Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cyclopean architecture

click photo to enlarge
Thirty years ago I visited Mycenae, the ruined second millennium BC city in southern Greece. It was there that I was introduced to the term "cyclopean architecture", a style of building that uses massive components such as might have been arranged by the mythical giant, Cyclops (he of the single eye). At Mycenae the walls of the city, and more architectural features such as the famous "Lion Gate", are made of overwhelmingly large blocks of stone. They dwarf people, and make the usual size of building stone look puny.

I was reminded of this when I visited the amphitheatre, known as The Scoop, next to the new London City Hall. An impersonal monotone experience in grey stone, it features very large blocks and a massive, stainless steel bannister rail. Presumably this curved tube is both a railing and an architectural "pointer" that says "walk this way to the seating." But its scale is cyclopean. It makes the people in its presence seem smaller - not the image that the Greater London Authority is trying to project with its democratically open Assembly building.

I think my photograph, with two people looking small against these large features, illustrates the point I make above. The dull red coat against the grey background attracted my attention. I used a long zoom to isolate part of the scene, and tried to balance the composition by placing the two tourists on the opposite side of the frame from the end of the steel tube. The shot was enlivened by the residue of recent rain and the reflected light from surrounding glass buildings. The blown highlights that this produced on the ground seems to me to add to the image, by increasing the tonal range, rather than detract from it.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen