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Prometheus

April 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Wong sent me this the other day… it’s the trailer for the new Alien film…

Its called Prometheus and it’s directed by Ridley Scott who also directed the first (and in my opinion the best) of the four previous films.

Prometheus started out life as a prequel to Alien, however the original storyline was reworked during development so that it became a separate, stand alone thing, sharing “strands of Alien’s DNA” (as Scott has said) and taking place in the same universe, but not being directly connected to Ripley, The Nostromo, Fury 161 and any of the other people and events we know and love in Aliens 1 to 4…

From the trailer above, I have to say that it looks quite promising and being the sad Sci Fi geeks that both me and Wong are, we’re getting rather excited about going to see the film when it opens here in London at the beginning of June. OK, the story about finding star patterns and hidden messages from unconnected ancient human civilisations is, on the face of it surprisingly derivative for someone of Ridley Scott’s calibre (Erich von Daniken anyone?) but the CGI space craft and technology look truly amazing. I’m also intrigued to see the inclusion of the huge, dead Pilot who may or may not have been the first victim of our favourite Xenomorph Aliens…

Fingers crossed that all this CGI is used to illustrate the narrative, rather than the other way around. I’ve always liked this about the Alien films… that they feel like they were shot on an actual set rather than on a green screen, for me this adds significantly to the claustrophobia of each installment…

The only down side to this new film is that from what I can tell, the wonderful Sigourney Weaver will play no part in it… An Alien without Sigourney is something I thought I would never have to consider and it will definitely take some getting used to.

Still, Noomi Rapace is in the new one and although she denies it online, I guess she will take on the role of the strong, lead female character that will attempt to fill the huge space left by Ellen Ripley…

Other than the footnote below, I’ll finish with some pictures of the great woman herself …. young and fresh faced in Alien (1979) (if only she knew what would happen to her over the next 200 years); dirty and armed to the teeth in Aliens (1986); shaven headed and terrifyingly close to her nemesis in Alien 3 (1992) and finally as the leather clad hybrid, that prowled through Alien Resurrection (1997)

One final thing .. this is a link to a rather excellent viral ad campaign that started doing the rounds in February. It is the website of Weyland Industries and initially focuses on their newest product, David 8 (a cybernetic android played by Michael Fassbender in the film).. It is brilliant and will suck up much of your time if you let it, trying to find all the strands and where they lead..

63 Harley Street, London W1…

April 25, 2012 15 comments

Damn..

I’m disappointed that me & And missed the opportunity to buy this beautiful Art Deco house that was up for sale in January this year…

At £6,950,000, I think it would have been a bit of a bargain… nine bedrooms, a reception area that just about covers the whole of the ground floor, a lift, two roof terraces, at least three kitchens and 5 bathrooms, not to mention a Harley Street address and Grade II Listed Status.

Designed by Edmund Wimperis, William Begg Simpson & Leonard Rome Guthrie and completed in 1934, the commission for a celebrated eye surgeon and his wife (the Blue Plaque on the front wall commemorates one “Sir Stewart Duke-Elder”) was for a suite of easily accessible, purpose-built consulting rooms with a family residence and servants quarters spread across the rest of the space.

The design of the building was a modern take on the traditional town house and the interior featured specially designed built-in furniture, panelling, and lighting fittings. The building has been empty for at least the last 5 years, however at the end of last year it was granted planning permission for change of use to a solely residential building, hence the sale…

The plans are pretty interesting, full of Art Deco curves and features, and although there appears to be no garden, set backs and internal courtyards to the rear, would have meant that the interiors would have been very bright. I particularly like the arrangements around the second consulting room (now a bedroom) at first floor level. Originally the domain of Mrs Duke Elder (or Lady Phyllis to her society chums and also a highly regarded ophthalmologist), the room is reached via a rather fine elliptical stair in the rear hallway that leads past an open terrace with a wonderful circular roof light over the Masters surgery below…

So, despite the estate agents particulars suggesting the property was now in need of “full refurbishment” I still think, that if I did have a spare £7M lying around (plus at least another £1M to do it up), I would have been very tempted to buy this rather splendid house in the centre of town… (no idea where we’d put the car though…)

There is more about the house and its owners here if you’re interested…

Elephants in Greenwich and deceptive columns….

April 24, 2012 Leave a comment

I forgot to put these photos up…

And and I went for a bike ride a couple of weekends ago and as we took a short cut through the grounds of Greenwich University we came across this magnificent animal… A 4m+ high elephant with a castle on his back.. all made entirely out of plastic and then painted to look old and broken…

It seems that a film version of Les Miserables is currently being made there and Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawskmoor’s fine buildings are once again considered to be the ideal backdrop to create that period feel… (in this case an early 19th Century France)

I say once again, as there always seems to be someone making a film there.. Last year it was Johnny Depp and the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film, when huge areas were hidden behind massive green screens which we could clearly see from the other side of the river. If you look you can also see the buildings playing a starring role in The Kings Speech, The Golden Compass, BBC’s Great Expectations, the recent Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey Jr, and The Iron Lady in which Meryl Streep takes on the role of the evil, depraved villain….

Speaking of the University of Greenwich campus buildings and specifically The Old Royal Naval College, I was told a likely story years ago by my architectural history teacher at Leeds, that I only recently discovered was absolutely true…

After Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor had presented their proposals for the great hall sometime during 1698, the client was concerned that the lintel above the wide span of the full height opening into the hall, would not be sufficient to hold up the massive dome above. Despite the architects arguments that there was more than enough structure, the client insisted that additional columns be placed in the opening. Very reluctantly, as he felt they diminished the effect of the huge opening into the main space, and after a number of heated exchanges, Wren agreed to the extra columns.

The last laugh was Wrens however, as unbeknownst to the client, he instructed the contractor to make the columns too short, and there is to this day, a two inch gap between the top of the capital and the underside of the lintel…

They’re the two round columns in the photos below and support (or not) the dome to the left in the photo above. Who said architects were arrogant…

Ultima Thule – Tapio Wirkkala for iittala (1968)

April 23, 2012 Leave a comment

My little A recently bought some glasses from Scandium, which I knew I liked when she chose them, but having now had the chance to use them and look at them properly, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are actually very beautiful things indeed…

Designed by Tapio Wirkkala in 1968 for the Finnish Iittala company, the form of the glasses was intended to represent the dripping and refreezing ice drops from the glacial landscapes of Finland. The name Ultima Thule is in fact a latin phrase and was historically used to describe a distant place that was beyond the borders of the known world…

The technique for making these beautiful objects is called the ice glass technique, and Wirkkala himself was involved in developing and perfecting it over a period of many years. The rough surface structure characteristic of this technique are achieved by blowing the glass into a wooden mould, and as I understand it, the skill is to know when to stop blowing as the colours and patterns change as the hot glass burns the wooden surface of the mould as it begins to cool.

The Ultima Thule range encompasses glasses, jugs and bowls and in all variations, there are only three small drops of glass that touch the table, a very nice touch… I suspect we will be getting more of these glasses, which I for one would be very happy about…

As for Mr. Wirkkala himself, well he seems to have been something of a talented all rounder. As well as designing these and many other beautiful objects in glass, he was also accomplished in wood, ceramics, metalware and plastic, and also found time to design the Finnish Markka bank notes in the mid 1950’s…

He certainly looks the part in this photo from the 1980’s…

Barney Bubbles, Elvis Costello & Armed Forces

April 21, 2012 Leave a comment

What with seeing some Barney Bubbles stuff at the V&A the other week and catching the end of what looked like an excellent Elvis Costello gig on TV over the weekend, I thought I’d write about one of the all time classic “Music Packages” (not to mention it being one of my favourite albums)

Released in early 1979 (a year I seem to keep coming back to) Armed Forces by Elvis Costello and the Attractions was an immediate success, reaching the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. It was Costello’s third album (following My Aim is True (1977) and This Year’s Model (1978) and heralded a new, richer (arguably more accessible and poppy) sound for the band, whilst still retaining Costello’s politically sharp and incisive lyrical dexterity (Oliver’s Army, Accidents will happen and my favourite, Green Shirt). The working title for the record was Emotional Fascism and the whole thing is littered with references and allusions to both politics and love, often using them as metaphors for each other.

As the Stiff Records in house designer and art director, Barney Bubbles (Colin Fulcher on his birth certificate) had worked with Costello on both his previous records. These were altogether much more sedate affairs, and I can’t find online whose decision it was to really push the boat out for this release (probably Barney’s I would guess)

Barney Bubbles is undoubtably one of the unsung and shockingly little known geniuses of UK graphic design. Responsible for a staggering number of instantly recognisable record sleeves between the late 1960’s and 1983 (at which point he very sadly took his own life at the age of 41), a 15 year period that includes Hawkwind, Ian Dury, Depeche Mode, Doctor Feelgood and The Damned to name just a few, and which all sport examples of the man’s ability, be it the early fantasy graphic style of the Hawkwind covers or the more familiar angular and brightly coloured post punk stuff… (there are a few reminders at the end of the post, after the Armed Forces images)

As Design Director, Bubbles was responsible for the overall concept of the Armed Forces sleeve and for much of the art itself, although the elephant painting on the front cover is actually by Tom Pogson. As you can see from the images here, the mix of styles and techniques and the diversity of subject matter used throughout the package is quite startling, ranging from the figurative to Pop and Abstract and from marching Chinese soldiers to faux tiger print…

The whole thing  was designed to open up and display more of the art as you got closer to the inner sleeve… wherein you’d find photos of the band lounging around a swimming pool (their house) or standing in the middle of a “nice” suburban front garden (your house).

Hours of fun was then had re-arranging the panels in all manner of various ways until (like happened with mine) it got ripped and started to fall apart…

All in all a very lovely thing, and I for one am very pleased that, as evidenced by the inclusion of his work at the current V&A exhibition about post war British Design, there is a renewed interest in the work of this very gifted and influential man…

If you want to know more, there is a recently published book called Reasons to Be Cheerful by John Gorman which chronicles Barney’s work in exhaustive detail, whilst John Coulthart’s excellent post on his Feuilleton site here is also worth a read.

Rough Fields, Maya Jane Coles & Killing Joke

April 20, 2012 Leave a comment

What, you may be asking is the connection between these three quite disparate artistes.. well, I’ve seen them all play live and they’re all British, but more importantly they’ve all recently released records that have moved me sufficiently to go out and buy the actual CD.. the first physical bits of music I’ve bought in far too long (at least a year)

Honestly, I’m so impressed by the Rough Fields record Edge of the Firelight. The singles released over the last six months or so have all been excellent, but hearing them all collected together really adds something to the whole. It still amazes me that I know someone that can write music this accomplished. It is pretty much flawless to my ears, breathtaking in its scope and ambition. Jim layers washes of sound, looped guitars and his fragile vocals, over skittery beats and percussion to create a truly a wonderful thing..

Listen to it on Spotify, but then go and buy it. Earn Jim enough money so he’ll make some more of this sublime loveliness…

About a year or so ago, And and I went to a Bank Holiday 2020Vision event at the less than impressive Village Underground in Shoreditch. Run by the DJ Ralph Lawson, 2020Vision is a dance music record label with a hugely impressive record (sorry) of releasing high quality tuneage to the world. I personally have at least 25, 2020Vision 12″s from when I used to DJ in the olden times..

On the bill that night was a young DJ by the name of Maya Jane Coles. Word was just starting to spread about how good she was and we were duly impressed.

A year later, and in the smallish (but perfectly formed) world of quality dance music, Maya Jane has gone stratospheric, and tops out a fantastic 12 months with what could easily be the mix of the year. Released through the ever consistent !K7 label out of Berlin, Maya Jane Coles DJ Kicks reflects everything that is a good about house music today, covering a wide base of sounds, but with the emphasis most definitely on quality. There’s house (obviously) electro, dub step, techno and even some old school acid and UK Garage in there.

In my humble opinion, this is what the young uns bring to dance music, their references and sources are now so broad, that they hear connections in sounds and styles that old bods like me would never think about putting together… And I know I’m old enough to be her father and I shouldn’t be getting excited by what 20 something women are doing blah, blah..  But dance music for me is still such a big thing, and I’m pretty certain that repetitive beats and machine made sounds will always move me.  So it’s excellent that the next generation are still nurturing and developing this wonderful music.

And finally Killing Joke

MMXII is not a ground breaking record you understand, but its so much more than just another record, and is certainly an impressive return to form. Jaz is still warning the world of injustice and the coming apocalypse, but he sounds more convincing than he has for while, whilst Geordie, Youth and Paul Ferguson provide a tight, incendiary soundtrack full of power and ace riffs, that echo and magnify the doom laded prophecies of their intense front man…

Marvellous.. Check out my favourite track Rapture if you don’t believe me…

Super Heroes visit Sofia, Bulgaria

April 18, 2012 Leave a comment

In June last year, some mysterious visitors appeared overnight in Sofia, the Capital of Bulgaria…

Some of them you may recongnise… all true Heroes of the West: Superman, Santa Claus, Ronald McDonald, The Joker and I’m pretty sure that’s a rather chunky looking Wonder Woman at the back there….

The graffiti reads “In step with the times” and I think it’s a very fine effort indeed….

Sadly the Bulgarian Authorities didn’t appreciate the update and spray cleaned the statue back to its former glory within a few days…

London’s only Deconstructivist Building? Peter Clash* @ Canary Wharf

April 14, 2012 6 comments

When I was at PCL at the turn of the Nineties, learning how to be an Architect, one of the big architectural movements of the time was Deconstructivism, a sometimes complex approach to design in which surfaces, plans and form were subjected to rigorous processes of fragmentation, reorganisation and manipulation. The resultant proposals were often chaotic and random in appearance, and it was often hard not to think that much of it was made up as it went along and then post rationalised to some sense of validity only at the very end… (As students of course the rigour bit was usually missing, and the post rationalising bit overly relied on…)

Still, in many ways it was the perfect antidote to the tedious formal excesses of Postmodernism, allowing students and architects alike, to really let their imaginations loose, creating many thousands of miles of paper architecture (i.e. stuff that could never be built) whilst only a relatively few practices achieved convincing projects that were actually constructed (Co-op Himmelb(l)au, Morphosis and Peter Wilson come first to mind…)

Anyway, I never really worked out why, but outside of the student environment, the Europeans and Americans were always better at Deconstructivism and seemed to take it more seriously than we did. In fact, I can only really think of one building in London that I might suggest has any Deconstructivist leanings… and that is this little building near Canary Wharf by one of my old PCL visiting tutors, Peter Clash. A building which I happened to cycle past recently, having completely forgotten all about it, and which I think still looks pretty amazing…

Tucked away at the back of the Canary Wharf Development, is what I think it is a control building for raising the bridge next to which it stands, so allowing boats through to the inner dock areas. Surprisingly I can find absolutely nothing at all about it on line, so I can’t even confirm its proper title or use, but it must have been completed before about 1991 when I left PCL, because I can clearly remember cycling over to see it when Peter told us it had been completed. Docklands then was not the place it is today, trust me… I seemed to cycle around for hours through the wilderness of E14 looking for the bloody thing…

It’s a wonderful little gem… A utilitarian, silver, metal clad base building the shape of a quarter circle, with a variety of sized and shaped openings punched through its skin. A simple staircase placed externally along one side, leading up to a control box held in its seemingly precarious position via two steels that don’t seem to have enough fixing back to the structure, whilst the “monocoque” roof curves down to an interesting flick of an eaves and on down to the floor.

Then there’s the curved services tray, playfully reflecting the form of the cables should they have been left unsupported, and the knowing, sci-fi like appearance of the control room perched rather off-puttingly at almost exactly eye level height from the bridge… It looks like the control tower could retract into the main armoured body of the building if it sensed it was in danger…

Whether Peter Clash (still working, still making lovely things) would have thought of it as Deconstructivist, I don’t know, but I suspect not. He always struck me as something of a cool dude, who would surely have resisted any such obvious attempts at categorisation…

But it made my day seeing it once again after all this time and remembering the fun we had at PCL being encouraged to do silly things in the name of architecture…

* UPDATE : I have been corrected, this building is credited to Allsop & Störmer. As such, I am somewhat confused. Everything I wrote in this post is the truth as  I remember it… I can only think that Peter Clash was maybe working at A&S and involved on this project when I knew him, and I had forgottten that…

QlockTwo Watch

April 14, 2012 Leave a comment

I like the stylings of this new watch by Biegert & Funk…

The face is a grid of 110 letters and to tell the time you press the big shiny button on the side and it tells you in words…

There’s also an App for my Android phone, which at 70p looks pretty good, until you realise (as one reviewer points out) that by the time you’ve opened the app, waited for the inevitable advert to go away and then pressed the screen to get the time, the moments already gone…

Still the watch itself looks very fine indeed, which it should do for around €500.

It reminds me of a watch that And bought a couple of years back. A beautiful thing made by a Japanese company called TokyoFlash, it had a grid of 42 LED’s which could be used to tell the time in three ways, Hour centric, Minute centric and (our favourite) Binary… Hours of fun, especially if (like And) you could never remember how to read the dots….

And in case you’re wondering, to tell the time in binary, you only use the top two lines of the display and read the dots like this…

British Design 1948 to 2012 at the V&A

April 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Me & A went to see this newly opened exhibition over the Easter weekend, and for the most part, I thought it was very good.

Divided into three sections, assessing (in order) the post war years, the late 60’s/ early 70’s up to current times, and the third section concentrating on the industrial and technological aspects rather than arts and culture, it was the immediate Post War years that appealed to me most. There was nothing we hadn’t seen before really (being regular visitors to the V&A), but it’s always impressive seeing lots of things which really appeal to your own sense of aesthetics, all collected together in one space, it definitely gives them additional impact: Spence’s Coventry Cathedral, Robin And Lucien Day’s chairs and fabrics, lots Festival of Britain stuff, a Henry Moore sculpture, Hans Coper and Lucie Rei ceramics…

It was particularly pleasing in this section to see the original artwork produced by Jock Kinnear and Margaret Calvert for their ground breaking new road signs. A pioneering piece of design so good that its hasn’t really changed since the mid 1960’s when it was first unveiled (an achievement that almost certainly deserves a post all of its own).

There were also some excellent objects in the final section. You might of course expect to see an E Type Jaguar and Concorde as good examples of British Industrial design, but it’s always good to be reminded of the smaller, everyday objects, like the Trim phone, the Moulton Stowaway small wheeled bike or the mixers, shavers and camera’s that the hugely talented Kenneth Graham designed throughout this period.

So you’ve probably concluded that it was the middle section that didn’t quite work for me. The 70’s were fine, the whole Punk thing is always good to see, but it was the 80’s and 90’s that not only disappointed, but actually made me quite cross… One quite large room consisted of four hats made of dead fish, 2 dresses (one of which was shaped like and egg and looked silly) and two throughly hideous pretend verdigris doors by someone I’d never heard of… Pointless, uninformative and a wasted opportunity in my book. I didn’t really like the Damien Hirst room either but I’ve gone on about him lots before, so I’ll let that go…

Maybe it’s all still too close to be able to look back effectively and be anything less than critical, but for me, the stuff representing the last years of the Century, all seemed vacuous and pointless: all a bit too clever, clever and self reverential… I mean Nigel Coates and Ron Arad might well be nice guys, but I can’t see their product design from this period as anything other than overblown and ridiculous…

As with any exhibition that attempts to cover a 60+ year period there were inevitably a number of important names sadly missing, the biggest omissions to my mind would include Neville Brody, Ken Adam, Vaughan Oliver and Stanley Kubrick.

Having said all that, and aiming as always to finish on a positive note, I would definitely recommend a visit if only to make your own mind up, because without doubt, the good stuff far outweighs the weak… and like I did, you will almost certainly leave with the feeling that we Brits are pretty good at creating clever and beautiful things..

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