Friday, March 21, 2008

Beautiful place, indifferent pictures

I really need to stop using my cellphone camera. But I was visiting a friend in Oxford when I wandered into St. Catherine's college, and I couldn't help myself. Well, wandered in isn't being quite honest. I knew it was there and I was going to go, even if meant sneaking into a conference.

Arne Jacobsen designed the college in the mid-1960s, and when I say designed the college I mean he designed it all: the buildings, the gardens, the door fixtures, the chairs, and the cutlery I believe he reused from designs for the SAS Palace Hotel in Copenhagen (lazy or what?)

(The above from an anonymous wiki picture -- it was not sunny when I was there.)

I am having some trouble adding more external images, so first go here and here and here to see the exterior of the college (thank you wiki friends...) Initially of course you just pick up the boxiness of the place. But then as you look closer you feel the beautiful sense of proportion. We all know it is easy to build a boxy building, but to build a well proportioned box is much harder. Then as you pass through the buildings you notice the basic shapes repeat. Lack of imagination? No. The repetition is like a theme and variations. Each reincarnation of the same theme makes you appreciate it more and admire how versatile the design is. Wish I had photographed the columns and (architects help me here!) horizontal supports. Like a concrete box. But then sometimes the box has a double-height lecture theatre or dining hall. Other times it has two levels of classrooms. In some of the buildings the first level is cantilevered over the footpath. In others he outlines the cantilever but it is empty space. There is a sense of harmony.

The building below is one of the dorms. Seems a bit like a modernistic canvas doesn't it? With reach room outlined in its box but the windows varied:

Then to go in, you put your hand on the best door handle ever designed:

I mean it. Think how often your hand fumbles to grasp a door handle. And if you haven't then after today you will always notice this. It's one of my pet peeves, and you will soon agree that most door handles in the world are badly designed. Not this one! It fits perfectly in the palm of your hand, and of course its shape beautifully expresses and underlines its purpose, looking a bit like a propeller.

Inside the dining hall:

I even sat in on a session of hydro-flugel-whatevery to get this picture:

I love how he screens the outside so that you can look out, light gets in, but you don't get distracted by stray movements outside. And of course you are sitting in ant chairs modified for a lecture theatre, with tear-drop tablet arms:

Finally, I slipped into the Senior Common Room unnoticed. And here is what it feels like to be there:

Magnificent! Even the place settings were designed by him:

The only disappointment was the salt and pepper mills - not Jacobsen's fault I know because he designed a set for the SAS in Copenhagen*:

Here are the swan chairs designed for St. Catz, that's right for St. Catz.

Or if you prefer you can always lounge in one of these:

Next trip... Copenhagen where I must stay in the SAS Palace...


* The original looks something like this.

So much nicer, no?


read me... said...

Yes, Radisson SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen is the place to stay of you're a fan of Arne... I would suggest you visit Tivoli Gardens's opposite the hotel... complete & utter fun for everyone!

Bombay Beauty said...

Glad to hear it is still well maintained. All things considered St. Catz still has a lot of original stuff, or modern productions. V. excited about my future trip! BB

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