New Year resolution

Some threads worth tying together…. recently covered the plight of MVRDV, who appear to have unwittingly (?) upset a lot of people (again) by designing a pair of towers complete with their own explosion of structure billowing out from their mid rift. Things magazine cuts through the possible conceptual justifications by suggesting Minecraft as the possible source for the low-res, pixelated aesthetic.

Others have also been noticing this aesthetic appearing with increasing regularity and attempting to interpret it. James Bridle, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Laptop and Looms event earlier this year, covers it extensively in his recent talk at Web Directions South. Beginning with a subtle critique of the imaginary society my profession portrays with our ‘render ghosts’ (a topic I gave the lightest of touches to a while ago in a comment about the spineless deference inherent in the world of Sketchup figures), he moves on to examine the representation of data in building surfaces (my emphasis):

Minecraft has a lot to answer for here. Minecraft is awesome. What’s so strange about it is the creator knew, as a small project, that he could go a long way with gameplay and interaction without worrying so much about the graphics. But people have taken to the graphics to this extraordinary degree. And again, making these things come through in the world, giving the real world the grain of the virtual.

This building I am completely dangerously obsessed with. It’s a building in East London, and I literally stumbled upon it while out walking and saw it, and I’ve been puzzling over it ever since, and frankly it’s to blame for all of this. It’s a data centre, which is incredibly significant, because if you know anything about the architecture of data centres, they’re usually very anonymous structures. They’re usually big sheds. We have this notion of the cloud, like the cloud is some magic faraway land where computing is done, and it’s not big sheds on ring roads filled with servers. The cloud is a lie. The cloud looks like sheds. And that’s a terrible thing, because the network is awesome. And yet we’ve never figured out a way to – we sort of try to hide it away and tidy it away.

Meanwhile, over on Archdaily:

 spokesman Jan Kinkker stated, “We’ve had quite a lot of calls from angry Americans saying it’s a disgrace. 9/11 was not the inspiration behind the design, the inspiration was a real cloud.”

The cloud, it would seem, is a territory fraught with dangers for the architect; be they clouds that look like sheds or, in the case of MVRDV, sheds that look like clouds.

Shocking, insensitive cock-up aside, I think I welcome MVRDV’s return to a lower resolution aesthetic. I’ve seen the opposite and it looks like this:

F1-GP Ferrari World

That’s a small part of Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi. It’s a high resolution idea expressed in a CAD curve of many segments modeled on a state of the art piece of technology, ultimately built with a few low resolution sticks by some guys in a desert who haven’t seen their family for months, all so that Ferrari could host stadium size concerts in their front porch. Mind you, it at least gave me something to think about when 15 minutes later Kings of Leon came on stage and sent us all to sleep – despite the fact that the sex was supposedly on fire.

Who’s for a low resolution resolution in the New Year?


(The Isolator found via Anne Galloway’s always brilliant tumblr)

We’ve been using 37signals products at the office for years now. I’m a big fan of their products and their philosophy. For some reason though I remained dismissive regarding the business self-help book Rework they published last year. Probably the fault of that usual suspect: ego.

A reminder on twitter from Nick Grant encouraged me to be a little more humble and give it a try. I’m glad I did;  it’s cheap, easy to digest in one or two sittings and contains a good mix of reminders about well understood truisms as well as a plenty of new ideas. Given that we’re entering an era when so much of the standard architectural service needs to be rethought, now is as good a time as any to consider how to rework work.

Some notes provided in the spirit of the ‘blog all dog-eared pages’ movement:

page 43
Draw a line in the sand: As you get going, keep in mind what you’re doing. Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or a service. You have to believe in something. You need to have a backbone.

page 62
Less mass: Embrace the idea of having less mass… Mass is increased by:

  • Long term contracts
  • Excess staff
  • Permanent decisions
  • Meetings
  • Thick process
  • Inventory (physical or mental)
  • Hardware, software and technology lock-ins
  • Long-term road maps
  • Office politics

page 88
Tone is in your fingers: In business, too many people obsess over tools, software tricks, scaling issues, fancy office space, lavish furniture, and other frivolities instead of what really matters. And what really matters is how to actually get customers and make money… Use whatever you’ve got already or can afford cheaply. Then go. It’s not the gear that matters. It’s playing what you’ve got as well as you can. Your tone is in your fingers.

page 104
Interruption is the enemy of productivity: If you’re constantly staying late and working weekends it’s not because there’s too much work to be done. It’s because you’re not getting enough done at work. And the reason is interruptions.

page 170
Build an audience: All companies have customers. Lucky companies have fans. But the most fortunate companies have audiences… So build an audience. Speak, write, blog, tweet, make videos – whatever. Share information that’s valuable and you’ll slowly but surely build a loyal audience.

page 173
Out-teach your competition: Instead of trying to outspend, outsell, or outsponsor competitors, try to out-teach them. Teaching probably isn’t something your competitors are even thinking about. Most businesses focus on selling or servicing, but teaching never occurs to them.

page 222
Hire great writers: If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn’t matter if that person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer or whatever; their writing skills will pay off… Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking.

Healthy neighbourhoods

When planning a neighbourhood, the optimum distance from residential accommodation to nearby retail outlets is achieved by calculating the amount of time it takes to consume an ice cream whilst walking and ensuring sufficient distance is provided to complete the task and conceal the wrapper/stick; thus supporting the promotion of healthy living by allowing parents to secretly finish said ice cream before returning home to their children.


New Small Cullen

Taking the time to write something considered and share it online is not easy, so getting reminded why it’s worth it is always welcome.  I’ve certainly appreciated all the supportive comments about my first submission to the housing blog over at and much more importantly I’ve learnt lots in return from people sending links and sharing knowledge. The real star of that show though is undoubtedly the delightful book by FRS Yorke and Penelope Whiting: The New Small House.


The added bonus being this suitably charming cover by none other than Gordon Cullen. As a student of the mid-nineties, surrounded at the time by all the linguistic gymnastics of post structuralist decision dodging, I’ve noticed that with age my later interests appear to be an act of rebellion and I’m becoming an arch-empiricist.  Yesterday I was into linguistics, but today I’m not Saussure.

This is a fact well recorded in years gone by with entries and even the occasional sketch on Cullen that ranged from simple explorations of sections of Townscape through to more unusual assessments involving a skunk called Pepe Le Pew.

I was unimaginably flattered then to recently receive an e-mail from a reader who likened my own sketches to the work of Cullen and even more excited to discover an opportunity to share some more of his work.

Gorden Cullen sketch

Here’s Eric Osbourne describing the history of the sketch he’s been the proud owner of for years:

I have been trying to remember the firm I shared 16 Carlisle Street, London W1 with from about 1968 to 1970, I think they were called Phillip Chandos, because they were drinking in the Chandos Pub opposite the Nurse Cavell Statue, St. Martins’ Lane when the company was conceived – drinking was important to the company ethos! They use to write, design, edit and sub-contract printing for books and leaflets on various aspects of construction and architecture. The Lead Association springs to mind. Gordon Cullen was in and out all the time and very good friends of the main man (a tall guy with a long horizontal moustache and always sporting a bow tie), who had his office on the first floor. All their names are gone now but I remember Gordon would arrive at 11.00/11.30, the office manager would go down and we would hear peals of laughter. At opening time they would either go to the ‘Bath House’ pub on the corner for a ‘quick one’ which lasted until 3.00 or the Braganza, Soho Square in which case you did not see the three of them again that day. After they moved, I do remember going to their new offices in Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden for a very quick drink, with accumulated post and the drawing which I had found amongst the serious piles of rubbish they had left behind. I was told I could keep it and I have treasured it every since – it’s the nearest thing I have to a William Blake/Picasso/Durer – a true masterpiece.

I don’t know whether it was commissioned for anything else or used in any publications so perhaps this is its first outing beyond Eric’s home. Thanks for taking to the time to share it with us Eric. I dream, literally, of being able to muster such line quality so effortlessly.

Merry Christmas

lone sledger, originally uploaded by eversion.

Hoping your Christmas involved sufficient sledging.

for our pleasure and interest

Blogging like it’s 2004. That’s the answer it seems. In which case I should return to my habit of just lazily scanning cool stuff and putting it on flickr. So, for no better reason than a desire to share some beautiful illustrations, I give you the 1961 Ladybird guide to London:




The authorities of the airport are pleased to see us, and they have arranged everything for our pleasure and interest. We can but refreshments or a full meal. For children who are not above old-fashioned means of transport, they have pony-rides and a miniature railway. There is even a sand-pit for the very young. But the great thrill is the aeroplanes; huge and graceful, immensely powerful and so beautiful to watch.


Never mind the carbon emissions and the extra runway rubbish: huge and graceful, immensely powerful and so beautiful to watch. Oof.

With thanks to Kinver Village book fair. More to come.