From our friend in Belfast: whose ism is it anyway?

In search of the spirit of somethingism in Belfast with Richard Weston of Ace Jet 170 

Perhaps I'm wrong but I've read a bit about Russian Constructivism and I know a thing or two about Futurism. When you dig around the internet in search of some nuggets of information about Belfast's Transport House, the few details you find, more often than not, claim the design of the mural, the building's most striking feature, is in the style of the Constructivists. 

I can understand why someone might think that: originally built (around 1959) as the headquarters of the Transport and General Workers Union, there's an obvious affinity with their comrades in the Soviet Union – what with once shared chains of oppression and the subsequent fight against the bourgeoisie, and whatnot.

But surely, stylistically, it's more Futurist? With those exaggerated, dynamic lines. Or even Cubo-Futurist if you're an ism pedant. Or, maybe designer/architect J J Brennan had sympathies with the much closer to home (if short-lived) Vorticists. In fact, in my humble, non-art-historian-but-fairly-well-read-on-early-twentieth-century-art-isms, opinion this could be described as the epitome of Vorticism: abstracted geometry, embraced dynamism, celebration of the machine age.

But what do I know?

I suppose there's little real substance to justify such a claim, but then there seems to be as little reason to think anything else; just because there are workers represented doesn't make it Constructivist… does it? Whatever the ism and despite its prominent position in the City centre, it's a singularly under-loved building. There seems to be very little written about Transport House, in the digital realm at least. That's all the more surprising when you learn that it's now a listed building; Belfast's youngest.

Sadly, it's in a sorry state. The access points are boarded up and some time in the noughties the original chunky, bold (actually quite Constructivist!) TWGU lettering, mounted at the very top of the building, was replaced with the then-new, swishy wishy-washy Unite logo. It must have been soon after that the building's rooftop played host to the 2008 hunger strike. That at least was extensively reported, bringing the building some well deserved, if at the time not entirely welcome, attention.

Whatever anyone else thinks and whatever the true inspiration was for that amazing decoration, I love this building. I love it partly because I bet when it first went up it must have felt futuristic (maybe not Futurist); it must have been stunning and controversial. But of course I love it mostly for that incredible mural. 

Let's hope that one day someone realises they can retro-fit the building and turn it into something suitably interesting or useful and save it from its current gloomy state. 

Transport House, 102 High Street, Belfast BT1 2DL

Posted in Architecture, Belfast, Richard Weston, UK

In the belly of the bridge

In which our intrepid associate Tim Matthews sees the familiar with fresh eyes

Long before one tires of London, one becomes merely familiar with it. Some familiarities are irritating, others are wonderful: they’re the finishing touches that make one city different to another, the things which make a place itself. As Boz might say, they are the "porter for the pot" or the "gas for the light". In London these are many and varied, and like old red buses and new blue bicycles you see them and notice them but at the same time you see them and you don't notice them. They’re so familiar, what more is there to know? A bus is a bus, a bike is a bike and even a bridge, well it’s just a bridge.There can be few structures in London more familiar than Tower Bridge – neo-gothic Victorian practical-folly at its best. Through its use on the fanfare-heralded Thames Television ident of old and being one of the most frequently used structures on any stylised London skyline, you don’t even have to have been south of Stoke to recognise it. So when the opportunity came to visit London’s most easterly river crossing, I wondered what more there could be to know? What more is there to find out about something we’ve all seen countless times. It's wonderful but what more is there to see?

All photographs by Tim Matthews

Posted in Architecture, England, London, UK

Herb visits… Paris

Conventional wisdom has it that there are better times to visit Paris than the middle of August. Most people prefer it when shops are open and there are natives in residence, but there’s a peacefulness at this time of year which encourages aimless wandering and a pleasantly unfocussed approach to sightseeing.

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Posted in Architecture, France, Paris

Herb visits… Trouville

Lest you feel that we in Britain have captured the market on shabby seaside towns, we present to you this faded beauty on the Normandy coast. Less seedy than its counterparts across the Channel, in typical French style,Trouville wears its years with élan.

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Posted in Architecture, France, Seaside

Herb visits… Wardour Mews

It is easy to overlook Wardour Mews; it escaped our attention until some years ago when we read about it in Harry Shapiro's Waiting For The Man. In the 1960s this grubby little backwater was home to a handful of fly-by-night clubs and coffee bars .

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Posted in Architecture, England, London, UK

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