A Jewish cultural centre in London

TEN years in the making, London's first purpose-built Jewish community and cultural centre has finally opened its doors, and it is unlike any other Jewish building in the city. On an otherwise grim stretch of Finchley Road in north-west London, and accessible via a slender bridge, the elegant new glass-fronted, four-storey centre is designed to appeal to people of all ages, Jew and non-Jew alike. Its opening weekend drew large crowds for classes in krav maga (an Israeli form of self defense) and cooking demonstrations. 

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24-hour arty people: an all-night sculpture park opens in Oslo

The 25–hectare park, which is free and open 24 hours a day, is the brainchild of Norwegian art collector and philanthropist Christian Ringnes. He has spent nearly £31m of his own money creating an open-air museum he hopes will be "for everyone, not just for art lovers". Some of the park's 31 artworks were commissioned, while others were purchased including a collection of bronzes by early 20th-century masters Rodin, Renoir and Maillol. There are plenty of works by British artists too, such as Tony Cragg, Richard Hudson, Lynn Chadwick and Diane Maclean, whose oxidized stainless steel Open Book greets visitors as they arrive.

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Hot Spots: Rome Cavalieri

Housed in a striking 1960s building, its interiors, magnificent spiralling chandelier and circular staircase were designed by international starchitects Pier Luigi Nervi and Franco Albini. The 1,100-piece strong art collection has to be seen to be believed - a Tiepolo triptych sets the tone in the main lobby and rubs shoulders with other centuries-old paintings and sculptures that would surely otherwise be in the Louvre or Hermitage. The penthouse suite boasts four original Andy Warhols (as well as some rather fabulously kitsch sofas that once adorned Karl Lagerfeld's Parisian home) while the Napoleon suite is chocka with original 19th-century Empire prints and antiques, including French emperor Napoleon III's desk.

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Benelux cuisine is a food scene unseen

Tell someone you are going on a trip to sample the food specialities of Benelux and you will most likely get a series of blank expressions (and not only because many people don't know Benelux means Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg). This reaction is understandable. At best, the area's cuisine is an extension of French cooking, at worst it is dull and uninspiring (I am looking at you, Netherlands, land of mashed potato and stews).

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A holiday on the high seas? Aye aye, captain!

'Appropriate evening formal wear for women is an evening gown or cocktail dress" reads the cruise information guide that I receive in a beautiful leather travel wallet at home but choose to read – helpfully – on the plane to Barcelona where I am to board my ship. I panic, and hope my understated grey COS number will make the grade. Luckily, there are only two formal nights every eight days. Phew. My very next thought is how different it all sounds from those several-thousand-capacity floating behemoths you see ploughing their way out of deep Mediterranean harbours, full to the brim with mini-golf and climbing walls. Not an experience I've ever wanted to participate in.

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Extreme machine

When London-based Hugh Broughton Architects won the competition to build Halley VI, Britain’s latest Antarctic research station, the outfit had never built anything like it. It was 2005, and a year earlier the firm had entered the competition almost on a whim. ‘They were looking for a practice with a large portfolio of projects to draw upon, with lots of experience in sustainability and prefabrication,’ recalls founding director Hugh Broughton, laughing, ‘and a proven track record that included work abroad and remote installations.’ At the time, his office was renovating a basement in Soho and doing some office refurbs in the UK, having completed only one project abroad, the Malaysian headquarters of the British Council in Kuala Lumpur.

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Double exposure

In 1955, Edward Steichen changed the world of photography forever. When the visionary curator and photographer decided to mount an exhibition to promote world peace and equality after two world wars, he was breaking the mould. He gathered 503 photographs of people from around the world, taken by 273 different (often unknown) photographers, and grouped them by theme. That exhibition, The Family of Man, opened in January 1955 at New York's Museum of Modern Art, where the Luxembourg-born Steichen was director of photography from 1947 to 1961. It went on to tour the world and become the most successful photography exhibition of all time.

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Hot spots: InterContinental Marseille - Hotel Dieu

The sloping site of Hotel Dieu became a refuge for pilgrims in the 12th century and later a hospital and hospice for the poor and elderly. The current building has undergone a major revamp involving hotel designer of the moment Jean-Philippe Nuel. The property's sweeping staircases, arched windows and classical galleries bring to mind a palace rather than a hospital - which is a good thing, of course.

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Fruit of a troubled mind

THE term “outsider art” is an imperfect translation of the phrase art brut—meaning raw or uncontaminated art—coined by Jean Dubuffet, a French artist, in the 1940s. It refers to art created by people who are untrained, unaware of any potential audience for their work, and on the margins of society, often due to mental health problems.  A new exhibition at the Wellcome Collection is dedicated to outsider art from Japan. It is an unusual experience. Artistically inconsistent and loosely organised, the common thread is the mental illness suffered by the 46 artists featured.

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Hot Spots: ME London

The architecture and design is monochrome, sleek and sophisticated. The centrepiece is a nine-storey pyramid-shaped white marble atrium, with the reception at the bottom. The dramatic, slanting geometry found here is repeated throughout the hotel. Black angular marble-lined corridors give way to all-white rooms with projecting bay windows that you can walk into for dizzying views of the city.

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Chic of the new

Arriving in Marseille, southern France, from the air is an awe-inspiring experience. As you sweep over scenic mountains on one side and crystal blue sea on the other, you can understand why the Phoenicians chose to stay in 600BC. Once I land, the exhilaration continues: I take a motorbike taxi into town. “It’s much quicker and convenient,” says my chauffeur-to- be, Didier. I am not convinced but am won over by his warm smile and massive Honda Goldwing 1800, which looks unbreakable.

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A water tower in Luxembourg hosts an iconic photography exhibition

Late photographer and curator Edward Steichen's exhibition The Bitter Years, put together during his time as director of the photography department at New York's MOMA in the 1950s and 60s, eloquently documents beaten down rural America during the Great Depression of the 30s. It was first shown at MOMA in 1962 but fifty years after its first showing it has found a permanent home in a converted 56m-high water tower on a disused steel plant located next door to the country's hi-tech Centre National de l'Audiovisuel (the CNA).

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The Retrofit Revolution

“There is no doubt that reworking existing buildings is a highly rewarding and responsible area of work for architects,” says Rab Bennetts, director and co-founder of Bennetts Associates, a London-based firm known for its strong sustainability ethos. Recycling old buildings is not only a matter of reducing environmental impact, he says, but also an opportunity to “retain memories, discover richer textures and use ‘found’ spaces that require innovative design solutions.” Reusing existing buildings can also act as a natural curb on emissions, Bennetts explains, because they are often more compact. 

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Triple jump

You may not have heard of Troika, but if you've travelled through Heathrow's sleek new Terminal 5 since its opening in 2008, chances are you've seen the art and design studio's work. Two of its installations adorn the entrance atrium of British Airways' luxury lounges and the entrance itself. The first is a 5-m-long digital sculpture in the shape of a cloud whose signature feature – 4638 flip-dots that audibly alternate between black and silver, creating mesmerizing patterns across its skin – was inspired by the once commonplace departure-board signage found in railway stations and airports. ‘It's a beautiful technology from the 1970s,' says Troika's Sebastien Noel. ‘You have motion, you have noise, and it is very elegant.'

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Ron Arad: I am very, very lazy

Talking to Ron Arad is not a straightforward affair. While he may not actually be arching his eyebrows, most of his responses come with an implied arch. It doesn't help that the interview takes place in one of his latest architectural projects – the Médiacité shopping mall in Liège, Belgium – and has been organized as a group exercise. This means that I am sitting around a table in a vast open conference area with a rather incongruous collection of (mainly local) journalists, architects and PR people, variously fawning over Arad or attempting to throw questions his way.

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