The Singers of Jingshan Park

As I walked through the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing  a tree covered hill stood in front of me, on top two colourful Pagondas. This seemed like a great place to view the surrounding area and after taking a look at my city map it would be possible to visit.

The Singers of Jingshan Park

The area was known as Jingshan Park. To enter there was a small fee of 2 Yuan, which was very little compared to the 40 Yuan I had just paid to visit the Forbidden City.

Just inside the entrance a crowd had gathered to watch as a woman waved spirals through the air with a long coloured flag. As I watched I realised that a large amount of the crowd weren’t that interested in the woman at all but instead they were watching me and taking photographs.

The Singers of Jingshan Park The Singers of Jingshan ParkAt the top there were great views in all directions, particularly to the south over the forbidden city and then to the north where the city stretched never ending into the distance.

The Singers of Jingshan Park

View to the north from Jingshan Park

As I stood looking over the view I could hear singing coming from below but little sign of people through the trees. I walked down towards the sound and found several large groups of people who had come together to sing.

The Singers of Jingshan Park

The Singers of Jingshan Park

Each group was made up of fifteen or so people, there were no instruments expects for an accordion, and no clear leader. They just sang. When one song finished they were on to the next with little hesitation and with everyone joining in.

The Singers of Jingshan Park

The Singers of Jingshan Park

The groups were very diverse, men and woman, all from what seemed like different backgrounds. One man came dancing towards the crowd in brightly coloured clothes with a speaker as a hat. Another with a cane and a large black military coat, perfect for the winter weather.

But there was one thing they all had in common, they were all of retirement age.

The Singers of Jingshan Park

The Singers of Jingshan ParkDuring my short stay in Beijing I noticed on several occasions groups of the older generation joining  in activities or socialising together. Sometimes in the strangest of places. A large group of women dancing in unison on a busy intersection. More often than not there would just get together in parks or public spaces to play cards or even board games.

The Singers of Jingshan Park

These photos feature in my new zine OFFBEAT along with many others from my time in Beijing. It’s an exploration into a different side of the city. Highlighting daily life, Chinese culture, architecture and of course metro stations. Copies are limited and can be found here:

allabouttheimage.bigcartel.com

Further Reading:

My visit to Tiananmen Square and The Body of Chairman Mao

The Tricorn

The Tricorn was a car park situated in the city of Portsmouth. Designed in the early 1960s by Owen Luder and Rodney Gordon, the concrete structure was envisioned as a blank canvas where shop fronts and market stalls would bring colour and life to the building. Originally the building was going to be called ‘Casbah’ meaning Market in the Sky.

The Tricorn

At first the building was heralded with an award for its design, but gradually fell into disrepair. The Tricorn never reached its full potential and it quickly became clear that it would never be used for the purpose for which it was originally intended. 

The Tricorn

There was much debate in the city and the Tricorn gained notoriety as one of the ugliest in the country. It wasn’t long before people were calling for the building to be removed and the area redeveloped.

The Tricorn

After years of delays demolition on the Tricorn began in March 2004, to make way for a large modern shopping centre that would bring change to the City of Portsmouth. Now, the area remains undeveloped. In its place a temporary car park that has slowly become a permanent feature.The Tricorn

Further Reading:

BRUTAL – The Tricorn

My very first printed zine BRUTAL is available to order HERE. It is an A5 book featuring images of the Tricorn shot on film in 2004 shortly before the building was demolished and a cover illustration from Nick Coupland. They were taken as part of a series documenting several changes that the city of Portsmouth was going through at that time. I am hoping to bring other projects to life like this and I can only do that with your support.

The Tricorn

 

Oodi – Helsinki’s Central Library

Oodi - Helsinki's Central LibraryHelsinki Central Library Oodi

Oodi is a recently opened library in Helsinki’s centre. It was designed by ALA Architects and commissioned in connection with Finlands centenary of independence in 2017. The huge wooden structure dominates the area in which it is located. Oodi is an excellent example of modern architecture, filled with workspaces, books and services a library provides for its community.

Oodi - Helsinki's Central Library

Inside Oodi is clean, spacious and minimal. This theme runs through each floor of the building, though from a design perspective they are all very different from each other. The top floor is walled with large glass windows that creates a light and open space.

Oodi - Helsinki's Central Library

Design is the heart and soul of the building, there are no half measures here.

Surprisingly, Oodi features very little books for its size. It’s billed as a modern library, one that focuses on services and workspaces rather than physical information. The bookshelves it does have are small and minimal, though part of the Helmet network you are able to access a much larger selection of books.

Oodi - Helsinki's Central LibraryOodi - Helsinki's Central LibraryOodi - Helsinki's Central Library

 

From the top floor the library offers 360° view of its surroundings. Unfortunately some of Kansalaistori still remains under construction, though the view to Helsinki’s recently renovated Parliament House is uninterrupted.

Oodi - Helsinki's Central Library

Oodi - Helsinki's Central Library

What Oodi does well is the creative use of workspaces, and there are plenty of them. Each level is filled largely with communal spaces, each with its own design and character. There are also meeting rooms, individual work rooms and quiet spaces, not to forget those dedicated to specialisations such as a music studio.

Oodi - Helsinki's Central Library

From the outside Oodi is remarkable from every angle. The sheer size of the building isn’t fully understood until you stand at its front door and look up its wooden facade. From end to end it stretches and curves naturally into the distance.

Oodi - Helsinki's Central Library

Oodi is proof that functional buildings don’t have to be boring and I couldn’t imagine many other countries investing money in buildings, such as libraries, as highly as Finland does. But, even after my visit, I find it hard to understand Oodi and its purpose. It’s a huge and costly building most dedicated to work spaces, if nothing more it is a fine example of architecture and design in a city that continues to out do itself.

Further Reading:

If Oodi doesn’t convince you then take a look the other great libraries in Does Helsinki Have the Best Looking Libraries? And a more detailed look at my favourite The National Library of Finland.

Inside Oodi, Helsinki’s new flagship library by The Economist.

 

Tell Me All Your Secrets – Hotel Viru

Tell Me All Your Secrets - Hotel Viru

The building now known as Original Sokos Hotel Viru first opened in 1972, after construction delays and a fire in one of the upper floors. Apart from being a hotel the building and its secret history plays an interesting part in the history of the city.

Tell Me All Your Secrets - Hotel Viru

View of the Hotel Viru from Tallinn’s Old Town

The hotel is known for once hosting the KGB. Though, like anything involving the Soviet Union, the details are foggy. It is known that the 23rd floor of the building, now a museum, was home to a radio centre and that a number of rooms were under surveillance.

At the time the hotel was becoming a meeting point for international guests visiting the city and prime location for gathering information. Mystery still surrounds why information was collect, for what purpose and what was done with it after.

Tell Me All Your Secrets - Hotel Viru

In 1991 the KGB quickly abandoned residence in the hotel when Estonia became independent. Now, the hotel is operated by the Sokos Hotel chain.

Further Reading:

A winter’s Day in Tallinn’s Old Town

Modern day Sokos Hotel Viru and its KGB Museum

Other Soviet stories in A visit to Porkkala and 1950’s Era Russia

A winter’s Day in Tallinn’s Old Town

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

Over the years I have visited Tallinn many times thanks to it being only a short ferry ride from Helsinki. Each time visiting new places and getting to know the city that little bit more. Whatever my plans they always include a trip to its Old Town.

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

Tallinn’s Old Town refers to its medieval region that dates back to the 13th century in the heart of the city. Its cobbled streets, gothic architecture and well preserved city walls make it a must to people visiting the Baltic region.

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old TownA winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

There are plenty of small laneways to walk and discover. You don’t need to worry about get lost because, more often than not, you end up at the Town Hall Square, home to one of the best Christmas markets, and surrounded by authentic restaurants, bars and cafes.

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

There are two great view points over Tallinn’s Old Town. They can be difficult to find but after a climb up hill and winding through the small cobbled streets you will be rewarded with uninterrupted views, even on a snowy winter’s day.

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

Exploring Tallinn’s Old Town can easily take a day but make sure you spare some time to travel further afield. Telliskivi, Kadriorg park and the beautiful neighbourhood of Kalamaja are all worth a visit.

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

Further Reading:

For more photos from Tallinn visit my Instagram.

Take a look at one of my other visits to the city in Doors of Tallinn.

Does Helsinki Have the Best Looking Libraries?

My interest in the libraries of Helsinki had first come through photography, inside there were these hidden architectural secrets I had to photograph. It took me to new places in the city and I was often hearing about others I had to visit.

It became such an interest of mine that one time while taking about Helsinki’s libraries I was asked, “Where do you study?” I replied honestly,  “I don’t, I just really like libraries.”

Does Helsinki Have the Best Looking Libraries?

Kallio Library

Coming from a small city in England libraries were an underused service, often hidden away in a dying high street. Here, in Helsinki, they were vibrant, open spaces bringing all sorts of people and offering varied services to the public. They not only do this excellently, they look good too.

So, does Helsinki have the best looking libraries? Lets find out.

Töölö Library

Does Helsinki Have the Best looking Libraries?

Abundant in work spaces and meeting rooms Töölö Library is always a hive of activity that it is often difficult to find a place to study. Meeting rooms can be booked in advance and come catered with all the necessities you may need.

But what brings other people here.

The staircase that runs up through the centre of the building has a unique shape that when viewed from the lower levels looking up gives the illusion of looking into an eye, with the skylight at the top resembling its pupil.

Does Helsinki Have the Best looking Libraries?

Helsinki University Library

In the centre of Helsinki you will find a number of excellent Libraries, its most central are Kirjasto Kymppi (Library 10) and the Helsinki University Library. Governed by the university but open to all, it is full of work spaces, some of which come with fantastic views.

The library is full of open spaces and architectural delights. First there is the corkscrewing spiral staircase which can be quite a journey when climbing from the bottom to the top. Does Helsinki Have the Best looking Libraries?

Make sure to visit the balcony on the top floor for one of the best views of Helsinki Cathedral over the cities rooftops.

Does Helsinki Have the Best Looking Libraries?The building serves as a excellent shortcut between Fabianinkatu and Vuorikatu, making it easier to reach Helsinki’s Metro.  Overhead oval openings descending in size as the levels rise. Walking through it is almost impossible not to look up and admire its breathtaking architecture.

Does Helsinki Have the Best Looking Libraries?

Rikhardinkatu Library

The last library I was to discover partly due to the fact that it is hard to notice from the street, which sees very little foot traffic. If you aren’t looking for it you will most likely miss it.

From the outside there is little indication to the size of Rikhardinkatu Library and that continues once you enter. It is not until you happen across the large hall with its demanding staircase that you realise the magnitude of the building.

Does Helsinki Have the Best looking Libraries?

Photograph taken during the Umbrella sky exhibit.

Kallio LibraryDoes Helsinki Have the Best looking Libraries?

Kallio Library is situated at one end of Karhupuisto, the centre of the neighbourhood in which it serves. The red brick building hides a beautiful atrium and grand staircase that connects the three floors of books.Does Helsinki Have the Best looking Libraries?

Again, we need to ask the question:

Does Helsinki have the best looking libraries?

I think I have built a strong case and have only touched the surface. Helsinki has other great libraries waiting to be discovered, for example the exquisite National Library of Finland, and many more throughout Finland.

At a time where libraries are in decline in many countries Finland seems to be leading the way, providing services that its citizens use frequently but also focusing on design and innovation that will bring more than just book lovers through their doors.

Oodi, the newest library in Finland’s arsenal, has opened this month and it’s a library of a different class, its scale, services and design are something the city has never seen before. At the time of my last visit Oodi was still under construction but now open I am eager to visit the city’s latest offering.

Does Helsinki Have the Best looking Libraries?

Further Reading:

The borrowers: why Finland’s cities are havens for library lovers from the Guardian

For details about Oodi visit their website Oodihelsinki.fi

Finland’s flagship library Oodi opens to the public in Helsinki from local news source Yle.

Melbourne Trams

Melbourne Trams

As we where staying in an Air BnB a short walk in one direction from Central Station and Queen Victoria Markets in the other, it was easy to get around Melbourne by foot. I find it’s the best way to see a city and stumble across a place you aren’t expecting.

And that was exactly what happened.

A short walk from Carlton Gardens on the way to Fitzroy we came across a neighbourhood of gothic houses, each one very different from the last. They had their own character and distinctive features that made them different but some how they fit together.

The same but different.

Melbourne Trams

Free City Tram

To get further a field I wanted to take advantage of the free city tram that runs regularly in the central area between the hours of 10am – 6pm, with extended hours at the weekend. The tram provides connections for tourists but also information about the city and the areas in which it stops. It’s a fantastic way for people new to Melbourne to move around.

You’ll know the free trams from their distinctive appearance.

Melbourne Trams

we jumped on the free tram outside Finders Street Station heading towards Docklands

Docklands

Though billed as a tourist area it is difficult to see exactly why tourists would come here. During the months I lived in Melbourne I rarely visited this side of the city and wanted to give it another chance, especially as it was still under development back in 2009.

Docklands is home to the Melbourne Star, a viewing wheel much like the London Eye. When I arrived in Melbourne all those years ago it was in the news as an extremely hot summer had caused the structure to warp. Now it was up and running but we had very little interested in taking a ride.

It was a beautiful day and we walked along the water, taking in the views and admiring the modern architecture on display. After a couple of hours I felt like we had exhausted all the Docklands had to offer, though I hadn’t worked out what that was apart from residential buildings and offices. Feeling  defeated we headed back to the tram stop for the pleasant journey back into the city, of course by the free tram.

Melbourne Trams

One thing that for me made the free tram especially appealing was the complex MyKi card system used on all other trams and methods of transport. When I was last in Melbourne in 2011 the new system was being launched with a number of problems and much public criticism. It seemed that those problems had been eventually ironed out and locals were getting around freely.

From a tourists perspective it was a little difficult to comprehend. I had to first purchase a card, that I couldn’t return, then I would then need to added value to it to make my journey, but I had no idea how much that journey would cost. Tickets or cards cannot be bought from the driver or at the tram stops so planning ahead is vital.

Melbourne Trams

Interested to find out about the face on the building in the background? Read my previous post The Face of Melbourne.

The system may seem complicated at first but if you really want to explore Melbourne and its vibrant neighbourhoods then becoming familiar with its extensive tram network is a must. Fitzroy, Carlton and St Kilda are all worth a visit and of course are connected by tram.

Further Reading:

For routes and timetables for the City Circle tourist tram visit the Public Transport Victoria Website.

While living in Helsinki I became very familiar with its public transport and how easy it was to use. Read my post Helsinki Metro to learn more.

The summer heatwave that melted the Melbourne Star.