Labour has called Theresa May the ‘architect’ of Windrush. She must be a naval architect because Windrush was a ship. She joins a new generation of ‘architects’ that includes Vladimir Putin the ‘architect’ of Kremlin policy in the Ukraine and General Jon Pyong-Ho the ‘architect’ of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes. Also good to know that ‘Rose McGowan will not be silenced as the ‘architect’ of Harvey Weinstein’s downfall’.
Empire Windrush. London Docks
There seem to be ‘architects’ everywhere at the moment – in the sense of people who create and implement a plan. The architectural profession could take it as a compliment were in not that there seems to be an implied fiendish or sinister ‘too clever by half’ quality in many cases. The architect as Bond villain (in fact Ian Fleming got the name Goldfinger from the architect Erno Goldfinger). Search online and you can read about the ‘architects’ of global jihad and the holocaust.
In terms of building design the title ‘architect’ is protected in the UK under Section 20 of the Architects Act 1997. The title can only be used by someone who is registered with the Architects Registration Board. This is deemed to be in the public interest through the protection of public health, safety and welfare, consistency of standards and quality of service.
Pity the poor architects who simply design buildings who see the appropriation of their hard earned title. Or maybe the comprehensive solutions of the megalomaniac tendency within the profession have created the fiendish connection in the minds of the public. To that extent we are the ‘architects’ of our own misfortune.
Many years ago I knew a guy in Glasgow who claimed to have a brother who ‘didn’t exist’. This wasn’t in the literal or existential sense, it was in the sense that he wasn’t known to the tax or national insurance agencies, wasn’t on the electoral register and didn’t have a registered address for council tax etc. He lived entirely in the cash economy. His line of work was buying flats for cash, spraying everything inside white to cover a multitude of sins and them letting them for cash. I wonder where he is now and how he is faring in the digital economy where it seems everything is known and the prospect of ‘not existing’ is remote unless you have no mobile phone, everything is by word of mouth, payments are made in cash and communications are made by handwritten note.
Social network diagram author DarwinPeacock, Maklaan
The ‘scandal’ of the misuse of personal data by Cambridge Analytica has suddenly brought the issue of data privacy into focus. The political consultancy firm ‘harvested’ data about tens of millions of Facebook users by using personality quizzes to build up psychological profiles which were then used for bespoke political advertising. Facebook has tried to look like the innocent victim of data theft but it is only an extension of the way Facebook itself makes its millions – by building up individual psychological profiles to sell to advertisers to create bespoke targeted content.
Facebook’s data gathering is probably just the tip of the iceberg. A recent article in Bloomberg about the data mining company ‘Palantir’ entitled ‘Palantir Knows Everything About You’ is quite scary. It describes how tiny pieces of the seemingly unimportant data that we unthinkingly give away can be assembled into a secret digital dossier of our life.
No amount of guarantees will ever convince me that data stored by others is secure. My assumption has always been that any data that I ‘ping off’ or enter anywhere is liable to get into unknown hands. If I ever want to do anything subversive I’ll take a leaf out of the book of the brother of the guy in Glasgow.
Do we believe that the advance of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence will destroy millions of jobs and create economic havoc or will it create new wealth and new more rewarding jobs? Are we technology optimists or pessimists? For many with repetitive rules-based jobs, particularly in the manufacturing sector, the future looks bleak. For others with an ability to learn new skills and think creatively and analytically the future looks bright. The construction industry is moving in this direction – houses or parts of more complex buildings can be built in factories for site assembly, robots can lay bricks, giant 3D printers can make houses out of concrete and digital cutting machines can make complex objects.
TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot Photo humanrobo
The report JOBS LOST, JOBS GAINED: WORKFORCE TRANSITIONS IN A TIME OF AUTOMATION by the McKinsey Global Institute discusses the issue. On the optimistic side it states ‘Even with automation, the demand for work and workers could increase as economies grow, partly fuelled by productivity growth enabled by technological progress. Rising incomes and consumption especially in developing countries, increasing health care for aging societies, investment in infrastructure and energy, and other trends will create demand for work that could help offset the displacement of workers.’ The underlying assumption is of continuing global growth with the question being of how it is serviced.
But do we even really believe this? Are we not already well into period of economic adjustment that started with the crash of 2008? An ‘economy of less’ where unserviceable debt and growth in population, resource use and emissions meet the fixed limits of the planet. Or are we entering an economy of more? What side of this argument are we on and what will the collision of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence with the fixed limits of the planet look like? It’s going to get very interesting!
Bridget Riley Op Artist in the 1960s
Bridget Riley ra-two1981 (Left) and Big Blue 1982 (Right)
I’ve always been a fan of Bridget Riley and remember visiting the retrospective of her ‘stripe’ paintings from the 1960s and 70s at the Serpentine Gallery in 1999. More recently we took at day out in summer 2015 to the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea to see her ‘curve’ paintings (1961- 2014). Last weekend all five of the Miller family popped in to see her third solo exhibition of mostly ‘disc’ paintings at the David Zwirner Gallery in Grafton Street in Mayfair featuring recent work from the last four years. The amazing thing is that despite the obvious differences between stripes, curves and discs there is no doubt that they are all the work of a single artist with an endless fascination with repetition and the interaction between shapes and colours.
Bridget Riley Cataract 3 1967
We walked up from the Royal Academy where we met for a snack and visited the ‘Charles I: King and Collector’ exhibition featuring the impressive collection which was broken up when he literally lost his head in 1649. The Van Dyck portraits of Charles I are especially impressive but touch on the king’s self regard which caused the second English Civil War and cost him his life.
By the time we reached the David Zwirner Gallery we were in the mood for something a bit more contemporary than Charles I and the the Bridget Riley exhibition is certainly that. It is displayed over three floors in a Georgian townhouse.
For some ‘dotty’ reason we started goofing about – striking poses and taking lots of mobile phone photos amongst the paintings – thinking we weren’t being watched only to discover as we left that the front desk has CCTV cameras. How embarrassing – but I’m sure Bridget Riley would be pleased we had such fun.
Bridget Riley Curves Wall Painting 2015 at Bexhill on Sea
Diana and Bridget Riley Disc wall painting David Zwirner Gallery 2018
Donald Trump in Palm Beach photo 内閣官房内閣広報室
As in most professions architects are required to undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD) which involves structured or informal activities recorded as learning points. In many practices some of the content is delivered by approved providers at lunchtime seminars where the level of attendance is determined by the quality of the free drinks and sandwiches on offer. Some of the subjects are so boring that they’d qualify for the Guest Publications slot on ‘Have I Got News For You’.
The best learning is where the subject is actually cutting edge and of interest because as an architect you’re learning new stuff every day anyway in the normal course of events. Here’s a new one (at least to me) they could try which caught my attention on account of stories relating to Donald Trump (Buzzfeed, Reuters, Irish Independent) – ‘Money Laundering in Construction’. CPD Question: Money laundering in construction – discuss. CPD Answer: One version might be the purchase of property by drug dealers or other criminals through anonymous offshore shell companies. When the property is sold on, sometimes shortly after it is purchased, the money is ‘clean’. Another might be cash investments for an equity stake by anonymous offshore shell companies in real estate developments such as golf courses. Even if the golf courses lose money the investment has become ‘clean’. CPD Examiner: Very good 10 points. That’s enough CPD for now.
An interesting episode of ‘Analysis’ on BBC Radio 4 last week looked at the overdue restoration and renewal plan for the Grade I listed Houses of Parliament which MP’s are due to debate this autumn following a report by a parliamentary joint committee which warned of ‘an impending crisis‘. Apparently Barry and Pugin’s mid 19th century masterpiece is in a dire condition with problems that include a basement crammed full of electrical and data services from so many eras that nobody knows where many of them go, outdated fire safety measures, crumbling masonry, asbestos, outdated hot and cold water and outdated ventilation. The building could come to a sad end at more or less any time due to either a single catastrophic event such as a fire or a combination of system failures. The options are basic repairs, a partial move out and a full move out. None are cheap with the most expensive being costed at £7.1 billion.
Debating chamber Scottish Parliament
The necessity for this work is being seen by some as an opportunity to open up public access to the building and facilitate a new form of politics but why not relocate entirely? If we were starting with a blank sheet of paper (and £7.1 billion buys a pretty big sheet) nobody would locate Parliament at an inaccessible location in the heart of London in a building which reflects a Victorian style of politics. A return to the existing building is just so much nostalgia (‘a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past’). There is talk of temporary relocation outside London while the restoration is carried out but why not a permanent relocation and a single move to a ‘state of the art’ new home. Scotland got a new parliament and Wales got a new assembly.
It’s easy to be focussed on London and the south east but both are overcrowded and talk about investment in the regions needs to become action. It’s time to move Parliament to the heart of the UK to be closer to the people who elect it. The physical centre point of the United Kingdom is somewhere in Lancashire and the centre of the population is somewhere in Leicestershire. Either of these counties would welcome the massive investment as would cities like Birmingham or Manchester.
Why not a two stage competition? The first stage would be to select the location (like the competition to host the Commonwealth games) and the second stage would be an open architectural competition to select the architectural design. Barry and Pugin’s appointment for the current building was the result of a competition so there is plenty precedent and every reason to expect a successful outcome like there was 180 years ago.
Moulded plywood chair, designed by Grete Jalk, 1963 photo Victoria and Albert Museum.
Edie Stool by David and Joni Steiner photo Victoria and Albert Museum
An exhibition themed around a material is a hard act to pull off particularly where the material is as commonplace as plywood but the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition ‘Plywood: Material of the Modern World’ makes a great success of it. Not too short to be insubstantial yet not too long to be boring and with a great story to tell.
Plywood is of course a sheet material manufactured from thin layers of wood veneer glued together with adjacent layers having their grain rotated by 90 degrees giving it strength, dimensional stability and light weight.
De Havilland Mosquito
The exhibition covers the history of the material and its diverse uses which include furniture, aircraft and buildings etc. It brings the story up to date with the opportunities for the mass manufacture of plywood pieces using digital design files anywhere in the world where there is access to a digital cutting machine.
De Havilland Mosquito
At the part of the exhibition dealing with aircraft I thought of my uncle, Squadron leader Bill Brodie DSO DFM, who piloted mosquito bombers during the second world war. Nicknamed ‘the wooden wonder’ the De Havilland Mosquito was constructed almost entirely of plywood – the fuselage was a monocoque design that came together in two halves lengthwise.
Unfortunately later on I also thought of IKEA. I’m at the stage where I hope to never see another piece of flatpack furniture. What IKEA sells is cheap and some of it is well designed but you have the overwhelming impression that most of what you are looking at is going to end up in a skip in the not too distant future. You can furnish a teenage student’s flat with it and not feel the need to enquire what has become of it when the course is over.
Used creatively and true to its nature (ie celebrated for what it is with its qualities dictating the way in which it is used) plywood can be a super and cost effective choice. I just finished a refurbishment project with a bespoke plywood kitchen by Mark Heeler Kitchens. The minimalist aesthetic featured clean lines with exposed plywood faces and edges.
When I took up my first job in London in 1985 a colleague brought in the just published book ’Cult Objects’ by Deyan Sudjic which looked at how certain mass produced designed objects had become cultural icons that gave their owners a special status. These simple well designed objects gave a thinly coded message that marked out those who possessed and used them as fashionable, discerning, modern, educated etc. The list included Ray-Ban sunglasses, the Braun ET 22 pocket calculator, the Swiss Army pen knife, the Polaroid camera, the Filofax personal organiser and so on. We had a lot of fun deciding which ‘poseur’ amongst us owned the most of them (it was the guy who bought the book). The point of the book was to address the tricky question of what constitutes good design and what value it has.
Design Museum Atrium
Design Museum Atrium
Deyan Sudjic is nowadays the director of the Design Museum in London which recently reopened in its new home in the former Commonwealth Institute building at the edge of Holland Park in Kensington. We visited a few weeks ago to take a look.
The Commonwealth Institute building was always a seriously weird building only redeemed by its unusual hyperbolic paraboloid roof (think of the shape of a Pringle crisp). The roof was presumably originally conceived as a metaphorical ‘big tent’ to house an exhibition about the Commonwealth nations. The same roof now serves as a metaphorical ‘big tent’ to house the broad church that is ‘design’. The building is laid out with a central atrium with spaces around it – permanent and temporary exhibition spaces, learning and event spaces, a members space, designer residency studios, a café, a restaurant and a shop. The architectural detail is very crisp making the building itself the star of the show and an exemplary example of sustainable design in the form of adaptive reuse.
Design Museum Designer / Maker / User Exhibition
Design Museum Atrium
The permanent exhibition entitled ‘Designer / Maker / User’ features 1000 items of twentieth and twenty-first century design viewed from the point of view of the designer, maker and user. When we visited there was an interesting exhibition on the iconic wristwatch designs of Cartier. But the exhibitions are kind of tucked away because the Design Museum is not really about objects. There is no way that a bunch of mass produced designed objects could compete with the world class art in London’s galleries. It is about education, understanding, possibilities, processes and impacts.
If the building itself is the star of the show it begs the question of what the museum is supposed to be about. Just because ‘design’ exits doesn’t mean we have to put a museum around it. The tricky question remains of what constitutes good design and what value it has and whether this is best explored in a book or in a museum or in a design philosophy class.
Lisbon wall tiling and stone on rendered brickwork
It must be a great time to be an architect in Lisbon – especially a conservation architect. As with other ports, such as Liverpool, Marseille, Bristol or Bilbao, culture and the leisure economy are driving a revival that has turned into a mini boom.
Unlike other southern European cities Lisbon has a unique semi exotic atmosphere due to its location on the Atlantic coast and an imperial heritage that dates back to the days of Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India and its time as a maritime superpower.
We visited a few weeks ago and discovered a city playing the regeneration game with cranes everywhere (which is always a healthy sign). Funding is flowing in for projects that will allow Lisbon to compete at international level as a world city. Whether good or bad, gentrification is an almost Darwinian process of displacement and rebirth. Whilst displacement of existing activities and communities to outer areas is the inevitable result of the resultant higher prices, new development represents an opportunity for employment and wealth creation. In terms of the buildings, gentrification can be a good thing if it secures their economic future in a sustainable way and if they are properly conserved.
Fortunately the transformation taking place in Lisbon has come at a time when the importance of retaining the scale and physical fabric of the old city, with its tiled facades and slightly strange fusion of the classical European and Indian styles, is fully appreciated. This probably wouldn’t have been appreciated in the same way 20 or 30 years ago when the emphasis would have been on the economic rather than cultural contribution that buildings can make. Lisbon has been able to ensure that the best buildings and spaces of the waterfront, the city centre and the hilly, labyrinthine old quarters are being brought back to life although often for completely different purposes. Hopefully the slightly reclusive charm that makes Lisbon so special will be retained as well.
Azulejo (hand painted tin-glazed ceramic) tiles in the Rua da Trindade, Lisbon
The Feira da Ladra or ‘thieves market’ in the shadow of the Santa Engracia Church, Lisbon
Over almost twenty years Kevin McCloud and Grand Designs have done more than almost anybody else to raise the profile of good design and the importance and value of the design process.
I did a couple of days over the bank holiday weekend on one of the ‘Ask an Expert’ desks at the ‘Grand Designs Live’ exhibition at the Excel Exhibition Centre in London www.granddesignslive.com. The format is a pre-booked 30 minute round table sketch and discussion session with an RIBA architect. Over a couple of days I had about twenty sessions.
I was expecting to discuss projects that were at their inception but instead the majority of those I met tabled a set of drawings that they had already had prepared in order to obtain a ‘second opinion’. In no cases had the drawings been prepared by an architect – they had been prepared by a variety of ‘architectural consultants’. The quality of the design work was generally astoundingly poor as was the level of information provided on the drawings. The sense of client disappointment was palpable in some cases.
The drawings had obviously been purchased on the basis of price alone. What a false economy. Why would you purchase design services for work on your principal asset on this basis when the cost of design is such a small fraction of the overall project cost and the added value of good design can be so high? The approach seems to be a ‘back to front’ one which is that there is building work required so a plan is needed. How cheaply can I get that done? It should be that a need exists for which design solutions need to be explored and a preferred solution arrived at before the building work to realise it is considered.
John Ruskin (1819-1900)
It reminds me of the famous wise words of the Victorian art critic, social thinker and philanthropist John Ruskin (1819-1900):
‘It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.’