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)