Walters Way, London SE23

This year’s Open House weekend included access to Walters Way, a close of 13 self-built houses on a sloping, tree filled site (not unlike Great Brownings) in South East London.

Each house on the close was built in the 1980s using a method developed by Walter Segal, the celebrated Swiss architect. This method involved the use of a modular, timber-frame system reminiscent of 19th-century American houses or traditional Japanese architecture.

Although the houses were all built using the same method of construction, the houses were designed with flexibility and individuality in mind. Unlike Great Brownings, where homeowners are required to ensure that their house looks the same as all of the others on the estate, I was struck by the way in which all of the houses on Walter’s Way were unique in both style and configuration (most of having been adapted and extended since they were built).

We were invited to have a nose around two of the houses on the estate, which timber walls and flooring aside, were quite different owing to changes made by the owners to the layout and sun deck/garden patio areas outside.

The owners of one of the houses (self-build house 1 in the photos) had extended with lean to lobby which was self-built and a more substantial two-storey extension which wasn’t – whilst more straightforward than a regular build, self building using the Segal method is apparently not without its challenges.

One of the key considerations was the retention of supporting posts from the original build – here, they made for a design feature across the middle of the living area. The owners of self-build house 1 had further plans to modify and extend their house – according to them, self-build houses are never quite finished.

Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

Originally the Cambridge home of curator, art collector and sometime artist Jim Ede and his wife Helen, Kettle’s Yard House serves as the University of Cambridge’s art gallery, housing the couple’s spectacular collection of early 20th-century art.

Having moved to Cambridge in 1956, the couple converted four slim cottages (reportedly slum dwellings scheduled for demolition) into one rather idiosyncratic house.

Thanks to Jim’s job as a curator at the Tate Gallery, the couple were able to fill their home with artworks by famous names like Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Joan Mirò (mostly acquired before these artists reached the pinnacle of their success), which they carefully and lovingly arranged around the house. Jim was meticulous about this, believing that the positioning of an artwork relative to its surroundings was almost as important as the artwork itself and that each room of the house should be regarded as a collective work of art in its own right.

It was also part of Jim’s philosophy that art should be shared in a relaxed, informal environment and so he would hold ‘open house’ tours, inviting students from the University of Cambridge over for afternoon tea to enjoy the art and even to borrow paintings from his collection to hang in their rooms during term-time.

Concerned that his beloved house would be broken up upon his death, Jim gave the house and collection to the University of Cambridge in 1966 on the condition that they would fund various improvements, including the construction of a large new wing in the late 1960s to host live music events and to preserve the space as the couple left it upon their departure in 1973.

Jim’s art arranging skills and all-round good taste were still very much in evidence when I joined a recent tour of the house, which began in the original older wing of the house.

This part of the house consisted of the three original cottages knocked into one and contained the couples’ bedrooms and a reception room on both the upper and lower levels. Whilst the couple had upgraded the original slum cottages, installing more luxurious fixtures and fittings to replace the original features (the mid century-style spiral staircase and large windows would not have been found in the original slum dwellings, for example), these rooms were low ceilinged and modest in size. This made for an unusually homely and intimate setting for displaying significant pieces of early 20th century paintings and sculpture.

The original wing of the house was connected to the newer wing by a bridge link/small conservatory on the upper floor. Crossing the bridge, you went from the slightly claustrophobic spaces of the original cottages to jaw dropping, full-on, double height 1960s modernism. This provided more of a gallery-like setting for the rest of the collection and the downstairs area was also large enough to be used for live music events as requested by Jim when he gave the house to the University of Cambridge.

Ellis Miller House, Prickwillow

Designed by the architect Jonathan Ellis-Miller for his own occupation, this single-storey modernist house was actually built in the late 1980s despite resembling the American work of architects like Mies Van Der Rohe, Charles and Ray Eames and Craig Ellwood from the 1940s and 50s.

The house was constructed using mostly steel and glass with a galvanised steel structural roof, the front elevation composed entirely of sliding doors opening out onto the Cambridgeshire Fens and offering views across agricultural land.

The house was bought by its current owner as a holiday home in 2010 (reportedly in a bit of a state) and restored to its former glory. Keen for others to enjoy this slice of Californian Modernism in the Cambridgeshire Fens (the owner’s words rather than mine), the owner currently rents out the house for holiday lets which is how we ended up there for a couple of days this October.

Arriving at the house, I was struck by the simplicity of the layout. Entered from the carport beside the house, the house had no hallway or corridor and consisted of a long, open-plan living space divided by a striking chimney breast and open fire place, which spanned the length of the house and a kitchen, wet room and bathroom and ensuite accessed off the living area. Relatively compact in size at 66 square metres, the combination of the layout and glass panels made it feel a lot larger.

Staying in the house was comfortable – the original electric underfloor heating was still in operation, allowing for a pleasantly natural heat to emanate through the wood block flooring and the kitchen and bathrooms had been renovated recently enough for them not to feel like relics of another time (which can be the case when staying in period houses like this one). The views across the expanse of the flat East Anglian fens out of the sliding glass wall, which stretched from one end of the house to the other, were also pretty spectacular.

On the downside, the flat corrugated steel roof meant that there was an unholy racket whenever it rained. The minimal decor, whilst mostly in keeping with the house, was a little pedestrian (a proper sideboard and some decent period artwork would have complemented the Days Forum leather sofas – surely still the best thing Habitat has ever produced – and elevated the living area, for instance). Overall, I found that the finish was a little tired in places (busted blinds, slightly grimy exterior, chipped tiles), probably due to the house being used repeatedly as a holiday rental.

In terms of location, Prickwillow was pretty remote with zero amenities nearby (the rather sleepy Ely was a 10 minute taxi ride away) though for architecture enthusiasts, the house made for a worthy destination in of itself.

Modernist Pilgrimage returns

After not having posted anything in over a year (and not having been anywhere in over 18 months), the end of lockdown has meant that I’ve been able to get out and about to actually generate content for Modernist Pilgrimage.

In addition, the shabby bathrooms that we left out of our house renovation project for budgetary reasons have packed up after three years (the ensuite is currently being held together by tape) so I’ll be documenting the renovation of these as well over the coming months.

Thank you to anyone still reading Modernist Pilgrimage!

Frobisher Court, Forest Hill SE23

I’ve now been running this blog long enough to see properties that I viewed as a potential buyer a few years ago being put back onto the market by the people who ended up buying said properties.

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Frobisher Court flat, living room

This is the very nice but expensive flat in Frobisher Court that I went to see in 2016, looking very much the same as when I saw it albeit with different furniture (though it appears that sellers left behind all of the built-in units in 2016).

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Frobisher Court flat, communal areas and exterior

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Frobisher Court flat, communal entrance

It has the larger three-bedroom floorplan found in these Austin Vernon and Partners-designed blocks (the standard, more commonly found type has two bedrooms without the bay window in the lounge) though this particular flat only has two bedrooms – the previous owners knocked into the third bedroom to make the lounge bigger.

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Frobisher Court flat, living room and bedroom

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Frobisher Court flat, kitchen

It’s on the market at £575,000, which might be a bit less than the price it was marketed at four years ago.

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Frobisher Court flat, master bedroom

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Frobisher Court flat, bay window in lounge

20 February 2016

Frobisher Court, Forest Hill SE23
Apartment block forming part of Dulwich Wood Park estate; winner of Civic Trust Award 1964
Architect: Austin Vernon & Partners
Year built: 1959

I’ve wanted to buy one of these Austin Vernon & Partners flats in the Dulwich Wood Estate ever since I went to see one in Raleigh Court last year. Even though that particular example was a bit decrepit with rubbish views into other people’s flats on the estate, the combination of the pleasant, almost wooded setting, the mid century communal areas and the spacious, open layout of the flat led me to keep an eye out for other flats on the estate coming onto the market.

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One year down the line, I’ve seen six other examples of the same flat, all of which have been pretty much identical in layout but have varied dramatically in condition from perfection to complete wreckage. Having had bids rejected on two of the better ones and a sale fall through on another (I’m still reeling from the sheer injustice of that experience), I decided to view a 7th floor flat in Frobisher Court that had just come on the market.

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Although Frobisher Court looked almost identical to all of the other blocks congregated around Gipsy Hill I’d been to see, it was actually situated a couple of miles north from the rest in the slightly more affluent Forest Hill. The facade and communal areas looked familiar with the slightly oppressive patterned sixties tiling and juddering lift present and correct but this particular building seemed particularly well kept with not a spot of peeling paint or limp indoor plant to be found.

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The flat itself, which was situated at the very top of the building, was pretty stunning. It had the same open plan layout of all of the others I’d seen but appeared to have an additional bay window with great, far-reaching views of the surrounding area.

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The current owners had made bold but period-appropriate design choices, including some great built-in furniture (I loved the bespoke hallway unit) and coloured feature walls. Unlike all of the other flats of this type I’d seen, the solid wood flooring continued beyond the main living areas into the bedrooms, which somehow made the flat seem more spacious.

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The only downside to this particular flat, which I loved and could completely picture myself living in, was the asking price: it was an absolutely ridiculous £195,000 more expensive than the last one of these flats I viewed. I appreciate that you sometimes need to pay a premium for a well-presented property but in my opinion, no amount of nice built-in furniture or pretty views is worth an additional £195,000. The last time I checked, this flat was still on the market. If the owner were willing to reduce the price to something more sensible, I may well make an offer.

Hyndewood, Forest Hill

Though we ended up buying another house, the keenly-priced mid century end-of-terrace that we looked at in 2017 in the Norman Starrett-designed Hyndewood estate in Forest Hill was one of my favourites from our property search (see entry from 2017 below).

Three years on, another house in the same estate came onto the market briefly via The Modern House and a very stylish example it was too.

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Hyndewood, front of house and porch

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Hyndewood, exterior shots and garden

While it didn’t have the extension on the side like the one we saw in 2017 and therefore didn’t have the second reception room and bathroom (this one must have been mid-terrace), it was in much better condition, having been preserved and sympathetically renovated. At £635k, however, it was quite a bit more expensive than the one we saw in 2017.

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Hyndewood, ground floor open plan living area

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Hyndewood, ground floor open plan living area and kitchen

With its understated palette of white, cork and natural wood (the top floor bedroom still had its original ply-panelled vaulted ceiling), it had an unmistakably mid-century modern aesthetic that looked up-to-date rather than a pastiche. I particularly liked the black 1960s cabinetry and glass serving hatch in the kitchen and the outdoor courtyard that the kitchen led out into.

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Hyndewood, ground floor open plan living area and open tread staircase

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Hyndewood, first floor landing and bathroom

The speed with which this house was snapped up (it came onto the market as part of that rush of properties last month when the estate agents opened again and was under offer within days) goes to show the continued demand for houses in London with this sort of aesthetic/layout in this price bracket.

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Hyndewood, bedrooms on first floor and top floor (with ply-panelled vaulted ceiling)

6 May 2017

Hyndewood, Forest Hill, SE23
Mid-century extended end of terrace house
Architect: Norman Starrett
Year built: 1950s-1960s

Due to a happy change of circumstances, I’ve changed the focus of my longstanding property search from a modernist property for one to a modernist property for two.

I’ve always quite liked Forest Hill as an area – it’s commutable into the city, it has nice green spaces (including the Horniman Museum gardens with that fantastic view across to the city and Dawsons Heights), the amenities are decent with a nice mix of pointless artisan and essential shops and most importantly, it has a fair amount of nice mid century modern housing stock, including one of those Austin Vernon and partners blocks that I went to see last year and rows of less well known but still interesting-looking terraced houses.

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This house was at the end of a Norman Starrett-designed terrace down a very quiet little close containing a cluster of mid century houses and flats. It looked enormous from the floorplan due to a ground floor extension on the side of the house and appeared to have retained a lot of original 1960s features, including a very stylised kitchen and a lot of wood panelling.

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In person, the house was even perhaps bigger than I was expecting it to be. The amount of floor space on the ground floor alone was probably bigger than a lot of two bedroom flats in London that I’ve seen, containing two adjoining reception rooms (both with original parquet flooring), that very retro kitchen, a utility room and a downstairs bathroom. Patio doors led out onto a small paved garden.

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Upstairs were three bedrooms (two double, one single) and a further bathroom (this one with a very period avocado suite) and another bedroom up a further flight of stairs at the top of the house.

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The seller was an elderly lady who had lived in the flat for over thirty years and while she clearly hadn’t updated anything during that period, she had maintained everything pretty well, which meant that the house was a nicely preserved time capsule. With a small amount of cosmetic updating (repainting the walls, replacing the carpets upstairs and probably that avocado bathroom) and a bit of good mid century furniture, the house would have been absolutely beautiful.

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The house was also quite keenly priced at £600k, a decision on the seller and agent’s part to get as many offers as possible (most likely over the asking price), allowing for the property to be sold as soon as possible. We didn’t end up putting in an offer as the timing wasn’t quite right (and we had a fair amount of competition from other buyers) but this house will certainly serve as a benchmark for the purposes of our property search going forward.

Great Brownings garden

Updated 1 July 2020

Having prioritised doing up the house when we moved in, we pretty much left the already pretty ramshackle garden that we inherited from the previous owner to run wild for over a year (as my previous blog entries on the garden from April and June last year – see below – demonstrate).

We were finally forced into taking action when a large tree at the end of the garden fell down during a storm, crushing the row of tall bushes that previously divided our garden and the communal green behind it. While this did mean we no longer had any privacy from any neighbours using the communal green, we quite liked how the garden now felt a quite bit longer and brighter.

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Great Brownings, communal green behind house (March 2020 – after the tree fell) 

We factored this new absence of dividing line between our garden and the communal green into our plan: in the back, we would replace the dirt patch with turf (which wasn’t possible previously, given lack of sunlight), levelled with the communal green so that when looking out from the house, there would be the illusion of a continuous grassy lawn as far as you could see (or at least to the back of the communal green).

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Garden plan – before

We would lay a new back patio (concrete slabs with gravel poured in between them) and the sloping dirt path running down the side of the house would be fitted with stepped sleepers, paving stones, gravel and new planting. We would re-lay the wonky paving stones out front and install a large box planter, to be planted with herbs, behind the fence next to the old shed (which was just too full of crap to even contemplate getting rid of). Finally, the dirt patch in front garden would be completely filled up with new plants and shrubs to frame the cherry blossom tree in the centre.

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Garden plan – after

In a bit of very fortunate timing, we hired a team of landscape gardeners to carry out this plan at the end of February which meant that they had just finished work as lockdown began at the end of March.

On the whole, we were really pleased with the end result and it’s been really nice to witness everything blooming and flowering (lawn aside, which always seems to look a bit brown in places) over the past three months spent at home.

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Front and back gardens – work in progress

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Front garden – finished result (June 2020)

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Back garden – finished result (June 2020)

There are, of course, a couple of things we might have done differently with the benefit of hindsight. For instance, whilst the gravel/slab combo we used for the back patio would have been great in Palm Springs (the source of inspiration) where there is practically no wind and the only vegetation consists of cacti and palm trees, it has proved pretty unsuited to a windy English garden with the sorts of trees and plants that shed on a daily basis – I find myself constantly having to kick dislodged gravel back into place and picking debris out of the cracks like food from between teeth.

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Back garden (June 2020)

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Side passage (June 2020)

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Back garden patio (June 2020)

We also probably wouldn’t have given total control over to the landscape gardeners when it came to the planting: due to a lack of knowledge and confidence on our part, we just handed them a sum of money to purchase whatever plants they thought would look good and would have the best chance of survival in our garden. It just so happened that the landscape gardener had a thing for rhododendrons (which admittedly have done pretty well thus far, even under the canopy of a huge tree of heaven out front) and so we have ended up with… quite of a lot of them.

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Rhododendrons in front garden (June 2020)

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Lawn leading to communal green behind in back garden (June 2020)

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Back garden patio (June 2020)

The same goes for the herbs: due to the landscape gardener’s selection, we seem to have a lot of mint (which we don’t really use and also seems to grow like a weed) and not much of anything else. This, however, may be also be down to the family of foxes which seems to have installed itself in our garden, though it’s entirely possible that they have been here all along, camouflaged in the overgrown mess that our garden used to be.

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Herb patch in front garden before the mint strangled everything (March 2020)

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Knock-off Tolix table on back garden patio (June 2020)

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Lawn in back garden (June 2020)

In terms of finishing touches, it would be nice to get some smaller pots and planters for the back patio to soften it up a bit. We also recently bought a Tolix-style metal circular table (aka a knock-off from Swivel UK) and some stools to accompany the loungers on the back patio just in case we have a socially distanced barbecue before the end of summer.

23 June 2019

Given that we have no appetite for a full-on landscaping project this year (we did call in a gardener to remove weeds and anything that was clearly dead/rotting but that was the extent of it), we decided instead to make a few additions to make the garden a little more inviting for when we have guests over this summer.

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Back garden (June 2019)

Inspired by this photo of the rooftop garden in the Berkeley Hotel in London that I saw in a magazine, we decided to get a pair of budget-friendly Applaro loungers and the matching side table from Ikea and cover them with sunshine yellow pads and cushions from online store Maison du Monde. We also bought a simple Dancook barbecue and hung up some solar-powered lanterns and some Ikea outdoor lighting.

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Inspiration from magazine article

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Loungers and roses in back garden (June 2019)

This limited window dressing does not conceal the fact that the garden is still a bit of a ramshackle mess (I still want to re-landscape at some point, adding bit of grass and more planters/beds containing a variety of different plants and shrubs) but it’s going to have to do for now.

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Back garden patio (June 2019)

22 April 2019 

Given that both my partner and I have lived in flats for all of our adult lives, neither of us have any experience of looking after a garden.

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Front garden (April 2019)

This meant that we were at a bit of a loss when it came to dealing with the quite mature front and back garden that came with our new house – we had no idea what to do with it or when so we just left it to its own devices (save for removing a rusty old washing line and getting the builders to straighten out the wonky wooden fence in the front garden) while we concentrated on doing up the house itself.

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Back garden (April 2019)

Six months and two season changes later, it feels like we should do something about it. All the dead leaves and mulch that accumulated in autumn and winter have formed a crispy brown dirt bed everywhere, interrupted by spiky-looking weeds which have started springing up at an alarming rate in the last few weeks.

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Back garden patio (April 2019)

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Side passage (April 2019)

The trees, plants and shrubs that aren’t weeds (which it was quite nice to witness sprouting out of the ground in unexpected places at the start of spring, especially the little tree in the front garden which unexpectedly turned out to be a cherry blossom which flowers in mid-March) could also do with some attention before they get even more overgrown and out of control than they already are.

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Front garden (April 2019)

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Cherry blossom tree in front garden (April 2019)

We’ve called in a gardener to carry out this haircut in the next few weeks so I’ll update this entry if there is any discernible difference worth reporting on. In the longer term, it’d be nice to carry out some slightly more adventurous landscaping. The wonky paving stones leading up to and in front of the house could definitely do with being re-laid and while the ground is too uneven for a lawn in the back garden (and I don’t think I could face maintaining that every week), I like the idea of cultivating a few planters or beds like some of our more green-fingered neighbours.

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Front garden (April 2019)

Modernist pilgrimage to Stuttgart

Although the end of our trip to Stuttgart was somewhat tainted by Storm Ciara/Sabine (we ended up holed up in a dodgy hotel next to Stuttgart airport for 48 hours waiting for a flight home), we did manage to see some excellent modernism-related sights during our time there.

Weissenhof

In 1927, an impressive line-up of 17 architects synonymous with the Modernist Movement including the likes of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Walter Gropius built an experimental residential settlement called Weissenhof, which translates as “the Dwelling”, on a hill on the outskirts of Stuttgart.

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Weissenhof – two-family house designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret

The settlement, consisting of 63 apartments and 21 houses, was designed as a socialist alternative to slum housing usually endured by the poor and was intended by the architects to house modern city dwellers ranging from blue-collar workers who would presumably live in the studios and smaller apartments to members of the upper middle class who would live in the larger houses.

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Weissenhof  – main thoroughfare

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Weissenhof – various buildings

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Weissenhof – building designed by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe

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Weissenhof – Hans Scharaun, Breslau

The homes were designed to be bright spaces surrounded by verdant landscaping to promote healthy living. A key example of one of these homes was the two-family house designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret on the edge of the complex, which was recently added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List and opened to the public as a museum.

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, front elevation

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, roof terrace

The house, essentially a fancy semi, had many features closely associated with Le Corbusier including a horizontal strip window that ran across the length of the front facade, painted steel columns on the ground level which held up first and second floors, a terrace on the flat roof partially sheltered by a concrete canopy and a monochromatic colour scheme with splashes of bold colour.

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, museum space on left side of building

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, museum space on left side of building

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, roof terrace

Visitors entered the building via the house on the left hand side of the semi. This house had been converted into a whitewashed museum with a modified floorplan to accommodate an exhibition setting out the genesis and history of the Weissenhof. Having climbed the modernist staircase through three floors of this rather bland museum space, you were directed down into the second, more interesting house by way of the roof terrace that connected the two houses.

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, living space on right side of building

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, living areas on right side of building

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, bathroom on right side of building

The second house was laid out, furnished and decorated as it would have been in 1927. The not very substantial living area was located on the middle floor and consisted of a kitchen, bathroom and living/sleeping area with staff quarters occupying the whole of the ground floor. Apparently designed with women in mind, the spaces were narrow and simply furnished.

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, sleeping area on right side of building

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, living area on right side of building

Neue Staatsgalerie

The Neue Staatsgalerie was designed by the British firm James Stirling and was constructed between 1979 and 1984. The controversial building, consisting of a series of connected galleries around three sides of a central rotunda, has been described as the epitome of Post-modernism.

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Neue Staatsgalerie, exterior at night

The building was a slightly disorienting and trippy mixture of classicism (travertine and sandstone in classical forms) with modernist elements (industrial pieces of slime green steel and bright pink and blue steel handrails) and housed a collection of 20th century modern art including Picassos, Modiglianis and Schlemmers.

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Neue Staatsgalerie, interior lobby

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Neue Staatsgalerie, interior views

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Neue Staatsgalerie, dancers of Oskar Schlemmer

Vitra by StoreS

I know it’s hugely overpriced and everything that they sell is a well-worn design cliche but I can’t help but love Vitra.

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Vitra by StoreS, inside

At 570sq metres and spread over two levels, the colourfully fronted Vitra store that we visited on Charlottenplatz was the world’s largest retail space dedicated to Vitra. As well as stocking all of Vitra’s design cliche products (displayed as attractively as ever), the store also looked at the company’s history in the form of a small museum of sorts.

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Vitra by StoreS, inside

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Vitra by StoreS, exterior and interior views

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Vitra by StoreS, Vitra map

Wurttembergische Landesbibliothek

The State Library of Württemberg was designed by Horst Linde and opened in 1970. An academic library, it contained the humanities sections of the University of Stuttgart.

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 State Library of Württemberg, interior from first floor

I couldn’t find any information online about the building which suggests that it isn’t held in particularly high regard but I thought the exterior and interior spaces were visually quite striking in terms of design and scale. It also looked like it hadn’t been renovated since 1970, which greatly appealed to me.

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 State Library of Württemberg, exterior views

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 State Library of Württemberg, interior from main entrance

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 State Library of Württemberg, interior views

Flea market Karlsplatz

As far as European fleamarkets go, this was a good one. Open every Saturday since 1983, Flohmarkt Karlsplatz filled the whole of a large square, consisting of well over 100 stalls selling everything you might expect from a typical flea market including mid-century furniture, antique frames, crystalware ornaments, silverware, crockery, antique kitchen appliances, antique cameras, WW2 militaria, coins and toys.

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Flea market Karlsplatz – mid century ceramics stall

My favourite kind of stall has always been the type that looks like the vendor has cleared out their own home and dumped it on a table (and there were plenty of stalls like this here) but there were also some slightly more professional dealer-types with higher quality tat mixed in which gave the flea market a slightly higher end feel.

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Flea market Karlsplatz

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Flea market Karlsplatz – various stalls

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Flea market Karlsplatz – Eames chairs

 

Taliesin West, Phoenix

Taliesin West was the last item on our itinerary before heading home and as alluded to in my previous blog entry, warranted its own dedicated blog entry.

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Taliesin West, main building exterior

Located 30 miles north of Phoenix, Taliesin West was the architectural school of renowned 20th century architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Built in 1937, Frank Lloyd Wright lived in its residential quarters until his death in 1959.

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Taliesin West, odd sculptures and structures at main entrance

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Taliesin West, more outdoor sculptures 

Built on the brow of a hill rather than on the hill itself in order to avoid spoiling the hill’s profile (Taliesin means “shining brow”), Taliesin West was a prime example of what our guide referred to as “organic architecture” (namely, architecture that uses the natural environment, time period and people as the basis for its design) and had a timeless, if utterly bizarre, aesthetic.

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Taliesin West, fountain in courtyard

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Taliesin West, exterior

Frank Lloyd Wright famously loathed traditional, box-shaped buildings, deeming them “fascist”. He also hated the traditional notion of being greeted by a “grand foyer” when entering a house and having everything branch off this foyer in predictable fashion. Instead, he felt that architecture should be “discovered”, revealed to you as you moved through it rather than all at once; akin to the experience of reading a novel. As such, Taliesin West was the antithesis of a box, consisting of multiple organic-shaped structures containing open-plan areas and concealed, non-obvious entrances. Though this meant that it was interesting to look at, it also made it really quite difficult to photograph (as the photos in this blog entry demonstrate).

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Taliesin West, entrance to main building

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Taliesin West, exterior canopy

The decor was a mix of Asian (Frank Lloyd Wright loved Japan and thought it was the most romantic place in the world), Native American (a colour that featured throughout was Cherokee red, Frank Lloyd Wright’s favourite colour), The Flinstones (most of the exterior walls consisted of local desert rocks, stacked within wood forms and filled with concrete – also referred to as “desert masonry”) and space age futurism.

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Taliesin West, asian-inspired doors to theatre

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Taliesin West, exterior and gardens

Frank Lloyd Wright designed everything in the complex down to each individual item of furniture and the rooms were full of design features that reflected his personal likes and dislikes. The living room, for instance, was furnished with very low-level parallelogram-shaped seating. This is because Frank Lloyd Wright was 5’6 and considered people over 5’7 to be a waste of space and in his view, standing people (especially tall ones) defaced his architecture.

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Taliesin West, low-level living room seating

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Taliesin West, living room

There was also an absence of art on the walls, something Frank Lloyd Wright generally insisted upon throughout his buildings. This rule apparently extended to homes that he designed for other people – on one of his regular, unannounced inspections of a house he had designed, he saw that a client had hung a huge Picasso on the wall and demanded that it be removed immediately.

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Taliesin West, main office (now used as a reception room for visitors)

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Taliesin West, dining hall

Some of Frank Lloyd Wright‘s design choices proved impractical. For instance, he hated traditional guttering systems as he felt that they disfigured the exterior of a building but the internal concealed guttering system that he had designed for Taliesin West meant that the house was decidedly leaky judging by the amount of buckets collecting rainwater dotted about the place.

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Taliesin West, sleeping area courtyard 

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Taliesin West, master bedroom sliding doors

In addition, he originally designed many of the rooms to be completely open to the elements (he thought that glass would spoil the overall aesthetic) but conceded that this was unworkable in the desert heat during the summer months and installed glass panels throughout the house in 1947. However, he refused to move anything around to accommodate these glass panels, stubborn man that he was, choosing instead to build the glass panels around small items such as earthenware pots.

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Taliesin West, tiny desk in Frank Lloyd Wright’s private office 

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Taliesin West, bathroom, alternative shots of private study and bedroom

Other notable rooms included the surprisingly small bedrooms arranged around and opening via sliding doors onto a courtyard, Frank Lloyd Wright’s private office with its tiny desk, a strange almost windowless bunker-type room used for private dining and for screening unedited Hollywood motion pictures often lasting up to 10-12 hours and finally, a theatre entirely upholstered in Cherokee red where he forced his architecture students to perform musical recitals every year.

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Taliesin West, dining/screening room

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Taliesin West, stage in theatre

 

Modernist Pilgrimage to Phoenix

Phoenix, Arizona was a bit of a step down in the glamour stakes after Palm Springs (it only factored into our plans because it was en route back to London) and we’d made the foolish mistake of coinciding our visit with Thanksgiving Day in the US (which explains why most of the photos in this blog entry look like something out a post-apocalyptic film) but it turned out that there was a lot to like about the place from a mid century/modernist perspective.

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 Fifth Avenue Medical Building, 1967

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Dental Arts building, 1969

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Phoenix Financial Centre, 1964-72

Armed with our map from modernphoenix.net (a spectacular, if slightly overwhelming resource setting out every modernist building of interest in the city), we wandered around taking in various commercial buildings.

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Pyramid, 1979

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Hanny’s, 1947

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US Federal Building and Courthouse, 1961

This included Hanny’s (formerly a department store, now a restaurant) from 1947 with its international-style facade, the US Federal Building and Courthouse from 1961, Central Towers (often referred to as the “U-Haul Towers” since U-Haul’s headquarters are located there) from 1959-62, Pyramid on Central (basically a concrete inverted pyramid) from 1979, the Lescher & Mahoney office (a two-storey courtyard office building occupied by an architectural firm) from 1963, the Phoenix Financial Centre together with the “North Rotunda” and the “South Rotunda” (today used as government offices) from 1964-72, Durant’s (a longstanding steak restaurant) from 1950, the Fifth Avenue Medical Building from 1967 and the Dental Arts building (essentially a box on silts, a popular design solution in Phoenix for providing shaded parking while maximising the leasable area of an office building) from 1969.

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Durant’s, 1950

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Lescher & Mahoney office, 1963

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Unidentified building, 1950-60s

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Central Towers, 1959-62

We came across some futuristic-looking mid-century motels featuring dramatic angles, bold colours and oversized neon signs, the best example of this being the City Centre Motel (now a Travelodge) from 1959. Most of these had been left to ruin and had a distinctly seedy feel upon closer inspection.

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City Centre Motel, 1959

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City Centre Motel, 1959

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Imperial 400 Motel (now Friendship Inn Motel), 1960 

In contrast, we also came across a concentration of nice garden apartment buildings from the late 1950s/1960s on Fifth and Sixth Avenues. These garden apartment buildings were characterised by a low-rise profile, the incorporation of a central open space, generous patios and balconies (designed to provide shade for the unit below) and a general blurring of the line between indoor and outdoor spaces. These garden apartment buildings mostly had glamorous park-like names such as Park North, Royal Riviera, Park Fifth Avenue and The Shorewood.

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Royal Riviera, 1950s-60s

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The Pierre Apartments, 1961

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Park Fifth Avenue, 1960s

In terms of shopping, we discovered a cluster of around ten decent but not especially bargain-filled mid century/vintage stores along N Seventh Avenue.

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Modern on Melrose, 700 W Campbell Avenue

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Modern Manor, N 7th Avenue

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Modern Manor, N 7th Avenue

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Mod Curated Modern Design and Mid Century Modern Furniture Gallery, N 7th Avenue

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Mod Curated Modern Design, N 7th Avenue

Perhaps most significantly of all, Phoenix was home to several Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, two of which we visited – First Christian Church and Taliesin West.

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First Christian Church, 1973-78

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First Christian Church, 1973-78

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First Christian Church, 1973-78

First Christian Church was first designed around 1950 for a local client which went bankrupt. The design was revived by First Christian in 1970, long after Frank Lloyd Wright’s death and was completed in 1973. Meant to “evoke the Holy Trinity and reflect an attitude of prayer”, the chapel’s roof and triangular spire were 77 ft high, supported by 23 slender triangular pillars. The church was accompanied by a separate and free-standing 120 ft bell tower built in 1978 and topped with a 22 ft cross.

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Taliesin West, 1937

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Taliesin West, 1937

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Taliesin West, 1937

Slightly further afield was Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and architectural school. This bizarre building warrants its own dedicated blog entry, which will follow.

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Vintage photo of US Federal Building and Courthouse, 1961 

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Vintage photo of City Centre Motel, 1959

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Vintage drawing of Hanny’s, 1947