Sunday, 28 December 2014

Architecture & Photography

Architectural students worried as to their predicament as we pass in to another year of C21 might do well to console their hangovers with a last minute excursion to the Barbican's architecture and photography show 'Constructing Worlds' (closing 11th Jan). 
First they should pause at the diminutive, free, little tableau next to the lifts on their way up, on Barbican architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. Here you can scrutinise 'Joe' Chamberlin's desk equipment. It's a sobering encounter with nothing but a tee square, set square, compasses and so on. Then whisk yourselves up to the third floor to see what happened.
Certainly the relationship between architect and photographer varies with association, place and time; and here we can catagorise straightforward promotion of Californian 'lifestyle' in Julius Shulman, the interpretive representation of 'shadows and light' (in Corbu) in Herve (and personally I think this association is rather one dimensional and does L-C little service in the end); there are exhilarating and amusing new perspectives brought to the American landscape by Ed Ruscha and Stephen Shore. There is rigorous calm comparison in the Bechers that often, weirdly, miss a bit off the top. There's moody decon promo in Binet, and in my opinion slightly misplaced and charming shots of Also Rossi's most miserable school. 
But after that nobody who thinks at all about the built environment or the 'landscape of man' could come out of this exhibition anything but thoroughly chastened. Architects don't necessarily start the development process, they can't stop it either (although they could refuse to participate) but the big ground floor of this show is largely big miserable (if beautiful) stuff. It is romantic and desperate on a scale not seen since Casper David Friedrich, and at least he often painted small. Photography can be properly critical, and you can see it in Walker Evans and an enthusiastic Bernice Abbot (upstairs) but this recent stuff demonstrates that what architects dream beginnings of photographers kill mercilessly; their perspective is too broad for us minions. We shrink. Funny that, in the Barbican of all places.
(above Steven Shore: Beverley Boulevard and La Brae Avenue 1974)

Christmas Illness

Being ill at Christmas is just perennial; like getting furious in Tescos and getting a Christmas haircut (an instinct so ingrained as to have cues grow outside Rocket barbers on Hackney Rd before opening time (beard meister Steve says he's grateful but I'm not so sure: he's certainly ill by now). I suppose we could add getting stuck in traffic on the A1 and total collapse of the East Coast Main Line. Perhaps the usual things we associate with Christmas are just brainwashing to get us over the time of year, that the early Christians were so fed up all being ill and stuck on the Appian Way in need of a haircut, that they invented a party.
However it is unfortunate the way it turned out; carols, presents, turkeys, cards and all the shit. I just can't bare it. In fact, the only solution found so far has to go further in to the dark side and confront the beast. To this end we watch little else at this time of year than the Christmas Channel. The Christmas Channel features an amazing collection of soppy stories usually running along the lines of single mum high in Appalachians with two kids and animals about to suffer foreclosure from the bank and rescued amidst snowfalls by reformed bank employee; or big bad wolf turned good. How people can even bring themselves to create such twaddle UNLESS in the pay of the C.I.A. is beyond me; but it is fascinating that such a cultural product simultaneously presents the most odious aspect of our culture with the lashings of nostalgia that actually support it; it brings new meaning not only to The Waltons, but Dave Hickey's enthusiasm for Norman Rockwell. Meanwhile I've realised Star Trek is far more significant than I had previously even considered (which was not much) just as long as I keep watching the Christmas Channel.
So on Boxing Day morning I'm glad to say a more stirring perennial event happens outside the door of my parents home in UK Disneyland, or rather outside the Black Horse in Elton; a vintage car rally. Seeing as a more egalitarian future on earth now seems as remote as a Model T; it is a pleasure to stand and gawp at such triumphs of engineering wizardry as a Rolls Royce so silent running it doesn't even purr (above right); or have your old childhood dreams or Corgi toys blown up and made real in the shape of Triumph Vitesse, or be transported in time and space to your dad's first Ford Popular. Now that makes me feel good.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Loretta's Lighthouse

Unfortunately at this time of year the pub is full of arseholes. The girls were complaining yesterday, over tea before their shift began, about the venal treatment men seem to want to vent on dancers at this time of year; and according to them it seemed to be getting worse too year on year; hardly a good sign. 'Joy' said she kind of understood, what with the world as it is; but she's into wellness; others are less sanguine, and I wouldn't like to find a 12" skyscraper stilleto wrapped around my ear in fury; so guys you should mind your manners. On reflection it appeared to me stripping is largely social work: not the usual impression given on their tough working lives by the powers that be and the idiots who despise them. Why men seem so put out by women in control is beyond me: other than that they might harbour serious and worsening problems of their own.
A career stripping is not necessarily a long one, in my life, nowadays like deans, chancellors and professors; favourites come and go: Verona, Alison, Blondi (above) Ellouise..the list rolls on. Me and my friend Nick sit there and he's always saying 'You've got to write a book about this place'; the cast is long and fabulous in variety, and you know I just might. 
We were going to go down this afternoon, Julie too, because Loretta's on. Loretta is quite something; she sports a twinkling butt plug; we call it Loretta's lighthouse. Her arse illuminates. In a crazy and crazier world, she's got it dead right. 
(Photograph by PD)  

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


People seem to get in a worry about utopia, like it's something that didn't happen and can never happen and therefore has to be dismissed as not sufficiently of the moment. This is clearly a conspiracy: you can't sit down to design so much of a bedroom without hoping folks will put their socks in the draw; although one might be more reticent about your design making for better sex. Richard Neutra claimed the latter, but I forgive the old messianic modernist, his heart was in the right place, he just went a bit far. Almost every postmodernist critic has fucked the idea of doing anything decent in the name of making things better for decent folk, and that is a conspiracy, an unreality, a subversion.
Especially these days, when architecture students drown in a misery of their own making. Like, well, how am I supposed to critique a house for partying? Exactly where does that go; well nowhere, except for the Bartlett maybe: exit via the gift shop.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Mersea Mud

Always home somehow. Photo by Paul Davies.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Fifty-Three Today

Fifty three today, so it's Little Feat bootleg on the turntable (like being in a room with them and, it appears, recorded at a wedding) Shepherd and Jellicoe's 'Italian Gardens of the Renaissance' on my knee and John Lydon's 'Anger is the Enemy' under my nose. Soon I'll need a little lie down on the day bed. So, to the pleasures of ageing...

Monday, 24 November 2014

Strategy Against ISIS

It's somewhat paradoxical to get worried about a handful of people (in the UK) making decisions to go off and fight and die on whatever side in today's distant parts; when 57,000 British soldiers died on the first day of the Somme with little idea why they were there at all. A little history goes a long way; shame on the government and the media in this ongoing propaganda of fear. Why not ask, on this media and in this government, WHY are these people moved to do this? What caused this conflict? Huh? Please come up with some decent answers.
I healthy start would be the free distribution to all of this cracking little volume (above) which begins in sanguine tone;

'How do wars begin? this is perhaps the most constant theme of the historian.Wars make up most of European history.In every civilisation there have been wars, at any rate until, we think, our own time. Wars are caused in all sorts of ways- wars of conquest, wars of imperial rivalries, wars of family disputes, religious wars.
In the eighteenth century they had settled down in to almost legalistic wars....'

Great man, AJP Taylor.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Exit Through the Gift Shop

We have become accustomed to Tate Modern's merchandise; their publicity seems as much orientated towards Christmas gifts at this time of year as art. And I can understand how the V&A might just become one huge great shop in twenty years time, sponsored by eBay. That seems the logic of things.
I suppose meetings in such places revolve around selections for Turner shawls and Rothko tea towels, and it's all terribly exciting for those involved, but I was a bit non-plussed to visit the newly renovated Imperial War Museum and find they'd done the same thing there, even down to the fur lined leather flying jacket for £650. What next? A Holocaust ashtray; the camouflage onesie?
The displays in the IWM have changed too. Gone is my favourite; the rickety (when you studied it close-up)  Fock Wolf 190 (above) and the armour pierced Jagdpanzer, and instead there is a rather nice BMW sidecar outfit and lots of moving image which didn't move me a great deal at all. There was greatly 'improved' lighting of all the exhibits too, like you were in Bond Street.
So instead of being moved, I became interested in the BMW sidecar outfit because I would like one of the later derivatives, say from 1975, myself, possibly in sunburst orange, and that isn't really the point.
They have also let the artists in. It a moment in the time of man where art and artists have made themselves conspicuously irrelevant, they suddenly get to condition my experience of wartime. There is a conspicuously blown up up vehicle now sitting on the main floor, but we were told it was not displayed as blown up, but as conditioned by some artist. There was also an exhibition of shirts on hangers, like we were in GAP. I left most concerned over our fatal strategy.

Friday, 21 November 2014

East London Stripper Collective

One of the criminal things that has happened to strippers in the UK has been the fact that the 'left' has criminalised them while the 'right' has corporatized them.
Outside of sheer prejudice, one of their problems is legal language (this should be of interest to any Critical Thinking student) as to how you might define their work. Defining strippers as 'sex workers' is highly contentious with many strippers; and I've just come from their latest meeting where it was suggested 'sexy work' might be much better, and I agree, but I don't think that's going to happen. Legally, girls and boys who take they clothes off in performance are now ranked under an act that deals with sex trafficking and paedophilia thanks, amongst others, to Harriet Harman (Policing and Crime Act 2009) and this is clearly incorrect, but the mass of middling conformists can't see it any other way (and never ask the dancers themselves because that might be just a little bit challenging).
While it looks like this society is more open (read soft, insipid, whining, silly, juvenile) to me (and all the pub strippers I know) it's becoming more closed. The East London Stripper Collective articulated this with absolute force yesterday evening, and I wish my own students could have made such presentations of such intellectual power.
So I am faced with the fact that empirically speaking strippers as a group are now the most intelligent critical thinkers I know.
Photo: Julie Cook

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Tago Mago

This is one of the most compelling records I've heard in a long time. I slapped it on the cans (sic) to speed through the complete works of Richard Neutra, two inches of top end Tachen loveliness. But I'm really not sure if I was listening to them or they were listening to me. Weird, but in a great way, those crazy Krautrockers.

Monday, 10 November 2014

The School of Athens (Raphael)

Half an hour before my 9am lecture slot this morning I projected this image of Raphael's 'School of Athens'(1510), sat myself a few metres back, and tried to figure it out. It's a painting (fresco) my old tutor James Madge used to talk about fondly and he probably got his enthusiasm from Colin Rowe when at Cambridge, who had an ongoing upset with the bottom left corner. I remember going to the Vatican to see it in the flesh as it sits in what was Julius II's library, and getting carried away with it's compositional abstractions; which of course (at that stage) I confused with the actual meaning of the painting (look it up). 
Today I noticed fresh things about it; the naked statue with the lyre, for harmony, on the left, equal to the statue with shield, for war, on the right above this seeming cacophony of the worlds great thinkers. I thought I saw a Greek god in the melee (far left) and then I noticed something else: I couldn't work out the meaning of the box Michelangelo (in brown, left centre front) was leaning against. This box became more and more obvious the longer I looked.
Fancifully, I rather thought the box to be Pandora's, prefiguring what romanticism would unleash on this calm classical stage, then I suppose it could be a bit of stone, but it is regularly shaped, and the church around the gaggle of philosophers looks finished to me. So what's inside? I decided modernity lurked within, with all the chaos it brought with it, and perhaps full blown capitalism lurked in there, ready to jump out like a jack in the box and shock everybody. Or could it be his tools, reminding us of physical work and toil? 
It was as pleasant a half hour as you could wish for.

Thursday, 6 November 2014


It was always a good idea to propose on November 5th, I've never regretted it, and you can never forget it, and all the fireworks have an extra special meaning each and every year. This year was hardly different; we go out to dinner; bang bang, whizz whizz; this time chewing over fifteen years of married life.
However as we strolled back we found crowds around our rather disheveled masterpiece of a housing block enjoying a spectacularly professional firework display. We could only imagine it was our local drug dealers giving something back to the community. It was certainly quite something, they also (sort of) cleared up afterwards. Whether this was like Keith Richards putting on a special show in Toronto I doubt, or whether it was like the nobles of Venice investing in Titian even less, but it was certainly heartwarming.
Keef is the only thing I know about Toronto; the arrest of my teenage outlaw hero by cops in fancy dress came just at that moment in my life when rock n' roll was immensely significant; where it embodied a whole attitude. One of the reasons I've enjoyed Dave Hickey's critical writing so much is that he promises he sits down at least one a year to listen to 'Exile' all the way through, even if, by now, he probably doesn't.
All this is, of course, a mythology. It was good, if disappointing, to read that the legendary Keef was kept going by a bunch of crumbling aristos; and that his street crimes, unlike those surrounding us, were minimal. A drugged life is hopeless either way; just sadder in the latter. I can always spot our local addicts because they are always in a hurry, and almost always in tears. Life is running out, literally.
So they gave them fireworks, how poignant is that.

Saturday, 1 November 2014


Two space exploration accidents in two days, coupled by 23 degree temperatures at the close of October, should make us realise the need to see to things back home here on Earth. Technological advance for it's own sake seems a mistake in a western world already overflowing with the gratuitous. When your iPhone tells you when to buy flowers, and where, you have clearly forgotten the reason for buying the flowers in the first place.
There is a limit to the consumer economy. Modernism, for the first time in human history, introduced the idea that the humble human dwelling was the subject of architecture, and what did we do? Well we junked it; we made it all about presentation again. In the face of such general need, this seems a hell of a shame.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Riding in to the Sunset

January 3rd, 1984, about 11am, that's me as I set off for Europe; for Santander first, eventually Athens and some Greek Islands. I just found this in my late aunt's collection of photographs. I think it qualifies as something called a punctum; since I can remember almost everything about that morning, I can even unpack my luggage in my head; the tools, the petrol stove, a spare pair of army socks.... I returned three months later.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Slavoj Zizek at the Royal Festival Hall

Well the Royal Box was conspicuously empty for this one, but it was otherwise rammed. Zizek gave a fabulous address on the 'Myth of Western Freedom'. I was so pleased I understood the whole lot; how far I'd come I thought; wow fancy that! It was a pleasure.
That was until about lunchtime today, when the black clouds descended; I've hardly felt so depressed. Comprehension is one thing, but when it sinks in, it's terrible. Nothing could better illustrate that anybody admiring those 'consolations of philosophy' must be a moron. 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Russell Brand Admires My Beard

Well he glanced at it, that was enough. Russell Brand is very striking in the flesh, as he stood there chatting (I imagine he spends almost all the time chatting; it must be very exhausting to leave the house)  by the bread in the Albion. The Albion, Redchurch St, the Bond St of the new East, and there he stood, like a rather obtrusive and very slinky cat, chatting to somebody he clearly hadn't met before but who very much wanted to meet him. I like Russell Brand, I like what he says and the way that he says it (although I would never wish to be caught in possession of My Bookiwookie or My Bookiewookie 2 or any number of Bookiewookies) we are even going to see him do something called 'The People's Question Time' in York Hall (10th Oct) which I assume is his preparation for running for Parliament, or even Prime Minister.
I was just getting some vastly overpriced bread as usual, and had just left the White Horse opposite, (which I do regularly to prepare myself for the ordeal of the bread buying) and within seconds I was kicking myself. Because; if there was one thing that would have made the day of Bryany and Kerry Gold and Foxy and Ruby and Natahlia and Jesse that afternoon it would have been if I had introduced myself to Mr Brand and offered him a mineral water and we had retraced my steps to the hallowed ground and I had been able to say 'Just look what I've dragged in' and presented him to no doubt squeals of delight. In not sure celebrities get much of a chance to mingle in such a way, what with George Clooney closing Venice for the day and so on, and it seems inevitable that they are pestered by twats: how much Russell might have enjoyed a bit of chitter chatter with some real dancers as, or just before, they took they clothes off. That's what you call a missed opportunity all round.

(Above: The White Horse as it was before the pole and the twenty first century. Photo by me)

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Fun Days

There seems a prevailing view that problems, especially regarding councils and building work, can somehow be resolved with balloons. It is a fantastically warped 'considerate contractors' scheme that blares Pharrell's 'Happy' at you when you've hardly got windows. It is an affront to be confronted by a bouncy castle instead of major works. Just who the hell thinks these things are actually fun for anybody? Are there Fun Day co-ordinators employed to be perpetually disappointed by the lack of fun these events generate? It's like something out of Reginald Perrin and Sunshine Deserts.
Usually the reason for these particularly absurd events is 'consultation', but this is a really phony notion, since the only real reason is to box tick a programme of pseudo consultation that means you will always get the worst of a range of possible options. If you were really doing something properly, you wouldn't need anything as annoying as a 'Fun Day' at all.
We've been waiting more than five years, and what do Tower Hamlets Homes spring on us, a Fun Day. It bodes badly. Over that period we have been promised almost everything, a chance to inspect windows and view cladding options, with talk of exemplary practice and flagship refurbishment, but nobody stays in the job long enough to make anything happen. Next week I'll bet whole lorry loads of plastic Victorian doors will arrive just the same as the ones we said we didn't want under any circumstances because that's how they ruined the block next door.
Instead I suggest 'No Fun' days where people might actually engage with decision making in a meaningful way, but I fear things have gone too far, that things really are worse than I could possibly imagine.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Enduring Principles

There is no doubt that there are no enduring principles in architecture, at least not if the behaviour of architectural schools is anything to go by. In fact some schools spend so much time wondering what architecture is they have forgotten. For instance, it is amazing to sit down with a really good book, a real tome, like Leonardo Benevelo's History of the City (which will take up most of your desk) and realise none of it's lavish material is of any interest anymore. I have not heard mention of urbanism, except of the informal kind, for years. Similarly the word 'tectonics' has disappeared too, so nobody learns anything about piling one thing on top of or around another, perhaps we think it happens automatically. Then there's 'typology'; something that we used to be obsessed with; what the hell happened to that?
Because nobody wants to plan anything, nothing is planned, and because we desire everything everything is about 'experience'. This is a shocking and disastrous state of affairs, but an absolutely perfect example that you cannot think something in an atmosphere which is not conducive to thinking it. That's why Nazi Germany didn't need a police force to speak of.
Of course you would like to think, precisely because we enjoy our history and that Benevelo book arrived from Portland Oregon for me today, and I think it's fabulous, that there would be enduring principles, but all that's solid melts in to air, as Marx so pertinently put it, so there aren't. Shame.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


A series of Neutra houses, Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles (see post below).

Designing a House Pt6

By rights this blog should be called 'And Now Paul Half Produces Some Really Horrible Drawings' because thats what I've done. You could say they were necessary however, and I'm not in a beauty contest here; no client meetings to wow over, no tutors to impress; just ourselves. It almost goes without saying that halfway through compiling this sheet I realised I was making some big mistakes and lost interest.
From the beginning I had told myself I was not in the business of making pictures; that drawings would be hard as nails; just deliniating where things were and where things weren't. That is the ideal. The problem is, and it's clear from the above, at this stage I don't know what anything is. For instance, a wall around a walk-in wardrobe is hardly a necessity, nor a cave of a bathroom, unless you want it that way, and I simply hadn't asked the question. Meanwhile the whole thing was looking way too expensive; I will need to cut as much material out as I can, and the structure has to be cheap and versatile to keep land costs down. I probably need a precedent too.
So I stopped and went back to the sketchbook.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Designing a House Pt5

To go any further I needed an A2 parallel motion drawing board. I'm disappointed it's not an expensive one since you should really always buy the best you can, but for £50 this will do for now. The point of the parallel motion is that you can collect more drawings together on any one sheet of paper and relate them all together accurately and easily. Parallel motion seemed a better bet than a tee square at A2, because it would give more vertical range. The other stuff I've always had since being a student; decent set square, Staedtler clutch pencil and rotary sharpener, proper eraser and erasing shield, architects scale rule and a circle template. You may also require the wine, bananas and Greek temple, and possibly LPs to whisk you further back in time. Then there's tracing paper, masking tape and metric graph paper to fix under the tracing, and lighter fuel not to burn your efforts but to clean the equipment regularly. Then you take a gulp (of wine) and find out just how much you don't know.
It's amazing that some architectural students think they don't need this stuff, and end up lying on the floor with a cat on their head trying to draw.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Scotland Forever

Scotland, this is our only chance to stuff Eton. David Cameron gave it away yesterday when he was the only parliamentarian to publicly use the 'f' word, and the only Tory Prime minister to use it to refer to his own party. Scotland, please give him a kicking; the biggest kicking the tories could imagine: to break up the United Kingdom. Don't worry, we'll manage.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Designing a House Pt4

So the scratch model at 1:200 is done. You should feel pretty good with yourself; producing something you can at least present in an old Ferrero Rocher box over a weekend. But of course after a certain euphoria, you feel like shit. That's because after an hour or so you've realised there's so much wrong, and there's so much to do. For instance you've hardly drawn a section, and sections are what make building designs work (even if, as I believe; 'the plan is the generator'). Plus you know it's too big by half at least, and we are still not even worrying about a site. 
You students might say: well how can he design a house without a site? Well that's because I do not believe that sites in themselves should inform design; so here we illustrate one of architecture's primary problems; the Ancient Greeks could take their temples anywhere as a product of man; others feel they can accommodate mother natures vibes. The plan of this house is, by the way, essentially a temple, so it can go anywhere.
So I showed it to Scott in the pub; he loved it, said it was Japanese. Showed it to Julie, she loved it for different reasons; drawings and models are always presents. My Facebook pals say I should use a laser cutter, but screw them.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Designing a House Pt3

Now's the time to get out a fresh scalpel blade, your steel rules, some wood adhesive and some brown porous cardboard (not the treated shiny stuff) and get to work. Satisfying at even a scale of 1:200, this really shows if the basic moves will work without having to refine them in great detail (it's a scratch model at a tiny scale so remember not to go too far, it's a working model, not some precious piece of laser cutting). And the answer is, as always, well yes and no; so it's back to the drawing board (layout pad).

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Louis I. Kahn

A hard to see sketch I know, a small sketch, but a nice one. If you root around the little things in the exhibition at the Design Museum, closing soonish, I think you'll find out how to crack the big stuff.
With Kahn, architects rant about 'space' and 'materiality' as if you can't subject his work to objective analysis at all, that you have to make the pilgrimage and experience it's wonder for yourself; presumably panting. After all he did as much as he could himself to make it confusing. Of course there's another wing who reckon it's absolutely principled.
I don't believe in either shit at all. There is always cause and effect, even with the modern mystic Kahn.
So, three things to understand Kahn:
1. He likes things crystalline (organic or scientific)
2. He has a predilection for ancient monuments (the more ancient the better)
3. He enjoys a structural rationalism not unlike that displayed by Choisy, the Beaux Arts French academic in the C19th.

Thursday, 28 August 2014


There's a Frank Zappa song called Flakes (Sheik Yerbouti), it's about the end of the world. It's the one after the opening track, the scything critique 'I Have Been in You'. Frank was not is a genial mood for this record, he was at his best and mad as fuck; and it's now thirty five years later, he's dead, and everything is worse. California may have got the most of them (flakes) but we are catching up, we got our own little Soviet Union over here in the name of freedom and prosperity; where nothing fucking works and nobody's fussed about fixing it. James May can rant all he likes about how awful Soviet cars were, but at least they ran forever. That, in the built environment, is beginning to look like a blessing.
Of course, I am in recovery from yet another Council meeting. After many many many years of so called consultation (because that's what people want) precisely nothing has happened to refurbish our apartment block. It seems the notion of doing something correctly no longer exists (except in my imagination) It seems impossible for the authorities, if that's what they are, to engage with the notion of quality for the people; impossible. It's a disgrace, it is a world of shit. The home of liberty and we can't even fix a sink that won't spring within a day or two, or rig up a shower that wasn't even designed to work properly in the first place.
'It's a disgrace!' says the barmaid in The White Horse. She won't even let her contractors in to the house. She's  right.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Zaha vs New York Review of Books

Thankfully I'm not drowning in the technicalities of this case, and I'm certainly not going to comment on the particulars, because I don't know them (not even read it); although I do note the author has (last night) retracted. But as an interested blogger who thinks this could be a landmark issue which will soon be swept under the carpet, here's a view.
The opinion in question is contained in a review of Rowan Moore's book 'Why We Build?' With a title like that I'm assuming the book and the review might contain some thorny discussion. It is not called 'How We Build?'; it implies moral questioning.
The review is an American review of a UK writer's book. Meanwhile all sorts of International (Americanish) architectural companies go fishing for work that involves the employment of incredibly poorly paid and unorganised construction labour across the middle east where people die.
There's always one smart arse student who chirps up in my Critical Readings course; usually when discussing slavery in the Third Reich; they say that 'it's always happened!' 'Look at Ancient Egypt!' they say; 'Look at the pyramids!!'
The point is that was then and this is now. You don't get here without revolution and organised labour and human rights and all that, and as Trotsky pointed out; you cannot just append what the west's gilded do dads to essentially feudal situations without asking for trouble.
So much for globalisation then. Zaha feels singled out here, and you can imagine her being especially pissed; all of this could kind of stick in your throat- as a native Iraqi- amidst the Middle Eastern shit storm the consequence (ask yourselves) Especially when her practise has gone out of it's way to comment on the worker issue as opposed to remaining silent. Whether one agrees or not with Hadid director Patrik Schumacher on the subject of 'content' in architecture (an appropriately post modern view) he at least articulates it so that some of us can disagree.

Designing a House Pt2

Too big, first floor all over the place, not exactly E.1027 (not exactly anything) no water tanks, but to scale.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Great Escape

Whilst it never felt like it when I was a boy, nor while I kept the video safe for miserable days in pre-middle age; now, when I look at The Great Escape, I see one of the most contrived pieces of patriotic bollocks you can possibly imagine; every time I hear 'Dickie' Attenborough say 'But you made me Big X!' it makes my skin crawl.
The Great Escape had more veracity than the Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare for sure, but now I prefer them. In tall tales, I should not expect authenticity. I mean look at the bike (above); it's a modified Triumph, but I'm not fussed about that, it is that whole aura of the 'playing fields of England' that gets to me. The idea of The Great Escape as propaganda, in the early sixties (!) and just like James Bond, but not James Bond, not an individual ostensibly from nowhere, but a whole load of public schoolboys placed in their own camp, with their tuck boxes (parcels) and 'Tunnel Kings' and 'Forgers'. And that the Germans are too stupid to see beyond a sudden interest in gardening or Christmas carol singing or bloody bird watching. They all seem to be playing it like children and I suspect that was the point. If you are interested in fashion you are gay, and have 'chaps' secretly working across the camp on disguises. See what I mean? It's really quite pathetic, it's also why you have to raise the American flag to create the hero, because this bunch of premature upper class twits just can't manage it. And the Scots are short, and unstable, and subservient.
Meanwhile, all credit to those guys who really did ride German trains with no idea of what they were doing or where they were. This demanded play acting on a different scale. Every time I get on a German train I think of that.

PS: Sadly I was not aware on posting this that Richard Attenborough died today. Not so much a lapse of judgement; but certainly bad timing.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Kate Bush

It is clear there are plenty of Kate Bush fans, and they are powerful enough to get there own whole evening of Bush on the TV. It was harrowing experience for most of us however, since we had to listen to them talk about how great she is over and over. Julie and I grumbled and eventually had to turn the bloody thing off, just after paying huge sums to have it put back on again (see post below) but even Scott doesn't have too much of a problem with Bush, despite her being obvious candidate for postmodernist priestess; he finds the ludicrous swirling and wailing occasionally amusing; as in Hounds of Love and the woofing. Apart from the one that goes 'Wow oh Wow oh Wow OH WOW! (deep voice)' the only number I can remember is Wuthering Heights; I must have switched myself off somehow to the global importance of Ms Bush and her feelings after that. Celebrating the absurdity of life should not really be a priority, and I certainly don't see it as a condition of femininity.
Actually, I have Bush firmly positioned in the new Victoriana as a post-pre-raphaelite. She looks that way, acts that way too, Scott, while admitting to her charms, reckoned he wouldn't be able to cope in her actual presence for more than a minute or two. And low and behold, guess who's singing her praises in the Guardian; Jeanette Winterson.
Oh well, good luck to her anyway.

Friday, 22 August 2014

The Cable Guy

The cable guy came at 8am. An hour and a bit later I gave him £180.40 and went back to bed. 'Option 4 followed by Option 5' was ringing in my head, that's life these days, option 4 followed by option 5; we offer three pre-selected sets. Christ I've heard that before, is it Archigram? Maybe I'm dreaming.
The satellite TV hadn't been working since we got back, I thought it was the old digibox. Old digibox has had it I thought, so I bought a new one off eBay, not a real new one, an old new one, that's after the Indian lady I phoned at Sky had promised me one for free that was worth £450, but I couldn't put the numbers in to my smartphone, so that was that.
Now I can watch Soviet Storm again, once I'd followed option 4 and option 5 that is.
This is fuckin' nuts.
A young girl came in for interview the other day. She had been told that architecture was about crumpling up bits of paper rather than drawing on them. On the side, she thought the inspiration for architecture came from body parts.
This is fuckin' nuts
You have to blame almost everybody who was doing anything in the eighties for what amounts to this child abuse, this dereliction of duty (including me of course) those who wanted architecture to be fun, those of us who wanted to liberate it to vaginas on sticks. We were duped by stupid french philosophy that didn't even get us laid.
Well I just don't believe it anymore, I think it sucks.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Designing a House Pt1

'I'm designing this house and I'm going to fucking build it!'

(Note: parts 2 thru 100 might get a bit trickier- but will keep you posted).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Streets of London

Ever felt cheated? It happens to me about once a year at least, when we return from Berlin to our humble home. Yes humble, as in hovel. I beetle to the corner shop for supplies with the words of Johnny Rotten running through my head and a very nasty taste in my mouth. We know our place, the English, and it's bumping into each other and avoiding the piss in the lift. And it is in those first vibrant and depressing few hours of return that you realise that England is still feudal, that nothing has changed here for hundreds of years; nobody has attempted to make anything better or fairer; there's been no attempt at respect, self or otherwise, for there has been no idealism here that wasn't derailed just as quickly as it started.
The serfs scuttle about, between hidey-holes and back alleys; the Etonians sit and gloat in their piles. They don't have to worry, our heroes are barrow boys and shop girls, Del Boys and Thatchers, our history just trade, boys made good with Empire; a little bit of business here, a little there; selling England by the pound. AND we doff our caps to them, even vote for them. It's pathetic.
For the architect, the great city of London is a contradiction in terms, nothing here has been done for anything less than money. Generosity to the human spirit a laughing matter; 'Always look on the bright side of life!' Ha fucking Ha. I even thought of a new title for my book; 'This is Not Civilisation'.
So I'm going to make a small model of a decent house, imagine it somewhere, like Pliny, but with modern, modest, principles in mind. I'll put my dreams in that.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A Relapse of Taste

I remember Matt White, at the end of a holiday in Las Vegas, going out and buying a 'Forced to Work: Born to Hunt' cap and a tee shirt with a huge eagle across the front, that was just after he began telling us the TV was talking to him. I wonder if he still has them; it remains one of the more memorable moments of my gentle life.
We clearly needed some taste readjustment as we prepare to come home, so when I saw this propped up against the only stall that sells anything remotely dirty at the market at Tiergarten, I knew she was for us. Plus, I've finished the second draft of the book, including The Romans, and I fancied a bit of Up Pompeii. She's 3D, the man said I'd picked his best piece, for the best price naturally.
When it comes to questions of taste its always good to remember the Gene Simmons quote: 'It's not about taste it's about what tastes good!' We were feeling rather low at the end of our adventure, she's cheered us up no end.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Schloss Glienicke

In an era where the work of top architects shouts and their clients may as well be Nebuchadnezzar, it is very pleasant to find architecture you can hardly see at all. That's not to say it's not great, this low profile stuff, it's just you'd be surprised, brought up in the era of Python, Rhino, Grasshopper and other species, that there is an architecture which, if it says anything at all, rather suggests you as a human being might sit down, have a glass of wine and contemplate a menu of food rather than stare at the ceiling looking for kicks.
That's exactly what you will find at Schloss Glienicke, C.F. Schinkel's masterly C18th theme park reached as easily from Berlin (S7 to Wansee, then Bus 316 to Glienickebrucke) as it was from the Royal Palace at Potsdam. It is easily the most romantic, peaceful and easy place to hang around in as you can imagine, and the best way to enjoy it is to sit in the restaurant courtyard (converted stable block) for a couple of hours eating nice things and not bothering to look at the architecture at all. If you do so no doubt Schinkel himself would be proud, because that's what this place is for.
Now you don't have to be royalty to enjoy it, everybody can, there's not even an entrance fee. The park is populated by all sorts of follies you might stumble upon, but we are not talking Disneyland. Repose it is, repossession it isn't; all tyrants and their idiotic architects please take note.

The Blue Angel (1930)

The Germans do have a thing for descent. Maybe it's because they have a thing for moral standing, the sort of pompousness that had Alan Hansen remark that Michael Ballack played football for Chelsea like he was smoking a cigar. So when you go downhill you really go downhill, like in Hans Fallada's tale 'The Drinker', it's excruciating because all the time you think it can't get worse and there's a glimmer of hope and then no there isn't and it does get worse...and worse. The Blue Angel (1930) takes no prisoners whatsoever, if you enjoyed the wobbly descent of the drinker this cuts out the hopeful bits. There is one moment of cooing in the marriage ceremony, but you know even that's a sign of doom.
Of course it is the descent of a bearded middle aged professor who falls in love with a stripper, so of course it's especially uncomfortable for people like me, but it's about a lot more than that. It should be required viewing for Striptease Culture 101.
The professors world is stuffy and pompous, full of rules and regulations, while the world of the Blue Angel is irredeemable, but real. Dietrich is the epitome of sanguine, she's not pretentious. Sure she is sexy and she knows it, but she does not ladle it on, she's even a tiny bit kind. As the professor loses his standing he loses his job, he becomes, immediately, without discussion of any kind, the lowest form in the troop, the clown. Oh god, the clown, god how I hate clowns! The fact that my friend Scott has drawn a lot of clowns and me as a clown and some of them are on our walls as reminders of just how awful clowns are, made me realise I couldn't watch the last ten minutes and had to go to bed.
I asked Julie what happens: the poor professor/clown crawls back to his old lectern and dies.
Thanks Mr von Sternberg, thanks.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Getting Naked

I said Berlin was calm, what if even that's too much for you? Seeing as Julie is a bit of a water baby and it's her birthday, I was dragged here, like a dog on the visit to the vet, to Liqidrom, to, er, float, and er, sweat, and generally get wet to calming music. 
I don't know how they make that calming music. It must be such a bind going in to the studio wondering if this is calmer than that. What kind of person does that for a living? What do they eat? I mean even Cafe del Mar had quirky bits. I'm not sure this stuff was worse than Eno or not. I spent most of my time listening out for clear errors in programming, and it is the only time I have ever been grateful to hear 'Nothing Compares to You'. Meanwhile the calming version of 'This is Not a Love Song' was so weird it was brilliant.
Liquidom also must be hell to work in, unless on speed. After a day of enforced calm you'd be likely to have a nervous breakdown cracking an egg. You'd need anger classes. 
But, you maybe have to do these things for love, and you can keep an eye out for the naked fixation that has such facilities work as  sort of 3D Lucas Cranachs. I've never been fond of Cranach's paintings, though Goering liked them, especially the 'Seven Ages of Women' one of those Reformation pieces against vanity that demonstrates merely that every woman will end up looking like Joe Bugner. Here you'll get the seven ages of man too. Don't look, it's grizzly. Buy another cocktail (thankfully they do cocktails).
So I tried to float, I really did, amongst several luminescent balls, in the pool above. I am not a natural floater, I like my feet on the ground, I nearly died in the Solant once. As we were reclining at some point in this suspension of life itself, Julie absent mindedly asked me if I'd ever been to the Sanctuary. She was that chilled. I was horrified. 
'Are you trying to pick me up?' I said

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Writer on Holiday

Roland Barthes wrote a nice essay where he decided that writers don't have holidays, because that's when they write (Mythologies 1957). Ian Fleming, there's a good example. Well I'm no Ian Fleming I can tell you but I have been diligently writing away everyday, 9-12.30. That's why there haven't been many posts this time from Berlin. Now I'm fed up with it. It's no surprise, I've got a whole history of architecture and I'm stuck on the last bit, 'The Future'. It's a cop out not to have a go at it, but agony.
So, it's back to AAOH, maybe it will flush me out.
I'm amazed that the records we, or I, play on 'holiday' bare no relation whatsoever to those I play day-to-day at home. Given how cities can be so different to live and work in, this could turn me in to an architectural determinist.  How come I'm not playing 'Kick Start My Heart' and find myself John Martyn's first album instead? Yeah well Berlin is pretty calm, you are surprised that leaving the house to find no threat at all, not even a subliminal threat. Look at the picture above, that's taken in the centre of Berlin, in rush hour (what's that?)
So the holiday records that punctuate are evenings here are gentle things; Mark Knoplers Kill to Get Crimson, and Jackson Brown's Naked Ride Home have it sewn up. Both of those I first heard in a bar down the road, Zweibelfische on Savignyplatz, where, I'm glad to say, the worlds oldest and biggest cat, Zappa, is still snoozing his way though the day.
This while Gaza goes up in flames!? Planes fall out of the sky? It's not right, I feel guilty, no wonder I can't write the bloody future. No wonder writers tear off on to such terrible drunks, every morning is a potential Hemingway morning here. Self control, you are so not kidding. Holiday? Absolutely no way.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Steigenberger Leipzig

The Steigenberger is a terrific place to stay if you want to splash a bit of cash in Leipzig. Note the ice skating porcelain figure; she doesn't come with the room, but back to Bethnal Green with us very well packed.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Leipzig Zoo

Once the paradigm for the zoo was the garden, hence zoological garden, but now it's more like Jurassic Park. The animals don't know where they come from, so we re-create it for them. Leipzig is an exemplary zoo, right in the centre of the city, with bits of savannah and even a restaurant that gets top recommendations on Trip Advisor. The toilets in said restaurant (one of many) looked as if they had been designed by somebody who's last job was in Las Vegas, such was the creepy authenticity.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Odd German Art

Went to the opening of some odd German art last night. Had to go, the artist in question, one Otto Piene, had fastened some huge balloons to the roof of the New National Gallery. They were flapping in the breeze like spermatozoa. You'd have thought this artist was some young German artist prankster, but he's well in to his sixties. 'Otto's Work is Worlding' says the blurb.
Anyway thousands of people were there, all milling about all over the place; the atmosphere rather festive. In the gallery there were the usual arrays of beanbags and lots of big projections with the word 'IMPERMANENCE' read out over and over again and when the projections (sort of microscopic organisms- really no idea) took a lull (see above) people were having a great time making shadow puppets. It was the only time, I'm sure, that space has been effectively used as a gallery space, and I think although I feared the worst, Mies himself would have enjoyed it. 

Postscript: Actually he was well in to his eighties, and the old fella died on his way to prepare for that event!! No wonder so many people showed up!! R.I.P. Otto Piene. I did say at the time, you'd die happy after a show like this.
Thanks Paul B for letting me know.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Berlin before the World Cup Final

Well you would not really know the difference. On TV, a sole pundit explains German superiority. No cacophony of critique here, no why did it all go wrong. On the taxis occasional German flags fly, and in the bars, those of her allies (when you notice this you don't feel particularly aggrieved- it seems rather funny) There is no hysteria, they support football like they play it (I guess that's why they can't do rock'n'roll and the porn is a bit visceral).
In the street all is calm, the kids skip sweetly and quietly, and there's a lady practicing her opera scales (I'm not kidding). The bells toll (every hour), the clock ticks, the birds cheep, one's digestion works well. The usual Sunday silence. I fear for Argentina given such conditions.

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Quiet Plane

Given the post below, you'll realise we'll go to quite some lengths to get some peace on public transportation. So if you are like us, take this advice when flying to Europe:
Always fly from London City Airport in the middle of the day if you are going almost anywhere. The place is empty and comfortable, you can even enjoy breakfast at an empty bar with a decent drink and converse, gently, with the staff, who outnumber you. This may cost you an extra £100 on your tickets, but blimey it's worth it. You go through security in a jiffy, also by yourself. Terrific. 
You'll fly Swiss, or Lufthansa or BA, the sandwich will be nice, the wine free, you probably stop off in Zurich. Zurich is an awful place but the airport is huge and also empty (see above). Whatever the extra time, who cares. Then, if you are flying like we were to Berlin, you fly to Tegel. Tegel is a very imaginatively designed airport with an arrival to exit space not much bigger than your front room and a baggage belt at each gate. You arrive, you pick up your bags, and you leave. You do not have to cross football pitches of shopping. There was no security (they are not breeding islamic extremists in Germany right now I suppose). So out you go and get your taxi right out of the exit. 
The Germans were going to demolish the clever Tegel airport and build a brand new spanking Shonefeld, but this Westfield like adventure went tits up somehow, so use Tegel while you can.

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Quiet Coach

One of the things most irritating about the British is our seeming inability to shut up. I'm pleased you can't drink on the bus, but I'd like you not to eat either, and I would be made very pleased indeed if I didn't have to listen to your petty little arguments without control of either volume or content.
So I like the idea of the Quiet Coach on the train. You would think the people who book a quiet coach do so with the idea of claiming back that remotest piece of peace and quiet (I realise this might be a relative concept for families, but still...) however this is not so. It is a disease.
Families playing 'Snap', business junkies, policemen jabbering promotion, vicars, we've had 'em all.
The next time I hear somebody organising their pathetic holiday accommodation in the Lizard, including all room details, or friends they might sponge off, or playing Spot the Dog with particularly unsavoury looking child between Peterborough and Kings Cross I shall be once more reduced;
"No Spot is not in the fucking wardrobe, he's not eating a fucking banana either, he HAPPENS TO BE SITTING IN COACH B, SEAT 28 and I wish he would FUCK OFF!!
Of course such as view is seen as a horrid intrusion, it is seen as rude to desire people keep themselves to themselves, and especially not to enjoy their little bundle of joy and his inalienable rights. It is now rude to ask somebody to shut up, even in the quite coach.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

DADA without trying

'There's no history!' she said. I replied rather lamely that these days architectural precedent was not a priority in the design studio. It felt peculiar, for I was thinking I'd heard this rather innocent (but correct) observation before, thirty years ago and in a very different critical context: 'There is no evidence on these pieces of paper that architecture will or has ever existed!' I hear those words clear as a bell. It was Mark Wells barking at a second year c1980. I was in the room, I was next up, with a fire station with a pitched roof because I liked roof tiles (idiot).
This time, the comment was directed at ALL the work.
So I sat in the middle of a room full of final year (that is the end of the end, end of five years minimum stretch) thirty years later and I said to myself, well, we've finally managed it; there is absolutely no architecture here at all. There were launch pads for Venus and power stations running on lighting forks, but there was no architecture. Indeed there were beautifully done launch pads to Venus and power stations where lightening struck twice at least (I do nobody disservice) but no architecture, not really. If you were being cynical and old fashioned, you might be moved to say that instead of architecture we now have lots of stories with illustrations attached, and further, note that this has happened EVERYWHERE, top down to bottom up. That's why I'm sounding old fashioned.
So what's happened?
My director quaked when I mentioned this, but I said not to worry, it's nobodies fault but mine (other than the twin stooges of theory and capital) it's the zeitgeist (no worries). After this nervous breakdown there will come the new Bauhaus (perhaps we shall start with a house of two rooms, and work up to a house of four).
If I had tried my hardest to destroy the subject I couldn't have managed this, it's comic, it's hilarious, it's UNDADA. We should cheer maybe, whoop it up.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Metallica at Glastonbury

I've had Metallica running round my head all morning. Will it ever go away? It can't be healthy. But last night's performance at Glastonbury is now etched in the memory; Lar's bald patch, that amazing bass player/machine, James' pot marks, and all around that dance of madrigal and thunder that epitomises the Gothic, even if, technically, or for debate, it isn't. For weeks I've received all sorts of pleas on Facebook to ban Metallica from 'Glasto' because James Hetfield hunts bears, but you do not admire the Gothic for it's social structures, your enjoy it, if you can, for it's technical proficiency; you enjoy the fan vaulting and the fretwork. And you get the proverbial willies amidst heaven and hell at the same time.
I mean, did you, like me, count the shear number of guitars they went through?
Those who confuse the Gothic with some weird age of chivalry soon get in to trouble, be them England football fans in Lionheart outfits or Kenneth Clark in his castle in Kent championing dogs and St Francis of Assisi. The English are as culpable here as the Germans, who let their tutonic mythology loose with disastrous results in 1939. Manchester Town Hall, in fact the whole of the south side of the Manchester suburbs (so avoiding the stink of the chimneys) The Houses of Parliament, all that phony Gothic daftness, supported by turgid Ruskinian piety, it's all horrible. There was nothing good about living in a castle, it was just slightly better than living everywhere else.
So really, James Hetfield is just performing to type, he is correct, doing the right thing in hunting his bears. If Kenneth  Clark had hunted bears rather than married countesses and the establishment I would believe his 'Civilisation' more. Goths do what they have to do, there will always be classicists to go weak at the knees in front of the Oath of the Horatii.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Playing tonight..

Image feed of Olympia Moments Ltd tonight @ Hashtag, Working Mens Club, Bethnal Green. Retro disco fun and all in all good time.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Simple Minds

All bands sound alike at a distance, that distant thump thump of the festival, except Simple Minds, who managed to elevate their music to little but. I remember sitting on a terrace high up in the mountains above Lake Garda, an idyllic scene sometime in the late nineties, with the retro thump thump of 'Waterfront', the passe thump thump of 'Don't You Forget About Me', and the nagging thumperty thump of 'Alive and Kicking' drifting in. I loved it (it was so peculiar) and every time I hear one of those records, I think back to that moment- I guess that giant mill pond of a lake must have helped the sound travel. Anyway there is a nuance to the chucka chucka chucka noises the guitarist managed to get in with the thumping.
I've been having a lot of those moments recently, when a bit of Level 42 suddenly appears uninvited in to my world, suddenly strays into strippers favourites displacing my amusement at Pharrell. It's sort of 'oh dear that's my era'. I was even driven to write a list of all the bands I'd ever seen, then (for some reason) a list of the all the girls I'd disappointed over the years. I realised Simple Minds were the only band I'd just heard (other than Jane's Addiction who exploded before they could get going at the ICA). Thankfully I'd seen them in the best possible way, without seeing them. Anyway, more than anything it's just annoying to have the Simple Minds as a punctum moment. Damn nostalgia, perhaps it's just reconciliation.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Why Rem Koolhaas Hates being an Architect

Robert Venturi said you were free, Koolhaas said you were trapped, that is the great virtue of Koolhaas's work.
It is clear, at least recently, that Koolhaas has adopted the martyrdom stance; that he may not personally enjoy the late capitalist system but he will be glorious victim of it. He shows it for what it is. I would emphasise the glorious bit. Le Corbusier died for utopia, Koohaas sacrifices himself for the lack of it.
In all my years I have not read a single decent dissertation on Koolhaas, not one student has demonstrated an understanding of his so called paranoid critical method. Stop and think about that. Not one single one of my interested and absorbed students have made a fist of it (and some have tried pretty hard).
Clever, yes that's the word, but too clever probably. It's like asking Lacan to design your kitchen. That's my realistic, but unfashionable, prognosis.

Monday, 9 June 2014


Le Corbusier nearly had six points of a new architecture, but thought five (like three musketeers, or seven dwarfs) sounded better. The sixth was 'built in wardrobes', which also hardly rolls off the tongue, but is documented in his book about his lectures in South America- Precisions. Doubtless he was fatigued by all that bulbous, gloomy French furniture for which my uncle in Houston had a taste, and which I presume at this moment, and at great cost, is being containered back to Alsace. Old French furniture can be formidable stuff, and just the opposite of what we might see as a wardrobe these days, something flat packed that will self destruct within weeks.
However wardrobes would seem to be important- perhaps L-C was right- storage space is at a premium and we have more and more junk to put away somewhere. Architects seem to worry about clothes, so you'd think they'd worry about where to put them. So imagine my surprise when I was looking at some plans of some wibbly wobbly architecture du jour. First I thought the lift was too big, then the escape stairs, then I realised the bathrooms were very small and then I caught some unfortunate door swings. Then I noticed that it looked very tricky to walk around one particular bed without pressing yourself against a bit of cladding. All this added up to a place where you'd be hard pressed to hang clothes, and this a building by an internationally recognised architect.
Architects are sensitive to the term starchitect, but when you come across such evidence you wonder. All the research in the world had gone in to the form of this building, but clearly not in to living in it. I couldn't sleep for that bloody Genesis song (from 'Selling England by the Pound') 'I know what I like (and I like what I know) in your Wardrobe' and it wasn't getting better.
The following night the nightmare returned, but this time I was thinking that my thoughts on wardrobes just made me out to be REALLY PROSAIC; that I was somehow missing the point, and that the beds that I'd picked on were a joke especially played on people like me- people who think the best bits of Finlandia Hall are the imaginative cloakrooms; that the walls were only drawn in this case for the estate agents, and that ideally the thing was really just a series of swish lofts where you could flop where you wanted, with whom you wanted, clothed or not.
This week I'll be looking at all sorts of wibbly wobbly stuff from students, stuff which is bound to raise a few eyebrows, but armed with such qualms and self doubts I think I've discovered my litmus test for whether it should be the thumbs-up or thumbs-down for any scheme; there has to be at least somewhere to put your clothes (or spacesuits) as appropriate.
Then I shall return to roost in the History and Theory base room and think, 'Umm...wardrobes! What a great dissertation subject!'

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Perils of Autobiography

Autobiography is a real challenge, and I've just ripped through this one pretty quick- highly recommended. 'Full throttle' would be an easy sum up. But such a candid portrayal of the now successful Hollywood film-maker (she won prizes for Juno- just Google her) in her twenties is interesting as much for what it leaves out. 'Blow' for instance (I think) gets mentioned just once explicitly and then in the context of a room full of dancers doing 'blow' (just as they might on a regular basis). Drugs don't get mentioned at all until half way through. I mean, the subject was so delayed I was waiting for it with some enticipation; this being the USA and the scene seriously rock n' roll ( Cody's boyfriend is just that, even if he's also really nice and kind, and she reads Lester Bangs in her downtime at Sex World). This is hardly a problem with the book, since it upgrades your fascination, but it does bring the question what we decide to excise and the mechanisms whereby warts and all become a few warts.
In this one year, Cody certainly rides a roller coaster and only latterly, while working in a peepshow that pays weekly, has money in the bank. So why not admit? or at least discuss?
Perhaps it mirrors the creep of retroactive prosecution that has hit our shores, at least reputation stain. But surely we are not going to arrest Keith Richards for drugs or Jimmy Page for underage sex in 2014? It would be absurd. However, I guess, if there were suddenly complaints made (see Being Positive post below) this might conceivably happen. Everybody seems to want to see celebrities in the dock.
Perhaps it's because this autobiography is written a bit early, for since it was written, the author's career has gone up and up. There may be much to be said for writing these things not to get on in the world but after you've got there. Personally I shelved my novel in hope.
And there are even problems to casting the thing as a novel. I read the other day that most of John Updike's output can largely be considered autobiographical, which makes his description as 'a penis with a thesaurus attached' more interesting than it might usually be. Thank god he's dead so he doesn't have to face the present climate.
P.S Contextually the reason I'm reading all this stuff (wait till I get to the cat book) is because it's exam time, and I need distractions.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Being Positive

One of the more annoying things about our world is the demand we remain continually positive. Positivity only works for the very dull. I've just heard that Halifax advert again, where the photographer makes everybody look perfect and Halifax give her 'Extra' (presumably to buy another camera). It's the most mind bending crap. 'Always look on the bright side of life' is a joke not a credo. Positivity is Huxley's soma, least that's what it feels like, and we know his message wasn't exactly positive at all. Hipsters might understand that endless cheeriness never leads to greatness but it's not clear that is so, they seem to think they are somehow 'entitled' to the point of rudeness; but success demands a certain sanguine resistance to life's slings and arrows, not some belief that they are somehow incorrect, or worse, unfair.
I put on one of my favourite '45's; Bad Company's 'Good Lovin' Gone Bad' a rollicking tune with Mick Ralphs at his very best. It is one of those records, a hangover from growing up in the fifties no doubt, where exuberance is found in a world where women let you down and you are sad and then you are bad. (It is almost the exact twin of 'Movin' On' from the first album, but better.) People call it cock rock.  Whatever, it's clear life continues all the same; the universe does not collapse, in fact, such events are what makes the universe shift. I'd put it up there as good as any Stones single.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

A house is a machine for living in..

Of course! I realised it this morning as Julie came upstairs, beaming, to say 'It worked!!" and I beamed back. It was the Xhose. That expandable Xhose (as seen on TV) has been the bane of our last three weeks. For an apartment such as ours, the Xhose seems a brilliant solution to watering the back balcony and front deck, it curls up small, it's lightweight etc etc, but getting it to work, affix to Franke taps, sprinkler nozzle, whatever, proved a taxing and expensive process. Hence one's relief this morning that the German imported Franke (but not Franke) tap connector 'worked!' Now we shall hardly notice the damn thing and it will simply do the job (hopefully). Our satisfaction at this, as with every improvement, was considerable.
Maintaining any house, and that includes designing it, is a many fold process of iteration and improvement. That can be said of the design of your kitchen or the hanging of your pictures on the wall; the choice of your chairs for sitting in (and stools for perching on) lights for reading with, desks for working at ad nauseum. But it is all, for the architect ( I suspect especially the architect finely tuned to these things) about how it works. So, after thirty five years I have to agree absolutely with the great Le Corbusier, that our house is a machine for living in full stop. Where we got derailed off this idea is beyond me, after all it's not as if L-C didn't enjoy cheese, paint, a sensual line, or sunshine, or greenery or exotic dancers.
The problem of course was that metaphorically speaking L-C might have implied that people were like machines (but I can assure you there are no two people less machine like than myself and Julie). It was the disservice of critics and commentators (who found the machine idea amusing) and Nazi nutters (pathologically ill disposed to good sense) who decided houses might be something more ambitious. The latter types (and todays scurrilous politicians, 'home' builders, and media opportunists) believe the notion of 'home' might be, as it were, 'built in' or that by decree, it would be forever watering cans; they thought your house closer to a church.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Appetite for Replication

Apologies to Chuck Klosterman for nicking his title to an excellent essay on a G'n'R tribute band, but I read today that apparently the Chinese take such pride in the business they often seek to improve on the original. This is a historical condition, not just some promotional nonsense. Such is the case perhaps with our new Eames lounger (courtesy, of course, of Iconic Interiors of Hull) Bloody nice. Mark, the guru of iconics has got an interesting job, he goes around finding the very best of copies. I think he's on to a winner; once excellence has been designed, it's just a question of prizing it out of copyright and delivering it to the masses at the best of prices.   

Friday, 23 May 2014

Viv Albertine

I don't know how Ms Albertine has remembered all this, but it's brilliant, an unputdownable account of a woman in rock n roll. I was hoping I'd be in it. I imagined her description of my youthful good looks and rock credentials (pretty much just a black leather motorcycle jacket) and her bemoaning the missed opportunities of youth, since I once facilitated a pop video she made for World Domination Enterprises with my first year students of the time (as art directors!) at Westminster University back...oh... end of the eighties. Heady days when mutoid rock made it on campus (well in to the bar at least- and the artificial sky to shoot). She was great then! Oh well not a chance though, what I get is, on page 226:

 '1987: I churn out music videos, a couple a week, and all of them get selected by new music station MTV'

Which all goes to show that what's a big deal for you doesn't always make it a big deal for somebody else. Also, that PD was not so accidentally translated to 'Puppy Dog'. Still, the Butthole Surfers at least get a mention on the same page. Anyway, this is unique social history told with great style. For example, when talking about drugs, Albertine is reliably insouciant, like this (sort of);  'He asked if I'd like some heroin...I thought about it.......Nahh!' Plus, I find out, she (was) always wanting to fall in love- it's very sweet in a tough way.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Centre of Excellence

Scott said to me 'well, excellence doesn't have a centre' and he's right. Maybe it's branding, pigeon holing, or specialisation in general that brings the contradiction. Certainly the academic world can behave as badly as The One Show where rather ordinary people find themselves suddenly VIPs. Specialists rise by default. Thus whilst championing competition and originality, capitalism promotes a rather tawdry mediocrity in to it's top heavy inverted pyramid (to visualise this just imagine the size of the pyramid above the eleven England players back in 1966 and now in 2014- include all the media of course). Everybody assumes that Oxbridge academics are the best in the world but perhaps they're just there because it's Oxbridge. Maybe we should be thinking about that.
Scott's vision of excellence may be Descartes, roaming around rather desperately trying to find the peace and quiet ruined by sociality. On that basis nobody really excellent would ever want to live in Oxford or Cambridge or Yale or Princeton, they would prefer to be themselves elsewhere. It is the less than excellent who like those crowds. Having worked at the Architectural Association for a long time, I especially remember it's horrible claustrophobia (reminiscent of my time living in Cambridge).
I was really pleased last week my own department, which has steadfastly refused to brand itself unless as 'maverick', got through it's validation process with a vote of confidence in not establishing it's brand identity (unless, perhaps, it's brand was 'diversity'). It felt like a step forward, to recognise branding as unhelpful.
Meanwhile we should remember, architecture is a subject where you have to know a little about a lot of things. Architects are by definition generalists, otherwise they would be cogs in the machine having completed courses in 'Architectural Illustration' 'Architectural Management' or 'Expertise in Health and Safety for Building Sites'. I guess that's what the RIBA is for, and in the present climate I'm glad they can stand up for the dilettante.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Doing it Over and Over...

They went on and on about 'attendance' at lectures today, they saw it as a real CRISIS. I was bemused. I said, just do what I do, just make the lectures better :)

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Colour Field Painting

Terrific painting by John Stephens, acquired today.