July 31, 2012

It is strange to think that just over a week ago I was strolling with Miranda and our two sons through the lush summer gardens of the Fondation Beyeler in Basel. This has to be – on a par with the Louisana Art Centre outside Copenhagen – one of the world’s most idyllic settings for absorbing Modern and Contemporary art. Founded by the Beyeler family in the 1940s, it remains a family affair, and you can feel it. The old house is now reserved for admin, the new Renzo Piano structure housing the impressive collection. The spaces are not over-scaled, an incredible roof/ceiling design allows the gallery to be nearly always lit by natural light. It makes the interior spaces feel quiet, distilled, it is gentle on the work – especially the permanent collection which is rich in Chagall, Cezanne, Picasso, Monet, Rothko, Giacometti. A real win for Renzo. And a triumph for art.

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July 20, 2012

Much has been written about the pros and cons of Swiss Rationalism (an admirable sense of order for some, an almost robotic reductionism for others) but, theory aside, the experience of Switzerland from a design perspective is a unique and gratifying one. And that’s not just from a big-D design point of view. It’s the little things, after all, that really count. Whether that’s the packaging in which groceries are marketed, the signage (on the autobahn – Helvetica! bien sûr – but even that used on the hiking tracks of the most remote Alps), street furniture, pavement plantings, telephone boxes… no matter what, underneath it all is a great sense of dignity, and respect for those who use Swiss cities and countryside. As for the architecture – it must be something in the water…


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July 18, 2012

Okay, so I may have looked like something of a stalker, skulking around the tiny Swiss town of Haidenstein, but the off-chance of locating the Atelier of my idol, Peter Zumthor, was worth any potential embarrassment. After scouring the village and nearly giving up, I caught a glimpse of beautifully finished, off-form concrete and a lovely roof/wall glazing junction sitting delicately between the clustered vernacular buildings. Like the man and his work, the studio is modest and quiet – yet unmistakable in its sense of presence.

Human in scale, modest in gesture, comfortable whilst side-stepping ‘cosy’, the Atelier is the summit of the Zumthor aesthetic. Underscoring this apparent simplicity, though, is an intensely rational sophistication.

Inside the front door, there is a small reception area with a seat to take off ones boots – a shoe brush and shoehorn hung on the wall are testimony to total attention to detail. Behind this, the …

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