Thursday, July 16, 2015

Apollo Pavilion

This is the structure I went up to Durham to see yesterday -- Victor Pasmore's Apollo Pavilion, built in 1969 as a massive artistic centerpiece to the "new town" of Peterlee.

Named after the NASA mission that put men on the moon, the Apollo Pavilion was supposed to act as a sort of bridge over a stream and pond separating parts of the Peterlee neighborhood known, somewhat amusingly, as Sunny Blunts. Pasmore was already an established artist when he designed it, with work in museums around the world.

I don't remember how I first heard about this structure. I think I stumbled onto its Web site somehow. I bookmarked it in my computer and it's been there, month after month, nagging me from my bookmarks list, reminding me to go check it out.

I wasn't disappointed. The pavilion is an interesting mass of planes and angles that come together in a very pleasing way. On each end are murals of biomorphic forms taken from some of Pasmore's paintings, softening the hard edges.

You've got to admire the vision of the community planners who gave the green-light to the construction of this pavilion -- their desire to bring something unusual and artistic to a neighborhood that could otherwise have been just another big, bland housing estate.

Unfortunately, not long after it was constructed, the pavilion became something of a nuisance -- a magnet for "anti-social behavior," as they say in Britain. "It is not the fact that the sculpture is a monstrosity covered with graffiti that bothers us, it is the crowds of foul-mouthed louts who hang around it looking for trouble,” one neighborhood resident complained in 1980. A year later a local newspaper reported: "A costly manmade beauty spot in Peterlee has been reduced to a shabby, rubbish strewn no-go area."

The local council struggled with what to do. Some people wanted it removed entirely, and even Pasmore -- probably frustrated by the drama -- once said that "if the council can’t appreciate a modern work of art and are not prepared to keep it in a decent condition they should certainly blow it up.”

Fortunately, that didn't happen. The pavilion was covered with soil and ragged plantings for a while, but eventually they (and the graffiti) were cleaned away and a restoration in 2009 brought the pavilion back to its original appearance. It is now a listed structure of local historical and artistic significance.

Below the structure is this pillar, one of several in Peterlee designed by Pasmore. (As you can see, despite the restoration, that shallow pond is still none too clean! Can't someone put some carp in there to eat that algae?) As I was photographing, a guy walking past told me about several other similar pillars located nearby, and I went to find them.

This one stands on a plaza in front of a local convenience store, where one resident told me he'd never noticed it despite living there all his life.

"What is that, then?" a woman asked me as I photographed it.

I told her it was an artwork by Pasmore. "I guess it could be anything you want it to be," I said. "To me it sort of looks like a clothespin."

I didn't succeed in finding the other two pillars that guy told me about, though I did briefly try, before catching the bus for the half-hour trip back to Durham.


Mwa said...

Now that it is looking good again, is it actually used for anything?

e said...

I love this but they should really clean that pond...MWA has a good question...

Marty said...

What an unlikely place to find this artwork. And how interesting. The council's struggles reminds me of a nearby city's efforts to connect two areas with a sort of stepped plaza. It was of an innovative design and even had an outdoor elevator. The little park had the same fate as the place you visited, with the homeless peeing in the elevator, etc.. It's been fenced off with no access for the past25 years.

Ms. Moon said...

I have to say it sort of reminds me of the University of Denver's library in 1972. The only library I've ever been in that felt completely alien to me. Not my style at all. As of course you would assume, looking at my house which is so beloved to me.

I'm glad you got to go though. That is an odd structure and an odd story, too.

utahDOG! said...

I love it.

ellen abbott said...

I didn't see any murals on the ends that 'soften' this thing. don't see how they could anyway. not to my taste. looks cold and hard and unwelcoming. like soviet era buildings, all hard concrete and hard edges. it would not be a place I would frequent.

Sharon said...

What a fascinating piece of art that I had never heard of before and kudos to you for searching it out and photographing it for us. Hopefully it's troubled past is all behind it because I'd hate to see it covered with graffiti. I love anything geometric so it appeals to my eye.

Yael said...

The thing about carp is that they won't just eat the algae, they'll eat *everything*. Terrible for the environment. Don't know if the algae's meant to be there or not (it could be natural), but a brute-force solution like introducing foreign species to the pond sounds like a pretty bad idea.

RedPat said...

I love it - a fine example of Brutalism!

ellen abbott said...

I do like the pillars though.

37paddington said...

Do people climb up and walk along it? I hope they do.

Steve Reed said...

MWA: It's still a community centerpiece, but one of the guys I talked to said it's kind of sad that now they lock it up at night. (It has gates at either end.) So whereas before it was a gathering spot, now they prevent the gathering in order to deter mischief. It's a trade-off, I suppose.

E: Maybe they need one of those water aeration systems, like a recirculating fountain. Just SOMETHING to keep that water moving.

Marty: That's a shame! Have they tried to reopen it with any alterations?

Ms Moon: It is VERY much of that time period. Which is partly why I like it.

Utah: I knew you would!

Ellen: The murals are those black blobby shapes on either end. Believe me, I understand that this is not everyone's ball o' wax! Modernism and Brutalism in general are often pilloried for their hardness and angularity, but personally, I like that kind of architecture.

Sharon: Glad it appeals to you! It would probably be more at home in a drier environment, actually. Let's move it to Phoenix!

Yael: Well, that's a good point. Maybe carp aren't the answer, although they could get sterile carp that live one generation and then die, which would eliminate the risk of invasion. Maybe, as I said to E higher up, they just need to aerate and circulate the water somehow. I'm sure the algae IS natural, and I can respect that, but it really is too thick.

RedPat: I love it too! And it was fun to go visit it in such an out-of-the-way (for me) place.

37P: Yes, it has stairs at one end, and during the day the gate is open and you can go up and stand on the top platform, which has some shady room-like spaces as well as a large open area with a bench. The sidewalk goes beneath it, and to get from one side of the development to the other you need to use that route -- so at the very least people regularly walk beneath it.