Sunday, 31 March 2013

Galaxy Quest

Just the best film ever.

Thursday, 28 March 2013


This is one terrific chair, I've just bought it off eBay, and it arrived today. It was a bargain, and it has the olive green leather rather than black, and it's Knoll to original 1929 specification. I love it. I really love this chair. Why?
Well contrary to the excellent Karl Arnold cartoon showing an appropriate Bauhaus era scene; Zoroastrian chanting (Lords of Art and all that) on spindly functionalist chairs, this chair is big. It is sumptuous enough to demand a better word than big, more like, lugubrious, but it is not too big, it is big enough. Knowing that Mies was the size of two men helps you understand. And it's solid, really solid, the steel tubes are nice and thick, so that when you sit on it, you feel the slightest of flex in the cantilever, a most satisfying sense of poise. Also, since the steel is in one piece, there is no irritating squeaking. Most Habitat era reproductions of this type of furniture feature joints with allen key connections that squeak.
Meanwhile the section shows that the solid seat and back are tipped back just a little from the right angle, giving a sense of calm repose, so contrary to that image of uncomfortable squirming we read in to the cartoon; this chair fills you with a sense of the opposite, and it doesn't tip you into your bratwurst. Designed for the luxurious Tugendhart house of 1930, this chair really gives you the idea of Mies, and it certainly contradicts assumptions about comfort and style; it is a really elegant thing.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Sonic Temple

I've just spent the last hour listening to The Cult. The wonderful thing about the Cult is that they seem overwhelmed with their own sound. It makes them much better than Guns'n'Roses. I mean Guns and Roses quickly became essays in power ballards to show off (such as November Rain) but when The Cult play 'Rain' they are just improving on all the other rains they might have done. Indeed, if you listen to all The Cult and no doubt earlier than Cult (sudden death) Cult records, you will simply find steady amplification of a theme, maybe there's a touch of rockabilly in there, pursued by a bunch of Herberts  slowly improving as they go. And album by album they certainly get louder but not a lot else. Billy Duffy slowly finds his magesterial feet and then I'm flying down Nightingale Lane on my GPZ 750 doing a wheelie with a girl in nothing but a fur coat on the back (I don't recommend this) and nothing but a futon and a HiFi with a stage mixer desk and Marshall bass bin in the bedroom and Sonic Temple on top of it. That's what music can do for you.
(Personally I still think 'She Sells Sanctuary' from 'Love' is one of the most catchy fabulous rock records of all time).

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Artistic Collaboration

These days collaboration is seen as a very positive thing. However I would like to point out that my own collaborative meeting today over a piece of work Julie and I are working on went something like this within a mere three minutes:
'Do you want a fight?'
and we collapsed in hysterics.

Saturday, 23 March 2013


A student asked asked me why I loved Las Vegas so much. I realise this is not an unusual thought amidst the student body, and promised to explain. In his eyes, loving Las Vegas didn't seem to fit at all with the other far more conventional things I profess to love. On Friday I gave a kind of retrospective lecture to explain.
Firstly I reminded my audience of those essentials of historical perspective, geological time, time of man, life time and cocktail hour which are so often left out of criticism. When I read (as I was doing this morning) Colin Rowe on La Tourette, I can't help but be interested in how old he was and how many bottles of scotch he was demolishing a day when he wrote it. So as preamble, let's say I loved Las Vegas roughly between the ages of thirty five and forty eight - just about the right age for anybody to love Las Vegas. It also helps to know that at that time Vegas was experiencing a boom of unprecedented and global significance, and that I had been taught by David Greene of Archigram. One of the few things I remember David saying fairly vehemently was that the things going on around you were far more interesting than any theoretical bullshit, and I agreed with him.
At the end of my lecture, I realised that at least one student had understood something I myself had not realised about my love of Vegas. His insight blew me away, he said 'You like Las Vegas because even if it doesn't look it, even if it looks the opposite, you think it's organic!'
Such a thought!! Vegas as a sort of utopia, a non Jerusalem, what you got if you had the balls to put people together away from the context of other things (in the middle of a desert- might as well be a desert island) and didn't expect them to be perfect at all; just let them get on with it, and out of that would grow flat line social hierarchy, a known percentage to the house, some massive sense of freedom, and that magnificent image of life as a battle against the odds played out across acres and acres of five star interiors - not Lord of the Flies at all! Most of all, a representation of many all too human truths. To live there successfully you would have to grow up fast. Yes that made perfect sense to me at the time, and all made clear with the help of the eloquent art critic Dave Hickey. I now reckon Dave Hickey as a covert neoliberal. This is a sad turn of events, but I still find him damn good.
Paradoxically the Americans escaped our proto-renaissance concept of utopia by embracing instead some notion of the organic, and their architectural visions of what organicism looked like made it into many a living room but not much further. Thats what makes Louis Sullivan so interesting. It's a shame, he would have found a better bar to drown his sorrows in Las Vegas than in Owatona nowheresville.
But that student was right, Las Vegas didn't look organic but weirdly it was, whatever else it did. I had certainly demonstrated in my lecture that it grew rather effortlessly.
Of course most architects when confronted with the phenomenon of Las Vegas want to paint it all brown, they think that might make it authentic (and they tried it too in the new municipal buildings) but that is just a question of signage (ROFL).
However the whole point of utopia is that it must exist in the mind. There has to be the idea of living in it, but that is not entirely the point, just as we might say of the Ville Contemporaine by Le Corbusier. Building utopia, or even growing it, and even if as Oscar Wilde suggested, such an activity were symptomatic of our progress, it would seem to encourage hubris.
After 9/11 there was little chance of proselytising such an innocent American dream. Meanwhile the effort of studying Las Vegas had of course lead to the conclusion that architecture (somewhat disconcertingly) now posited not much more than stagecraft. This was unsatisfactory, but while I worked something out I was going to have to start talking about architecture in the past tense, that is until I fashioned some new utopia. Meanwhile, as Malcolm Higgs once said to me, 'well we may love whisky, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to drink it all the time'. He was quite right on both metaphoric and practical levels.

Photo Julie Cook. Me under the 'world's biggest' neon sign. Hilton Las Vegas c1998

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Thematics of Heavy Metal

Of course there are many things that should worry us about heavy metal, but even the most dispassionate can't fail, surely, to be interested in what makes it work, or not. But even Planet Rock DJ's appear not to be interested in this dissection. I suspect they are not allowed to, for it would cause discontent. Hence we evidence the flattening of our culture. I fear people who fear to declare this better than that, or declare such declaring be inappropriate (not that again!) The Planet Rock malaise is a shame since it would seem the best part of a potential Planet Rock DJ's task to mumble occasionally 'it's good because it's bad' just as Proust said of Ruskin, and potentially terribly entertaining too. However I don't give a damn as long as today I don't meet any Iron Maiden fans in Tescos; because to be sure 'Run for the Hills' is truly awful and I need to find out why and indeed, declare it from the hills while I'm running.
It's the galloping bass line I think. Imagine them, sitting in the studio making the bass line gallop harder and harder, like horses, like galloping chargers. It's so Derek Smalls, it's so Dungeons and Dragons, and it's sooo crap. Clearly I like my bass to sound like bass, and with heavy metal I would prefer we are not in the special effects cabins of the BBC.  So Iron Maiden can be very bad indeed with their metaphors, let alone subjects, as far as I'm concerned.
So how come I love the Immigrant Song eh? Where they charge in from the land of ice and snow!!! It doesn't make sense unless I realize that on the Immigrant Song the drums sound very much like drums. Meanwhile I do note that on Celebration Day, even Robert Plant comes over very sheepish about having to sing about Gollum and Mordor in 2006.
A taxonomy of metal, that unique aggregation of teenage angst and masturbation into sound, illustrates a limited but interesting realm of endeavour that concentrates mainly around issues of Satan, Tolkien, war, apocalypse in all its forms, Goth, motorcycles, death, wargames, maidens and the lack of, murder...(just as the Blues has roads, trains, heartbreak, satan, starvation, work or lack of, weather...) that desperately demand some thematic analysis (just like they do to Jane Austen).
If only it wasn't that the masters declare that RocknRoll is just rock and roll ('yuhh!') when even their own night prowlers are faintly plausible. It gets in the way of a feast of peculiarity. It's only rotten taste but I like it.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Master Builder

What is a master builder? Do they exist anymore? Might we even aspire to such a thing if we understood the baggage that came with it?
You can have the term master builder conferred on you, like Albert Speer. He was no doubt very pleased at the time but it hardly did him any good in the long run. However it would seem that there are those who might cherish the ambition from an early age, who will strive for it and live for it and perhaps only partly come undone by it, as with those sixties brutalists, or the character of Ibsen's play of the same name who becomes fully undone by it. There is no doubt that as a young student I was confronted by a multitude of master builders, the Neave Browns and the John Winters, for whom it was largely inconceivable not to build, who in some way cherished the semblance between drawing and building, even if it were nothing but a beech hut, just as long as they were being an architect and being on site commanding building operations. Some confuse these people with 'modernists'. But Mies was not the big daddy of master building because he was a great modernist, not at all, whatever he actually was.
But ourselves, we had little stomach for it, we wanted to be conceptual, we were post-Faustian (which is not the same as saying we were post-modern) we poured scorn on professional practise, and those who could definitively be labelled not master builders seemed to have won the day for a while - until perhaps, some latent desire overcame them. Peter Cook for instance, for all his influence and importance, is no master builder, neither is Zaha, for making buildings that look as if you enjoy the process of fabrication by virtue of parametrics, doesn't seem to be the same thing. However they might want to be; inside every non master builder there might be some crazed master builder trying to get out. Meanwhile the joker in the pack might be Norman Foster, who does little if not build, and there are five hefty volumes to prove he does little else whatever he does do.
The next vexed question you might ask is does the master builder know what he or she is doing? The answer must be a resounding 'yes' and that kind of definitive and catagoric 'yes' that does not tell the whole story. It would seem you might also require some vast reserve of, what's the name for it, indifference, a very substantial blind spot, to be a master builder, and that was not what I was expecting, but it is what Ibsen alludes to.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Excellent Jason Bonham

I've met Jason Bonham, I've even bought him a pint of cider in some bar on Sunset Boulevard. He won't remember me (or Julie for that matter). We were on our honeymoon, meandering about. He'd lost his car, that seemed a cool thing to have done, we bought him a drink. There were just the three of us in the bar, like we were in some neoclassical painting called 'The Rustics in LA' (however maybe this is something rock stars do all the time over there, like in 'Hey Dude Where's My Car'- how would we know?
I've spent most of the afternoon listening to him do the most incredible thing on Celebration Day. The weird thing is of course that I spent a good deal of time while enjoying that afternoon concentrating on him; could he do it, could he not, since the rest of the band (witness the beginning of 'Whole Lotta Love') can do it anyway so it seems, they have it in them, so 'is he going to show or isn't he?' as Plant asks beforehand- it says that in the liner notes- he does.
Jason does the thing big time.
So when I listen to this fabulous record (x3) a record I am even considering upgrading Memmmmemmem my my my HiFi to play, I am thinking not just of glorious shifts of guitar mania, or total vocal nuance in a fucking seriously live situation ( I was there, fucking amazing, long story, but that's not quite the point)  I'm not just thinking about how we ONLY NOW understand the genius of John Paul Jones, but I'm thinking about that 'up' of Jason Bonham. For to be honest, when I put The Rover on just afterwards from PG, all I can hear is his dad. So his performance is beyond fabuous, it is like sometime out of Homer, it really is Achilles last stand. Fucking geezer man, fucking geezer and better.

Tassimo and Archigram

One of the reasons I like Tassimo coffee (and I generally don't like coffee) is the artificiality of it. There is the play of the machine for one thing, at the simple press of a button it gurgles and hisses at your command, and to very precise tolerances and for very particular (and short) time periods. This is not boiling the kettle, this is manufacturing to the highest level. Of course all the ingredients, the two pods I use, one 'creamer', one 'expresso' are hardly in actuality (I assume) or as presented, natural. I have no idea what is in them, and what's more the process is more comfortably suited to making a single coffee for yourself, and not for others. It is anti-social. Others get in the way of enjoying the process; the necessarily discarded pods begin to mount up, disturbing and making a mess of one's little mechanized fantasy world and making it fiddly. Accommodating others is fiddly.
The machine is cheap, but the 'pods' (for want of a better term) are expensive, and they have to be ordered in advance for fear of disappointment in Tescos. If there is anything to be avoided in Tescos, it's disappointment, since our reaction is always, 'look it must be here somewhere' or 'they must have moved it', and so on. I have even found myself staring at the shelves almost believing 150ml of Ketjap Manis will suddenly appear like magic! Such bewilderment only encourages worry and we worry enough already.
Hence I am beginning to appreciate the genius in the Tassimo, having first encountered such a machine in a cottage in the wilds of West Cork, where it's owner no doubt also enjoyed such technocracy in retreat. He'd made, with his Tassimo, his cottage in to a space craft with none of the disadvantages of outer space, and enjoyed all the power of using it no doubt, making sure never to run out of pods, and enjoying the utopian pleasure in pressing buttons for sensual reward by himself whilst sitting in arcadia.
That's all very Archigram if you ask me.

Saturday, 9 March 2013


I wonder if you could do what these guys did for classic books to classic buildings.  Whilst pondering this on the day bed I reckoned The National Gallery Berlin might be:
Bloody big grid. Not much else of interest. Heavy shit. Horizontal cathedral. Bar in basement; shat myself in the toilets.
or Louis Kahn's Salk Institute might go:
Nice view :)
And Le Corbusier's La Tourette:
Cold hard noisy Achilles Last Stand CTFO.

Actually, I don't twitter, I don't text. Students will have to do this.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

DeDe on the Moon

There are many odd things about landing on the moon. Firstly there was no outside handle to the lunar modules 'door'. If you shut it, you were stuck there for an eternities worth of 'I told you not to shut the fucking door' from your only friend. Secondly you had to jump off a ladder into something you had no idea about, making the 'small step for man' stuff idiotic (you'd be saying something far richer than that) and thirdly you must have been most concerned that the stitching on your space suit, done by the ladies who conventionally did knickers, well that it might...come undone. But most curious of all is that squirrelled away on Apollo 12 (the second landing) was Ms DeDe Lind, Playboys Miss August 1969. She of course appears above as she did then, about to demonstrate, ostensibly as nature intended but for make up, bow and knickers, Newtons Laws of Motion! Somebody at NASA must have been having a laugh, and perhaps you would need to.
But it's even weirder than that, the issue of discrimination seems even more pertinent to space travel than most things. Julie is convinced that the first woman on the moon should have been a real woman and that the whole female astronaut gender bias thing was sinisterly hushed up. Indeed this seems highly plausible. The horribly predictable arguments against women being first on the moon, indeed the absence of women altogether, sound hugely stupid when you consider the immensity of the undertaking and it's importance for human kind in general. I doubt the Soviets suffered such weaknesses. So in fact I figure that what would have been best would have been to leave Ms August 1969 up there as a non degradable paper relic in the space hedgerow, as space junk in the space dust, to lie there forever as an inadvertent memorial to our strange human prejudices, to be discovered by aliens with wonder.
The image to the left is Buzz Aldrin hanging out the lunar washing. 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Ideology Workshop

This workshop is for second year architecture students. It is designed to follow a lecture on the architecture of Russian Constructivism, and before a lecture on Neoclassicism (Stalinism, Nazism) and illustrates contemporary ideology within studio.
The process is entirely done on the computer. There is no traditional drawing or assessment involved.

1. Google Image : Gropius Office
2. Google Image : Richard Hamilton/appealing/unusual

Ponder both for a while. Illustrate the seating position in Gropius office with regard to ideology. Illustrate the differences exhibited in the Hamilton collage.

3. Go to and go shopping (but do not literally buy)

A desk
A desk lamp
A chair
Something to hang on the wall

4. Ponder your criteria for selection (maybe ALL objects must be sourced north of Watford?)

5. Make a drawing in photoshop collaging the four objects (and others if you feel you need a backdrop)

6. Post your drawing with a caption regarding 'Directors Office for....(whatever your present project is)...and including the words appealing and unusual if possible.

7. When you receive more than five 'likes' from visitors, post your drawing on our unnoffical architecture noticeboard ( in this case).

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Architectural Writing

Something is happening to architectural writing. Somewhere between the quasi lyricism of the water flowing underground psycho-geographers; the Iain Sinclairs, the Will Selfs, those surface mounted self regarding archeologist anthropologists going nowhere on bicycles, and the convoluted, luscious ruminations of the more succinctly lyrical, sedentary if ambiguous or at least permanently startled Jonathan Meades- standing in another field, against another silo wearing those glasses, eating crisps, perhaps even in fancy dress- and the even greater exquisitaries of the likes of Owen Hatherley on the subject of..... Jonathan Meades (it seems there is a competition going on- I've just ploughed pleasantly through Hatherleys review of Meades in yesterdays LRB) we've all gone word crazy.
It started, maybe, with Matthew Collins, it perhaps had it's genesis in Clive James, maybe found it's feet with Dave Hickey and strolled around like Robert Hughes, or did it just sit in the bar with Ian Nairn (Meades's hero, for some reason). What exactly happened? Where did all the straight talking go, was there any in the first place?
I even found myself described as 'rollicking' (but wrong) in the AR this month.
And funnily enough Matthew Barac and I held our first seminars on architectural writing this very week, as if it were some new task to hand which had previously been considered simply automatic, day to day hack work; something that just happened as the transmission of knowledge. Of course we all knew language wasn't innocent, we're not stupid, we are post structural. But something that was still something mostly unselfconsciously transmitted had now become something we had to think about more creatively and somehow teach. It had become a problem. Goddammit. We run the risk of becoming footballers with writers block, or Fernando Torres if you see what I mean.
If there is an overarching motif to all of this it may be 'the torn', those torn between 'making great television, but bad history' those torn between loving things in the ramshackle way they are, and their great vision of tomorrow, because they want both/and; they like it ugly, but not like that. Those torn up by plainly ridiculous processes of design and those torn up by the process of making decent sentences. Perhaps with grander perspective it's just that we can't do anything (we will never, by definition, fulfill our desire, desire is unquenchable) and we're torn up about it. This, of course, makes writing about it more important.
I generally prescribe Ernest Hemingway and Marx for Beginners in chronic cases.