Thursday, 31 May 2012


Some of us work to deadlines, and some of us don't. As Julie and I, deadline people, approach another final deadline on the kitchen I wish I could be sanguine. That phrase of Peter Zumthor's, that it takes 'many many sheets of sandpaper' to get that particular finish somewhere in Switzerland rings in my ears as I lie on the bed trying to read 'The Cruel Sea' and hearing Scott rub rub rubbing away all day long. All day long, it's more like sea of sand down there, dust torture. Fucking hell, now even the doors have acquired personalities. Apparently they have either got used to the idea of hanging or have not. I mean this is a very unusual idea. But I go storming off to buy paint for an as yet non-existent door (more craftsmen). I hope just by going out it might arrive, I go to the White Horse to give it longer to arrive. Honey from Leigh on Sea seems nice, uncomplicated for sure, definitely has a nice B&Q KITCHEN and is quite happy with it but I return to inevitable disappointment, I send pleasant e-mails, I mean, I've only just RECOVERED from stomach ulcers but if anything is going to make you tumble off the waggonette it's DOING A FUCKING KITCHEN. It's clear I am temperamentally unsuited to this (by the eighth week).
Peter Zumthor's book, Thinking Architecture, is actually rather nice, appreciative of nice corners in Los Angeles restaurants if I remember, amongst other things. Well that's all fucking lovely, sitting in lovely things somewhere else or even up an Alp drinking yoghurt in Switzerland, he doesn't remember the indescribable agony of doing it, just like you don't, apparently, remember pain.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Steely Dan Gaucho

I was talking to a student who wants to do his dissertation on LA. I said maybe he could do it on Gaucho.
So I listened to the album again, which represents for me at least, perfection miraculously extricated from the mire, and such perfection, that there is more to it than just a band making a record. By the time Steely Dan made Gaucho, they were not a band at all, but a product, and they knew it, and to succeed as a product, they acknowledged product in all it's dirty ways. That's why Gaucho is so sublime, every song about drugs and dissolution, every song played in every wine bar without anybody noticing what it was actually about across the whole of Hollywood, and every track technically perfect, beyond perfect, perfect for wine bars, and so perfectly subversive. That is fucking brilliant. That degree of knowingness is rare indeed, since most of us are dupes when it comes to making shit.
When Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits was invited to contribute, I remember him saying (in NME or whatever)  he was 'really disappointed' in the way his heroes made this record, which kinda dismissed all pretensions to being a band at all. Knopfler was called in, asked to do his shit, paid no doubt handsomely, and told that's all. That's disappointing to somebody who doesn't understand how Hollywood works. They just wanted the Knopfler sound, for a second or two on 'Time Out of Mind' so that's what they took.
If you read Rob Long's excellent 'Conversations With My Agent' you will miraculously understand the genius loci of LA and avoid such disappointment.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Philip Johnson

Don't look at the work of Philip Johnson with a hangover. I tried it this morning and it doesn't work, you just start feeling queasy. It's hard not to think of Johnson as a sort of Peter Keating to Mies as Howard Roark. When he wrenched himself free of Mies, the above happened. Reading an old interview I was amused by his general whorishness which was simply very old fashioned and distinctly lacking in heart of gold, but never the less prone to blow a lot of nonsense talked about architecture out of the fiftieth floor window. However, leafing through his collected works with Burgee '79-'85 (clearly productive years!) the overwhelmimg mass of schmaltz was enough to have me recoiling to my imaginary Mies day-bed as one by one every American city fell for Johnson's jazzing up it's downtown with his own giant sized peen to the model village. It is simply astonishing to find work so cataclysmic camp on such a VAST scale. It is very hard to imagine him sitting in that glass house of his actually doing it without tears of laughter rolling down his cheeks. I know, I suppose I've propounded similar stuff, but the difference is I never got away with it.
Nobody seemed to write anything half interesting about Johnson until he was dead. This is of course because he ran everything in the American architectural world from his table in the Four Seasons while he was alive, and everybody admitted it. We don't teach people how to have lunch in architectural school, maybe we should. Hold your liquor, be caustically, viciously, funny, and run everybody scared. This was perhaps his genius.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Plastic Trunking

It's clear we are building the Villa D'Este, Hadrian's Villa, whatever. Certainly, and forgive the time travelling, Scott thinks he's fucking Michelangelo, and when I got home today to find him proud in front of a door frame, a bloody lovely door frame admittedly, a door frame worthy of the Barbican, or Jesus College, or any fucking thing of times gone by quality. I could only love it, but as soon had he'd gone, left, fucked off, go mad with fury because that's a whole days progress! It must be paid for. Maybe Philip Johnson was right, you need despots to 'build'. My god 'we need our life back' and 'we're broke' is not a cry Scott wants to hear, and for all the right reasons probably.
Hadrian, my old tutor James Madge told me, in all his sageness and mischief, pipe sucking and red wine quaffing, had his island for sulking. I'm having one I tell you, as shit heads even presume to knock on the door to track plastic trunking for the new entry phone system for the block, I go purple. 'YOU ARE NOT FUCKING STICKING THAT PLASTIC TRUNKING ANYWHERE EXCEPT UP YOUR ARSE!!' I say. The island for sulking, after all this effort, will be a repro Mies day bed, the only modern piece of furniture that in the end works out easy to make cheap, and so now is, and I will enjoy it for conceptual reasons, as cheap Mies, and stare happily at Scott's expensive ceiling, listening, even if the fucking thing  is uncomfortable, to Van Halen in the afternoon.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

One Brilliant Thing in Stevenage

If there is just one brilliant thing in Stevenage it's the Parish church (c1960), right next to the Holiday Inn. We were drawn to God as Drogba headed in that corner, and continue to be drawn to God as Scott appears to be building the Ark downstairs, and taking just as long as Noah. Unfortunately they built this wonderful concrete framed church a couple of feet from the by-pass and down in a hole, but the sweeping geometry of the vaulting (the section is a double ellipse to accommodate the side aisles) and serene quality of the finishes make you very nostalgic, and the the side walls are prefabricated flint, if there can be such a thing. There is even a campanile, a simple spiral stair running up the inside of a concrete frame to a bell, simple as that.
Stevenage itself smacks of the worst kind of corruption, the corruption of good intensions by bureaucratic bungling and self important officialdom. Curiously and sadly, it was the church who managed something truly decent.

Sunday, 20 May 2012


We've watched both the semi final and final last night in hotel bars. Last night was the turn of the new Holiday Inn Stevenage (feels new, might as well be new, at least perpetually fresh). The Stevenage Holiday Inn is a particularly recommendable exemplar of the contemporary box, probably not unlike any other contemporary box Holiday Inn are no doubt rolling out across the world. At least it feels like they are doing very much that when you are incarcerated in one. And this one is in Stevenage, which is a shit hole of considerable order where there is a great deal for the architect to contemplate as you look out of the square window.
Of course, both environments in the event simply drew out our visceral side, very counter to their contrived swatch of 'design'. That formula, that pseudo discourse on our well-being, now built in to all multinational service industries- 'it's good to keep in touch' on the notepaper,  seems rather at odds with being rat-arsed dancing to 'It's Raining Men' with your average eighty year old distant relation at two in the morning, searching for an open bar down escape staircases, and berating crowds (in this case) of lovable Dutch people, for the features of Arjen Robben.
I am once more horse, hungover, mollified, ecstatic and wondering that, in an increasingly formulaic world, whose 'discourse' now includes some arsehole who is displaying empty space in some gallery or another (where all involved should really question their own existence as a far more productive activity-I am rather an aficionado of the modernist quest for nothing, and that's not it) that, at least in my case, Chelsea playing big games of football, seems to become a reality check. They unleash the beast within, give him a bit of a run.  Didier Drogba's utterly fabulous late equaliser was still revolving around my head when we arrived home to find Scott tiling the kitchen in royal blue. Serendipity.

Friday, 18 May 2012

I Quit the AA

So it was the last episode of Frasier, then it was the last episode of M.A.S.H (we watch a lot of Comedy Central). These shows were on consecutive days at that same crucial time, and remember we are presently still dogs without baskets in dust with the potential paradise kitchen veiled before us, so I decided to quit the AA. All series have to come to an end sometime, and mine has lasted nearly fifteen years.
I'm not sure I would have done it under any other circumstances. What a life.
The Architectural Association, in the form of Mark Cousins and Belinda Flaherty in what used to be affectionately called 'General Studies', has been very good to me, picking me up when I first started going to Vegas, persisting with me when I had to start making up titles for courses. My career there was a triumph in an institution that values performance. Always the AA organises itself around the event, and any performer loves that. It doesn't organise itself around dreary one to one tutorials (although it may look like it) because they are really only one to one tutorials, it thrives on event, event is the main thing- the best in the world, the main event and the next main event, the next big thing etc. It is not really drawn to circumspection, more often than not, it is drawn to what the Americans affectionately term, 'blowhard'. I guess that's why working there might become rather draining
When I wrote my e-mail to Belinda and Mark last night I had tears in my eyes and Lloyd Cole on the HiFi. It has been a rare privilege to do what I did over those years, which for much of it was to take the day getting pissed in the Coach and Horses until I felt 'just right' before the appointed hour, and then do it, and then get pissed again because it felt so wonderful you'd done such a good job.
Unfortunately that kind of stuff can't last forever.
However, if there are any members of my old classes at the AA reading this by some chance, my love to you all. It was good, sometimes it was brilliant, I hope never was it dull. To paraphrase Keef, 'If I was dancing it was either going very very well or very very badly'.
Kisses to BK and MC.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Looking at Mies

Yeah, fuck, looking at Mies, amazing, knock out, and a long time ago. Appropriately, Julie didn't like them at all, like they were the Rosetta Stone to her, indecipherable. Me too, but mesmerising, better also that they seem a whole set of drawings for that building. Amidst the mess of Scott's sawings, I put on 'Jump'. Nobody can dance to 'Jump' like Julie, even with boxes of crap all around.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Mies Blueprints 2

The Mies blueprints have arrived from Chicago. I'm very excited, seeing as they were printed eight years before I was born, and they are of the Commons Building at IIT, which as far as I can see served little function at all, so is ideal Mies. Plans of the Commons building, sparce to the point of nothing, and drawn by Hilbersheimer, proudly occupy the centre of my only book on IIT that has now become book of the week in the base room (of course).
I can't look at the damn blueprints yet because Scott has been making a mess. There is filth everywhere. Such is the way. However I'm damn sure Scott's tiling, which proceeds with the laborious ardor of a Soviet era film masterpiece, is thankfully better than the tiling in the bathroom upstairs but worse than the tiling in the New National Gallery Berlin, in that the grids for floor wall and ceiling do not actually connect. If they do and you are not in the National Gallery Berlin you should stop, because your domestic kitchen or bathroom will start to feel like a very unfortunate form of laboratory.
And on the unfortunate subject of which, Mies and the Third Reich, I am reading on upstairs. A most amusing page (so far) comes when Mies, director of the Bauhaus in Berlin which has just been raided somewhat accidentally by the Gestapo, and fierce believer in it's political independence (!!) goes to see Alfred Rosenberg, Nazi director of cultural policy (or whatever). The two men were probably quite similarly scary in demeanor. They were both big. Rosenberg was a Big Balt, but Rosenberg's theory on art issues as biological rather than aesthetic (!!!) makes him the great deal worse. After a fairly tortuous exchange, Mies loses it, and ends up remarking that Rosenberg's writing desk is crap and he'd throw it out of the window. Such is the weighty conjugation of design and politics at the time.
'That's the whole problem with the Nazi's' Scott chirped up sardonically 'it would all have been OK if they'd had better taste in desks!' Thats why you should always employ a smart, messy, builder to bring it down to earth (not soil).

Friday, 11 May 2012


Uncomfortably nose to nose on the third floor balcony of the Imperial War Museum with this, I thought, 'There is absolutely no way anybody could get in that and hurtle down a strip of grass to face death'. But they did. Up close, that Focke Wolf 190 looked very rickety indeed, technologically not far up from a  kids home made go cart. When I got home, I looked up a technical drawing of the Focke Wolf 190, and that suddenly looked very rickety too, basic beyond belief, and the 190 was one of the finest fighters of WW2. It made me realize how they could still have been fixing them up with slave labour in the factory beneath Tempelhof Airport even as the Soviet T34's hauled themselves across the aprons.
This afternoon, I found grown men holding 'I'm Here to Help' lollipops in Tescos. What would be a lot of help in Tescos would be if they didn't move the shit around all the time. They move the shit around all the time to keep us moving around the shop so that our lazy eyes will be attracted to one thing or another and so that we buy more. Hence, some unfortunates now need help in Tescos.
Fucking hell, both in one day. The consequences of ideology: compare and contrast.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Carry On

Because we live under the gestapo of Britains Got Talent and all, tonight including almost unwatchable pseudo burlesque, it was a relief to be distracted from marking by 'Carry on Girls' only the other afternoon. Carry On films, especially the later ones, are a kind of absurd plank to Englishness, a real burlesque. In the disturbance of the seventies, dirty old perverts and big tits sliding out of silver bikini's in cat fights with donkeys in bad hotels by the seaside made it under the nine o clock bench mark with no difficulty at all. I noted with distaste today that Ms Bourbon made the cover of the silly papers in prospect of doing nothing of interest at all. If somebody got up on Britains got talent to do a cat fight in silver bikini's with big tits and a donkey, I would be moved to vote. Donkey plus fulsome bird, what a combination, a childlike love for Eeyore meets the disturbance of adulthood, that's complex and simple at the same time.
I was 13, I was on a camping holiday in godforsaken St Davids with mum, dad and the dog. Everybody was miserable. It was raining, we went to the pictures. Thank you Lord. For me such scenes are Oedipal. I think 'Dawn' here (otherwise to be found as 'Dink' in 007's Goldfinger as the masseuse patted most unpolitically on the arse in the opening sequence) is one Margaret Nolan/Kennedy (whatever) and from what I can read in minutes off the internet but what in the old days would take years of PHD research, she's one hell of a lady. For one she did plenty of nude stuff in the days before her 007 debut, very raunchy and well available for you to peruse. And in the end after it all she retired to Spain to love dogs and recycling. A1. Now she makes art collages of her previous beautiful portraits which I can buy, and will, for £110, and they're not unlike those of Heartfield.
I'm not sure why Margaret isn't as celebrated as the Amanda Barry or Honor Blackman. Sure, they had more lines, but nobody had more of an effect, at least on me.


Sunday, 6 May 2012

Mies Blueprints

First there was Bad Corbu, now I've bought my giant Mies blueprints (IIT 1953) nine of them. A big question is where to put them (one of them). We have some spare wall in the bathroom. Mies is good for bowel movement.
One things for certain, the Mies blueprints, looking pretty good (blue) for 1953 rank nicely with the Bad Corbu for their own individual and inherent problem, this time that they will want to disappear in sunlight. You have, potentially, the ephemeralization of architecture before your very eyes, the whole concept right there. Julie disagrees, she calls them cyanotypes and says they are very hardy indeed. We shall see. I was very interested in the ephemeralization of architecture with my final diploma project, where I realized, long long ago, that architecture was over (somehow) and that we were in the realm of ever smaller consumer impulses (somehow) both physically (devices) and mentally with advertising, so I could hardly bring myself to design anything as substantial as a building at all, and if that was the case, all you could sensibly re-run was..... that icon of everything as nothing, Mies. And as far as I was concerned then, at least you could build a Mies from a single drawing (now I have nine of them!) I only managed two in retrospect.
How clever of me, the inevitable arsehole of youth, and how funny, as the world comes rolling round in that circle game to present me with now, eventually, via e-bay (miniaturized, global communication personified) my own fading final project, thirty odd years on.
It is pertinent to show the drawing below. Note there is a grid line missing and I didn't black in the structure ON PURPOSE (not true). The drawing is sadly long lost, too big to be transported around through nomadic years, and probably still sitting in Trevor Dannatt's office basement. Incidentally, it's for student housing where you had to rent everything on a day to day basis. Sorry the scan is also appropriately filthy, like it's been stuck in an attic.

Friday, 4 May 2012


Slowly, even though Scott's still in Scotland, the green lights start beeping and we are coming back to life.  It feels like the re-boot of Apollo 13. These external systems get plugged in one by one. Once stationary and to be honest, fairly crippled by pain like an old man, suddenly everything starts to work- of course it's pills and payments that do it, but before you know it your back cooking a fish pie. It felt especially good to turn on Planet Rock, which gave me, while whisking my roux, Queen's 'Now I'm Here', as good as they ever got, something about rooms on fire by Stevie Nicks which was deeply pleasant in the rhythm section, the seminal Orgasmatron from Motorhead which I should include in History lectures, and, as if they knew I was there on the receiving end, Thunderstruck from ACDC, by far the best intro of any rock record ever. I was dancing on fresh Roman quarry tiles I tell you.

(Above Cushicle by Mike Webb of Archigram. By the time I'm wearing one of these I suspect I'll be nearly dead.)

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Let it Bleed

I've had no records for a month, and I've only got one channel today, after mooching around and brushing the dust, I decided to play this, it was a difficult decision and it was a bit of a revelation, since I just heard the Jagger half, the right hand side essentially, it was so open, so real, so, yes, fantastic. 'Love in Vain' was just him! 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' was never a favourite of mine, but it is now. So when I'd finished by thinking 'Monkey Man' was the most underrated Stones classico as long as you listened only to the right hand side, I moved on to Beggars Banquet, and there's some shit there (Jigsaw Puzzle) but the eternal shit too. One hell of a way of a way to enjoy cooking an omelet. Occasionally, turn off one channel.

Die Hard 04

Since Scott's decided to go on holiday, we sit, not unlike a family in one of those Superstudio drawings (see below) camped out. At least the television works, so I enjoyed going up to bed last night having watched most of Die Hard 04. I was happy to go to bed before the end because I was sure what was going to happen, the formula is reassuring that way. Despite less drama and more comic book, Die Hard 04 employed almost all the elements of the last last three films, not unlike the next in the series of Van Halen albums; the format is resilient, for instance even amidst infrastructural wipeout, John McLean gets in via the janitor's room. He has a gripping drama in a lift shaft, helicopters are dramatically destroyed by flying squad cars, and his enemies seem so resilient at first you wonder if they are not aliens. There are daughters to rescue and innocents to protect, bla. Julie commented that he must be very tired even from the word go having done this so many times. Indeed.
I wish Steven Fry's gadgets would pack up. He trotted the same old line of tired celebrities to swear their allegiance to our technological fate and total dependency on the latest crap in a most conspicuously suspicious way in the gadget equivalent of '1001 Films You Must See Before You Die' only affirming that celebrities are interminably dull, just as I was told that the reason we are in draught despite the wettest April in history is because the privatized utility companies have sold off the water storage. There is a link in all this.