Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Jose Mourinho

I'm appalled by the amount of criticism idiotic pundits are throwing at Jose Mourinho, clearly the last rationalist in a dizzy world. Firstly he is condemned for sarcasm, but I like sarcasm, what else are you supposed to be when you are endlessly confronted by indulgent stupidity? Yesterday I read a student talk of 'the powers of the earth', well what are they, exactly? (moving and growing come to mind, not aesthetics) How can you not be sarcastic? My wife is accused of sarcasm all the the time and I love her for it, my tutors were cutting with it, so I consider it an 'art'. Now sarcasm, which Voltaire made a whole career out of, counts as trolling!
Secondly, Mourinho's master class not only includes demolishing Anfield, but his noting that 'there are many philosophers' in football who clearly know better than him. Hilarious, by inference, he takes on the whole intellectual establishment which prefers a bit of fun to hard work and application to the problem at hand. Honestly, I think he has re-invented English football for the better. I for one am hardly unexcited by his tactics, they are thrilling to me! Philosophers have after all discredited themselves in lack of application to the problem at hand.
The deeper interest here is that's how I probably like my architecture too; not cheap thrills, not a goal a minute, not a leaky defence, but something solidly built for a good reason (I include Las Vegas casinos here, they have a solid bottom line) Mourinho himself uses the architectural metaphor; 'you do not start a house with the roof'. In other words you have to start with a secure building plot, and a decent idea; Alberti would have agreed, but this is something I do not see hardly anywhere because we have become a bunch of twittering idiots.
Arsenal fans especially might reflect on George Graham before they join the clamour against Jose, but I'm not here interested in the partizan, I'm interested in the idea that Mourinho represents the last rationalist, the last clear thinker. If, and its a big if, Chelsea win tonight I will be rejoicing for that reason as much as for the tradition set in my youth (see above).

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Michael Graves

The AR with my piece on Michael Graves, or rather my 'diagnosis of Postmodernism' popped into the letter box today. It's a big letter box by the way- it's important to have have big letter box, and it hangs as a big black box on the outside wall - it is not a slot for letters through the door- highly recommended!
Anyway I like it, the piece I mean, but it was a tough thing to write. 'Reputations' pieces have to be jam packed full of information as much as critique, and I've never met the man, hence they can easily overbalance. But  I was educated, seriously educated, in the world where Graves became a considerable figure in architecture, PCL 1984, my best lecturer was Demitri Porphyrios, even in diploma, we went to his third year lecture course in history, and he was blindingly good every time. Porphyrios was very much part of the Academy Editions/St Martins Press PoMo publicity machine. 
But Graves is now textbook material, textbook if you want to read those times and work out what happened. Libeskind will also soon be textbook, Zaha of course, but they are not great times.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Houses of Parliament

If there's one event that might inspire some fresh faith in some kind of architectural determinism it's a visit to the Houses of Parliament. They're horrible.
Personally I imagine when you first walk through the main doors as an MP you must immediately want to walk back out again. I have never been anywhere more claustrophobically gloomy, a mad house of phony medievalism. I was agog, I mean NO WONDER! If this is what you get to work in no wonder British society is stuck somewhere very peculiar. If anything, the HoP are WORSE than Manchester Town Hall (and that's saying something).

Tuesday, 22 April 2014


That's my home up there (above) and there is plenty wrong with my conception of it. Both 'home' and 'family' are terms we should be uncomfortable with, but conservative politicians and UKIP loonies will evoke both time and time again. It gets tiresome. I had a friend who set up a 'House and Home' studio in architecture school. I remember it being a bit of a disaster. Why? because unless you want to get in to some really dodgy territory, the concept of 'home' is not (in my view these days) consistent with the necessary abstractions that architects should make with regard to human inhabitation that should tend once more towards rational solutions to need. 'Homes' fulfil themselves, they do not need architects or anybody else for that matter to sanction them. When the Venturis tripped up, they did so in precisely this territory, and many of us followed them in to that particular hole throughout the eighties. 
My 'dream' for instance, of a house on stilts sitting somewhere like this (actually the sea wall at East Mersea; my childhood playground) really has to stay precisely that, because it's a silly idea. OK it's a genuine silly idea in the sense that I have it, but it's daft. Going 'home' is also daft, because it isn't, it's a curious sentimentality of memory and circumstance. 
Being attached to places is just that, and if I were to encounter 'Building, Dwelling, Thinking' I'm sure in the first instance it would give me a headache, in the second remind me of nasty Nazi's and thirdly make me reflect that if the passengers on the train from Colchester to London are anything to go by, I do not want to associate myself in any way at all with the 'Essex boy' that I am, since whatever that idea was, it has now become a cross between Jamie Oliver and the cast of TOWIE, slipping towards the latter, and in general my observation of the tribe reminds me unfortunately of Germany before WW2, nomatter the cast of lovely dogs. Such was my appreciation of the scene this weekend anyway.
My further revelation that I love the image above, and I really loved being back on that sea wall, AND that I love being back in London in our little unite d'habitation, makes me appreciate my enjoyment of Le Corbusier more. I like this, and I like that, much of the rest is just twitter.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Kenneth Clark's Civilisation II

While Clark labours a little over the southern Renaissance (with the exception of Michelangelo) he really comes in to his own with the Reformation, with Erasmus, Durer and Luther....then Montaigne and Shakespeare. He brings to mind the terror that necessary ideas bring, and appears almost scandalously adept in his discussion of our northern tribes and the implications to recent history. With the Counter Reformation it's his sheer power you respect, his command of the material. He doesn't like it, but he knows it. This is such a gift to those architectural students who have laboured under our own counter reformation (with phenomenology) being fed Boromini and Guarini as staples of redemption, this makes you sit up straight once more and turn the pages. Nothing is easy here, and Clark, to his credit, makes it look effortless. Deference to Gods will (as opposed to asking questions such as 'does it work?' or even 'does it pay?') is in the end a trade in illusions, and in the great story of things, that just won't do it, ever.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Kenneth Clark's Civilisation

I've been reading Kenneth Clark's Civilisation, it's a hoot. It's a hoot in the way that the fluidity of tone perfectly reflects the attributes of the man. Therefore he would make the perfect candidate for a 'Reputations' column in the AR, but somehow I doubt this will happen (Clark is considered well dilettante these days, but back when 'Civilisation' was made in to a twelve part TV series for BBC2 in 1969, it was considered the real deal). This impression is not helped by his son, Alan, who is famous for his diaries, a moat, fast cars, love of dogs, and his womanizing as an MP.
The funniest bit, so far, is his view on the Gothic, which is pretty much in line with his buying a castle, love of moats, love of dogs, courtly love, and so on. But worse is his enchantment with St Francis of Assisi. Personally I am enchanted that he was enchanted with the story of the worst (as far as I can see) of the saints; converting animals and birds to Christianity is a step too far for most of us, and Pasolini made a fabulously funny film , Hawks and Sparrows, poking fun at the whole idea. This lodges in the mind.
Clark loves the story of St Francis, who cast his riches, even his clothes, to the wind. This is as curious as it is compelling, for Clark's father was a very successful capitalist who was reputed to be 'The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo' and retired to the life of the idle rich. Clearly Clark loathed his family's bourgeois success, and couldn't help himself conscientiously striving for aristocracy (the last residue of court). Clearly Clarks cushioned existence lead him toward both personal elevation (social climbing) and to fantasize over it's opposite, and once more cause and effect make themselves evident. His art criticism is lyrical, but also definitively sentimental, and these are the aspects so evident in his appreciation of medieval art, where the two are conveniently combined in myth. Compare with E.H. Gombrich for a good dissertation subject.

Friday, 11 April 2014


Notes taken whilst hungover this morning:

There's a giant, and I mean giant, big swooping thing outside that looks like it's covered in catering foil. There's a beer on the table. Comforting old beer, not good for you at this time in the morning I know, but it should do the trick, it should make me feel just a little more at home. Rotterdam Central, Super Dutch, isn't that what they call it? Above the giant swooping thing rise big Superstudio like towers clad in mirror glass. I'm worried the grid looks a bit wonky.
I'm indoors in a big old cafe, I think we would call it moderne rather than modern, shades of Art Deco. It is also big, and it is also empty, apart from a few choice business folks choo chooing their way though a meeting. They've made a wise choice, it's a suitable refuge for humans amongst the giant swooping things.
Last night I was talking in Den Haag, knocked them dead, really did (girls cycle past, girls are always cycling past here) Old beardy, that's me, still knocking them dead, but clearly to no effect whatsoever. Just look at it out there, being a planner in Rotterdam must be the easiest job in the world, just go on holiday, let them get on with it, let this enormous dullness roll on and on. It looks, well, worse than Birmingham in the Bullring days. That takes some doing. But the girls still have the blush of milk maids, just like in Vermeer. Saving graces.
The audience was almost entirely male, and almost entirely white, the space was huge - ' Choo choo chooclimate change..choo choo' I hear the pretty girl over there say (randy old beardy). Lost in fucking translation (that's me). So many oos in Dutch.
Tried really hard to find a bar near the venue in Den Haag, but it was just rows and rows of bloody houses. Rows of houses that looked like I'd designed them sometime in degree. That was the fashion then. It's a shame that it's not the fashion now, and the Dutch went on to build them; houses houses houses and more houses (and now these bloody giant swooping things here). I have never looked in to so many people's living rooms, trolling about, trying to find a bloody bar to celebrate knocking them dead, of course by myself. Whilst it's the do you do, bloody wears you out; the schmooze.
Eventually I found one, oh the solace of whisky before a gig, and even better after.
Just noticed this cafe is called The Engels. TOO SAD. Lets get on that bus to the airport and fuck off home.
The problem with bigness, of course, is that it is horrible..........(pause: everything works in Holland so its not for long)………
As I sit on the balcony of the Panorama restaurant at this little airport I wonder why anybody would want any architecture big, This is a million times better and a hundred times smaller than Heathrow, and like that café, straight from the fifties. Why anybody would champion bigness is beyond me. Giant swooping things covered in tin foil, its cruel stuff.

NB: The old fellas in front of me (2nd photo above) at the Panorama were, I think, betting on the serial numbers of the planes that landed. It was very sweet.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Flying Scotsman

Honestly, I can't believe I bought the tee shirt (above) but I did. I can't believe Julie loved the place, but she did (she is year of the rat Chinese wise). The Flying Scotsman is the daggiest of strip venues, but our friend Danielle was dancing there, so because of that we stopped by. Sometimes it's good to go to the daggiest of venues, you might get surprised. OK, the glasses are plastic, the dancers appear to dance in the dark, there's no pole, and you may want to take a shower when you get home, but it reminds you of something real, echoes of Tijuana perhaps. The atmosphere is certainly one of stables (there used to be sawdust on the floor) and if you lean against a wall there is the sense you may fall through it on to the street, like in some cowboy film. The walls might be constructed of pallets, and held together with flock wallpaper and hunting prints. Still, the girls didn't seem to mind, and there was a certain (but not that certain) friendliness to it all.
As Kings Cross develops in to one of those asinine public spaces that really do look like the architects drawings of them, it was a relief to find the Flying Scotsman still there, that some element of the reputation of Kings Cross survives. Maybe that's why I bought the tee shirt. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Thank You!

A big thank you to all those who turned up last night to the book launch. It was a great night for us. Old friends and new ones are a treasure, and the Star of Bethnal Green (Bonnie, Owen, etc) were terrific. We still have a few copies left, but they won't last contact and buy via Paypal while you still can.
Photo: Nazar Ali Khan

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Brutalism Appreciation Society

To be honest I don't know who these people are, but they keep popping up on my Facebook feed with pictures of almost anything concrete you can imagine. One of them has a picture of David Bowie's 'Low' as his profile picture, another looks strangely cock eyed, nothing wrong with being cock-eyed, but he's clearly not cock-eyed. I don't 'know' any of them to my knowledge, and yet they complain when I comment one shouldn't take the piss out of L-C's gravestone (since I do not consider it an item of amusement) they call that 'hectoring'. So why are these people so indiscriminately keen on huge lumps of concrete all over the world? And are they weird? 
Being a keen disciple of cause and effect, I don't think so. Dialectically speaking, as all that's solid melts in to air and we can't find our aeroplanes anymore and your toaster's packed up, with blackouts on the way and with Lloyds advertising as all you need is love it's not surprising that some people might long for a bit of value (metaphorically transferred to solidity). There may also be a little undoubtedly misplaced nostalgia for the USSR, but hell, that's to be expected, who wouldn't be nostalgic for a place you had never been to which assumed an actual idea other than ours ( I went to Bulgaria on a school trip once, and cried). Meanwhile some of them love the stuff like they can taste it, like they could lick the South Bank Centre clean. Those are salivating hounds deprived of a balanced diet.
What did David Geffin say of Don Henley? A malcontent. Indeed I suspect the majority of The Brutalism Appreciation Society (not the same as the Modernist Society based in Manchester, but affiliated for sure) fit the bill of malcontent, and there's a bit of wanting to be in Owen Hatherley's gang too. It is, sure as anything, a reaction, but I never see a plan posted, and I've yet to see some good old Paul Rudolf, or some Bertrand Goldberg. Probably then this is a UK phenomenon for now, representing the travel horizons and search preferences of it's affiliates, perhaps it was Zaha saying she liked the Tricorn (when almost nobody else did) that started it. If plans began to get posted I would of course re-consider.
Meanwhile I dread the resurgence of a bowelist tendency in studio, we've only just got over bloody parametrics. But I suppose one load of shit might just follow another.
Nice image above copyright Trevor Woods.