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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Architecture

Thursday October 16 2014

I am rather ill, so will be brief.

I have opened a Bald Blokes Taking Photos photo file.  So far, my favourite bald bloke taking a photo photo is this one, taken in July of this year:

image

I like (a) the Shard in his picture.  There are other photos in this file of equally good bald blokes, and some of them have come out even better, with more detail.  But you can’t tell from the photo what they’re photoing, which I rate a drawback.

And I like (b) the amazing sort of horizontal rift valley at the back of his head, that many bald blokes have (some of them more than one).

Enjoy.  For me, it’s back to being ill.

Monday October 13 2014

When someone shows the world a picture like this …:

image

… I’m like, as the younger element now puts it, yeah yeah.

But when a newspaper, the kind they still print on paper, reports that they are about to sell bits of it, then that, I say to myself, is actual news.  They’re actually going to build this bizarre Thing.  Next to Battersea Power Station.

And by selling the flats in advance, I guess they are also crowdfunding it.  Interesting trend, that, I think.

Expect (although I promise nothing) more pictures from me as it takes shape.  And that is quite some shape, at any rate in the pictures.

Here is what the architecture of Tausendsassa Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser looks like:

image

Often cited for his colorful and curvilinear forms, his name translates to “Multi-Talented Peace-Filled Rainy Day Dark-Colored Hundred Waters.” In everything from his name to his unusual ideas put forth in manifestos, it is immediately evident that Hundertwasser was no ordinary architect.

Looks to me a lot like a beefed up version of Teletubbies architecture.  Did they have that show in Germany?  Yes.  (This is not the first time the Teletubbies have been hailed as architectural pioneers.) I’m not saying this is a bad thing.  I am just, as they say, saying.

Sunday October 12 2014

I have already quoted a couple of interesting bits from Bill Bryson’s excellent book, At Home.  I have now finished reading this, but just before I did, I encountered some interesting stuff about paint (pp. 453-5):

When paints became popular, people wanted them to be as vivid as they could possibly be made. The restrained colours that we associate with the Georgian period in Britain, or Colonial period in America, are a consequence of fading, not decorative restraint. In 1979, when Mount Vernon began a programme of repainting the interiors in faithful colours, ‘people came and just yelled at us’, Dennis Pogue, the curator, told me with a grin when I visited. ‘They told us we were making Mount Vernon garish. They were right - we were. But that’s just because that’s the way it was. It was hard for a lot of people to accept that what we were doing was faithful restoration.

‘Even now paint charts for Colonial-style paints virtually always show the colours from the period as muted. In fact, colours were actually nearly always quite deep and sometimes even startling. The richer a colour you could get, the more you tended to be admired. For one thing, rich colours generally denoted expense, since you needed a lot of pigment to make them. Also, you need to remember that often these colours were seen by candlelight, so they needed to be more forceful to have any kind of impact in muted light.’

The effect is now repeated at Monticello, where several of the rooms are of the most vivid yellows and greens.  Suddenly George Washington and Thomas Jefferson come across as having the decorative instincts of hippies. In fact, however, compared with what followed they were exceedingly restrained.

When the first ready-mixed paints came on to the market in the second half of the nineteenth century, people slapped them on with something like wild abandon. It became fashionable not just to have powerfully bright colours in the home, but to have as many as seven or eight colours in a single room.

If we looked closely, however, we would be surprised to note that two very basic colours didn’t exist at all in Mr Marsham’s day: a good white and a good black. The brightest white available was a rather dull off-white, and although whites improved through the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until the 1940s, with the addition of titanium dioxide to paints, that really strong, lasting whites became available. The absence of a good white paint would have been doubly noticeable in early New England, for the Puritans not only had no white paint but didn’t believe in painting anyway. (They thought it was showy.) So all those gleaming white churches we associate with New England towns are in fact a comparatively recent phenomenon.

Also missing from the painter’s palette was a strong black. Permanent black paint, distilled from tar and pitch, wasn’t popularly available until the late nineteenth century. So all the glossy black front doors, railings, gates, lampposts, gutters, downpipes and other fittings that are such an elemental feature of London’s streets today are actually quite recent. If we were to be thrust back intime to Dickens’s London, one of the most startling differences to greet us would be the absence of black painted surfaces. In the time of Dickens, almost all ironwork was green, light blue or dull grey.

Famously, the rise of the Modern Movement in Architecture was triggered by, among many other things, a revulsion against the excesses of Victorian-era decoration, especially architectural decoration.  Decoration became mechanised, and thus both much more common and much less meaningful.  What did all this mechanised decoration prove, what did it mean, when you could thrash it out with no more difficulty than you could erect a plain wall?

What the above Bryson quote strongly suggests, at any rate to me, is that something rather similar happened with colour.

Why is the overwhelming atmosphere of Modernist architecture and architectural propaganda so very monochrome, still.  Part of the answer is that it was only recently learned how to do monochrome.  Monochrome looked modern, from about 1900-ish onwards, because it was modern.  Monochrome was the latest thing.  Colour, meanwhile, had become much cheaper and had been used with garish nouveau riche excess, and there was a reaction to that also, just as there was to excessive decoration.

Wednesday October 08 2014

I have started a file of photos called “I Just Like Them”, for those days (very frequent) when I have left blogging for the day to the last possible moment and beyond.  The idea is to have a plentiful supply of quota photos, ready to hand.

Here is the kind of thing I mean:

image

That was taken from the top of the Monument on November 18th 2012.

I could drone on for several paragraphs about what is so very nice about that picture (were I to do this, the redness of two of the cranes there would get a particular mention), but the simple truth is: I just like it.

Friday October 03 2014

Yes, dezeen (Dezeen?) continues to be a favourite wwwspot for me.  Here are some recent dezeen postings that got my attention, for this or that reason.

First, news that there will be a viewing platform on top of the Walkie Talkie:

The Walkie Talkie Skygarden has yet to open and will, I’m sure, come with a catchier name. But already it is in obvious competition with the Shard – pricey versus free, ascetic steel and glass versus sylvan repose, supreme height versus not being able to see the Walkie Talkie. ...

Very droll.  The original was about how you couldn’t see the National Theatre from the National Theatre.  But me, I am warming to the Walkie Talkie, and I don’t just mean I’m standing under it and being fried.  I especially like how it looks from a distance.  The point being: it looks like the Walkie Talkie.  Not just some anonymous rectangular London lump, no, that particular Big Thing.  Yes it is not properly beautiful.  But neither is London.  Besides which, anything that just might compete down the price of going to the top of the Shard has my vote.  I’ll definitely make my way up there, as soon as they’ll let me

Next up, isn’t fun when someone hitherto impeccably cool suddenly turns into Grumpy Old Man:

Speaking to Dezeen, the 85-year-old English designer said tech products like the iPhone and Apple Watch were turning people into zombies, adding: “I’ve got a certain cynicism of Apple and their motives. It’s a bit of a monster.”

“It’s a game they’re playing and it’s an absolutely straightforward, commercial, ruthless game, and it’s dressed up nicely because they’ve got some talented people in their employ,” he said.

Grange, who was knighted in 2013 for services to design, believes that the tech giant has successfully turned Modernism into “good commerce”, using aesthetics to dress up a self-perpetuating product cycle.

“There are probably few companies around now that absolutely answer the prospect that Modernism is good commerce,” he said. ...

Modernism is good commerce?  Can’t have that.

… “They’ve been so bloody ruthless that you almost get no choice in the matter.”

“Almost” there means “not”.  (See also: essentially, basically, fundamentally, etc. etc. etc.) Because actually, you get plenty of choice about whether to buy Apple stuff or not.  Apart from one rather nice keyboard, I never have.

People always talk about the behemoths of capitalism like this, just as they are starting their long slide down into moderate size and moderate success, into business as usual.  How do I know Apple is now at the top of that slide?  Easy, they are building a custom-designed headquarters.  It absolutely yells: from now on, all Apple-persons will talk to each other and keep everyone else out.  And what they will be talking about, to an appalling degree, will be their own living arrangements inside this huge circular corporate burial chamber.  They’re doomed, I tell you, doomed.  Someone tell Sir Grumpy (above) that he can relax.

Next: what a driverless car might look like.  Not.  But, it looks very pretty.  The basic point, that driverless cars will in the longer run utterly transform the look of the outdoors is, I think, a very good one.  Maybe that is how some of them will look.

I really do not like the way this floating bikeway along the River Thames looks, in the pictures there.  At the very least, I say, find a way to avoid having those obtrusive shapes above the level of the track, which makes it look like an infinitely extended item of tasteless garden furniture.  I get it, that crap is there to enable it to float up and down on the tide.  Well, find another way to do that.

Next, some excellent photos of the High Line, in New York.  I especially like the distant aerial view of it curving its way over the Rail Yards, with the spontaneous architectural order of Manhattan’s towers in the background.

I do like this rectangular block of a house, but with one end lifted up.  Usually the rectangular block houses featured at dezeen are impeccably, terminally tedious.  But this one, I like.  Apart from the fact that whenever the damn architect called round, you’d have to tidy up all your domestic crap all over everywhere, and turn the place back into the dreary corporate office it resembles in the photos.  What is it with architects not wanting homes to look, inside, like homes, but instead like some kind of dystopian hell with nothing in it besides a wooden floor?

Here are some impeccably, terminally tedious rectangular type houses, in Japan.  To me, by far, by several hundred miles, the most interesting thing about these photos of them is the amazing amount of electrical crap in the sky over the street outside.  If I was photoing in Japan, I would be all over that.  More Japanese sky clutter here, in photos of another impeccably, terminally tedious block house with an interior that also looked like a corporate office reception area when the photos were taken.

Google drones.  Spooky.

A weird footbridge in Paddington.

Parisian blocks become wavey.

Finally what with this being Friday, some black cats with bronze bollocks.  I kid you not.

Sunday September 28 2014

My interest in what will be happening next in London, architecturally, is intense, but erratic.  It switches on and off.  Occasionally I go looking to see, but neglect to do this for weeks at a time.  Google sends me emails about “new architecture london”, but the results are seldom as dramatic as they ought to be.  Also, I have been in the rather bad habit of filing these emails in a special email file, and then neglecting to return to them, which is a habit I need to change.

So today, I went into that email file and cranked up the latest “new architecture london” email, and found my way to this place, where I learned something I did not know until now.  Apparently the Helter Skelter Tower, the one that looked like (as in: the tallest pointy thing in the very middle of) this, …:

image

... having been stalled for ages when the money ran out, has finally been scrapped.  It will be replaced with an entirely new design.

Interestingly, if you click on the first of the above links, you will, if you persevere within the somewhat unwieldy virtual place that it is (in this case by scrolling sideways), you may manage to find your way to this, concerning “The Pinnacle”:

Designed as the centrepiece of the City cluster

Plans for a tower on-site have been active since 2002

Initial planning application was submitted in June 2005.

Revised application with 19m height reduction approved April 2006.

Current status: Undergoing a redesign, with possible height increase.

Possible height increase. Something quite bland looking (compared to the Helter Skelter I mean) but still very high (like the new World Trade Centre for instance) might work rather well, aesthetically, because it would put the present muddle of the City in its place, if you get my meaning.  Anyway, we shall see.

Saturday September 27 2014

Earlier I showed you a old facade being carefully preserved.  Here is another:

image

But where exactly is this facade.  The photo was taken in May 2012, and I didn’t take any note-taking shots of where this was.  And I cannot now find any mention of it on the www, only a website of the enterprise that constructed it.  (This I learned by taking a closer look at the stuff at the bottom of the picture than I am according to you.  My original pictures are really very large.)

I like to think that I am becoming a better photographer as the years go by.  What I mean by this is not so much that the photos are getting technically better.  They are, but that is largely down to the cameras I use getting better.  What I mean is that I am, I hope, getting better at deciding what to photo, and better at recording what I photoed.

Maybe that is an idle boast.  But maybe what is now only a boast will, because I have here written it down, will become an influence on actual practice in the future.

Monday September 22 2014

Chippendale most of us have heard of.  But Rannie?  Who is, or was, Rannie?  Exactly.

Seven years ago now, I wrote a Samizdata piece about two-man teams.  It still, I think, reads well, and it contained the following assertions:

Even when a single creative genius seems to stand in isolated splendour, more often than not it turns out that there was or is a backroom toiler seeing to the money, minding the shop, cleaning up the mess, lining up the required resources, publishing and/or editing what the Great Man has merely written, quietly eliminating the blunders of, or, not infrequently, actually doing the work only fantasised and announced by, the Great Man. Time and again, the famous period of apparently individual creativity coincides precisely with the time when that anonymous partner was also but less obtrusively beavering away, contributing crucially to the outcome, and often crucially saying boo to the goose when the goose laid a duff egg. If deprived, for some reason, of his back-up man, the Lone Genius falls silent, or mysteriously fails at everything else he attempts. ...

Now read this, from At Home, the Bill Bryson book I am currently reading.  On pages 234-5, concerning Thomas Chippendale, the noted furniture maker, Bryson writes:

He was an outstanding furniture maker but hopeless at running a business, a deficiency that became acutely evident upon the death of his business partner, James Rannie, in 1766. Rannie was the brains of the operation and without him Chippendale lurched from crisis to crisis for the rest of his life.  All this was painfully ironic, for as he struggled to pay his men and keep himself out of a debtor’s cell, Chippendale was producing items of the highest quality for some of England’s richest households, and working closely with the leading architects and designers - Robert Adam, James Wyatt, Sir William Chambers and others. Yet his personal trajectory was relentlessly downwards.

It was not an easy age in which to do business.  Customers were routinely slow in paying. Chippendale had to threaten David Garrick, the actor and impresario, with legal action for chronic unpaid bills, and stopped work at Nostell Priory, a stately home in Yorkshire, when the debt there reached £6,838 - a whopping liability. ‘I have not a single guinea to pay my men with tomorrow: he wrote in despair at one point. It is clear that Chippendale spent much of his life in a froth of anxiety, scarcely for a moment enjoying any sense of security at all.  At his death in 1779, his personal worth had sunk to just £28 2s 9d - not enough to buy a modest piece of ormolu from his own showrooms. ...

Rannie did not make the actual furniture, but he was essential to Chippendale in exactly the sort of way I describe.

It feels good to be so right.

Sunday September 21 2014

Photoed by me in Oxford Street late this afternoon:

image

What this tells you is that architectural modernism has utterly conquered indoors, but that out of doors, modernism is only popular because its totalitarian impulses have been held at bay, by what you might call ancientism.

The Modern Movement founders would have been disgusted by the process portrayed in this picture.

Saturday September 20 2014

Indeed.  Yesterday, three postings.  Today, just the one quota photo, taken just over a year ago, and today rotated quite a bit and cropped quite a bit:

image

The BT Tower is arguably the first great London Big Thing.  The Euston Tower is really notable only for its roof clutter.  What the building in front of the Euston Tower is, I don’t know.

Tuesday September 16 2014

While browsing the archives looking for a photo to have on the front of my computer, combining niceness with not making my stuff invisible, I came across a rather good photo.

The horizontalisation opportunity was too good to miss:

image

Click to get it all.

Not good for the front of my computer.  Too much going on.  No big clear slabs of nothing for computer ikons to be seen against.  But I like it.

It was taken in 2012, from the top of a car park in Peckham.

More shots of and from the same spot, here.

Saturday September 13 2014

My computer is in a sort of half-way state between being God and being Godot, and I feel that I am still awaiting the latter.  All the innards have been changed, as was promised, but it turned out they didn’t fit very well into the old case.  A new fan could only go in one place in the old case, and that place was awkward, involving stretching wires around things.  The graphics board went in a non-ideal place in order not to stretch the wires too much.  So, soon there will be another case, about an inch wider, which will enable the fan to be in a better place and that, I feel, will be Godot.  What I have now is something in between God and Godot.  Godo?

Anyway, I have spent my entire day catching up with myself, transferring stuff over from Dawkins to Godo, sending emails to myself (don’t ask), and sorting out all the pictures I’ve taken, which have remained on SD cards during the time of Dawkins, because Dawkins is not where I would even want them to be.

So, once again it is quota photo time.  And this time it is not cranes or a bridge or roof clutter but … flowers, in Victoria Street, photoed by me at the beginning of this month:

image

So, nature then?  Not really.  Behind, we have offices.  And the entire effect has been very carefully contrived by Westminster Council’s Nature Department.  I have never seen flowers growing like that when not coaxed into that shape by nature-controllers.  I think it looks a bit like a wasps’ nest.

I know, it’s over-lit.  But I like that.  It was a sunny day, and that’s how sunshine behaves when there are no Real Photographers about to take the strength out of it with their fancy filters and exactly calculated exposure times.  Sometimes the way that light overwhelms an autofocus, snap-and-hope snapper like me tells the story just as well as it would be told by a Real Photographer, and perhaps even better.

Anyway, I like it, and I hope you do too.

Wednesday September 10 2014

This evening I attended a young friend’s fortieth birthday party.  (You know you are old when people aged forty are young.) And I took lots of photos.  Before doing this, I asked our young hostess (the one who is now aged forty) if she would like me to take photos, or would actually prefer me not to.  She said please do take photos, so I did, in abundance. The best of them will be my birthday present to her.

As usual, my first look at them when I got home was a big disappointment.  The lighting was difficult and the background was a lot easier to focus on than dimly lit faces tend to be, so I have huge numbers of snaps of perfectly detailed backgrounds with blurry faces in front of them.  But the best of them will, I reckon, come out okay.  Most are not suitable for blogging, because private, but here is a crowd scene showing what the place looked like:

image

As you can see, an ecclesiastical setting.  The Cloister Cafe of St Bartholomew the Great, which is near the Barbican.

That photo is exactly as it came out of my camera.  No beefing up of the dark bits, which means that you can see what a tricky place it was to photo in.  I just took lots of pictures, in the hope that some would turn out okay, and I think that this is what happened.  There were many failures, but a few successes.  Once I get to work with my Photoshop clone, there may be more successes than it now appears.

Maybe I should have used flash, as my camera spent the entire evening urging me to to do.  But, I hate hate hate flash.  It is appallingly antisocial, and the results usually look terrible, as in: “Hey, that was taken with flash, wasn’t it?” and “Doesn’t your software have a tool to removing red-eye?” It probably does, but … uurrgghh!!

Monday September 08 2014

Yes, I love it when that happens:

image

Congratulations to Jackie D for capturing it.