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.

The Clockwork Jerusalem Roadshow: Milton Keynes, Folkestone Triennial, Architectural Association

A bit of info on three dates coming up for talks on and around A Clockwork Jerusalem.

First up on Thursday 9th October at 7pm at the Milton Keynes Art Gallery I’ll be with co-curator Wouter Vanstiphout talking with Kieran Long.Details here

Then on Sunday 12th at 12pm we’ll all be doing the same again as part of the Folkestone Triennial. Details etc …

And finally, on Thursday 16th Oct at 6pm a talk and the UK launch of the Clockwork Jerusalem book at the AA.

Obscure Design Typologies: Hotel Art

The strange phenomenon of hotel abstract art illustrated here is key to Will Wiles’ new book The Way Inn. Without giving anything away plot-wise, the book makes us look closely at the strange interior worlds of chain hotels, their arrangements, protocols, furniture and the art that is hung on their walls.

What are these things that are approximations of art filling space adding nondescript character to characterless environments, that are symbols referencing nothing at at all … Where do they come from? Are there, as Will asks, gigantic production facilities producing acre after acre of generic abstraction? Or do they, as the story of the Way Inn suggests, hold the key to much darker secrets?

We could also ask is there an entire shadow art history of hotel art? Stories of the struggle and eventual breakthrough of radical new approaches to meaningless decoration?

Well, if this sounds interesting, next week at AA Nightschool we’re delighted to welcome Will Wiles back for a second edition of his book club. This follows his sessions earlier this year titled ‘Malign Interiors’. In the best traditions of horror movie franchises the sequel is called ‘Malign Interiors 2: Bigger on the Inside’. (The scary proposition that scale and proportion begin to behave in supernatural and perverse ways being a familiar trope in the genre of horror scenarios)

You can book on the Nightschool website for the three sessions which start on Tuesday 2nd Sept where we’ll be discussing William Beckford’s Vathek. Next up is J.G. Ballard’s Report on an Unidentified Space Station. The finale will be Will’s new novel The Way Inn.

For more info you can see Will’s piece for the RIBA Journal here and this piece I wrote for Dezeen for the original series.

The Exploding Edenic Inevitable

The following is the sketch brief for my forthcoming studio at UIC SoA that kicks off next week. The project is an extension of the research conducted as part of A Clockwork Jerusalem for the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, extending the same ideas and trajectories into the utopian experiments of New World settlements and communities …

Extract of Map Of The New World Samuel de Champlain, 1612

The European emigres who settled what they termed the New World bought with them ideas and dreams. They imagined America as a new Eden, a place within which they might construct new worlds, New Jerusalem’s whose form, organisation and lifestyle could be a direct expression of a deeply felt ethos.

Shaker Spirit Drawing “The Holy City” 1843

Architecture, planning and design were the medium through which these theocratic, millennialist, socialist, theosophist, behaviourist, and techno-rustic communities would take shape, the physical form of the dreams of new kinds of world, a golden thread that leads from early religious settlements to Warhol’s Factory.

Garden City Diagram Ebenezer Howard, 1900

In Europe many of the same sentiments of moral, religious and social reform went on to form the basis for post war architecture and planning.

Drop City animation still
Michael Krueger, 2010

In America, these extreme communities remained (for the most part) outsider forms of planning. They often fell apart, imploding sometimes only months after their founding.

Map of Salt Lake City 1870

(But not always. Sometimes their idealism became so deeply ingrained that it seemed entirely ordinary)

Joy Division, Hulme, Manchester Kevin Cummins, 1979

Of course, the European trajectory also (often) fell apart, bequeathing us a landscape of huge projects that are currently in phases of renovation, renewal, demolition, transference from public to private and so on.

The Origins of Architecture Joseph Gandy, 1838

What both the European and American traditions show is architectures fundamental social and idealistic drive. In other words, architecture always needs to write its foundation myth. (And that this is destined to fail)

Map of Canterbury Shaker Village Henry Clay Blinn, 1848

The studio will first research historical examples of utopian settlements.

Victims John Hejduk, 1986

It will compare and contrast these outsider-architectures with canonical forms of architecture, and will project forward the possibilities of idealist communities into the near future.

Apple HQ Norman Foster & Partners, 2013

What, the studio asks, are our own eras forms of idealism? Are the tech campus’ of silicon valley – the sci-fi orchards of Fosters Apple HQ and Amazon bio-spheres for example- the inheritors of this tradition? Are the fractured and intense communities of lifestyle (say the phenomenon of the paleo-lifestyle, the strange resurrection of a myth of caveman times as an ultra-contemporary way of life) possible starting points? What are todays (and tomorrows) cults and dreams? What might baby boomer rest homes look like?

Heritage Tomato

What about that generation of hipsters for whom authentic, artisanal life is the dream?

New Harmony (View of a Community) F. Bate 1838

In an era of market led development, can we both learn lessons about demographic, choice, difference while also forming critiques of its narrow limitations? Can we be both ironic and optimistic simultaneously? In the desert of idealism that now characterises the American (and most other) cities, can we reinvent forms of architectural dream within the fabric of the city? Or can we condense atomised culture and bring together combinations of interests to form new kinds of community?

The Ramones

The studio will explore design scenarios such as: What would Shaker furniture look like if it was the expression of punk rock rather than religion (after Dan Graham’s film Rock My Religion). Conversely, what would a Shaker Stratocaster look like?

Shaker Gift Drawing

This approach – of remaking, appropriation, hybridising references from worlds alien to one another – will be core to the studios design approach. We will learn how to appropriate outsider forms of drawing – such as Shaker ‘gift paintings’, etchings, psychedelic art – as architectural representation.

Plan For The City Of Zion Joseph Smith, 1830

We will bring this entire carnival of ideas back in to the fold, unearthing the utopian and idealistic history of American settlement and repurposing it for a 21st century urban future.