Sunday, October 31, 2010

Gabion: Recession, what recession? The cultural-buildings juggernaut rolls on.

Recession, what recession? The cultural-buildings juggernaut rolls on.
You know them when you see them, the great public buildings. It's all to do with unshakable confidence. The 1842 portico and faηade of the British Museum has it. Frank Lloyd Wright's 1959 Guggenheim in Manhattan has it, as does Frank Gehry's Bilbao version of 1996. Two utterly different 1970s buildings - the National Theatre in London and the Pompidou Centre in Paris - have it. The question is - will the Tate Modern's £215m extension have it? And what else is going to happen over the next decade?
A surprising amount, paid for (in Britain anyway) by a mix of Lottery and taxpayers' money - often helped by European Union grants and private donations - from better times. These places are always about so much more than their contents and function. If the entire magnificent collection of the British Museum were to be housed in a distribution warehouse somewhere, we'd feel short-changed. Even if there was a nice cafι there, and lots of car parking. This was proved the hard way when, back in the 1990s, the Royal Armouries collection moved to a new building in Leeds. It wasn't a bad new building, but it wasn't the Tower of London, where most of the collection had been before. Collapsing visitor numbers, financial embarrassment and a Government bail-out ensued.
In the jargon of the tourism business, the "experience" is what counts. Ever stopped to look at your fellow art-lovers in Tate Modern, for instance? Lots of them (not you, obviously) charge around the place in packs. They don't stop to look at anything much. Dwell time per room is minimal. That's where the huge turbine hall with its annual installations comes into its own. You can get many roaming packs of cultural tourists in there. So the container - this once-overlooked, cathedral-like, postwar power station by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott - is more than up to the task of providing the experience. This is why they need to build an extension. It has more than twice the number of visitors it was designed for. It's just been too damn popular.
When Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron first came up with an idea for an extension, it was a bit over the top: a stack of glass boxes. That was silly, so version 2 is in brick, like the power station itself. Clever, latticework brick but brick nonetheless. However, the key thing is what the building, with its high-level viewing platform, will do for South London. Tate Modern faces north across the Thames: the symbolism of the fact that its £215m extension will face south, is huge. Visitors to London on 2012 will see it, though tantalisingly it won't be open by then.
As Bilbao proved, you don't have to be a capital city to draw the crowds. So I'm intrigued by the much-anticipated £72m Museum of Liverpool, opening of which has now slipped a year to 2011. A sort of stone-and-glass bowtie by Danish architects 3XN, it is right next to the famous "Three Graces" Edwardian Pierhead buildings. The museum looks a bit weird from some angles but is graceful indeed next to some of the other tat which is now being built close by. In what, incidentally, is still a Unesco-designated World Heritage Site. Liverpool has revived strongly in recent years, but continues to score some thumping architectural misses.

Gabion: Recession, what recession? The cultural-buildings juggernaut rolls on.

THE ART OF FOOTBALL Celebrations-PANATHINAIKOS - Olympiakos (21/03/2010) GREEN HELL

Athens Classic Marathon :: Welcome

Athens Classic Marathon :: Welcome

2500th anniversary of the Legend of Marathon

However, the tale that most people know about events in 490BCE is that a messenger named Phillipides or Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory, then collapsed and died. Out of that legend, the marathon race was born.

Every time someone runs a marathon, they metaphorically retrace steps taken during one of the most momentous events in world history, the Battle of Marathon in 490BCE. A few thousand Athenian and Plataean soldiers, led by the warrior Miltiades destroyed a huge force of invading Persians on the plain of Marathon, a victory widely acknowledged to have ensured the democratic legacy of Western culture.

The significance of the Hellenic victory has not gone underestimated, either then or now. The poet and dramatist Aeschylus fought at Marathon (his brother was one of the 192 dead, compared to thousands of Persians). But when Aeschylus died, not one word of his literary achievements made it onto his tombstone, only the fact that he had fought at Marathon.

Similarly, though every schoolchild in the UK knows how the Battle of Hastings in 1066 altered the course of British history and culture, the celebrated 18th century philosopher and political theorist John Stuart Mill maintained that, in the grand scheme of things, ‘Marathon’ was a far more important event to Britons than ‘Hastings’.

However, the tale that most people know about events in 490BCE is that a messenger named Phillipides or Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory, then collapsed and died. Out of that legend, the marathon race was born.

But the original legend, whose first report was 600 years after the battle (thus highly questionable) was that the messenger first went to Sparta to ask for help, was rebuffed, and ran back to Marathon, before going to Athens to announce victory. Dying after a trek like that made far more sense, since the round trip, across impossibly rough, hilly terrain (and no tarmac roads 2500 years ago) is around 500 kilometres, and he did it allegedly in two or three days.

Which is why every long distance runner in the world should want to run from Marathon to Athens at least once.

And if you haven’t done it yet, or even if you have, then next year is the year. For 2010 is the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon. And the organisers of the Athens Classic Marathon, on October 31, 2010 are preparing for another invasion, but a friendly one this time.

The race has had a chequered history since effectively being launched with, not the inaugural modern Olympic race, but with a trial race on the same course a few weeks before, in spring of 1896. But while the Boston AA launched their own race the following year, and have staged it in one form or another (a relay during wartime) for a century and a dozen years since then, Athens has had a history of hiccups, ie on and off, and on again. At one time, there were two a year, one in Spring, the other in Autumn. But in its latest incarnation, next year will be the 28th edition of the Athens Classic Marathon.

The elite race has been relatively low-key until recent years, getting a pre-Olympic boost in 2000 by sponsorship from Alpha Bank, who still remain principal sponsor nine years later. But overall marathon numbers have stayed relatively small, due partly to restricted space at the start area in Marathon, and for reasons of safety at the marble Panathinaiko stadium, built for 1896, in Athens.

There were around 3,600 finishers in this year’s race a month ago. But a provisional limit of 10,000 (roughly the same as the Hellenic army in 490BCE) has been mooted for next year, with a possibility of up to 13,500. Registration is due to open in Spring, ie February/March 2010.

If you’ve not run the course, be warned, it’s one of the most difficult of the modern popular marathons. After a relatively flat first 10k, which takes runners on a detour around the tumulus (burial ground) of the Athenian dead - the Parthians have their own burial ground - the course rises until around 32k.
So half the race is uphill. But then the last part is downhill all the way. 

Bit like life, really.

MarathonMan Stefaan Engels is about to come to Athens as part of a crazy challenge to create an unbeatable world record by running one marathon a day for a year. For the 49-year-old Belgian, it is certainly not a case of the loneliness of the long distance runner, as he is joined by crowds of supporters wherever he runs. He is inviting all Greeks to accompany him for part or all of his daily endurance test. His tour reaches Athens on October 26 where he will undertake his week of marathon 'jogs' starting at Agios Kosmas Athletic Centre in Elleniko/Athens from around 2pm to 6pm every day until October 29 and on October 30 at Schinias Rowing center nearby the historic place of Marathon from 2.30pm to 6.30pm before running the Athens Classic Marathon on Sunday.

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