Architects Architecture

Margate Winter Gardens + Fort Green Margate Kent

A Tale of One Town

Our dear friend Min Hogg, Founding Editor of The World of Interiors, invented the phrase “shabby chic”. Her flat on Brompton Square epitomised the look. She told us, “’Chic’ is simply style used with an élan that has a social or intellectual overtone.” What about ‘shabby’? “Apart from its obvious aesthetic appeal, shabbiness is the only defence and bastion against ostentation and misspent money. For architecture and interiors to have arrived at a shabby state usually implies that the things were of good quality and built to last back in their heyday. It doesn’t matter a fig if they are scuffed, worn, or out of fashion. It’s the traces of the haphazardness of living that bring things to life and give them reality, and reality is what shabby chic is all about!”

If there’s a town that sums up shabby chic, it’s Margate. Now that we are all working from home, experiencing the return of cottage industries, Margate will likely become more gentrified with an influx of Londoners wanting rooms with views – less shabbiness more chicness. Not necessarily a good thing – there’s a lot of charm in the resort’s peeling paint and overgrown hedgerows. And nowhere more so than the Winter Gardens above Fort Lower Promenade. The Winter Gardens are a bit bonkers, like Min (if in doubt check out Ms Hogg’s mischievous after hours appearance in Rupert Everett’s autobiography!). The Listers praise the Winter Gardens as “an example of a rare seaside entertainment building type. Its form, with a semicircular amphitheatre is unique. It is the only known example of a winter garden constructed within a chalk cliff.”

Built in 1911 to the design of the Borough Surveyor of Margate, Ernest Borg, the roughly shell shaped amphitheatre (later roofed over) is symmetrically hugged on either side by the grassy slopes of Fort Green and overlooked by Fort Crescent and Fort Paragon. The style is Mykonos-on-Sea. Variety and vaudeville, Dame Nellie Melba and Anna Pavlova, the Winter Gardens have had them all. Holidaying in Margate? It was the best of times, then things got even better. It was our season of sunshine, it was our summer of hope. Although Marilynne Robinson does warn in The Death of Adam, “At best, our understanding of any historical moment is significantly wrong, and this should come as no surprise, since we have little grasp of any present moment. The present is elusive for the same reasons as is the past.”

Architecture Art People

Teatro Colón Buenos Aires + Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka

Linger for a Moment

Ana María Martínez, Puerto Rico’s finest vocal export, is known for her dramatic performances. A few years ago, opera lovers at Glyndebourne were treated to rather more drama than they anticipated. The soprano, who was playing the lead role in Antonín Dvorak’s opera Rusalka, was nearing the end of the first act when, with abandon, she pulled away from her prince, fell off the stage, and landed in the orchestra pit.

Fortunately no ambulances were required at Ana María’s performance in Teatro Colón. One of the world’s great opera houses, up there with Milan’s La Scala, Teatro Colón is an island of culture, filling an entire urban block of Buenos Aires. Viamonte Street to the north | Tucumán Street to the south | Cerrito Street to the east | Libertad Street to the west. It overlooks 9 de Julio Avenue but doesn’t manage to dominate it. Nothing would. One of the theatre’s vast pedimented elevations may face onto 9 de Julio Avenue but it’s the world’s widest road, spanning 16 lanes.

While its cornerstone was laid in 1890, the 3,500 capacity Teatro Colón is the product of a suitably eclectic array of architects, taking 18 years to complete. The original architect Francesco Tamburini was succeeded when he died by his partner Victor Meano. Mr Meano in turn was succeeded when he died by Belgian architect Jules Dormal. The theatre was extended in the 1960s by architect Mario Roberto Álvarez. Tiers of boxed seats are arranged in a horseshoe under a painted dome. And then there’s that 48 metre high stage.

It’s pretty spectacular.

Kiri Te Kanawa and Renée Fleming; Anna Pavlova and Rudolf Nureyev; the Berlin Phil and the New York Phil: Richard Strauss and Camille Saint-Saëns; all the great and the good have sung, danced, played and been played at Teatro Colón.

Dmitry Golovnia is Rusalka’s suitably tall and dashing Prince. A full figured crimson hooded María Luján Mirabelli is Jezibaba, giving it her all. The mezzosoprano is a regular performer at Teatro Colón. Ante Jerkunica is a bald skeletal Vodnik. The theatre has its own costume and scenery departments. Tonight, a penchant for the visually avant garde accompanies Julian Kuerti’s musical direction. Ana María gives a heartrending rendition of Song to the Moon, the opera’s keynote aria. “Moon in the dark heavens, your light shines far. You roam over the whole world gazing into human dwellings.”

The final curtain. Ante runs on stage to take the first bow. Ana María flamboyantly curtsies to the floor, managing to stay on the stage. The audience is ecstatic. An even bigger roar from the audience erupts for Dmitry. Bravo! Encore!