Wednesday, 22 December 2010


In this quick entry I have gathered images of my favourite buildings from my home town, Shrewsbury, for no real reason other than architectural interest.

The odd St Chad's Church

The market hall is one of my favourite 'new' builds in the town. The old market hall was restored 'to its former glory' by Arrol & Snell architects, with the inclusion of a small upstairs cinema (I guess 100 seats). I watched the film Gainsbourg there in the summer - it is the sort of place you buy a coffee and where you sit on a sofa and put your coffee on a coffee table. The whole experience is much more enjoyable than going into a packed cineworld/vue/odeon cinema, and it is worth the extra pound or so, despite the small film choice:

It's hard to talk about the architecture of Shrewsbury and not mention anything Tudor. In amongst all the awful new 'mock-Tudor' shopping centres and cheap bars are some absolute (genuine) gems, that are unbelievably still standing. 

It is also a good example of the primitive Tudor way of getting more from their building site by building outwards on the upper levels, as Tudors were at one time only taxed on their initial ground footprint.

Finally, Rowley's House Museum, the biggest Tudor building in the town, is the main museum that attracts the tourists, and continues to dent their foreheads with its very low beams:

Finally there's a new addition to Shrewsbury, the large sculpture named 'Quantum Leap', celebrating 200 years of Charles Darwin, the 'town's favourite son'. The sculpture is giant, 12m high by nearly 20m long and it weighs over 200 tons.

It is similar to the 'Meaning Models' project I was set in the first year of architecture, so it's hard for me not to look into its meanings behind it: Could it be the spine of an animal, twisting... evolving? A strand of DNA? Could it be reflective of the struggle Darwin went through to get his ideas listened to? Bridging the gap between science and religion? Who knows.

Please see my blog entry 'Unbuilt Shrewsbury' for a few 'might-have-been'(s):

Bruges in Winter

I visited Bruges just before Christmas to do the traditional touristy/Christmas market thing, making a number of stops at interesting buildings in the small city centre.

First Impressions: The canals were frozen, as were the tourists. I luckily managed to miss the winter 'travel chaos' by travelling my Eurostar, and once my connecting train arrived into Bruges it was a bit like stepping out into a Narnian landscape. Snowball fights, frozen canals and picturesque little houses all with roaring fires filled the landscape.

The focal point of the city is the city's Belfry/Belfort Tower, that I used to navigate my way around. There used to be a spire on top of the tower, but this was destroyed by lightning, so all that remains is a relatively flat roof. Annoyingly I can't find a picture of the original design, but it's still hard to imagine a further spire on top of the existing building. Wikipedia proudly tells me that there are 27.5 tons of bells in the tower, a deafening noise at the (cramped) top when overlooking the city. 

I think the tower's success is that it forms an immediate focal point for the city. All the main shops/bars/restaurants are centred around it - even Christmas market stalls, an ice rink and a Salvador Dali exhibition are located underneath it. Every city needs one!

What I enjoyed about the architecture in general around Bruges was that no two buildings were the same. It was easy to draw parallels to my first year of architecture, when a brief was to design a slim terraced house of given dimensions, and place the design next to every other students' work, thus creating a row of terraced houses with much character and each house very different from its neighbours. 

Although window heights were more or less the same, and the stepped brick roofs that I had come across in The Netherlands seemed to follow similar dimensions; the width, colour, horizontal window placement and sometimes type of brick, were all different. This made for no dull street in the city. 

One of my unexpected favourite architectural gems were the (last remaining) four windmills that lined the perimeter of the city. These were closed in winter, but signs told me that they were originally used for grinding grain, but now helped (somehow) control water levels in Bruges. 

The designs look quite rudimentary, surely one of the cheaper tourist attractions in the city; but they still maintain their charm with each windmill being painted a different colour. The artificial mounds they stand on help raise the buildings to catch the wind, offer good views of the city, and double up as great sledging opportunities.