It must be one of the most photographed of modern buildings. Yet the Sydney Opera House still elicits a gasp of awe every time one sees it in the concrete. Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s expressionist masterwork is a remarkable melding of form and function, and of architecture and engineering. It is also a wondrous evocation of the imagination. The story of the Machiavellian politics that surrounded its construction, and led eventually to the resignation of Utzon from the project, and […]
‘I saw the monuments, the great ancient remains. From every ruin I learned, from every building I absorbed something.’ So wrote Mimar Sinan, perhaps the greatest architect of the premodern Islamic world, a figure whose work has been compared to that of the Renaissance architects and artists Brunelleschi and Michaelangelo, with whom he was a sixteenth century contemporary. Sinan was talking of the great ancient buildings of Baghdad and Damascus, of Persia and north Africa, one of his many sources […]
In 1693 Sicily was devastated by a great earthquake. The cities of the south-east – Ragusa, Modica, Noto among them – were destroyed completely. In the wake of the disaster came an extraordinary period of reconstruction. Not for the poor, of course, who continued to live in primitive hovels at the edge of cities. But for the nobility, and for the Church, rebuilding the cities became an occasion for the flaunting of wealth. The result was a series of dazzling […]
In the recent wonderful British Museum exhibition on the historical cultures of Sicily, the curators described 12th century Norman rule as a ‘Golden Age’ , an ‘Enlightened Kingdom’ in which the ‘coexistence of Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures created what was probably the most progressive court in Europe.’ From the perspective of the time, the relationship between different peoples in Norman Sicily, as in Moorish Iberia, was remarkably tolerant. There was, of course, nothing equal in the relationship between different peoples; […]
Vienna has more than its fair share of magnificent, beautiful and historically significant buildings. The Hofburg Palace, the Belvedere, Stephansdom, Schloss Schönbrunn, the Secession Building, Staatstoper, Karlskiirche, Hunderstwasshauss, Maolika Haus. Along Helinganstädter Strasse, at the end of the U4 U-Bahn, stands a building that even its greatest admirers would not describe as magnificent or beautiful. It is, however, historically significant – though of a history that is often forgotten – and architecturally striking. The Karl Marx Hof, built between 1927 […]
I recently visited Lindisfarne Priory. Set on Holy Island off the Northumberland coast (it was the Romans who first called it Insula Sacra), there is something quite otherworldly about the ruins. Part of what makes Lindisfarne so ethereal is that Holy Island is not quite an island. As Sir Walter Scott put it in his poem Marmion, For, with the flow and ebb its stile Varies from continent to isle At high tide, Holy Island is an island. But at […]
The architecture of London’s Southbank has always divided opinion. As brutalism goes, I can think of much better examples. Yet viewed through the camera lens rather than the human eye, there is something quite striking, even beautiful, about its concrete starkness.
It was a glorious day in London yesterday, a perfect excuse to have a wander through the City. There are few places in which architecture ancient and modern is so jumbled together. I stumbled across a little space that I never knew existed. St Dunstan in the East is a church originally built in the eleventh century, and rebuilt by Christopher Wren after it had been damaged in the Great Fire of London. It was bombed and almost destroyed during […]