Architects Architecture Country Houses Design

Pitzhanger Manor London + Sir John Soane

Let’s Dance

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The hypothesis of this essay is that the genre of architecture that has become known as the Soane Style is the product of not just one man’s thinking but two. Both architects had commissions built in Northern Ireland. In a reflection of their work at Pitzhanger Manor, Sir John Soane’s effort is a showpiece still in existence while George Dance’s building has been considerably altered. Soane will be forever remembered for the main block of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution which starred as a police station in TV series The Fall. Although the executed plan was greatly simplified from original grandiose proposals it nevertheless exhibits his trademark blind arches and pilaster strips.

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Meanwhile at Mount Stewart in Greyabbey, a National Trust house, the straightforward neoclassicism of Dance’s wing may only just be discerned under the veil of a later remodelling. Owner Lady Mairi Bury, an aunt of Jemima Khan’s mother Lady Annabel Goldsmith née Vane-Tempest-Stewart, lived on in the house until her recent demise. As a teenager Lady Mairi met Hitler (“a nondescript person”) and Himmler (“like a shop walker in Harrods”).

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The combination of the architects’ talents climaxes at Pitzhanger Manor. This erection was Soane’s country home in then rural Ealing and is now a council owned museum and art gallery. When the Soane Style peaked to maturity circa 1800 it proved to be a progressive form of architecture free in proportion and liberated in structural adventurousness, unconstrained by complete classical correctness. The 15 year period centred on the turn of the 19th century found Soane’s creative juices overflowing and coincides with the time he enjoyed his full blown friendship with Dance.

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Pitzhanger Manor illustrates the overlap between their development of ideas and innovations. The three elements under scrutiny in this essay are the cross vault ceiling as in the library; the pendentive dome as in the breakfast room; and the top lit lantern such as that in the staircase hall. Here goes.

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In Soane’s work the cross vault ceiling first appears in the ground floor rear sitting room of his townhouse in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, built in 1792 and also now a museum. Dance uses a similar ceiling type at Cranbury Park in Northamptonshire a decade earlier. Its geometry is complex: a cross vault with the interpenetrations cut back to produce triangular chamfers which widen towards the apex of the ceiling where the ends meet to form four sides of a square.

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They likely both saw in this pattern a touch of gothic romance. The flying lines radiating from the corners of the room to the centre represent a reinterpretation of a ribbed vault. Soane developed this idea in his design for the Privy Council Chamber completed in 1824, where the motif is introduced as a canopy detached from the sides of the walls to allow natural light to filter from above.

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The innovative design of Dance’s Guildhall Common Council Chamber of 1777 provides an aesthetic forerunner of what is often considered peculiar to the Soane Style. This square hall, demolished in 1906, boasted a pendentive dome. It consisted of a continuous spherical surface rather than one rising from separate pendentives like more conventional neoclassical domes. In the Guildhall the continuity of surface is not explicitly obvious because Dance introduced decorative spandrils which produced a scalloped effect resembling the inside of an umbrella.

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Fourteen years later, Soane adopted the pendentive dome for his own use in the drawing room of Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, where he repeated the Guildhall’s scalloped effect, and a year later at the Bank of England’s Stock Office. Just when an impression is forming that the pendentive dome was a one way inspirational mode Soane snatched from Dance, it becomes apparent that the two architects assumed unity of views since Dance designed a pendentive dome for Lansdowne House which was contemporaneous with the Bank Stock Office. The design of the junction between the hall and the domed space in Lansdowne House, Berkeley Square, is exactly comparable with Dance’s initial scheme for the Bank Stock Office which also incorporates semicircular windows over segmental arches.

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Picturesque top lit lanterns which originated for practical reasons at the Bank Stock Office became an integral component of the Soane Style. Soane was faced with the problem of how to produce effective top lighting and there is evidence that he consulted his confidante because the initial sketches are in Dance’s hand. The first study is inspired by the Basilica of Constantine and the Diocletian Baths, appropriate sources of inspiration for any neoclassical architect. But Dance chose to modify the Roman prototype. Instead of the heavily mullioned windows of the originals he introduced fully glazed half moons which Soane incorporated into his final proposals for the Bank Stock Office.

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Top lit lanterns appear in buildings throughout the remainder of Soane’s career including his Dulwich Picture Gallery. He continued to use and interpret these three motifs, the cross vault ceiling, the pendentive dome and the top lit lantern, after his initial efforts with Dance. Combined with his prolific output, this cemented the association of the style with his name rather than Dance’s.

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It is not suggested in this essay that any of Soane’s architecture is interchangeable with Dance’s but rather that the Soane Style was developed through their exchange of design concepts. Soane’s main contribution is a novel handling of proportion coupled with highly idiosyncratic applied decoration while many of the basic constituents of the style may be credited to Dance. In his lifetime Soane never ceased to acknowledge indebtedness to his “revered master” while Dance wrote to his pupil “you would do me a great favour and a great service if you would let me look at your plan… I want to steal from it”.

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The ongoing restoration of Pitzhanger Manor not only highlights Soane at his most individualistic but also reveals the more conventional neoclassicism of the south wing which was Dance’s first attempt at a country house, before he aided the younger architect in the development of what was to become known as the Soane Style.

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Jonathan Blake + The Serbian Royal Family

Trunk Call

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Like the Duchess of Devonshire, we haven’t cooked since the War but at least we know our Neo from our Geo; Christian Lacroix from Christina Louboutin; Monet from Manet; Zoffany in a frame or on the wall. We could go on. There is only so much esoteric existential living to be done so it’s off again on our noctivagous wanderings to the Grosvenor House Apartments by Jumeirah Living for some cone shaped canapés of culinary consequence. And fizz to boot.

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A private reception and trunk show is being co hosted by emerging talented Texan fashion designer Jonathan Blake with philanthropists Dr Meherwan and Zarine Boyce, also from Houston. Their Royal Highnesses Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine of Serbia grace us with their presence. But first, we’re on the scent of the global ambassador of our fav perfumer, Victoria Christian.

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As the penthouse corridor becomes a runway, mannequins attired in Jonathan Blake’s Fall/Winter 2013 and Spring/Summer 2014 Collections weave their way past pulchritudinous Sloane Ravers, brilliant black suited barristers, hot hoteliers and the odd columnist. “My designs are inspired by Chanel, Valentino and Versace,” notes Jonathan. “They’re wearable, classic and elegant. Several of the pieces I am featuring tonight are made from a powder blue silk fabric. Others are made of gold lace.”

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To die for definition, clever cuts, sophisticated silhouettes, majestic materials… Jonathan Blake’s woman is international, knows she can look great while being taken seriously. Prices range from a £170 blouse to £9,000 for an evening dress. Meanwhile, we live in hope of a Jonathan Blake men’s collection. Shipping, becalmed.

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Design Hotels Luxury People

John Rocha + Waterford Crystal

Through a Glass, Darkly

John Rocha © Stuart Blakley

We caught up with our fellow honorary compatriot John Rocha at The London Edition. Yes, the hotel everyone is raving about with good reason. He was celebrating 15 years of creative glassware collaborations with Waterford Crystal. “I’m busy designing three hotels at the moment,” he told us. John and his studio are still based in Dublin – he lives in Leeson Park – and he flits between the Irish capital and London. “Most of my family now live in London,” says John. He’s also currently designing a chapel in the south of France, a monastic Zen-meets-Shaker alchemy of light and shadow. What’s his key to success? “I design houses I want to live in; I design hotels I want to stay in.” And presumably chapels he wants to pray in.

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The Violet Hour + Astrid Bray

The Violet Hour + Astrid Bray

Astrid Bray ©

General Manager of the Grosvenor House Apartments by Jumeirah Living, Astrid joined Jumeirah Group as Director of Business Development for Jumeirah Carlton Tower and Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel before taking up her present role in 2012. Astrid’s high flying career has given her unrivalled knowledge of the international hospitality sector. She talks exclusively to Lavender’s Blue about her favourite things from – where else? – the largest all suite luxury accommodation in super prime London.

My Favourite London Hotel… Well, where we are sitting, my own of course! However if I am in traditional mood there is something rather special about walking into Claridge’s. But have you seen the secret garden at Number 16? I love sitting outside having a glass of rosé there in the summertime.

My Favourite London Restaurant… The service and quality of beef at the Rib Room is sublime; the atmosphere at Scott’s is perfect; but Balthazar gets it right every time!

My Favourite Local Restaurant… It has to be The Fulham Wine Rooms. They have a great charcuterie with awesome wines as well as a proper restaurant. They get it right! I’ve regularly dined there since it opened a couple of years ago. You can choose wines to taste from a wall of wine bottles. The team are so well informed too.

My Favourite Weekend Destination… Bovey Castle on Dartmoor, Devon. I love hiking and Bovey Castle is pretty remote. It’s great to escape for a few days from city life.

My Favourite Holiday Destination… South Africa, but a recent trip to the Maldives was a dream holiday. I also travel a lot with my career.

My Favourite Country House… The Pig, in the New Forest. You can dress up or down, put on your wellies, sink into the most comfy sofas, just relax. It really feels like your home from home. The food is great – they even have their own forager.

My Favourite Building… The Chrysler Building in New York City. It’s magical. Such a stunning art deco building. I once stayed in a suite in the Waldorf Towers with windows framing a perfect view of the Chrysler Building.

My Favourite Novel… Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a semi autobiographical story about his escape from an Australian prison and spending time in India. Really interesting.

My Favourite Film… Breakfast at Tiffany’s – pure magic. Truman Capote was so off the wall! Who else could invent a character like Holly Golightly? Perfection! The cinematography is absolutely brilliant.

My Favourite TV Series… Grey’s Anatomy – there is something about a surgeon!

My Favourite Actor… Kevin Bacon for the lust factor! I loved him in Flatliners. And Robin Williams for humour – he makes me laugh every time.

My Favourite Play… M Butterfly. Not to be confused with Madame Butterfly, this play by David Henry Hwang is loosely based on the relationship between French diplomat Bernard Boursciot and Shi Pei Pu, a Peking male opera singer. I saw it in 1989 in the Shaftesbury Theatre in London – the pathos was mesmerising. Anthony Hopkins was electric in it. That was of course in his pre Hannibal days.

My Favourite Opera… Madame Butterfly. I weep every time…

My Favourite Artist… Monet. In 2007 I was invited by the director of MOMA to visit the Monet show in New York at 7.30 in the morning. One huge room full of Monet – and me! It was the ultimate private view.

My Favourite London Shop… Peter Jones – what would I do without it? It has everything! Where else is there?

My Favourite Scent… Chanel Beige.

My Favourite Fashion Designer… Louise Kennedy. She has an atelier on Merrion Square in Dublin but I discovered her shop in Belgravia near where I used to work. Her clothes possess timeless elegance. They have the flexibility of being off the peg but then they are tailored to fit.

My Favourite Charity… Age UK Hammersmith and Fulham. It is inspirational. Charity is more than just giving money. We’re cooking Christmas lunch for the aged at my hotel. We’ve guaranteed to raise funds to pay for tax and insurance for their minibus for the next three years.  It’s so important to support a local charity.

My Favourite Pastime… Time spent with my fabulous little family.

My Favourite Thing… Flowers.

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Castle Coombe Manor House The Cotswolds Wiltshire + Futurism

Back to the Future

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Largely a philosophically driven art movement that arose in tandem with the industrialisation of its host country, Italy, Futurism embraced the now and the not yet of the new century, last century. It wasn’t greeted with universal enthusiasm. Even avant garde artists and critics expressed a certain repugnance at the lack of structure and the new kind of description in Futurist painting and sculpture. Despite their adulation of technology and the apparent adaptation of new scientific principles to their work, the Futurists succeeded in alienating many contemporaries, even those who similarly recognised the relevance of scientific discoveries to art.

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The Cubists’ primacy of form was invoked in protest against the dissolution of objects inherent in the less tangible Futurist schemata. Guillaume Apollinaire, who blew both hot and cold in his support of the Futurists, reckoned they had no concept of the meaning of plastic volumes and simply produced illustrations. Jacques- Émile Blanche complained that Futurism was a mechanical process, merely rendering the sensations of dynamism and obliterating the very objects which caused these sensations. Blanche’s aphorism, “One cannot make any omelette with eggshells,” appraises its pictorial limitations through his eyes. Futurist forms conveyed information and ideas without provoking the necessary aesthetic emotions was the underlying message.

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Other critics were more direct. Futurist artists were derogatively referred to as photographers and moviemakers. Gino Severini’s Pan Pan at the Monico was slammed for revealing the cinematographic character of his work.  Robert Delaunay, who was contemptuous of the engineered mechanical appearance of their forms, confided to his notebook, “Your art has velocity as expression and the cinema as means.” Cubism supporters warned that it was folly to depict movement, analyse gestures and create the illusion of rhythm by reducing solid matter to formulae of broken lines and volumes.

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Unsurprisingly this view was vehemently denied by Umberto Boccioni, the group’s most vociferous spokesman. His denial is understandable due to the difficult relationship between art and photography in the early 20th century. Yet the critics were reaching toward the crux of the matter. Why and how had these Italians mutilated their subjects? What were the sources of these new forms?

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The Futurists’ strident pronouncements praised a universal dynamism and oneness in the arts. They had discovered a new beauty in their modern world. Victories of science: aeroplanes, trains, cars, factories. Buildings under scaffolding became beautiful symbols of a frenetic mood. They coined the word ‘noctambulism’ to express the exhilarating activities of a city by night, lit by electric moons and garlanded by incandescent necklaces. Futurist poets like Luciano Folgore and Paolo Buzzi sang praises to the daemonic character of the machine, to the sensations of flight, the launching of torpedoes, to war itself.

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Henri Bergson’s philosophy of change was central to the Futurists’ ideas. Intuition is the essence of life. Knowledge is for life. Life’s not for knowledge. Action constitutes being. I do therefore I am. Reality is cinematographical. Between 1910 and 1914 no fewer than seven books about the French philosopher were printed in Italian. Bergman’s favourite substantive, too, was “dynamism”. In the dense metaphysics of Matter and Memory he describes a psychical physical in which the immediate past, present and future effervesce in some sort of spatial continuum. He ruminates, “My body is acted upon by matter, and itself acts upon matter and must transform itself into movement. The material of our existence is nothing but a system of sensations and movements, occupying continually different parts of space.”

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In the Futurist conception of a new literature expounded by Filippo Marinetti, ‘liberated’ words can be formed into images which make direct contact with the imagination. Conventional syntax is equated with the optical logic of ordinary photographic perspective. The manumission of literature, like that of painting, is seen in the utilisation of a multiple, simultaneous, emotional perspective. And through the typographical prisms of ‘word free’ paintings, the transient sounds and appearances of the industrial environment are refracted. Marinetti saw analogies between the narcissistic metaphors traditionally used by writers and the adulation of ordinary photographic images. Nevertheless he betrays his excitement about the ‘miracles’ of experimental cinema.

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The Futurists’ analysis of objects in motion, their reduction of solid forms to equations and the multiplication of their sensations in order to create an illusion of rhythm had significant prototypes in photography, especially the work of Étienne-Jules Marey. This physiologist’s chronophotographs were pictorial verifications of Bergson’s ‘transformed man’, in keeping with the Futurist machine aesthetic. The Futurists’ references to rhythms in space; interpenetration of forms, fusions and simultaneity; and vibrating intervals can all be explained in terms of Marey’s multiple exposed photographs. So too can the statement that a galloping horse has 20 legs, not four. Boccioni’s enigmatic comment that a horse’s movements are triangular is corroborated by Marey’s linear diagrams. In creating a sense of continuity by means of lines of force emanating from the central object, the dynamism of that object is given substance, its movements are delineated.

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Those artists who believed that the important thing is not to present the speeding car but the speed of the car were working in a similar vein to Marey. He had scientifically explored not just the particularised somatic appearances of his subjects in instantaneous phases of movement but also the peculiar patterns caused by the multiplication of their images in space. Through these kinetic recordings Marey was able to obtain graphic representation not only of a man or bird in motion but of the motion of a man or bird – a consequential prefiguration of the Futurists’ concern with the vestigial signs of movement.

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Enter Michel-Eugène Chevreul, the discoverer of the laws of simultaneous contrasts of colours and himself a protean figure in the development of progressive aesthetic concepts. He observed how a figure clothed in black moving against a black background could transcribe its own trajectory of the linear graph of its movement by means of a light spangle placed on parts of the subject or by a luminous stripe placed along the length of the limbs. Either by exposing the single plate intermittently or by holding open the shutter for the duration of the action, Chevreul recorded linear oscillation patterns and trajectories.

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A comparison of Marey’s 1880s chronophotographs showing an athlete during a long jump and Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space is highly revealing. Aside from the obvious similarities, Boccioni’s sculpture demonstrates the inability of the sculptor to express the transparencies and rupturing of form caused by the inevitable superimpositions and interpenetrations intrinsic to the photograph. The blurred interstices between more clearly registered phases of movement lend themselves more readily to the greater stratagems possible with canvas and paint. Boccioni fuses the figure with its environment.

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There was substance in those criticisms which attacked the decomposition of Futurist works, the forms reduced to analytical statements about motion, time and space. In his statement of 1913 defining the difference between Futurist dynamism and contemporary French painting, Boccioni said that the Futurists were the first to assert that modern life was fragmentary and rapid. He claimed that Futurism encapsulated dynamism and not merely the trajectory and mechanical episodic gesture. He insisted that the Futurists had always contemptuously rejected photography, deliberately ignoring the distinctions between Marey’s genre of photography and those which simply reproduced natural scenes. Certainly the direct accusations that the Futurists were mere photographers and moviemakers owes much of its venom to the fact that the dilemma of art and photography had not been resolved.

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Yet ironically the Futurists were instrumental in resolving it, if not for themselves, then for the more or less anti art movements which followed in their wake. The incipient machine aesthetic of Futurism and the fierce proselytising that accompanied it was a powerful stimulus on all subsequent artists who in one way or another were orientated to technology. The importance of photograph, photogram and photomontage to the Bauhaus, Constructivism, Dada and Surrealism, with the fundamental emphasis placed on impersonality and anonymity, the individual in cahoots with the machine, was clearly an extension of the Futurist ideology, the disdain for self expression in the arts and its insistence on contemporaneity.

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