Archive for October, 2011

The Iron Man, Laura Carlin

October 31, 2011 2 comments

We were at the V&A this weekend as there were several things on that we felt were worth a look…

Firstly (only as it’s the quickest to write up) is this years winner of the V&A Book Illustration Awards which quite rightly in my opinion went to Laura Carlin for her very fine illustrations of Ted Hughes’s Classic 1968 story The Iron Man. It’s a book I know very well as I was given it as a child and more recently bought Tom Gauld’s excellently illustrated version.

Laura Carlin described being asked to illustrate the book as a dream commission and to my eyes she obviously rose to the task. I think her wonderfully evocative watercolour drawings with their 1950’s/ 60’s styling work very well with the mood of the story.

See what you think…


Jimmy Savile

October 30, 2011 2 comments

ADDENDUM – Nov 2012

I wrote this post over a year ago just after Savile died. Obviously in light of all the recent revelations, Savile is now a figure of hatred with his reputation in tatters, and if he is guilty of only a quarter of the things he’s accused of, then that this is exactly as it should be.

I’ve re-read this post several times over the last few weeks, and after much consideration I have decided to let the text stand unchanged, as the thrust of the piece is based on fact and not conjecture.


So the inventor of DJ’ing has died at the age of 84….

A bold claim I know (considering he latterly displayed such eccentric tendencies) but one that has been forwarded by many writers on the subject…

Take this excerpt from “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life”, Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton’s definitive (and well worth reading) 1999 book about the birth and rise of the superstar DJ…

“The revolutionary concept of dancing to records played by a disc jockey was born not in New York, not even in London or Paris, but in the town of Otley, West Yorkshire. Here in a room above a working men’s club we find the very first example of the club DJ.

It was in Otley that an eccentric young entrepreneur with a deep love of American Swing decided he would like to play his collection of records publicly. In the US the DJ didn’t come out from behind the radio until the fifties, and while some of Europe’s pre-war clubs moved to records, these were played by the patrons, not a DJ. All this lends further credence to the surprising claims of a man who is probably the great-grandfather of today’s DJ – Jimmy Savile”.

Brewster and Broughton go on to tell the story of a young man pensioned out of the army with back injuries, who first played records publicly in 1943 and who subsequently commissioned the Westrex  company to build him a proper disco system with the revolutionary idea of having two turntables to reduce the gaps between records… This albeit rudimentary system had its first public outing in Ilford, Yorkshire ….. in 1946.

To someone my age, Savile is synonymous with bad track suits, even badder hair, big cigars, seemingly endless charity runs and Jim’ll Fix It medallions (and yes I did write in hoping to get one, I wanted to meet the band Genesis…)

All of which, if you saw the Louis Theroux programme of a few years ago, seemed to hide a sad and complex character that always assumed there was a camera pointed towards him and that never got over the death of his mother.

Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile, OBE, KCSG (31 October 1926 – 29 October 2011)

Italian Doorways

October 30, 2011 Leave a comment

We had the great pleasure to be in Italy recently at our friends wonderful Tuscan Wedding.

We’ve been to Tuscany a couple of times before and each visit always leaves me marvelling at the timeless wonder and beauty of the little hilltop villages to the south of Pisa. Other than the odd car crawling past on the narrow roads, they seem to be almost from a different era, stuck in some enduring, parallel time line. How they manage to survive so apparently untainted by the 21st Century (at least from the outside) is a complete mystery to a committed city dweller like me…

One thing that really stood out for me this trip, were the wonderful doorways and entrances that seemed to be around every corner…

Thresholds and the idea of entering and crossing from one space to another is such an important aspect of Architecture and Urban Design, and I’ve always been fascinated by the apparent simplicity of a door and frame in an opening, as together they represent so much more that what they physically are… security, promise, intrepidation, excitement, adventure…

Anyway enough of the thinking… These are just a few of the doorways that caught my attention in the village of Morrona, where the almost wilful lack of effort to maintain some of them I would argue, only adds to their appeal…

Where is Chiho Aoshima?

October 14, 2011 3 comments

If you live in London and travel on the Piccadilly line at all, you may remember a few years back there was a wonderful installation at Gloucester Road Underground Station (This rather good montage is by Owen Billcliffe)

Entitled City Glow, Mountain Whisper, it was designed and created by Chiho Aoshima, a young self taught Japanese artist who takes inspiration as much from traditional Japanese scroll paintings as she does from animé, creating brightly coloured landscapes populated by full of zombies, teenage girls and ghosts…

Chiho produces her work mostly via computer, creating large scale images that often form part of a larger installation (as at Gloucester Road). She describes her work as feeling “like strands of my thoughts that have flown around the universe before coming back to materialize”.

Despite some seemingly quite large scale exhibitions in America, Canada and here in the UK, I must say I’m struggling to find anything on line about her or her work after 2008…

I hope this means that nothing has happened to her, the world needs more dreamers that can produce work as beautiful as this……

(NB: all or some of the following images are copyright and have been borrowed from here … )

Zaha Hadid, The World Monuments Fund & British Brutalism…

October 11, 2011 1 comment

2010 and 2011 have undoubtedly been good years for Ms. Hadid, as after many years of receiving little or no recognition in her adopted home country, she has recently been crowned undisputed Queen of the Stirling Prize, winning for the second year running with her Evelyn Grace Academy down in Brixton.

Ordinarily I would applaud such a decision. She is after all unquestionably one of our greatest living architects with an enviable ability to create dynamic and contemporary spaces with consummate ease.  Her list of recent successes includes last year’s Stirling Prize winner the MAXXI Museum in Rome, The amazing London Aquatics Centre, The Guangzhou Opera House and the Riverside Museum in Glasgow.

This year however I felt the decision of the Stirling Prize Judges was somewhat misguided. To me the obvious winner was Michael Hopkins’s velodrome over in Stratford. A triumph of materials, scale and detailing, it is without doubt one of the most elegant buildings to have been completed in the UK over the last few years.

Unfortunately I haven’t managed to get to the velodrome yet, but earlier this year I made the trip to Brixton to have a look at Zaha’s school and I was honestly shocked at how fortified it seemed, surrounded as it is by concrete walls and multiple layers of 8ft high close link, steel fencing. Very difficult from street level to get a feel for the building beyond. It’s interesting I think, to note that almost every single publicity photo of the place has been taken from within the grounds of the school, hence avoiding the security fencing. The image at the top of this post is about the only “beyond the gates” one I could find and is taken from a high vantage point to minimise the fencing.

Now I know that Brixton has something of a reputation, and as an architect I know that security requirements are not something we can ordinarily do much about, but I am surprised that someone of Zaha’s skill didn’t attempt to reduce the impact of the fencing, intensifying as it does to the overall feeling of separation and containment. And it’s this detachment and lack of connection to the street and the surrounding environment that I feel is the weakest aspect of the scheme and the reason that it shouldn’t have won the Stirling Prize…

Which leads to me to the second half of this post which is the recent welcome announcement from the World Monuments Fund that a number of key British buildings from the much derided Brutalist Movement have been added to the watch list of “endangered” structures.

Preston Bus Garage (Keith Ingham and Charles Wilson of BDP – 1969), Birmingham Library (John Maddin – 1974) and the various elements that make up the Southbank Centre (Lasdun/Herron/LCC Architects et al/ 1960’s & 70’s) have STILL not received listed status, and indeed the bus station and the library are both scheduled for demolition. (I actually quite like Mecanoo’s new Birmingham library, but that’s a different matter and I don’t want to get distracted…)

The term Brutalism was coined by the Smithson’s in the early 1950’s from the French phrase “breton brut” (or raw concrete in English) and is generally used to describe large, dominating structures which are usually accused of having little regard or thought for their existing context. This was undoubtedly true for a large number of structures put up throughout the 60′ and 70’s, whose construction and design it could be argued, were fatally compromised by either a lack of understanding of the building form or because one too many cuts were made to an already reduced budget.

Large scale social housing projects particularly suffered. Seen by many as the panacea to the post war housing crisis, they were flung up at an alarming rate with little regard to either the local historic or more tellingly perhaps, the wider social context in which they were planned. The basic idea for large scale blocks of housing as espoused by the socially progressive Brutalist’s I would argue is sound and had worked very well on the continent for many years prior tot the 1960’s. . The problem with much of this construction (and our weather has much to do with this of course) is that concrete was seen by many as a perfect material, easy to model and virtually indestructible and I would suggest that it was this aspect that led to most large housing estates being completely ignored when it came to maintenance budgets. A lack of care, post construction I would argue is as much to blame for their apparent failure as a lack of thought and budget, pre construction.

Civic and public buildings generally fared rather better however and there are some fine examples of British Brutalist architecture throughout the country, and especially on University campuses and particularly Leeds University which I remember with great fondness from my time there, walking along Red Route (supposedly the longest corridor in Europe at that time) admiring the acres and acres of beautiful concrete…

All of these are worthy examples in their own right and every effort should be made wherever possible to keep them and reintegrate them into the urban fabric. It would be a real shame if in 10 years time, our built environment contained nothing but well mannered steel and glass office blocks and anodyne little brick and render houses. Surely there’s room for the odd “ugly” thing every now and again…

Yes or No?

October 11, 2011 Leave a comment

(Yes, obviously….)

Bjork – Biophilia

October 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Bjork’s new LP is out today.. it’s called Biophilia. I’ve been listening to it on Spotify this morning, and it’s pretty good actually. A bit odd in places maybe, but full of her idiosyncratic sounds and vocals. I would say it’s definitely a Marmite kind of thing: either love it or hate it but I suspect there’ll be few occupying the middle “I’m not sure/ it’s alright” ground…

The intriguing cover for Biophilia continues to chart Bjork’s journey through the fringes of style and/or sanity… big red afro wigs, metal clothes and spangly lights are all in evidence…

I’ve quickly grabbed all her studio album covers and arranged them in chronological order to better assess her ongoing journey towards…. something… enlightenment possibly? From the simple black and white portrait of 1993’s Debut, through an increasingly exaggerated array of stylings and images, until for 2007’s Volta, she appeared to be wearing a big multicoloured plastic chicken suit…

On a more serious note, this album is the one of the first to be made available as an interactive IPad App… Not sure exactly what that entails yet, but it looks like you’ll be able to interact with and explore some of the various themes and sounds of the project, through videos, specially designed sequences and games. I think there’s even an opportunity to remix and/or rework some of the tunes….

If only I had an IPad, I would definitely be interested in that…..

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