A blog about Belgian culture in London. A blog about the arts in London, Brussels and Milan, from a Belgian point of view.

Posts from the Architecture Category

Compared to September, last month was slightly less “culturally charged”. This is mainly due to the fact that my sister got married, an event to which I dedicated a bit of time as well as a stay in Belgium, of course.

I did, however, manage to do and see the below (listed in chronological order).

Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House

Swan Lake, ROH

Swan Lake, ROH (Photo: © Bill Cooper/ROH)

Who doesn’t like a good Swan Lake? It had been way too long since I had been to the ballet, and my friend Charlotte had never seen one in London, so back in July we had booked tickets for what is probably the world’s most popular ballet.

It was my third “Lake”: I had seen it twice at La Scala, once with Svetlana Zakharova, who is the ultimate Odile/Odette in my opinion, and once with Alina Somova, whom I had found a bit too athletic for my taste. The Royal Ballet’s version of Petipat’s ballet was, of course, very good. Sarah Lamb (pictured above) proved to be a gracious Odile/Odette, and I found the costumes and sets really beautiful.

But oh my, the audience! This is one of the rare ballets that has really beautiful music (if you don’t see what I mean, try to listen to Coppélia’s score on its own…). So I was a bit frustrated that people kept clapping at all times, not letting the music flow, let alone breathe.

The Frieze Art Fair at Regent’s Park

I have devoted an entire post to Frieze, which you can read here.

A Walk & Talk with Richard Wentworth, with Love Art London

The walk/talk through SW3 with British sculptor Richard Wentworth was one of the best Love Art London adventures yet. Witty and enlightened, we chatted with the man about architecture (with a special mention for Richard Rogers’ house), bridges, garage doors, terrible public sculptures and whatever else he could think of at the time.

We ended our walk with a very quick tour of the Royal Academy of Art studios in Battersea. These strongly reminded me of the Teatro alla Scala workshops, which is kind of normal since they also have foundry, painting and sculpture workshops. Rumour has it that we might pay a more in-depth visit to the RA studios with Love Art London in the future: I am keeping my fingers crossed!

Adam Neate at Elms Lester Gallery, with Love Art London

Exclusively represented by Elms Lester, British graffiti artist Adam Neate had a solo exhibition at the gallery last month. Rather shy but very friendly, he explained his background and his practice to us. His work really needs to be seen in the flesh, because a lot of it is tri-dimensional, as he often incorporates wooden or plastic elements with painting.

Adam Neate at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms

Adam Neate at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms (Photo: © Love Art London)

When we finished chatting to Adam Neate, the gallery directors opened the doors of the Painting Rooms, which are adjacent to the exhibition spaces. Elms Lester is located in the ancient parish of St. Giles between Soho, Covent Garden and Bloomsbury and was built in 1904 by Mr Elms Lesters. It originally served as (then) state-of-the-art scenic painting studios, which were supplying all the West End theatres with their theatrical backdrops. Apparently it is idiosyncratic of British set makers that they paint sets vertically; on the Continent these are painted horizontally.

Elms Lester Painting Rooms

Elms Lester Painting Rooms (Photo: © Love Art London)

As the use of painted backdrops declined, the painting studios were more often than not being used by the gallery’s artists, often producing site specific works for their upcoming shows or as photo shoot locations (for the likes of Blur and Kylie Minogue).

Edward Le Bas: Inside an Edwardian Studio in Chelsea, with Love Art London

Some of Love Art London’s activities feel more exclusive than others. This one wasn’t bad. We were ushered into one of London’s only three houses designed by Sir Charles Rennie Mackintosh, in Chelsea. If you know my enthusiasm for Art Nouveau (or more precisely in this case, Arts and Crafts), you can easily imagine how much I enjoyed that particular event.

Saloon Bar, Edward Le Bas, 1940

Saloon Bar, Edward Le Bas, 1940 (Photo: © Tate)

Why were we ushered in that house? Well, it’s because it used to be Edward Le Bas’s private studio. Since you probably don’t know much about this painter, I thought I’d copy and paste (duplicate content alert!) some of Love Art London’s information:

“As well as being an avid collector of contemporary art at the turn of the 20th century, Edward Le Bas was one of Britain’s most talented painters who, despite being an elected member of the Royal Academy and awarded a CBE, has been slightly failed by the history books. Le Bas’ style owes much to the French tradition, Post-Impressionism in particular, and to the work of his great friend Duncan Grant and the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of British artists with whom he was associated. As a collector Le Bas amassed a hoard of important works The Camden Town Group (a London collective which included heavyweights like Walter Sickert), The Bloomsbury Group (in particular his friends Duncan Grant & Vanessa Bell) and the celebrated French artist Edouard Vuillard. Le Bas’ impressive collection, including around 200 of his own paintings, (the ones which aren’t in the Tate, Royal Academy, the Arts Council or other important institutions) hang in the original studio in which Le Bas lived and worked.” (With thanks to Love Art London)

Additional information about Edward Le Bas can be found on Tate‘s website.

Some arts-related digital stuff

Because having written all this leaves me with the feeling that I did little in October, I should probably add that I attended one of the monthly Art of Digital London meetups, which I heartily recommend to anyone who is interested in digital communications and the arts. They are hosted at the Photographers’ Gallery and the line-up of speakers is generally excellent. I also made a very late appearance at the Culture Geek meetup, a “spin off” of the Culture Geek conference.

I know, this is a rather feeble attempt at putting a catchy title to this post. I have written about the FAI, the “Italian National Trust” before, but this time I would like to highlight one of their initiatives, which aims at protecting endangered historical, natural or artistic heritage in Italy.

The “Places I Love” census

Have you ever asked yourself which place in Italy was your favourite?  Is it a garden, a villa, a forest, an island, a bell tower, a church or a trail? Well, now might be the time to do so, as the FAI is interested in your answer for its “Places I Love” census. Simply choose a place anywhere in Italy which you’d like to see cherished and protected, and let the FAI know. With your help they’ll do everything possible to protect it.

The FAI’s “I Luoghi del Cuore” (“Places I Love”) census, which is now in its 6th edition, aims to give voice to the suggestions on Italy’s cultural heritage, in order to grant it a future. To do so, the census asks citizens to identify those places they feel as particularly dear and important and which they would like to see preserved for future generations. The appeal endeavours to protect big and small, famous or less well-known treasures that occupy a special place in the lives of those who cherish them.

The good thing is that this year, for the first time ever, voting is open to people from all over the world because “beauty has no boundaries”. So you have until 30 November to cast your vote on the Places I Love website.

Saved Locations

Thanks to the public’s support, eleven locations have been saved so far. Here below are two examples.

Mulino di Bàresi (Bàresi Watermill) in Bergamo Province

Bàresi Watermill in Bergamo Province (® Marco Mazzoleni)

Bàresi Watermill in Bergamo Province (Picture ® Marco Mazzoleni)

This mill, which is immersed in a beautiful clearing in the upper Val Brembana (a valley in Lombardy), was highlighted in the first national survey in 2003 and was subsequently acquired by the FAI . Restoration works were completed in 2006 and the mill officially reopened.

Colombaia Castle, Trapani (Sicily)

Colombaia Castle, Trapani (Sicily)

Colombaia Castle, Trapani (Sicily)

The Colombaia castle was the most referred location in the 2008 census, with 7,053 votes. The first success of “Places I Love” was to draw attention to the process of recovery of the castle, which for years had been buried under the weight of bureaucracy, and to shake the situation out of this impasse. As a result, the obstacles that stood in the way of the Colombaia’s recuperation have been overcome: the castle is no longer listed as a national property, but now belongs to the Region of Sicily, which has allocated 600,000 Euros to ensure that the building’s safety is up to standard.

Win a trip to Italy and a stay at an enchanting guest house on the Italian Riviera

To promote the “Places I love” initiative, the FAI is organising a competition in which you have to demonstrate how well you know Italy. Easy! It is quite simple: just answer a few questions about Italy, invite friends to play, recommend places and, finally, connect with your social media accounts (Twitter or Facebook). The final step is perhaps a little bit more complicated: upload a video in which you declare your love for Italy and the place of your choice.

To play, just visit

I found the quiz questions pretty easy (except for the sports section, obviously), but that’s probably because I lived in Italy for 5 years.

The prizes for players from abroad are really, really cool.

San Fruttuoso Abbey (Picture ® Flavio Pagani)

San Fruttuoso Abbey (Picture ® Flavio Pagani)

First Prize: A one week’s stay in Italy at the San Fruttuoso Abbey, which has been turned by the FAI into guest rooms, and a voucher to cover travel expenses of up to €600
Second Prize: 4 days (three nights) at San Fruttuoso Abbey and a voucher to cover travel expenses of up to €200
Third Prize: Contribution to cover travel expenses, up to €100 to be used once on for Italian destinations

From what I can see, not that many people outside Italy have taken part in the game yet, so your chances of winning are relatively high. If I were you, I would definitely play!

In Milan there is a house I fell in love with: the Villa Necchi Campiglio, which belongs to the FAI. Truth is, it’s the kind of house I dream of living in, perhaps in a slightly more contemporary version. As with most dreams, it will probably never happen, so I have to make do with visiting it.

I think I have seen it a total of 7 times, often bringing family and friends. I have also recommended it on Twitter and Facebook, so apologies if you’ve been following me online for a while and think I am repeating myself. But that’s the thing with love, isn’t it: you bore others to death with the object of your affection…

Villa Necchi Campiglio (Photo © Giorgio Majno)

Villa Necchi Campiglio (Photo © Giorgio Majno)

Built between 1932 and 1935 in rationalist style by Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi, Villa Necchi Campiglio is a sumptuous residence with generously proportioned interiors and stunning public rooms. It was bequeathed to the FAI by the Necchi Campiglio family, who left it to the association in exactly the state it was when they inhabited it.

Located in very central Milan, where real estate prices reach the stars, the property boasts a large garden, a swimming pool (which was already heated in the 30s) and a tennis court. But it’s the interiors that really make my heart beat faster.

Veranda, Villa Necchi Campiglio (Photo © Giorgio Majno)

Veranda, Villa Necchi Campiglio (Photo © Giorgio Majno)

If you want to get a better idea of the house, you could watch Io sono l’amore (“I am love”), Luca Guadagnino’s utterly beautiful 2009 film, starring Tilda Swinton. It immerses you in the world of upper class Milan, and is a feast for the eyes. It follows the “adventures” of the Recchi family, who lives in, yes you guessed it, Villa Necchi Campiglio.

Tilda Swinton learnt Italian for the role, and is not doing too badly linguistically in the film. I can’t resist telling you I know the language coach who trained her (a pretty lame claim to fame, I know). That language coach is actually Russian, which comes in quite handy as Tilda is supposed to be a Russian who moved to Milan because of/thanks to her Italian husband.

The gorgeous costumes are by Jil Sander (when Belgian designer Raf Simons was still at the helm) and Fendi. The house, the clothes, the good food: everything in that movie breathes elegance.

Hall, Villa Necchi Campiglio (Photo © Giorgio Majno)

Hall, Villa Necchi Campiglio (Photo © Giorgio Majno)

If this post has enticed you to visit Villa Necchi (it should, that was the whole point of it), here is some practical information. The house is open from Wednesday to Sunday and entry costs 8€. Fear not for my wallet though: I may have visited it 7 times, but entry was for free, because I was a member of FAI. Buy a year-long membership from 39€, and visit all their properties and those of the National Trust for free (heritage galore!).

The house can only be visited through guided tours, which last around 1 hour and are usually conducted in Italian. If you are a small group, you can sometimes convince the guide to do the tour in English (a group of very persuasive friends of mine from Vienna managed to do so). Should your charms fail to operate (my Viennese friends were very charming), there are audioguides in English…

Last month I went back to Brussels for a weekend. Thanks to Eurostar, I am now only 2 hours away from excellent chocolate, delicious beers and, incidentally, friends and family (and cats!).

Saturday 21st July happened to be Belgium’s National Day. Although my homeland is one of the least nationalistic countries I know, the day is the occasion of some sort of celebrations: some black-yellow-red flag waving, some chips eating, firemen letting small children try their luck as hose operators (and in so doing managing to wet innocent passers-by, me included), etc.

As in previous years, the Law Courts or “Palais de Justice” as they are known in French, were open to the public. These were built between 1866 and 1883 (17 years!) in the eclectic style, by architect Joseph Poelaert.

Brussels Law Court, Architect Poelaerts

Brussels Law Court, Architect Poelaerts

Not only is it Belgium’s most important Court building, but the Brussels Law Courts are also famous for their size: the biggest building constructed in the 19th century, it is bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The building is currently 160 by 150 meters, and has a total built ground surface of 26,000 m². It has 8 courtyards with a surface of 6000 m², 27 large court rooms and 245 smaller court rooms and other rooms (says Wikipedia).

All this is well and good, but why is that relevant to a blog dedicated to the arts? Well, the Law Courts are at the origin of a curious “artistic” insult…

In the 19th century, in order to build the Palais de Justice, a section of an adjacent neighbourhood (the “Marollen”) was demolished, while most of an adjacent park was also expropriated. As a result of the forced relocation of so many people, the word “architect” became one of the most serious insults in Brussels.

This is probably more charming that your usual sexual/scatological insult… I should, however, point out that “architect” as an insult is not commonly used nowadays, and I wouldn’t particularly advise you to try it next time someone upsets you in Brussels: your opponent may not catch the historical relevance.

Joseph Poelaert architect

Poor Mr Poelaert: at the origin of one of Brussels’ most original insults…

I will close this post on a slightly sad note. A building of such monstrous proportions as those of the Law Courts of course incurs huge maintenance costs (during our July visit, my friend and I wondered how much the heating bills amounted to). Due to the costs, it seems that the building has fallen into a worrying state of decay in recent years, not to mention the frequent escaping of prisoners.

I do, though, really hope the Belgian state will decide to invest the necessary funds to maintain the building: it is part of our history and… it is not ugly, actually.