PoohTown by Nick Elias (RIBA Silver Medal winner 2014)

December 14, 2014 Leave a comment

3627_03164510784Last week the The Royal Institute of British Architects announced its annual prizes. The Silver Medal is awarded to the best Part 2/ Diploma student project submitted from all the University courses in the country.

This years winner is called PoohTown and is the creation of Nick Elias from University College here in London.

And before you think ergh, pooh! what a horrid name for a place to live, note the use of a capital letter. This beautifully presented and thought provoking project takes its inspiration from Winnie the Pooh and intriguingly, the negative effect that the “happy” stories had on AA Milne’s real life son, Christopher Robin.

Throw in a dash of some of the more usual architectural project generators such as the changing nature of cities (in this case Slough), the death of industry, social exclusion, the juxtaposition of the real and imagined, and the challenge of designing for the emotions, and the result is a scheme that suggests how a declining city might be able to capitalise on an imagined economy of happiness to ensure its residents live happily ever after…

Heady stuff indeed, but Nick’s ideas, drawings, imagination and impressively consistent presentational skills are more than up to the task he set himself. Be prepared for honey, subtly hidden characters from 100 Acre Wood and smiling people from a long forgotten era…

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And despite not being able to understand everything that is offered in these dense and beautiful drawings, for sheer effort alone, Nick is without doubt a worthy winner in my opinion. How I would love to have seen the originals.

One final thought. As is often the case with student architectural projects, I’m not sure exactly how this project would have been marked against the building, programme and structural requirements that my work was “back in the day”, and how much it will help him get a job designing the houses, museums and offices that architects get paid to do.

But that’s just me being cynical and negative. My guess is that with imagination and skills as evident as these, Nick will easily manage to find his way and is more than likely a name to keep an eye on, in whatever he chooses to do…

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Joseph’s Yard: Charles Keeping…

December 3, 2014 Leave a comment

_MG_9552My new job finds me in Spitalfields, an area I know pretty well from evenings and weekends spent there experiencing its undoubted charms for the last 20 years or so, but it’s interesting being able to now discover its lunchtime delights… Not the least of which are more varieties of food than you could ever imagine, a huge second hand vinyl market every third (I think) Friday and an even bigger second hand/ tat  market… Which is where for the princely sum of £1, I came across this rather marvelous little book… Written and illustrated by Charles Keeping and published in 1969, its the simple story of a boy whose back yard is barren and full of rusty old junk. One day he answers the call of the rag and bone man and swaps the iron junk for a plant… _MG_9556 After pulling up a stone and digging the plant into the dirt, Joseph watches it grow and then die back in the winter only to see it bloom again the following spring, encouraging cats, birds and insects to all come to spend time with Joseph in his yard… _MG_9567 Maybe not quite a classic, but it was for kids and apart from Joseph’s teeth (which are a tad disconcerting in a number of instances) it’s the glorious illustrations that really make the book for me. Executed in a riot of different styles and patterns, every page is dense with colour and texture, almost completely overpowering the simplicity of the story at times, but leaving a lasting impression all the same… Charles Keeping is sadly no longer with us, but I came across this site managed by his wife, dedicated to his many wonderful book illustrations and from where I’ve borrowed these images (as our scanners bust at the moment…) _MG_9575 _MG_9572 _MG_9571 _MG_9566 _MG_9570

Lacaton & Vassal: FRAC in Dunkerque…

November 27, 2014 2 comments

P1080483Last weekend and rather last minute, we got up early, drove down to Folkestone, boarded Le Shuttle to cross the channel and headed off to Dunkerque.

We’d initially planned to go earlier in the year. Unluckily for us however, we’d opted for the ferry and chosen that weekend in the middle of February when violent storms lashed the south coast, cancelling crossings and causing long delays on the roads… So this time we decided to go underwater and avoid any potential weather problems.

Dunkerque is a nice enough place with amazingly long, clean beaches, an impressive cathedral, interesting dockland areas and the moving legacy of its role in World War Two. On the down side, Sunday’s wet weather and the town’s total inability to offer us a single open shop to stay dry in, made us wish we’d booked an earlier train home and did much to ensure we’re unlikely to go back.

Walking along wind swept beaches aside, the main reason for choosing Dunkerque, was to visit the recently opened FRAC building by the Parisian practice of Lacaton & Vassall, and what treat it was too…

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FRAC is a regional contemporary art fund and the northern region needed a new home. So it was in the tradition of Grand Projects that the French are rightly famed and admired for, that the apparently largest possible option was chosen…

Halle AP2 is the rather perfunctory name of the huge existing building. Historically used for boat and ship building (although empty and unused in recent times) and despite its size, slightly lost in the seemingly endless docklands, Lacaton & Vassal’s decision to keep this magnificent space exactly as found is a fantastically generous move, creating a space not unlike the Tate Turbine hall, but in somewhere akin to Folkestone…

The new programme of works (galleries, a cafe, workshops, a cinema and other function spaces) are all housed in an adjacent building that visually occupies the same volume as the existing, and adopts the same shape, but is finished in a thin and translucent skin compared to the massive envelope of the existing.

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Inside the finishes are industrial and beautifully made. Through the use of concrete, prefabricated steel, glass and inflatable translucent panels, the architects have created an impressive building, at once respectful of the existing and its industrial past whilst still being utterly contemporary.

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Unfinished at the time of our visit was a bridge linking the gallery directly to the beach, another big gesture that will allow visitors to avoid the rather barren acres of Dunkerque’s empty docklands.

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Talking of visitors, when we were there, we virtually had the place to ourselves. I’ve no idea know how the economics of such an ambitious scheme as this work, but hopefully more people will go in the summer…

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The only slight disappointment was the contents of the galleries. Contemporary art will always be a challenging thing, but there’s usually something that makes you stop and think. Not so with the exhibitions we saw, which were universally derivative and thin.

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So whilst the current state of French contemporary art leaves much to be desired in my opinion, its architecture appears healthy and exciting, and very safe in the hands of Anne Lacaton & Jean-Philippe Vassal.

More here on Dezeen…

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John Digweed : Transitions….

November 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Well chuffed that John Digweed chose a graphic we made and sent to him a few weeks ago, for his current Transitions show, and that 343 other people like it. It’s totally made our day…

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Reso Temjin

November 11, 2014 Leave a comment

square-600The odd couplet of words that make up the title of this post will mean little to most people, but since my discovery of this amazing record a month or so ago, I’ve listened to virtually nothing else and its time to spread the word…

Originally released back in 2009, this mind blowing collection of tunes is everything electronic music (and in Reso’s case dub step) can be; beautifully crafted, wildly eclectic, endlessly imaginative and perfectly sequenced…

It was whilst I was helping my friend Danny Kudos reorganise parts of his warehouse, that I came across this wonderful cover in a delivery from Civil Music, a label who had recently entrusted their distribution needs to the Kudos Team.

The artwork alone would have been reason enough for me to find out more, but I’d heard the guys in the warehouse talking about the artists on the Civil Music label, and with intriguing names like Reso, Om Unit and Ital Tek, I had to find out more…

Reso is Alex Melia, a UK based producer who “blends heightened technological futurism with dancefloor prowess to create a densely cinematic musical universe” and “On Temjin wobble, hypercrunk, breaks, wonky, hip-hop and D n B all receive the treatment. Reso’s deep musicality, incredible skill, intricate programming and wildly diverse references place him at the peak of a new breed of electronic producers.”

The above quotes are taken from Reso’s label pages here and I would struggle to put it better myself (although I have to admit I’m not exactly clear what hypercrunk and wonky sound like…)

Anyway see what you think. Like much of the music I seem to be drawn to, it’s not easy listening and certainly won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but the sounds on this record open up whole new worlds of sonic possibility. I never thought I’d find a collection of tracks that so effortlessly channeled the spirits of Daft Punk, Amon Tobin, Andy C & Ram Records, LTJ Bukem, Aphex Twin and Tangerine Dream, to such stunning effect… Check out Hyperglide at about 3 minutes in for an awesome analog synth solo straight out 1973…

I’ll finish with more fine covers from some of Reso’s other records, a man who obviously has similar sci-fi tastes to my own…

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William Mitchell wins 2014 Concrete Society Award.

November 4, 2014 Leave a comment

unnamed_trimMy good friend William Mitchell, sculptor, raconteur and all round legend, recently dug out his bow tie and headed off with his lovely wife Joy to be given an award in recognition of his many artistic achievements.

Sponsored by the British Precast Concrete Federation, this years annual prize for Creativity in Concrete was awarded to Bill in recognition of his lifetime’s commitment to producing and promoting concrete as a medium for making wonderful things.

Bill’s name joins the illustrious list of previous winners of the award, including Jorn Utzorn and David Chipperfield and is further proof of the renewed interest in the work and artistic contribution of this under appreciated genius.

So congratulations Bill, I’m very, very pleased for you and happy that others recognise and think as much of your work as I do. The snowball continues to gain speed and kudos (finally…)

For more information about William Mitchell, start by typing his name into the search bar at the top right of this blog, and take inspiration from the images of his wonderful work you find there…

October Roundup : Music & Art, Swearing & Skating, Poppies & Birthdays…

November 2, 2014 2 comments

What with one thing and another (mainly updating my portfolio, applying for and getting a new job, a nerve wracking experience that I haven’t been through for about 9 years) I’ve not had the chance to write much recently, which is a shame as we’ve done some excellent things together this last month. So what better excuse for a mini roundup as a way of recording them all…

20141004_203121_aFirstly there was our annual trip to Bedrock land to hear the mighty John Digweed spinning his tunes into the early hours. This year though, as he was promoting his rather excellent Traveler album there was a launch party at Plan B in Brixton and we, along with surprisingly few others, had the pleasure of a private play through.

The three fine fellows in the photo are JD himself, his musical accomplice Nick Muir and the Bedrock label manger Scott Dawson. Middle aged blokes in black, proper pop stars or what?..

Taking of middle aged blokes, we went to see Underworld at the Royal Festival Hall, playing their seminal album dubnobasswithmyheadman from start to finish, plus all the other tracks from that early 90’s that so fired me up at the time, Spikee and Rez sounded particularly wonderful. I got all a bit over excited and sang along loudly to most of the tunes most of the time, so apologies to M, D and A for that, but they all knew how much much this music means to me when they agreed to accompany me…

Easily one of the best gigs I’ve been to for ages…

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Then we were lucky enough to be invited to the private view of Lucy McLauchlan’s new show at the Lazarides Gallery. 20141013_210137 copyLucy is a truly excellent and gifted young artist whose immediately recognisable work moves effortlessly from the street to a gallery. There was an interesting selection of new work based around bark textures and florescent colours, however it was this gridded arrangement of painted timber panels with her trademark swirls and lines that was particularly satisfying.

Lucy had just returned from China where she’d been invited to create a mural high above the streets of central Guangzhou. Check out the video below for a little taster. How on earth she so effectively translates the scale of her work from sketch book to such gargantuan proportions is beyond me, and to be doing it that high up off the ground and from a wobbly cherry picker… I bet they don’t teach you that in College…

There was also a little after show party at the newly opening Mondrian Hotel at Sea Containers House on the South Bank which topped the evening off very nicely, with stunning views over the river (shame it was raining so hard though). I wrote about Sea Containers House several years ago actually when it was empty and being used as a giant advertising hoarding, so its good to see that it’s finally being occupied again. (Photo stolen from Dan, mine was rubbish…)

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A trip to the hidden and graffiti soaked under crofts of Waterloo to see my friend’s son skateboarding was the only excuse we needed to visit the House of Vans, and what an amazing place it is. Buried deep below the station platforms, carved out of impressive Victorian brick arches, two skate areas, a bar, a cinema, a gallery space, a club space and a rather excellent cafe (the BEST scrambled eggs on sourdough I’ve had in many years and only £4..).

No idea how long it plans to be there, but with such excellent and affordable food and free skate sessions, I should go see it quick before someone at Vans realises the maths don’t work…

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The Modern Toss exhibition in Shoreditch was small but good fun. Silliness elevated to art but done with so much swearing that you can’t help but be impressed. The same could not be said for the The Lego exhibition in Brick Lane however, which was very average and not worth paying to see.20141006_145125_b The tag line The Art of the Brick is easily the misnomer of the year. Lots of bricks, f*ck all art (as the Modern Toss boys might describe it…).

We’ve been several times over the last couple of months to the field of ceramic poppies at The Tower of London, but now it’s finally complete, it really is quite something to behold.

Repetitive art on a large scale is almost always impressive (Ai Wei Wei at the Tate for example or Anthony Gormley’s Field for the British Isles) and with Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, Paul Cummins has undoubtedly created a very powerful installation to mark 100 years since the start of WW1 and to remember the 888,246 British soldiers who lost their lives during the conflict.

(And yes I did read Johnathon Jones’s piece in the Guardian, and yes he does make some very valid points about not addressing the realities of the war, but I would still contend that this work is both appropriate and moving, especially when you see it first hand. Making the visual connection that each of the poppies represents a life lost, can’t fail to make you stop and think, and the work certainly deserves its place in the Remembrance .)

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And then finally at the end of October, my lovely girlfriend’s birthday celebrations, which once again she managed to stretch out for nearly a whole week… Happy Birthday And, love you lots xx.

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So all in all a most excellent month, busy and full of stuff… Which of course is why we live in London, and why I love this city.

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