Tuesday, 27 November 2012

I Get Weak 1988

Since it's my birthday and nomatter how old, I am ill disposed to work, I loll about wondering exactly how long it will take me to get down and write that thing on Beatriz Colomina's Playboy exhibition in Maarstrict. I wonder whether whether she is ferocious (as I imagine) or playful (as spotted on Google), I wonder what I think or rather thought about Playboy magazine, which for the most part would be: disappointed. And why on earth it might suddenly be 'chic' or even critically 'chic' now.
In the mean time thank god the postman delivers a true eighties classic, a piece of power pop so daft it could have been produced by Don Simpson and would now fair very well on the playlist in my local hairdressers, Rocket on Hackney Rd- who last time I was there seemed very manic for Top Gun and Young Guns soundtracks. Being such barometers hairdressers are, this means for better or worse the eighties ARE BACK.
This 12" of I Get Weak is terrific, it tells you just about everything you need to know (if you try hard enough) in one little package, just as Ms Carlisle could, possibly (now 54) who is probably just as embarrassed (if she could see me) at the thought of me bobbing around the living room and doing the hand actions as she was blasted out of her mind while singing it. Mind you she has faired pretty well, she even posed for the blessed Playboy in 2001 (I do my research) before turning buddhist.
I put it on again, make another cup of tea and sniff a miniature celebratory coissant. The advantage of cultural theory based on 12" singles is that on the longer versions the producers can 'really be themselves'. They embellish the songs with many dodads that give the essence of the period away. You can just imagine them; 'Lets just have another line and DO THIS TO IT!!' (extend the intro - add on twinkly synth bits - roll out a bit of chug-a-lug - solo Belinda! Solo with kettledrums!!- put that piano on the top and hold on to glorious fadeout!) And they would spend ages in the sanctum of the studio doing just that, just for a few glorious extra seconds! I feel I'm in there with them! What days, if only architecture could be so much fun.


Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Fountainhead

I have to watch the Fountainhead (1948) each year with my post grad students and each year I moan and groan along with them all the way through, but each time somehow at different bits. This year it was particularly the startled bunny in the headlights expression of Domenique Francon (Patricia Neal- above) every time it is demanded she make any emotional response to almost anything. This undoubted paralysis of fear no doubt speaks volumes for the concept of objectivism in the first place, and offers an excellent opportunity for that excellent joke; 'How many objectivists does it take to change a light bulb...........(pause).....ONE!'
However this year I was struck equally by the question of why the hell Gail Wynand shoots himself. Having just lost the girl BUT made a pile of money by selling The Banner the second of the prime beings (but of course the more flawed) should by rights, in anything other than the most crass avowal of the survival of the fittest, slink off in to the long grass to lick his wounds, even stags in the highlands do that. Instead he GIVES EVERYTHING TO ROARK! Life, even an objectivists life, should surely not be mistaken for an all or nothing poker game.
The next and last scene of course makes it clear there can be only one king of the castle, as Roark stands atop to receive the finally supplicant Dominique as she shoots up his mighty construction. If you don't laugh at this scene there is something wrong with you, but when you've stopped laughing, what on earth can we make of such blatant totalitarianism which, speaking mathematically, confirms that in such regimes, there is only need for ONE. When we remember that we must surely recall and recoil at that haunting scream of Rudolf Hess in 1934 'Adolf Hitler is Germany and Germany is Adolf Hitler'.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Why I don't like Louis Kahn's Salk Institute

One of the things I like about Gropius's Bauhaus building is that it is entirely synthetic, entirely of man. At least it is entirely of man in concept, whilst of course we can debate the nature of it's materials. It also looks cheap (economical).
One of the things I don't like about the Salk Institute by Louis I Kahn, a building that just about every American architect (at least) raves about, is that it seems entirely organic in concept, and it looks very expensive indeed (built without consideration of means to end- a sort of architecture for architecture's sake). I don't like it that Kahn goes on about light and space just about all the time, and talks in poetry; elements which are largely inadmissible to theory. That is not to say light and space and poetry aren't important, but all these things go together to make Kahn an architect in the great American tradition of the organic, a position so flawed it encourages many native architects in their desire to paint Las Vegas brown.
Sullivan, Wright, Kahn, all of them swept away in the rather despairing quest for organic unity, whilst those of the Hellenic disposition realise that this is all nonsense, and that man is basically almost interminably unhappy and alone.
Weirdly, the first opinion appears to make you more depressed than the second.
And of course, it's not quite fair to make criticism in such blatant, stereotypical terms, nobody wants to be thought of as this one dimensional. Neither are they so one dimensional.  However, since mostly the business of architectural criticism seems to be embroiled with the crushingly boorish attitude that everything is everything, one finds blogging refreshing, because when you blog, you can't do that, you can't go one about how satisfactory everything is, how wonderful everything is, you have to be categorical. Now there is a sentiment I suppose Kahn would of shared.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Doom and Gloom

After dancing around the kitchen to the Stones latest, and finding Grr to be a favourite on at least one of my students facebook pages, that on the back of Planet Rock playing the original seventies Heavy Load of Free (A song even I have on heavy rotation, but don't get me started on the lyrics) just before Doom and Gloom and I'm thinking that, at least without the sex abuse, the (early) seventies are back, and the second part of the excellent Crossfire Hurricane isn't till saturday night... can't wait.
Doom and Gloom is actually more an eighties outing- shades of Undercover of the Night shades of Keith's ZZTop moments off Main Offender too (hardly bad timing given the ZZTop resurgence) but those matters are technical.
Lets get to shoes. I had a big thing for the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn, negative heels, as a young man. I was MERCILESSLY teased for them when I first arrived in London, they called them cornish pasties; they said they were duckbill platypuses, they laughed out loud and in public. But you get to re-live shit courtesy of E-bay and middle age, and you get to take revenge, and so low and behold a fresh pair arrived today, some dead stock in Dakota stashed in many bins no doubt by some desperate buyer of job lots.

I looked at them and thought- these really do look like hospital shoes, and they are a little, well, yellow, perhaps clownish, but they felt good as long as you didn't walk in them. As soon as I tried them on and did walk in them I felt a little tipsy. Go ahead, laugh.

Friday, 16 November 2012

The Bauhaus Chess Set

Fine Art is undoubtedly the worst of subject areas. Nobody even teaching it seems to know what it is. I've never heard a single decent definition, all I hear is dire tales of students stuffing models of whales with sponges or making earrings of the Royal (sic) family. HOWEVER, the chaos of idiocy that the practise of so called fine art demands does appear in a historical context to reap many dialectically rational rewards. Amidst the undoubted madhouse of the Bauhaus, where transcendental pseuds ran the show, even the canteen, even demanding prayer and robes and the eating of garlic mush (Alma Mahler, married briefly to Gropius, most beautiful etc, said the only distinctive thing about the Bauhaus was the smell of garlic) we get quite excellent things like the Bauhaus Chess Set, a thing of clear beauty.
I showed it to my students today as just about the best thing that could have come out of my imaginary construction of what the Bauhaus must have been. I explained the rationalism of each piece representing how each piece moved as a thankful pinnacle of achievement. I even enjoyed the certain ambiguity between king and queen pieces, thinking perhaps the Bauhaus couldn't do kings or queens, but when I shovelled forward this discussion in to post-grad students in the afternoon, they resoundedly said it was right that the queen was spherical, as in moving everywhere, and when I think about it, they were quite right, the king is definitely more stilted in metaphorical movement (but only just- it's still an argument waiting to be had..... maybe exposing the difficulties of form following function.....and so on ......oh dear)
Please buy me one for Christmas.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Tragic in Architecture

Even if you make nothing but good decisions in your life, you will die. Even worse, it is likely you will have regrets when you die (unlike, say, cats or horses). In the meantime sometimes you do things without self interest- assassinate Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich (The Butcher of Prague) for instance, when a) you've no idea who might win the war and b) you are almost certain to get caught and die a very nasty death as a result. Such events we put down to selfless virtue, and we owe that to our relationship with the immortal gods, in that as humans and occasionally heroes, in ancient Greek cosmology you had at least a chance of transcending your mortality, and this has nothing to do with nature.
Le Corbusier is the ultimate tragic hero for architecture, he showed us the way, he made rational decisions, he flayed his fists at the gods, and he ended up 'tragically' building La Tourette, a building fabulously set against nature and drowning himself when he'd had enough.
The Americans, being all the more practical, and somewhat less logical, built a future on human happiness. The ancient gods were not for them. Instead, they sought an organic relation with nature, almost Darwinian, perhaps because they were surrounded by a hell of a lot of it, and that the early settlers were farmers, and perhaps because they were by enlarge severely god fearing protestants. Ancient Greece was lost on the new world, but adopting organic unity proved equally problematic, as exemplified by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. Sullivan got drunk (not that he was the only one) and FLW became a guru (not to say the early C20th was not awash with gurus). American nature worship would take us through to the hippies and beyond, almost to Steve Jobs, but it would also feed famously self interested ideologies such as that espoused by the ridiculous Ayn Rand. The european tradition lived on to wheel in Aldo Rossi, Siza, Ungers and anybody else who wasn't interested in fun-pack modernism. Thats it.
For more read Vincent Scully's monograph on FLW, and of course, read (if you can bare it) and certainly watch 'The Fountainhead'.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Venetian vs Venice

Photo Julie Cook

Our flat is full of ephemera, lots of it carefully mounted and framed, I mean we have cocktail napkins and swizzle sticks framed up, which I suppose is unusual. Up on the landing there's what we euphemistically call the gallery, a collection of 10x8's of porn stars improbably named 'Butter' 'Trinity' and so on which form a kind of heretical altarpiece. Of course all the photographs are lovingly signed with stuff like - 'To Paul - So deep in to me!XXX' and they derive, with augmentations, from Las Vegas - that most genuine of ephemeral places. I'm just pleased we grabbed these momentos when we did, for they are the equivalent of historical relics. Who knows what 'Butter' is doing now? I even wonder whether Jackson (above) still runs the Oculus bar in the centre of the Venetian's huge casino floor. Bartenders in the States can have lengthy and illustrious careers, but Jackson seemed all out for everything; fast cars he wrecked, planes he flew, whatever he could get his hands on, he even ran a boxing ring.
During the AVN porn show the stars would flock to the Oculus bar like the exotic birds they were, equal in every way to any strange wonders that make you yelp with surprise at the zoo; tottering on skyscrapers, poured into scraps of designer material, painted in the most florid of markings, making strange calls and slewed to the gills (and supported by highly suspicious looking gentlemen) they appeared the most miraculous of humankind.  Me, with my feet hurting after days following them around the circus of the porn convention, convincing myself, ever more improbably, that I really was going to file a story for the Independent on Sunday, I was ground down by the spectacle and carrier bags full of porn crap that filled our room at the Vagabond Inn (now long gone) from which some tiny precious relic would later be salvaged for of all things, our landing.
The Venetian cannot be inauthentic, it is no less real than Venice, it just responds to a different, more accelerated program. Perhaps that program is absolutely rammed with false consciousness but then...sometimes...you just have to get a life.

Photo Julie Cook

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Goethe's Faust

Talking about 'the tragedy of development' in Goethe's Faust brings some big, oft related questions that developers and architects might well ask themselves more often, such as a) 'Once I start, how come I can't stop?' and b) 'How come when/if the project is eventually complete, I feel so empty inside?' Meanwhile the story essentially reminds us you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs, and you might not feel like eating it if you've made too much of a hassle of cooking it, and also that and the country village of Midsomer really is full of homicidal maniacs. It is so full of them that we should be pleased to shout 'Tits! Arse!!' everytime we arrive back in the metropolis in thanks for being relieved of the duty to know everybody else's small world tribulations since thank god we have left the medieval world behind, and we are not due to go back until we're close on senile.
Do we need more Fausts? With our heads firmly stuck in the consumerist trough we don't need little Hitlers or Le Corbusiers  running about organizing us any more. But what happens when the trough empties? We can noodle around Marshall Berman's excellent interpretation of Faust for ever, pondering this and that, but when I got a bit tired of it, it was actually quite excellent to turn to the original.
For instance, when Faust and Mephisto finally get to enjoy Walpurgis night, the subtlety of interplay reminds you of any night in your local lap dancing club. There is always the guy who falls in love with the girl, there is always the guy who gets drunk, there is always the guy who can't really believe he's there in the first place, and there is always the girl who's after the money, the girl who just loves what she's doing, and the more cynical old hand who knows exactly what the game is. The fact that Goethe understood this back in the late C18th, and that he writes it so beautifully, and that we still behave in exactly the way today just makes you LOL.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Celebration Day

So I was sitting waiting on toad in the hole in the kitchen, my back to the radio. Now this radio is a very cool radio, it has a bass amp and all that, you don't get to fifty without a cool radio, and I play Planet Rock while I'm cooking and moan at Magnum.
I sat there and heard Kashmir like I've never heard it before. It wasn't even introduced, probably because there is an embargo of some kind, but I knew this was my cue, it meant I had to pre order that Celebration Zep, and I could get it on vinyl too. I was there for that gig at the O2, I was there by accident because my old coke friends had other coke friends who were very well connected indeed. I was never really part of the coke friends, and they were never really in to Zeppelin, I just got lucky on the day like you do sometimes. Of course I remember the coke friends hardly managing the gig at all, that is the nature of coke friends, they always miss the central event.
Anyway, thank you coke friends, I loved you then and I will love you again on delivery in December.

Louis Sullivan

Louis Sullivan fans, in my experience, tend to be quirky fuss pots. I'm not surprised, so was he, and whilst I've been browsing a fantastic book, 'The Idea of Louis Sullivan', a very precious series of loving photographic B&W plates by John Szarkowski published in 1956, I'm not getting much closer to reconciling Sullivan at all. Perhaps it's the appalling language, that blend of court, pulpit and criminal dock with unbearable titles like 'Kindergarten Chats' and 'Autobiography of an Idea' that distances him so effectively, perhaps it's his formulation of the organic itself?
If Henri Lefebvre hadn't deemed it convenient to debate Venice as a combination of 'work' and 'product' in 'The Production of Space'- a text I also find more irritating by the year- he would surely have been on steadier ground if he'd come across Sullivan. These are definately 'works' in a time of 'products' utilizing products (lifts, steel frames, whatever), and if you like, dressing them as works (frills). Sullivan would not have liked this analogy, because he saw the organic whole everywhere, in everything, as seed to the flower to the seed, and he lost a good deal of money doing it.
The Guaranty Building 1894, Buffalo NY is an amazing thing, no doubt. However it sits there solid as a geometrical rock but seems to be wearing lace. I can't get away from this transgender interpretation, this one thing and another. Is the decoration intrinsic or applied? No matter how intrinsic Sullivan meant it to be, you can't help but see it as applied, as rather over the top gratuitous, can you?
The Szarkowski book is fabulous because it includes quotes from clients, from Torsten Veblen, from Rudyard Kipling, from Whitman, from all sorts representative of the tumult of the times (including the big swinging dicks who only cared for money). Of course, there is a melancholy side which feeds the heroism. Sullivan was to fail, get plastered, and die in poverty. In America there are few second acts. However the image that comes to mind when I think of Sullivan is a contemporary painting of another highly agitated man, Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, painted by John Singer Sargent in the 1880's. Here also, I see male and female, but totally insecure in the picture frame, uneasy in their bodies. To me, the composition is as peculiar (and lovable) as a picture as the Guaranty or Wainwright building are as architecture. I guess there was no Grayson Perry just when you needed him most.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


I'm not always miserable about everything. For instance I am delighted that Cheers is back on ITV4 at 7pm weekdays and that fills a whole hour. Of course, you couldn't make a program like Cheers these days because.....bla bla bla bla.

Thursday, 1 November 2012


 I can't help it, 'Wet Dreams' gets hits, 'Beavers!' will get hits, 'Big Kiss' gets huge hits. Everybody needs hits these days, that's why the girl presenting Autumnwatch says: 'Ummmm....polecats!!..EEE...EEE....eeee!!! (paws like motion with hands, then flirty flick of hair). Not rips of flesh then. GAWD HELP US!  The whole of evening television reduced to the level of Blue Peter. The animal kingdom, at least POLECATS reduced to EE..EE...eeee!!! -super cute furry things! Polecats are nasty shits. They're fucking animals. 'You polecat!' is not a nice thing to say.
Infantilism, that's the trajectory.
Then (what if?) so everything has to be better and everything has to last less time before it is replaced. That's how technology is moving right? Bloody 4G, bloody 5G, bloody 87G. Where do you end up? A beautiful product which lasts a second. Sounds like crack huh. Actually the only product that can reasonably fulfill such criteria is brainwash.
And, no more albums any more..no bands anymore...(just godawful Muse)....just tracks baby...the triumph of product over work, the triumph of the instant, but it's not your instant anymore, it seems somebody elses. Mercury awards, bit mediocre says the lady from NME, not enough of the 'grime' scene. Give me a break. Nobody will ever make a rock album as good as 'Back in Black', nobody will ever make anything as sublime as 'Physical Graffiti'. This is macarbre. Nothing left, no soul at all. The radio was on, the most awful shit, some twats from Shoreditch. No fun.