Marine Operations Centre, Aberdeen

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Concrete “lighthouse” representing solidity

Built in 2006, on the north side of the River Dee estuary, the Marine Operations Centre was constructed to replace the old Roundhouse which had been in use since 1803. The Centre was designed by SMC Parr Architects, constructed by Sir Robert McAlpine, and won an Aberdeen Civic Society award.

The MOC appears at the southernmost point of the main Aberdeen beach, and sits like an exclamation point, marking the end of this stretch of coastline.

There are two main components to the building.

The white, concrete cylinder shown in the image, represents solidity, and from this position, resembles a light house. This was no accident: it was the architect’s intent. This cylinder houses the stairwell and other amenities.

The remaining section of the building, shown briefly in the image to either side of the cylinder, contains the business area of the premises. This section is glazed throughout and is shaped somewhat like a semicircular sail caught in the wind. According to the architect, this element of the design represents light.

The two elements: solid and light, intersect within the centre of the building.

I have taken many shots of this building over the years. I keep coming back again and again to look at it, but have struggled to connect with it (although I find it beautiful). However, something caught my eye on this visit and it was the presence of the fencing around the property, and the security intercom system. I realise that these measures are in place for security reasons and to protect the people and operations. However, they also keep the good spirits at bay, and make the building appear stand-offish and a little isolated.

Nevertheless, I still find the Centre beautiful from all angles. In the image provided, I have tried to highlight the bright, but weathered, lighthouse element against the protection of the dark and imposing security fencing, and menacing sky.

The Centre is worth visiting (although it’s rarely open to the public, as far as I am aware). I would advise sunrise or sunset / dusk for the best views.

South London

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Stunning Views from the London Eye

This shot was taken from the London Eye in October 2014 during a family visit to the city. Looking south east, and off-centre sits the Park Plaza County Hall Hotel with its chequerboard-like façade. To the right hand side of this in the Reuleaux triangle-shaped building, is its sister: the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel.

The railway tracks to the rear of the hotels lead to the left hand side of the image and Waterloo Station.

In the distance to the left of centre, the tall structure intersecting the horizon is the Strata SE1 Building at Elephant and Castle in Southwark. It is also known as the Razor or Electric Razor on account of its distinctive shape, and in particular the sloping upper portion.

The foreground contains the distinctive tenement buildings of Belvedere Road and Chicheley Street.

The weather that day was mild for the season, and despite the cloud cover in the image, the sky was fairly clear in all other directions. We could see spectacular views far-into the distance and I think that it was the 360 degree view of the city that instantly cured my dislike of heights!

I fell in love with London the moment I arrived, and although we were only there for a few short days, we managed to pack-in a great deal of sight-seeing. I would dearly like to capture some more views of the city from the sky though, and look forward to going back soon…

Aberdeen’s New Business District

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Is this the new business hub?

Situated near to the intersection of Union Street and Holburn Street, this cluster of buildings span a 70 year period of construction within the city of Aberdeen.

Starting in the distance, the building to the left, which is currently under construction, is the Silver Fin. which has been designed by Cooper Cromar architects. It has nine floors of Grade A office space, and four floors of integrated vehicle parking. The pictured view is that of the property rear. The entrance is situated on Union Street. A brand new façade is being constructed, somewhat predictably, in granite.

To the right hand side of the Silver Fin in the image, is another Grade A office space with integrated parking. It has already been completed, but at the time of writing, appears to be uninhabited. The Capitol Building, designed by Keppie Design, in contrast to the Silver Fin, retains it’s original frontage on Union Street, which is that of an elegant 1930s art deco cinema.

Moving closer, the Justice Mill Travelodge is immediately apparent, with its stark black and white exterior and small windows. Designed by local architects, Cumming and Co, it couldn’t contrast more with it’s glass-skinned neighbours if it tried. Both ends of the building are book-ended with butterfly-roofed towers.

Adjacent to the Travelodge is the IQ Building, designed by Richard Murphy Architects. Yet another office premises, this time with an integrated hotel as well as parking. The IQ Building is once again clad in glass. However, in this instance, the walls are stepped down towards the residential area below. At present the premises are being leased to Centrica and Wood Group PSN.

Finally, to the fore is the unmistakable sight of the, now disused, Bon Accord Baths. The curved roof and tall glazed window apertures hide a truly beautiful art deco swimming pool within. The Baths were opened in 1940, and served the city well until the doors were finally closed in 2008 as a result of funding issues. Since then there have been attempts to sell the building, repurpose it, and even bring it back to life. However, in these times of economic uncertainty, it is unlikely to reopen any time soon.

Despite the lack of demand at present for office space within the city, I do feel that once the energy sector strengthens again, this pocket-sized district of the city will jump into life, and become a hub of activity.

Here’s hoping anyway…

The above image was taken from Willowbank Road.

St. Andrew Street Building

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The Imposing Main Entrance

The St. Andrew Street building of the Robert Gordon University (RGU), as it was known, was constructed from granite in around 1908, and is centrally placed within Aberdeen in the Woolmanhill area of the city.

The building is trapezoidal in shape and occupies a whole city block. The main entrance is situated in the centre of the south face on St. Andrew Street (hence the name). However, there are secondary entrances on the remaining elevations of the premises.

The site contains a central courtyard which was, over time, developed into a car park, library and a hall. Vehicular access is via two pends on the north face.

The building has lain unused since the university relocated to the Garthdee site, and was sold to the Sandman Hotel Group in 2014 for development into a four star hotel. As of October 2016, this renovation appears to be underway, with scaffolding cladding the west elevation. Unfortunately, the demand in the city for additional hotel space seems particularly weak a present as a result of the current decline in the oil industry.

The St. Andrew Street premises was home to the Aberdeen College of Education until the 1960s. Latterly, it housed the RGU schools of sciences and computing.

It has been said that the various elevations of the building display varying architectural merits: the south being the most significant. It is certainly the most inspiring to view in my opinion.

The image above shows the area immediately above the south entrance on St. Andrew Street: the view most building users would have been greeted by upon approach.

I have a personal connection to the building: I studied at RGU during the 1990s, and spend many hours within the library, lecture theatres and laboratories. I have very fond memories of the place. It was an establishment of learning, for sure. However, it was also somewhere to meet and socialise with fellow students.

I am glad that the building is not going to be razed, but instead repurposed: it would be a tremendous shame to lose such a large and significant granite building from the city.

However, even as I write, the future of the city and her inhabitants hangs in the balance.

Perhaps it’s too early to know if the St. Andrew Street building will survive. Dark days may still come…

William Krisel’s Palm Springs

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Corrine Krisel and Twin Palms tract house (1957). Photograph by Julius Schulman. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10). Copyright J. Paul Getty Trust.

I recently bought this book as I was already a fan of Midcentury Modern design, and of the photographer, Darren Bradley, who contributed many fantastic images to the publication.

I admit that, prior to reading, I was unfamiliar with the life and works of the prolific architect and landscape designer William Krisel, on whom the book is based.

Krisel’s professional career has extended from the 1950s onwards and during that time it is estimated that he has designed more than 30,000 homes in Southern California including Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley.

Part of Krisel’s genius, in my opinion, is that he has been able to take relatively similar designs and modify them in such a way as to make neighbouring homes appear unique through the use of different roofing styles, colour schemes, landscapes and building orientations. This is particularly significant given that Krisel’s focus was mainly on so called “tract” homes built on estates.

Prior to Krisel, such estates would have been created with “cookie-cutter” homes: rows upon rows of the same repetitive and monotonous buildings. Krisel broke that mould. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Sandpiper estate of Palm Desert. These homes were arranged in a circle around a central pool area. Very communal. However each of the properties was still able to retain its own privacy.

Modernism is a philosophy that creates a better way of living through design. It improves one’s appreciation of design and ecology.

– William Krisel

The images throughout the book are provided by a number of photographers. In particular I’m drawn to the “old” versus the “new” images of Southern California.

The historical images were mostly created by, the now late, Julius Shulman. Many of the modern images were provided by the equally talented Darren Bradley. Whilst the Shulman images mainly capture the scenes in his signature black and white style, Bradley’s are bright, vivid and beautifully contrasted.

William Krisel’s Palm Springs – The Language of Modernism was edited by Chris Menrad and Heidi Creighton, both enthusiastic followers of Modernism. Other individuals have contributed photographs, chapters, anecdotes and interviews to the book which ultimately provides a wonderful insight into the life of this pioneer, who is truly under-appreciated outwith Southern California.

ISBN Number: 978-1-4236-4232-9

Published date: 2016

RGU Curvy Rooftops

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Curves, Curves, Curves

The Robert Gordon University campus is located at Garthdee in Aberdeen (here). The whole site is constructed on a hill leading-down from the street towards the river Dee. The buildings pictured above are constructed into the hillside with sweeping curved roofs following the downward gradient.

I’ve been passing this spot for some time now and I have debated about how I want to capture it: there are many metallic surfaces in this perspective, and so on clear sunny days the cluster of buildings are too bright and contrasty. I therefore decided to wait until later in the day when the sun was lower in the sky, and there was some defined cloud cover. I was looking for something more low-key.

I was particularly interested in the repeating lines of the Aberdeen Business School’s curved roof and the wall of the Sports Centre. The light that day cast a nice gradient on both. The Sports Centre panels reminded me of a gray-scale colour chart.

I shall post more shots from RGU in the near future, as there are plenty more perspectives to explore.

Sir Duncan Rice Library, Aberdeen

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Bold and Beautiful

The library is situated on the western edge of the University of Aberdeen’s King’s College campus. It was completed in 2012, and built to replace the Queen Mother Library which sat directly south of it on the same site (to the right hand side in the image).

The original library had been built in 1965 and then subsequently extended in 1978 and then again in 1982. However, it was never designed for the large number of visitors that it served, and so a replacement was sought. The architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen won the project to commission the new space.

The Sir Duncan Rice building is a simple cube from the outside, clad in an irregular pattern of insulated glazing. The glazed surface appears to float above ground level. The dark panels are transparent, the lighter ones are not.

On the north side, glass elevators rise to each of the floors. From within each there is an unobstructed view of St. Machar Drive and the University’s Zoology building.

From the centre of the ground floor looking upwards, irregular curved cut-outs on each of the floors create an atrium that extends towards the sky for a breathtaking view.

My image does not allude to the sheer boldness of the architects who have designed a piece which sits within the grounds of an ancient university. The library is a mere stones-throw away from King’s College which was built around the year 1500.

In fact the two buildings are visible to each other. Just a few hundred yards and 400 years apart.

The Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health

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Metallic Exoskeleton

The Rowett Institute was formed in 1913, and was built in the Craibstone area on the outskirts of Aberdeen city. Its original purpose was to research animal nutrition. This was later extended at the stipulation of its benefactor and namesake, Dr. John Quiller Rowett, to include research on human nutrition.

The institute formally merged with Aberdeen University in 2008 whilst still based at its premises to the south side of Dyce airport, and was renamed The Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health (RINH).

In March 2016, the institute relocated to its new custom-built home on the Foresterhill site (designed by Halliday Fraser Munro), where it now continues its work in the heart of the North East’s premier health campus.

The building sits adjacent to both the Institute of Medical Sciences and the Suttie Centre, to the north of the campus. All three buildings have their own character, and all have been built within the last decade. This demonstrates Aberdeen’s commitment to continue to be a world leader in medical research.

The Rowett building itself appears to be, at its most basic, a rectangular cuboid with a twist! The main structure is clad with an intricate exoskeleton of vertical and horizontal beams, as can be seen in the image above.

An interesting footnote:

The institute was originally concerned with issues surrounding malnutrition. In modern times there is a much greater emphasis on the overconsumption of food! How times have changed!

More information on the institute’s fascinating research, and how to volunteer to be included in one of their studies, can be found here.

Fog in the ‘Deen

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Fogger-deen

I took this mono image of the city from the Torry Battery whilst scouting a location for an upcoming photo shoot.

As I took-in the view, I noticed that the image captures a number of features of the city.

There are elements of the old: the intricate towers in the centre of the frame are Marischal College and the Citadel. To the left of these are the three cranes used in the construction of the new Marischal Square development – a project that has split the opinions of the city’s residents.

In the left of the foreground is Footdee (“Fittie”), a small fishing village based at the mouth of the river Dee. The large, imposing tower in Fittie is the Marine Operations Centre. Fishing and the sea are of great importance to the city.

The view is built-up in layers as a result of the light fog, which makes for a sense of depth.