fire to an idea we didn’t know ourselves being able to have or stirred something within us that we haven’t felt for a long time then, and only then, has the art fulfilled it’s purpose. To engage. To open up. To stimulate. To stir.

The Impressionists broke with the purely figurative art. Monet painted trains and smoke under the cast iron roof of Gare Saint Lazare in 1877. Already then did he realize that the exact and figurative, the almost copied and art without feelings was a waste of time. A waste of the artists, the viewing public and his contemporaries time. Let us not make the mistake not to move forward. Let’s follow Monets’ ideal. It might be almost hundred and fifty years ago but it is as relevant today as it was then. Let us be inspired, but move forward. Let us be engaged, stimulated and let our senses be opened with the help of the contemporary arts.

It can’t be to late.

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Filed under Architecture, Art

The Early Georgian beuty of Kedleston Hall

A couple of weeks ago I was traveling Northeast from London to a magnificent early Georgian (or shall we say Neo-Classical?) mansion house outside of Derby, Kedleston Hall. Some of you might know it and some of you may have come across it accidentally in the beautiful film “The Duchess”. The garden scenes were filmed at Kedleston Hall in 2008 and the film was starring, among others, Keira Knightly and Ralph Fiennes. Regardless of these film stars’ undoubted glamour, which for some might be reason enough to make a visit, the reason for my visit was its architecture. For its perfect early example of  “the English garden” as it is known to us today. Seemingly free flowing landscape meets wild nature and tended flowerbeds in a way never seen before. But of course, it was planned in every detail.

The manor house we see today was commissioned in 1759 by Sir Nathaniel Curzon (who later became 1st Lord Scarsdale). The Curzon family had lived in the area since at least the late 13th Century, and lived in many different  houses over the times. However, when Nathaniel Curzon inherited Kedleston in 1758 he wanted change. As so many young aristocrats, he was only 32 years old at the time, he seems to have been fascinated by the then contemporary Neo-classical movement which had started to spread across Europe after the first full scale archeological excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum in late 1730s and 1740s. In December 1758 Nathaniel Curzon met a 30 year old, very keen and enthusiastic architect who had just arrived from his Grand Tour of Italy: Robert Adam. Nathaniel Curzon decided to demolish the previous Queen Anne-style house and gave Robert Adam a clean slate to work on. The previous formal French-style garden, designed by Charles Bridgeman (1690-1738), was torn up and gave way for the more natural looking English landscape garden we see today.

Apart from the most exquisite Neo-classical interiors, Adam designed follies, bridges, temples, serpentine lakes and had statues placed out in the garden where they had never been seen before. The exterior of Kedleston Hall was designed by James Paine (1717-1789) and Matthew Brettingham (1699-1769). The design is clearly Palladian, and it is said to be loosely based on Villa Mocenigo, which was never built. The two wings of Kedleston Hall are much grander than Palladio’s design for Villa Mocenigo. The main body of the two buildings are more or less identical though, and the slightly curved connections between the main body of the house and the wings are clearly based on Palladio’s design.

After having wandered the grounds for some time I felt as if I had been transferred back to the late 1700s. It was early on a clear, crisp, late-spring day and hardly anyone was there. Just how I like it. Just me, my thoughts and the arts. The beautiful nature and the open planned garden embraced my whole being and it was as if time had stopped. When you’re out travelling major cities a lot it is sometimes nice to come out to the countryside and see how the old world connects with the arts. Like at Kedleston: a family, the Curzons, got some land in the 13th century. Then, in the 16th century, an Italian architect started to design villas in a particular way which inspired a whole style named after him, and, this particular style then came into fashion again in the 18th century and an heir to the landed gentry family from the 13th century let his stately home be inspired by the 16th century Italian and Kedleston got its shape as we see it today. In the early 21st century I can walk undisturbed and just drink in the ideas and aesthetic impressions of hundreds upon hundreds of years.
Isn’t that incredible so say.

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