Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Research Methods

To be honest there are many times when I consider just walking down the street to be 'research'. But it is time to be audited on such a response by the university, and I doubt they will agree.
Firstly, research is officially about contribution to knowledge. I once defined knowledge as only existing because we have a word for it. It might mean being able to make an atomic bomb in the first place, it might also be persuading somebody not to use it. If you were re-incarnated as Le Corbusier, and it was you painting every morning, at least it seems to me that if you indeed PAINTED EVERY MORNING whilst being the greatest architect in the world, this would be quite a tangible aspect of your 'research'. Certainly 'knowledge' is not something that saves the economy as the government might like. Instead it more happily produces toxic by products that it won't.
So, it's not as easy as you might think. I've put 'Architecture and Other Habits Vol 1' on my list of four contributions to 'knowledge'.
It got printed up in New York, and I'm well chuffed with it, the software itself picked out the Mayfair image for the cover, and put 'Some Las Vegas Strip Clubs' on the back. It has also added some decorative wing-dings and the look of a mid-town business report. I'm quite happy with this too, it's sort of 'as found' and A4. The company now send me e-mail tips on how to make it 'better'.
However I thumb through it with some satisfaction. It is as good a tutorial as I can manage without Vol2. Whilst of course you can have all of it for free anyway, some of you may like to thumb the complete vol1, and if you'd like a hard copy, contact me on and I'd be happy to order you one. Also I will include with each copy an original and singular work of art by myself, signed of course. Cost on application (£50-100).

Monday, 27 February 2012


I heard the title track from the new Bruce Springsteen album (Wrecking Balls- a subeditors dream headline) and immediately went and bought a huge KISS flag for the H&T base room in our place to go behind the door. Anything Springsteen has written about New Jersey, culturally speaking, is totally outclassed by KISS's Detroit Rock City 'It's not about taste it's about what tastes good' attitude, even though it doesn't sound as decent and well meaning, or as sanctimonious and, in the end, even sickening.
'Is good better than decent' I heard two girls discuss in the lift today. They were earnestly discussing their feedback. Strangely they looked at me for an answer by level 2. I said, 'He's a nice boy' is always an insult isn't it?' and left them to it. They no doubt realized I was an obtuse twat and ready to report me to the authorities for not answering questions properly.
Same with KISS, I am no Chuck Klosterman (and that guy can WRITE everybody- I recommend 'Sex Drugs and Coco Puffs' to start) but he's a great Kiss fan, and a big Billy Joel fan too. It is very rare to get away with two such obvious FAUX PAS I have to say, but even if he is probably an arsehole, I don't care. He says it because he's telling the truth on his terms. It's very rare and the only good thing still resident in the American Dream. Sometimes you make it by doing just that. This almost never happens in the UK.....apart from Motorhead.
Within this rubric, Stringsteen is an awful ham. When he squeezes his pistons or whatever, it's never as good as when KISS do it.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Singin the Blues..

You can't move on Columbia Road market on Sunday for accordions and banjos. We even saw a floppy haired kid around eleven years plucking away at his acoustic guitar equipped with a music stand, probably be playing John Martyn next week. Not sure if this is a manifestation of the desperate middle class, they didn't look desperate to me even though the whole street seemed bedecked in 'Keep Calm and Carry On' memorabilia. Meanwhile newly banjoed youth sang and played their harmonicas. Most peculiar; hearing them howling about not being able to sign their name. Maybe they can't, maybe they can only text it. Meanwhile the head count on aviator shades and lattes was astronomical.
As we usually do, we made for The Birdcage. The Birdcage has just changed hands, so the old hands are worried, looking shifty as if their favourite chairs will disappear overnight. Their banter with the landlady has, after all, already gone. We walk in to find the blinds are up. This is not a good sign. The point of the Birdcage was your general wanker, if they stepped in the door, generally stepped right out again, that is the traditional way and caused us a great deal of amusement. If you expose the interior to passes by, they will not be so nervous about the exercise of coming in. Whatever the plan, it was empty. More empty than usual. Like sheep, it will take a while for the wankers to cotton on. But the big coffee machine had already been installed. It's already happened I thought, like a fucking virus, the old fellas see it and they just don't bother anymore and die to meals on wheels. When the music turned to African chanting, and not a hint of Arsenal or Tottenham, I knew it was all over, just a matter of time.
I went home and drew the kitchen again.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Heroic Modern Architecture

Why is modern architecture deemed heroic? Well because it is isn't it. Even Gropius, that unlikely source, described the Bauhaus in utterly heroic terms, saying just what it was made of. I'd love to have been there for that, just as I'd have loved to have been with Malevich just after he'd painted white on white, and was wondering what to do next.
But that isn't quite good enough. Maybe we should be more specific, such as wondering what heroism might be, or where it might have gone. Certainly, lecturing once again on the greats of modernism to second year, I'm struck by how much heroism I see myself, and how little I see elsewhere. I do not need excuses for Mies, yet if I root around on the web for amusement on the subject of Mies van de Rohe, most likely I'll find the most asinine of commentaries on how lovely his work is, while I'm brewing up for a storm on how make the stuff fantastically literally shit yourself scary.......because it is! Stand beneath the New National Gallery Berlin and not think that, sit on the bog in the New National Gallery, observe the 5mm grid, and think not.
I found myself in a similar situation today with regard to Le Corbusier. Way beyond Jenck's vision of him representing a tragic view of architecture, I reckon its more of a tragic view of mankind itself, and rolled him in with Homer.
Such contemplations may or may not sit well with the twitter generation. I can't see why you couldn't twitter on the big questions of life itself, it just seems people don't, or more to the point would look stupid doing so, or maybe only do so in Scandinavia. I wonder also if they might eventually crave solitude, hills, poetry and huts in the forest or cliff tops by the sea (with connecting restaurant of course) themselves, or is that a lot of bollocks too?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Against Nature

Yesterday I found myself for the first time sitting in a hotel bar and ordering tea. Tea and coffee for one. Julie and I looked at each other. Well this is a fine thing I thought, perhaps I've finally joined the other side.
We were returning from the octogenarian Disneyland that is my parents vision of the countryside. To be fair, good for them, but to me the village looks more mechanistic than any urban industry these days. Our urban lands are now feral, but their village is patrolled by a very high percentage of sparkling Landrovers and occupied by a highly selective variety of the socially cloned. The general situation has reversed. Mondrian didn't like green, I suggest today, to represent the forefront of our technological embrace, you'd paint in little else.
One of the highlights is always our walk to the garden centre, the industrial feedstock of this curious place. Here ranks of half dead alpines stand at 50%off, ridiculous stone toads mind potential ponds, and you can buy a crappy forest waterfall for £185. Amidst sacks and sacks of compost barricade sits a cafe and a souvenir shop. It sells perfumed candles and Barbour jackets, a kind of Keep Calm and Carry On franchise with books recommending 'middle age without the crisis', the cover of which depicts a man asleep in his shed. I put it down in disgust.
If you are of a critical disposition, you have to shut up in these places.
Lolling against the counter of the cafeteria was a teenaged girl absently polishing a stainless steel tea pot for want of anything else to do. Thankfully it was clear she could not care less, not for the job, not for the place, not for anything much but her scraggy hair, red lipstick and escape route out of here. She was wearing an old black Jimi Hendrix Experience 1968 tee shirt. 'Urbanity' I thought, 'culture' I thought, people making their ordinary everyday rebellious decisions, I thought, thank fuck for that.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Big House

'The Big House must stay open!!' made my ears prick up. Rangers fans call Ibrox the Big House?- isn't that prison or heaven? But what a great analogy from the bald gentleman.. on the right! Certainly Ibrox looks more like a prison than any other football stadium, it's a big beast of a thing in the docklands of Glasgow nomatter who's inside. My old Coach and Horses architect pal Gordon McLean reminisced long on the scariest afternoon of his life at an old firm game in the seventies. Seemed like war.
So that's it, the next financial cataclysm strikes early and in curious ways, we will take away the fanatical Rangers fans birthright- an odd place to start, but poignant. How will they feel in Northern Ireland? Isn't this the death of Ian Paisley? I suspect international ramifications with Scottish independence too, and of course the total collapse of Scottish identity. Like the early stages of that disaster movie (see Badiou 'If this is the spectacle..') where will this end? Do not expect the flapping of butterfly wings, but the smack of a green and white fist to unleash hell across the earth.
Don't pay your mortgage off.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Great Architectural Photograph

Unfortunately I had to go to godawful Bermuda to take it.


I'm rooting through some old stuff, perhaps nostalgically, but mostly just wondering what's there. A whole collection of Las Vegas hotel bills for instance looks fantastic, feels fantastic and brings memories flooding back. When I got lost with architecture in the UK I found it in Las Vegas. It was the early nineties. I was in my early thirties and it was a very good education. The architecture was conceptually supremely pure (although it didn't look it) and so was the general attitude (although it didn't look it). Certainly for a decade or so the UK looked stranger than Las Vegas, and I still get real rushes of contempt when I come across crap like this:

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Danish Modern

What is it about this stuff? Put 'Danish' in front of almost any household object from lamp to chair to breakfast set(?!) and you'll find yourself there, a world of wondrously stylish and correspondingly expensive design created by wunderkind called Jensen or Blobvox when all we could do was the Austin Princess. There's even a children's book 'The Cat who ate Danish Modern'. Why it doesn't work with Norwegian or Swedish I've no idea, something happens at the border. Finland gets over excited about architecture (saunas and top lighting) and rally driving for mental health reasons. The only things I associate with Denmark apart from Danish Modern are cows, lavish social security, pastry and Laudrup. They certainly cornered the market in design, they sort of invented it, certainly patented it.
To be honest a lot of seventies Danish modern is not all it's cracked up to be in the great eBay gold rush. This stuff can easily become a bit Abigail's Party. That breakfast set (check it out) would look stupid in the Premier Inn, however I am presently lurking around the radio above. Being Danish seventies it was designed only to work on FM, my alternative on eBay is a Hacker which now 'only works on FM'. You will spot the crucial difference summing up a whole cultural divide. The first is a sweet exercise in what design might be and the second looks like an antiquated (but comfy) Rover looking for one last run, probably hiccuping on scotch (and that isn't such a bad thing).
Why am I looking for an FM radio? Well it is easily to become convinced of computerized doom. One of the macs conked out and we were scared to death. If such a thing were to happen generally, you'd be wise to reach for your trusty old FM receiver for information regarding the mayhem on the streets, even if the only people broadcasting on FM are those growing their silvery locks to Jethro Tull albums in garden sheds. So for me, if I'm lucky, it may be welcome to Middle Earth via the Danish portal.

Saturday, 11 February 2012


Exactly when Scott is going to come and wreck our kitchen is anybody's guess. Builders as a tribe do not subscribe to the many basic notions of the service economy. Anybody who's ever watched TV knows that- hapless couple's life savings wasted marooned in the Algarve smiling builder etc. Builders are essentially pirates who hijack your home when they consider it convenient and generally have to be coaxed to leave, and Scott prides himself on being the biggest pirate of them all. It's like having Keith Richard's come and do your bathroom tiling. I'm sure he will do a good job, but it will certainly be on his terms. We of course, get something nice in the end, but it is provided at emotional as well as fiscal cost. I'm amazed so many people do not understand this.
The main reason is of course that building work is the last refuge. With nothing, without even existing, you can still build, and build to great skill. It is just that the appearance of a bunch of hairy Lithuanians bent of societal revenge to do your kitchen may alarm us steady folks with mortgages to look after. Nomatter how much you admire Keef, you don't necessarily want him renovating your home.
Building is the last authentic work and get pissed culture(as Scott so often reminds me) and woe betide anybody who confuses that with people knocking up faux eighteenth century kitchen sideboards in the Cotswold's while wearing period costume, they are doing something else entirely. The mucky end of building is the mucky end, which is why our neighbour has already scarpered at the very thought of the hun appearing over the hill, even before they phoned to say 'later boy....later' .

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Daydream Nation

Very excited, spent the day listening to my Goth section. Actually that means Killing Joke's Requiem, but that's enough for anybody. It was the biggest loudest thing I ever heard in the canteen of Oxford Brookes University long ago. I thought my bottle of wine, balanced between my ankles, would break to smitherines.
And in anticipation of Scott coming in and wrecking our kitchen and us in the bloody Premier Inn, I've just bought Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation. When that came out Nic Clear drilled, literally drilled, through his final diploma presentation at Westminster. In retrospect this was rather good, it certainly made for instant rebel status, now he's probably running the Bartlett. However, our Daydream Nation (Richter cover) was recorded before our present students were even born.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Frank Lloyd Wright

It's interview season. Thousands of students join architecture degrees thinking the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright is absolutely brilliant. They leave three years later thinking nothing of him at all. There is only one decent critical essay on FLW's work to my knowledge, Colin Rowe's excellent 'Chicago Frame' in The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa and Other Essays, and a smattering by Vincent Scully. The rest is picture books. This, for the master who would demand you live a hexagonal life, or sleep on a futon as a millionaire. No one even seems to have stepped up to the plate to write that biography so waiting to be written, you know, the scandalous one 'The Architects Life as a Dog'. Nobody seems to stick him out. If only Fiona McCarthy was American.
Either I'm missing something or there is an elephant in the room. Even Dos Passos got FLW wrong in his fabulous novel 'USA', rather bemoaning our lost opportunity with him. But I looked at a screen print the other day - 'Too FLW I said' by which I meant 'too straightforwardly decorative' and 'not in our base room'. Most of his interiors are too dark, the main spaces bordering on church like, and if you turned up at Taliesin West to join the clan, straight out of the desert, the first thing you had to do was make your own cloak for dinner. Fuck that.
They also join thinking Gaudi is absolutely wonderful, and leave loathing the very idea of the mad monk.
But I've never met a student who joined loving Mies who stayed the course at all. Peaked too early without doing the crap first one is tempted to think.

Saturday, 4 February 2012


There has always been the other side, the music I meditated to before taking my final year structures exam for example (magik powers indeed). There have always been the Soft Machine's, Crimson's, and the Van de Graafs, the Caravan's, the Hatfields and the North, the gigs you came out of not knowing whether they were any good or not, one twiddle being much the same as another to the untutored ear, but sort of liking it anyway, respecting it certainly. I didn't go so far as to deconstruct transistor radios in pursuit of my own Eno like sound, but I watched my friend Rick Sanders do it. However once I got through the art room arguments around the relative virtues of the Sex Pistols or Dire Straits, and certainly beyond 'bedroom rock' (see below) and set off as you might say on my own, I gravitated heavily towards hippie eccentricity and especially the music of Gong and it's political as well as melodic significance. This was at that time hardly a contradiction. As a result I was the guy sitting at a party while the shrieking young ladies from Clifton tried to stuff a toy stuffed elephant up the sizable flares of my stripey trousers, and was certainly known as 'Hairy Paul'. I believe the lady responsible is now one of the world's most successful lighting designers. Funny what you remember, and what happens. At the time, well Mike, Carina and I had a revolution going on, and they studied politics, literature, and so on.
However that world, with it's festivals and perpetual revolution, fruit picking and tractor driving in the rain, has stayed with me as a somewhat alarming second string. We played Steve Hillage on Christmas Day. What happened to it as the space of appearance? London happened, but I still have the hair.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Air Drumming

The second Boston album is so bad I'm pleased with myself. It fell exactly into the category 'man with no band in a bedroom c1977' that I so conveniently invented last week, and has now extended to a general condemnation of that particular culture of the seventies which of course produced Steve Jobs hardly by accident, that I'm confident it can be extended ad nauseum. Then I checked out You Tube for Boston 'live' and watched Tom Sholtz hardly move a muscle. Then I found an 'air guitar' version of More Than A Feeling included in the sit-com Scrubs and on the bus I thought how wonderful it was to watch imaginary drumming to an imaginary band, thought of my friends who can still do quite a bit of imaginary drumming under the right circumstances, and pointed out to the second year (as I showed it to them in the lecture theatre) that the guys in Scrubs are actors and therefore had done their homework and the bald guy playing imaginary Sholtz was more Sholtz than Sholtz and the whole thing was probably better than 'Boston' doing it. How post-modern I thought. The bald guy accented his movements toward nothing but the grin and a footpeddle. Hopefully the students are now with me on the critical interpretation stakes.
Weirdly, on of the best theory books for art of life criticism is titled 'Air Guitar' by Dave Hickey.