Saturday, 25 December 2010

The world as a darkroom

Making a trip to Kensington from East London isn't that hard, yet I've only been to the V&A museum twice, first for Lee Miller and last week for the Shadow Catchers exhibition. I forget how impressive the place is.

The exhibition has the subheading of 'camera-less photography' but I can childishly perceive these as primal experiments as testing the discoveries of light sensitive materials and photographic chemicals, coming before the refinement of the camera. The dates tell otherwise. The victorian desire for documentary representation preceded the curiosity of the possibilities of these new materials, replicating the course of painting.

Susan Derges pictograms taken suspended in streams tell more about water movement than other methods can dream of capturing.

Pierre Cordier, inventor of chemigram process, revered and dismissed in both the painting and photographic circles

The posterboy of the show is the captured bodies of Floris Neususs, although the populist choice to put on the poster, they are entirely captivating in person.

Thursday, 23 December 2010


One time kindred spirit of mine introduced me to the book/film 'into the wild' and nostalgically, I sit watching it's repeat, portraying that joyous sense of new places that one can even get summering in local wildernesses, along with the help of a little childishness. The non-fiction of the last journey of Chris McCandless ultimately shows the perils and poetry of ignorance towards standing on the shoulders of basic travelers knowledge. I'd recommend anyone to watch it, for lessons on indulgent, sentimental filmmaking and naive adventuring.

Thursday, 16 December 2010


In amongst the events of the past few weeks relating to the future of higher education, I feel I should write something, I know it's not the most exciting, but I'll begin with my take on the policy.

In Vince Cables speech on Thursday all the while we were standing outside, he stated that they various options for addressing the shortfall in funding, those being;

reduce the number of student places - This sounds like an amazing plan. It is likely that this will happen due to the current plans but there are too many people going to University that don't really need or want to. Nobody mentions the drop-out rates. All governments speak that the more people going to university the better, yet no-one speaks why? Is the aim to have the majority of school leavers to go? Surely the task of university is to be a place where the individual and institution are engaging in a certain level of thinking and develop knowledge. I severely doubt that the majority have the capability or inclination to do so. Heavily implying the university route as one of statute for all is a New Labour misconception based on benign equality that ignores the specifics of this situation.

reduce maintenance funds for living costs - Funds that are dispersed via means testing and geared towards support for low income families and that i would dispute.

The situation in Scotland where I studied my first degree greatly differs in the amount of maintenance loan offered, and the figures have altered since I studied, but here are the latest;

Money available from SAAS;
Non-income assessed maximum loan (parents earn over £58,000) -
Income assessed maximum loan (parents don't earn over £58,000) -
£5,067 (tiered up to)
Non-returned grants are paid but reduce the amount of loan you need to take out. Eligible for parents earning under £19,310 up to £34,195)
£2,640 (tiered up to)

Money available from finance England for studying in London;
Non-income assessed maximum loan
Income assessed maximum loan - tiered up to
£6,928 (tiered up to)
Non-returned grants are paid and reduce the amount of loan offered by 50p for every £1 of grant. Eligible for parents earning under £25,000 up to £50,000.
£2,906 (tiered up to)

From these you can ascertain that the maximum for low income families is fairly comparable, especially when you take into account the cost of living being cheaper in Scotland, but above the border the money drops pretty steeply for families earning more or not so steep below the border depending on what way you see it.

Based on my circumstances, I received £2,500 loan and I had a part time job earning roughly £5,000 a year. From my experience I had more than some, but we all found ways of living in those means, and it resulted in ingenious solutions of living, studying and enjoying ourselves. From what i've witnessed studying in London, where things are a lot more expensive, I have yet to experience the same level of thrift, concluding that we are being given enough money to accomodate a comfortable lifestyle that we have become acclimatised to whilst earning in our year out.

Introduce a Scottish style graduate fee (now abandoned by the Scottish government)) - This strangely appoints the fee with the issuing of a degree, the condition of not having to invest into the system at the outset omits any rigour from the consideration of studying at university in the first place. One wonders if passing is not statutory for certain professions, then massive factions of students could avoid fees by not finishing, and after the parents have got over missing their child's graduation, people will realise how little the piece of paper matters after all.

the chosen one, charge more tuition fees - The 'progressive' plans are bereft in any sense of direction in which to progress to? The benefactors of university education are the graduate, the state and the private sector through 'increased earning potential', taxes paid by higher earners and skilled and productive workforce respectively. Yet the current proposals assert more cost and therefore imply the benefits on the student. The party line is to state that the taxpayer is footing the bill, repaid over time by graduates*, which is such an idiotic premise that somehow tries to overt that what is being charged to the graduates. At a time not that long ago, the Conservatives issued the dictum that to solve the debts we must act early with strict fiscal programmes. It is a simple fact that the earlier you chip into a savings account the more you benefit through interest accumulation over time. So along with a vast amount of accumulated debt from fees and maintenance, why are we fed the contrary message - one easy to swallow in the short term - that it's all ok, we'll make you pay later*.

*with interest

Overall, my attitude is that a combination of all the above should be adopted, mitigating excessive disadvantages of each of the options, yet turning all the switches and dials of the machine make it more difficult to predict results and a harder sell to a wider incredulous public through it's incompatibility to simple explanation.

This video below was passed to me lately by Holly Wales that is pretty exemplary point about the status of universities position as providers of earnings and waining in their duty to enrich the pool of knowledge in our culture and history. If the changes do anything to the future of higher education it will be to exclude many people from studying but moreover it will extremely diminish avenues of study that offer research in our heritage and limit that study to those who can relinquish £40,000 with little promise of a commercial future. I am aware that attaining a degree is worthwhile for but I'm not sure the state has faith in the .

Regards the marching and the riots, I attended, marched, sang a few songs, did no damage and no harm. Oh and I got stuck in a kettle from til11:15pm. There was relatively little violence until the sun went down, when it escalated and was being taken out on the Treasury building and the swathes of riot police. I can't imagine that the damage was carried out solely by angry students, the police and press surely acknowledge the infiltration of people that seek violence above any cause, the images of the accused released days later do little to alter that assumption.

There are people in the police force on a lot of money that are paid so to deal with the position of high responsibility and I regard their exit strategy as slow and amateurish. I really lambast the process of having continuous failed attempts at aggressively controlling situations and the obligatory investigations that follow, and after the clandestine admissions of wrongdoing there lies no progress on policy, future events or regard for the police. There have been tests in Northern Ireland where police have coordinated supervision of Orange Marches with police dispersed along the crowds in simple uniforms providing successful results, encountering less incidents and of minor harm. Paradoxical solutions are difficult to sell but what happens when you take off the riot gear?

The BBC's stance has been very defensive on the side of the police and the royal family with stories of Alfie Meadows and Jody McIntyre largely interrupted for the violence taken by the police and the 'contact' encountered by Camilla through an (open!) window. I am not asking for a reversal of the stance of the press, just a little closer to impartiality that they advertise.

Photography from the day will soon be added to this post.

I will get back to posting about cool chairs and amateur photographs

Sunday, 12 December 2010


The last post got me looking at old photographs when i first bought my first analogue camera. Badly scanned but you get the picture.

for Patrick

Anti-nuclear weapons march, Glasgow, circa 2007

Saturday, 27 November 2010

the beautification of building components for climatic control

The easiest method of unraveling solutions to building habitable environments in any country is to look at how the locals built, or at least how they once built. Slow advances in construction and the limitations of pre-globalised economies mould the vernacular in a way that always allowed for climate control via local means. The new constructions of the twentieth century brought unparalleled scales and densities using imported materials (wherever the buildings may have been) that subsequently demand intensive ventilation, heating and air conditioning not helped by the modern preoccupation with transparency.

We are seeing a resurgence in the appropriation of vernacular elements as well as new methods of non-assisted control but these aren't always holistically designed and often bolt on products. Wind cowls, brise soleil and other such items often appear as composite in their physical addition as one could perceive their cohesive integration during the design process.

A recent applied technology project required our team to produce an aid storage facility in Hyderabad, Pakistan. One look at a picture from 1890 tells quite a lot about how they deal with the heat.

When making a windcatcher using the same set of parts and junctions as the main structure, a cohesive arrangement appears to emerge.

One should ask when the designers are going to start playing with these parts of buildings? Tom Dixon cowls? Ron Arad brise soleil? I joke, but the real task is for these to be integrated with the composition of all the other building elements, which is harder with the removal of services and sustainability design from the architects responsibility and into the hands of specialists. Specialists without our concerns.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

the best way to find out how something works

Last night i destroyed a book which felt in some way blasphemous, but it was in the name of discovering how books are constructed. This act was prompted by the inadequate resources found on the net, only finding awfully presented american websites and bookbinding equipment suppliers.

The book in question was The Trachtenberg Speed System of Basic Mathematics which was acquired from a trip around the house of the mole manof hackney, a man of local folklore, who once lived at 121 Mortimer Road at which he created an underground network of tunnels without any from of reason other than the extension of his wine cellar. Since then he has fled the house, been fined, the tunnels filled with concrete by the council and earlier this year he died. I would suggest to anyone to google him and I'm sure Ian Sinclair writes about him. Passing the house recently I noticed the roof has collapsed and will continue to fade from existence. Much like the book.

After crudely pulling various layers apart, I realised the intricacies of the objects would not reveal itself, so from then the forced decay proceeded through a more methodical removal and proved somewhat calming.

This new understanding will result in the production of a book.
Don't expect a novel, but expect.

Friday, 12 November 2010


I remember corresponding with Rachel Farricker - the editor of this new book, Pennine Lancashire Squared - about Neu Architects contribution as winner of the Bacup square, but i always assumed it would be confined to a small circulation and I have been thankfully corrected. Hopefully its inclusion in the RIBA bookstore will raise the presence of the competition and the practice. Go NEU!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

back in the day


At a talk at this years Serpentine Pavillion, this kid had the most inexhaustible interest in an injured bee and had no fear of letting it dance around in his hand, superpowers obviously! The little man proved to be pictured more than this years evidently photogenic pavillion.


film roll returns







Monday, 4 October 2010

Lonely perfect intruder

This melancholic box came around to check your security. You weren't home so he broke in!

So i'm gonna say it...

I propose that Zaha Hadid won the Stirling Prize because it was "her turn".

The title of the award winning building is to be one that "gives the greatest contribution to British architecture in that year". Initially I can't see how many foreign projects can have a vivid impact on the state of play back on this island, and results in the reading of the project through plans and a limited number of choreographed photos. I ask how much influence can that have on a young student or the average architect flicking through pages of the Architects Journal? Or whether it produces a valuable influence beyond the visual treat that can be used to foster seeds of thought back in Britain? Without visiting I would judge that it's not her best stirling entry, her transformative and directional formality I thought married to the BMW factory programme with effortless cooperation, but that it might be the last of her buildings completed in the heavy, shifting rectilinear family as the newer fluid methods have gained favour in her office.

Evidently Zaha thrives in our ocular-centric culture and she has been met warmly by an artistic community that see a tangible riot of expression in her forms that stir more in some people than the subtle wit of dutch rationalist brick details. My eyes are still swayed, but I find more interest in her small scale items. Their purity of her language shines and overrides my distaste for the ostentation of superfluous gestures and at times vapid programmes. Who knows what it teaches us that the most important building of the year is devoted to a collection that has yet to be even set into gestation. This is still an artefact of an era where high art and it's gestures are held in the highest regard, able to disregard social agendas, urban contexts and the boundaries of economic means.

A very closed circle appears to be taking shape in amongst the upper echelons of the architectural crowd. With awards, jury positions, serpentine pavilions and curation roles swapping to and fro like classroom notes amongst friends. This isn't to denounce their talent, my question is to ask whether that talent is so concentrated within the pool of the worlds young and established practitioners?

Amanda Bailieu belated in her blog the lack of overt voting or discussion between the judges or infact anyone in the programme featured on the BBC. Would it be the worst thing in the world to have an argument on TV? Where are the caricatures? Architecture is big enough to have violent opposing sides! There are heated critiques and debates in the colleges across the country yet there is polite fence sitting at the top? Do we need to invite Will Alsop to get things stirred up?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Designing for overt opportunities

AA series from HC Wang