Madrid Street Signs

IMG_20150519_151943

Whenever I’m in a city, wandering around there tends to be something that sticks out at me and makes that city special.  This for me is not the usual landmarks, but something else that you would perhaps not give a huge amount of time to, but which I think reveals something about the soul of a place.  Last year for example when I was in Malaga I became interested in both the graffiti and perhaps more oddly the paving stones.  In Madrid recently there were two things that really stood out, the amazing markets in each area and the street signs in the centre of the city which I became quite mesmerised by as I wandered around.

Every street, square, alleyway or courtyard had one of these beautifully crafted individually tiled street signs.  There didn’t appear to be any particular style or uniformity to them as they were made up of either 9, 12, 15 or 16 tiles and the artistic designs were also quite different, they were also often quite high up on the walls, often with wires running across them or CCTV cameras next to them.  In other words they were just everyday signs but for me they added a real sense of beauty and style to the city.  Anywhere that takes this much care in designing a street sign for an alleyway has got to be good.  It also really added to my enjoyment of walking around the city as I was constantly looking out for the signs as I meandered along and they made great reference points.

I didn’t do much thinking about them as I walked around, apart from trying to translate the odd one, my knowledge of Spanish and Spanish history is not good enough to understand the meaning or resonance behind many of the pictures but I found myself wanting to know more.  What is the Calle del Codo with the arm in armour all about for example ?

I think about cities and sense of place quite a bit particularly what makes a good city or place?  I don’t necessarily have the answers but as with the paving stones in Malaga, any city that puts this much craft into it’s street signs must have soul.

Postcard from Madrid

IMAG5489

Madrid, one of Europe’s grand old cities, and what better place to spend a few days exploring and feeling the first real bit of warmth of the year.  Like many Spanish cities I found Madrid great for walking and exploring, there was no grand plan just some vague ideas and this approach works for me as you tend to come across things as you mooch, you have the time to take the temperature of the city and get a feel for it with the hassle of thinking I need to get someone by a certain time or to see a particular thing.  Much as great cities have fantastic places to see, it’s people that make places so getting a feel for them and the beat of the city is equally important as far as I am concerned.

Also, like when I was in Barcelona last year, it seems to be very easy to get away from the cram of tourists who follow a very predictable trail.  Walk a couple of streets away in any direction and you are in a different Madrid, one that’s much more to my liking.  I stayed right bang in the centre, in a great little flat that was my first experience of using air B & B and I couldn’t have wished for better.  If meant that I could step out of the door and be right in the heart of things but could stroll half an hour in any direction to explore some of the different areas.

I’d been to Madrid before a few years ago and I wondered how it would feel in light of the serious impact that the recession has had on Spain.  For me the city remains as warm and welcoming and as clean and safe as you could possibly hope for.  This time in the city I seemed to spend a lot of time in the markets, each area that I visited had one and they really were astonishing places and could really teach my home city a thing or two as it ponders how to ‘regenerate’ the city market.  For me the most astonishing was Sunday afternoon in San Fernando market in the Lavapies area.  I stumbled across this by poking my head through an entrance and the first signs were not promising, stalls with the shutters down, the odd one or two with a couple of people sat at.  However music could be heard so we ventured in and lo and behold the world changed.  In the middle of this covered market a hundred or so people were in full swing dancing away to latin music pumping out as DJ’s played the tunes, surround the central area, a labyrinth of packed stalls selling tapas, beer and wine kept the crowd fed and watered.  It was mesmerising and the atmosphere was so good it just made you feel alive.  We found a fantastic little wine place, drank what was recommended and just soaked it up.  I want to spend every Sunday doing that, it was perfect.

I was chatting to someone from Lavapies about the market and he said that a few years ago it was dying, just a couple of stalls remained but slowly the community has brought it back to life with events and activities and placing it back into the heart of the community which has brought new stall holders and businesses in.  A fantastic success story.  Round the corner I also stumbled across a great little bike shop and bought the local cap, I found out that they have only made 100 and the money is going to help run the community cycling club.  They seemed amazed that some guy from Leeds wanted to buy one of their caps.

Little adventures and experiences like this happened across the few days we were there as we wandered about.  Yes we saw the main squares, Guernica, the parks, Churches, Palaces etc but it was the neighbourhood bars, markets and vibe of the city that I enjoyed the most.  Can’t wait to go back.

 

Half Term Photo Fun – 2015 – Pattern

CGB6x7lWgAIhkq8

I must admit I love it when the kids pick a shape for the photofun challenges as it opens up so many possibilities and interpretations and this was definitely the case with their choice of pattern for halftermphotofun.  It’s almost impossible not to look up (or down) and see some sort of pattern, be that in nature, architecture, or something you have just created, and this was clearly reflected in the range of photos that were sent in.  I must admit however that I was scratching my head for a bit with the photos of Pat Butcher and a Tern that came in from the same person until of course you put them together.  It got me thinking generally about pattern and patterns and how our everyday lives are themselves a pattern of similar routines stitched together into one narrative and I’d have liked to have somehow seen a graphical representation of my life as a pattern.

Do click on the gallery to open it then you can scroll through the photos as they came in, which ones do you like ? and can you spot the mushroom which I really liked.  Be they regimented or random I thought that this was a great selection that you all sent in, and as always thanks so much to all of you who took part.

The next one we do will be the main one where it all started #summerphotofun running for 6 weeks over the summer.  Keep your eyes on my twitter @ianstreet67 or the hashtag and play along with us.

Easter Photo Fun 2015 – Week 2 – Symbol

CCxtpMPW4AANooi

I thought the kids picked two great themes over the Easter holidays, firstly with Point and then with the theme of Symbol for the second week, a theme that was so open and of course you did not disappoint by sending in all sorts of interpretations.  When you think about it symbols are everywhere around us, guiding us on everything from finding our way around maps to the washing instructions in our smalls, there are totemic symbols of power and powerful symbols of peace or revolution.  As I’m writing this each letter is of course a symbol that combined provides us with our written word which is perhaps the most powerful symbol of all as it contains within it the passport to the combined weight of human knowledge.  Not bad for a collection of marks.

Huge thanks to everyone who contributed across the week and for taking part and playing along with our social photography themes, it really is appreciated.  Do click on the gallery so that you can flick through the photos as they were sent in and let us know which ones you liked.  Can you spot all the symbols?  We’ll be back for halftermphofofun in June before the big one over the summer if people still want to play along.

 

The Known Unknown: Berlin’s Hansaviertel

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been to a place countless times but you had no idea how special a place it is? There is quite a fascination to the discovery of already known places. In this case it is the Hansaviertel in Berlin, an area that I had always thought of as being situated somewhere else and that holds famous architecture of some of the most renowned architects of the Bauhaus, Neues Bauen and Modernism, such as Walter Gropius, Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto, and Max Taut.

Only last year did I begin to explore the architecture of Berlin, which is an exciting place in this regard. Berlin is not exactly a beautiful city in a conventional sense, but its history has led to the most unusual, if not unique, developments. The grandeur of the 19th and early 20th century was followed by a war that left Berlin in rubble. The Cold War that ensued and led to the separation of the town and its people by the Berlin Wall turned Berlin into a battlefield of the architecture of two opposing systems – without actually having any money for it. Reunification, the moving of the government from Bonn to Berlin and the latest boom have added to a seemingly endless frenzy of a city that never ceases to change, a city that is never finished. You leave Berlin for a week to go on a holiday and when you come back, you won’t recognise it.

The Hansaviertel in the heart of West Berlin saw its splendour of exuberant Gründerzeit style houses almost completely destroyed in 1943. Ten years later Berlin decided to build a model future city on its grounds and invited the biggest international star architects to develop a new settlement – in rivalry to the truly gigantic and monumental Stalinallee (later Karl-Marx-Allee), that was being built in East Berlin. Both East and West wanted to show to the world that it is they who provided the best living conditions to their respective citizens. While the Stalinallee provided representative flats in which you can easily get lost, the Hansaviertel was equipped with small flats in primarily functional buildings of small, medium and high-rise format, loosely scattered, each surrounded by specifically designed green space. Two Brutalist churches, an underground station, a shopping area, a cinema (now a theatre), and a library as well as some cafés and restaurants (schools were nearby) completed a mostly independent living unit.

As I leave Bellevue S-Bahn station I’m greeted by two of the five highrisers (“Punkthäuser”) from 1957, when the new settlement was presented as the site of the Interbau exhibition. Are they pretty? No. All of the houses had to be built with as little money as possible and it shows, just like their age. Right behind them is the familiar Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), where I saw Macbeth, Brave New World and The Grapes of Wrath in the English language as a teenager. It presents itself in a modernist individual, yet modest style with a naked Henry Moore bronze sunbathing. Smaller houses that remind me of the holiday camps of my childhood pop up here and there. They look as if living here is attractive. All the houses have their balconies directed towards the south and the green space makes the whole place look very comfortable. It’s mostly clean and graffiti is rare. Yes, I understand why the people who moved in in the 1950’s and 60’s have never moved out. Beauty in an aesthetic sense is not a criterion to apply here, but a highly individual character of each single building can’t be denied. It is this specific character that you get when every single building has a different designer.

The most famous of them all is the Oscar Niemeyer Haus, Niemeyer’s only building in all of Germany. It is a crazy one: it stands on filigree feet, which makes you wonder how they can possibly carry such a large building. The lift, that stops only at two floors, is kept in an extra tower outside the house. London residents may know the Balfron Tower (1967) that has a similar concept (but looks less pretty…).

The lofty, green Hansaviertel, that is situated right between the two city centres, feels like a world of its own. But then again every Berlin Kiez does, each an intriguing little universe in itself. I can’t wait to explore the next one.

————–

Thanks to Ian and Jason for their support.

Half Term Photo Fun – 2015 – Arch

B-PNOeHIEAAWpSE

The kids picked Arch as the theme for #Halftermphotofun and in my mind I thought, ah it’ll just be all bridges and churches and while we certainly got some of those we had lots of other great interpretations proving yet again that my kids know better than I do.  The humble arch is, once you start looking, everywhere around us both in nature and the built environment as it it is the building block to so much of the world around us from an architectural point of view.  Writing that sentence I’ve just noticed that architecture begins with arch !  I did know that there were different styles of arch but didn’t realise that there were quite so many designs, I think I came across about 15 styles doing a little bit of research – the Ogee arch anyone ?  I’m not sure how many styles we’ve managed to have represented here but quite a few I reckon.

What I particularly liked when you see all of the arches together here is how inquisitive it made me feel, what’s through there ? adventure ? mystery ? are they portals to another world ? and then there were the different interpretations, arch enemies/ rivals of the rugby team forming an arch in the scrum, the arch of the foot or the eye, the fun the little boy is having making an arch and I think it was this photo that made me put the family photo at the top, if you can’t find an arch you can just make your own.

As always thanks so much to all of you who took part contributing and interpreting throughout the week, it’s been great fun as always.  I hope I haven’t missed any out but if I have then do get in touch and I’ll amend the gallery.  We’ll be back for Easter, unless we throw a random weekendphotofun in so if you are reading this and want to take part then you are more than welcome, just follow me on twitter @ianstreet67 or keep an eye on the twitter hashtags #halftermphotofun, #easterphotofun, #summerphotofun etc you get the drift.  Thanks everyone.

Generative Art

FullSizeRender

As I often do on a Saturday morning I popped into @coloursmayvary to check out the latest publications and give my eyes a visual treat with the lovely prints to buy.  As well as being a gorgeous shop they often have stuff going on, the other week they had old school printing machines in there and they’d been running letterpress workshops, today there was this huge mural that you could get busy on.  It’s been created as part of the run up to the British Art Show which is coming to Leeds in October and will apparently feature the largest collection of contemporary art in the UK.  Prior to this there will be all sorts of activities in the run up to the launch.

The illustration / mural above is part of the lead in, it’s been created by three artists with a Leeds connection – Lucas Jubb, Jay Cover and Kristyna Baczynski – each one of whom has created elements that have then been generated by code to produce this huge mural.  Apparently this is a new process called Generative Art/Design.  We the public can then get involved and colour in the mural and when it’s complete it will tour round Leeds in the run up to the British Art Show.

Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of colouring in ?  I found it quite hypnotic to sit there grab a pen and fill bits of the mural in, as you are colouring, little bits of the city appear – The Corn Exchange, Town Hall, Broadcasting House all connected in a random fashion (presumably due to the programming code) with swirls and a myriad of different shapes.  As I was trying to stay between the lines (not always successfully) it made me ponder a bit about Leeds and it’s future and perhaps this mural represents the ideal vision where technology, collaboration and interaction form the basis for the city and it’s people to thrive?

10963758_414715188705736_1974576287_n IMG_0615 10990620_797339633653681_1790463202_n