Rod is in the Detail

You’ll need to enable Flash to play this – apologies, but it’s relic of a previous era on the Internet.

Rod is in the Detail is an interactive ‘thing’ I made many years ago. Click on the objects to trigger sounds that are either fragments of Rod himself or evocative of different kinds of place. The aim was to suggest the atmospherics of movement and travel. Contrasting Modernism’s technological appreciation of ocean liners and their aesthetic with that of Rod Stewart’s Sailing. “Stewart recognises what Corb doesn’t, that cars, and boats and planes are not just machines, they are things imbued with hope and sadness and sentimental journeys.”


Souvenirs as Starting Points

Here’s some background for the 1st exercise of the Desktop Design Academy … Hope its useful! 

Here is the brief if you are interested!

Exit, as they say, through gift shop. Through, in other words, the souvenir laden trap laid for any tourist that must – if you are anything like me – be negotiated while herding your kids out with minimum spend and psychological trauma.

But stop a moment. Pause and take a breath. For the gift shop – complete with all of its gifts – its heritage lavender fudge, its weird pots covered in William Morris patterns, its soft toys in the shape of animals with tenuous relationship to the experience you’ve just had (I’m thinking of you, The Shard, trying to sell plush Foxes on the back of a sighting during the construction process on the 24th floor) might feel like the final phase of the philistine commercialisation of culture.

But, in actual fact this apparent load of toot is something far richer than we might imagine. A thing with a much longer and nobler history. Sometimes even more significant that the thing we went to see in the first place. The souvenir, we might even argue, is actually the real repository of human culture.

To understand just how deep the shallows of the souvenir run we need to understand the profound relationship between tourism and knowledge, and of our need to fill the void between experience and memory with something.

Tourism is a particular way of experiencing the world. It’s held by most of us – even us tourists – in pretty low regard. If you’re not Captain Cook sailing into Botany Bay, Edmund Hillary at the Everest’s summit, or Neil Armstrong stepping onto the Moon’s surface its how you’ll have to make do with seeing the world. A ready-packaged experience that feels emptier, more superficial, and disengaged. We see our experience as devalued by the very mechanisms that have delivered us to the point of the experience. ‘Bought experiences don’t count’ wrote Douglas Coupland, summarising the uncomfortable ease of tourism.

You might call it a repressed or inverted Stendhal’s syndrome – the condition identified by Dr. Graziella Magherini, a psychiatrist at Florence’s Santa Maria Nuova Hospital. She noticed that many of the tourists who visited Florence were overcome with anything from panic attacks to bouts of madness that lasted several days. She named the condition after the French novelist Stendhal, who visited Florence in 1817 and soon found himself overwhelmed by the city’s intensely rich legacy of art and history that left him overcome with emotion:

“I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty … I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations … Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves.’ Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.”

Stendhal’s syndrome is an extreme example of how tourism affects our perception. It overtakes the content and warps our understanding. Tourism, rather than the place we are visiting becomes the experience. It may condense experience into something unbearably dense and rich – as in Stendhal’s case – or it can wreath sites like a trivial fog obscuring the great and the remarkable, cloaking it in the shallow and insistent as we descend the steps of our coach tour to yet another site, thing or place.

Stendhal was experiencing part of the Grand Tour – which became almost obligatory for young gentlemen in the 18th century. Grand Tourists were led across Europe by tutors to study art, history and politics, visiting the sites of antiquity and culture.

The Grand Tour packaged up Classical civilisation and offered it as a experience that could be bought, with the promise that exposure to would transform those who took part. It’s exactly the Grand Tour experience – the way it edits compresses and commodifies Classical culture (the mechanism) – rather than the sites it revealed (its content) was what threw Stendhal into light-headed reverie.

Young aristocrats would return from the Grand Tour a few years older, with a little more experience, a smattering of foreign language, having been immersed in classical culture (and sown their wild oats) with a clutch of mementos in the back of a carriage. These momentos are what we now call souvenirs and included portraits of themselves painted against a backdrop of Roman monuments, authentic ancient antiquities, continental works of art as well as paintings, prints and miniature models of ancient architecture. Indeed, first recorded use of the word ‘souvenir’ is in 1775, just the Grand Tourists were beginning to circulate around Europe.

The demand for these proto-souvenirs resulted in a thriving industry manufacturing objects destined for the stately homes of the touring aristocracy, especially in the hub of the Tour, Italy. Ancient antiquities and continental artworks, acquired as Grand Tour souvenirs, flooded into Britain. The homes of aristocrats began to fill up with vases, sculptures, paintings, objects and artefacts of exotic culture.

These objects-for-Grand-Tourists reveal a very recognisable world of souvenirs that play fast and loose with history.

We see transformations of scales and material. We see small bronze Sphinxes, a golden Venus de Milo, miniature models of the Temples of Castor, Pollux and Vespasian. There are slate models of Cleopatra’s needle at Alexandria, there are figurines of Mercury made in bronze, and plates transfer-decorated with the faces of Roman emperors.

Sometimes, the souvenirs depict things in as-new pristine form – as though frozen in perfection of antiquity, in others they are shown ‘as found’, where the ravages of time are included in the representation – such as an alabaster model of the Coliseum in ruined form.

The souvenir as a personal record of the Tourists presence is also apparent in the portraits of young aristocrats painted by artists such as Pompo Batoni (the volume of tourist trade is indicated by Batonis 250 portraits of English travellers). Their role is similar to the photographs offered at the end of a rollercoaster ride: fixing your image forever as a tourist right at the moment of encounter with experience.

In these early souvenirs, we can see the touch of the modern hand which changes objects uses, materials and scale. They are objects that reveal a particular relationship to antiquity., that reveal as much about the manufacturing and consumption of ideas about the ancient world as they do about the history. Souveniers are a by-product of a new phenomenon, embodying the attributes, attitudes and desires of Grand Tourists.

Souvenirs may have mutated from their Grand Tour origins. Contemporary souvenirs are objects of almost no intrinsic value. Formed from easily mould-able cheap materials, mass-produced and made without craftsmanship. They have no vernacular connection to the place that they celebrate. They are stacked on shelves in multiples at a variety of scales. They seem the dumbest of objects – entirely inarticulate about the moment of moment of encounter with their subject, if anything obscuring the potential moment of encounter. Parasitic tourist-retail flourishes to such an extent that it consumes its host. The tourist is overwhelmed, not by the sublime essence of place like Stendhal back in Florence, but by the familiar relationship and easy transaction of tourist to souvenir as an alternative to the difficult task of comprehending a new and different place, finding solace in the souvenir store. Amongst the shops, stalls and street vendors whose goods are arranged on a blanket, the souvenir-hunting tourist who will find replicas and imitations of buildings and places arranged amongst novelty goods and counterfeit versions of designer sunglasses and handbags. Souvenirs exist amongst the lowest kind of commodities: copies, fakes and jokes.

Souvenirs are perhaps the most pathetic symbols of tourist culture. They expose our total inability to engage with a moment or place at the moment of our encounter. They are decoys, stand-in’s for our encounters with greatness and history, with the remarkable and the unique. Instead we use them like bookmarks that we hope we will help us remember. Except the souvenir and the trappings of tourism are all we can remember in the first place. The souvenir simply proves that yes, you are, or were, there. A way of responding to experience without actually experiencing.

Souvenirs are explicitly not the real thing. They explicitly advertise themselves as not being an artifact of historical or archeological significance themselves. Instead they tell us that they are interpretations of that original real thing, a reference to it, multiple rather than unique. This makes them a strange category of object. Not the thing itself but a reference to another. And, in their attempt to distill, they fold into themselves ideas about the thing they are depicting. In other words, souvenirs are meta objects. Things that are ‘about’ something as well as ‘being’ something. Much more than simple representations of the past they layer multiple values and meanings into one thing.

It’s their very un-realness that makes souvenirs such potent cultural objects. In the act of recording the past, souvenirs show that versions of the past can be manufactured. And through changes in scale, material and techniques such as framing and editing introduce new techniques into their representation. Each new iteration deforms the original. Copies mutate into unrecognizable new formations.

This makes them both document and proposal, propositional memories that allow us to glimpse the future. Souvenirs, as the architects who returned from their Grand Tours might tell us, act like totems of something yet to come. They remind us not of what has happened, but what might, not of places that you have been to, but places as yet un-invented. Maybe then, to give them their proper place in culture, we should start using gift shops as entrances.

An Old Take on Make New History: Architecture Beyond the Flatline

This is an old essay that I wrote for for an issue of AD edited by FAT and Charles Jencks that explored our adventures in the ashes of Postmodernism, and what it might mean for contemporary practice. Remember, this was a long time before it became acceptable – fashionable even – to declare an interest in postmodern architecture. When our interest was a love that dare not speak its name. Long before the Chicago Architecture Biennial’s Make New History, but I think still relevant as an accompaniment to the discussions around the Biennial. Especially of the effect of digital culture on architectural production, but also suggesting what is at stake culturally and politically.

Architecture beyond the Flatline: The Hotel Bonaventure is Everywhere.

Marx argued that history repeats, first as tragedy, then as farce.  But Marx never had cable TV or he would have seen history repeating endlessly every night. In the age of digital information, events come around again and again, their mode and meaning shifting with each cycle. Tragedy becomes farce and then spins into a dizzying blur of genres: Rom-Com, Family Drama, Satire, Pornography and so on. So Marx was half right. History repeats, first as tragedy, then as farce and then as tragi-farce-romcom-porno or slasher-drama-chic-flick-docudrama.

In architecture, the same cultural trajectory holds true. Modernism ran its course as tragedy (heroic failure) while Post Modernism acted out farce (ironic failure). After this, it – where ‘it’ means the historical trajectory of architectural culture – splinters into kaleidoscopic genre-Moderns: Neo, Retro, Alter, Super, Para and Extra Moderns. Porno-Modern, Slasher-Modern, Feelgood-Modern. Everything is flattened into an infinitely wide and depthless pool where image, text, history are dissolved by the solvents of media and communication. Not the end of history, but an intensifying and multiplying of histories into the present where we can be pre and post, neo and authentic simultaneously.

High post modernism anticipated the structural collapse of culture. It not only told us this would happen (why else would it have been so invested in the 2D?), how it would happen (media, advertising, cars, and other consumerisms), and why it would happen (the ideology of late capitalism). It also knew that the mechanisms of culture would transform so radically that its own foundation would collapse, that its own critical position would too be flattened. Its ostentatious physical gestures were not waving but signaling a desperate truth at the moment before invisible torrents of neo-liberal, free market capitalism washed over everything.

You can feel tremors in Marshall McLuhuan, Archigram, Ant Farm, through Venturi and Scott Brown. Consumerism, media and electromagnetic communication begins to reconceptualise physical space. “Americans don’t need piazzas, they should be at home watching TV”, Venturi wrote – and then placed a golden TV aerial on top of Guild House as a monument to communication make sure you knew how serious he was.

When everything is one click away from everything else, high post modernisms critical dialectic – the rhetoric of ‘Double Coding’  – has exploded into multiple and provisional relationships. In our era of networked information, juxtapositions of high culture with popular, the historical with the contemporary or the academy with the everyday can no longer operate. Nodal points – Rome and Las Vegas; the temple and the shed; the pediment and the billboard – now bob in the flat pool of culture. Despite its interest in the everyday, the commercial and the ordinary, post modern architectures field of operation was within the academy, which like every other armature of culture, has been flattened by neo liberal ideology. ‘This’ vs. “That” no longer exists. Instead “This” “That” “Them” “Those” and “These” all happen simultaneously in a great horizontal flux.

Post Modernisms critical project was to recognize architectures connection to its social, political and economic context. Just as Modernists had revealed mechanization and industry as the context of early 20th century architecture, Post Modernism situated late 20th century architecture in the increasingly powerful contexts of globalisation, the growing ubiquity of media, liberalized markets and the free flow of capital, the pervasiveness of communication technology, the fragmentation of ideology and so on. It was thanked like any messenger bearing bad news.

The effects of fully-fledged neo liberal capitalism on our physical, social and economic landscapes is profound and disorienting. In the wake of intricate pretzel logics as Credit Default Swaps, we might add confusion to Post Modernisms complexity and contradiction. These are the forces that dismantle meaning and scatter traditional cultural structures into a wide, horizonless moraine. The Hotel Bonaventure is everywhere.

Architectural responses to this Post-Regan, Post-Thatcherite condition develop Post Modern tendencies to different ends. The recent mainstream avant guard (a phrase which in itself is a neo liberal tautology) married Post Modernisms tendency toward academic autonomy – the formal game – while removing its explicit critical and communicational position. From Bilbao onwards, distorted (and de-politicised) abstractions of Modernist and Constructivist languages became the clearest illustrations of the sensations of late capitalism: fluid form at audacious scale, the swoosh of volumes, the lightheadedness of refection and translucencies, curves of overblown sensuality. This litany of affects formalises the heady liquid state of mind of millennial abstract-boom economics into physical and spatial form – literally sensational.

An alternative architectural approach explicitly recognizes the system within which architecture operates. Positioning itself between the mechanisms of globalization and its effects on particular situations, it articulates a broader and nuanced understanding of architectural context. You can see this in the charts and diagrams of networks that characterize its projects. Mappings of influences, agencies and the specifics of territories are not just research but become tools. This concern for the intersection between networks and place, the overlapping of economic, legal, political and social realms with the physical context is a way of defining an architectural framework.

RPMs contextual concern is also revealed in its propensity for detailed fieldwork and close reading of place rather than generalistion. Tracing the specifics of history, narratives of place, the particularities of occupation and the specifics of local activity and culture is a way of cataloging moments of difference. These concerns act as a form of resistance to the ubiquity of global culture. They offer a means of inscribing particular narratives into the flatness and abstraction of generic urban planning.

RPM often reports from the places where the effects of contemporary culture are felt most – from border conditions, favellas, post industrial regeneration, post utopian New Towns and rapidly expanding cities of emerging economies. These are places where the networks of economics, community, identity, history, power and politics have a direct effect in shaping the physical fabric of the city.

This is a form of resistance – or perhaps more specifically a re-introduction of roughness, of non-slip texturing. Where neo-liberalism brings abstraction, this approach creates meaning. Where it atomises interests, this coalesces. It does this through uncovering, through speculating and creating fictions of significance – through inventing and inserting local loops into the wider network.

Radical Postmodernism is in part radical because it addresses the scenarios of the ‘real’ directly. It is not about these conditions, but locates its practice amongst them. It does not extract the knowledge it ‘learns from’ to the cloisters of academia, but applies its learning within its own theatre of operation. Its politics and polemics are, therefore, more than rhetorical. Its radicalism, we could argue, originates from its practicality. Like singing into a Vocoder, RPMs voice is polyphonic. Its discourse operates across political, polemical and practical octaves simultaneously.

Networks are the things that make us flatline – the mechanisms which collapse cultural hierarchies and dissolve difference. Networks of instantaneous communication create what we might call a collapsing of geography – reconfiguring spatial relationships on the fly. The non-dimensional structure of the internet alters our relationship to information. It lays out the entire repository of culture like a giant puddle, infinitely wide and without depth – a flatland of undifferentiated information.

The technology and protocols of the internet – hyperlinks, search algorithms, the spatiality of databases and so on – create this flatness, this lack of distinction. The way that it is used however reenscribes meanings across its surface. Blogs, social media and so on reconfigure information around particular interests. The occupation of the internet creates many contradictory globalizations that occur simultaneously. Flatlined culture offers itself up to multiple reconfigurations and rereadings.

The vernacular expression of flatlined culture is the mashup.  Here, cultural fragments crash into one another creating fleeting associations. We see You Tube videos that cut together videos of piano playing cats to form the entirety of Arnold Schoenberg’s Drei Klavierstücke. We see films re-dubbed, images cut together in amateurish Photoshop, songs of different genres spliced. Even hastily assembled coalition governments might evidence mashup culture. In each case, things which apparently had different meanings – things that made them distinct – suddenly become synchronized. The tactics of avant guard art practice – collage, juxtaposition, and appropriation – have become the foundation of cultural practice in the age of the internet. The LOL Cat is the inheritor of a cultural heritage that stretches back to the Cabaret Voltaire. Marx’s historical repetitions flicker like a zoetrope, their multiple images blurred into singular visual persistence.

Radical Post Modernisms context is a function of these phenomena – where images, references, history and values click, click, click into multiple arrangements. The flatness of the network opens up cultural production as a practice of reorganizing existing information into provisional constellations. It reworks found models, remaking and remodeling imagery in ways that create new meanings.

What is at stake here is the value of meaning – which in itself is a radical position in relationship to the endlessly abstract machinations of mainstream architecture. Abstraction – we might argue – operates as a function of neo liberalist desire to reduce everything to market terms by removing signifying qualities that locate work in any specific context. Radical Post Modernisms desire to manufacture meaning addressing identity, class, taste and so on asserts other cultural and political values. The construction of meaning becomes an act of resistance.

The dominant mode of an information glutted, mediated culture is representation.

Image, information and communication are everyday, immersive experiences that work us over completely without respite. Architecture too plays its part in this image culture, but often implicitly. Its various modes of operation – functional, sculptural, ecological and so on – produce image as by-product. By re-engaging with explicit communication, architecture can develop its imaging quality as tool to engage with the cultures it finds itself in rather than simply in the service of culture.

There is a logic to the returning significance of the surface in architecture. Following the pretzel logic of late capitalism – the spatiality of the Hotel Bonaventure described by Jameson where inside becomes out, where up equals down, or the topography of globalization that Reinhold Martin describes as dynamic circularity where ‘every act of withdrawal into the ‘home … cannot help but connect back out into the networks from which it seeks refuge” suggests a strategic approach to critique. Perhaps the site of critique is not spatially opposite but rather contained within. If architecture-as-image is the condition demanded by late capitalist culture, then resistance might be contained within the ways that architectural imagery is constructed, in the manner it performs. This pretzel topography brings the surface and its operative possibilities to the fore. Not something that hides, behind which self-interest flows in secret, but rather surface as the site where ideologies are acted out in plain view.

If Post Modernism used communication as a critique of Modernist abstraction, RPM uses communication to place architecture within a wider cultural milieu. In high Post Modernisms dialectical approach, critique often retained or reaffirmed the paradigms it hopes to undermine. But in this flattened cultural landscape something else emerges – a plurality that is actual rather than rhetorical.

At its most potent, the narrative content of RPM is derived from its close reading of its theater of operation and its attunement to the intersections of interests that occur in any given site. Architecture becomes a surface through which these narratives can be publicly understood and articulated. Its ability to manufacture speculative narratives becomes a way of creating new forms of publicness and new associations of community. In effect, image performs architecturally. Cut loose by the associative and provisional nature of images in a networked world, architecture unleashes its kaleidoscopic Moderns.

In the click, click, click through the flatlands of networked culture, there is an inevitability to Post Modernisms re-appearance. Simulating Post Modernism has a perverse pop-will-eat-itself quality. But like every other mash up, repeating Post Modernism outside of its historical moment changes its meaning.

The effect of this reevaluation of a practice whose characteristics were explicitly inauthentic – this simulation of simulation – is surprising. What should result in an overload of irony seems to create instead a deep sincerity. Beyond farce, we can conceive of the discipline of architecture as an active social and cultural practice, a practice engaged with the flatlined nature of contemporary culture as its site of production coupled with a desire to communicate through explicit forms of representation.

Ornament Beyond Ornament: Adolf Loos’ Tribune Tower

Adolf Loo’s entry for the Chicago Tribune Tower might never have been built but its massive dark image weighs heavy on the architectural imagination. A giant black marble, 21 story Doric column, standing on a cyclopean base and scaled up to skyscraper size is at once the dumb and provocative.

Especially coming from the same hand as Ornament and Crime, that hyperactive spiky cri de coeur, that desperate yet funny diatribe. Indeed, maybe its the tone of his text that might help us understand this most mysterious of Modern statements. Maybe it was sketched with the same calligraphic sweep as his manuscript. A drawing as manifesto, provocation etched into built form.

We could even understanding it working like a text, casting Loos as opinionated columnist where he is using architectural language to articulate a position. And what a strange position that is:

The building looks like a monument but its monumentality is, we must assume, an intentionally empty bad joke: a newspaper column monumentalised as a newspaper office. It may look like a column but it holds nothing up. The usual white Grecian marble is inverted as shiny black as though it were some kind of Bakelite desk toy. And of course, it inverts Loos’s own position as set out in Ornament and Crime. He gives us, instead of having “gone beyond ornament” with “plain, undecorated simplicity”, an ornament ne pas ultra.

Its inversion continues. The Tribune Tower is the most austere of ornaments. Not something comforting but an aggressive challenge. Loos’s Tribune Tower is dark. Not just in colour but in tone. It’s perversity and irony can only be read as a sarcastic gift to the cultural hobgoblins he describes in Ornament and Crime, as critique-by-fulfilment of an architectural culture that he stood against. Loos saw his Tribune Tower as an inevitable product of the culture he witheringly despised.

He wrote “The great Greek Doric column must be built. If not in Chicago, then in some other town. If not for the ‘Chicago Tribune’ then for someone else. If not by me, then by some other architect”.

The Tribune Tower is way, through all of its inversions, to tell a truth. Through utter deviancy Loos delivers the purest of architectural critiques, wrapped up in an indelible architectural image.

Tribune Tower plan, Adolf Loos

Half Timbered T-Shirt & 2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia


Its taken a long time, but finally in 100% cotton, with edge to edge, seam to seam printing, our Half Timbered T Shirt is here! You can order from our online store through this link.

Here, though, is part of the long back story of our fasciantion with Half Timbering. Told in this essay/story titled 2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia.

Mock Tudor, its fair to say, has a less than glowing reputation. Take these sneering lines from John Betjeman’s Slough “Its not their fault they often go / To Maidenhead / And talk of sports and makes of cars / In various bogus Tudor bars”. (Maybe the very same bars that  Martin Freeman’s character in The Office notes have “a sign in the toilet saying ‘Don’t get your Hampton Court’”).

Mock Tudor is often accused of ‘bogus’-ness, of lacking authenticity, of fakeness and many other kinds of architectural sin.

But I’d argue that Benjamin et al fail to recognise a deepness and sincerity contained in the shallowness of this applied fake history. In fact, its maybe Mock Tudor’s very shallowness is an intrinsic part of its depth.

The following is the (or at least one) story of Mock Tudor, Tudorbethan and all of the other forms and bastardisations of Half Timbering. It’s a story that spans millennia, that veers between the people and the powerful and wealthy, that rises and falls with nations, that contains different (and sometimes opposing) dreams. A story that ends, for now with a T Shirt.

Half Timbering was a vernacular construction technique that evolved in Germanic Saxony. It came to Britain with the Saxons in the 5th century BC as a mercenary army for the failing Roman occupation. By the 6th century the Saxons and other Germanic tribes controlled most of the lowlands and were expanding to the north and west.

Half Timbering is already cutting loose from being a vernacular building technology, and heading towards a role as a cultural symbol. Removed geographically from its origins but related to a sense of identity.

Celtic tradition mixes with Saxon culture. Forests had been home to the Celtic Druids. Tree spirits possessed magical properties. The Anglo-Saxon poem “The Dream of the Rood” is a meditation on the crucifixion of Christ. In it, the tree speaks: “I was cut down, roots on end …. I was raised up, as a rood … I was wet with blood”. This personification of material suggests symbolism and identity are deep within the technology of building.

History continues …

The last Saxon King, Harold faced the Norman invasion. At Hastings, William defeated Harold. He was crowned in London on Christmas Day 1066.

England was now ruled by a French speaking king. The Norman Lords seized the assets of the Saxons. Norman architecture begins its transformation of England with the Tower of London, the first of a network of castle-strongholds. 21 years later, 100 had been built.

Saxon identity remains distinct through this era. Folk heroes like Robin Hood emerge as the scourge of Norman aristocrats. Like Robin Hood, the timber Saxon architecture was light, quick, and friendly in contrast to the cold heavy mass of the stone military State Norman buildings. Oppressed Saxon culture gains mythology and so do its buildings. Half Timbering is the architecture of the people: the tavern and the home.

Time passes. Eventually, Henry Tudor seizes the throne.

The Tudors forged a powerful new identity for England. Mythologised as one of the glorious eras of British history. Exploration, colonisation, victory in war, and growing world importance. Splitting from the Roman church, Shakespeare and Bacon, Drake and Raleigh. The rise of British sea power brought security, riches and glory.

Half Timbered architecture became known as Tudor. It became more extravagant and decorative, its graphic intensifying. Built with the very same skills that are providing England with her burgeoning sea power, these buildings celebrate the importance and skill of timber craftsmanship. Half Timbering is imbued with military technology. The relationship between military might and architectural statement is pretty clear through Tudorbethan architecture.

Sir Walter Scotts novel ‘Ivanhoe’, published in 1791 was an embellishment of the Robin Hood story, big on Saxon/Norman fighting. It leads to a fashion of reviving English vernaculars, re-mythologising stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood. This historicism is later theorised by Pugin and Ruskin, and bleeds into the Arts and Crafts movement. Arising in response to the Industrial Revolution, its ambition was to revive craftsmanship in the age of the machine. Politically, it was nascent socialism with anarchist tendencies.

Half Timbering is revived as an overtly historical style. It is used because it connects with cultural myths supporting their political position. Just like the appeal of Robin Hood to the Arts and Crafts movement: a band of men living in the forest away from civilization, robbing of the rich to give to the poor, in opposition to the control of the state and on the side of the people. Just like William Morris’ rural based company of pseudo-mediaeval craftsmen.

Half Timbering is now used as a badge of allegiance – a decorative political statement.

Arts and Crafts drifts from its Christian Socialist origins into mainstream fashion. It becomes a decorative symbol of status not politics. The country houses designed by Lutyens feature Half Timbering as part of their picturesque montaging of historical styles.

These large, Tudorbethan, bespoke homes for the wealthy became the template for the inter-war building boom. Volume building interprets the pre-war, expensive Arts and Crafts villas. Building quick and cheap, coupled with a shortage of skilled labor leads to a shift in Half Timbering from structure to appliqu???. Thin timber panels fixed to the exterior of the buildings that make patterns not limited by the demands of holding buildings up.

These houses represented a way of life. These miniaturised manor houses represented safe European homes after the mechanised horror of the 1st World War. Half Timbering still retained some of the progressive sentiment of Ebeneezer Howards Garden Cities. It became a mixture of optimism and fear, built on a budget. These metroland homes were a mass market version of the pre-war progressive and bohemian lifestyle.

Sometime around now, Mock Tudor becomes exported around the world. In part through England’s still-large Empire, but also through the pages of magazines like Country Life. Movie stars built Half Timbered homes that lined Beverly Hills streets. Frank Lloyd Wright designed icing coloured Half Timbering with giant sized roofs in Chicago’s Oak Park. Think of Steve Martin in LA Story showing of first a Tudor House, then next door a Three Door House.

By now any vestige of a traditional notion half timbering as a vernacular building technique has been cast off. Liberated, globalised through media, it becomes an international style. Its connection is no longer with a tribe like the Saxons, a Royal Dynasty like the Tudors, a country, or an ideology.

In the same way, the stories that were once part of Half Timbering’s myth are remade: Douglas Fairbanks a black and white and silent Robin Hood, Errol Flynn a Technicolor outlaw. Later, Disney cast a cartoon fox Robin Hood. Kevin Costner plays a sullen PC romantic version and Sherwood Forest is stalked by denim clad, Fender strummin’ minstrel Brian Adams. The folk story has less to do with Norman England and everything to do with Hollywood sensibilities. Like clouds of radioactive fallout, folk stories reach the jet stream and envelop the globe.

Half Timbering continues as a means of construction, but it also gains layers of meaning throughout the centuries. At each iteration it continues the story. Tacked onto the outside of Moe’s Bar in the Simpsons, painted pink in suburban London like a Jamie Reid collage, the framing of a Morris Traveller car, an option offered by developers in new developments in Chinese cities.

Half Timbering is like light from a distant star: incredibly old yet as it falls on our retina, bright and new. Half Timbering has been made repeatedly new through its different incarnations. Bristling with meanings which continue to peel away from geographic place, race and circumstance.

Its out of this story that the Half Timbered T-Shirt emerges. Another kind of flimsiness, this time fabric, dislocated from the facade of the building to become architecture for your body.


The Half Timbered T-Shirt is available here



Brexit As National Death Drive

Sometimes its only when you pull something apart that you can really see how it works. So, thanks for that Brexiteers.

There is a macabre fascination to see the country falling apart. Perhaps its even a collective national version of Freud’s death drive. For Freud, deep in the human psyche was a vestige of our origin state of pre-organism, a chaotic collection of material yet to become coherent life. This unconscious memory manifests itself, Freud speculated, as a “death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate state”.

He suggests that this is an opposite force to Eros, the life force that drives us not only to survive but that “civilisation is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity, the unity of mankind.”

He goes on to argue that these apparently opposite instincts are consistently negotiated through life, and that they intersect to create a particular form of masochistic pleasure. That, at a national level, is where we are.

Nobody, I think, actively wanted to destroy things. Like the 2011 riots, Brexit isn’t really ‘about’ something in the traditional sense, in the sense that computes with logical political process, activism, media narratives. Its a subconscious physiological urge, one best explained through dreams, rages, manias, despairs and so on. It’s masochistic wanton destruction, driven by a desire to turn all of civilisation back into its pre-organic state, the state from which it originally came. Just as Croydon set itself of fire in 2011, Ebbw Vale did the same to its future by rejecting the very same EU that had been ploughing in millions of euros in regeneration investment – last Thursday. Both are totally illogical acts from an objective point of view. Yet both full of meaning in a physiological way.

From the vicious campaign itself, to the result of the vote, to the following collapses of parliamentary parties, stock exchanges, credit ratings, social behaviour and more, all the usual manifestations of civility are in free fall. And as we keep F5-ing, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that we’re suddenly experts in global finance, complex treaties, parliamentary procedures or whatever. All of us metropolitan elites are – somewhere deep down – thrilled at the spectacle of collapse, the pleasure of seeing the country fall apart.

This pleasure is derived from seeing everything returned to its inorganic state, to see the nation and its institutions in pieces, non-functioning, incapable, drained of life force. All that talk of ‘control’ (super ego) giving way to utter chaos (id).

On one side, the desire to do exactly the wrong thing was a throwing off of a repressive Freudian super-ego (of political and economic arguments – which might explain the rejection of ‘expert’ here cast as the Freudian father). On the other, with everything lying around us, we have the perverse pleasure of seeing the end – a final end of Empire, end of economic security (such as its been), end of a particular vision of Britain. Perhaps thats why there is no plan, no idea of what to do or what Brexit actually means. In seeing our own ‘death’, can we also see our origin? And in seeing this chaotic collection of material yet to become coherent life can we also imagine the life that we, Britain, could possibly become?

Two Visions Of Britain

This is a trailer for an essay in the just launched Real Review. Its an essay about Britain in the 1980’s, about competing ideas of history, about re-enactment as a political device, about war and plasterwork. Its good. And so is the Real Review.

Here, we see two trips down the River Thames: The Sex Pistols in 1977 and Prince Charles in 1988. Between these two boat rides, a new kind of Britain emerged, a vision of Britain whose waters we are still deeply immersed in.

30 Years of the EastEnders Title Sequence

EastEnders Title Sequence, 1985

This week is the 30th birthday of EastEnders, the BBC soap set in East London. Its title sequence has since the start been an ariel shot of the east end. And over the last 30 years, this area of London has been subject to rapid change from docklands via the Dome to the Olympics.

Over time, of course, the titles have changed and so, after 30 years, they act as a pop culture record of these changes – both the physical form and the character of the east end.

Of course its also a record of the changes in aerial and satellite imaging. The original sequence was produced from around 800 photographs taken from an aircraft flying over the east end of London at about 1000ft over several days, developed and pasted together like a mosaic.

EastEnders Title Sequence, 1986

EastEnders Title Sequence, 1991

EastEnders Title Sequence, 1993

EastEnders Title Sequence, 1996

EastEnders Title Sequence, 1998

EastEnders Title Sequence, 2000

EastEnders Title Sequence, 2001

EastEnderss Title Sequence, 2006

EastEnders Title Sequence, 2009

EastEnders Title Sequence, 2010

EastEnders Title Sequence, 2012

Drawing As Project – Post Digital Representation In Architecture

Nicholas Muraglia / Proposal for Alzheimer Housing, Vauxhall / YSOA / 2014

Think of this as a draft manifesto for architectural representation in the post digital age. Or if not a manifesto, at least an idea about how we can (and why we should) rethink the act and purpose of drawing now that our relationship with digital production has matured.

Its an idea about contemporary architectural drawing, about how we might make drawings about architecture – drawings that might even *be* architecture.

The digital drawing tools we now have at our disposal have changed the relationship we now have to images – both as we consume them and as we make them. But at the same time these tools can allow us to engage with the long disciplinary history of architectural representation.

It’s an idea that combines a series of issues just as it combines a series of techniques and, often a series of sources. In other words, it is an idea that while it produces a single synthetic thing, emerges out of multiple relationships.

It’s a project sited at the intersection between what have become anachronistic modes of representation with experiments with the possibilities of contemporary drawing tools.

Matthew Busscher / Ideal Community, Chicago / UIC School of Architecture / 2014

Here, then, are partial notes towards a theory of post digital architectural representation:

Kara Biczykowski / Hoogvliet Heerlijkheid / YSOA / 2014

First, digital tools have to date been taken up within architectural culture in a blinkered way. They have have explored the formal possibilities of manipulating shape. Parametricism is about technological possibilities of digital tools. Yet in wider culture its the manipulation of information that is the most striking cultural effect of digital tools. From sampling to Instagram, digital tools allow us to process, alter, and create. They allow us to intervene in information and reshape it for other purposes. In other words, this is collage culture. But collage is now seamless, and not being able to see the join makes collage work in a very different way. In short, its Photoshop rather than Grasshopper that is the real site of productive digital speculation.

Paul Mosley / New Harmony / UIC School of Architecture / 2014

Second, these tools allow us to have a different relationship to the drawing. A drawing we make can be derived from multiple sources and forms of representation in a way that challenges the idea of individual originality. That’s to say, drawing can be an act of curation, editing and assemblage as much as it is of hand eye coordination and original mark making. If we think of drawing in this way, we can think of it as an act of polemic assemblage as much as an image. Or rather image as polemical assemblage.

Michael Miller / Sint Lucas / YSOA / 2014

Third, lets try and understand the deep potential of the mashup. The throwaway easiness of the word belies a much more engaged and precise process conceptually and technically. But at the same time it is part of – comes out of – the slippery nature of images in the digital age. Meanings and associations between images are constantly in flux. Their proximity, resolution, place and media constantly shifting. Images flow through networks like liquid, and what was once a fixed point begins to leak or erupt, become fugitive and restless, recombinant and promiscuous.

Samra Pecanin / Proposal for Communal Housing / UIC School of Architecture / 2014

Fourth: The the CGI is the dominant mode of contemporary architectural communication. It presents an apparently ‘real’ image of the world – photorealistic and perspectival – and is a dangerously plausible fiction. They assume the status of a photograph of a built world. We know however that photography is far from a transparent window onto the world, it frames and constructs its own image. If we think of the CGI as also the logical conclusion of the perspectival project, we should also remember that perspective itself is not really not really the way the world looks but an artificial construction. In opposition to these forms of image making we might deploy the vast processing power that sits on our desktops to other ends. And one of those ends might well be exploring drawings intrinsic artificiality. Drawings, in other words reveal, that declare themselves as partial and biased.

Jesus Corral / Koreshan Unity settlement / UIC School of Architecture / 2014

Fifth. In opposition to the CGI which is tied to its fiction of presenting reality, we could reassert the drawing as an architectural act – a means of making arguments and propositions, of staking all kinds of claim that go far beyond presenting a plausible view. Drawings that are conceived not as windows onto the world but ways of making the world.

Summer Islam / Wall House / AA / 2010

(Side Note: Can architecture exist without drawing? In other words, can we even think of architecture without section, plan or other architectural mode of conception? And if so does the ubiquity of the render threaten architectures disciplinary core?)

Win Assakul / Thai Walking City / AA / 2010

And lastly (at least for now). These forms of drawing allow us to approach the act of drawing not as an illustration of an architecture which exists somewhere else. Not as a diagram of an idea either. But as the site where an architectural idea can be staged.

Michael Michael / Sint Lucas / YSOA / 2014

And if, like me, you think that architecture even at the level of a building is *always* representation. That its representational qualities are not different from its ‘real’ qualities as a building but are always simultaneous. That a building is an image of a building, a description of a building even as it is a building – then drawing is fundamentally important. Architectural representation and its reality happen at the same time and this starts with the drawing.

Paul Mosley / Plaza View / UIC School of Architecture / 2014

In passing too, the drawing acts as a pedagogical device. Which is partly why its been central to the studios I’ve been teaching. The act of pulling apart and reassembling a drawing is a way to learn and understand how drawings work. Its a kind of experiential rather than intellectual analysis, engaged rather than observed.

Some words on the nature of the images too. They are both intense and detached. Hot and cold at the same time. They tend to resist immediate reading. They are seductive and resistant, drawing us in but pushing us away simultaneously. They are at once familiar and strange, as through they come from a world similar to our own but not the same. They are nostalgic and progressive in the same gesture. They are picturesque and conceptual. And as they do all these opposite things they are both fast and slow – immediately engaging and total while refusing to give themselves up easily.

These projects began with studios at the AA and later developed through studios at UIC and Yale – so thanks to the support of Brett Steel, Bob Stern and Bob Somol for providing the space to explore these ideas. And thanks too to all the teaching partners who’ve been involved: Tomas Klassnik, Jennifer Leung, Sean Griffiths and Jimenez Lai. And of course, most of all to the students for their incredible hard work.

Phillip Nakamura / Wormseye view of Community Centre / YSOA / 2014

Redrow Psycho

The American Psycho / Redrow London mashup you’ve all been waiting for.

And here is a link to the original film – a quite incredible ad for new luxury apartments that displays all of the psychotic qualities the London housing market suffers from.