Paul Grayson | Siege Engine

Siege Engine

December 18, 2015  •  1 Comment

Siege EngineSiege Engine

Keeping Faith With The Past


I fear that I am somewhat of an architectural pedant, who needs to be convinced of the appropriateness of mixing ancient and modern. I love stand-alone modernity and I can be mollified by daring designs such as the Pyramide du Louvre, but I remain offended by other intrusions, such as the London Eye. In 1996, I actually appealed through my Member of Parliament against the building of the latter. However, I was severely put back in my box by the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Selwyn Gummer, who replied that he was “not allowed to ‘call in’ the planning application”, because the construction was “temporary”. About as temporary as the Eiffel Tower has turned out to be, I imagine.


That said, during a journey last week (the reason for the absence of that week’s blog), I was favourably struck by this Swiss solution at the Chateau de Nyon in the Canton of Vaud. Medieval Swiss fortresses remind me of my Scottish homeland, in that they are spare, functional designs with relatively little modern adaptations to convert them into homes. Perhaps the Calvinist traditions of both countries also influence the lack of decoration, not going down the path of the French, whose culture allowed  “improvements” to Gothic exuberance by the romantic treatments of Violet le Duc, for example.


The result is a complementarity of engineering-led medieval and 21st century design. The pure victory of function over form, you might say, since the elevator serves a municipal car park built into the hill. Simplicity is the key, which results, for me, from an aesthetic sensitivity on the part of the modern architects, to allow the eye to see through the new construction, so as to give prominence to the older work.


Siege Engine


On an imaginative level, I was first and foremost struck by the resemblance of this elevator to a siege engine, the engineering answer to attacking fortresses since time immemorial. It seemed wholly in keeping with the military defences in the chateau: the glacis, fosse, earthworks, turrets, ramparts, loopholes, curtain walls and the keep.


Its functional, steel structure is emphasised by the dark grey paint and the transparency of the glass walls. Its shape and orientation to the building create the image of a pending assault. The long preparations for attacking the walls are emphasised by the fascine-like plant bundles “filling” the fosse, in order to allow the infantry to cross and set ladders against the walls, while the knights fight their way across the bridge of the siege engine.




The composition breaks the “rule of thirds”, since it is constructed in quarters, with the centre point at the top left corner of the elevator. When I opened the image in my new processing engine Capture One 9, I was surprised and gratified to find that my hand-held capture had framed the composition precisely, without recourse to the inbuilt Virtual Horizon of the camera. Comes from having a practiced eye, I suppose.


The wonderful clear winter sky provided all the light necessary for hand-held exposure at a deep depth of field. At the same time, December's reduced glare gave a comfortable treatment to the white-painted chateau, both in sunshine and shadow, aided by a small “exposure adjustment of -0.3 EV.




Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: VR 70-200mm zoom f/2.8G,

Focal Length: 98mm


Focus Mode: AF-S

Aperture: f/20

Shutter Speed: 1/160s

Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single

Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority

Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV

Metering: Matrix

ISO Sensitivity: 400

Hand held


What are your architectural preferences? Do you sympathise with mine, or not? Let me know your thoughts by commenting on my blog page.


Copyright Paul Grayson 2015 All Rights Reserved


Parfois il faut du temps pour que les oeuvres architecturales modernes se fassent accepter. Pour preuve, la pyramide du Louvre, le centre Pompidou, la Tour Eiffel, les bouches de métro Guimard, qui ont été détestées à leur début puis appréciées pour être finalement des incontournables de Paris. Pour d'autres on ne peut qu'espérer que le temps aura raison d'elles et ne tiendront pas trop longtemps.
Ton image montre quand même que cet horrible ascenseur a un intérêt puisqu'il a fait travailler ton imagination et que tu l'a posté sur ton blog.
PS : j'aime bien le London eye...
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