Marking time

Marking time in August 2010

Saturday 28 August 2010

Tim Bennetton on the web

My architect friend and neighbour Tim Bennetton has quietly launched his new website. It’s clean, it’s readable and it lacks the inscrutable puff that’s often found on architects’ websites. Bravo!

screenshot of Tim Bennetton Architects website

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Monday 16 August 2010

The four lighthouses of ‘South Solitary’

On Saturday Margie and I saw the film South Solitary and thor­ough­ly enjoyed it. It brought to mind the four different light­houses closely connected with the film. And it reminded me that I still want to go to Maatsuyker Island, the place that inspired the film.

This is the Maatsuyker Island Lighstation, the most southerly Australian lighthouse, off the coast of Tasmania at 43° 39.5′ South Latitude, on which the fictional South Solitary Lightstation is based. This photo was taken on the day in 1891 when a party of VIPs came to celebrate the inauguration of the light, and had a warm, calm and sunny day. Most days, the weather at Maatsuyker Island is foul​—​here in the Roaring Forties the lightkeepers en­dured almost constant wind and rain. The remoteness of the site and the tediousness of the weather were essential story elements, but they made it impractical as a film location. Also, the name Maatsuyker Island doesn’t evoke the necessary feelings of isolation and privation, except to lighthouse tragics like me. [State Library of Tasmania, item 192251]

This is the light­house at Cape Nelson (1884), near Portland in Victoria, where most scenes in the film were shot. As I know from a couple of inspections in 2006, it’s an easy drive from several comfortable motels, and a more practical film location than Maatsuyker Island.

This is Cape Otway Lighthouse (1846), where the scenes inside the lantern room were shot. Cape Nelson no longer has an original first order optical apparatus, but Cape Otway does. This drawing shows the original lantern house and parabolic reflector apparatus, not the later nineteenth century Chance Brothers lantern house and catadioptric apparatus we saw in the film. [National Archives of Australia, item barcode 4957233]

This is the real South Solitary Island Lightstation (1880), on a beautiful day in April 2007 when I flew in for an inspection. It’s close to the coast of Northern New South Wales, near Woolgoolga. It’s not really very south, except in relation to the other Solitary Islands, of which there are more than this one.

An original drawing for South Solitary Island Lighthouse. It’s a typical New South Wales tower designed in the office of James Barnet, NSW Colonial Architect​—​just as Maatsuyker Island is typically Tasmanian in style, and Cape Nelson and Cape Otway are characteristically Victorian. [National Archives of Australia, item barcode 4957073]

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Thursday 5 August 2010

Mr Rigby’s photographic studio

Why did a nineteenth century photographer in a Yorkshire village call his business the Australian studio?​—​a question prompted by a carte-de-visite I just bought.

Carte-de-visite photograph by Rigby of Langsett and Barnsley. The back of the card is blank.

The google map shows that Langsett is a small village in Yorkshire on the eastern edge of the hills of the Peak District. Street view shows that the village still sits in a farming landscape with fields enclosed by stone walls​—​the same as we see in the old photo. Barnsley, by contrast, is a substantial town. I surmise that the photograph is of Mr Rigby’s establishment outside the village of Langsett​—​in Barnsley he might have had more substantial premises.

I can imagine the photographer riding out from his headquarters in town to the little studio outside Langsett​—​a distance of about 11 miles​—​to photograph the folk from the farms around. The cosy timber framed studio, with its mock brick cladding and its big glass window and skylight, would have looked inviting to his clients. What would they have made of the name, Australian studio, on the neat sign?

Detail of the sign over the door of the studio, adjusted to make the lettering clearer.

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Tuesday 3 August 2010

San Giorgio Maggiore lighthouses

I guess that Pevsner would have classed most lighthouses as buildings, not architecture.† But in Venice there is a pair of lighthouses that must belong in the architecture class, and I’m putting them on my visiting list. I hope to see them next month.

J M W Turner, Venice: San Giorgio Maggiore​—​Early Morning, watercolour on paper, 223 × 287 mm, 1819. Turner painted this, one of a group of exceptionally free and limpid views, on his first visit to Venice. The two small lighthouse towers in the middle of the picture were recent additions to the scene. [Tate collection]

In 1797 Napoleon’s troops overran the Veneto, the last Doge of Venice capitulated, and the old republic ended. With the new French regime, and the Austrian regime that followed, came a push to knock down old buildings and make urban ‘im­prove­ments’ in the neo-classical mode. A duty-free port was established on the island of San Giorgio.

Improved harbour facilities and quayside buildings were provided, and the new status of the island was symbolized by two Istrian-stone lighthouse towers designed in 1813 by Selva’s pupil Guiseppe Mezzani, himself a professor of architecture at the Venetian Accademia. These are perhaps the most attractive legacy of the Napoleonic period in Venice. Standing guard beside Palladio’s church of San Giorgio Maggiore, the towers pay tribute to the earlier master, with their windows set into rusticated walls like those of Palladio’s Villa Malcontenta. Even at the height of the neo-classical period, Palladian ideas still played an important part in the teachings of the Venetian Accademia. However, the elegant simplicity of the open lanterns that surmount the two lighthouses bear the stamp of neo-classicism.††

† In An outline of European architecture (Penguin, 1968, p. 15) Nikolaus Pevsner wrote: A bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture. Nearly everything that encloses space on a scale sufficient for a human being to move in is a building; the term architecture applies only to buildings designed with a view to aesthetic appeal.

†† Deborah Howard, The architectural history of Venice, Yale, 2002, p. 266.

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