Friday, November 21, 2008

Crooked Houses

In the unlikely event that - at this terminal point for immaterial capital - any city still wants to create for itself the numinous Bilbao effect (well, Howard Bernstein is now regeneration tsar of Blackpool), the 50 strangest buildings list, such a bit of internet catnip that I feel mildly unclean linking to it, provides an index of instant iconicity - accordingly, many Bilbaoing buildings are in the list, as well as such heartbreaking inclusions as Habitat and the Palais Ideal. Heartbreaking because these built outlines of a new society are levelled, dropped in amongst so many one-note jokes, with one of the most one-note of all at number one (and in part two, the top-spot is held by the end-point and summation of all architecture). It's immediately reminscent, as are many of the entries, of theme parks, which are one of the few things around that are less strange (in the Shklovsky sense, of ostranenie, defamiliarisation, of making one see the world in a new, more conscious way) than Frank Gehry buildings. Obviously theme parks as urban paradigm is an ever-present cliché of postmodernity, but it actually reminded me of my favourite place on earth for the first 12 years of my life: the rather shoddier and thus stranger theme park of Blackgang Chine, Isle of Wight, with its fibre glass dinosaurs and its Wild West 'frontierland', gradually subsiding into the sea. In amongst the attractions was the 'Crooked House', which is easily explained by the name. When I was a child the Crooked House was the most boring part of the whole theme park. So it was a house all at funny angles, great - now can we get on to the dinosaurs, or best of all, the Mouth of Hell?

Inside the Crooked House were artefacts which seemed antiquated even at the time - a mouldering old 70s copy of the Daily Mail was in the house's bathroom, and the 1970s feel as far away as the 1870s when you're 8 years old, and equally uninteresting unless it involved monsters or explosions. Yet when I went there again at the age of 16 or 17 I found the Crooked House really quite intimidating. Maybe it was the general mental torture of puberty rearranging my internal geometry to the point where a sloping floor was terrifying where it was once banal, but for whatever reasons the spatial strangeness had an effect which it never had when I was supposedly more impressionable. But it should also be noted that the one-dimensional games with geometry that make an icon can be found in all manner of less glamorous places. In the Rachmanesque subdivision of the space above a chipshop where I currently reside, there are sloping floors aplenty, in the bathroom and one of the bedrooms (some reckon this may have been due to bomb damage, and certainly the fact that there are no buildings on either side, despite the block clearly having once been part of a terrace of shops, would imply so). Meanwhile, a bizarrely placed staircase means that the living room and my own room are sliced off at one side by an angular protrusion. In fact, when I first looked at the place, aside from amazement that I could live in SE10 so cheaply, I thought 'hmm, it looks like Zaha Hadid has done the interiors'.

Also of relevance, and very good: Iron Curtain Call on Australian motorway public art.


Blogger Blaize said...

Your description of your own digs has me interested. Do you have photos you are willing to share? I'd like to see the "Zaha Hadid On-the-Cheap SE10 Memorial Flat."

Also, my word verification "word" this time is "uncarse." Which sounds like it should mean something like making a carcass into a zombie?

4:03 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

I had 'Ovids' the other day. Very classical.

Can't say I'm planning to put photos of my flat up anytime soon - some things should stay mysterious.

8:29 pm  
Blogger Blaize said...

Ooo. You got more than one Ovid? That's extrametamorphtastic! And I'm fine with the mystery, but still intrigued by your description.

I got "roide" just now. Do they mean hemmor- or ste-?

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Blogger owen hatherley said...

I got 'pused' earlier. Now what is that an anagram of...?

7:23 pm  
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"Zaha Hadid On-the-Cheap SE10 Memorial Flat."

it sounds to me like his floors are not level.

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