Archive for the 'notes' Category

Institutionalised in the Black Maria

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Notes made on the 22:30 from Euston to Birmingham, whilst returning home to the provinces after treating myself to an evening of presentations and discussion with Dan Hill, Jeremy Till and Wouter Vanstiphout under the title Institutionalised

Black Maria

Housed in the Black Maria installation at St Martin’s by Richard Wentworth/GRUPPE we were split into eager registrants who’d secured a ‘seat’ and lazy laggards who just turned up to freeload by taking a chair outside the installation and behind the projection screen. Proceedings get underway with the barrier between us raised and the talk show hosts/guests in the middle, then at the appointed moment when sufficient teasing has taken place, the screen falls (to the sound of a jet aircraft landing) and we become the privileged few allowed sole rights to the speaker’s attention and slides that are the right way round, whilst the rest get only sound piped through speakers and reversed images and text. It’s a privilege that is later slightly sullied by the numbness of our arses as they complain about the unforgiving plywood steps we’re sitting on. The fact that Richard Wentworth himself chose to sit on the chairs outside should have told us something perhaps.

Black Maria

It’s a beautiful thing though, and perhaps the very embodiment of what would during the evening be discussed as the conflict between the teaching of craft and ethics. Carefully crafted as it is to disrupt the usual ethics of oratory; thereby straddling both concepts perfectly.

The evening is introduced by Shumi Bose and the speakers are described as one qualified architect (Till) and two people who inhabit the ‘extended field of architecture’ (Hill and Vanstiphout). It’s this extended field that is of course the primary focus for the evening and a topic ripe for exploration in the UK at the moment given the widely discussed/lamented state of the profession and it’s utter lack of direction or worth. How does a mindful awareness of this extended field allow architecture to work within, against or for institutions?

Here are some (crudely paraphrased) sound bites and notes from each:

Jeremy Till – institutional irritant

1) provides a short intro and begins by reading the founding definition of the RIBA (quoted in his book Architecture Depends), part of which can be paraphrased thus: ‘architects are to be the arbiters of taste’ and he then states that this institute’s position is only legitimised by the support of other institutes i.e. universities.

2) he criticises architecture for becoming a spatial projection of imagination (or does he? see footnote)

3) acknowledging his position in the large institute of St Martin’s he describes himself as the institutional irritant that seeks to disrupts from within, but acknowledges that the more effective position may be on the outside

Wouter Vanstiphout – architect as figurehead

4) describing background and past work Wouter talks of his Design as Politics course

5) which leads to later studies on the politics of urban riots and the question of whether the fabric of the city itself is an accessory to the violence with the architect ultimately to blame

6) he proposes that the reason for this is in fact because architecture has merely become the visible garnish/figurehead/tip of the iceberg for the (massive) process of (brutal) urban renewal
beneath or behind it driven by institutions such as the state or the market.

7) underlining the power of the market he shows a picture of a city skyline filled with large buildings by internationally renowned architects, highlighting that their existence/creation is/was
dependent not on the people who inhabit them but the market that requires investment objects

Dan Hill – boundary operator

Black Maria 3

8) Dan starts by reflecting Wouter’s iceberg by showing Papenek’s triangular diagram with the designer’s share taking only a small proportion of the real problem beneath

9) he questions the ability of yesterday’s institutions to produce the necessary outcome for tomorrow

10) showing examples of projects from his time at Sitra and HDL he explores various examples of the networked city

11) suggesting that activity undertaken by a city’s inhabitants are less important for the actions themselves rather than the ability to make networked decisions about what to do

12) in turn suggesting that the culture of public decision making is the design challenge

13) and that in this networked city the government now has competition

14) thus returning to the question of whether 19th century institutions are capable of facing 21st century problems

15) Dan suggests that the experience he’s had in three different organisations of different roles and scales could be described as inside, outside and (during his time at Sitra) at the boundary of key institutions

16) in summary the goal should be to design the conditions that allow institutions to address meaningful public issues

Each had touched on a question of position relative to the institution or institutions that determine one’s role. Jeremy began by questioning whether it’s better to disrupt from within or beyond, Wouter described the dangers of unwittingly becoming a figurehead for the institution behind you and Dan demonstrated what might be possible at the boundary between the two. I think these positions were further contextualised by comments during the discussion at the end of the evening when Wouter (expanding on his comments about market driven investment objects) questioned the possible conflict of loyalties between the direct source of funding from a client vs. the city in which the work is carried out. How do you maintain the balance between civic responsibility and client loyalty? Following that a question from a planner in the audience about the panel’s view on how the UK’s NPPF and debate on localism might impact the institution brought an acknowledgement of the value of the neighbourhood forum. In there somewhere there were also comments about the market of supply and demand that suggested that the profession concerns itself too much with the supply side, when in fact it should work harder to raise and support the demand.

Neighbourhoods – the demand market – are the boundaries to institutions in which an architect’s loyalties must be invested.

It’s fitting then that the following 24 hours of media coverage in the UK built environment has provided much coverage of a growing interest in the power of self build and co-housing ideas and it’s certainly helping me form ideas about which direction I’d like to head in future with my practice.

Finally, I’d like to end by recording a wonderfully succinct and compelling description of the perils of what Wouter described as the neo-liberal myth of the benefits of rolling back the state. Rather than the space left over being filled by the common man, it’s simply claimed by the private market instead.

Horse meat lasagne anyone?

* Note: I appear to have heard Jeremy’s comment on the projection of spatial imagination entirely differently to the fellow on my left, Charles Holland off of FAT who wrote it down properly:


Forms that add distance

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Blogging dogged eared thoughts – some loose, coincidental noticings that deserve recording…

I’m looking forward to seeing some of Hadid’s work further iterated in the future by the algorithms delivering Google Earth’s Universal Texture. It’ll feel like an event horizon in which Parametricism Will Eat Itself. Better yet, if the pirate copy in China gets completed, photographed and rendered by the machines of loving grace first then the copy of the copy might well be such a sublime example of Shumacher’s autopoiesis that we’ll be able to declare Architecture a done deal and move on.

Mind you, there’ll always be guys like Piers Gough to prevent us getting too lost in the new aesthetic by deploying a critique firmly rooted in the old aesthetic:

“The practice seems fond of these etiolated forms that add to distance rather than subtract from it.”

That’s good, isn’t it? Add to distance rather than subtract from it. I’ve been thinking about it all week and whilst doing so I stumbled across this in Ruskin’s Modern Painter’s on the subject of depth of field:

“Turner introduced a new era in landscape art, by showing that the foreground might be sunk for the distance, and that it was possible to express immediate proximity to the spectator, without giving anything like completeness to the forms of the near objects. This is not done by slurred or soft lines, observe, (always the sign of vice in art,) but by a decisive imperfection, a firm, but partial assertion of form, which the eye feels indeed to be close home to it, and yet cannot rest upon, or cling to, nor entirely understand, and from which it is driven away of necessity, to those parts of distance on which it is intended to repose.”

Decisive imperfection and a partial assertion of form is what Piers was looking for I think.

It’s fitting that the copy of Modern Painter’s I found that in was bought from a second hand bookshop in Derbyshire last year during an event called Laptop & Looms in which I had the pleasure of meeting the folks from Makie Lab and spending the afternoon building a Makerbot. You’ve probably heard of them, they’re one of the few firms actually doing something interesting with 3D printing and rapid overnight production. Except perhaps for the guys rapid prototyping the copy of Hadid’s building in China.

Look what happens when you take the Makie Lab about page and switch the word toys for buildings:

“… a system of creating objects using game technologies – 3D Studio Max, Unity, 3D objects – and transmogrifying them into 3D-printable buildings complete with internal working joints. Which means we can model buildings then manufacture buildings, overnight.”

Perhaps Schumacher should have gone for transmogrifycism instead.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

lone sledger, originally uploaded by eversion.

Hoping your Christmas involved sufficient sledging.

Rendered speechless

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Moral dilema solved: There’s no longer any need to clock up a big carbon footprint travelling to see architecture around the world when CGI rendering gets to this level.

The Third & The Seventh from Alex Roman on Vimeo.

I need never leave Birmingham again.

U2 360 tour

Friday, August 14th, 2009

U2 360 tour, originally uploaded by eversion.

Deep joy(sts)

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

Deep joy(sts), originally uploaded by eversion.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Walsall Art Gallery is
wonderful. A delight waiting at every turn.

eames diagram

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

eames diagram, originally uploaded by eversion.

So it turns out Eames was a fan of the Venn diagram approach to design thinking too. Here’s his interpretation, as presented in The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher.

Lyddle end is nigh

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Lyddle end is nigh, originally uploaded by eversion.

Receiving my share of the Lyddle End masterplan thanks to Russell


Saturday, October 18th, 2008

Shimmer, originally uploaded by eversion.

Inside the guts of The Public


Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

caravantgarde, originally uploaded by eversion.

It stacks just like the MCH.