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.