Monday, 27 July 2015

Re-make Re-model

So realising I'm no good at pensions, uninterested in investments, hopeless at insurance,  generally doom laden with regard to futures, and unable to deal with so called authority, I go back to something I can do which will actually help. You wouldn't believe how little information was at my disposal to make this scratch model of the gallery scheduled for Julie's retrospective in november. I'm really quite proud of myself that one weekend and thirty years of architectural experience enabled me to put it together, and it hardly stressed me out at all.

Friday, 24 July 2015


I've never really thought about this before. Pensions, or more specifically 'My Pension' has lurked somewhere over there in the shadows. I would prefer not to look, after all, when you are young and propelling yourself best you can through life, a pension is the last thing on your mind, and I'm sure all pension providers are deeply aware of this fact (mores the pity).
So I looked at the figure on the page and winced. Previously, even in full time employment, I would only come across this information when doing my taxes each January, a chore made bearable only because Julie and I do them together at the same time and we usually get some money back. Soon we won't have to make tax returns, so we probably shan't, and we wont get any money back. That's part of George Osborne's cunning plan. Whatever, you look at the figure as if something must be wrong with it, and put it back in the box.
It seems this pensions business is a bit more of a problem than I thought. In most unlikely circumstances I find myself grazing some financial guidance; it has the term 'aging population' leaping from the page. My father was lucky enough to have a final salary pension, which pays out seemingly forever as a percentage of his final wage packet. They put a stop to that as a general policy years ago; what you will get (roughly speaking) is just the interest on what you've put in the pot, and therefore if interest is 1%, you'd need £100,000 to get £1000 per year. So frankly we'll all be poor. Worse, if the markets go tits up we'll all be starving. You might have the where-with-all to invest £100,000 and get 7%, but what have you invested in- probably in the chicanery that got the banks in to trouble in the first place! What to do?
Thankfully Julie is ever ready with an answer: 'Wind farms!- Wave power!' she says.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Even the Telegraph worries..

Cartoon from the Daily Telegraph this week. Please click to enlarge!

Sunday, 12 July 2015


When complex systems fail it's probably bad news, so you have to build in other complex systems to accommodate. Human systems are by comparison rather primitive I suppose, but they are still complex,  since we respond to such myriad subtle stimuli to work out whether we are in a good situation or not, whether to fight or run. By comparison e-mail as a means of communication is the equivalent of a clump hammer.
People imagine that working is a university is a rather comfortable life; well it probably was and it probably could be, but there are a series of intractables within the management of that complex system within the management of another; the wider economy which have turned universities in to businesses, which are making life harder and harder. It's now a war between a culture of culture and a culture of management.
If we forgot every previous human catastrophe (I wonder at the tone of Hitler or Stalin's e-mails if they'd been able to send them) it would seem to be better to rely on human systems rather than electronic clump hammers, it is certainly the case that if there is a sudden problem in the human system, it has be be worked out with negotiation (simply because we are all so damn difficult/complex), power in electronic systems means that a tiny snow ball very rapidly becomes an avalanche, partly because a series of distant individuals suddenly are made aware of a problem but can't get to the problem and fix it, OR, they all try and do so at the same time, creating confusion and cancelling each other out.
these days, everytime I hear that 'ping' for incoming mail, I quake in my boots. There you have it, in the modern world, you're PARANOID by definition.

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Plan Is (Still) the Generator

More often than not architectural students confuse renderings with drawings and pictures with plans. There is no doubt it is a fascination with the laborious nature and potential verisimilitude of computer renderings that diverts attention, and it is completely understandable in the student, but it has become a distraction to the extent that tutors can now find themselves thinking that some projects suffer from over rendering; all the lights on with nobody home. Certain types of rendering seem to drive work in to outer space, and it's now a compliment when conversely, you hardly notice the rendering package at all.
This is the time of year when I have to look at a lot of projects and it's a complex business. When running a design studio, there was always the aura of combat, but now, as more of an observer, I like to think, rather corny though this might sound, that the Sweeney has finally made the shift to Morse. I can enjoy it a good deal more for sure, as well as being able to leave the fray after a reasonable time and the others to carry on slugging it out as they invariably do (even though you wont find me returning home to listen to Wagner).
The plan, over these agonising assessments, still strikes me as the generator. Excessive rendering distracts from the plan, and good planning is still the essence of a good project in every sense. There are other architectural components too; the distribution of structure, the integration of servicing and fabric, use of precedent and so on and guess what; these are all compromised by rendering as well! Whilst I have pondered for many years the possibility that these things don't matter anymore (Las Vegas casinos come to mind) now the bloody things have come back to haunt me. Even this I can put down to my desire to find an alternative to the dreary formalism the computer has brought to that other area, shape making and fabrication- because I don't draw on a computer!
It is also a myth that computers bring accuracy and accuracy is the be all and end all. Well if you are building a space station it will be, but while we still have building sites here on earth, while we still use wheelbarrows and boots sink in mud, it certainly isn't. It is extraordinary how we, so called intelligent men and women piloting the course of architectural development, have collectively extinguished such considerations from our appreciation of the architectural project. Perhaps this is because we have been too busy fighting with each other. In the process we have perhaps been as destructive as the multinationals destroying the rainforests.
I think back to those boffins who were inventing CAD whilst I was an undergraduate at Bristol University in the eighties and realise some things don't change; I didn't trust them then and I don't trust them now.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Our Trike

It's not finished yet (this is just the bare mating of bike with car) but it is wonderfully not a heap of parts in the back of a garage. Craftsmanship, thank god it still exists.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Friday, 5 June 2015

Immoderate Greatness

If you want to cheer yourself up read this book, no I'm not joking; you will laugh your way through the afternoon in sure knowledge we are all doomed. For me those lovely flowers in the previous post suddenly became, as they turn gracefully white, melancholic talismans of our inner and irredeemable tragedy. And when I went out to get the perfect modest lunch (a shish kebab) I felt a certain euphoria as I passed all the ladies with their push-chairs outside nostalgia orientated cafe's. It really is quite wonderful to know that the second law of thermodynamics is so stacked against us that it could be rack and ruin any day now. As Ophus quotes (on page 40): '...empires behave like all complex adaptive systems. They function in apparent equilibrium for some unknowable period. And then, quite abruptly, they collapse...(T)he shift from consummation to destruction and then to desolation is not cyclical.It is sudden.'
Am I running to the whisky bottle? Well I'd be excused I suppose, but no, I'm running instead to a practice seminar on the late work of the great Corbu, and I can feel nothing but energy for it.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Life at Home

A friend suggested this was 'a bit David Lynch' on Facebook, but hell, nice peonies!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Carnival Club Soho

When you go looking for pictures of old Soho they come amazingly pejorative. Scanning through Getty Images I was struck by pictures of young men buying knives and another showing a street scene with a caption 'prowling the streets...'. It was like something out of Winogrand or Weegee. Lots of us are nostalgic for old Soho, whichever old Soho befits your generation of course, but I don't remember it like that at all. By the eighties perhaps only Chief Constable James Anderton (the Manchester cop whose anti-sleaze campaign famously netted the Sun's Page Three Annual ) might have described me as 'a prowler'. For instance when I first arrived in London I discovered my History and Theory lecturer worked in a sex shop and I was soon friends with a girl from Newcastle, a barmaid in the Intrepid Fox, who found life better in a clip joint. Neither were at all 'menacing'. And when I think about it further, a rather large percentage of my friends might respond to this surreptitiously taken image (not taken by me) and at least twenty years old, which passed in to my no doubt (in the archaic Anderton's language) 'sweaty' hand yesterday. It was taken inside a tiny but somehow secure cavern; the long lost Carnival strip joint which sat just along from the Pollo Bar on Old Compton Street, and the reason we might smile is that we shared (independently of course) many pleasurable afternoons there.
It was a most peculiar not to say fascinating place. For instance, the (I assume regular) clientele made a great fuss of distributing chocolates on to the stage. There must be a very complex psychology behind wanting to do this, but I certainly wouldn't call whatever that mechanism was 'prowling'.
Even further, remembering Michel Foucault's adventures in San Fransciso or discovering that Professor Richard Feynman, world changing quantum phsysicist, declared his topless local his 'office away from the office', and affirmed in court it was 'a public need' really makes us think about the way we describe things and what it means.
My next beef will of course be on the subject of 'hard working families'.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

My Research Strategy

Always going backwards that's me, always back to the old (modern) favourites. Therefore I've realised, and not before bloody time, that this IS my research: I am probably doomed to recapitulate the same stuff over and over but slightly differently (and in slightly different media) forever, and when I finally get to build a house for us, I shall discorporate with the effort (see below post). Oh well, if the ideas are worthwhile that can't be a bad thing, even if they are now rather out of favour. Mankind doesn't change that much no matter how much it thinks it might. So, there you have it: when you read my research proposal it's basically; the history of good ideas in architecture that weren't (but are).
How did I discover this was what I was doing? Well I came across a lovely piece on Chandigarh by Peter Davey. This seemed such an unlikely conjugation I flattered myself in finding it. It's charm came from the circumstances; Peter being in Chandigarh and clearly wanting to be polite to the many Indian notaries who understood Corbu's snakes, turtles, cows, donkeys and meandering fish, and 'got' how it was all put together whilst he was madly sceptical about the ensemble himself, so Davey had to prove himself most adept at betraying his own prejudices (that L-C was beastly and impervious (amongst other things) to drips) in their midst; and he was very good at it; a tribute to his own non beastliness in fact. It was full of, 'well perhaps and perhaps not' stuff.
Indeed we have to ask ourselves how exactly do those capitol buildings (above) relate to the sacred Himalayas that are actually so far away in the distance, but perhaps I ALSO now have to revisit Davey himself. Being somebody who had a go at him long ago for managing a boring organ like the Architectural Review for so long, now I feel a twinge of revision. To my friends at the AR he's almost mythological, and now not so well, so I have all grounds to change my mind. And anybody, anybody who took six pints to interview somebody over lunch should really get the benefit of the doubt in these sad (coffee orientated) days.
Once again, we are forced to change our minds. Similarly I've just read a rather good dissertation outlining how we are all going to hell in a handbag with regard to city food supply. The answer, to all who bother to look, and once more NOT changing one's mind about good ideas, is probably a Radiant one. Let Starbucks stick that up their Unite d'habitation.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Donald Wilson RIP

About a year or so ago I found myself sitting here thinking about Donald and how he was. I even left a message on the phone of the pub next to where he and Ann lived in Sydling St Nicholas in Dorset, at least lived there in 1982, when I went and worked for him on his building site. His obituary appeared before me last night, in the RIBA Journal, when I was once more scanning for information, since his name had cropped up in a book I was browsing on Aldington Craig and Collinge, the much respected practice that Don went to work for when life as an architect/builder got too much.
Life as an architect builder was indeed horrific, and I still have vivid memories of sitting in that pub after a days building with Jackie Hall, Ann's extremely attractive daughter, both exhausted and bemoaning the state of our aching limbs and our (separate) love lives.
I'd first met Don via his son Martin, who was at school with me, and his sisters (one of whom married the PE teacher) and Ann who was the school administrator. Don lived in a converted cottage with his first wife, hanging furniture and Free records, with a workshop where Martin and I would attempt to unseize at least one moped engine. The memories, as I said, are quite vivid, for it was my first encounter with the life of an architect with a hanging cane chair and bright cushions.
That life was clearly not a bed of roses, but Don, when not exasperated, had an excellent sense of humour and infectious personality. He was even a bit of a celebrity having done 'The House of the Future' for Granada TV. He was, in short, as exotic as you are likely to get in Wilmslow, Cheshire,  pre-tabloid celeb. Since my dad was encouraging me to study architecture he took an interest in Donald's gangly influence too, driving me over there whenever the workshop beckoned. I suppose what I'm telling you here is that Don is responsible for all this, all this life in architecture, as I sit completing to proofs of 'History of Architecture Retold', I think of him, even to the point of feeling a bit emotional about it.
Later Don took a keen interest in how I was getting on, he took me around the now demolished Mechanised Letter Office in Hemel Hempstead where he was project architect, laughing at the fact that the supposed breton brut concrete had been condemned six times, and introduced me to Peter Aldington, that lovely man with the beard, in the office at Turn End. I went over to Bath University to hear a lecture by Peter Smithson, that rather odd man in a funny tie, and sat with Don in his office. By then he'd been rescued, thankfully, by academia. Then I guess I went off on my own way, and I had no further thought, excepting the occasional Christmas card, until that moment last year. Funny how things catch up with you.
When I think of what Don stood for; understanding building inside out from first principles; making his own windows, kitchens, HiFi speakers, I get some horrible perspective on where it all went horribly wrong. It would be inconceivable to teach such stuff now, much the pity. Of course when Don went out to practice what he preached, he taught us a valuable lesson, that craft hardly forestalls economics, and you are in for a good deal of pain. But he did it, nothing could stop him, and that's admirable. Indeed, he demonstrated something rather more than that, a trait that lies at the heart of all the great architects (and perhaps the value of the architectural world in general) that in some way they seem more attenuated to life's possibilities and tragedies. They bring life alive in built form.
Cheers Donald, and that's what I was going to say; a big thankyou.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Thursday, 14 May 2015


It was remarkable how quickly the ripples of dissent over last weeks election result abated. Within one day, one of my Facebook friends was commenting that the 'dust had settled', several others were clearly exasperated by my continual re-posting of provocative posts and were in the mood to get on with 'business as usual'. I found myself getting physically sick. I've noticed this before; it is clearly my psychological defence mechanism, and I have only just recovered from this latest bout to sit here and face the music.
Social media has been careful to build in dissent as an impossibility, but aren't grumpiness and dissent necessarily to be accommodated, even enjoyed? The alternative is to live in some kind of Disneyland, which, strangely, is what my local, lovingly previously referred to in this blog as The Trench of Despair turned in to this weekend. It was unfortunate the election coincided with the VE day celebrations; the place was suddenly playing forties tunes and festooned with bunting. The management even wanted staff to wear fancy dress. The ensemble looked like a UKIP after party. Nigel Farage might as well have been booked for lunch. This, within one of our more spectacular representations of 'defurbishment', ultrashabby chic, or junk shop austerity (why people like this look I have no idea, to my mind it's rather an import from Eastern Europe post 1989, when the cool bars in the old east were old fruit and vegetable shops, until the tactic caught on in Shoreditch).
Talking of the Soviet era, I heard nothing of allied rather then British victory; saw no red flags, heard no Red Army Choir, no recognition that victory over the Nazis was originally an overwhelmingly Soviet affair.
Perhaps we have become witless too, as well as Tory, but it all fits, since the reason swathes of people voted conservative at the last minute was fear, fear of jobs, mortgages and debt. It represented the crudest survival of the fittest mechanism; save yourselves! So expect more of Disneyland, for it represents an architecture of re-assurance; it's cause and effect.

Friday, 8 May 2015

The Day After

The day after the election, a Tory majority, and this is what you get.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Modernist Approach to Planning

With university departments having to cut across the board, it was interesting to think today, just like Le Corbusier seventy five years ago, that modernism was simply more economical. These days architecture students have to flounder around in search of any old 'idea' which nine times out of ten turns out to be a bad one, in search of their beloved project. Give them a good dose of modernist pragmatism and all this shit would go by the wayside; you'd note that the student had either manipulated the system well, or not, and not have to ponder the myriad of versions of creativity they blindly offer with regard to 'materiality', 'floating crisp packets in the air', 'moustaches' or the significance to planning of the 'Black Exodus' all which could largely be seen as a waste of time. This of course would also cut teaching hours by at least 3/4.
We really are missing a point here.

Friday, 1 May 2015


One of the great tells of late capitalist economics becomes clear when we (or it ) turn our attention to education, where as a central imperative, it has to offer less and less for more and more.
There are so many paradoxes; the more western society advances, the less profit is made; and so the more 'education' has to be orientated to 'innovation' and latterly 'entrepreneurship' to prop up it up. What's more, the more education theoretically critiques the system itself, the more it is ineffectual as an agent of criticism (see higher education in the USA and UK).
The subject you are studying is no longer the point, at least not it's bare bones (take note all architectural students at the Bartlett or AA); as to the essential principles (long discarded as 'uninteresting' or paradoxically temporal), it is only 'innovation' in the area that is interesting to the machine. This is now couched as 'research'. If the 'research' is counterproductive to the system, it seems not to matter that much, it is still product (ineffectual), hence the volume of critical product increases (so supporting the system, or rather educational superstructure). You could call this over-thinking since any real problem has been left way behind.
Even if you are not in the slightest way interested in the processes of growth you might soon realise that as a student you are paying for a product that is busy anticipating it's own demise; that is, you are no longer learning about your subject, you are learning about capital's interest in your subject, and paying for it.
This is why Catch 22 is such a great book.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Bodie and Doyle

Looking through this blog it's clear that I seem to like things that repeat themselves, that do variations on a theme. This might include records by The Cult or ACDC, watching films like Where Eagles Dare an inordinate number of times, or watching strippers in the White Horse and probably extends to my enjoyment of Mies van de Rohe and the tease that I find fascinating in the eminently thematic Le Corbusier. It is clear I am relatively unimaginative in this way, I like the fact that all Harley Davidsons are variations on a theme, and that none of them are dependent so much on ideas, but stand as variations, and that the idea is variation in itself. This is also why I can hardly bring myself, as we crawl to the end of year, to find myself in such proximity to so much rather frivolous creativity in terms of student design work. Unless I can see the links to something else, I'm lost. Watching somebody else's  gratuitous creativity bores me to tears.
With this in mind I have renewed enthusiasm for the re-runs of The Professionals at 5pm on ITV4.
The villains are always involved in dastedly plots to destabilise good old Blighty, their molls are always heroin or coke addled posh girls, Body and Doyle always disobey orders, Gordon Jackson always reaches for the whisky bottle and that's about it. However, this time around I do note that originally they chased around in cars by British Leyland across deserted industrial sites, while the enemy drove Fords, but reliablility issues dogged filming schedules and they all ended up in Ford Capris: a startling visualization of Britain's industrial decline.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Architectural History Retold

This will be published in September

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Death Metalist Next Door

In the Versailles of Louis XIV there must have been somebody who said, somewhat conspiratorially to his friend, 'You know this can't go on, this is all going to go really tits-up'. That is, if the French have or had an expression for 'tits up'. There must have been someone in the court of Phillip II in Madrid who muttered 'Christ! What are we going to do with all this gold? It's a huge deflationary time bomb!' That is if they had an inkling what deflation might be.
I feel the same way about the City of London, now virtually knocking on my front door (see previous post) so I was delighted last night to find I have true agents of the apocalypse living next door, and nicer bunch of fellas it would be hard to meet. If this got out of it might ruin their image, I don't think death metal bands would even subscribe to likes on Facebook, but I promise no evidence of satanic ritual have reached my ears; no bats, no strange deathly aromas, not even a bit of moodiness in the air. I  hear only light hearted chuckles. There has been no grunting or thrashing at all, and I now find myself rather embarrassed that I might have played, over loud, Black Sabbath's 13, and raised no more than an eyebrow, and certainly not a scythe, in next door's spotless living room. Neither have been no troops of groupies passing my kitchen window with streaming black make-up. In fact, our only crossed paths come when I knock on the door to pass on a parcel or two, to be greeted by a charming man wearing a Moonmadness tee shirt. Now I did remark, with insouciance, that way back I had seen Camel on their Moonmadness tour, but I wouldn't have if I'd known I was talking to an agent of death.
He protested we wouldn't like their album, Julie saying I'd play it when she's gone to bed. I did, I liked it a lot, scary yes, but good. But from now on, when I pass on those parcels, I'll make sure it's not in the morning.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Urban Design is a Waste of Time

This somewhat provocative statement came to me yesterday as I sat through a thoroughly arresting evening seminar on research in to micro climates around tall buildings, which now largely seems to focus on how to get at least a beam or two of natural light down on to your cappuccino. Clearly this is a case of tail wagging the dog.
Indeed, the tangible products of a gamut of urban design initiatives over the last forty years seems tiny, I can think of one in the London metropolis, Paternoster Square, and that under Royal patronage. The rest of the city just dances to the music of cash tills. Such is the way of the late capitalist metropolis, everything is reduced to money; any fool can see that, so it must be just dim wits or dreamers who insist on so called 'Urban Design' and thrill to the provision of tiny ice rinks surrounded by champagne bars. In this context my view that the most significant piece of 'urban design' of the last half century is Forum Shopping in Caesars Las Vegas looks a pretty salient one. Even it probably has an ice rink to accompany it's many champagne bars by now.
In 1962 even the progenitor of Paternoster Square, who I would gently suggest might be Colin Rowe, decided that because his students were simply not up to the intense formal manipulations involved in the design of actual buildings they might be better off doing urban design, and they kept doing it until he retired in 1990. To think that of students at Cornell in 1962 is rather salutary. What has been the effect of those students on the American city, huh? One look at Denver or Houston would have you claiming your tuition fees back.
Actually I'm being a little mean on that presentation yesterday, since it's political message was strong: when the city of London extends itself on to Bishopsgate Goods Yard with umpteen gleaming, empty, twenty story plus skyscrapers, the shadows will be cast as far north as Arnold Circus, a picturesque, but poverty stricken enclave, so throwing the already poor in to further darkness and debt. And what can we do about it? Precisely nothing, because it would threaten the god of Moloch, 'Job'. These days I suspect even energy efficiency is offset, not unlike pension funds, globally.
All this makes Prince Charles look pretty good; Royalty looking at least better than corporations (councils having been rendered totally ineffective) when it comes to running the planet, being relatively parochial and genuinely concerned for the land beneath one's feet, the green and pleasant, and so on. How can I possibly be saying this?

Friday, 17 April 2015

Whisky Sours

Like many people I have to watch what I'm drinking, usually in horror and with a certain resolve to walk a mile or two the next day and drink a bottle of Badoit. The problem of course is that I, we, and they (rare guests) all enjoy drinking way beyond governmental guidelines, and I imagine most of government enjoys it too. Historical precedent doesn't help either, imagining Mies with his two lunchtime martinis can easily push you off the rails, and only remembering that Ian Fleming died at fifty six might get you back on them again.
But I have realised one thing, staring at the depleted whisky bottle this morning but feeling decidedly perky, that it must be the mix of lemon juice and sugar added to the sour that mitigates against a hangover. Given the qualities involved, I should have been on the floor (still in bed), but some remarkable chemical reaction has conspired to keep me on my feet and functional. This is a good thing to know.
Other tips include tequila when feeling a little low. That was something I learnt from Las Vegas. Of course the splendid margarita also involves the lemon. And afterwards, the next morning, lemon juice with honey nicely chilled. This could be the secret to a happy life.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Blue Streak, Polaris, Trident, Whatever..

Blue Streak, Polaris, Trident whatever you want to call it, Britain's so called independent nuclear deterrent is a very peculiar thing. All of my life I've lived in the shadow of nuclear destruction. Amazingly it hasn't happened. That we are alive at all is not down to precautionary steps either, there's no fall out shelter in this basement (actually no basement). This is not Switzerland or for that matter France, which built many deep car parks for the purpose. Given the warning sirens, we British might as well have put  hankies over our heads. Excepting the Queen, who may still have a special little train somewhere, and some civil servants who might scoot down a hole in Wiltshire, we'll all be dead.
It's probably not down to people not wanting to kill me either, it's just threatening nuclear strike comes over as a bit naff, all that posturing so passe, it's not political leaders that will press the button, it's just an accident waiting to happen. I'm not sure even the military want them, they strike me as rather unreliable as a military option.
In the eighties CND was right at the heart of things, now we seem peculiarly attached to those nukes. They appear to represent British jobs. Predictably UKIP want to increase military spending and put ex-soldiers in the police, a most peculiar thing; it's all getting a bit Siegfried and Maginot Line; always ready for the previous war.
To have nukes for prestige? What a thing! To show the world in the aftermath of WW2 the Brits could still do cutting edge; making weapons of mass destruction which would trickle down to better frying pans; embark on a scientific quest of such unimaginable complexity, cost and moral bankruptcy in order to get a better Electrolux? Tragic. I'm reading a very funny (and furious) book by Simon Winder called 'The Man Who Saved Britain' about James Bond; he puts the madness in to context very nicely.
Of course one or more of these things is going to go off sooner or later, and I would tentatively suggest that we plan for that not by building more of them, but by getting rid of them. Meanwhile the new wars are clearly informational, porn-bombs and pictures of cats on social media laying waste to whole generations.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The Bauhaus vs Pavilion Suisse

Sank behind the Iron Curtain, with Dessau hardly recovered from the last fighting of WW2, the Bauhaus was conveniently literally and metaphorically shot as a force for good forty years ago. Charles Jencks, the prophet of postmodernism, found it an easy target. Colin Rowe, in the process of forging his own academic career, rather meanly regarded Gropius as talentless.
Now restored, it's actually very pretty. OK the main entrance space is cramped, and it's an object building that might be considered a bit block like, and the workshops never really worked and still don't, but there is something brilliant in those same workshops resembling car parks. Multi-story concrete car parks were a trilling new thing; they featured on postcards!
You might see the same kind of design thinking in the Bauhaus as you do in a Tiger tank; some ruthless logic pursued to an end you'd better not mess with, it inspires respect. But trying to put my finger on it I realised there is one thing I'll agree with those postmodern critics about, because the Bauhaus complex could hardly be described as lyrical.
Now lyrical might be another dangerous word not to be messed with, but that's immediately what I see if I compare the Bauhaus to another modern object building, The Pavilion Suisse by Le Corbusier of 1933. Here the entrance space is hardly some cramped echo of a brutish nineteenth century school, but an exercise in something else entirely, something that appears to do just about everything it can within a rigorous structural system as to bring comparison to poetry- stretching the bits, if you like, that are there to be stretched. Remember, place a marble on the floor as you come through the door, it rolls to the reception desk, to your left is the lift, all machinery exposed, ready to spin and clank, in front stands a strange collage on some kind of fin that shrouds a curving slice of staircase: actually a manifesto for L-C's whole way of thinking. The building anticipates, in these elements and more, not only the Unite d'habitation, but Ronchamp chapel, and in precedent, harks back to the acropolis, or if that is too ambitious for you, at least L-C's previous housing done for the Weissenhoff Seidlung of 1928; and ALL at the same time! No wonder L-C loved jazz.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Rat Trike

Another fine pic to go with the post below. The Slut (not him, it)
(photo: Julie Cook)

Bikers, Trikers, Whatever..

There are days when it's best not to go out; settle yourself to WW2 Countdown to Victory and have done with it. In fact that image of peace and quiet (see below) runs strong in most of us. But there are other days when (whilst we still can) we must gird ourselves and shake our collective fists at the gods and do stuff; and take a peek at what the human world out there is actually like.
They were line dancing outside The Forresters, Southend yesterday, to rockabilly. The bikers, and there  were thousands and thousands of them, divided in to roughly two groups, the bean-poled maniacs in lime green leathers trying to stand their Suzi's on their noses; burning, drifting, screaming, banging bundles of post adolescence out to play, and the over forties, overwhelmingly agricultural folk who find engines in barns, strap girders to them and somehow make them actually go; those gnarled cross breeds of Willy Nelson and Keith Richards who have seen it all before, alongside their molls, mothers, mamas and old ladies, who mount up on the 'Slut' or 'Dirt Bag' or 'Death Trap' or 'Mutant' to demonstrate their thorough couldn't give a flying fuckness with a degree of insouciance that saw them line dancing at the Foresters. You got the feeling that if somebody had actually cranked up a Stones riff, the place would collapse from over stimulation. These, I decided, were my kind of people.
Of course they didn't know that yet, but we did our best to fit in, hide our iPad's and slope, mosey and otherwise mask our crippling un-hipness (and over tight boots) to the scene. Would we even buy patches? We made do by gawping at almost every conceivable variant of Harley Davidson the world might offer, and Julie specialising in the already specialised area of the 'rat', a contrary reaction but a fair one given the overwhelming plenitude of chrome, tassel, and flake; the rat iconography consisting of enough skeletons, skulls, spiders, beer kegs, webs, nets, scythes (and dogs in baskets) and of course rats to spell doom in anybody's language. 'You can't go touring on one of those' I said. In fact, it looked like you'd hardly get down the street on some of 'em.
This was a culture so blissfully unaware of celebrity that the photographer for the local paper picked on me. Well I had the beard didn't I, and no exhortations to death and destruction as yet in evidence. Well thats a result I thought, roll on us on our trike, in matt grey.
(Photo: Julie Cook)

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Heidegger's Hut

Call me a dull old rationalist if you like, but I perenially find myself thinking that Heidegger's Hut, source of inspiration for Being Dwelling Thinking (and much besides) might have been a bit damp. It seems cut so sharply in to the Swabian hillside as to have it's rear gutter almost touching the meadow. And it sits alongside a spring, so one wonders without technological wonders (none allowed) how condusive to thinking thoughts of the devine it would actually be. To my mind as I lie in my hut, to all intents and purposes our bed four floors up above London, contemplating my being at 5am and staring at a poster of Lake Tahoe, Martin might have given much thought about the weather but little as to it's consequences.
We all need our huts and they take many guises. Le Corbusier placed his chair next to a large box containing the lift machinery for the apartments below in Rue Nungesser et Coli. I imagine him sitting there smoking his pipe and scanning the newspaper enjoying the clunk and whine of the machinery, just as I do when I'm waiting for the lift at work. When he decamped south, he had his timber shack, the cabanon, usefully attached to a restaurant. My friend Andrew Lane has a terrific cottage out in the hills above Cork, and it's as Heideggarian an experience as I've ever had, until you run out of booze and have to traipse miles and miles to the local village. I long for such a thing myself, equipped with solitude, estuary, sky and Julie, but also amenities, and probably on stilts.
Out in the wilds of the Black Forrest there would have been no such distractions, and Heidegger's thinking was undoubtedly serious, not so serious as to stop him joining the Nazi party, but certainly cosmic. A student of mine guffawed the other day that Heidegger thought so hard that every time he hit a wall he made up a new name for it. As a language of course, German is like that. But how could he have thought the Nazi's were a good idea? The answer of course is that such political and materialist concerns were insufficiently mysterious for the serious thinker, even if that sounds wrong in almost every conceivable way.
One thing we can be sure about, Martin Heidegger doesn't come over as a practical man. His wife bought the land, employed the carpenter and all that, and it's hard to imagine him fitting in to a farming community of practical people, despite his abiding respect for them. This might, in a round about way, explain why Oxford University doesn't have an architecture department, my own at Bristol was closed in '84 and the one at Cambridge follows a strong Heideggarian line.
Make of that what you will.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Lives of Artists (sic)

I imagine curators, as a breed, as a type, no as a profession, like the art world. They must have a predilection for the schmoozing and the appreciation, and they must, at least to some extent because otherwise it would be like just running a shop, believe somehow in the therapeutic qualities of art, in 'communities' and so on. Artists of course might not believe in any of that at all, Lucien Freud wouldn't even turn up at his own shows, and I had to do an artists talk yesterday afternoon in Luton, and didn't know quite what to make of it. Even in a die hard professional treader of the boards like me can have his doubts.
The opening went well though, if you are broad enough minded as to be pleased that nobody got horribly drunk, fell down the stairs, or threw a punch, and everybody seemed to be having quite a jolly time whether they gave a damn about the art or not, even if it did seem suspiciously populated more by friends and family than local art fiends.
And it was funny to find oneself hiding in the closet waiting for the mayor to leave and having ones work shut away until he did, because Luton's administration is sensitive to a whole load of issues long dumped by your mature artist, and it was also hilarious to contemplate a future of sorts doing the same thing in Grimsby or Cleethorpes, Barrow or Dundee, since they all need art too, or so they say.
So I pondered my take home messages on the train while trying to shove to the back of my mind images of some filthy inquisition, even violence. Of course I needn't have worried, the significant cultural event of Luton's day turned out to be 'Wow Factor' (where hopefuls got advice on their applications to X Factor from a previously unsuccessful contestant) going on in the shopping centre. The rest were probably waiting for the late afternoon kick-off. So our artists talk went out to a small but perfectly formed audience of four. I don't care, I once was part of a six enjoying the eminent Franz Schulze lecture on Mies van de Rohe, and he'd crossed the Atlantic to do it. So Julie and I consoled each other it was all good practice.
One suddenly appreciated those ageing rockers still knocking it out because they love it so, but a future in Cleethorpes? That's not exactly Las Vegas is it (and I've already done Las Vegas). The road to Cleethorpes was suddenly as good as tragic, but is that where enthusiasm gets you in the end?

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Mike Hurt RIP

So I got a text on my phone this morning. I was on his, and his son (or maybe daughter?) Sam, relayed the news that Mike Hurt had died suddenly last Wednesday. Thinking about it, it was the sort of news I might have expected at any time over the last decade, and Mike would have chuckled at the thought of it.
For years I sat with Mike in the Duke of York over lunchtime (not that we were there for eating anything); with Gordon McLean, Matt White, Kit Allsopp, Mischa Welsh and others who drifted over from the university opposite. A lot of the time it was just me and him, and there was never a time when it was not a delight to see him, mooching along in his overcoat, the seasoned pub-goer, to sit in his favourite spot which we joked (as is the case perennially) should have had a plaque but would never get one. We spent a lot of time watching the girls go by (there's a theatre school opposite) and we gave each of those anonymous performers cheery nick-names to lift our day.
They always have a name for the winners in the world, but we relished our ambivalence and disdain with stories of curious and usually failed opportunity; him running ashrams in India, tucking up Timothy Leary, trading Afghan coats from Afghanistan; generally mucking about somewhere near Vancouver, with the occasional exclamation that '! They were good!' when it came to one rock band or another. We mused over the failings of temperamental furniture designers and university managers as if we were rocks impervious to air.
But eventually there was one re-organisation of the technical staff too far, and Mike was made redundant and we bought him extra brandy, and he tottered off back to Notting Hill to mooch around there. One day he came back, same overcoat, same gruff chuckle, just to see if some things remained the same.
His funeral is this Wednesday 25th March at 1.30pm at the West London Crematorium. It's a great sadness that I can't be there, because, for once in my life, and of all things, I have a show to open in Luton. He would laugh, but I shall certainly use the occasion to raise a glass to him, and for all the guys out there who know about stuff, and to whom we should listen. He was great company and is sadly missed.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

And another Exhibition..

Terrific piece by Julie unveiled last night at UEL in her male nudes show. I'm depicted in the company of those blasted meerkats, polar bears, elephants and Potsdammer Platz, so of course the fragility of our world is clear: that and I'm irritating, endangered and overlarge. 

Saturday, 14 March 2015

And an Exhibition..

I have this exhibition of collages opening at the Departure Lounge in Luton on Wednesday 25th March at 6pm. Like the book, these art pieces have also been occupying my time for a while. It will be great to finally see sixteen or so of them in a gallery setting. 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Finishing a Book

So I finished 'Architectural History Retold' on Sunday 1st March 2015, on time, hardly on budget- for there wasn't one- there were just costs. How does it feel? Not bad. There is certainly satisfaction after three years of it, and a pleasure in passing the package on to the publishers all done and dusted and on time. The last weeks were like wading through mud, I'll warn you of that. While now there might be a sense of blue sky, back then, to paraphrase American poet Robert Lowell; the light at the end of the tunnel was that of an oncoming train. Thank goodness Julie was in Berlin, leaving me to glare morosely at the beast I'd created, trying to weigh up it's various characteristics so that they might be gobbled up by internet search engines, whilst considering the comments of those who'd actually read it and offered help. There must be very few apparitions less attractive and more self obsessed than a writer finishing a book.
Certainly once sent, you know what pubs are for, that quiet diffusion, what I used to call 'snow falling in your head' and the day after or thereabouts, it turns out the most important thing to do is get a haircut.  You'll need it, it will bring you back to the world.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Buying a Harley

Because we've bought a Harley I'm listening to a lot of this.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015


Guys had to stand up in this thing 20,000 ft up in the air, being shot at. 

Saturday, 14 February 2015


As a kid I dreamt of having one of these. At the MCN bike show at Excel today it's selected as one of the greatest bikes of the half century.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The View from Wales

To my mind, sitting in the Mad Bishop at the end of a couple of escalators in a shopping centre in Paddington Station last friday afternoon, the England rugby fans all looked alarmingly like Monty Don, and the Welsh like Dylan Thomas. With a name like Davies, I'm not too fond of stereotyping the Welsh (as in general the English do) but our differences certainly came to mind when we accidentally found ourselves amidst what is euphemistically called 'a carnival atmosphere' in Cardiff city centre a few hours later. They plonked the Millennium stadium right in the middle of it, symbolically I hope, and it was a good idea. The next day even the trebuchet at Cardiff Castle (above) reminded me of the rugby. Any head to head with the English seemed welcome. 
But then, I'd defend Cardiff if I had to, since it is one of the more humane city centres Britain has to offer, mostly for it's network of arcades, as extensive as any I've come across, which, since they are effective and pleasant and well used, have prevented shitty streetscapes and too many dreary malls. There are malls, but you stroll through them without a nervous breakdown, and into the arcades, full of small enterprises selling odd and interesting things; like walking through eBay with character. So with regard to the post below, the utterly vernacular contemporary vulgarization of London, I'm glad somebody at some point managed to plan Cardiff in such a way, and make it a nice place to be.
Then it was away in to the air, to hills! Hills above towns! I'd forgotten how good that felt. And the houses all the same! And workshops with people actually making things, bashing metal. This was an ancient scene for sure.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

The London Skyline

London's sprouting towers like San Gimignano; just not as good. Homes for the international filthy rich they say (Rapunzel! Rapunzel!) well vaults actually, a concrete consequence of international money laundering and fear. Juxtapose The Shard with Aleppo; in the modern world each crystalline vision demands an equal and opposite pile of rubble. London is now, apparently, a safe haven for the worlds worst wealth, and it shows.
It is astonishing just how quickly London's authorities, once sobbing their eyes out over each view of St Paul's, have grasped this rather tawdry opportunity, but it is even more astonishing that the populace at large has meekly accepted it. There's been hardly a murmur. There is something Victorian about it all, a bit high church and no knickers. We know our place.
So why? Like internees we have got used to looking after ourselves amidst the filth, we can't see the clearing in the forest or the barbed wire or the smoke for the trees; we accept this horrible existence as just the way of the world. 'Bunk up everybody! Squeeze in! There used to be a saying; a philestine is somebody who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
For thousands of years mankind has striven to create cities and now we couldn't care less. That is a travesty, and it's a dereliction of duty, at least as a European (free copies of Benevelo all round!) I can't blame the Americans; they understand their Moloch!
The moral compass of the sewer rat is highly contagious. There is no point in debating comparative merits; just dress 'em how you like. It's a fashion show; like speed hairdressing, with an all you can snort buffet.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Norman Mailer

From 'He was almost glad...' (2nd sentence) this is an extraordinary, to me at least, example of Norman Mailer's ability to be loquacious and succinct at the same time. It's like his stream of consciousness is bang on (for most of us it is far more unreliable) and for those of my students writing about the cultural significance of road trips (in this case a bus trip to jail) might take note.
This is from 'Armies of the Night'(1968) an excellent book on the writers involvement in the demonstrations at the Pentagon during the Vietnam War. Given our present situation, I can't recommend it whole heartedly enough.

Thursday, 29 January 2015


It's taken a long time to get back to biking, or triking for that matter. What happened in the middle? Boozing probably. So we are off down to Wales to talk to trike people. To talk to trike people you have to go to Yorkshire or Wales, which might say a lot; trikes are not really a metropolitan thing, but we need boot space, and we thirst for the road, and you know what, with a trike, it's a design exercise.
So whether it's a Harley donor or a Goldwing, whether kit or bespoke build, everything down to the piping on the paint finish needs to be decided. Oh god.
For this exercise I start with another model (see below and see above) the only model trike I've found, a Harley Tri-Glide commemorative from Obama's election, and several back copies Trike Magazine, surely one of the more esoteric of publications, for trike riders may, if the whim descends, build anything, base it on The Magic Roundabout, whatever. We are not talking products here, these are works.
But that is also very cool indeed, very correct in principle. You get craft, you get engineering, and of course you still get cold and wet.
We prepare, no way we are going to turn up without helmets, jackets, gauntlets and all the rest. I figure if we begin to look the part, we'll become the part. That, after all, is why I've ended up with a ZZTop beard. And we have to start now, building takes twelve weeks, so you commission one of these things in the chill of winter for your blasts of summer breeze. This will be quite a ride. 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

New House

House for Two Brothers on the Fen. The top block is a barn conversion for bedrooms, otherwise the living space is dissected by a garden wall where everything falls off over the east or western sides, embracing the amazing landscape/weather. Obviously younger brother with less family gets small side. Horticultural greenhouses begin to sprout out back, and ....not much else. A cool little thing for my brother to think about, since he has the opportunity with the barn. Note the model trike in the background. We'd need one up there for sure.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Page Three

Now Page Three has gone, it seems to me the obligation of web participants to plaster it with images of demure girls with their tops off, since even the most hardened of new feminists agree that it's rights to show themselves off (thank god) given more prevailing circumstances. Not that I give a damn for Page Three and don't think its as shoddy as it's possible to get; this was simply one of those Murdoch ploys found out; and he's reacted too dumb and too late, and it's an embarrassment that the puritans (such as Harriet Harman) seize the pseudo joy.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Sunny Day

It's New York in 1975, and exotic dancer Sunny day is protesting at the lack of funds in the public coffers. The more I think about this the more peculiar it becomes. Strippers campaigning for public funds! How extraordinarily public spirited. Mind you, that is exactly what Lady Godiva was doing when she took her husbands bet to ride naked through Coventry, if he would stop taxing the populace so harshly.
What's in a name? Well that's another sign of the times. Dancers nowadays are likely to choose names like 'Shadow' or 'Diamond'. I imagine last on their list would be something as innocent as 'Sunny Day'.  
Where have all the flowers gone?
Of course she's not nude, she wants to protest, not get arrested, so the provocation is mild, as is the placard, but she is on a horse, and that can't be easy to find in downtown NewYork New York. She is also siting side saddle; maybe that's comfortable as well as demure, and she appears to have now assistants, no compadres. Perhaps she's more powerful for all that.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Necker Island

Just about the worst place in the world? Quite possibly given last night's television documentary; ostensibly a promo for Richard Branson's island paradise; once his, now yours by the hour. Typical Branson; ever a man of the people. 
Luxury suddenly looked so annoying. Since it's whatever you want whenever you want it, being stuck on Necker must be extremely tiresome. Officially 'letting your hair down' you'd actually sulk in your room feeling bad noting the bill ticking hankering for cheese on toast instead of caviar: Like all 'all you can eat' buffets; the situation is crass (but fun at first) and always profitable to the house.
What do people do there? Well they Kite fly (see above) that's for sure, and drink cocktails and don formula 'dress up' items (thoughtfully supplied) to go to disco night (as all this has never happened before) and wonder if the bar staff are lonely enough to give them a sympathy shag. Said staff are well aware of the deal, and they think it's fun. I have no problem with prostitution or 'just a bit of fun' if only people (and this awful program) weren't so coy about it. The scenarios; including eating sushi off the 'hot' accountant (another bit of fun) were really quite off putting.
The guests might exercise a peculiar desire to share breakfast with Richard (his wife stayed well out of it) oggle at him actually eating a burger over lunch, and then pitch some dreadful idea to him; such as installing a lift so that other pitchers might do the lift pitch. How does RB survive this crap? Well because that's exactly what he's like. He thrives on shit like this. To the camera's he's running his empire from the pool side, with his chief PA an ex stewardess. The orchestration! The artifice! The rustics in paradise! Give me a fucking break. In the old days multinationals craved conspicuous respectability; the Seagram Building; Branson swings the other way; flip flops. His accountant's tummy is presently laden with sushi. If I were in the mind for such a high flying experience, I'd prefer a good suit and dinner in the Four Seasons anytime; it's called class. Perhaps the real accountant was out of sight crying.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Dry January

So it's off the booze for January. This is not as funny or as easy as it sounds. You get aware of that very quickly; like the first evening, and even this is little more than a 'Less Sodden January' since I'm only cutting down to the barest of rations so far; but perhaps it's best to give it up altogether. That's a dreadful thought; that or the doc enforces perpetual sobriety.
The effect is very disturbing, like walking around with half the lights off or being condemned to listening to Iron Maiden for ever. It's clear I'm particularly choosy about my reality, and I don't like not being able to filter it out at will. What to do? Feel like a zombie, save up for a Harley, a turntable upgrade? Whatever middle aged people do when they can't enjoy what they actually like doing?
So I stare nostalgically back at the picture above, of me with Gordon Murray, a student who for some reason had the nickname 'Daisy' in Cleopatra's Barge, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, circa 1997. Those were the days/nights/whatever.
Photo Copyright Paul Davies