Saturday, March 25, 2017

THE CHURCH OF EGERSUND - THE NECESSITY OF TRADITION AND NOTHING


The Norwegian journey started at Sumburgh, Shetland, flying to Bergen and then driving to the small village of Ulvik at the end of Hardangerfjord: day one. It was here, at this picturesque location dominated by snow-covered mountains mirrored in the still waters of the fjord, a prospect with the self-consciously, over-beautiful, surreal impression of a cliché calendar illustration, that the small kirke captured the imagination: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/02/ulvik-church-norway-tradition-in-timber.html The experience revealed how mystery and meaning could be held in things basic and unpretentious, ordinary and simple; establishing the value of tradition. The landscape challenged pre-conceptions and left one wondering how familiarity with printed material can interfere with experience. Even the church was almost too picturesque, with a quaint quirkiness that had to be seen through, overlooked. Strangely, such wonder should primarily amaze and transform, rather than raise the cynic’s recollections of kitsch illustrations in motel rooms.


Hardangerfjord at Ulvik


Ulvik Kirke



Entrance, Lindesnes Lighthouse

Souvenir shop, Lindesnes Lighthouse

It was towards the end of our Norse journey, day five, that we passed through Egersund. It was a brief sojourn, but interesting. After driving around the southern coast of Norway through Sandefjord and Kristiansand, a detour took us to the southernmost point of the land mass, the location of the Lindesnes Lighthouse. It was not only the old lighthouse that was the attraction here, but also the new visitors’ centre. This development was surprisingly sensitive to its location and subtly detailed. The entry control office/souvenir shop structure was a thin, slither of a wedge-formed structure. The main café and exhibition area opposite looked likewise, until one discovered that its large interior exhibition and theatre spaces had been hewn out of the rock so as to manage their possibly awkward presence at this confined, historic location. The scheme had been given much thought, with the end result achieving a carefully resolved entry zone, a piazza framed by the new structures that looked little more than modestly narrow, linear spaces; welcoming facades fronting the exposed, rugged rocks, rather than shading these outcrops with substantial, overbearing edifices boxing in the approach to the lighthouse. The place had an elegance about it that was admirable. After climbing to the lighthouse and returning to peruse the museum exhibits, we travelled north, up the west coast of Norway, taking the 'slow' road so that we could spend a little time in the smaller coastal towns and get a better feel for the lay of the land.


Cafe, museum and theatre, Lindesnes Lighthouse


Lindesnes Lighthouse





Egersund was our last stop on our route to Stavanger. After driving around looking for a good parking space for the bus on our arrival – always a problem in the tight centres of small, old towns - we eventually found a pocket-sized parking place by the water. "Be back here in two hours," was the brief. So we set off. There was a tensile roof structure nearby. It made the place feel like everywhere else, such are the physical limitations in the expression of these structures; but its stark, almost startling difference with its context was a good reference point for our return. The easy identification of a landmark freed up our meanderings: we could forget ourselves, and concentrate on the town, its sense of place and locality, its experience, rather than worry ourselves with our relative location; our dislocation.






Strolling away from this bulbous, high-tech tent shelter that declares only its own taut stresses in shape and form, and nothing else, we came upon a small church just nearby. The contrast in aspect was self-evident, both in materials and intent: the intrigue set in. These older buildings were detailed in timber. They carefully considered their traditional forms and forming, using what seemed to be local knowledge and historical expertise. The church was interesting because one saw it from nearby. It was difficult to get away at any distance from it to see its massing. The camera lens was adjusted to capture this aspect of the complex that was read by the eye as a series of fragments, pieces that developed differently as one turned each corner: and there were many in this stepped plan typical of the village churches: see – http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/02/ulvik-church-norway-tradition-in-timber.html  Each part of the building was revealed separately, and in detail, sequentially; surprisingly. There was something natively ad hoc about the parts that reminded one of Alvar Aalto’s work. The building had a naive, relaxed, almost careless randomness that exercised its own casual authority and beauty. There was an opening here; a door there; a skillion roof infill nearby; a tall tower rising into the trees; a tiled roof rising steeply; a decorated window different to the other ones; an astonishing main door. One could not call it boring. Each element seemed to have been considered for its own best purpose and expression irrespective of other pieces and parts, creating a collaged whole out of an assemblage of separate resolutions. Yet it worked! Did the materials, timber and tiles, and the limited colours of the materials unify what one could easily read as a random patchwork massing of form and detail?







. . . to continue the walk around the church - see images below



Moving on from this civic landmark that occupied a unique, leafy island site on the edge of town, we crossed a lane and moved off down a street to, well, nowhere in particular. The joy of discovery was embalmed in the doing of nothing, as A.A.Milne’s Christopher Robin knew: “… "But what I like doing best is Nothing." "How do you do Nothing?" asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time. "Well, it's when people call out at you just as you're going off to do it, What are you going to do Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and you go and do it." "Oh, I see," said Pooh. "This is a nothing sort of thing that we're doing right now." "Oh, I see," said Pooh again. "It means just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear and not bothering." "Oh!" said Pooh.”
A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner









The shops, offices and houses intrigued: their doors, windows, corners, trims, all displayed a knowing idea, an intent that related either to function, identity or tradition: sometimes all three. One had the feeling of having seen these details before – in Seyðisfjőrður, in eastern Iceland. The details were the same; the colours were identical in their variations. One was familiar with the parts that held the same presence and authority as the wholes. There was a classical authority in these timber structures, as well as a poetic fantasy. Was this perception inherited from children’s story books that illustrated romantic contexts with Norse images, especially the snowy Christmas stories? Seyðisfjőrður is a small fishing village lying at the end of a deep fjord, surrounded by steep mountains. The core of the settlement is constructed out of Norweigian pre-fab buildings transported in the early 1900’s. The village has about 90 of these structures that include not only houses, but schools, factories, offices and the church: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/norwegian-wood-and-corrugated-iron.html The village is bright and colourful, decorative; reportedly one of the prettiest places in Iceland.


Seyðisfjőrður

Seyðisfjőrður

Seyðisfjőrður









In Egersund, our stroll revealed other lanes, steps, and streets tilting, twisting and turning in a simplistic, unpretentious fashion that led to a repeated complication of discovery, befuddlement, where one found oneself as having been here before – yes, just minutes ago: and we thought we had been walking away from this place? There is a quaint quality in traditional planning that allows one to easily get ‘lost’ - one might say, agreeably lost, for it is a delight to experience this subtle complexity that is so unselfconscious in its shaping, yet so essentially a part of the presence and identity of place. It is an aspect of older places that modern planning has repeatedly tried to replicate, without success. Cities fail because of a complex range of other functional requirements and rational interpretations. Shopping centres, where the planning efforts are offered a freer stage to achieve the ‘olde worlde’ experience, also fail in this attempt, usually because planners have tried just too hard to be complicatedly clever. It is an outcome that arises from a lack of a true understanding of how traditional places are shaped; how buildings interact and relate to innocently, effortlessly, shape both themselves and their surroundings, with an innate integrity. Things ad hoc and naive are difficult to replicate as self-conscious designs. This is a challenge that needs to be overcome. Prince Charles promotes an attitude to tradition that tries to replicate its identity and experience, as in Poundbury – see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poundbury These efforts give outcomes that look more like theatre sets for historic re-enactments: they are obviously fake, hollow reproductions, pretentious shells. The task is to try to embody a rich, lived experience in the new, honestly, not merely to replicate the old.



Seyðisfjőrður





Two hours goes surprisingly quickly in such a small village. As with tiny Seyðisfjőrður, days are needed to experience the place comprehensively, not hours. Unfortunately our time had to be used as an introduction. One has always to be wary of taking the tourist’s approach to bucket lists – see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/03/stevenson-lighthouse-butt-of-lewis.html The need to return to the bus to move on cut the meanderings short: back to the tensile structure and the world of function. Who would have thought such a place might be so intriguing? We headed off along the flat, seaside plains criss-crossed with boulder walls, in the direction of our destination for the day: Stavanger.






The drive to Stavanger along the west coast



Stavanger

Greetings from Brisbane Q.

We finally knew we were getting close to a large city when the flat lands thinned out, and the narrow, country route had become a broad, formal roadway with roundabouts, all cluttered with cars. It was just after 4:00pm, the finishing time for the workers who were now rushing to get home. Passing the airport, and driving through scattered industrial developments that soon turned into smart, new housing schemes, we quickly found ourselves engulfed in an increasing density of mixed settlement. Soon we were in snug lanes fringed with the shambles of traditional buildings. After zigzagging through these tighter streets in the inner city, the bus stopped in a narrow path outside the hotel. After the usual unpacking and checking in, and the resolving of the mix-ups, (oops! - right key, but for an occupied room?), we settled down in our newly allocated space and opened the window that overlooked central Stavanger.


Stavanger

Brisbane

Brisbane

Brisbane, showing the older City Hall building and clock tower

Brisbane

Brisbane

Stavanger

Brisbane

The large, sprawling water feature in a park enlivened this part of town that was busy with walkers moving hither and thither. This core city recreational area was surrounded by rising slopes on the south and west. These hills were covered with high-rise buildings. The surprise was that we knew these structural forms and types: we had seen them all before, in Brisbane, Australia. There was the twin apartment building just like Glen Eagles; there was another office tower just like the MLC building; there was the Executive Building; and the slick, gridded, glass building at Toowong; and again, yet another like the old Red Cross Blood Bank. There were no surprises other than that we had travelled so far just to see the same appearances. Is this the impact of ‘International’ architecture? It was a disappointing experience. One had expected old Norwegian building forms and planning; but no, there was just this array of familiar self-importance that had come from the same pattern book of promotional magazines as those at home in Australia, so far away, but sadly so much the same. It is a world that is not very nice. It reminded one of the 'discovery' of all of the brand-named shops that turned up in every city and every airport, all as seen elsewhere, carrying products identical to those elsewhere too. Our world was becoming homogeneous, like our milk: undifferentiated.


Stavanger

Brisbane

Stavanger

Brisbane

Stavagner population 130,000

Brisbane population 2.3 million

The cry in the 1970’s, its haunting demand for regionalism, now considered ‘old fashioned’ and irrelevant, made increasing sense; contexts are important. This bland array of high-rise structures only belittled Stavanger; made it like elsewhere, everywhere. Difference makes ourselves, challenges us, tests us in the same way as the real and the imaginary: see sidebar THE REAL AND THE IMAGINARY. These tall clichés were imaginary in this context where things traditional were real: The real demands investigation and is an invitation to sensitive knowledge, whereas the imaginary is more often than not just a collection of stereotypes, a soup of clichés offering an infantile kind of satisfaction (Kenneth White). Things all the same bore us; turn us into robots, dumb, consumptive morons. Do we need that computer test to prove otherwise, the real recognition of the eye and the touch of the hand in our built environment: !wS8vM?>. Little wonder that there is such a problem with mental health today when we are all made to experience the same even in the most remote of places, and the most different climates and cultures. International architecture has truly failed with its rude, self-important, arrogant rawness that ignores and dominates its environment and its history, the local stories: kills it and the feelings, hopes and wishes of those who participate in it too, seeking the emotional place and expression of ‘home.’


Stavanger

Brisbane

Brisbane

Stavanger

Stavanger

Stavanger

Stavanger


Brisbane

Central Brisbane

Brisbane old and new

Brisbane old has its own special character

On the journey to date, a conscious effort had been made to experience things local, even in food and drink. It is too easy to travel everywhere and engage with comfortable, corporate sameness and remain undisturbed. Beer, as a craft commodity, was one product that does have links to specific, small regions. Norway has some of the best beers ever tasted: and some of the most extreme prices too! One small bottle of beer in Norway would purchase a half-a-carton full (12) in Australia. Still, it is truly exhilarating to experience differences – in cultures, place, origins, localities, food, tastes, clothing, etc. This is a life-enhancing experience, if one can understand and accept this description beyond the over-used, hackneyed cliché. It might suit large corporations to have things ‘International,’ the same everywhere, but it is a truly demeaning experience that turns the mind into a bland, fuzzed shambles as it eliminates diversity and differences. It was a joy to be involved in Norway’s Constitution Day when the national dress, in all of its regional variations, is paraded with astonishing commitment and pride: (see NOTE below re Nordic sameness).


House near hotel








It was not until later, when out and about, moving away from the cluttered vista of high-rises, that old Stavanger was experienced. The cathedral off the central park was the first significant difference noticed. The small house next to the hotel gave one glimpses of pretty timber detailing, as did the shopfronts with their carved doors nearby; but it was the cathedral that established the roots of history and anchored one in place and time: Romanesque beginnings unique to Norway. One was reminded of St. Magnus cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney Islands: fringe Romanesque.


St. Magnus cathedral, Kirkwall





Stavanger cathedral

Stavanger old town centre

Strolling off from this nodal point, to the north, one moved deeper into the old town. Space, scale, texture, and detailing all changed into building regional work - Stavanger detailing, creating Stavanger place with an intricate weaving of public streets and lanes made by individual buildings as parts creating an ad hoc assemblage just like the church at Egersund, but here more civic in outcome. Moving through the old centre was enlivening and revealed how significant the local, regional, and cultural issues are, not only for difference, but for the feeling of place and time. One does not travel the world just to see things the same: one does not travel the world to taste ‘Fosters’ beer everywhere or to purchase a scarf from Tie Rack, but it is possible! - truly an infantile kind of satisfaction.



Old Stavanger




The argument is for differentiation – for things to become rooted in the immediate tininess of place and people, NOW, always with an eye on the whole. This is not a cry for parochialism or any ‘Trump’ stance demanding the total exclusion of others, outsiders: rather, it is a discerning squeal for feelings and emotions, experiences, to be expressed, embodied; for things intimate and local to breach the broader, bold, brazenness of corporations, and the cloak of sameness they promote for their own purposes. Call it ‘Regionalism,’ or anything else that might be differently fashionable, but it remains a critical aspect of design for people and their enrichment; enchantment. It is a call for an essential, universal difference, expressed through necessity rather than by invention, where things local can exist side by side, creating new wholes, knowing the broader context of the world and other people, all enjoying the other, and caring for them and their places with a mutual respect. This is not a tourist’s call for possible business opportunities, ‘new attractions,’ but it will allow everyone to gain a deeper understanding of others and their special worlds. Tolerance is needed; love and care. There is no future in things ‘internationally’ corporate other than for increased corporate profits and growth, takeovers, until there is only ONE. Such an outcome will require the power of many to initiate a different future that must begin now – NOW! If the world is so desensitised to sameness that it considers such attitudes ‘old’ and ‘irrelevant,’; then it can look to environmentalists and their studies to rediscover importance of diversity in both flora and fauna, of which we are a part.




Old Stavanger

We need more little ‘churches of Egersund,’ and such qualities in our built environment, not more of the bespoke new, and its clever shock, even if made with 3D printing or cut with lasers! Just how this outcome might be achieved is the question. It will not be by copying. Will we have to change in order to get close to this ‘necessity of tradition’? The question of attitude and outcome arises: is there a link? It is a subject that is usually avoided like the plague, as in architectural discussions that refer to qualities being rooted in the thing as its ‘property,’ or one of them, rather than being experienced by the person, something arising from a particular body. The door itself is seen as inherently beautiful, rather than acknowledging the experience of beauty prompted by the meeting with the door and my-self, framing that which is between.


Egersund Church in context

The other question lingers; this, too, is also carefully avoided: was it a particular attitude that embodied the prime, prim property, or substantial substance in the door so that it can be experienced as such? Consider the traditional craftsman: ‘Having concentrated, he set to work.’ Is there a particular transformative ‘value’ in concentration or any particular effort? These are questions that are more and more linguistically and logically sidelined today with our diversionary, verbal spin that seeks to distract with its own entertaining cleverness. One would apparently not like to discover that ‘attitude’ did carry influence. What is the Gehry attitude compared to the craftsman’s? The outcomes of both can be seen and considered - tradition and modernity: food for thought. The question has to be: how can we make things the same, differently; differently the same? How can we grasp quality in diversity; diversity in quality?


Camera angles seek out differences in the same

Serendipity; or is it synchronicity?

After typing the text, two quotes appeared in my reading:
You can’t have a culture without architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright (in Hugh Howard Architecture’s Odd Couple Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson Bloomsbury Press New York 2016)
This suggests the alternative proposition: you can’t have architecture without culture - which brings the matter of regionalism (or ‘cultural relativity’ if this is preferred) back in from the cold, distant world of old fashions in interests and theories, into the centre of current debate. It has to do with the core of what architecture really is.

When reading the ABC News, there was a sad report on a youth suicide, the anniversary (one year ago). The mother was reported as having said:
"Having your own kids, you see how often they're on social media and how often they need to be seen somewhere or wearing something or with someone. Yet, the core of who they really are seems to disappear in all of that, in the facade."
In the same way, the core of what architecture is disappears in the facade, the charade of appearances that seek publicity; to be seen; to be named as MY building, identified, noticed and praised as a bespoke work of genius: ME.

These quotations suggested others:
The sense of inner substance arises in Wright’s description of ‘organic architecture’ - “an architecture that develops from within outward in harmony with the condition of its being as distinguished from one that is applied without.” p.18 (in Hugh Howard Architecture’s Odd Couple Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson Bloomsbury Press New York 2016)
Lewis Mumford spoke of the “Imperial Façade” - the widespread application of classical details, such as Roman columns, pediments, and domes . . . “it had but little to say, and it said that badly.” (in Sticks and Stones (1924) – p.17 Howard, 2016.
One is reminded of the Gehry, et.al. buildings today made possible with computer technology, the same technology of social media that promotes the need to be seen somewhere or wearing something or with someone.
What are we doing to our world? We need to find ways of filling the void; of creating an architecture from within.
The lingering question is: What must we do?
Beginning by contemplating, considering, and cogitating on the modest church at Egersund would seem to be an excellent start.





The astonishment of technology that stimulates amazing gestures of 'self-expression'


MORE IMAGES OF THE WALK AROUND THE EGERSUND CHURCH













International 'Brisbane' architecture


THE INTERIOR

Unfortunately the church was locked. This is a selection of photographs of the very beautiful interior from Google Images:










31 MARCH 2017
NOTE:

It is somewhat ironic that one of the world’s greatest promoters of international sameness is Nordic. Sweden’s Ikea designs domestic items for the whole house, gives them quaintly strange, individual, Nordic names - oddly a difference seemingly gauged to increase attractiveness - manufactures these items anywhere in the world for the best price, and then transports this catalogue collection into nearly every country across the globe. The pieces are sold in the somewhat infamous Ikea flat pack form for amounts that seem unbelievable: ‘dining table and four chairs in one pack for $199.00AUD.’



Not only is Ikea flooding the market with identical products for everyone everywhere, it is also cost-cutting, generating expectations to ensure that the local craft is made to appear exorbitantly over-priced, undesirable; a ‘posh’ item only for ‘flash’ wealthy folk; elitist. There appears to be a dual impact here: not only is cultural diversity being diminished, flooded and drowned by clever Ikea promotions and marketing – have a look at the thick, glossy catalogue and compare the image with the reality after one year – but local craft and expression are being sidelined by the cheap imports that are the same everywhere. The identical kitchen can be seen in Brisbane and Belmont, Unst, Shetland; and in the Out Skerries too. One particular place rented in the Out Skerries, a small cluster of islands east of Mainland Shetland in the North Sea, was completely fitted out with things Ikea.




To experience such sameness in such a remote place on such an intimate basis devours the soul. Remembrance is dragged out first into the realisation that ‘I’ve seen all this stuff in the Ikea store in Brisbane,’ only to be enhanced with the disappointment of the identities of the flat pack detailing. The only craft here is the cunning ways, the inventions, by which items have been broken down for packaging, transport and ‘handyman’ assemblage. Comparing this technological, automated approach to making with that of the craftsman leaves one pining for substance, quality and depth: that evocative resonance that lingers and improves with time as it enriches.




The beauty and wonder of a crafted timber joint continually amazes, intrigues and enriches


Ikea joint

The Ikea experience seems more like the dissipation of energy and enthusiasm over time. The item is seen in the catalogue and longed for; it is inspected in the promotional display of the store and purchased as a box. Once home the reality of the assemblage takes over from the dream that never really seems to gain its original intensity. As time passes and one lives with Ikea things, the emotional experience suffers interference; it is cluttered with a variety of prior events, not least the stress and challenge of the putting together: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2016/09/the-problems-of-failing-to-standardise.html Wear-and-tear does not usually make these pieces better in the same way as it does with a crafted item: c.f. an old chair, or a pair of quality shoes: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/on-wear-and-tear.html The veneer of appearances and the veneer finishes truly are thin and wear thin quickly; poorly. The idea that wear-and-tear can improve a piece, enhance it with a unique patina, rarely becomes a reality with an Ikea item. These domestic furnishings hold more of the throw-away sense of cheapness; a disposable transiency that matches modern life where things move fast; get discarded only too regularly in favour of the latest fashion. Consider the use of fabric: see - http://ab.co/2nbmw8M #abcnews


We need to reassess our priorities; we need to recognise the quality of difference, and the difference of quality.


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