Monday, 30 December 2013

Motley Crue as Robert Johnson

Scott and I discussed, at length and to some relief in the pub this afternoon (after the seasons festivities) that Motley Crue might be totally as authentic as Robert Johnson. This may be a thorn in the side of bourgeois post-moderns, who think of Motley Crue as some kind of bizarre aberration. In reality this band of muppets represent something hardly lacking interest; not a redemption from the 'modern' but a continuation of it. Meanwhile of course American literature is better illustrated by Brett Easton Ellis than Scot Fitzgerald (because, really, he's just european!) and Robert Venturi is of course the totally authentic american architect.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Mass Hypnosis

Not only at Christmas are we victims of a campaign of mass hypnosis. Fifteen percent of families will be taking out loans they can undoubtedly not afford for Christmas. That is one horrendous statistic, (especially if those loans are taken out with pay-day loan companies) but what people are generally buying with the money (computer games/headphones/pads/phones and so on) represents further internalization of the world to the individual and the fulfillment of individual desire, in other words, a further erosion of any notion of the collective, or of the notion of society (already been declared conveniently dead long ago of course).
Therefore I find myself severely back in the territory of William Burroughs, that paranoid prophet of doom, who's 'The Job' should be everybody's Christmas present. Everything he predicts suddenly appears correct. I stare at the television, looking at that 'magical' Christmas and I wonder instead is their anything left of a certain Christmas to actually enjoy, for the non-dreamers have taken over.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

FAT: End of an Era

The end of architectural practise FAT is poignant, at least to me. Starting out as a revolutionary multidisciplinary practise a la mode (c1990?) they grew to produce proper buildings; 'bad, but in a good way' (or vice versa, it hardly matters) as Robert Venturi espoused, and with buildings rather more rich than his. One thing that sticks in the FAT oeuvre is the grandiose, thin, ornament; they never did anything as difficult to like as the intentional (?) dullness of some of Venturi's stuff.
Perhaps their exuberance has just run it's course, dried out, but was it exuberance? What was it? I'm not exactly sure. Venturi I rank as a total American, in the American tradition from Thomas Jefferson, but over here Postmodernism didn't quite take. Jencks took five editions of the 'The Language of Postmodern Architecture' to return to a predictable cover shot of neoclassicism. Always back to the manor with us. Although, of course, there is FAT buddy Piers Gough in the mix.
No doubt all of this will be chewed over with anecdote at the AR Christmas party this Friday.
The point of mentioning Jencks is to celebrate a superficial correlation. Jencks made postmodernism in architecture of course, but I know FAT weren't about that even if they look it, at least not at the start, but they became that, somehow, somehow they became the look of Jencks' more freestyle postmodernism thirty years on.
I shared a flat with Sean in our most brilliant and difficult times; piss poor and straight out of diploma. I got to know Sam just a little via the AA. Sean's diploma project was a giant vagina drawn across Trellick Tower. Sam is the son of a judge famous in one of those sixties obscenity trials (I think it's one that benefited us all incidentally) Charles I don't really know. In the beginning it was bus shelters and squabbles: Kevin Rowbotham and Nick Clear started FAT I think, then there was Clive Sall (not forgetting loads of others) who acrimoniously split to call himself FAT International for a lecture at SCI ARC; it was all a bit of a shit storm. Eventually even Sean found that vaginas were a tough aesthetic to work with, and what you see above is active minds by necessity turned to convention. Not without fun of course; fun is one of those funny words that means worse in the diminutive: 'a little bit of fun' generally spells disaster, lots of fun you might just get away with.
Well anyway, it's all over now, and just as vaginas are coming back in.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

High Heels

Sometimes strippers wear boots you'd think would weigh them down like deep sea divers, but the substance is important. Invariably, my stripper friends, whilst having the souls of lions, are surprisingly tiny. And especially at this time of year, their business can be quite combative, since there are far too many 'once a year' arseholes out on their Christmas high jinks. This might explain not why high heels are sexy, but why they are necessary. It's hard to display that soul when you are three inches shorter, and as the girls slip on their skyscrapers they do so as necessary equipment- tax deductible I hope- so that they can level up. Of course high heels are also part of that transformation that empowers dancers into character, but I'd never really thought of it on such a practical level, including their potential as deadly weapons. Meanwhile, for those who are interested; an average pair will only last three months heavy usage. 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Materiality in Architecture

To enjoy 'materiality' in architecture tends to mean you like the qualities that certain materials seem to have, like enjoying mohair suits, but this is contentious, for everything, as Roland Barthes observed back in 1956, may end up being made of plastic. Meanwhile, as Joni Mitchell observed in 'Woodstock'(1969) everything can also be ultimately reduced to billion year old carbon atoms. Barthes and Mitchell illuminate an intriguing conceptual position. Meanwhile, and on the other hand, to be dedicated to 'materialism' implies somebody who is interested in the mud, the people who dig the mud, the process of making the brick, the bricklayers who lay it and the conditions under which they work, the patrons of the work, their lives, and so on. Materialists cannot contemplate so much as a garden wall without thinking about why it is there, while others enjoy the materiality of the wall and happily sit on it.
However to be 'materialistic' is to enjoy loads of bricks, and not to give a toss about either of those two criteria.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Complexity in Architecture

Straight out: complexity is not a virtue in itself, practically it can hardly be a goal. Complexity, in financial matters, brings deep anxiety, complexity, when you are trying to talk sense to Tower Hamlets Homes, brings misery, complexity, when you are a student besieged by trauma rather than space to enjoy your youthfulness, is not fun. Ergo, since architecture is both a practical and idealistic art, complexity, while we endure it (sure, life gets difficult sometimes) should not be an aim in architecture for it's own sake, since it isn't pretty. Unfortunately the toys architectural students play with these days seem entirely dedicated to mirroring or even exacerbating complexity. The results are only superficially pretty as best, on inquisition (I'm sorry Neil Spiller) they are appallingly dull.
As I suggested to students yesterday, we could have just sat back on architecture the day I was born, everything was in place, theoretically, for a fine future, but of course we have progressively fucked things up and then fucked them some more, and now we are busily fucking things up at an even faster pace. It is despairing for those who might hanker for a simple, equitable, life for all.
It's better, in my opinion,  to consider synthesis rather than complexity in an effort to reverse a rather 'sick' process, synthesis being an entirely different thing. L-C whilst designing hardly pretty buildings, embodied a synthesis of ideas which is enriching, not dulling. You are not talking product, but work. Chandigarh may look shit, but it is still wonderful, it is certainly not gratuitous, and it is not the blind product of left right left right decision making algorithms, the end of which you cannot comprehend. Even if it might involve some of that kind of thinking, L-C's brand of architecture is entirely human and flawed, and you have to lift a glass to the effort- cooling towers for the assembly of a government for newly partitioned Punjab: brilliant, and brilliant on so many levels! I peer further in to the pages of the Ouvre Complet from a world that does not even aspire to be clear, worthy, or even funny, and I find some architecture.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


This vase arrived today, reminding me the oldies are still goldies.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Decline and Fall

Evelyn Waugh's parody of an architect Prof Silinus in Decline and Fall is easily to read as a fool. Waugh was writing as the Villa Savoye was rising from the ground, and Le Corbusier is even mentioned by name, and Otto, an architect who can't sleep, hates everything he does, wishes everybody become machines, and sees ladies in terms of their digestive systems, is certainly a comic relief. However I've just realised Waugh was even cleverer than that.
Waugh reviewed, glowingly, but with reservations, the English edition of The City of Tomorrow for the Observer in 1928. He has reservations about L-C's vision surviving in war, and he wonders, also prophetically, how modernism might weather, but overall he supports a bright view of possibilities, he seems quite willing to salute the Utopian flag.
In this first novel, of course meant to be funny, he deftly parodies, but with lashings of comic despair, the insuperable, cloying absurdity of British society, with it's Lady Circumference's and Lord Tangent's, it's Bollinger Clubs and crappy public schools, whose education never fails to save the privileged when they get, periodically and inevitably, 'in the soup'. There is hardy a character who is not grotesque.
So while the anti hero, the lack lustre Paul Pennyfeather, is tossed around on the waves of fortune, those fortunes are created by a cast of even more preposterous characters that remain the immutable fabric of Britain. Perhaps Otto is not so bad. It may be no co-incidence that the title mirrors Spengler's desperate 'Decline of the West' and it's inauguration of fatalistic post-modernism, where nothing can change. In the sense that even the plot is circular, for even after his adventures Pennyfeather ends up back where he started, back to square one, there is, essentially, no progress, literally or metaphorically. Meanwhile it was the architect, Prof Silinus, who was there at the end to explain to him the unfortunate facts of life, and all of this, of course, underlines the tragic nature of the modern endeavour, and it's necessity.

The Daliborians

It was a very good seminar. But anybody who stands up and talks about Dalibor Vesely takes a risk, a big one, since there is always going to be a disciple in the room. I've had to deal with it since, roughly, nineteen eighty four, my first encounter; they are strong people, but I've never believed them.
It was perhaps the acceptable face of post-modernism, that something lost should be regained, but I could never find divine revelation in a rooflight, much less heal the city by shading my drawings in. I may be too dumb. Even my friend Scott fights shy on taking on phenomenology, shaking his head and suggesting I look it up in wikipedia as we sit in the pub.
Their argument is conspicuously religious, but I'm not sure that politics is subservient to the transcendental, because practically speaking I've met plenty of architects whose transcendentalism was conspicuously political, in that their own circumstances conspicuously carved their opinions. It's chicken and egg (even if phenomenologists believe it isn't). Both Dalibor and Daniel Libeskind were exile genius's from the workers paradise, where the church fostered rebellion. And of course Dalibor is an expert and enthusisast for the baroque, that baroque of Loyola, that architecture intended to instruct, perhaps to save. Joseph Rykwert even tried to design modernist churches in his youth. Being materialist of mind, this is not for me. After all so many phenomenologically minded architects seem particularly devoted to the materialistic in the other sense, since those revelations certainly don't come cheap.
So I would prefer it if we said we would fix the city rather than heal it, and allow room for a little less piety, and a bit more filth.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Aldo Rossi: Modena Cemetery

Advice to students in four paragraphs:

'Follow up the first Loos quote on architects ruining the landscape by trying too hard with a second, which goes something like 'only a small percentage of architecture, the tomb and the monument, belongs to art' and then ponder both quotes. What Loos might be getting at is that art is one thing, and the pizzeria round the corner quite another. The history of our art in architecture might be displayed in objects such as Michelangelo's Pieta (tomb, or at least the equivalent) or Trajan's column (monument) as significant events, the rest is just culture at large. It comes and goes, mostly goes.

This might lead  to a conversation about the significance of cemeteries in general; perhaps Roman Catholic cemeteries in particular. Can they be seen as cities in themselves, or at least analogous to cities? Certainly if they are, they are cities full of art (tombs and monuments). Certainly cemeteries are also eerie places, without pizzerias, without even birds singing. 

Fortuitously then, for Aldo Rossi, recognising a certain 'death' of architecture, the cemetery seems an appropriate project. What does he do? Well to my eyes he seems to assemble a series of eerie relics of the city (including that arcade, which of course is an ancient stoa, and the tower, which is not unlike a renaissance palace). Of course he has to be practical too, to fulfil a brief, but in his mind he has this notion of brokenness, of fracture, loss and - indeed- that famous car accident that immobilised him in hospital for a good while. NB: Rossi was an unlucky driver, he died in a car crash too.

Meanwhile Rossi's assemblage, when complete, is struck by an all too real event, an earthquake, and, as if proving his point, is now closed. In this way, what might be considered a rather melodramatic architectural work becomes rather more profound as a poetic statement, in that it has suddenly gone the way of the pizzeria.'

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Rebellion in Economics Courses

The news that students in Manchester and elsewhere are rebelling against their economics curriculum which simply grooms them for more lucrative and ongoing catastrophe in our contemporary City institutions is heartening, as is the recognition that religious zeal might not be the best justification for free market economics. Perhaps this is a serious awakening, and not one that just leans back in the other direction.
However the real importance would seem to be the realisation that education, especially degree and post graduate education, is crucially NOT about fulfilling the employment briefs of the existing status quo, since for the existing status quo to change effectively, it needs fresh knowledge. This of course would come as a massive surprise to university PR departments countrywide, who now sell their degrees like tickets, and to students, who are forced to consume their degrees as spectacle.
In architecture, if this meant that students understood as part of their course work the effects of the economic landscape in it's various and contradictory forms on their product (buildings in their various manifestations) it might help them out of at least one malaise they currently suffer. This malaise is ostensibly one that has taken processes that were radical back in the mid eighties and turned them horribly mainstream, in the process almost entirely losing any concept of what it might be to be radical at all.

Monday, 18 November 2013

And Life at Home

How to Make a University

Nobody is helping anybody make a university these days. Sometimes you might think the whole idea was to flutter around Olympia and a crappy stand, selling your university's USPs. Of course this is not the point at all, and pretty much nobody, certainly students, are duped by the adventures of the superstructure.
So, in humility, here's a room, made in this case mostly by me. OK I need the salary, I need the building, I need.....all sorts, but I guess this is what I think a university room looks like, and I made it myself.

Saturday, 16 November 2013


Perhaps it's because I did the French Revolution yesterday morning and the beatniks in the afternoon, or perhaps it's because of the post 'What Revolutions Do' (see post below) that I think I can define counterculture as something that happens when revolutions cannot. Without a discontented army, without a starving populace, and without the necessary apparatus in place to replace what you depose, revolutions don't happen. However malcontent must manifest itself somewhere, and that place seems to be 'counterculture'.
Where does this get us? The somewhat unfortunate conclusion must be that even at it's very best, counterculture might influence, in some way, the over-riding power play, but it will usually hopelessly overestimate this influence, for only total catastrophe will bring fundamental change. Mostly, counterculture just feeds the beast. Also countercultures which demonstrate no interest in changing anything at all, like hair metal, might be considered just as valid as those that do, such as hippies. It is really just a question of how you wish to get through the day. It also makes Marxist critique of culture almost an entirely peripheral pursuit on the level of belonging to the boys scouts or girl guides (which of course, many paid up members resemble).
So Brand might be right on one thing, you may, if you dare, simply not participate. Otherwise you would have to get very angry indeed.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Back in the USSR

I am no authority on the subject of the former Soviet Union, neither am I an enthusiast, and my knowledge of it is largely abstract, fleshed out with a bit of anecdotal stuff, but nothing had me shouting in to my iPad like yesterday evening's flagrantly biased documentary on the BBC on The Cold War.
In the light of day I have to wonder why such a film has been made, why such a toad of a presenter was selected, and why such a sensationalist view of the red menace has to be dug up and resuscitated all over again as if we all hadn't been indoctrinated enough by James Bond. After all the Soviet Union collapsed twenty five years ago. Mind you, my students do seem to love going to Cuba.
Perhaps the BBC is worried about it's alleged bias, so swung itself mindlessly in the direction of a Daily Mail for effect, or perhaps on the other hand, something is genuinely up, that the powers that be are sincerely interested in the problem that Russell Brand might suddenly represent. Who knows?
The Beatles didn't know, and in their parody of the Beach Boys, 'Back in the USSR' is a shining example of parody. Those Ukraine girls might indeed knock us out, Joe Joe (Stalin) may always be on our mind, and in it's quirky jolity it even sounds like a Black Sea surfing song, that is if you can surf, which I doubt, in the Black Sea, and in doing so it makes a point, a singular rarity (in my opinion) in the whole Beatles back catalogue.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Truth Behind Capitalism

The more you understand about life, the more miserable it gets. This is an eternal truth that capitalism endlessly wishes to exploit; with bits, with bobs. Of course if you follow the love of bits and bobs you will die either ignorant or scared stiff, perhaps both.

LSA The New School of Architecture

As architecture in conventional schools runs through it's Tales From Topographic Oceans, triple concept album progressive rock period, when even the most liberal of staff might be minded to agree with Rick Wakeman, that 'even I didn't know what we were singing about, and I was in the band', it is perhaps a matter of cause and effect that there might be some sort of grass roots rebellion, and a potential new school.
Prog-rock was of course energised by the noodling of the Moog synthesiser, which at least facilitated, maybe even encouraged, some appalling and lengthy lyrical drivel. Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson surely deserved each other. And so now in architecture forty years later, we have Grasshopper and Rhino fusing fairy stories of one kind or another in all permutations over many many sheets of paper. However what could on the surface appear pleasant madrigals of dissuasion might conceal an alarmingly political subtext, just as Rush are, in fact, Randian.
For me it is not surprising to see cross sections of locusts on the walls of the architectural studios, or projects revolving around the eating habits of sloths, or for that matter any inspiration from the natural world, for these life forms seem an important and convenient last resort of inspiration. Grasshoppers and sloths have not done anything wrong, they are what they are. Humans are more problematic, we have, and continue to do, and it has been lurking in my consciousness for some time that beneath the madrigals lies a steely discipline even Loyola (above) would have appreciated as the Catholic church fought back the Reformation in the C16th. There is certainly something of the religious exercise to today's architectural product (I fear even using the term 'work') and there is considerable self flagellation. In fact, there is much of the character of the inquisition.
I'm not sure how the new school will work, the schools are a powerful bastion and I am not heretical, so I'm not going to the meeting tonight at the Architecture Foundation partly because I hope the old guard keep their noses out of it (some hope!) and partly because the LSA have charmingly not really got around to how they might teach my particular subject area. However I do enjoy it when the mechanisms of straightforward cause and effect become so plainly evident, and as a consequence I wave politely from a vatican window.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Margate in November

I guess walking around any seaside town at nine in the morning is going to be bleak, but Margate can be very bleak indeed. I put it down to the fact that Thanet is north facing, everybody with a view of the estuary is instantly reminded that the sunshine is, even at best, behind them. However I do like staring out at the estuary, one particularly fuck-off container ship slowly slipping across the horizon and my window pane right now, and if there is anything positive to be said about down in the mouth seaside towns like Margate, it is their sense of rather desperate theatre. It can make you more miserable than you could be almost anywhere else.
However this hotel, the Walpole Bay Hotel, is, or at least was, Tracey Emin's 'most romantic place in the world' and I can heartily recommend it. Down stairs last night there were two old guys talking in German accents about Hannibal Lecter and another dressed all in black going for a part as Merlin. It felt, amongst the joyously assorted victorian bric-a-brac, that you were suddenly participating in some Agatha Christie murder mystery weekend. I ate in an almost deserted and huge old style dining room, something I have not had the pleasure of doing for twenty years, and the food was satisfyingly period too. Afterwards, chatting to Merlin, I realised he was also a dead ringer for Mick Fleetwood, and this morning, as I spotted the gold Rolla parked outside, I wondered just who I'd been talking to really. 
Meanwhile all the attractions are super bleakly closed even if they look as if they might be even bleaker when open, and of all people Bill Wyman is playing the Winter Gardens this evening, just after Julie has finished her 'Nostalgias' conference as it happens. Now sitting here on a November morning as it starts to rain on that window pane is no finer spot to say 'Bill, just give it up..' because there surely cannot be anything worse than the ex-Rolling Stone, champion of Madison Square Gardens for a generation, doing THIS. Mind you, by the look of the above, Margate gets even worse by January.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Has Modernism Failed?

I have been reminded twice recently, once in a missive from Unit 12 at the Bartlett, and again from Metamodernists (whoever they are) in Preston, that 'modernism' has catastrophically failed. God knows why anybody is bothering to declare this, it's rather like saying apricots have failed whilst surrounded by apricots.
What is modernism and what do you define as failure? To say your world has failed is one thing (and sure that would seem correct on many levels) but thinking that an architectural project, a new proclamation on the part of architects, can do anything to ameliorate this is preposterous. More likely, as was proved with 'postmodernism' when architects attempt this they tend to get caught out as self aggrandising frauds supplicant to a bigger power play of fashion and trend.
Architecture has 'failed' necessarily in it's aspiration ever since the advent of the industrial revolution, since it's remit  was suddenly re-conditioned as preposterous (at least utopian) in itself, or if not preposterous at least absurd, or if not that then at least 'tragic' in consequence. Sometimes you have to laugh.
The idea that lots of new funny shapes doodled on the computer can somehow alter this unfortunate but all too real predicament is idiotic, further for a fresh approach to architecture to be deemed successful, it will surely have to be wrestling with a far broader range of processes than the visual to be seen (paradoxically) to be such a success.

What Revolutions Do

'I don't think the capitalists are going to give up without one hell of a fight' I said to Scott, rather lamely, as he explained his somewhat sketchy programme of forthcoming events; the introduction of the universal social wage, nationalization of land and agriculture and the immediate closure of the Department of Work and Pensions. Indeed, it was all getting more than a little Citizen Smith in the corner of the Star, whose staff are now used to our joint berating of the said capitalist system, whose creaking momentum, Scott is sure, is about, any minute now, to crumble to dust.
And this morning I found myself quaking at Russell Brand's expression of a 'plausable and beautiful revolution' (see today's Guardian front page) since whilst I really enjoy the Brand & Paxman experience, any cursory glance at history tells us that any kind of revolution is ghastly violent. I mean, one guy was thrown out of a window in Prague and Europe went to war for thirty years not so long ago (historically speaking) so don't tell me that nicking everybody's investments overnight is going to make them happy, it will not, it will make them bloodthirsty. What's more we are no longer used to feeling domestically bloodthirsty, we have no idea what it will be like. This is a worry.
Most revolutions, and the things that happened of a similar type before the term revolution was invented, occur with some seismic shift in technology- say the printing press (Reformation), or gunpowder (Empire States) or the steam engine (Industrial). It is anybodies guess what our contemporary technology is doing, but one thing is for certain, it dulls the senses when you have it, and it infuriates those who do not. Hence the War on Terror; our primary concern. It may be worth fishing out that old Baudrillard book, 'The Gulf War Did Not Take Place' to work out what to make of the War on Terror, but it is certainly a consequence of our domestic indulgence, and perhaps perilously, that indulgence we would be loathed to give up.
It is quite possible Marx was right, and that Scott is right, but yesterday evening I had that nagging feeling, deep in my gut, that maybe we could put off the revolution just for a little while, because I've got something I'm looking forward to next week other than carnage. I was, suddenly, bereft of virtue!

Monday, 4 November 2013

'Broadsword to Danny Boy'

If I'd have known that Ms Rebekah Brooks and co, scum of The News of the World ('pizza delivered and the chicken in the pot') had used my own call sign (above) to communicate with my impresario friend Tim Pyne during the Dome fiasco (alternatively recognised as huge fun) I'd have reconsidered. Pathetic how the old classic skewed the consciousness of so many (including me). I've watched that film a happy 946 times.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

'Island of Happiness'

Emperor Hadrian had an island for sulking: showing his humanity perhaps. Abstractly watching the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this afternoon (a 'sport' reduced to controlled slippage under immense power as far as I can see- glides as smooth as the moves on your iPad) and staring at those stupid buildings, and thinking about the even stupider 'Island of Happiness', with it's monstrous contributions from Gehry, Zaha, Nouvel, Foster and so on which are now threatened by strike over appalling working conditions, really brings reason and substance to a course like 'Critical Thinking'. Yes at 9am tomorrow I shall be critically thinking once more, and the mind reels after an hour or so of Abu Dhabi on you mind.
On the Island of Happiness there shall be a Gehry Guggenheim, but what with an artists strike, and a certain cultural difference, even when it is finished it will be impossible to curate any meaningful show within it's daftly struck walls. It is, well, pure vanity, and nobody cares. F1 is pure vanity too of course; the whole bundle goes so well together. But what of the architects who work on these things, all those teams working so hard on such obviously wretched exercises? What the hell do they think they are doing?  

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Why I love the MR3

I love my MR3, it's the best chair in our apartment without doubt. I have another one at the other end of the room right now which is on it's way to my university office, and this one pictured (original factory refurbished they said) is better than that, even if they look the same. Both have the Knoll signature thing going on, but they seem different! How can this be? They should, as official products, be the same but of course things go on. My simple advice; if you want the best of Knoll's MR3's weigh them! That lovely beast over there is one hefty beast, like Mies himself, the other a little more shifty across the floor.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Sick Again (Slight Return)

Getting sick alleviates pain, it is pain of course, you have to go through hell, that horrid 'God I'm going to die' type stuff in the middle of the dark night, but after you finally collapse to wake at noon, some calmness descends, and you're left to yourself in the grey of day in an empty flat, just a bit numb, with classes cancelled, suddenly painless and spiritually lightweight. At least there are some benefits.
Sickness is a symptom of malaise, yes maybe that's better, so when you find yourself up all night with your bowels tied up in knots, it's not them thats getting to you, it's not even the pumpkin soup, it's probably a raft of other things, like Stalin, or your dad, or that e-mail where you actually said what you meant. At least that's what you hope.
I could blame it on the pumpkin soup, but the pumpkin soup was very good. I could blame it on Halloween itself, seeing as there is actually a real box of Halloween branded tangerines on the side in the kitchen, and I'm inclined to think Halloween branded tangerines bring madness in themselves. The word tangerine doesn't even appear on the Disney packaging, they are now called just 'Halloween Easy Peeler'.
When I was young, Halloween hardly existed, now it's a heavy industry. Instead we used to celebrate The Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes! The blowing up of Parliament!! What a noble tradition that was. Now poor Guy hardly gets a look in for omnipresent gouls and goulishness. Perhaps it's a symptom of going soft that brings on this indigestion.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Villa Giulia

Circumstances bring me to a refreshed consideration of the Villa Giulia in Rome. For one I have a lecture appointment with the Renaissance at 9am on Friday, and this rather under-represented masterpiece sits in the middle of the presentation, meanwhile my father now looks a little like one of Francis Bacon's popes, they each bring significance to the other if you like, further I'm moved to disturb that enthusiasm deep within that my old tutor James Madge showed for the damn thing, but never really satisfactorily explained. Meanwhile I have in mind my brother's all consuming fear of not getting it up anymore after surgery, and I have a general impression (see posts below) that late capitalism devoids the ageing process of dignity, since the exploitation of youth is it's game. Instead I'm in search of the pleasures of age. Quite a lot to deal with in one building.
To the renaissance, the significance of Vignola's essay in the delicate evocation of city and country and piety and party is amplified by the building's present status as a museum of Etruscan art. Strangely enough Julie has just bought a Vivienne Westwood impressive black cock as a piece of jewelry which is remarkably Etruscan in spirit, and certainly grabbed my poor brother's eye. Notwithstanding the delights of the villa itself, including it's wall paintings and the splendid nymphaeum, cherished within it (for garden and interior are the same thing here) is an ancient Etruscan temple. No matter it's a reconstruction, since the renaissance reconstituted the ancient world itself, even slipping it inside the Vatican Palace as Raphael's magnificent 'School of Athens' (Madge declared this was one of the most significant of pictures- remarkable in it's conjugation of the ancient and modern and the secular and religious) so this seems it's entire point. Hence the building as it is now is an even more a delicate evocation of a spirit than it might have been when it was built.
The villa sat on the edge of the city, on a rat run, a fast exit, from the Vatican, and as far as I know was used for parties in a papacy marked by sexual scandal. It seems not big enough for a residence, and more the perfect leisurely picnic site; but a picnic site equipped with nymphs and their companion, Pan. The rooms are decorated with lusty murals and it's easy to imagine such all day picnics amongst the miniature vineyards. Furthermore as an older man now I can imagine them more than I could as James's student; the old goat, with his pipe, glass of wine and twinkle in his eye.
Formally and architecturally, the villa is little more than a beautifully inhabited wall enclosing various courtyards, a 'parti' James would have seen as eminently civilised. Externally it seems unremarkable. Within the wall and nymphaeum however, there is plenty of scope for scampering about on adventures, as well as the peaceful contemplation of both nature and myth and I suspect it was as much this spirit that captured his imagination as much as anything else.
Julius III started building the villa when he was 64, and only saw a a couple of years use of it after it was completed in 1553. My brother is 63.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Two Books on the Table

Two books on my desk, they seem to demand a comparison, they are both from the same publisher and say completely opposite things. That's handy. Nothing like a good old fashioned binary choice of opposites. Also they are also both helpfully thin, concise if you like, like they might be 'made easy' volumes. I feel like weighing them up (this is a sort of Paul Shepheard line) and I feel like telling Paul just how confusing he is (just as Nina Power might). 
Nina Power's take on consumer feminism, with a line on fashion such as 'if you were to follow all the trends equally, you'd be a corporate-goth-bohemian-neon-native-American-Indian-casual-office girl. Which would probably look quite interesting, but I doubt that's what they mean...'- taking on the kind of feminism that comes down to the ability to buy wine and vibrators- is pithy. Her take on the two prevailing feminist views on pornography; 'either degrading therefore bad or it is enjoyable therefore morally good' (despite being terrible hard work either way) is both gritty, funny and not entirely disapproving. Most of all she is a fun Marxist suffering none of the pious intricacies that dulled that subject for so many of us for so long. That's quite an achievement. 
Shepheard is not a Marxist, I don't think he even mentions the word. No way. If anything he's deep down in the hole of post structuralism. His perspective is so long it's hard to reason with, but his books (and I recommend all of them) will always involve both lovers and hospitals, jet aeroplanes and possibly Metallica (so they are not that post structural) and are written also with the ease of somebody who knows and encourages, even when there is no better world to look forward to. If you want to know what post-structuralism feels like (but not necessarily what it is) read this book.
In the end (because effective blog ends are needed) I'll side with the need for utopia (even if it isn't quite utopia either way) to get through the day, and to get through Power's book in an hour or so. I'll get jesuitical about it too (so Paul might approve) but getting his side of the bargain may take another seven years.

Monday, 28 October 2013


We've just come back from a weekend with my parents. Therefore I am ill. This happened last time, and I worry it will happen every time from now on. My knee seizes up.
Nobody, just nobody prepares you for this final confrontation with aging, with death; it is taboo, rather like nobody tells girls about the menopause, or whole generations about economics. You are in the dark until the worst happens, and then you have to get on with it best you can. Whole rafts of possibly helpful information must be being held from us in favour of Sharon Osbourne's bad song choices- It's a conspiracy. And our bodies do not, unfortunately, secrete enzymes, such as the mothers of new born enjoy, to make them immune to the pain. You cannot be numbed to it, it is incredibly painful, and not just in the knee. You'd think there's some cruel malevolence at work; dad's blind, mum's going daft and my brother's got prostate cancer, terrific, but there isn't, this is what has always been and what will always be. That's human tragedy for you.
But then 'twas said there would be a great storm, and that the people should stay indoors, and that there was to be much commotion on the transportation system, and low, I could verily cancel my 9 o'clock on Lefebvre with good conscience. And then I began to see why Ancient Greek cosmology was so important to Le Corbusier, since I had time to indulge in my 44th book on him; 'Le Corbusier and Britain' and then Julie treated me to a donut, and all was very well indeed.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

About Last Night

I enjoyed presenting my own stuff last night at the Design Museum. On the left WW2 bomber 'Flack Alley' on the right Las Vegas hooker (Hadley) Paige, pierced Paige, an uncanny resemblance.  

Monday, 21 October 2013

Sizzlin' Stacey and Friends (Design Museum Tomorrow 22nd Oct)

Looks like Sizzlin Stacey and the rest of my Madonna Series will be making an outing at the Design Museum tomorrow night from 8pm. OK it's that weird presentation technique that just gives me five minutes or so and twenty slides, but I do start with the Doric Order. Just Google Design Museum Events for information. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Endangered Species

Having just read a long and arduous feature on the future of universities in the LRB, I realise I am an endangered species. I'm going to be systematically hunted down, my habitat steadily eroded, because  I represent 100% teaching and learning (often my own). I really couldn't give a fuck about anything else. New 'private universities' whether profit making or charity based, will spend up to 40% of their income on advertising and promotion, and when you whittle away the rest, it might end at just 10% of expenditure in actually teaching people. We shall have to set up charities for academics who can't cope with the bureaucracies that have grown up around them, and that will eventually destroy them. Students will be consumers automatically subject to fire sales and refunds  (depending on financial clout) and no body will have the patience required to actually learn anything, or crucially gain perspective on events.
A world insanity hence comes home to roost, and even the finest of critics don't seem to be able to stop the waves, the waves that say everything has to turn in to money, that everything has to turn a profit, even when they are dealing with something as inherently tricky to qualify in monetary value as education. When you have to dream up terms like 'positional profit' for somebody who might turn out to be a bigger spinning cog in the money machine to justify education you know you are on the wrong side of something bad.
If I were to take this essay seriously (and I do) I would have to note that this ideological position is entirely the reverse of that offered by J K Galbraith in his Affluent Society of 1956, when advertising was seen as a threat and that some sectors, notably universities, would be strengthened at vast public cost against it's worst influence.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Terrific Picture

By Luis Falero: Faustian vision of course. Walpurgis Night. Bit Frank Frazetta but..well it is nearly Halloween, and I'm doing the Gothic next week, and I have been listening to too much Black Sabbath. 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Sign of The Times

Like some ancient omen, an eagle flying over one's head clutching a snake or something like that, on the day Royal Mail shares begin open trading on the stock market, when people cash in for their windfall £350 for doing nothing except having £500 to spare, we get no mail.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Shumon Basar

I'm re-blogging Shumon Basar's excellent diptic above which he's posted on Facebook. He simply added that the picture on the left was taken in Zurich and the one on the right in Dubai. Those who have read my Maoist critique of striptease (previous post) will immediately understand what I was trying to get at. Meanwhile this looks a lovely piece; the sort of art stuff I really like.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Dr Feelgood (or maybe not)

Very pleased to add this record to my collection today. Motley Crue may never have produced the greatest rock record of all time (whilst they inadvertently managed to provide us with the all time best book: The Dirt and came close with the single Girls Girls Girls) but this is fairly hilarious anyway. By the time they made this our cherished muppet gods of rock had cleaned up and were under the scrupulous direction of Bob Rock: pretty much the Moses of heavy metal. Dr Feelgood itself is reason to buy this, another would be the fabulous ACDC cover they conjure into Kickstart My Heart. However it is still the idea that the Crue, no longer taking real drugs, were 'depressed' and driven to quaffing Prozac as they sipped Evian in Vancouver (Vancouver!!) that drives me to smile all the way through. It drives me to remember that rock 'n' roll is such an everyday effort despite the illusions and pretences of celebrity, because decent rock bands can disprove the myth almost as soon as they make it (The Darkness did this too). Nobody has done this more than Motely Crue. Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee will always be a lovable idiots, no matter how hard they try. Meanwhile, last I heard, Vince Neil was running a rock and roll airline out of Las Vegas. Micky Mars? Well it's just a great name. You couldn't dream it up. It's odd to think of Motely Crue as 'honest' but they seem never to have been anything else, even when they were tossers. The ridiculous 'Time for Change' ends this record, and it could have been penned by the Beatles on a bad day and made for Eurovision. 
Humour! I'm laughing.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Contribution to a Maoist Critique of Striptease

Pondering the post below, I realise 'insouciant worldliness' is an insufficient term that demands development. Is it possible that Jessica (above and below) and her ilk represent nothing less that pure revolutionary practise? There is an idea here, an almost unthinkable idea- that the only unmistakable and unqualified victory of feminism is the Strip Club. This form of permanent revolution (sic) of course places all men (but not exclusively men) in the role, for once, of slightly sheepish spectators, while Jessica acts, and in her conflation of the means of production in to the commodity itself- a commodity she herself owns, she pretty much  defines revolution - she escapes that devious bit of economic capitalist circuitry which Marx so well described, and of course acquires derision from all the bourgeois classes (Guardian as well as Mail readers) as a consequence. All derision of her activity is after all a consequence of others enslavement. Meanwhile, all she needs to do this is a stick, a pole, and THAT is positively Maoist in orientation. OK she needs music and beer too, which ruins the purity of her provision, but essentially, she is herself, her own constructed self. Hats off.
In a context where it is possible to see capitalist development only in terms of making people dumber and dumber, it's populace in to mindless and uncritical morons, and where that is the only future presupposed, Jessica's talent is a real Up Yours!
Photo: Thanks and Copyright Nick Stanbra

Thursday, 3 October 2013

'They're Wearing Us'

There are two quotes I particularly enjoy on the subject of striptease artistes, the first (above title) from digital knowledge prophet Marshall McLuhan, and the second, recently discovered in Dave Hickey's newly published book 'Pirates and Farmers' where his friend Heidi (who works, or worked, in Crazy Horse Too Las Vegas) insists that 'there is no problem in the world that cannot be solved by a room full of naked women'. 
I am thinking of presenting Jessica (above- and who works at The White Horse, Shoreditch) following a stream of Joel Sternfeld pics of Dubai to my undergrads with the remark 'This is what you get, eventually, when you decide you can represent God'. For Jessica exudes a kind of insouciant worldliness (far from uncommon in her profession) Dubai will never have. Commodification; the very point! As McLuhan suggests, that perfect act of display, far from divesting Jessica or Bambi or Samantha of identity, actually substantiates it, and he was right, and somehow these days Jessica and her clan can represent more of it. To co-opt one of those cliched, crappy, but revealing phrases, just look how carefully she is put together! Of course the audience are possessed, poor souls us, but only for the length of (in Jessica's case) one edgy piece of heavy metal, and it is a fatal misapprehension to think the reverse, that WE possess HER. Of course I could, like Hickey, rank her with Titian's Venus, in which case, there should be a copy stashed in the basement of the Vatican for periodic inquisition- but I'm content that she is actually here to remind me, periodically, as I drop through the grey doors of the White Horse every now and then of an afternoon, of the truth of our world masked somehow by the petty mores of our hum drum. 
Photo: thanks and copyright Nick Stanbra.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Philips Pavilion 1958

I never took much notice of the Philips Pavilion; Le Corbusier's tent gone wrong. However events; Zaha's floppy hat at the Serpentine, Jonathan Coe's novel Expo '58, Le Corbusier's Radio (see earlier post) and those L-C sketchbooks have transpired to send me back to the time when if it wasn't a hyperbolic paraboloid, it wasn't up to much, and gazing at the Electronic Poem the pavilion contained on YouTube the other day, well it just blew me away. I don't think Zaha's floppy hat is up to much for sure (I don't get it beyond that rather dubious comparison) but I did lie in bed worrying about the word 'tension' in relation to the Philips pavilion, world affairs of the time, all things atomic, that electronic poem, and Le Corbusier's much fabled quest for the reconciliation of opposites, not withstanding L-C's personal circumstances at the time, and he began to look like Homer.
Since at the time L-C was spending so much time in India, the struggle this building presented to the western world now seems obvious, like a child wretchedly entwined in his tent, and the poem presents, without a single smidgen of irony, somewhere near the end of eight minutes, his own unites as that real solution to where and how to live, amidst all the blips, bleeps and bangs and squawks of modern madness, deep within the curious phantasmagoria of the World Fair. A student of mine described the poem as nightmarish, and I think she is right. To present such a nightmare to 500 people at a time- and it was massively popular- in what he called a 'stomach' in 1958 much have been quite something, and we should note we have certainly been shy of doing such a thing since; instead we tend towards floppy hats, collapsed meringues, failed souffle! 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Just before it goes..

Heygate Estate; the bulldozers roll in tomorrow. I guess we all fucked up but not for want of trying. Now the money men move in for real, and the ordinary folk have been shoved out (where?) Elephant is less than two miles from (actual) Westminster. Today it was like visiting a cemetery.

Monday, 23 September 2013

St Albans: Edge of the Abyss

If you are looking for a window on Britain as we sit precariously on the edge of something or other that 
doesn't look altogether rosy, spend a weekend in St Albans. It's the chipper upside of hell. Get ferried around in cars (Britain is the only European country with booming car sales) for the minutest distance, witness roadside tears (as if dodgems don't have to bump) go to Waitrose three or four times and receive little green tokens for the Girl Guides and free copies of the Daily Mail (!!) watch idiocy on huge TV screens (we own the biggest in Europe) and go to the pub for a lock in with the interminables, those portly fans of the Arsenal and English rugby (whose green and pleasant the rest of the world defiles) who prove so adeptly that the proudest are usually the dumbest.
Quite unreasonably, I blame St Albans for ALL of Sky's excruciating football commentators, a vast percentage of those who make it to Countryfile, and the worst of all tabloid journalists. I see it as the Bayreuth of X Factor, the home of actuaries, and resting home for Page 3 models (and I tend to LIKE strippers, topless models and so on).
St Albans sucks, it's just like where I come from, Wilmslow, Cheshire, where as AA Gill remarked; you wouldn't want to get fat, you'd be letting down your car. This is Britain when it has cash.
This is exactly what we both chose to escape from long ago: we all have to hate something to make progress.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

History Today (The Prologue)

We have a tendency to keep history at arms length. Perhaps we are preoccupied, certainly easily distracted, and possibly distrustful. We may even be nervous. Today’s most capable critics, those adept on television (take Jonathan Meades or Matthew Collings) have developed quirky, edgy, personas as they swoop down on the historically tasty. This makes them entertaining and this makes good television; the media is the message, and no doubt tomorrow’s critics will pod cast at will and shift the message some more. We should certainly acknowledge that they are not talking about history in the way EH Gombrich, AJP Taylor, or Kenneth Clark would have half a century ago, people who did not necessarily understand television at all, and who were still doggedly transferring the book, the lecture theatre, or the radio to the new format. That the medium was the message did not occur to them, it took Elvis to understand that, and shake his hips. So history today is at once massively available to us, and murkily distant, it has being made personal, we pick and choose. Never has the word ‘like’ assumed so much importance, even if we don’t necessarily know why.
Books remain, but scholarship has assumed an ever-weightier mantle. Even the dedicated Marxist scholars have found themselves shoved to the end of the sock, locked in ever closer scrutiny of cause and effect, contemplating more and more about what seems less and less. The superstructure of knowledge demands they do just that, but in doing so, it is not so much ivory towers they isolate themselves within, but more giant cruise ships, great academic edifices like MIT or Yale, with their curious lack of destination and intractable handling.
But even within the pseudo idyll of the academic cruise liner, sometimes the shudder, that congruence of vibrations that periodically racks top to bottom, bow to stern, reminds us that we are in, after all, a delicate (ne creaky) man made structure. Dons, much envied in privilege and lifestyle perhaps, sense something afoot. On smaller vessels such as my own we have felt the tack and turn almost incessantly. 
It is a sense that although the essential elements of architecture might not have changed for three thousand years (it remains the provision of physical and mythical accommodations) that everybody is suddenly obsessed with change, even admitting that change might actually not be for the better, that inspires. As a response, each course I now teach on the history and theory of architecture has become an elaborate road map as to where we are now, because that is precisely what is missing when you pick and mix, when you dive about willy-nilly. Understanding the road map should lead to a better understanding of your next step.
Not so long ago, this enterprise, history such as this, might have been titled ‘A History of Architecture from Ancient Greece to the Present-Day’, with a silent emphasis on the present-day, and it would have invariably tripped up on certain parts for want of enthusiasm or expertise. Certain parts (say, the Normans) happened a long time ago, and were a bit dull, and so on. Authors came over a little patronising in their energy to get to the exciting bit at the end. My apologies to Sigfried Giedion but the cry seemed to go: ‘Look! And here we are now! The climax of it all! A load of tubular steel furniture!’ Imagine that with a thick Swiss accent.
There was, or is (for it necessarily prevails) often an unfortunate sense that modern man is somehow superior. If we didn’t think this the history of the western world might seem a terrible waste of effort. We should understand that there has been progress, but it is not exactly Darwinian, things may have got better, but we are not superior. It has been a struggle not an accident, and our development (such as it is) has to be appreciated to be sustained, or be sustainable.
There is also the equal and opposite tendency to state the opposite; that the men and women of today (and especially it’s youth) are interested in nothing but base-jumping dogs and posting pictures of their lunch-box on Facebook; that this generation will never appreciate DH Lawrence, let alone Le Corbusier, and all we get now, in architecture at least, is funny shaped buildings backed up with fairy tales of justification. This is also a recurrent historical theme. Older generations pour scorn on ‘youth of today’, on the current situation, just as armies are only equipped to fight the last type of war. However, as I discovered myself- when I posted my first dog picture on Facebook, I was no better. When I crossed that Rubicon, I realised the Normans would have loved nothing better than posting their rampart jumping dogs on Facebook too, if only they’d had the apparatus to do so.
So both the silent patronization of the past, and the comfortable contempt for the present, are to be avoided, because history has the capacity to continually amaze us with just how smart people have been whenever and whatever the circumstances over the last three thousand or so years, no-matter that the tools to hand might have been ‘primitive’, or their social order ‘monstrous’. For instance even the Roman poet Lucretius understood that the lowest particle size was atomic, and beyond that there was nothing (that there was something, and then there was nothing) and furthermore that two nothings couldn’t make a something. By understanding this he demolished the supernatural. He said even if you believe in god, magic, or whatever, it simply didn’t exist, it was, indeed, a question of belief. He was the first materialist, and he was Roman, and even he got much of his material from Epicurus.
Meanwhile I can watch one of the worst films currently on rotation on TCM, a truly rotten film called Escape to Athena (1979). It is a most bemusing film in many ways, not least for it’s casting of Roger Moore as a Nazi commandant (personally I cannot imagine anybody less suited to playing a Nazi commandant in 1979 than Roger Moore, unless I consider John Le Mesurier). In the film David Niven plays a prisoner who happens to be an archaeologist and he discovers the ancient remains of the house of an archaeologist! At least somebody in Lew Grade’s rather curious pantheon had his or her historical wits about them. They had realised that it was not just us doing it, they did it too.
In narratives of the type I present, there is always the question of what to include and what not. My response is that the world of things I do not know about should act as a complement to those I do. I’m thinking of a colleague who understands reggae music, ‘it’s just as important what you don’t play’ he says. To use this analogy, my absences, be them Chinese dynasties, Indian civilizations, Babylonian Empires or the architectures of higher beings from outer space; are gaps, not nothings. I believe in them, but they are not there. Keith Richards used open tuning to make those fabulous big one finger major cords come alive for Street Fighting Man, Brown Sugar, Jumping Jack Flash, Start Me Up and so on, and he employed lots of delicious gaps. He remains an inspiration.
Above: Woods and Trees (geddit?) Pushkin Strss, Berlin.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Just be Good to Me

If you're happy and you know it (if only momentarily) play this.

Sunday, 15 September 2013


I joined Facebook for a month, to try it out. We have a book and an exhibition to promote, so I think that was the logic, but crucially I'd cashed in twenty years worth of reward points shopping for groceries at Tesco, and that got us two iPad minis.
First impressions were not encouraging, I soon discovered my 'new' friends (my 'old' friends - apart from Scott- I hardly ever see, they are a diminishing and by now almost mythical set, almost exclusively cherished at funerals) were morons confirming my predisposition toward Facebook as yet another harbinger of forthcoming apocalypse, possibly by 2030. These friends cropped up every day burping up all sorts of crap; films of base jumping dogs and pictures of their lunch, sentimental pictures of babies and narcissistic pictures of themselves, while all the time changing their profile pictures like some nervous twitch. Almost as soon I had accepted them as 'friends' I found myself wondering at the consequences of blocking them off. I contemplated searches for better friends, but soon realised I was stuck with those I got.
So last night I posted MY FIRST DOG PICTURE! (above) and it was a relief. I passed the Rubicon. Notwithstanding that evenings in our flat had become a picture of two folks with their noses stuffed in their iPads, I realised that the appreciation of skateboarding dogs, even dogs of ANY KIND doing ALMOST ANYTHING, was exactly what Facebook was for, and that if the Tudors had enjoyed Facebook, THEY would have been posting pictures of their skateboarding dogs and pictures of their lunch just like us. THEY would have farted their way through their record collections of an evening on Facebook if they'd had iPad minis, and not had to rely on the minstrels. Such is the truth bestowed on us by 'Blackadder' or 'Up Pompeii', our comedy removes us of the illusion that we have every been any better and now Facebook simply confirms what we have always been.
So, as historical documentation, hooray for Facebook, and Facebook friends, I take it all back, I salute you. I have joined in.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The Phoney War

This, for those of us involved in higher education, is the Phoney War, that period in early September each year, when face to face combat has not yet begun. However it is a very real if distant prospect, a nasty glow on the horizon, and it is inevitable. There is nothing you can do to stop it, and after what seems like decades of peace war planes now fly overhead, and they are dropping bombs (lighting fires all over) and you just hope, holed up in your bunker, that you can hold your nerve and not cop it this early. It is enervating as they used to say, weakening, some of us have been known to disappear altogether, to distant lands, only to turn up just in time, shaking, conspicuously hungover. The corridors are empty, there is that fustiness (you can't get fustiness out of a university, it comes with the furniture, with the cleaning fluid) but you are as alert as a rabbit caught in the middle of a field, just before making a dash to the safety of the long grass. Oh the long green grass!
Mobilization is underway, the transports, the mums and dads, shifting men, women and material; mostly duvets. There are intense preparations, dummy runs, mental exercises 'What shall we do?' is the begged question. 'How shall we respond?' to this, to that. We have so many bad ideas at once! 'Have we the numbers??' 'What about equipment!?' 'I've forgotten the fucking password!' and all the time you know there is just that body of knowledge, that pack on your back for you to rely on, except suddenly you seem to have lost something.
Then comes the throng, the throng of eagerness, of bright eyes, it's hand to hand, it's street-fighting, you take cover, you block it out, in the office, listening. But you get used to it. Then it becomes normal, then you begin to prefer it.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Architecture for Christmas

It seems a but mean to moan about a £189m library even if it does look like a stack of Christmas presents but as far as I can see, one demonstrative edifice is simple being replaced by another. Tom Dyckhoff drove us there (!) for the Culture Show last night, to meet lots of other Tom Dyckhoffs (as far as I could see) and try and make sense of it. In running around it, nobody made a good deal of sense at all, which was most appropriate for our age. For your benefit and from this armchair:
1) The outside doesn't know what size it is, it is indeterminate in scale. Is it a small thing made big, or a really big thing made small? Maybe it's a big jewellery box (the architect mentioned something about jewelry) or a small Cape Canaveral? I wondered for a minute if the above image really was a model or not- a true sign of contemporary 'genius'. It is a sign of the times.
2) It's 'cutting edge' (!!)
3) The inside is ideally created for the pleasure of those who like (nostalgically or otherwise) books very much indeed, but especially perfect for the new (C21st) bourgeoisie who simply like the idea of them: it's the perfect place for parties.
3) The public like the idea it looks like Christmas presents (for them) on a grand scale.
4) The public didn't seem to understand that they will be paying for it, somehow (nothing new then).
5) The old concrete thing looked slightly more prepossessing (and TD seemed to agree). Wheel on Owen Hatherley?
In the meantime, are we running out of things libraries might otherwise be? Personally I would have preferred a giant Black Sabbath '13' which could be lit up on Walpurgis night each year, or a giant 'Swan Song' logo inhabited by said library. Christmas presents, is however, original.

Sunday, 8 September 2013


I have a friend who spreads panic, she is a panic machine, her panic is like Linus's blanket, she externalises the damn stuff. Me, I hate panic, I do everything to avoid it, I plan weeks in advance, and if I catch it, if it gets in, I'm paralysed, I literally seize up. Yesterday I panicked.
I blame it on the exhibition we got the other day. I was delighted, elated. Then I started thinking; mostly practical stuff to do with 'art' that is never a problem with 'words' - words do not suffer in reproduction (that's their point). This 'reproduction' stuff can cast a deep shadow. I mean, if I see a rock star (say) relaxing on Sky ARTS1, they are not relaxing, they are being filmed relaxing. If I watch somebody cooking on Come Dine With Me, they may be cooking, but they will be making a much bigger hash of it than they would if they were not being filmed doing it. These things are mediated by reproduction.  So you just tootle along making your bits and pieces and that's just dandy, but then you have to externalise them en-masse, you have to suddenly think of all sorts of shit; you have to be ready to dissect them, sometimes literally but mostly metaphorically, you are part of some other process, and since I am hard wired to panic (and dissection is what I do to other people as a critic) this is likely to blow circuitry. Too many problems beset themselves at the same time and I felt the beginnings of pain in my knees, and elbows, and ankles.
Of course, if you read the self help manuals, particularly those directed at corporate Californian architectural firms, they say this is the natural second stage of the process, following elation, and precursing something awful like 'attacking the problem'.
So, I am suddenly moved toward appreciation of those recalcitrants in the art world who have dealt with panic in their various ways; Lucien Freud never turned up, Keith Richards shot smack, but I'm hardly in their league. I found the best comfort (and ease of pain) in pouring myself a couple of large scotches and watching Dad's Army.
Above, one of my pieces, copyright me.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Adam Nathaniel Furman at Design Museum

Adam Nathaniel Furman brought nice ceramics (pots) to balmy London last night at the Design Museum, his stuff uncannily resembling the evening skyline outside. Not that he would put it like that. However I was put in such a good mood by it all I've just got Spike Milligan illustrations in my head, the stuff that goes; 'Furman pops his head out of pot to demonstrate architects as bunch of silly arses!' (top picture) 3D printed pottery? Well it was a new one on us, but terrific. Presently at the Design Museum.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Le Corbusier's Radio

This is an intriguing thing; a radio designed by Le Corbusier for the Brussels World Fair of 1958. Well it may not actually be by him, it looks too funky to me, too futuristic, too Googie, after all a radio is just electronics in a box, and so from my understanding of Le Corbusier's design principles I would expect a neat box but not a way out one. This looks almost contemporary. If I set a project for a box (or for that matter almost anything) to contemporary students, this is the kind of result I would get. 
LC was working on the Phillips Pavilion for the Fair with Zenakis. Together they came up with a very strange pavilion and an electronic poem to go with it. All in all the World Fair itself was very strange indeed, featuring the Atomium for one, but also an incredible shooting rocket of a pavilion for the USSR. It was all very atomic age. This is an early example of a product tie in, or signature piece. Meanwhile LC was most of the time in Chandigarh pretty much doing the complete opposite. 
This item came up on eBay the other day, I lost out on it for £77. I'm not sure if I'm relieved, because I just can't sustain all this junk, or severely disappointed, because as I said, this is a very intriguing little thing.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Dropping the Big One

The decision tonight of the British government, thankfully, not to intervene in Syria (for now) has been criticised on the basis of appeasement, something that reminds the British of all the things that are cowardly, and on the reverse British and right and true; sort of lion hearted if it wasn't such an unfortunate and inappropriate historical analogy. It is quite amazing how many of our MP's come out as  closet Captain Mainwarings. We might wish to remember that you generally appease rampant states, as Nazi Germany was. Syria is not a rampant state, at least not to my knowledge, but a threatened one.
What's more we have little idea as to who is exactly threatening it and by all accounts neither do the threateners themselves. It could be you defend Syria or any faction in Egypt on simply the notion that you believe people have the right to buy designer sunglasses, or right to ban them, I have no idea. It is not clear, it has not been explained, perhaps it is not explainable. However, because I have no idea, it would seem ridiculous to go wading in as if into a bunch of naughty kids playing with fireworks, because maybe they will go off in my face. It seems strange logic to 'punish' more people by killing them just as they have killed others knowing that the problem will escalate. It's one thing wading in to countries when you think they've got WMD but its another when you know they have them and will use them.
If a dog bares its teeth, it may mean business, and I already know of people leaving Tel Aviv for Geneva. We don't seem to be seeing the dog, we seem to be seeing the naughty children.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Mother Russia

To view this properly listen to the Sisters of Mercy Dominion/Mother Russia. Totally fabulous space. 20 million dead, you need that ground and sky thing going on.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Goodbye Berlin

Hello egg and chips.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Excellent Animal

The capybara, cute huh! World's biggest rodent, sort of big dog sized. Highly insecure, doesn't do much, likes hanging out with other capybaras, swimming and eating grass. We had to wait half an hour for this one to move at all, but as you can see, he cuts fine figure. Day at the zoo, cool! All cities should have a zoo at the centre, just to put us in our place.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Perverts Palace

I side with my friend Ulrika that there are only two types of pervert, those who know they are and those that don't (know they are) but in general the Germans have less of a problem with perversity than the English. The Helmut Newton Museum, also the home of the National Museum of Photography, is for instance grandly situated in an old Wehrmacht officers club (look at the width of the staircase- post below) and celebrates the 'Helm' to the Max, down to his clothes and his car and just about everything else. Walking in to oceans of Helmut Newton pictures is a bit like wading your way through a box of chocolats, it may not make you feel very well after a while, but it is worth the experience once or twice, and certainly should be obligatory for every present day female Guardian columnist, to remind them, at least, that Vogue is as pornographic as Nuts.
Helmut Newton had of course left Germany for Australia. The irony should not be lost, and the man was lucky, things fell in to place, and you can tell he enjoyed himself as any man with the Riviera touch or roosting in the Chateaux Marmont surrounded by beautiful women should; he did remarkably demeaning, pornographic things with them for the public to enjoy. But nobody really thought it was porn, they enjoyed it as art (especially Charlotte Rampling) and here it all is, the greatest porn palace that isn't this side of a anywhere truly smutty, but with the byline that here, at least, everybody featured is obscenely rich. Indeed, the proclivities of the rich are pornographic. Helmut shows us this, especially when they are fabulously rich, after all what else is there to do? It is all very Marquis de Sade, and very instructive as to the mores of the bourgeoisie that this stuff is acceptable, even laudable, and other stuff isn't. David Cameron should also pencil in a visit.
In England the Met used to measure 'porn' vs 'art' by the quality of the paper. It is one of those injustices that permanently blights the life of ordinary working girls, strippers, dancers and so on, simply that they are not rich.
Above, Helmut's jeep, just about the most pornographic thing I can imagine.

German Lobby 2