A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method – Sir Banister Fletcher

October 20, 2014 Leave a comment

banfletch_cov 001Back in the mid 1980’s when I started learning to be an architect up in Leeds, before the days of the internet with its instant access to unlimited knowledge, the library was where you went to learn more about things that interested you…

Big enough to be exciting to a small town boy like me whilst still being small enough so that all your mates lived no more than 10 minutes walk away, Leeds was a most excellent city to be a student in.

The same couldn’t really be said for Leeds Polytechnic however. Underfunded and lacking those visionary leaders and teachers that set great institutions apart, it generally seemed happy with its lot and didn’t push the design envelope (or the students) too far.

Consequently the architecture library (or more specifically section 720 if I remember the Dewey Decimal system correctly) was disappointingly thin, sadly lacking anything published after about 1975… and the few new/ contemporary books the library had were booked out all term by those that got there first..

Still there was one old book that caught my attention, even if it didn’t really help develop my design skills or understanding of Neo-Rationalism, and that was A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method by the marvelously named Sir Banister Fletcher.

Initially published in 1896, it was a huge tour de force, whose stated aim was to:

“…display clearly the characteristic features of the architecture of each country by comparing the buildings of each period and by giving due prominence to the influences – geographical, geological, climatic, religious, social and historical which have contributed to the formation of particular styles, and which hitherto have not been emphasised systematically in presenting the story of architectural development. The Tree of architecture will help the reader to realise the importance of these influences and the gradual evolution of the various styles.”

tree 001Containing literally hundreds of beautiful line drawings and grainy b&w photos, it became the standard reference text for architectural historians in the first half of last century and I can clearly remember tracing over some of the drawings for various history essay submissions (oh how the tutors must have sniggered, as yet another student tries to pass off achingly familiar drawings as their own…)

Several years ago I came across a Twelfth Edition from 1946 in a local book fair and so for the princely sum of £8, I could once again marvel at the quality of the drawings and wonder at the amount of time and effort that must have gone into this excellent tome…

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banflectch_5 001This last image is from the very back of the book and gives you an idea of how up to date the schemes and visuals were for a student hungry to know more about Modernism, and if more evidence were needed, I’ve just checked through the index and even in the 12th edition, there is still no mention of Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright or Walter Gropius…

Still, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed perusing the yellowed pages of this wonderful old book for today’s post. Well worth hunting down a copy if you have an interest in both architectural history and penmanship…. In fact I’ve just learned that there was a 20th edition/ 100th anniversary version updated by Dan Cruikshank published back in 1996. Its available here on Amazon, but at £145, I’d click over to an online second hand book shop, and see what they’ve got….

Alan Bean: Moon Dust in every Painting…

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment

book jacketI’ve been re-reading Andrew Smith’s excellent book, Moon Dust. Published about 10 years ago it’s an absorbing series of tales that came out of Smith visiting, talking to and recording the thoughts of the last 9 people to ever have walked upon the surface of the Moon. Forty years after the moon landings, how did the momentous events of that period shape their lives once they got back and realised they were never going to top those feelings again…

Over the two and a half year period from July 1969 to December 1972, there were 7 flights to the moon, from Apollo 11 to Apollo 17. Apollo 13 famously didn’t make it due to problems with exploding oxygen tanks, which means that 12 men have left their boot prints in the lunar dust.

At the time the book was written, three of these men, Conrad, Irwin & Shepard had passed away leaving only 9. (To this list we now need to add Armstrong who died in 2012)

I’ve made this quick table of the astronauts that made the journey. There are a surprising number of names that are unfamiliar, considering what they achieved, the CM pilots who never reached the moon’s surface, especially so.

Apollo Flights copyThe book is truly fascinating, touching on the highs and lows, the expectations and the disappointments, the marriage breakdowns, the back stabbing, the hierarchy within NASA, the demeaning appearances at conventions for the less well known, the voices from god, the new age beliefs and ultimately asks each man, where they felt they were at the turn of the 21st century, mentally, physically and spiritually…

I can recommend it thoroughly.

NightLaunch 1975One name that has stuck with me is that of Alan Bean. The fourth man to stand on the moon, his post moonwalk journey seems to have been both less traumatic and less obvious that the others.

Staying on at NASA, he lived in Skylab for 56 days over the summer of 1975, was a key member of the joint US/ Russian Soyuz programme before leaving NASA in 1981 to become a full time professional artist.

Attending art night classes whilst on astronaut training, his early work (Night Launch above from 1975) had to my eyes at least, genuine promise, with its expressionistic plumes of exhaust smoke from the jet engines creating a real sense of power.

beanToolsHowever since the early 80’s Bean has developed a singular visual style that focuses solely on the limited amount of time (in his case less than 4 hours) that he and the others spent on the moon, endlessly reinterpreting and deconstructing his memories, sometimes painting exactly the same scene 6, 7, 8 times slightly altering the colours or minutely correcting details in order to capture the essence of the experience…

Bean begins by painting the canvas (or more usually a solid backboard) with a thick paste which he then imprints with a variety of devices especially moon boots and tools he brought back from his trip. He also sticks into the paste small cut offs from the various badges and patches that were sewn onto his space suit. These are ingrained with fine grains of moon dust which then become part of the painting. He also uses specially commissioned scale models to help him “meticulously construct” the desired view and get the lighting correct..

The results I would suggest are mixed…

Some are pretty good like the following four, which capture some of the feelings of what it must have felt like to be so far from home in such an alien landscape…





Examples of the same view done over and over with slight variations in colour and detail…

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Some works however are less impressive, as Bean seems to rely too heavily on his imprinting techniques to carry his vision across…


And others are just bizarre.. Oddly these seem to be the ones where he deviates from what happened and relies more on his imagination…



Still Alan Bean comes across as a contented man in Andrew Smith’s book, which is more than can be said of the other astronauts he meets, many of whom struggled to come to terms with Life after Lunar. And why not, most of Bean’s work is sold as soon as it’s finished for pretty big bucks. There are a few originals available here if you fancy one. Prices start from around $70K. The cheesy (and not unsurprisingly unsold in my book) flag and gold olive leaf one above will set you back nearly $450K…

There’s also a gallery of all Alan Bean’s paintings here where I’ve taken all of the images for this post from.

A Name Check in ArchDaily: Manchester Modernist Magazine…

October 8, 2014 Leave a comment

543433dbc07a8049f5000127_review-the-modernist-12-departed_modernist_12_departed_cover_lge-1-530x748ArchDaily have just published an article praising the ever excellent Manchester Modernist, a quarterly architecture and design magazine that has been good enough to publish a number of my submissions over the last couple of years.

I won’t go on about it too much, blowing my own trumpet so to speak, but to say I’m well chuffed would be something of an understatement, especially as I get a name check and they describe my piece on Post War Crematoria as “uplifting”…

The full article can be found here and you can get to the Manchester Modernist pages to buy a copy of the magazine here

Better still, why not subscribe and get several copies and a stylish metal badge? Use this link for full details via the crowd funding page at IndieGoGo.

(and yes I know I originally said it was in Dezeen, but I got all excited and didn’t read the banner properly…)

Lazy Post No. 22 : 1010 (Street Artist)

October 3, 2014 Leave a comment

A very quick and lazy post today (I might come back to this guy when I have a bit more time).

1010 is a German street artist based in Hamburg. He’s produced many styles of street art over the years but for the 2 or 3 has been creating these fantastic 3 dimensional voids.

The overriding feeling I have looking at these shapes, is how wonderful it would be to see one in the flesh, so to speak. The effect of depth that these images convey is hugely impressive, and its only little things like the area of missing render cutting across the triangle in the image below, that belies the fact that the wall is flat.

Very clever indeed…







The Odd Couple… (There’s hope for us all)

September 23, 2014 1 comment

Jaz and BoyI was sent this photo via Facebook yesterday (cheers Doug). You may have seen it yourself, but I’ve been thinking about the implications of it all day…

Two middle aged men taking a happy selfie. Whats so remarkable about that? And who are they anyway?

On the right you might just recognise the great Jaz Coleman, scary doomonger and front man from one of my all time favorite bands, Killing Joke.

And his new best mate? Well it’s none other than…. Boy George.

Age does strange and not always welcome things to people, but this most excellent image fills me with hope. If the passing of time has resulted in these two seemingly disparate characters becoming friends, then surely anything is possible…

Grayson Perry : Playing to the Gallery…

September 18, 2014 1 comment

indexReaders of these pages will know that I’m a bit of a fan of our most famous Transvestite Potter

Well we went to see him give a talk at The Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday night and very entertaining he was too… It was an hour long presentation essentially promoting his new book “Playing to the Gallery”, a copy of which was thoughtfully included in the ticket price and which I’m reading at the moment.

Subtitled “Helping contemporary art in its struggle to be understood”, it continues the themes of his recent Reith Lectures and considers such important issues as what is an artist, does art matter and that most pernicious of questions, whose judgement counts in assessing whether it’s good or bad…

Grayson suggests there are 15 key points that all artists might think about as they set out on their chosen path, including turning up on time, making mistakes, being angry and putting in the hours. The precariousness of his position as a successful and wealthy artist lampooning his own profession, is not lost on Perry and other than a little dig at Norman Foster for hanging one of his tapestries in a  garage, he was careful not to be critical of anyone specific, instead highlighting some relatively unknown artists as inspiration and pointing out what the internet tells us about culture… (try typing “art” into Google images and see what comes up..)

Mr Perry did not disappoint in his choice of clothing for the talk either, as he bounded onto the stage in a suitably over the top decorated pink clown suit with yellow boots and purple pig tales…

Photography was banned but I, like a few others (given away by tell tale, back lit screens suddenly flaring out in the darkness of the auditorium) managed to snap a couple of shots. The one below is so poor however, that I’m hoping that neither Grayson nor the Southbank will be in touch instructing me to take it down…



An Understandable Reaction…

September 9, 2014 1 comment

I don’t normally bother forwarding this kind of internet meme thing, but this made me laugh out loud first time I saw it, and I’m still chuckling now 20 minutes later…

I can think of a thousand other tunes that would benefit from this kind of direct action…



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