In Pursuit of Architecture / Vers Un Climat / Landscape Futures

I’m in New York the weekend of the 21st Sept as part of Log’s In Pursuit of Architecture conference at MoMA.

In Pursuit of Architecture: A conference on buildings and ideas
Saturday, September 21, 2013, 10AM–5PM
The Museum of Modern Art
New York, New York

To mark its 10th anniversary and 29th issue, Log presents In Pursuit of Architecture, a conference featuring recent built work selected from an open, international call for submissions. Join architects and critics for a daylong discussion of architectural ideas, what it takes to build them, and how we measure the cultural value of architecture.

It’s a kind of crit format with architects including 51N4E, Office KGDVS, MOS & Preston Scott Cohen presenting and a panel of critics (Sylvia Lavin, Emmanuel Petit and Sarah Whiting and me).

I’ve also contributed essay titled Faster but Slower in the associated issue of Log 29 which should be out any minute now.

Details here

I have an essay We Live Half At Night in the catalogue of Vers Un Climat, a show by AWP at Cornell (which has a lovely heat sensitive cover). It’s on the architecture of night, a theme which runs through many of AWP’s projects.

I’ve written a speculation on the future of retail and high streets in the London Design Guide 2014-2015 edited by Max Fraser and published as part of the London Design Festival

And an essay Landscape In Suspension in Geoff Manaugh‘s new book Landscape Futures

And more columns up at Dezeen:

On Beaches: After returning from a two-week break, Sam Jacob reflects on the phenomenon of the modern beach holiday and argues that it is just as artificial as everyday working life in the city.

On Zombie Architecture: Sam Jacob argues against the resurrection of Crystal Palace in London and urges us to “resist the pull of loss and nostalgia”

On Protest: Sam Jacob argues against what he calls PRotest, proposing that new forms of outcry through marketing and the media are confusing and “only make us more alienated”



Marginalia #2


Thamesmead Apartment


Horse, Thamesmead

More on a trip to Thamesmead over at Love London Council Housing.

“The Pantheon: You build a gigantic thing and it rains inside” – A quote from San Rocco’s call for What’s Wrong With The Primitive Hut?

Watch your back James Dyson: CIA let Khalid Sheikh Mohammed design vacuum cleaner in a secret Romanian prison according to this Guardian story

Glasgow’s famous ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ is, sadly, finally completed.


I had never noticed this tiny sentry box disguised as a street light on the corner of Trafalgar Square. Apparently, it’s a tiny police station sited here because of the squares long history as a site of public protest. The lamp on top is, apocryphally, a lamp from the Victory, Nelson’s ship.

And, finally, a round up of comedy Strange Harvest / FAT features elsewhere:


Above is FAT’s guest starring role on Have I Got News For You.

“Being mocked on Buzzfeed is today’s measure of cultural relevance” according to Kelsey C-D on twitter in relation to an apperance at no. 20 in a list of the Most Pretentious Things Ever (one place above David Bowie, which can’t be all bad). The same piece also made it into Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner



Send Me The Pillow, The One That You Dream On

Over on Dezeen, I’ve written something about the Etsy-fication of Modernism – the way that big, social projects of the 1960′s like Park Hill and the Trellick Tower have reappeared as modern domestic chintz. And how this perhaps reveals that historical ideological battles have become contemporary pillow fights …

“There’s something strange going on here. All this giant, hard stuff is turned into cosy domesticity. It’s as though Cath Kidston, the queen of nostalgic domesticity, has swallowed a copy of Towards An Architecture or fallen through a rift in time and found herself participating at the 9th Congress of C.I.A.M.” Read More



Mipim: Where Cities Talk To Money


A Russian speaking robot at the Krasnodar Region tent, Mipim

A quick heads up for a piece I wrote for Domus about Mipim, the annual global property fair titled ‘Where Cities Talk To Money’. Here’s a link, and below are a couple of excerpts.

…..

Passing model after model, rendered in glowing Perspex on floating islands of live-edge or hyperreal model railway fantasies, everything begins to bleed into each other. Even worse: a combination of expo-hypnosis and low blood sugar makes it difficult to identify where the models end and the plinths, furniture and free gifts begin. Scales merge so that buffets of Belgian or Scandinavian finger food begin to look like regional development plans. The giant spindles of plants in huge abstract vases (and these ones are particularly sickening, resembling over-scaled versions of Gunther von Hagens’s plastinised veins) seem like they might be cities for 20,000 people. All this stuff delivered and hastily assembled in the Palais becomes interchangeable, transmutable, equivalent.

….

MIPIM reveals something you can’t really see elsewhere: that cities and regions are here not as the places you and I know as the places where we live, work and love. They’re here as brands, as investment opportunities, as businesses. mipim is where cities talk to money. They sweet talk, whisper, shout (and quite possibly also cry) to money. But it’s never clear where money is. Everyone here is selling, though exactly what is for sale seems mostly slippery. And who they are selling to remains, for the most part, unexplained.

An oil painting of a generic airport hotel, Mipim



The Custard Pie As Magical Theatrical Object

In honour of it’s appearance in this weeks Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner, here’s the piece I wrote for Icon about the custard pie in full for all you fan’s of over-thought and over-wrought cultural commentary:


Battle of the Century – Laurel & Hardy

I’m not entirely convinced that the custard pie even exists. Not a Pumpkin Pie, not a Flan, not even a Custard Tart but a real life Custard Pie like in the movies. How is it that something so plausible, so eminently possible, only exists in fiction? Nobody in films ever eats a custard pie, unless, that is, they are tasting it after having been flanned with that beautiful gesture of resignation perfected by Oliver Hardy. It is, it seems, a strange object: something that looks like food but has nothing to do with being eaten.

The custard pie seemingly appears in the 1909 out of nowhere in the slapstick short Mr Flip where a cad has a series of revenges visited upon him by the women who he ‘amusingly’ harasses: scissors up the bum, electrocuted by a telephone, shampoo in his eyes, squirted by soda syphons and finally, a pie in the face. Once pied, the eponymous Mr Flip turns to the camera and gurns that familiar just-pied gurn for the first time in cinematic history. Perhaps there were other pies pushed into faces before this, but for now, this stands as the moment that culture discovered the thrill of the flanning.

Pieing is – always – a moment of sublime magic. First, there is the shock of the pies meaning changing: from an inert foodstuff to a device dealing in humiliation. There is the action: the tension of the pies the gestural swoop from normative horizontal to a vertical pregnant with comedic potential. Then of course the splat, the pie plastered over the victims face.

It was Hal Roach’s 1927 Battle of the Century starring Laurel and Hardy that remains the masterpiece of custard pie choreography where 4,000 pies were flung in a raging street battle (‘real pies – filling and all’ Laurel later wrote).

But the grand era of the cinematic custard pie came to an end. The custard pie had been a product of early cinematic technology. Its exaggerated gestures and high contrast visual effect of a white-splattered face suited the silent, flickery black and white medium, the ne pas ultra slapstick gag. As motion picture technology changed, comedic performance shifted from motion to dialogue. The pie, like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, was forgotten.

Whenever the custard pie appears now it appears as a slapstick object in quotation marks. When celebrities and politicians are flanned, like Rupert Murdoch at the recent Select Committee hearings, the pie arrives from another time and dimension and tries to cast its victim in a world of slapstick absurdity for a brief moment.

The custard pie is not an real object. It exists in the world of slapstick where objects behave differently. The word slapstick derives from a Commedia dell’arte prop, a flat paddle with two wooden slats whose loud smack would make it appear that an actor had been struck with real force.
This was appropriated by the English Harlequinade tradition. Here the slapstick, carried by the Harlequin, was both sword and a magic wand that could apparently magically transform scenery simultaneously. So this then, might be the key to understanding the custard pie as a double entity, as both food and a comedic object, an entirely ordinary object imbued with magical theatrical properties of transformation.



Digital Culture, Design Thinking & Ecosystems

Circular Courtyard at GCHQ, Cheltenham, UK

Over on Dezeen I have a two part piece on how digital culture is shaping design – altering its methods and its scope. It talks about the idea of ecology – both the use of the world as a metaphor for systems of hardware and software and as a re-making of an idea of nature as revealed in the new HQ’s for Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Part 1: As details of the American National Security Agency’s Prism programme emerge, alongside concerns about democracy, freedom, state surveillance and the complicity of corporations, something also seems to be revealed about the ways in which digital technologies are fundamentally reformulating the ways in which design – a new kind of design born out of digital culture – now organises and impacts the way we live.

Part 2: How Google Maps is reshaping cities while Apple, Facebook and Amazon are reshaping the natural landscape by building their own headquarters as self-contained ecosystems.

The illustrations here are the interior landscaped courtyards of Foster’s proposed Apple HQ (below) and of GCHQ (above), the UK Government Communications Headquarters. Both are strange worlds within worlds, ecologies isolated from the word by the architecture that bounds them. Seen here, they assume a strange planetary form. Both perhaps suggest how the digital is reframing things we once thought exceeded the possibility of design.

Circular Courtyard, Proposed Apple HQ by Foster & Partners



A Memorial To Future Existential Horror

There’s something very spooky about this story from the Telegraph with the headline: Town erects blank war memorial ‘for future deaths’.

The memorial is in a town called Bradley Stokes, a place planned in the 1970s and whose construction began in 1987. As the Telegraph writes “The town did not exist in the first and second World Wars and no resident has been killed in military action to date.”

“Katherine Robinson, local scout group leader and one of the memorial organisers, said: “I fully appreciate that Bradley Stoke is a new town and it was just green fields and farmland when the first and second World Wars were being fought.

“But we know unfortunately that conflicts aren’t just consigned to these wars but are ongoing and so we’re thinking about the future as well.

The war memorial consists of pillars that will be adorned with blank plaques inscribed only with the words “We Will Remember Them”.

The tense here is a strange mixture of the future and the past. It suggests the idea of remembering something that hasn’t yet happened. In other words a remembrance of things yet to come.

Of course, it’s the type of rememberance that makes it so chilling. It suggests a fatalism that sons and daugthers of Bradley Stokes will inevitably die in some war, somewhere, sometime in the future.

Monuments usually address the past. They usually address a specific event. Here though it’s blankness makes it a monument to an unspecific, existential horror of the future.



Obscure Design Typologies: Fumigation Tents

I think I first saw a fumigation tent in an episode of the X-Files. Much later, they crop up as a plot device in Breaking Bad (maybe fumigation tents are an obsession of BB’s creator and ex-X-Files writer Vince Gilligan).

Fumigation tents are thrown up over a house that has pest infestation. They provide an airtight seal that allows the whole place to be entirely gassed with super noxious chemicals that exterminate any form of life. They seem to be an American phenomenon. Perhaps it’s a function of climate and the totally timber construction of homes that makes American homes that much more likely to be devoured by a host of termites than anywhere else.

There’s something strange about these giant circus-like tents. There is something completely alien about them against the familiar domestic landscape, their scale and candy striped blankness like a giant hole in the streetscape. Yet these weird bright abstractions formally retain something of the houses they cover, as though they were domestic ghosts.



S.P.A.M Office / Pieterjan Ginckels

Pieterjan Ginckels models his S.P.A.M At Home furniture collection

Just a quick note: I’m in conversation with Pieterjan Ginckels (of Speedism fame amongst other amazing things) as part of his S.P.A.M OFFICE show at ANDOR this week. Expect to hear about the design lessons contained in the Viking Office Supplies Catalogue, the idea of just-enough, genericness and, of course, Spam … blurb below:

Wednesday 23 January 2013, 7pm

Artist Pieterjan Ginckels (www.pieterjanginckels.be) in conversation with Sam Jacob on the subject of the office space, design aesthetics and architectural influences on space and labour. As part of the exhibition S.P.A.M OFFICE at ANDOR until March 9.

ANDOR
237 Hackney Road
London E2 8NA
www.creativeandorcultural.com
office@creativeandorcultural.com
UK 020 7033 9660

S.P.A.M. OFFICE is open until 9th March 2013.
ANDOR exhibitions are open from Wednesday – Saturday, 12 – 6pm.



Man Made Moon: St Paul’s as Selenosphere

Full Moon & Full St Paul’s Dome

The dome of St Paul’s is arguably the most important object in London: a lead covered baroque sun around which the the rest of the city revolves. And perhaps its not so strange to think of this hemispherical thing as some kind of celestial body. After all Christopher Wren was as much an astronomer as he was architect. As astronomer, Wren built instruments and telescopes with which he produced accurate maps of the moon. In 1661, he created a lunar globe, otherwise known as a selenosphere, for Charles II. The globe was described as ”being made of paseboard, molded in relief and painter with a scale in miles, and which bore the courtly, contrived inscription: “To Charles the Second, King of Britain, France and Scotland, for whom Dr. Christopher Wren has created the new world of this Selenosphere, because, for one of His magnitude, “one [world] is not enough”.”

This is a proposal to turn the dome of St Paul’s dome into a man made moon. Wren’s building is transformed into a selenosphere, a hemispherical map of the moon synced through its lighting with the phases of the moon. The cathedrals dome and the moon would hover over London as though it were a city on a planet with two moons. St Paul’s becomes a secular device linking our earthly concerns with the heavenly realm.

3/4 Moon & 3/4 St Paul’s Dome

1/2 Moon & 1/2 St Paul’s Dome

Crescent Moon & Crescent St Paul’s Dome

Diagram showing how a spotlight circles around the dome at a speed that matches the rate of change of the moons phases.