Thursday, June 15, 2006

The virtue of simplicity

click photo to enlarge
The primary purpose of any home is to provide sufficient and efficient living space, and protection from the elements. A secondary purpose is to offer a pleasing form to the inhabitants and passers-by. Many buildings provide one or the other of these, but significantly fewer offer both.

This photograph shows part of Victoria Terrace, Beaumaris, on the island of Anglesey. It is the work of the architect Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-1882), whose buildings include Birmingham Town Hall and the stunning church of St Walburga, Preston. Hansom is, perhaps, better known as the inventor of the immensely successful Hansom Cab, a two wheeled design with a single horse and a "cabbie" placed at the back; a design that packed Victorian cities in the Britain, Europe and the United States.

This stone-built terrace, erected in 1832, looks out over the Menai Strait. Though it's called a terrace, it certainly doesn't look like one. In appearance it resembles a large Palladian country house, having a central pentastyle portico with attached columns at first and second floor level, and plainer wings. The overall form suggests a single grand building, but the doors along the ground floor show that it is subdivided into many dwellings. This is an idea that was introduced into England by John Wood the Elder in Queen Square, Bath in 1735. How does this building function in terms of living space? I don't know, but I suspect that it leaves something to be desired! What is clear from the photograph, however, is that it offers a very pleasing elevation to the public that graces the sea-front of this small town.

Through my photograph I wanted to show the pleasing simplicity of the ground floor doors and windows, the lovely texture of the stonework, and the minimal but wonderfully effective detail of the garden and steps. This building demonstrates the importance of proportion, repetition and the relationships between forms in architecture - qualities that are often lacking in much current domestic housing. I used a zoom lens at 90mm (35mm equivalent) to capture this image, and present it as it came out of the camera.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen