Category: Art et al

Brutalist By Design

In describing Brutalist Architecture and Buildings there are some words that might come to mind such as ugly, hulking, concrete, monstrosities, grimy, raw, inhuman, cold intimidating and horrible but whatever your view of this form of architectural style, there has been a resurgence of interest in Brutalist Architecture in recent years. Sometimes its the people that refer to buildings that are in the brutalist style as being horrible who don’t always know about the innate aesthetics of it, who are making the decisions. It’s not hard to imagine a coterie of councillors, architects, design aficionados or critics thinking, ‘That’s a horrible grotesque building’, and yet they’re not the ones who are going to use it.  Some might want to break out the white paint and rollers and give the begrimed concrete a good going over. The results of which might ensue in protests and uproar at that notion and you could end up having your face shoved in concrete.

“Brutalism” is an appropriate moniker for this artistic style of bare plain concrete architecture popularized and pioneered in post-war Europe, by Le Corbusier. This brutalist style showcases dour exterior walls that are deep-set, exude plain rough concrete, have small windows (some which are curved), a sculptural or blocky form that is often top heavy. It was a somewhat cheap way of building that emerged in the 1950s and survived into the late ’70s but the constructions were often dismissed as urban eyesores but became  an international phenomenon and the aesthetics were fairly radical and which aimed at liberating and democratizing architecture and that the architecture wasn’t brutal as such – but it was honest about it’s use of materials and was sculptural and imaginative and wanted to be different and could almost be viewed as some sort of dystopian nightmare landscape of massive gray geometrical forms. This idea of dystopian nightmare was envisioned in films such as  “A Clockwork Orange”.

There were a series of events held at Trinity College Dublin to celebrate 50 years of the Berkeley Library and which were part of the Open House Dublin weekend (October 13-15, 2017). The library was designed and created by the renowned architect Paul Koralek, who was in his mid-twenties at the time and was officially opened by the then president of Ireland, Éamon De Valera. The library was built in the Brutalist style, or perhaps a more gentle Brutalist style, which is epitomized in the Berkeley Library at Trinity College Dublin. Paul Koralek entered and won an International open competition to design the building, there were 350 entrants in the competition. A huge bulk of the library is deep-set in the ground because at the time there was a problem with putting that amount of building on the site. One of the enduring qualities of the Berkeley library is its solidity and it’s a sculpted building. It consists of three vertical zones or categories; book storage – the basement, a reading area which is held in a another box shape held up off the ground, and then the middle floors between those that consist of catalogues and making the library work, all the function and management of the library. The library also demonstrated the use of light, of which buildings are made of as well as concrete and other materials. A lot of time was spent on how the light would enter the building and how the light could be modulated so you don’t get problems with glare but get a pleasant effect of soft gentle light instead.  The Berkeley library still  remains one of the most stunning buildings in Dublin and retains the power to arouse strong reactions in all who see it.

There are many examples of Brutalist style buildings such as Erno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower in London. which was nicknamed the ‘Terror Tower’, synonymous with violence and crime and is now its one of the most desirable and much sought-after private housing to live in London. To some, it might not be a beautiful building, it might be better described as striking, interesting, powerful.

The Trellick Tower
The Trellick Tower in London.

Brutalism really is undergoing a resurgence and the Internet has provided an unexpected companion to long suffering admirers of this style of architecture. Popular photo sharing apps like Instagram #brutalism unleash endless streams of black-and-white images of gravity-defying buildings that are stark and show the industrial beauty of concrete:a utilitarian material without context from the world over.


The Rise of the Department Store

The Rise of the Department Store

(and the female consumer)

The Great Exhibition or Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 took place in a vast pre-fabricated iron and glass structure, and six million visitors passed through the door to view the contents of what is considered to be the first modern world’s fair.

Photo of Crystal Palace circa 1851 to 1854
Crystal Palace. ca. 1851-1854

People were accosted by displays of industrial, agricultural and artistic artifacts, goods in such quantities, as had never been seen before. None however had price tags! The initial entrance was five shillings, soon to be lowered to one shilling, making it was thought, more affordable to all classes of contemporary society – a truth borne out, given the attendance figures. What the event heralded in was the evolution of the culture of consumption, with the glittering glass building itself spawning in size and materials, the huge department stores that would spring up in the urban landscapes. Eventually, these spaces would replace the small local shops heretofore frequented on a daily basis by the Victorian housewife.

Photo of Crystal Palace - the interior.
Crystal Palace – interior.

By the end of the nineteenth century, this woman, the ‘poetic’ Angel in the House’ who had willingly attended to the needs of husband, children and home felt the urge to escape the confines of the kitchen. Where to? Cathedrals of shopping like Au Bon Marché (1887) in Paris, Whiteley’s in London, Macey’s in New York – palatial emporiums, which became ‘the giants of urban retail.’ Consumer culture was here to stay!

Photo of Au Bon Marché. ca. 1887
Au Bon Marché. ca. 1887

Improved transport systems made it easier and more socially acceptable for the middle-class housewife to be seen outside the home, women who formed the congregation of the secular cathedrals, enticed through the doors by spectacular displays and fine selections of goods, displayed to their best advantage in the welcoming interiors. Of course, shopping implied more than purchasing goods. Now away from her domestic responsibilities it became for the housewife a pleasurable occasion – a time for meeting friends, having a meal, maybe going to the theatre. Prior to making any purchase, time was taken to discuss, look at, touch or reject a specific item. It was part of the female buying strategy, especially if an item was a personal luxury rather than a household necessity.

Early location of Bon Marche dry goods store located at 15 S. Main Street ca. 1898.
Early location of Bon Marche dry goods store located at 15 S. Main Street ca. 1898. The name S. Lipinsky is on the awning.

For their part, the department stores – the halls of temptation, did their best to entice the consumer through the door, by providing extras in the form of lifts, escalators, restaurants, tea and rest rooms. While the sales men and sales women enacted a play of persuasion in which the customer was an eager and willing participant. If on the other hand, an object was priced beyond a person’s reach, there would be time to dream and save for another day when the desired prize would become obtainable.

The desire of the female consumer to buy, buy and buy was further encouraged by an upsurge in advertising in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Distinctive brand names became part of the new methods of marketing in which selling the image was an integral part of the product itself.  The rise of the advertising agencies, the department stores and the consumer were all inextricably linked…..but that is another story.

Escape the Confines of the Kitchen by the Modern Woman

A recent visit to a local Vintage Car Show to view the polished and pristine metal beauties prompted a thought about how today one takes for granted this mode of transport. However, in the 1920s the automobile was novel and regarded as a way to escape the confines of the kitchen by the modern woman, the homemaker. She was now gradually loosening the reins that tied her to the kitchen sink–the old way! After her experiences outside the home during WW1 she was loathed to become, once again, a ‘household drudge,’ and wanted to continue to experience the outside world. An independent female, a new phenomenon, now confronted men who returned from fighting. This revolution helps to explain why so few of the early 1920s advertisements, especially in France, pictured the woman alone in the public sphere. Her place was the interior whilst the exterior was the male domain. It was naturally difficult for men to accept the gradual change in gender roles, even those who worked in the advertising agencies. Therefore, in spite of a burgeoning automobile industry, whose product was becoming more affordable and within the reach of a wider public, most of the advertisements still depicted a male behind the wheel of the car. Nonetheless, the time was ripe to tap into the female market for which a new textual and visual strategy was required–though still not one prepared to acknowledge her independence. Instead, the reluctant housewife was astutely targeted via the husband with words tantamount to making him feel guilty his wife was ‘marooned all day’ indoors.

An early advertisement for Chevrolet Utility Coupe circa 1924
An early advertisement for Chevrolet Utility Coupe. circa 1924

Chevrolet asserted the company’s Utility Coupé was the ideal second automobile–price and upkeep low, quality not sacrificed. But you were doing more than just driving a car, you were arguably driving a work of art. Just as the slogan for Anderson’s touring car ‘It’s As Roomy For Five As It’s Chummy For Two’ exhorted the versatility of a convertible that with little effort transforms from a roadster into a ‘a fully-fledged, strictly correct five-passenger touring car.’ Definitely a two for one deal not to be missed! Especially, if one was a member of the expanding middle classes, who was eager to show off a new found affluence to neighbors and acquaintances.

Anderson Touring Car and Roadster circa 1920
Anderson Touring Car and Roadster. circa 1920

However, did many men succumb to the sales pitch or were alternatively prepared to allow the mistress of the house her new desired freedom from domesticity? The motor industry was acutely aware a subtle approach was necessary and ensured the status of “new woman” was never overtly flaunted. Yes, in the adverts she is well dressed (further underlining the prosperity of the family) and depicted beside the car or about to step in and sit behind the wheel, but is invariably accompanied by other people. The implication–all the time, whilst is in the company of family and friends, ‘the threatening potential of a female driving through public places’ is diffused by the presence of companions. The woman is modern! However not one who is heading to the workplace, for the ownership of her own car indicates she has a devoted husband and has no need to work outside the family home. Instead, its use is centered round the family excursion, which is acceptable to the male. The car now acts as a machine of ‘feminine duty,’ and becomes purely a vehicle to assist the wife or mother in her traditional domestic chores of shopping and childcare. The object itself may be recognized as an enticement to return to the house, an area, which the post-war spouse still considered it was her place to occupy. Most probably today’s lady car owner and driver is not aware of the early struggle her predecessor had in her attempt to find independence outside the home!!!!!!

Fashion for the Digital Age

Trend. Latest thing. In vogue. Faddism. Chic. Style. In thing. Fashion. Taking your creativity and turning it into something stylish or creating the latest must-have fashion. Already technology is helping to shape this creativity, everything from wearable technology, 3D printed dresses and accessories, smart fabrics to shoes.

Technology is already transforming the fashion industry and there maybe no denying that the technological world is obsessed with fashion. Inevitably fashion and technology may arguably become one. Throughout history technology has enabled us to create everything from Da Vinci’s use of the camera obscura to Caravaggio’s work with mirrors and lenses.  There are many benefits that technology offers not just to the artistic world but also the world of fashion in terms of creativity.

Some of the familiar names in technology firms such as Google, Amazon and Apple are all striving to shape their names in the fashion space. The Apple Watch or their version of the smartwatch, a stylish wearable device that is more than a mere accessory to the smartphone. Google with conductive fabrics or smart fabrics that are embedded into a Levi’s smart jacket using Project Jacquard. Amazon with their online fashion and clothing platform and Amazon Echo Look which incorporates voice-controlled cameras for fashion tips and introduces Style Check where you get style advice from fashion specialists on which outfit looks best on you based on fit, color, styling, and current trends.

Fashion for the digital age where there exists mutual respect from fashion designers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s creative director, who has expressed his love for technology by experimenting with partially 3D-printed pieces using Materialise 3D printing technologies. Francesca Rosella, creative director at CuteCircuit a London based wearable technology clothing company, who created the worlds first haute couture Twitter Dress. American fashion designer Zac Posen, with some help from fashion house Marchesa, worked with IBM’s Watson supercomputer to create a cognitive dress that lights up and changes colors based on activity on social media. Dutch designer Iris van Herpen, who weaves cutting-edge technology with couture craftsmanship, and was one of the first to send 3D printed garment down the runway.

Weaving with cutting edge technology. Haute couture meets technology. Technology has already had an impact on the fashion industry. Will this sort of technology ever catch on? It really depends on what you think about fashion. Fashion can be seen as art, to others its just stuff to wear. Other times it can be a mind boggling craft and technique that renders the fashion as art question open to debate.

It does seem that high-tech fashion is starting to become more than just a gimmick and the line between the two is beginning to soften. The idea of  3D printing your own clothes or shoes at home is not such a far fetched idea after all. Designer Danit Peleg produced her entire fashion collection using 3D home printers and she sells her 3D printed garments online. Feetz who produce custom fit 3D printed shoes and where ordering is done online and where customers can download an app, take smartphone snapshots of their feet and create a 3-D model. They are just examples of how this technology is changing the way products are ordered, made and sold. This might not necessarily be a breakthrough in fashion but it’s only a matter of time before these sort of technologies are both useful and accessible to everyone.

Fashion to some may seem intangible – it gives us peace of mind or happiness, makes us feel good about ourselves. Fashion is a measure of choice – we choose what we want to wear. We choose how we want to look. We should be able to choose the technologies that we want to be embedded in our clothes and without being just another gimmick and where these technologies are not dependent on other devices. Combining technology and fashion may still seem like a science fiction fantasy but it’s starting to become a reality and it’s clear that technology and fashion companies are already starting to work together and bringing us one step closer to this reality.


Paul Poiret – Corset Liberator

In the late 1960’s members of the American feminist movement, protesting for equal rights for their sex, urged compatriots to “burn their bras.” It is unlikely these items of lingerie were physically destroyed in any great number, but the cry may be recognized as a symbolic action and a need to reform the stereotype woman of the day – housewife or mother! However, fifty years earlier in late 1900’s, an artist/couturier successfully raised a call to “burn the corset.” This time a man was behind the ardent plea, one intent on changing the desirable contemporary female shape which had prevailed for many years prior to this. Who was he? Paul Poiret – often referenced as the father of modern fashion, whose early career was as apprentice to an umbrella maker. In spite of this unpretentious beginning, he was at heart an astute businessman and self-promoter.

These elements were vital in his mission to cause a revolution in the fashion world by initiating the demise of the of the dreaded “S” shaped corset which divided the female body into two “bulks.” In doing so, a new silhouette for the twentieth century was created. One befitting the lifestyle of the New Woman – now a more confident and outgoing person – yet viewed by some as a threat to the contemporary man. A look frequently modeled by his muse (another modern innovation), his young wife Denise Poiret. How did her husband succeed in instigating his controversial hallmark – a relative loosely fitted gown that allowed for the expression of the natural curves of the female form, now unencumbered by the corset? Poiret’s flair for publicity found its visual expression in the artistic talent of Paul Iribe, whom he commissioned to create the drawings for a small, deluxe album of his dress designs (Les Robes de Paul Poiret racontée par Paul Iribe, 1908) that was sent to his most important customers and to every crowned head in Europe. In this may be seen the beginnings of what most fashionistas today for granted – fashion illustration in its multifaceted forms. After this, in quick succession, was the founding of the Atelier Martine (named after his daughter) which in addition to acting as a showcase for his innovative designs embraced a school elevating the decorative arts by teaching and producing the latest in interior designs and furnishings. Poiret’s energy was inexhaustible as was his ability to foresee and create commodities that people now take for granted.

Today, it is expected a “celebrity” will lend their name (for a large fee of course) to a specific fragrance created for them. Yet Poiret was a forerunner in this form of advertising when he created his own brand of perfume “Rosine”. Named after a second daughter, and marketed in hand-blown bottles, it became an item of merchandise that not only enhanced his new creations but generated a further income. This father of modern fashion and corset liberator would many years later receive the following accolade from the renowned Christian Dior, who in his autobiography referenced Paul Poiret as “this great artist who excelled at creation and decoration.” The dissension his new shapes of female clothing caused previously, among the contemporary mothers who feared the effect such clothes would have on their daughters, had long been forgotten. Wily Paul Poiret always knew there is “no publicity like bad publicity” and any acrimonious debate would ultimate bring in its wake – success and fame for himself – and for Paul Iribe a triumphal international career as an illustrator.