Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Savoy Restaurant

There are some restaurants in London you have to remortgage for but still do not feel out of place, Sheekeys comes to mind. There are others, even whole districts, you would never even set foot in, those other worlds you would prefer to avoid for all the money in the world. The Savoy Helsinki is a restaurant designed by Aalto in 1937, and it feels like that's where you've gone as soon as you get out of the lift. The gentlemen diners are wearing dicky bows and dress shirts, the ladies artic fox stolls and pearls. They both admire their flambé. I felt like Billy Gibbons and Julie was suddenly, at best, Julia, from Pretty Woman. We were out of time and out of place in pre War Finland. Not that that isn't necessarily a worthwhile experience it's just that's exactly what it is, an experience. You get to immerse yourself, at a price, in Aalto's now all too familiar nature metaphors just before the Finns join the war on the wrong side. It's an excellent location for a good game of spot the Nazi.
Julie gave herself away by saying the best thing she liked was 'the bread' That's my girl. I thought I got away with it until asked to comment on the house speciality, something cooked for 48 hours, when I stopped myself using the word 'sludge' and instead improvised on 'earthy', all the time understanding it was delicious of course. However I do not particularly recommend the Pike. We escaped before having to re-remortgage for desert.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Introspection Introspection Introspection..

I lie on the bed with cucumber on my eyes and my classes on top. I'm pretending I'm in a spa (please don't mention the word sauna, which here is a verb, not an adjective, a way of life, not a shed, an emotional bond to family and country, not something like Lemsip). You have to catch your moments like this on field trips, before there's a knock on the door to say so and so has thrown up in their Converse or worse, there's been a diplomatic incident. And bloody hell it's miserable out there, a dull, gray, cold, wet cloud sunk to envelope this granite face of Northern Europe, the Swedes have sent their weather over to rub in defeat, the Finns are no doubt scouring their bookshelves for a suitable volume of angst. Angst is written big on the face of your average Finn each morning, just as unbearable chirpiness afflicts Californians. It's not good to feel good here, so no wonder they wait patiently for the booze and the karaoke (see below).
Perhaps happy people cannot make such beautiful cities, it takes stoic patience rather than bombast and boom and bust to create something that will last. But you build paradise, and there's nothing left to do but sob at the meaninglessness of it all. The alternative of course, the Mediterranean way the north have been so disastrously jealous of, is a little more hit and miss.

Friday, 21 February 2014

The Finns and Nature

There's a lot of nature here in Finland. Even when I go to the bathroom in this hostel (I repeat the term hostel, I'm as shocked as you are, but it is a very good hostel for a hostel) birds tweet. Tweeting birds in the bathroom?! This is a soundtrack of course; the equivalent of bears shitting in the woods.
Meanwhile, I slip out and visit the Aalto. Aalto plays a soundtrack of nature too; every damn column and every ceiling, every line moving against every other line, every rocky outcrop treasured, every tree type matched in finishes. That we got reduced to soundtracks in bathrooms is a shame.

Helsinki the Silent City

So I'm sitting in a pub (actually I've tried three, you need a decent sample)  in Helsinki watching the Ice Hockey Olympic Semi Final. I wouldn't say the pub was over busy, but I'll tell you, it certainly is (or rather was) over quiet. For those of us used to shouting the most shocking things at TVs during sports events it's a bit of a surprise. I mean it's not like they don't care, Finland and Sweden hate each other. Perhaps the guys were meditating or something, calling down a higher power. Meanwhile I'm here in the docks somewhere. Huge Baltic ferries pass by my window, and they dock and no doubt many many people get on and off for Estonia, Latvia or  St Petersburg. Any whiff of trouble? Not at all, there's a children's playground outside. Two or three kids are happily playing, two adults look on, that's it, where did everybody go? 'Where is everybody?' is a frequently asked question for the visitor here.
Last night, the English students I was with were taken karaoke singing. Now when the Finns sing karaoke it is maudlin and excruciating, down to back-screens of trees and snow, but at least it is each time a song from the heart, since apparantly Finns don't speak much unless they are drunk (which is a lot, not that I can work out how they buy it, since the problem is so large you seem to only be able to buy beer and cider in the shops). So when the Finns sing karaoke the audience enjoy it as 'well he's enjoying it' and beam a big smile. When our lot joined in, it sounded like a bunch of football hooligans had taken over the place.
I have never come across a more reserved nation than the Finnish. It is very endearing, and this city is very beautiful and ordered and neat and everything works. No wonder I feel so out of place.
Now  it's back to the hotel bar to see if they've pulled it back from 2:1 down.
P.S Finland lose. On TV granite faced men hold it all back, and the baby faced Swedish grin. Behind the reception desk, the girl visibly flushes, behind the bar, the young lad shrugs his shoulders in disbelief. No karaoke for me tonight, they'll be crying their hearts out.

Monday, 17 February 2014

It's been a long time but it's worth it!

Here's our new book, Olympia Moments Ltd. Launch details to follow.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

L-C Proved Right at Last

With so much land under so much water, you can at least think of Le Corbusier as proved correct. One of the reasons he gives for building above the ground (in The Radiant City) is that he was appalled that France was one of the last counties to still allow the laying of parquet flooring on bare ground, which was clearly unsanitary and damp! Note he is proved correct in principle, not in effect.
Meanwhile I learn today that one in three families own a copy of Queen's Greatest Hits, and that demonstrates the paucity of the market economy better than anything else I can think of.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

It's a Dog's Life

Two doggy incidents coloured my week, the first a simple quote, from Adolf Loos, that no matter what 'the dog will always curl up by the fire'. This is, of course, a testament to his lack of faith in political change and ranks alongside his marvellous observation that he was a communist only in the sense that he wanted everybody to be an aristocrat. Both are excellently representative of the spirit of decadence, which was, curiously, the subject of my first public and largely disastrous lecture at the Bartlett a long long time ago. Still everybody has to start sometime or other and with something or other. No regrets there.
Of course the point we might note in the Loos quote is that we are not dogs. Unlike dogs and cats and donkeys and caterpillars, humans have ideas and shelter regrets. We worry that we did or do not do things, that seems to me the essence of human life itself. It's painful, but it's real (to us). It's why we go to the pub.
One of the most unsatisfactory things about architecture school today is a climate of endeavour which distances ourselves from these things even if they are talked about and lauded all the time (as essences and meaning). It is as if students are not just once removed from their subject- for instance to a design project predicated on a view of 'bones' or 'chicken's arseholes' (both of which I heard talk of yesterday) but further in to a prospective dissertation subject such as 'boredom'. Twice removed from the reality of the architectural object is too far. Not on my watch I said.
In this context the second doggy quote is quite funny, since one third year student set about his H&T essay to experience the city as a dog. I nearly fell off my chair laughing. But we are not dogs I say, we can learn very little from my life as a dog, and anyway, if you follow a dog around the city all day the dog is going to get very confused.
In total, both doggy stories represent an abrogation of responsibility totally in tune with our times. Le Corbusier (or Luke Boozier as one of my first years unfortunately translated) loved his dog 'Pinceau'. He loved him so much that when he died, he bound his also much loved copy of  Don Quixote in his fur. But Le Corbusier did not confuse a dogs so called life with our own. Everybody please get real.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Our New Book

Our new book goes to print on Tuesday. It's been a long ride, but it's been worth it. Book launch details to follow. Only 100 leather bound copies in a neat pocket sized format, Litho printed too. To advance order just contact me at

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Deluge

A very appropriate painting. Winifred Knights (1920)