Thursday, June 22, 2006

A spiral to nowhere

click photo to enlarge
What does white painted concrete and a deep blue sky say to you? The Mediterr-
anean? California? England? The first two probably, the latter never! And yet the leaders of the International Style in architecture of the 1920s and 1930s - people like Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier) , Rudolf Schindler and Walter Gropius - all expected their design solutions to be indifferent to climate and location, and suitable for all countries. They built and promoted a style that paid no dues to historical precedent or local traditions. Steel, white painted concrete, long window strips and flat roofs characterized their buildings. They saw them as rational "machines for living" that eschewed ornament, that used materials honestly, never pretending they were something else, and in which "form followed function". Such structures were built widely in France, Germany, the United States and elsewhere. In Britain only a few architects took up the modernist banner. Most used the style as something to plunder for motifs that could be grafted on to more traditional buildings.

And maybe that was right. A damp, cloudy country such as ours presents something of a challenge to a flat roof, steel-reinforced concrete and white paint! However, one British architect who did work in this style was Joseph Emberton (1889-1956). In his best known building, the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club (1931), Burnham on Crouch, he deployed the full range of the International Style to great effect. At Blackpool Pleasure Beach, a large funfair, he built in this style again, to best effect in the Casino (1935-39). This striking white building combines serious modernity and whimsy. The curved walls and low window bands wrap the building round the corner of the fairground site in a very sleek way. But, sticking up from the front, is a slim spiral staircase to nowhere! It is topped by a light and a flag, and is simply a piece of fun that accompanies the equally humorous, red and black, ship's funnel.

I took this shot of a part of the spiral staircase shortly after it had been repainted. The drill-like form was being shown to good effect by the morning light, giving it a Mediterranean appearance - one of the few days on which that would be achieved! I used a zoom lens, focussing on a section of the spiral to display the sensuous curves that one wouldn't imagine possible in concrete.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen