Friday, September 28, 2007

Not now, Basil

A few other places worthy of visit: Citta Violenta has returned without me noticing; Ballard , English mysticism and 'building your own ghost cosmonaut' at Heuristic England; and via Things, a potted history and critique of science fiction and urbanism, and a photoset on Sir Basil Spence (from Wallpaper of all places). Spence is a rather fascinating figure - responsible for all kinds of 'inclusive', 'pluralist' soft modernisms like the Coventry Cathedral and University of Sussex, but also some out-and-out brutalist monsters, frequently placed in areas like Knightsbridge and St James' for extra bourgeoisie-epatering effect. His tendency to regard context as so much frippery is nicely exemplified by Southampton University, rising weightlessly and improbably from a wilderness of Mock Tudor. A story once told me about his Hutchiestown B flats in Glasgow involved an old dear slipping on the damp and exclaiming 'fucking Basil Spence!'

Secrets of Deceitful-Type Proportions

When looking up the Mi6 building for the post below, I came across a gazeteer of secret state sites in London which is well worth a perusal. Curious though how public all this presumably once rather furtive skullduggery has become - Mi6 squatting aggressively and loudly at Vauxhall, Thames House featured on Spooks, adverts for the secret service on the 129 bus, the head of the clandestine wing of the state collaborating on dossiers with a grubby Fleet Street thug like Alistair Campbell - all this from organisations that weren't even acknowledged to exist until very recently. A sign of declining or increasing power?

'What is being described as New London'

I have next to me a copy of a magazine called Movello, subtitled ‘living the Docklands lifestyle’. This little journal seems to be Die Neue Linie of Canary Wharf Modernism, or maybe the Der Sturmer of East London class cleansing. On the cover a square-jawed male model leans on a metal balcony rail, with a backdrop of antiseptic apartments and an unusually blue Thames and sky, with the Dome and a few cranes (as local colour) looming behind. This is a magazine devoted purely to Property In Docklands, is given away free, and is, shall we say, educational.

Nowhere is safe, nowhere too grim, it would seem. It is ‘all change at Canning Town’, for instance. A property investor comments: ‘it’s really quite amazing how this part of London is taking shape, piece by piece. Leamouth Peninsula North is another fascinating project that will not only strengthen Docklands, but the whole of London – I think Leamouth Peninsula North is especially exciting as it represents what Docklands is trying to do – knocking down the old and building up the new. If you look back to the 1970s or even the early 80s, you’ll recall places such as the Isle of Dogs being nothing more than mere rubble- the development of Canary Wharf and other places around East London are making it a really fashionable place for young professionals to live’ The traces are busily being effaced with Corbusier-esque fervour, this time for the purposes of bankers, who don’t seem remotely chastened by their recent troubles.

Movello (what a lovely name, especially how it sounds a bit like Movimentos) is page after page of stunning devlopments. One such ‘spectacular masterpiece allowing residents to enjoy living in what is being described as New London, with its modern lifestyle and growing facilities’ is Discovery Dock. The picture evokes a slightly prissier, pine-dressed version of a particularly meanly standardised GLC tower block, only rammed in together where the grass and playgrounds would have been. But all those paternalist council facilities are helpless against what is described as ‘the hedonistic delights of Moshi Moshi sushi’. There’s better elsewhere: ‘Pan Peninsula’ features a cocktail bar on the 50th floor and a private cinema. The Ontario tower – that fragment of Dubai that pokes out at the other end of Blackwall Tunnel – is topped with roof gardens, lush verdure to enjoy that Blackwall air.

This isn’t just about luxury for plutocrats. They’re giving something back, by Regenerating Silvertown, the blighted landscape of industrial wasteland and bizarre Loosian terraced flats at the other side of the Thames Barrier from Charlton. Terry Farrell (designer of the Blackwall tunnel’s weirdly organic concrete airvents), in what must be his first London project since furnishing the secret state with its own Lev Rudnev ziggurat, is designing a giant aquarium to be called ‘Biota!’, while the rotting Millennium Mills will become Luxury Flats. This benign project was given by the London Borough of Newham to the Cronenburgian sounding ‘Urban Strategies International’ of Toronto. Perhaps Newham’s council waiting list will be sliced in half by this visionary project. But even if not, the new Silvertonians can pick up the ethical slack: ‘London high-fliers and city professionals are generally eco-friendly and will often spend their valuable free time in the gym or at the health spa recuperating after a hard day at the office’, reminds a feature for an Eco-Friendly Cleaning Service, which can in turn provide a job for the unfortunate council tenant.

Most impressive, though, and rather akin to those East German fashion photographs in which models pose and pout in front of blast furnaces and plattenbau blocks, is Movello’s fashion section. All filmed in the aforementioned ‘Discovery Dock’, rangy women In casual yet glamorous dresses lean by the quayside, with expressions of mild, restrained happiness. In one, a model perches on the coffee table of one of Discovery Dock’s new apartments, her shift dress glimmering amid the beige and chrome.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On the Tiles

There's a certain type of hotel building which, no matter how much they might have dressed it up in neoclassical detail or deco frippery, just oozes seediness from its very pores. This isn't just because of the functional use that the hotels in question were put - most likely the fervid extramarital dalliances of all manner of Lloyd George lookalikes. No, this is a formalist matter. On pondering this question with relation to the backside of the Savoy (the grimily seamy rear to the shimmering Joan Crawford deco of the front) I suddenly realised - it's because of the tiles. Tiles, most obviously, are a thing that is used for the inside of toilets. And the stained, smog-blackened tiling that creeps up the back of the Savoy, adorns most old Odeons and covers the Regents' Palace Hotel can only evoke the incongrously ornamented glories of the Victorian public toilet, with its collection of unnerving smells, punishing toilet paper and gentlemen asking others if they are 'musical' or not. This all seems quite apt, what with sewers and drainage being the 19th century's gift to London, establishing a visual and material link between this and the guilty sexuality of the period. All those tiled Edwardian tube stations just make this more lurid, what with their rather unsubtle use of scarlet.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I like big beton and I cannot lie

'The priority of contour and profile over colour and shading remained from the purist days even though the subject matter had changed from machinery to heavy women. Taya Zinkin was apparently a victim of this change. 'As we were getting off the plane he asked me what I was doing that evening. 'Catching a train, I'm afraid', I said. 'Pity. You are fat and I like my women fat. We could have spent a pleasant night together.' He said this quite casually. He was not being offensive, he was being factual. He took such a functional view of sex that it never occured to him that the act would not carry its own reward for both of us. Had I not studied medicine I would have found his anatomical precision embarassing''
Charles Jencks, Le Corbusier and the Tragic View of Architecture

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Montage of Attractions

As promised to CR and IT the other day, here's Eisenstein and his Cactus. He sent this photo to Ivor Montagu with the caption 'speaks for itself and makes people jealous!' Picture is from here. In other Eisenstein-related hilarity, in a bit of footage from the 40s where he makes some anti-Nazi appeal or other, he sports a hairstyle - bald in the middle with huge bushy bits spreading outwards at each side - only held elsewhere in history by Krusty the clown.

Unexpected Fragment of Messianic Time

There are, even in the most obviously grim and dystopian art forms, those most full of what we're not really allowed anymore to call false consciousness ('I can make it!' etc) sudden moments where all the bullshit clears and possibility emerges. So, listening, in a mildly amused (bars that go 'William, William, William' etc) but disappointed way to the Wiley single that came out a couple of months back, and enjoying the B-side ('Sorry, Sorry, Pardon, What') far more, despite it being based on a 4 year old track. That is, 'Ice Rink', that preposterous (someone said Super Mario Bros, which is close enough), slab of mobile phone blips and metallic clangs. So I dug out the original version on an old mixtape. And bloody hell, it's good. In amongst all the boasting, there's this odd visionary tone ('deep in the valleys and the hills, that's where I stand', 'I got eight senses'), and then, suddenly this flash of anticipatory consciousness, fitting perfectly the weird weightless space of the music: 'that's where money don't matter, in the future - material things they don't matter in the future - I travel in a time machine, I'm in the future'.

(the above picture - is that a Paul Rudolph building? - is irrelevant, but for the peculiar fact that it came up when searching google images for 'wiley ice rink'...)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Brutalist Document Request

The URL of this blog derives from a misquotation by Jonathan Coe of B.S Johnson's Christie Malry's Own Double Entry. I'm currently working on something which makes several references to Brutalism's original nuttahs Alison & Peter Smithson, and if anyone knows, or knows someone who might know, how I can get hold of a copy of BSJ's Smithsons documentary The Smithsons on Housing I'd be very appreciative.

The Corporate Cosmos

Sometimes, much as they may be psuedoenvironmentalist corporate scum, Foster & Etc seem to inhabit a better, and far stranger world than our own. So following on from the Abu Dhabi zero-carbon Vermilion Sands resort, here's:

'Foster + Partners to design the world's first private spaceport
The Foster + Partners and URS team has won an international competition to build the first private spaceport in the world - The New Mexico Spaceport Authority Building. The sinuous shape of the building in the landscape and its interior spaces seek to capture the drama and mystery of space flight itself, articulating the thrill of space travel for the first space tourists.
Making a minimal impact on the environment, the scheme will be the first facility of its kind and a model for the future. The Spaceport lies low within the desert-like landscape of the site in New Mexico. The astronauts' areas and visitor spaces are fully integrated with the rest of the building to convey the thrill of space travel. The more sensitive zones - such as the control room - are visible, but have limited access. Visitors and astronauts enter the building via a deep channel cut into the landscape. The retaining walls form an exhibition space that documents the history of the region and its settlers, alongside a history of space exploration. The strong linear axis continues on a galleried level to the 'superhangar' - which houses the
spacecraft and the simulation room - through to the terminal building.
Designed to have minimal embodied carbon and few additional energy requirements, the scheme has been designed to achieve the prestigious LEED Platinum accreditation. The low-lying form is dug into the landscape to exploit the thermal mass, which buffers the building from the extremes of the New Mexico climate as well as catching the westerly winds for ventilation.
Natural light enters via skylights, with a glazed façade reserved for the terminal building, establishing a platform for the coveted views onto the runway.'

(ta once again to the inestimable Kiri Bloom for the info)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Vector vs Spectre

A couple of worthwhile recent projects and whatnot directed my way: a Flickr group set up to celebrate/investigate the lift test tower of Northampton; and the group behind the Frankfurt TV Tower exhibition previously mentioned have a book out entitled Space Time Play, on computer games and architectural space. It's so long since I played one that I may be talking nonsense, but this is an area that seems to have had far too much damage inflicted on it by realism, whether 'hyper'-prefixed or no. Obviously it wasn't ever thus, and I was only being slightly facetious when I described Tron's mise-en-scene as one of the most important (and under-explored) since Caligari, not least because the strangeness of the space was emphasised so much, rather than CGI'ed into boredom.

Caff Tragedy Update

Plans for direct action over the closure of the New Piccadilly are unfortunately stalled...Apparently when asked if there was going to be a party when the New Piccadilly closed, Lorenzo declared 'no parties! I'm a working class man and this is a working class caff. All I want is doom and gloom. And nothing'. So, after this demotic Modernist masterpiece with its tunny fish salads and 'steak risotto' gets knocked down he'll be in Scotland, 'for the melancholia'. (link via I Like, who is also bang on over the superiority of dilapidated beach huts and piers to some proposed Fostrosities...)

Monday, September 10, 2007

'A Cloud-Commune'

Currently what must be the third Common Cold in a month that I have succumbed to to in the manner of Wells' 'not so smart now, are yer?' Martians is getting in the way of any intelligent thought, so here's another joy from Google's Russian-English translator, on an article about the Rationalist movement in Soviet Modernism (that is, the ASNOVA group of gestalt-influenced theorists and designers of skyscrapers and pointlessly technologically extreme restaurants): 'in a stormy debate between conservative Death and innovators, rationalist take their place much earlier constructivism and were not as radical as the last.' On a less pointless note, can any Moscow crew enlighten me on the Shablovka development mentioned in the original article...?

Self-Disgust Tribunal

'The sad fact is that only a deep recession is likely to generate enough national self-disgust at the destructive get-rich-quick value system oozing out of the City to create the political pressure for reform'. Larry Elliott, pertinent to the discussion below on economics and what have you. The comparison between bankers and Baader-Meinhof is especially priceless. In the same issue: a truly foul editorial which balances, in classic Guardian style, obvious contempt for trade unionism with ostentatious 'fairness'. Regardless, the winter of discontent is clearly on its way, providing the unions hold their nerve for a bleeding change. On the subject of standing up for bastards - this man really is an absolute shit, isn't he?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Red(ish) St Pancras

20thsoc has as building of the month these council blocks which I've noticed when in offensive gastropubs after British Library visits: a curious combination of Letchworth roughcast rusticism and the monumental proletarian modernish gemeindebauten of interwar Red Vienna.

Fun mit Fernsehturm

This in Frankfurt looks very interesting. Not sure if this is limited merely to TV towers or to all transmission towers (like our own lovely Post Office Tower, which has been sporting a worrying green crest of late), but regardless the details and call-for-stuff is below:

Call for Objects!
7189Meter Politics and Architecture

In October 2008, the German Architecture Museum (DAM) in Frankfurt will show an exhibition titled 7189Meter Politics and Architecture on the political meaning of TV-Towers.

The show will explore the constantly changing relation between politics, architecture and everyday culture. For this exhibition, we are looking for artefacts from artwork to souvenirs dealing with television towers.

Therefore, we kindly request the help of the international community of TV-Tower addicts: If you collect or produce objects dealing with TV-Towers from newspaper articles to toys, from photographies to paintings and art installations, from historical documents to personal design sketches -p lease send us an e-mail with an image or description of your objects.

Get in touch with us:

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Or: simply put


While the total collapse of capitalism doesn't appear to have happened quite yet, I'm holding onto the possibility of at least a couple of heads on spikes at Broadgate and am pleased that Rentokil were hit extremely hard by the stock market turmoil, so the spectre of rats overrunning trading floors is a very real one. However, those who seem able to understand the increasingly abstract and baroque world of finance capital have been rather cautious. The most informative, while at the same time humouring those of us who find the start of Capital a bit tricky, has been this piece at Left Business Observer. It all begs the question though, that if the economy isn't going to do the work for us in Second International Stylee, then what exactly is it for? Less facetiously, if quality of life plummets and the paragon of the Anglo-Saxon model continues its public nervous breakdown but unemployment stays stable... a neoliberal 'success' can be measured by the amount of chaos and barbarity it creates, it would seem, begging the question asked (and not really answered) by George Monbiot in two fine recent columns: 'given that it damages the interests of nearly everyone, how has neoliberalism come to dominate public life?'

If the disaster, as Benjamin put it, is the status quo, then the eagerness for obvious catastrophe is linked to the political posturing of 'left-wing melancholy' and Kautskian quietism. Politically, it tends more to the security guards of the sinking ship. In the UK, the 1929 crash and the 'Winter of Discontent' left us with Chamberlain and Thatcher, respectively. But the impulse to welcome it is also a hope that at least something (save the obviously impending climatic disaster) can shake the inertia. However predictions of CHAOS and ANARCHY are tediously frequent, as English as crap infrastructure and resentment, and can after a while begin to resemble the hysterical peevery of an Evening Standard headline more than the looming millennium. It's almost a shock to see an actual tube strike, rather than occasional threats and Right-Wing headlines, and its appalling, if unsurprising, that from the Mayor on down the strike has so little sympathy, with two of the striking unions capitulating before its even started and three tube lines still running. The disruption has an almost comofortingly crap effect, adding to the weird stoicism of the affluent. The ideology of 'Angrael' Neoliberalism has become a stange combination of smug contentment and sulky apocalypticism. But how sustainable is an economy which, amongst other things, makes even its most privileged strata - those who don't slave in maquiladoras and special economic zones - so clearly unhappy.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Cabins, Cosy and Otherwise

Unexpected synchronicity corner: I'm sitting pointlessly if agreeably uploading my photographs of Bruno Taut's Waldsiedlung to Flickr*. This is an angular, brightly coloured and non-pissing about Modernist Estate designed in the mid-20s in a former forest on the outskirts of Berlin, served by the amusingly named Onkel-Toms-Hutte U-Bahn station. Then I'm sent an article by Lynsey Hanley - whose Estates was great and annoying in roughly equal measure, the latter partly because of the general 'flat roofs and concrete are inhuman' line - on this and the other Berlin siedlungen. Irrespective of the factual errors (eg: Taut was neither a teacher or student at the Bauhaus), it's a nice little piece, reminding that public housing didn't always have to be about either prole-stacking bombast or sickly ersatz cottages.

* along with lots more of the usual - Karl-Marx-Allee again, plus more postcards - thanks to IT for obtaining for me the nearest I've yet come across to my perfect postcard, which should contain sauciness, the seaside, 'boringness', modernism and preferably be in the former eastern bloc.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Against Folkish and Sectarian Revisionists!

A really quite magnificent letter from Ian Birchall defending his fine appraisal of Elvis in Socialist Worker:

Of course Elvis Presley only went “so far” (» Letters, 25 August). Nobody said he was Lenin.

There is a marvellous photo of him promising to help US president Richard Nixon’s anti-drugs campaign. You can see the black marks round his eyes caused by his own drug abuse.

The point is do socialists relate to movements of rebellion, however confused and limited, or do they sit back and congratulate themselves on their own political superiority?

Pete Seeger’s dismissal of Elvis is typical musical and political sectarianism.

Remember Seeger suppressed his own anti-war songs when Russia entered the Second World War in 1941. There’s only one thing worse than a folk singer, and that’s a Stalinist folk singer.

Ian Birchall, North London