A Fright At The Museum

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A visitor returning to the newly refurbished National Museum of Scotland would certainly be taken aback: how the hell do I get in and why are there so many people in here on such a beautiful day? I used to walk past it on my way home from work. They had late opening on a Tuesday and if it was raining I would go in for a wander. It was badly lit, badly organised and there had been repeated attempts to modernise which were utterly useless.

There was however a masterplan to put things right: the neighbouring site was to become home to the Museum of Scotland and it would eventually link to the original Venetian inspired Victorian building. So out went the flea-bitten taxidermy, fusty display cases, stupid mezzanine levels and water features and in came the clarity of a well designed space and the second most important thing in a museum: light.

The entrance has been reworked so you go in at basement level and walk up to the splendour of the Grand Gallery which was bathed with dazzling sunlight on Saturday, the day after it had re-opened. The place was packed out so we only got about halfway around the exhibits.

Being a relatively small museum it keeps the quality up and the repetition down so it’s a child friendly place. The galleries have been opened up vertically to create neck-craning spaces filled with suspended exhibits. There are good exhibits on the ancient world and on design in the home. You can go up to a rooftop terrace for lunch and a fantastic viewing platform giving great views of the city. And it’s all free!

New Orleans: the musical

As some of you may recall, I recently had a trip to New Orleans . As a lover of jazz, blues and cajun/zydeco, this has been on my wishlist for years, and I was not disappointed (thanks for the research, ejaydee). I can see why Ray Davies chose to live there (until getting shot, and health problems, drove him back into the arms of the NHS). My yen to visit was piqued by the TV series ‘Treme’ (from The Wire’s David Simon, on Sky this Spring – highly recommended). Given the eclectic tastes of most spillers, N’Awlins is a music lovers heaven. Music oozes out of every pore. Buskers, bars, clubs & parades mean you are almost always in earshot of some aural pleasure or other (tho’ like everywhere else, some buskers are clearly trainees). And it’s ‘all the day, and all of the night’, as Ray would say. If that wasn’t enough, the place itself is such a treat. This is a US city where walking never died out as a mode of transport, and when your feet are tired there’s the streetcars and – for tourists – the mule carriages and Mississippi steamboats. Katrina remains an ongoing and shocking scar on the American dream. The population has halved, whole districts have been pulled down as health hazards and left as wasteland. Black families who had lived there for decades have seen their land revert to the city, if they couldn’t prove title. Others have had to downsize as the insurance and Government aid wouldn’t pay to rebuild what they had. But on the surface the place has been resuscitated, the French Quarter and Garden District are as gorgeous as ever, the joint is jumpin’, and the food to die for, despite BP’s best efforts (don’t miss catfish; bread pudding). We had a whale of a time there, and can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve spliced together a few musical moments off my camera, to give a little taster. If you’ve not been, add it to your list.

We were there for haloween, which as you can imagine is a big thing in Voodoo city. And the Saints were playing the Steelers. And there was an amazing annual 3 day music festival in City Park, which sadly I didn’t make. The Irish community had a parade. And the sun shone. ‘Party atmosphere’ just doesn’t do it justice. And at the end of the trip, you can take some of it home, via a credit card binge at the top record store, Louisiana Music Factory…

Aqua, NOT the Barbie Girl one

Shoey suggested an album of the month, and I have taken that to heart …. substituting ‘month’ with ‘year.’ Oh, and ‘album’ with ‘building’. Close enough.

This is the 82-storey Aqua in Chicago, the 2009 international Skyscraper of the Year. The signature feature is the undulating balconies, but they have greater purpose than eye candy, man.

Hands up everyone who remembers Chicago = the Windy City. Those winds whip across the sea-like Lake Michigan, so the ‘waves’ of balconies are not only visually informed by the Great Lakes and their limestone shorelines, they also diffuse the massive wind gusts, reducing heating costs. Chicago is smack dab on North America’s major bird migration route, so flocks of birds tend to crash into the city’s skyscrapers. This one’s irregular lines and reflections are meant to prevent that.

The balconies shade the occupants, earning more green points.  The whole building uses green building materials, it has public charging stations for electric cars, and a terrace that doubles as a green roof.

Significantly for unshackling future architects, a new concrete forming apparatus had to be invented to allow each balcony to be individually shaped without delaying construction or adding huge costs.

Building of the year? One for all time, seems like, and in music terms, a crossover hit. How many other buiildings has the ‘Spill reviewed?