Monday, 31 March 2014

Book Launch on Wednesday

Remember it's our book launch this Wednesday for Olympia Moments Ltd. Details as above. Only 100 copies available and super collectable. Here's the press release (not that we've contacted the press).


Olympia Moments Ltd is a book from photographer/writer team Julie Cook and Paul Davies on the subject of a group of erotic dancers who founded their own ‘underground’ club scene in the back rooms of London pubs between 1998-2008. In it we are presented with a secret world all too often misunderstood, and Cook and Davies are anxious to up-end stereotypes and examine the freedoms these women and their invited audiences enjoyed.
This artist’s book extends Cook’s interest in voyeurism and takes on different viewpoints from the empty interiors, portraiture of the women and the body language of the performers and their audience. Writing partner Davies includes some drawings as well as a contextualizing essay. The volume is modest in size (168mm x 128mm) but sumptuous in detail featuring 67 litho colour plates and comes leather bound in a numbered edition of 100.
Back in Black Publishing (self published) 2014, Soft back with leather

Sunday, 23 March 2014

An Odyssey

What would the Ancient Greeks have made of dreams? These turbulent mash-ups of time and space, those spectral confrontations, the tumbling and sinking, the flying and the wading? Certainly the mystery of dreams, our subconscious experience, must be felt mirrored in the Cyclopes, the sirens, the rising of the dead in Homer's Odyssey, just as we might recognise Odysseus's marital bed as built around a tree, somehow earthed.
I said to Julie when I went out to Houston, I wanted it to be an Odyssey, a personal challenge, even if only for five days rather than the ten years Odysseus struggled to get home. Of course it was a physically comfortable ride all the way, but judging by my dreams it was not, not at all. During the day I realise how horrified I was inside, even in the bubble of security, but during the night it becomes a real nightmare.
It's not surprising, if you have to put your faith in various megastreams of information to get you around  the world, or even to breakfast, that you will give continuous coverage on CNN to the plight of M370, since on a daily basis, your computer at home plays up, usually at the precise moment when you need to print, or need to save, or need to transfer data, at some moment of urgency, you know it's going to fail. So it is no surprise that we might make a film like Gravity especially to play at 30,000 ft, and certainly no surprise that every TV drama will focus on juvenile hackers, threatening your inheritance.
It makes you wonder that those fully connected in the digital world, or those busy traversing it continually, are not suffering from a huge failure in imagination, that only the really dull could become truly global business people, the rest of us are cowering behind the sofa just as we used to during Dr Who.
Late capitalism is, of course, a total failure in the imagination, it is the equivalent of blinkers, shut your eyes and keep going, wish everybody a nice day, go out and make some more money. America runs on this creed. Frack the world. However it would be better perhaps that we took some lessons from the Ancient world, and, like Achilles for a large portion of the Illiad, just sat on the beach under our boats (our 777s) and wondered just what the hell we were doing and what the correct thing to do might be.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Hadid Director 'Rants'

When he gets a chance to think about it, Patrik Schumacher might become less enthused that his Facebook became headlines on Deezine. His remarks are illuminating on several historical levels, what did he let out of the bag?
He assured us that architects are about form making and that they are not responsible for content. In the short term this justifies the Hadid practise in it's global aspirations and it sounds reasonable enough if you are happy to work for various more or less despotic regimes with more or less savoury conditions of labour and produce buildings that more or less correspond to users needs in the name of that form-making.
Overall this is a less than cautious thing to claim, since those oppositions form/content; idealism/practicality; science/art seem endemic to the business of architecture. Fall for one at the expense of the other and each time you might seem to lose the very essence of the subject. I suspect most students of architecture find it interesting because it is both form and content, both idealism and practicality and both art and science that they find interesting about it. If you junked that central problematic, you would certainly shorten architectural courses to semesters rather than years, but you would probably throw the baby out with the bath water.
But in the short term, students may have been puzzled by his additional comment that those who don't share his view (that form is free of content) are at best 'pollitically correct' or at worst 'conservative'. It's true that back in the eighties his view was popular as radical, it was intended as a sort of 'up yours' to an establishment that seemed to have run it's term, be otherwise lost for ideas, and ripe for take over. What Schumacher seems to have missed is any notion of ongoing revolution, where revolutionary ideas change once the context has changed, which it has, and dramatically.
To hold his view so stalwartly now, to broker the point that architects are not inherently interested in the world of their clients and the users of their buildings not only puts him squarely in the camp of neoliberalism, but in the historical mid term, his attitude might suddenly be compared to that of Philip Johnson, and in the long term (seventy years ago) to one of Johnson's fans, Albert Speer.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


When I eventually got home this morning I realised that I hadn't walked anywhere for five days. I'd moved, but I hadn't walked. Usually when I come home from the USA it's straight to bed, but this time I was amazed to feel compelled to 'walk down a street' and even 'make my own sandwich'. Certainly watching 'Gravity' on the way over there in that 777 was appropriate (above) meanwhile an overdose of special effects and product placement in 'Skyfall' anticipated my time in Houston to a tee, since it was was an overdose of special effects and product placement. When I bought a loaf of bread this lunchtime and the girl behind the counter said 'have a nice nice day' I genuinely snarled. When I heard my street wise companions remarking 'fuck this' and 'fuck that' I rejoiced!
The lady who ran the funeral service I attended over there was so convincing I had to ask how she knew my uncle Jean Claude, the answer was that she didn't, never had, but it was her job to make it real and she'd done her research. Shades of 'The Loved One' there alright, but somehow amped up. In the five days I was there, CNN ran NOTHING but non stop paranoia on the Malaysian 777 disappearance, nothing. I was both stupefied and fascinated. Every single TV drama I tapped in to (NCIS etc) involved hacking, strange powers, and global threats. Man, I was glad to get out of there and 'walk down the street' and encounter a singular loony at the bus stop, rather than a whole civilization in such a state.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Hyatt Regency Houston: John Portman

The Hyatt Regency in Downtown Houston, a building I have hardly stepped out of on purpose other than for funeral related business, is a very interesting building. I've posted plenty of images on Facebook and will illustrate these blogs later, but for now:
When I first arrived I asked the cab driver 'is that the entrance?' When I got to the check in desk I asked 'Err...where are the lifts?' I hadn't thought to look directly above my head, where they very clearly whizz up and down the atrium. So, an entrance that doesn't look like a entrance, and navigation that demands a change of perception. OK. The atrium, that is surrounded by things that don't look like entrances, and include 'cool tunnels' (literally and metaphorically I assume) is the buzz of the place and thirty storeys high, indeed this building was the highest downtown for some time, so they put a revolving restaurant on top of it called 'the Spindletop' so we can probably date it to the seventies. The other very odd thing about this thirty storey high lump is that it is clad (presumably, but it looks solidly) in brick, about a zillion bricks, and those bricks are detailed at peculiar angles that run those thirty storeys up.
Meanwhile the plan makes poor conventional sense for a hotel, because the atrium is hugged by single loaded corridors. I keep hearing business men from New York in the lift, they think that space should be filled in of course. They probably want to fit condos, but in hotel terms single loaded corridors are not thought the best for maid service, since it makes the job slower.
So despite or perhaps that this building has the wrong plan, is made of the wrong material, and doesn't do anything conventional, and that if it were submitted for a diploma the jury would laugh out loud, especially at the revolving restaurant (in gold, of course) I think it's a classic. I suppose it would qualify as a classic 'duck' in Venturi terms, but good, wry, case study in the type. Stay here while you can if you're in Houston, nothing lasts long here, even if made to look like a fortress.
PS: Yes, it is by John Portman.

Monday, 17 March 2014


As I sit here staring out of the window periodically and finally getting down to thinking about some work, I realise I am presently perfectly contextualised for the discussion of Sullivan/Wright/Lautner that I'll be delivering this Friday back in the sheltered confines of the Keyworth Building, because what stands, no towers, around me is so NOT what they were about. For one it couldn't be more brazenly inorganic, and on the other hand couldn't be truer to the real ethos of the American Way, or at least that way as it turned out, without a trace of inspiration from Walt Whitman. What they stood for was the dream that never happened, could never happen, but was therefore absolutely necessary as the foundation for something that was the complete opposite.
Competition, avarice, technology, paranoia, I'm drowning in it here, every pixel on the TV shoves it in to my head. No wonder 'noir' is such an authentic American literature, that's the only space left to write, from dead beat on the streets, that is the literal base line, and the only way is up, if you're lucky.
So of course the idealist Sullivan had to end his days in a flop house next to a bar, of course Wright had to secure his future through celebrity and of course Lautner built those hideaways for James Bond villains, it's just that those villains weren't actually agents for SMERSH, but exactly the opposite as well.
If I were looking for a discourse on the actual architecture of the American city, I should be lecturing this Friday on Philip Johnson, but that would be too too close to the bone, too real, too black, see what I mean? However it's worth thinking about, who needs that organic millstone anyway?

Sunday, 16 March 2014


Houston is a city raised on money, nothing much else. Money is what matters, it makes the downtown skyline look like a mountain, it makes the River Oaks suburb populated by miniature but huge versions of Versailles, or Mexican adobe, or FLW Guggenheim, just take your pick. It is also money without quite the fun of enjoying it, and with plenty of the snobbery of having it, so in that way it is very unlike Las Vegas (for instance). Nothing stays long in Houston but reputation. But my aunt and uncle lived here all my life, and today I had to go to their home and sniff the musty air and see the leaves collected on the Mercedes, survey the vacant scene, peer in their drinks cabinet, hover over the old books, suddenly museum like, and standing there I didn't know what to say at all. That was a life, my aunts room like a shrine, my uncle's world latterly a clutter of old age belligerence. But guess what, their cat, Ella, was still there, still singing, a little more mangy than I remember, getting a bit belligerent herself. Poor Ella, that's it, and just heaps and heaps of stuff that suddenly becomes crap, unless you can summon up some sense yourself, and in that limited moment make some kind of evaluation not based on money, and it will be a photograph, a book, his wine cup, something like that, which is really left.

That's What I'm Thinking

"Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use."

That's what I'm thinking, stuck half a mile up in a Houston hotel room watching the Arsenal game eyeing up the Ardbeg.

Houston we have a Problem 2

Of course you don't have problems in Houston. You forget your toothpaste, you phone down for some, it arrives in seconds and then the phone rings to check you got it. Last night the waiter asked  me if I minded him taking a photo of my steak as I cut in to it to check it was cooked just right. My god, there he was photographing my meal as it posed for the camera. Too weird. I guess this is what technology does, it makes us more indulgent, and makes your cooking suspect.
The Americans here are most concerned that a 777 cannot be found but nobody has mentioned 'Thunderball' yet. They are also very agitated over Crimea like it was their back yard. I suppose it is their back yard, the world is American, it's just the rest of us haven't got this far.
But where is it going? You can't help thinking you have no idea, they have no idea, but they have something totally perplexing as a generator; the right to happiness. On the one hand it seems so obvious, so correct, it's just the English, being used to misery, carping. But happiness, what a strange thing to drive a civilisation, since in itself, happiness is a bit unstable.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Houston, we have a Problem

There must be some advantage to spending a few days, little more than a weekend, in Helsinki and then Houston in quick succession, if only for the stark contrast in one's observation of the general human condition in each, and the deterioration of one's own with zillions of air miles. If the Finns are reserved, the Texans are not. For one, I seem to be surrounded by body builders. maybe it's a Charles Atlas convention, everybody called something like 'Billy the Bat'. The women look, at least they did last night, how you say, extrovert, one was litterally dressed up as Snow White. As Dolly Parton said 'you wouldn't believe how much money it costs to look this cheap'. All this from just sitting in the hotel atrium agog on a Friday night for half an hour nursing a Bud light. And thinking of that atrium; the architecture, far from paradise, embodies an infrastructural enthusiasm often passed over by European critics. This is big, brash, stuff, it takes no prisoners, it makes no pretence at manners, it just does startling things, like putting you in a glass lift and shooting  you twenty five storeys up. The architecture is like the tailgating on the Freeway, scary. Then there's the attack minded toilets, if Zizek is minded to divide European toilet design in terms of German idealist, French revolutionary and English empiricist, I wonder what he'd make of the one in my hotel room here, which appears to dispose of my shit almost before I've had it.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

On Critics

I will have to explain to my students next week that I am prejudiced against Frank Lloyd Wright. I'm not proud of it, I just am. It can't be just for his behaviour, although his was more outlandish and self obsessed than most, because I tend to enjoy the outlandish behaviour and self obsession of his contemporaries, indeed most modern architects, who I have come to the conclusion were largely a bunch of sex obsessed alcoholics (if they were any good). I can empathize with these people, I have a voyeuristic temperament, so why not FLW?
Well the buildings are horrible I suppose. My experience of both the Guggenheim New York and Barnsdall House in LA was nothing to write home about. I have to remember, with effort, just how awful the Guggenheim is, and enjoy the fact it's the only art gallery I know of that artists actually got together and complained against. The Barnsdall House was, well, dingy, and the only memorable thing was that the great master insisted his multimillionaire client sleep on a futon. Meanwhile the fact that you can hardly function in the USA as an architect without worshipping FLW puts me off, and of course I exhibit my more classical inclinations when I say he has been responsible for an awful lot of crap.
However this is not the point, because old fashioned prejudice may be OK.
An old colleague of ours, the much esteemed Peter Blundell Jones, was caricatured as thinking right angles were fascist. Whilst clearly not true, the opinion allowed him to function and write the finest of books on the organic strain while hating Mies van de Rohe. Colin Rowe was clearly incorrect throughout most of his essay on La Tourette because he was temporarily indisposed, concentrating on literal and phenomenal transparency, and subsequently unwittingly spawned much inclement architectural misery as a consequence for twenty years. Reyner Banham was once thought hip, now thought not. Even Vincent Scully thought Michael Graves Portland Building might be really good. Even the masters make mistakes (see next months AR).
Hence students who are over reverent of anything anybody has published on a particular topic come over as those who are not quite getting it, who are missing that essential element of empathy with the work in question, or for that matter empathy with the critic in question. Rowe once turned up to a lecture 'looking like an unmade bed', a finer description I cannot imagine, and so I think a few large ones are essential to empathise with him, at least. I once fell out of a taxi before I'd even started a lecture at University of Westminster. I'm not proud of that either, although the students at the time seemed mesmerised when I proceeded to play Motley Crue's 'Girls Girls Girls' about eighteen times.
PS I love this portrait of Colin Rowe (above).

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Barbers Shop

My barbers isn't like a barbers. I realise it likes to think it is, you can't book appointments for instance, and it's relatively cheap and cheery, but if I'm looking for a paradigm (a word I was always trying to understand as a student, because tutors kept going on about changing paradigms) I would say that today my barbers closest paradigm was 'Crufts'. The level of narcissism you will witness in a barbers in Hackney is as horrifying as it is illuminating. It was hard to dislike so many people at once.
Of course everybody is younger than me, and you could say why go in the first place, but my barber does beards, and he pretty much owns mine. I'm trapped.
So I have to sit there for quite a long time, watching Crufts (with a touch of Jack Daniels distillery about it in terms of time spent). There were horrible children weeping over their iPads, there were gentlemen so prepossessed with their looks you could not even imagine a conversation with them. There were some startling beards.
But I sit it out because I recognise a good barbers when I see one, for barbers at best are pretty OCD. Mine's on plenty of medication I'm sure, he's made a very wise career choice. He snips away with great care and attention all day long, until he gets distracted of course, when you'll be left for dead, but I don't care, I just have to schedule in several hours like ladies do, just for his beard.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Alvar Aalto on Frank Lloyd Wright

‘But it isn’t built on rock. My research indicates that Taliesen is built on cunt, and you really feel that foundation here. It’s a good foundation.’
Keen perception here from Aalto, quoted in Schildt's biography (see post below).

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Strippers C4

Stereotypes? Of course, we get the avaricious black girl, the youthful innocent from the bad side of town and the jaded dancer trapped in the dance, but we also have the good minister down the street, and best of all a bunch of Scottish piss-pots who see a few hours in Baby Dolls as an opportunity to savour a semi so they can ball a fat girl later. I wonder if anybody is ever going to make a TV programme on the subject that doesn't confirm every stereotype in the book. All I was looking forward to was a dancer with a 'heart of gold' and Jon Bon Jovi to walk through the door and whisk her off her feet.
Of course the good thing and Channel 4's 'Strippers' on Tuesday nights is it confirms the stereotype that TV is stereotypical, that it is incredibly difficult to do or say anything that is actually interesting, ie: confirms that dancers might wear ordinary clothes for interviews (rather than their underwear) or hold interesting opinions or post doctorates. This one helps us behind the mask of TV, not behind the world of a titty bar. It's purpose is to be as titillating as the idea of a strip club.
Many interesting people other than me (world changing theoretical physicist Richard Feynman and world changing art critic Dave Hickey come to mind as having hung out perpetually in such establishments) do it and I don't think we do it to garner storming erections and threaten the general populace. Personally I know it's time to visit The White Horse in Shoreditch when I find myself muttering 'fucking wanker' when I walk past some unsuspecting stranger in the street and hope they haven't heard me. It's because I'm pissed off. That's when I know it's time to escape to a land where girls take off their clothes as if they enjoy it, for me, and that I don't have to be in direct communion with them to do it.
Why anybody thinks this behaviour is unusual beggars belief, it's the most normal thing in the world. And personally, I wouldn't mind if we called it sex work, in fact I would like it if people got more interested in defining sex work (because you'd soon realise everybody was doing it) instead of indulging in what is a whole raft of plain prejudice.
Photo: Julie Cook

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Jean Claude - His Death

My uncle in Houston has died. All his organs seem to have given up at the same time. Sometimes that happens, it feels right. 'Quelle vie!' as he would say, 'Merde!' He was more French than French, but once admitted to us, very late at night, that actually, being from Alsace, there was a family cloud of collaboration with the Germans, not that we could make much sense of it at the time, since he was off on one. Jean Claude escaped to Houston doing computing mathematics for those Mad Men he was very much part of. Drank like a fish did uncle Jean.
He married my beautiful aunt Bridget after she had stepped out of Melton Mowbray and in to tinsel town USA the year I was born, 1961. Me and my brother always got the best Christmas presents.

My Dad, who's over ninety, showed his wisdom below today remembering:

'a big pool of memories which range from the highly amusing to the pathetic. The more interesting and diverse the character the more intense appears the loss and ones omissions. I suppose that is how we ought to feel at these times if the relationship has meaning. Jean was a great character, difficult at times, loving at others. Argumentative yet smooth.'

Jean Claude was certainly charismatic, sometimes childish, sometimes way overboard, but since I heard of his death yesterday, the world has seemed rather flat. 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Alvar Aalto - His Life

Returning from Finland I have continued my researches in to the life of Aalto, courtesy of Goran Schildt's excellent, diligent and above all thick biography which I picked up at the Aalto House. And what a life it is. Kicking off with four vermouths for lunch (that, by this time, was just openers) with the old man, then deciding NOT to concentrate on the more personable aspects of Aalto's career, Schildt provides a fabulous picture of, in particular, life in the late twenties/early thirties, where the Soviet Union was 'an architects paradise' and it was the thing to look like an engineer, fly in aeroplanes, dance to jazz, visit porn cinemas during CIAM and wife swap with similarly minded young radicals (this at a time when radicalism was synonymous with 'great beauty', 'breeding' and so on). It makes staring at the computer screen look terribly boring. Along the way I find the the hero of Finnish design was more likely to speak Swedish, that Aino Aalto, his wife, was 'deeper' and of course that Aalto's reputation gathers pace almost as it's all over, that we are in the last quarter of the book by the time we get to Saynatsalo, and that most engagingly Aalto once missed a award ceremony in Paris honouring himself entirely because he had strayed in to the bar.
Excellent stuff. Highly recommended.