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The Carriage Rooms + Montalto Ballynahinch Down

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Developed by an early whim of nature, Montalto is imagined to mean ‘high hill’. A sloping driveway rises past brick huts, a hazily remembered transition of the estate’s occupation by American soldiers during the Second World War. A breath of golden haze hovers idly above the sweep of lawns and lake and gardens. Here and there clusters of oaks form delicate groves of shade.

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Ahead, beyond a car park sensitively planted with semi-mature trees, are The Carriage Rooms, a complete, quite perfect thing of beauty, flowing in an even line. This new-born riot of dreams evolved from the keen minds of the clients, Gordon and June Wilson, and the confident logical voice of the architect, John O’Connell. It all began with the 1850s mill, special in a building of special events. Three of the Wilsons’ offspring held their weddings in its unconverted splendour. An idea was born.

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Once it was a one stop shop serving the 11,000 hectare Montalto estate and adjacent town of Ballynahinch. A saw workshop occupied the undercroft with a threshing mill overhead. Now it is a one stop shop for wedding ceremonies, suppers and dancing. The beauty of things, lights and shadows, motions and faces, provide quick sensory impressions against the tapestry of charcoal grey cut stone and burnt red brick walls.

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Like Montalto House itself, the semi-basement level of the mill was excavated during conversion to increase penetration of natural light into the interior. As a result, the front arched window overlooks the chiselled wonder of rocks. “That view acts as a reminder to bridal parties that marriage should be built upon rock solid foundations!” jests David Anderson MVO OBE, manager of Montalto House. A wall has been constructed behind the outcrop to prevent glimmering parallels of light from vehicles in the car park roaring across the room.

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Brick piers and beams conceal air vents in the main space. To one side, a vaulted passageway leads to the crisp darkness of the plant room. The air vent above this streaked artery is exposed to create a more contemporary look. On the other side, a little vaulted bar is lit by a trio of lunette windows. The gradual gradient of a disabled access ramp doubles as a standing area. Candle niches are carved out of the walls.

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“Everything is right, purposeful and has a practical use,” remarks David. “It’s all about delivery of the product. Storage is cleverly incorporated throughout to allow events to flow unhindered.” He confirms The Carriage Rooms are not just for weddings but are also aimed at the conference and performing and visual arts markets. “It’s all about creating an elegant lifestyle,” David adds. “We’re offering a very high end pre-finished product, right down to carefully chosen silver and glassware.”

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He continues, “Quality at every angle is what sets us apart. We have a tried, tested and trusted relationship with our recommended catering partner Yellow Door.” Guests can stay over in the gorgeous quarters of Montalto House, the former residence of the Wilsons. Their market research included jaunts to other top notch locations like Ballywalter Park, Belle Isle and Crom Castle. Grandson of Fred, the great FG Wilson, managing director David Wilson’s accountancy skills and venue manager Keith Reilly’s organisational acumen add to the equation equalling success. The Carriage Rooms have become a race apart. There are no plurals.

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Attached to the former mill is a smart new two storey rendered block portraying a pleasing preponderance of wall over window. A glazed door opens noiselessly into the magnificence of the entrance hall. Fresh and vigorous, this hall derives its resonance from its very articulateness. The yellow glow and blue shadows of an open fire flicker across its symmetrical features.

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The conference room links the entrance hall to the 1850s building. It is a radiantly imagined intervening parlour of politeness. The ceiling is formed of rows of brick and tile vaults. “You won’t find wall to wall Colefax and Fowler here!” jokes David. Instead is a robustly rural neoclassicism – brick cornices, carriage lamps, steel capped beams and granite fireplaces surrounding chamfered cast iron insets – perfecting a brilliant, permeating symbolism.

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The double height staircase hall adjoins the entrance hall. Cantilevered granite flights of stairs climb in radiance, overlooked by the translucent feminine languor of upper level Juliet balconies. Accessed off the staircase hall is a discretely placed lift lobby.

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The threshing mill is now the banqueting hall: somewhere to lunch on trout, avocado and a pint of Californian wine. “It has a great view from every window,” observes David. Several of the brick arches were reopened, the barn doors downgraded to shutters. The difference in levels becomes apparent in this room which is first floor to the front but opens onto the stable yard at ground level to the side. An arrangement of interior lights at the top makes a sort of floating fairyland. Under the high ceilings the situation seems so dignified.

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Lunching together en masses, warmed with liquor as the afternoon begins, floats airy, inconsequential chatter and high-pitched laughter, above all the banqueting hall is another reminder of John’s love of the symmetric. Short hallways on either side of the ground level elevation lead to neat single bay single storey singular pavilions of projecting perpendicularity. One links to the kitchens; the other to the bride’s bathroom.

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Symmetry, harmony and balance reach an apex on a central axis in the brick faced orangery where indoors meets outdoors. Below the parapet, pairs of French doors surmounted by fanlights fragmented by umbrella spike glazing bars open gracefully onto a terrace. The wealthy, happy sun glitters in transient gold through the thick windows of this magical, breathless room. A curious lightness permeates the rarefied air. This is a room where the solid, soft gold of the walls yields to the greenery of the exterior. It dazzles the eyes. “This is The Carriage Rooms’ architecture at its most formal,” notes David.

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Beyond lies the walled garden, fragrant with a host of flowers, a place for promenaders on a protracted circuit to digest sandwiches and sundaes eaten for lunch. The troubles of the day can arrange themselves in trim formation in this civilised setting. Annexed off it, crowded with planets and nebulance of cigarettes, is the smoking area, half enclosed by a symmetrical sweep of fencing. A narrow path that winds like a garter round the building descends towards the entrance front for a few more gorgeous moments.

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Subtle and intricate, The Carriage Rooms exude a confident charm. A white radiance is kindled that glows upon the air like a fragment of the morning star. It is a place for débutantes, rakes and filles de joie to accept the wealth of high finance and high extravagance. The Carriage Rooms are a venue to deliver extreme happiness in the awakening of flowing souls.

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Architecture Developers

Ballymore + Embassy Gardens Marketing Suite Nine Elms London

Brand New 

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Unless you’re experiencing a news blackout or enjoying an extended break on Vamizi Island, you’ll no doubt be aware of a rather large reimagining of real estate between Battersea and Vauxhall. Largest in the UK, no less. It’s here that Ballymore Group has launched its stars-and-stripes flagship scheme. Embassy Gardens is bang next door to the US Embassy, heading that way in 2017.

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The marketing imagery is mind blowing. This – almost – abandoned stretch of the Thames until now mostly known for dodgy nightclubs will soon be populated by swathes of apartments, a hotel, Linear Park and best of all a brasserie from the guys who brought us Bunga Bunga (sing for your supper). Rebranded Nine Elms on the South Bank, it’s masterplanned by Sir Terry Farrell. He calls it “London’s third city”.

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Embassy Gardens is one of the biggest pieces in this regeneration jigsaw. Key player Ballymore will deliver nearly 2,000 homes including “luxury suites” to borrow the sales speak. Founder, Chairman and CEO Sean Mulryan says, “For nearly 30 years, Ballymore has been responsible for some of the best known and most ground breaking developments in London… with Embassy Gardens we have continued to set new standards. We believe that a marketing suite should truly reflect the vision of the neighbourhood. The marketing suite at Embassy Gardens is not only architecturally striking from the exterior but its interior captures the distinctive design and aesthetic of our apartments.”

Branding and marketing are more than pictures and conversations. Punters want to experience upfront what it’ll be like to live in a new scheme. Gone with the wind are the days when show flats resembled a Changing Rooms episode stuck in a first phase surrounded by diggers. Well, in London anyway. Embassy Gardens’ marketing suite – or should that be show building? – is a destination in itself. Big names add credit(s) to its kudos. Architecture by Arup Associates. Interiors by Woods Bagot. Gardens by Camlins. Review by Lavender’s Blue.

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Three sides of an enigmatic opaque glass box hover over the clear glazed walls of the ground floor exhibition space. Translucency and transparency; concealment and legibility. Its august angularity acts as a striking riposte to the zigzagging ziggurats down the river. The box contains two floors of show apartments. Their floorplates are set back from the building envelope to accommodate balconies which project like open drawers into a void over the main entrance. This allows for sectional brochure photographs which otherwise would be entirely impossible to capture.

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Woods Bagot has taken branding to a whole new level. Let’s hear from John Nordon, Design Intelligence Leader: “We set out to create beautiful spaces that any architect would be proud of. But it was equally important that the project was a commercial success to our client. To achieve this, we integrated the design process with brand marketing and sales. We want people to be sold on the Embassy Gardens brand first and foremost. The brand values will provide reassurance regardless of the budget and needs of the buyer. This strategy is the norm in the world of consumer goods companies but is new to residential redevelopment.”

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He believes with the advent of the wireless era, domestic design technology infrastructure is redundant. Instead Woods Bagot has created space for hardware such as laptops and tablets to blend effortlessly into the interiors. “The aesthetic is inspired by, but does not mimic, classic 1950s American design,” says Jonathan Clarke, Woods Bagot’s Head of Interiors in Europe. “Attention to details such as walnut veneers and ceramic door and drawer handles reinforces the sense of solidity and good taste.” Palm Springs springs to mind. Anyone for Malibu? We do get around a lot but were seriously impressed by these show apartments. Great use of ceramic tiles too: vertically oriented running bond pattern in the bathroom and a wallful in the living area.

Not only can the inside of the apartments be experienced before Embassy Gardens is even up to plinth height; so can the view. The third floor of the marketing suite opens from a Philip Johnsonesque pavilion onto a roof terrace. Flowing by, the Thames makes its way from Chelsea Bridge to Vauxhall Bridge. So current. The terrace was the setting for the picnic themed launch of the Linear Park. Ginger beer, baskets of sandwiches and boiled sweets at the ready. Enid Blyton eat your heart out.

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Camlins’ meadow garden wraps around the marketing suite, giving a foretaste of what’s to come. Linear Park will incorporate “open green commons as well as enclosed garden squares and majestic tree lined streets” confirms Huw Morgan, Director of Camlins. The contrast with the building is palpable. Control and informality; a great architect and the Great Architect. A marketing suite by default is a meanwhile use. This one should be kept and not just for Christmas. From all at Lavender’s Blue have a good one. And from Camilla.

Camilla Kerslake

Across town, we joined fashionistas Giles Deacon and Jonathan Saunders at King’s X Filling Station. The tenuous editorial link? Vauxhall. A Christmas tree made out of Vauxhall Ampera car parts was unveiled. Moving parts mechanically grooved to a techno beat as fluorescent orange light and frosted air filled the forecourt. Lady Gaga’s erstwhile set designer Gary Card dreamt up the tree. Mince pies, mulled cider and some dancing kept us warm. Sláinte!

Xmas Tree

Art Hotels Restaurants

Longueville Manor Jersey + Environmental Art

Good for the Environment

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Like Oedipus, “We saw of old blue skies and summer seas,” while channel hopping for afternoon tea. That unmistakeable five star feel. The familiar sound of crunchy gravel, stepping out of the car (carriage doors, please) to be greeted by the soothing sound of a gently flowing fountain, open entrance doors set in an archway offering a vista beyond of manicured striped lawns, French doors on either side revealing plumped up cushions on well sprung sofas, the scent of camomile candles floating through the air. Where better than the terrace of Longueville Manor in Jersey to enter a discourse on Environmental art, in an exponential swirl of increments bereft of presumption?

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Is Environmental art a necessary classification in mid 20th century art? In order to answer this question, it is prudent to distinguish between two ways in which art may be related to the environment. These are approximately conveyed in the traditional antithesis between Classical and Romantic. The Classical artist presumes an established harmony between the forms in art and those in the outside world; the Romantic is aware of a disproportion.

This distinction operates in a less precise way between the fields of Kinetic and Pop art. Both are concerned with sending a special resonance into the environment. Both place great emphasis on the role of the viewer. But they differ in the relationship established between viewer and work. When Robert Dowd included a real apple and an apple painted according to the laws of perspective in the same composition, he was undoubtedly commenting upon the relationship of art to environment. The real apple was an intermediary between the canvas and the world. Sometimes it appears to belong to the environment. Other times, to the implausible shape of the canvas. It becomes a roving ambassador for Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘gap between art and life’.

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An analogy is found with the paintings of Jesús Soto. They also depend on the interaction of an illusionistic background and the real objects which hang in front of it. While Dowd depended on a knowledge of pictorial conventions for effect, Soto used the disposition of the human retina. Dowd succeeds in immobilising the viewer by presenting a combination which distorts the implications of pictorial perspective. Soto, though, makes the viewer aware of mobility since it is only by passing in front of his work that its delicate spatial structure can be appreciated.

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Thus the notion of Environmental art can be applied to at least two different kinds of work. Firstly, the ‘anxious’ object which illustrates a disproportion between the work of art and the environment. Secondly, and reversing Rauschenberg’s terminology, the ‘secure’ object which serves as a natural extension to the exploration of space. It is a helpful classification in mid 20th century art.

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It is this second category which presents the widest range of possibilities. The Pop artist worked through existing media of representations since his output almost inevitably depended upon a tension between the object and how it is conveyed. In practice he was confined to isolated works of painting or sculpture. A notable exception to this rule is the work of Claes Oldenburg. His 1970 exhibition at the Ileana Sonnabend Gallery of sculpted ‘meat’ on rows of marble shelves resembled a Parisian butcher’s shop. But Oldenburg was concerned not so much with environment as with context. In his work the act of representation becomes non contextual placement. The plaster cast meat and the plastic typewriter are inherently preposterous because they are so blatantly remote from their original functions. A disregard for real space is revealed.

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On the other hand, there is no problem of context for the Kinetic artist, no obstacle to the free elaboration of forms within space. Kinetic works automatically form part of the environment since they involve the viewer in direct physiological action or reaction. Whether it is a matter of virtual, literal or induced movement, the viewer is aware of his own responses of movement in the dialogue.

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Yet there would be no advantage in using the term Environmental if it was synonymous with Kinetic. There is a difference, not simply in degree, but also in kind between works designed to animate an existing environment and works which create an environment of their own. This can be expressed as the distinction between environmental art and Environmental art.

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Kinetic art is environmental art not simply because of the aesthetic factor but also because of the methods by which it was produced. Victor Vasarely’s 1950s work is an early example of the way in which the abandonment of traditional materials led to a new environmental status for art. He worked with maquettes, using projectors to determine what scale they should be constructed to in the ‘public’ versions. It is the ‘functional’ nature of the work that is important in this instance. Vasarely did not merely design specific works for specific settings, a task any artist might undertake. His method of working was inseparably linked with the notion of function since the maquette would remain no more than a blueprint if commissions were not made from it.

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At the 1964 Documenta III exhibition at Cassel, the section entitled ‘Bild and Raum’ allowed a wide variety of artists to arrange their work in an environment of their choice. Sam Francis’ three painted panels were a respite from the Rococo of the entrance hall of the Basel Kunstgalle. Louise Nevelson’s dead black reliefs combined to form a small solemn room. But the seven works by Vasarely did more than lend character to the surrounding space.

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Beyond their application to a particular setting, they testified to the existence of a type of creation by its very nature divorced from the traditional systems of production and exhibition. The generality of their pictorial language and the lucidity of their organisation suggested a reintroduction of traditional Classical harmony. Far from being dehumanised, they gave no hint of disequilibrium between the works of art and the outside world.

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The conviction that the Kinetic artist was creating a new form of order to satisfy a human instinct that makes itself known not simply in the gallery and museum but in the community at large, was not confined to Vasarely. A decade earlier Gregorio Vardanega had proclaimed. “Luminosity, precision, harmony and especially space are elements which give a new significance to the work of art – they bring with them joy, optimism and perhaps even a less equivocal type of conduct, making their contribution towards a fuller life.”

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There is of course an often insurmountable problem of realising the projects which an artist of this leaning will naturally devise. Vardanega’s project for a 20 metre high tower, with a sequence of flashing lights and corresponding sound effects, remained unexecuted beyond maquette form. Vasarely called for a new class, “the Toscaninis of the visual arts”, to investigate and carry out the environmental projects of artists. One fully signed up member had already emerged. Bernard Lassus had begun approaching the problem of animating the environment from an architect’s point of view, having carried out numerous projects in buildings.

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This type of mediation between the artist and the wider environment only became accepted by the late 1960s and the beginning of the following decade. Until then, Vasarely and Vardanega were obliged to work within the previously established systems of presentation. They produced their works mainly for exhibition in galleries and museums. But times they were a-changing. Artists and groups of artists started turning to the different subject of creating an artificial environment which the viewer was able to affect, and even transform, by his own actions. Environmental art with a capital E had arrived.

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The Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel theorised on the emerging movement. When they presented their first Labyrinthe at the 1963 Paris Biennale, the Groupe explained that this composite work was “in one sense a transposition onto an architectural scale of some of the principal aspects of their work”. They added that it was also a pointer towards new experiments involving the participation of the viewer. In the same year, the Groupe’s Julio Le Parc provided this description of a projected ‘place of activation’,

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“In this place there would be neither pictures hung from the walls, nor actors; neither passive spectators nor masers nor pupils; simply certain elements, and people with time to spare. This hypothetical space could be a large room 15 by 15 by 6 metres in size, all white, with a system of panels and mobile bridges. Alternatively, a series of 50 centimetre cubes could be assembled to create different floor levels and masses.”

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In concentrating their attention almost exclusively on the interaction between viewer and work, the Groupe were making a decisive departure from the systems of presentation characteristic of the visual arts. But they were not separating themselves from other forms of artistic activity. Even the choice of the word ‘Labyrinthe’ opened up a field of reference.

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The aesthetic of Labyrinthe suggests a common determination to attack what Alain Robbe-Grillet called “the romantic heart of things”. It also indicated a kinship between the two strands of Kinetic art. When Joel Stein of the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel criticised the ‘medieval’ view that a work of art addresses itself to the ‘noble regions’ of the mind, he echoed Vasarely’s farewell to the “art of the old world, the angel and the devil”. In fact the strands of Environmental art and environmental art may be drawn together. Both the planning of architectural projects and the construction of ‘Labyrinthes’ may be seen as mid 20th century attempts to achieve an unproblematic relationship between art and the outside world, to eliminate the anxiety which hovers round the corners of the picture frame.

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Is Environmental art a necessary classification in mid 20th century art? Is art necessary? By definition, no. Art by its very nature isn’t necessary. Classifications are useful though. They’re neat, sometimes too neat. The phrase ‘Environmental art’ may not have the zing of Pop or Op or Dada but it was a movement in its own right and should be used as a category of art which emerged in the mid 20th century. Earthworks, Land art and Site Specific art would also emerge, overlapping and interweaving. Later that century Robert Smithson would build his jetty, David Nash would construct his tree sculptures and Ian Hamilton Finlay would create his garden. More cucumber sandwiches, anyone?

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