Thursday 25 February 2021

A quick case study in tropical architecture


Shops along Binjai Park in Singapore, with apartments above. Taken at 1130 a.m. on a bright and sunny day.
  1. The sun shines directly on to the walls and windows of the east-facing façade. At this time of the day the trees along the road in front of the building provide no shade.
  2. The north-facing end is in shade. 
  3. Two apartments above the ground floor retain their original balconies with awnings over them. The balconies are in deep shade. A profusion of potted plants on the balconies probably provides additional protection from the sun.
  4. On the top floor at the end of the building the balcony has been retained. There is no awning but the balcony is still somewhat shaded.
  5. In one of the apartments the balcony has been glassed-in, presumably to enlarge the room behind. Some shade is provided by an awning over the windows.
  6. In other apartments, the balconies have also been glassed-in but there are no awnings. The sun shines directly on to the wall and windows. Curtains and tinted glass provide some protection but I suspect that the rooms might get very hot and might be uncomfortable without air conditioning.
Which is most appropriate for the tropical climate? Which is likely to require the least air conditioning for comfort? 

Saturday 9 January 2021

New beginning, and quarantine in Singapore

Big changes. A friend in told me in September about a brand new MA programme in architectural conservation. Following some discussion with my wife (always a source of sound advice), I decided to apply, and was accepted, so here I am in Singapore, retired from medical practice, and newly enrolled with the first ever batch of MA students in Architectural Conservation at the National University of Singapore.

I flew out of the UK on 15 December 2020, arriving the following day at 0700 at Changi Airport. Everything was well organised and efficient with staff in personal protective equipment directing travellers along the appropriate route. I had filled in the required online health declaration prior to travel and at passport control was given a coloured sticker that identified me to the ground staff. After collecting my luggage I was directed to a waiting bus, and taken to my assigned quarantine hotel.

As a returning Singaporean who had left the country prior to 27 March 2020, and arrived prior to the end of that year, I had free board and lodging at the hotel. Otherwise it would have been 2000 SGD. There was no choice of hotel and I was lodged at Capri by Fraser, China Square. I don't know what the official rating is but I'm sure it has lots and lots of stars.

At the socially distanced check-in, I was given some forms to fill in, a thermometer, and a card key to my room. I was to check my temperature every day, which I was to give to reception when they phoned to check.

My room on level 6 was and spacious and pretty luxurious, with ample storage, a very comfortable double bed, a mini kitchen area with microwave and refrigerator, a desk with lots of power points, and floor to ceiling windows. There was no balcony and the windows could not be opened, but while I disapprove of this sort of thing in hot tropical climates, I must confess that it all felt extremely agreeable.

Three meals a day were provided, and I was asked to pre-select the meals for the duration of my stay from an online menu which had a "local", "western/international" and vegetarian option for each meal. They were provided by an external caterer and left outside the room. 

For food and other deliveries, the doorbell would be rung to notify me of the event. Outside each room was one of the bedside tables on which items could be left, and a rubbish bin. 

Had I wished, I could have ordered meals from outside through one of the food delivery apps, but the food I was provided was pretty good and free of charge, and I never felt the need, especially as I had not been eating that sort of food for a while.

The hotel also provided, at no extra charge to me, laundry services (up to 5 items a day, washed and folded), fresh bedsheets and towels if required, and toiletries on request (e.g. shaving kit). Wifi was free and fast, with no apparent limit to the number of devices that could be connected, and the large TV had a bluetooth speaker to which my devices could be connected.

The only thing missing was a supply of fresh coffee, as the hotel only provided instant coffee and tea. This was rectified by my mother who very kindly delivered coffee and a cafetiere, after which I had all that I needed.

Regular text messages from the authorities kept me informed as to what I needed to do. On the second or third day the doorbell rang and I was met by a government contracted operative who verified my identity, to confirm that I was where I was meant to be.

I was also at some point instructed by text to download the Homer app. Three times a day I had to take a selfie on this app and record my temperature and fill in a tick box questionnaire about my health. I was reminded by regular text messages when it was time to fill in a report, with repeated stern warnings not to turn the app off. Failure to comply would result in a visit from an enforcer.

I have heard that some people found their quarantine experience depressing and unpleasant but I had a whale of a time. With 3 good meals delivered to me every day, all my devices, and an ample supply of books, it was very relaxing and enjoyable. The isolation didn't bother me as I was able to communicate via telephone and the internet with anyone I chose to, and I didn't feel claustrophobic, perhaps because of the enormous floor to ceiling window.

Thanks to the excellent internet, I could watch movies on Netflix uninterrupted by buffering, listen to a streamed performance of the Messiah from the Barbican in London, attend a Zoom lecture on image perception, and so on.

Christmas was just another quiet relaxing day. Interestingly I could not see any Christmas decorations or any evidence of a festive season from my window, but I did get a nice pack of Christmas face masks.

On day 12, forewarned by various text messages from the day before, I was summoned down for a nasopharyngeal swab, carried out very efficiently by an impressively well organised team at a swabbing station within the hotel. 

Then it was back to my room for the last two days, before I was released into the wild. It was nice to be out and about, especially as I had not been back to Singapore for many months, but really, another week in quarantine would have been perfectly fine.

Tuesday 3 March 2020

Quick tips for a brief trip to Vienna

I was due to attend the European Congress of Radiology next week, but I learnt this morning that it had been cancelled due to the current coronavirus situation. I have cancelled my visit but a friend and colleague who was due to attend and present a paper has decided to carry on with the trip, and have a holiday instead. I've been to Vienna quite often, on the pretext of attending the congress, but it's her first time so here are a few very brief tips, off the top of my head, based on my own experience, and my personal inclinations.

Getting there from the airport

There is a special airport train, the CAT, but check out the regular Austrian Rail service which is much, much cheaper. Visitors from the UK will be shocked by fares of around 5€. It might even stop closer to your hotel.

Things to see

Imperial Vienna

The Habsburg Empire ended in 1918, but Vienna proves that you don't need a reigning monarch to wallow in full blown Royal and Imperial (Kaiserlich und Königlich, or K&K) tourism. The imperial palaces, starting with the Hofburg, are worth visiting. Among other things, you can see in the palace museum the folded dinner napkins, still used by the Republic for formal occasions, whose technique remains a state secret. Throughout the city there are establishments styled "K und K" for Kaiserlich und Königlich, or Royal and Imperial, including pastry shops, shoemakers, barbers and so on.


There is the great gothic cathedral of St Stephen, of course, and there are the grand baroque palaces, but unique to the city are the buildings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the Viennese Secession, such as the Looshaus opposite the Hofburg (now a bank), the Secession Building (also an art museum), the Postal Savings Bank, and the Majolikahaus by the  the Naschmarkt, to name a few Which brings us to the museums.

Note: most museums are closed for one day each week

For an overview of early modern art and design, there are permanent displays at MAK and the Leopold Museum (you can get a combined ticket).

MAK is the museum of applied art, whose construction was inspired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and serving a similar function. The Leopold Museum has as its focus Austrian art of the late nineteenth century and Modernism. It is located in the MuseumsQuartier where there are other excellent museums with a modern or contemporary focus, notably mumok (modern art), Kunsthalle Wien (contemporary art), and AzW (the Viennese Architecture Centre).

The Albertina houses the worlds largest collection of graphic art and there are always big and excellent exhibitions. A modern art branch opens on 13 March 2020.

Across from the MuseumsQuartier, and facing each other, are the magnificent Kunsthistoriches Museum (Art History Museum) and the Naturhistorisches Museum Natural History Museum, both with excellent collections.

Food and Drink

The Viennese cafe has been listed by UNESCO as part of the intangible cultural Heritage of mankind. They are places where you can sit for as long as you like with your coffee. Most have food and cakes.  Coffee in Vienna comes in a range of styles that you might not be familiar with: see this guide and this one. The visitor is advised to do a bit of online research and visit a few establishments. My list of famous Viennese cafes is on this google map.

Looking for something light and economical? The bread here is superb and there are bakeries everywhere which also sell sandwiches and pastries. The big chains like Der Mann and Anker are good value.

Close to St Stephen's cathedral, the unpronounceable Trześniewski, on Dorotheergasse serves delicious small open sandwiches with soft toppings at 1.40€ each which are highly recommended. I'm really fond of this place and I made a guest appearance on television when Rick Stein was filming there. Let's just say I didn't think much of his commentary when I watched the programme.

Don't forget the sausage stands. They are generally pretty good.

As for restaurant food, that's for another post. But before ending, I must mention the Loos American Bar, designed by the famous architect Adolf Loos in 1908. It's tiny, the smallest bar in Vienna, but beautiful, and the cocktails are excellent, if you can get in.

Thursday 26 July 2018

Art et Marges Musée; Outsider art in Brussels

We discovered this little museum on a trip to Brussels back in April. Housed in a rather nondescript unit in a row of shops, with its entrance at street level in a brick and concrete slab block, it's easy to overlook. The museum is dedicated to "outsider art": work created by untrained artists outside the mainstream, often with social problems, learning difficulties or psychiatric problems. 

During our visit, there was a joint exhibition by Guy Brunet and Josselin Pietri, both self-taught artists and cinema enthusiasts.

Guy Brunet (b 1945, Viviez-Aveyron, France) is the son of cinema operators. After doing a variety of jobs, and becoming unemployed in the 1980s, he decided to become a one-man filmmaker. He produces his own handcrafted films, writing his own screenplays, and using cardboard cutout characters and sets constructed from cardboard. 

Josselin Pietri (b 1973, Parilly, near Lyon, France) creates sculptures and pictures, also using cardboard and also inspired by the movies.

It was an amazing display. The artworks were beautiful and wonderful creations, made from the most commonplace of materials. The exhibits perfectly captured the spirit of the movies. Many of them had lots of charming details, and all were very inventive.

The first floor gallery showed works by other artists. I'm ashamed to say I failed to record the names of many of them, but it was a marvellous and varied display, of which this is a selection.

I was particularly taken by these guns and rockets by André Robillard (b 1931):

When you visit the museum (which you must), look in on the nearby Cité Hellemans, a beautiful art nouveau-influenced social housing complex built in the early 20th century. Also close to the museum are the eclectic furniture and antique shops on Rue Haute and Rue Blaes.

Art et Marges Musée
Rue Haute, 314
1000 Brussels