Friday, 31 January 2014

The State of the Art


I present the current state of the art. I love this; students designing space stations, I like it because it makes me think, it really gives me the material for that 'debate' Architectural Schools are famous for enjoying! Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like this image above, I think it's fucking brilliant, it's just that the poor author has just, inadvertently, sent us to the next level. Sometimes that happens. 
Of course he didn't do it just by himself, his tutors did it too (and I like them for it). 
The problems this kind of diploma project set for the whole of the architectural community are relatively easy to outline in three questions:
1. Does this work exemplify an absolutely neoliberalist attitude? This might be a good thing, in making it evident in the extreme- like- so we say fuck it, we've fucked our planet, and now we'll move on.
2. Does this work epitomise a world of making images which has now nothing to do with the traditional making of marks on paper, and that in effect (with the tyranny of computer graphics -'freedom is slavery') it is simply a case of planting light in what is the equivalent of a screen of outer space, and that therefore images that would in the 1970's have been consigned to Yes/Osibissa album covers are suddenly to be taken seriously as 'real architecture' since the media suddenly fits the message. 
3. That 'the machine' as a helpful instrument is dead, and that there is no longer any interest in actual functionality (since any historically interested soul knows that space stations stink of vomit, shit and piss- like municipal toilets).
I'm really looking forward (not) to the reviews at the end of the year.
Of course this image courtesy of Simone Conti. Thanks!



Saturday, 25 January 2014

Le Corbusier Stool


See the stool in the background, it's an L-C design, but neatly repackaged in green with a black frame by suppliers Iconic Interiors. It was never intended originally as green and black, but it works well, and in certain situations fully rotational stools are ideal, like when you're doing your taxes at the desk, and swivel round to watch the television in one swell move. Also, this stool is about 600mm across, which is an impressive accommodation, and you can push it under the table when not in use, which you can't do with the chair version. 
I saw the stool as I was reading the Radiant City, and I realised how well it works in small spaces while still making you feel good. Old furniture is good stuff, almost always bigger and better than new stuff, and that stool is 'good design' (perhaps I should credit Charlotte Periand really) it is a considered and smart response to a design problem, not some fucking floating signifier even if it might look like a lilly pad, not some dipshit riff on viruses and gernomes. It's a fucking stool, if you're short of space, buy one of these for less than £300 and enjoy.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Early Graves



For regulars, I'm sorry for the lack of recent posts, but they may also notice a pattern, since at exam time and when I'm ill (usually these are congruent) I feel too out of sorts. But I have been working; pieces on Venturi Scott Brown and Michael Graves for the AR in particular, worrying about in progress paragraphs like the ones below at 4 in the morning. That is one advantage of illness, irregular hours and the quiet of the night. Also, with the benefit of thirty years in between, it is a very enjoyable to ponder the mountains of pretentious crap architects and critics were pushing out in the late seventies and sort through the emperors old wardrobe. 

'If it became OK, indeed de rigueur, to mash up Le Corbusier’s four villa types abandoning principle (the five points) and adding swimming pools and perching the results on convenient rocky crags in the Pocantico Hills for the Rockefellas (Michael Graves Rockefella House 1969) it was impossible to ignore the phenomenal relation paper-cardboard-matchwood that drew the result closer to Gone with the Wind, for it was balloon frame (so named for fears it might blow away) which made wall and floor, structure and fabric, indistinguishable and allowed a content of ‘floating’ Corbu signifiers. The fact that this was done with ‘high code’ Corbu rather than ‘low code’ Queen Anne set Graves and Eisenman (in their early years) apart from Venturi. Queen Anne had been done over for generations, Corbu was still sacrosanct, so the conjugations had to be further propped up by verbal gymnastics.
However what was crucially missing from this frontier white architecture was a sense of urban civility. Exemplified at Garches, one of L-C's five points they binned (out of circumstance, context, yes, but they still binned it) was the free fa├žade: frontal, urban, static and proportioned. These buildings appeared more gyroscopic; without facades at all, merely frames or cages, with vast areas of holes, indeed, windy, certainly cold, and certainly intellectual, and undoubtedly pretentious'.

That's an early Eisenman above; chilly, definitely chilly.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Taste


It's important to realise The Taste is not about the taste, since we quite evidently can't taste it. What it is, however, is the spectacle of judgement. So when we see the Frenchman getting a little overwrought, or Mr Bourdain trying to be cool, and Nigella behaving like a school mistress, that's exactly what we are enjoying; the spectacle of judgement alone. This rather reminds me of architectural tutoring.

St Albans makes me ill (again)


St Albans is bad, and not in a good way. All St Albanites would of course say I was 'overreacting' with my cough, my sore throat, my streaming cold as a consequence of barely 36 hours in the place. They would say I was being unduly negative, not seeing 'the bright side of life'. But the one thing that's good about St Albans is it makes you realise just how much shit we are in, and just how complacent we are about it. Like Anabaptist Munster, St Albans is ruled by children; there are no books, there are just needy, faintly disturbed kids to be ferried to New Look in onesies. It's mansions echo like sound boxes to JLS or Katy Perry or Fast and Furious 4; it is a life of continual crossfire, of a battering from this person or that. There is absolutely no authority, because authority is unfair, authority discriminates. There is no conception of peace (the comfy armchair, the aspidistra) there is hardly furniture at all (there may be something to sit in, but it probably moves, and I wouldn't call it furniture!) it is shock doctrine on an urban scale. Perhaps the home is not a house (perhaps it's a shed, a warehouse) maybe your house is now your car, but the car is not a car either, going anywhere in the village equivalent of gridlock (and also ringing to the noise of JLS and Katy Perry). Things fall apart continually with the most cursory use, like in that advert for M&Ms, and worst of all, St Albans is the symbol of Britain. What have we done?

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Analog Man


I am indeed analog man, but if this puts me in with Joe Walsh that's OK with me, the man who played in pajamas with the Eagles, wrote 'Fast Lane' and 'Life's been Good' along with 'Rocky Mountain Way' in the old days. Master of self parody (as well as exquisite guitar) he even finishes off this album with a Giorgio Moroder synth track. I guess this might be the model for guys like me:

'Welcome to cyber-space I'm lost in a fog
Everything's digital- I'm still analog
When something goes wrong I don't have a clue
Some ten year old smart ass has to tell show me what to do'

Nuff said.

The Radiant City


Amidst this ghastly Orwellian dream (I mean as much 'Down and Out in Paris and London' as '1984') I sat down today with my books and shut the door. It so happened I could hear some argument next door, so it was good I could shut that door, that elemental piece of space management, and keep the world out. Then I went page by page through L-C's not so small opus, The Radiant City, and began to smile, and then to laugh out loud (the argument next door was getting more heated) as I realised I was holding one of the funniest, most pertinent and most brilliant books on architecture I have yet come across. Nietzsche for architects, that's Le Corbusier all right, and I was suddenly thankful for all those years (35 in professional training) I had yet to get it, and for this moment when I finally did. It's fair to say I felt an overwhelming sense of being in the same room with the great man (and of the necessity to keep all the crap out!) Then I read the page when Le Corbusier himself talks about the necessity of shutting the door and sitting by himself and I really wondered whether I might be going a bit mad. And then, still poleaxed by serendipity, I pondered a little sketch of a house, not much more than a cabin, which was exactly the same as the little drawing of a house on stilts I have been planning in my notebook and I thought, bloody hell I'm back in 1932! Not much you can do after all that but go to the pub.
Read this marvelous book and perhaps something good will happen to you too.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

War on the Poor 2


Below (previous post) a rant brought on by watching too much George Osbourne and listening to his pernicious Etonian ideology. The morning after, if it isn't just disgusting (which it is) it is mind blowingly depressing; that a world view based on the fact that a small number of people have lots of money and those same people have somehow lost lots of money will put the rest of humanity in penury forever and that this is something that so many people actually believe in is super depressing. That people so depressed by the consequences of this world view will be dispossessed to live under a bridge and people actually think this is OK because the media tells them so is also depressing. That questions as to the right thing to do come merely down to self interest, that critical world issues with regard to environment and exploitation are simply glossed over by the overpowering need of some people to hang on to their 'drinkipoos' could make you very mad indeed. And then, as a mad person, you'll be cast out in to the rain and snow, or it might make you sick, in which case the same thing will happen. That this cast of people (which will soon include anybody who thinks at all) suddenly are deemed to have too many spare rooms reminds us of the concentration camps where people were systematically worked to death, and where capacity was doubled by squeezing more humans in to the same bunks, while their overseers lived in mansions over the wire.
All these things might make us wonder at the pride we take in defeating the evils of Nazism when we seem to be doing our best to apply that very methodology.

Monday, 6 January 2014

War on the Poor


We face the new fascism, there is no doubt about it, it's creeping and nasty: for benefit cuts read 'war on the poor' for 'war on the poor' read 'cleansing'. What is the idea for society here: Switzerland? Generations have felt they were making things better for Britain, but now, in this climate, in this paranoia, we don't just exploit Bangladesh but we bring the task to Tower Hamlets! We thought we were multi cultural, multi denominational, all that, and everybody said that would be a good thing. Where has that idea gone - lost in sociology departments now dedicated to advertising strategies? What does this government thinking mean for architecture? More chains of gated communities, some concentration camps for louts? (Now there's a polemical project- but just try it) Where is the notion of the rights of man? What is this government's conception of virtue? This is a fascism of the shopkeepers, the skyscrapers, the shard of shit.
Learning from Nazism? Easy: discredit those who speak out (Snowdon) Proselytise lies (all media) Goebbels would be proud: freeze all other options out, feed the people shit, make them grateful for it, stop anybody thinking, make them indebted to you for doing it and make everybody cheer. This is bad bad shit.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Tirpitz


To be lying in bed at 5am worrying about the fuel consumption of the Tirpitz, with your wife beside you reading 'Marx for Beginners' and wondering if you should try again (to get to sleep) is one of those quirks of middle age. Stuff bothers you, and in this case it was Jeremy Clarkson's otherwise excellent TV film about allied convoy PQ17, which Tirpitz destroyed without firing a single shot and being nowhere near around 4th July 1942.
Clarkson seemed to suggest it was Navy commander Pound's fault that he felt compelled to remove the escort and scatter the arctic convoy leaving it to the mercy of the U Boats and Luftwaffe because he didn't believe the view of Denning that Tirpitz wasn't around. However surely your spies can tell you if Hitler's biggest bath toy is still at anchor or not, or surely you can send over a Mosquito and take a peek if not?
An early morning Google search revealed another angle; that Tirpitz had set sail in flotilla with the intention of attacking the convoy, but that some of her accompanying vessels had 'hit rocks' and the mission was cancelled. The idea of the German navy exclaiming 'Rocks!... VOT!!? or for that matter 'VOT!!!....rocks!!!' may be endearing but hardly reasonable so I went back, puzzled to bed.
So after a bit of tossing and turning: perhaps it was a stunt. Perhaps all the Tirpitz had to do to put the whole of the allied Navy in a spin was to look as if she was making for the arctic. The Tirpitz was fast and big (the biggest of the German fleet) and Clarkson relished the fact that she could speed along at up to 30mph. But, she was a gas guzzler of epic proportions, and gas was at a premium. So perhaps the German command just pulled a fast one, and Tirpitz became the only wonder weapon that actually worked, and that Pound simply had to balance the risk, and in doing so he decided to cut his losses.
This of course left hundreds of merchant seamen to die horrible deaths and the real scandal was they didn't, until very recently, even get a medal for it.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Darts


Darts must be the last working class sport, with 'walk on girls' and so on (lots of drinking) and done in shopping centres, and with stars named 'Phil 'The Power' Taylor. Hearing Eric Bristow commentate is a deep pleasure.