29th August 2017
1 Boyce's Avenue
Stepping out with the boundaries of Glasgow this summer has opened up a whole wealth of new breakfast spots. For this post I chose to wait for the arrival of my trusty breakfast sidekick to Bristol and headed to Primrose Café, situated in the Clifton area. With the sun breaking through at points between intermittent showers we decided to take a gamble and sit outside - thankfully the weather rewarded us for our bravery.
The early months of this summer have delivered numerous new opportunities and experiences. A new step in my career as a Design Engineer being the most obvious, but it is the opportunity that came hand in hand with this that I shall centre this post around.
It is well known that the atmosphere and aesthetic of a city can have a profound affect on the majority of individuals. Having lived in Glasgow for almost 4 years now I was beginning to take the essence of the city for granted, meaning the move to Bristol this summer was the perfect chance to reawaken my senses and revive my love for fresh architecture.
Within a matter of days I was reminded of how quickly a city can take hold of you and leave you in awe of its beauty. Looking through the rose tinted glasses of ‘The Golden Hour’ on my first evening stroll may have given the new location an unfair advantage but it kickstarted many more days of exploration to view the highlights of Bristol.
The first sight that I caught of the famous suspension bridge was from afar. Spanning the 214 metres of the Avon Gorge at a height of 75 metres it has a strangely delicate appearance, as the great masses of the cliff edge and the stone pylons taper down to the centre through the suspension cables. From this faraway viewing point, the vertical rods appear almost invisible and give the impression that the bridge has been imagined with absolute engineering precision - further developing the visual impact.
Designed by Brunel when he was only 23 years old (less than a year left for me to produce a similar engineering achievement…) and in true Brunelian spirit it pushes the boundaries of what others considered possible. At the time, there was no pressing need to link Clifton with the Somerset side, it was merely the challenge of crossing the gorge that provided sufficient reason. Faced with this, Brunel came up with a design that would exceed the 183 metres that Thomas Telford believed to be possible - confident that suspension bridges could achieve much greater spans.
Up close, it is the delicacies of the bridge that really transform it into something beautiful. The Egyptian inspired pylons with their flowing edges and contrasting ‘hat’ have a very clean and minimal appearance for a mid 19th Century design. The way in which the tension cables burst from the road surface and then powerfully accelerate their way up to the top of the large pylons help to contrast the lightness of the span and reassure us of the bridges strength.
As I move along the cliff edge, the bridge continues to flirt between these ideas of lightness and robustness and arguably finds the perfect balance at certain angles. It has become an iconic symbol and for many it is synonymous with Bristol. It has been my highlight of the city so far and it rightly deserves its status as one of Brunel’s most celebrated designs.
The Clifton Bridge had captured my heart and been my introduction to the beautiful insights that Bristol has to offer, but currently sitting in second place is a building that reminds me more of home. The Central Library, designed by Charles Holden in 1906 embodies styles that are used with ‘a freedom instigated by Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Glasgow School of Art' and the complex play of projection and recession are reminiscent of the library wing of Mackintosh’s Hill House.
The arrangement manages to fully interpret a style without copying it in any sense. It is the way in which Holden draws on the same set of ideas - mathematical logic, spatial manipulation and the Arts and Crafts respect for locale - while synthesising a new and infinitely pleasant design. The way in which it is squashed into its surroundings forces us to interpret the individual elements and personally I find a craving to see the building stand alone so that we can appreciate the form in its entirety. The impression that the building has on the viewer definitely takes you aback and the way in which it represents such a crucial part of Glasgow’s history within my new city makes it quite special.
Bristol has numerous buildings worthy of commendation but there is one that really caught my eye and left me in awe of its beautiful design. Bristol Cathedral, situated next door to the Central Library, has an exterior similar to that of many European cathedrals - resembling a sort of scaled down Notre Dame - with an evenly balanced end, vigorously extruding features and intricate religious detailing. Strangely though, it is the interior that really makes this landmark stand out for me. The most striking feature of the aisles is the way in which the weight of the main vault is conveyed to the outer walls. The ribs appear to force their way up through the columns and then release themselves into archways. As these ribs meet at the peak of the arch, the symmetry and smoothness of the curves create a truly pleasing result. One really needs to be standing in the aisle to understand the way in which the towering archways feel so vastly open whilst at the same time enclosing the space with a caging effect.
The cathedral is a building with the power to take your breath away and while it doesn’t match the style of my usual architectural preference, I found it oddly appealing.
There is no doubt that Bristol has provided some enthralling exploration and some amazing architecture. It has revived my love for experiencing new cities and served its purpose well in setting me up for what I expect to be a similar subsequent post - another change in my life that will transport me to another city…
I must give my thanks to the Pevsner Architectural Guide to Bristol by Andrew Foyle. Acting as my guide book to the city and providing me with much food for thought, it caters to both intellectual and casual reading.
Primrose Café ticks all the boxes for a great breakfast - hearty food, great coffee and friendly staff. I opt to go for the Full Monty to make sure that I don’t miss out on any tasty goods. Thankfully the café doesn’t believe in small portions and the breakfast sets us up well for a day of exploring throughout the Clifton area.
A little sugar hit from a slice of coffee cake accompanied by an additional espresso and we’re ready for a great day out. The breakfast scene in Bristol is definitely providing Glasgow with some stiff competition.