Tuesday, 19 September 2023

The iconic British house (5/5)


The author's latest architectural 'Iconic' title considers fifty British houses with twenty-one designed during this century. What I found so fascinating about the selection, especially the more contemporary ones, is how architects have stretched the concept of a house into fresh and original ideas. Future Systems in 1998, Robin Partington, 2007 and Skene Catling de la Pena, 2016, all partially buried their structures into the landscape. Ken Shuttleworth designed Crescent House in 1997 as his home with one side a sensuous curve of floor-to-ceiling glass, Nick Eldridge's 2017 Greenways home is circular and raised above a water feature. 

The firm of Witherford Watson Mann in 2012 incorporated the ruins of Astley Castle into a house. An interesting idea because this wasn't to restore the ruins but rather to cleverly include them as part of a new building. Perhaps considered a modern ruin was a redundant concrete reservoir tank that Brinkworth architects in 2011 changed into a two-storey house and still kept some of the building's original concrete supports and ceilings. 
Can a house be fun and still be creatively designed? The book has a couple of examples. Jenks and Farrell's 1983 Cosmic House, in London, is full of delightful whimsey in the construction of the ceilings, windows and a spiral staircase. Grayson Perry and FAT Architecture created in 2014 'A House for Essex', a sort of contemporary folly, based on the life of Julie, a fictional character that Perry created (it's apparently open to the public for short stays).
The book has several examples of houses designed in the early decades of the last century, with world-famous architects like Rennie Mackintosh, Lutyens, Lubetkin, Breuer, Ward and Lucas, Spence, Rogers, The Modernist style was a favourite during those years. The author mentions in his Introduction whether there is currently a British architectural identity. I think this can be found in three examples. Lily Jenks and Nathanael Dorent's 2016 Ruins Studio, Adam Richards's 2019 Nithurst Farm and James Gorst's 2019 Hannington Farm. These architects work with the local landscape and use locally sourced materials to create modern structures that fit in beautifully with their environment.

I thought this was an excellent overview of British architecture since 1900. It's worth mentioning that the 550 photos were all taken by the author's long-time collaborator Richard Powers, so as you turn the pages they all have a uniformity of colour which definitely adds to the enjoyment of the book.


Wednesday, 13 September 2023

Marilyn boxed in (5/5)

 *** I originally wrote this review on US Amazon in May 2003. If you are interested in buying this expensive box and contents I think it's worth checking with the seller that the box has the three books. Taschen published a 610-page version of De Dienes Marilyn diary in 2015, it has the same cover photo as the large book in this box (ISBN 978-3836559331)

I've got copy 4066 of this sumptuous (and reassuringly expensive?) package and I thought this review should really detail what you'll get for your money.

ONE: An oversized Kodak color film box, nineteen inches high by sixteen wide and three deep, this is a big facsimile of the box that De Dienes kept some of his Marilyn prints in. The package weighs twelve pounds and will hardly fit any bookcase. The inside has recesses for the two books and one booklet. Black silk tape allows for easy access to the contents

TWO: A large (just over fifteen by twelve inches) beautifully designed and printed, 240-page book of Marilyn photos printed on thick paper. Although the printing screen is not the highest (150i) the photos leap off the page, especially the full-page color ones. Many of these photos seem to be very private shots of Marilyn that De Dienes took during her career (a few show her with other people, a hairdresser and a bookseller). Several at the back of the book show Marilyn's face montaged into clouds or surrounded by celestial bodies. Between the photos, printed in silver ink and in a large typewriter font, there are excepts from De Dienes's memoirs. Also printed in silver are smaller photos with his hand-written captions.

THREE: A booklet with twenty-four, one to a page, magazine covers featuring De Dienes photos of Marilyn. Seventeen of them are European titles. Predictably, great photos are weakened by logos, cover lines and generally poor cropping. I thought this booklet was rather disappointing in its production.

FOUR: The 568 page facsimile of De Dienes manuscript and composite book. I think this is the most fascinating item in the box because of the production problems. The original pages were typed on one side of a sheet of ordinary paper and this facsimile is on similar weight stock so that the back of each page has some text showing through, as the original. (There is a production problem here though, the paper rightly has text show-through but the photos do as well, on the original paper only the white back of the photo would have been visible.) Although the manuscript was in black and white it has been printed in four colors to create the aged paper look and the few handwritten numbers in green and red that De Dienes wrote on the photos. You can see all of his corrections and deletions to the manuscript and read the comments he wrote about the various contact prints of Marilyn and other printed ephemera he stuck on back of each page.

The original composite section has ninety-seven pages (it becomes 194 pages in this facsimile) of cut-out contact prints which De Dienes stuck on the typewriter paper, again they are reproduced in four-color black because of the occasional handwritten colored numbers, even the image of the punched file holes on each page is slightly reproduced. Hundreds of these contacts show how he photographed Marilyn and you can see how dozens of shots were taken of which only one or two were probably published. Most of these images have never been seen before and certainly never in the form that they are presented here.

Overall I think the Marilyn Box is an amazing production package. A world-famous visual icon is presented in a unique way.