Category Archives: MEDIA


Movies are high-res imagery of elaborate fictions and thus fit naturally into this new media landscape where everything is architecture. It’s not even necessary for a movie to be set in or around a building but, when a movie like High-Rise comes along with a lot of people in a building and one of them’s an architect, it’s like content from heaven. Unfortunately, most of the people in that building behave badly and kill each other and, on the surface, it looks like the fault of the architecture.

This is a big problem for, in this post-depth world, people only pay attention to the surface of things and people might think a building full of corpses reflects badly upon the magic and mystery of architecture. The challenge then, for today’s architecture media content providers, is to write about a movie in which most of the characters end up dead, but in a way that keeps that magic and mystery of architecture alive. Let’s see how they do.

The Architecture Foundation’s sole concern is how architecture is represented to the general public. It has some unnamed writer giving us a string of trivial observations such as the improbability of the off-form concrete and the organisation of the development itself, and basically dismisses the movie as poorly-researched and poorly-styled fluff.

Questions such as the effect a building or its typology may or may not have on people are simply ignored. OK it’s true there’s no evidence good buildings produce good people or bad ones produce bad people, but faith in architectural determinism one way or the other still remains the basis for much architectural activity. The Architecture Foundation doesn’t care if exposed concrete and ducting cause social degeneracy, embody an architectural one, or symbolise a soon-to-be not-so-latent human one. It objects to it as cliché.

Colin Martin, writing for ArchitectureAU, under the promising title of The Brutality of Vertical Living, gives us a movie review with two closing paragraphs saying something about Brutalism to link back to the title. Martin’s interest in Brutalism also goes no further than the degree it impinges upon our consciousness as a style. Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock would be proud.

Architecture AU

Martin’s quick to link the nastiness depicted in the film with Brutalism and thus reinforce the painstakingly-fostered and maintained negative associations that Brutalism has come to have with post-war British council housing. Thought: half a century on, why is this continual vilification necessary? After all, people don’t continually remind us to associate Post Modernism with shoddy construction, Deconstructivism with bubble economies and Parametricism with the hollowing-out of architecture. I sense politics is at work. The never-ending demonization of Brutalism serves to validate not only the destruction of social housing, but to ensure that social housing as a concept is dead and stays buried. We’re meant to think social housing was just an aesthetic fad we grew out of.

Dezeen quotes the director, Ben Wheatley as rejecting the suggestion the set and the egomaniacal architect character Royal were a direct comment on late Modernism. “The film is not a criticism of post-war architecture,” he said. “It’s more that the building is a metaphor.”


This sounds like it could be true but metaphor can be used with critical intent. [I wouldn’t want Wheatley to be my lawyer.] “I think whenever you try to take a god-like view and try to force social stuff [!] on to people and have an overarching idea of how people are going to live, you’re opening yourself up for trouble,” he said. “Not to say you couldn’t get it right, but I wouldn’t be surprised when you got it really, really wrong.” This to me sounds like a criticism of attempts to provide “social stuff” like social housing.

A few reviewers mentioned Erno Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower as a symbol of Brutalism the style but not as the gentrified council housing it is now. The high-rises of Colin Lucas, Brutalist in both apperance and social function, are not remembered.

The Barbican doesn’t get a mention either despite being most definitely Brutalist and of the same vintage but it was housing for the middle classes. It is a recognizable inspiration for the set design and it’s right that it should be. To ignore The Barbican is to miss the point of the book.

In his 2014 introduction to the iBook edition of High-Rise, Ned Beauman writes that the book would not shock if council housing tenants descended into barbarism for this would only confirm what many want to believe anyway. It only works, as Lord of the Flies did, because we believe, also falsely, that the middle-classes are more civilised. He finishes by saying that “any time in human history that two or more households have tried to share the same space, they have lived in the High-Rise.” In that sense, High-Rise is a very contemporary British novel about the inability to share, especially when times get tough. Societal decay begins in shared spaces such as corridors, elevators and stairwells, and comes to a head in scenes set in the shared amenities of supermarket and swimming pool.

A.O. Scott reviews the film for the New York Times without any mention of Brutalism, Britain, or British housing policy.

Zach Mortise, writing for Metropolis 2 (May 24), offers a solid synopsis of the film and notes how the balconies refer to those of the The Barbican.

His closing thoughts emphasise how the architecture of the movie is inspiring but incidental to the thrust of the plot. There’s a lack of Brutalism bashing and attempts to negatively associate it with British council housing.

Zach Mortice

Shumi Bose steps up to the plate one month later to rectify this deficiency, and delivers Metropolis Magazine‘s second review of the same film, and which is immediately broadcast by ArchDaily.


Despite being in Metropolis’ Culture section and not its Architecture section, Bose’s article has much description of buildings already well illustrated. Let’s not forget that these buildings are someone’s imagining of buildings described in a novel. As I think I mentioned, they’re no less real or less architecture [sic.] than what gets presented to us as architecture anyway. Seen worse.


Instead of hearing about The Barbican, we get given a history lesson on Britain’s post-war housing policy. The word Brutalism occurs only once in the header but Brutalism the style and Brutalism the ambition are conflated and the implication is that Brutalism and social housing are both things of the past.

I doubt we’ll recognise ourselves. The idea of different socio-economic classes inhabiting the same building is unthinkable now. [c.f. Poor Doors]

Julia Ingall, writing for Archinect, unsurprisingly sees the high-rise building as a WYSIWYG allegory and her review is given the racy title Devastation is in the Details. For the first time we learn the interesting fact that the movie “was filmed in the real-life Bangor Leisure Center designed by Hugo Simpson in Belfast, Northern Ireland”. Uh-oh.

Chris Hall, writing for The Guardian noted that Ballard’s most psychologically fulfilled characters look to transcend their physical surroundings, however hostile, by embracing them. … Ballard argued that “people aren’t moving into gated communities simply to avoid muggers and housebreakers – they’re moving in … to get away from other people. Even people like themselves.” In this way, Ballardian environments actively select for psychopathic traits and it’s the egocentric Laing who is best adapted to the high-rise who ultimately survives all the tower can throw at him.”

Wilder: “Living in a high-rise requires a special type of behaviour .. aquiesent … restrained … absolutely slightly mad. The ones who are the real danger are the self-contained types … impervious to the psychological pressures of high-rise life … professionally detached … thriving, like an advanced species in a neutral atmosphere.
Laing: I am sorry you think that.
Wilder: No you’re not.
Laing: Perhaps you’re right.

[Dinner’s ready!]

Laura Mark in Architects Journal wasn’t given much space but she managed a good summary and to also link its message to contemporary society.

This is a new and refreshing slant. I’m glad she noticed EVERYTHING WAS FINE UNTIL THE LIFTS STARTED TO FAIL. If we buy into the hierarchical allegory and the superior classes being at the top, then failing lifts mean no prospects for social mobility. But without such overthinking, the novel and film could easily be read as a cautionary tale arguing for backup systems and better maintenance regimes for residential buildings. Sadly, this doesn’t make for good novels, movies or architecture media content. It’s a shame, because we have one well-documented precedent for poor maintenance leading to the breakdown of societal norms, and we learned the wrong lessons from that.

Pruitt-Igoe was demolished three years before High-Rise was published. Well before 1975, inadequate maintenance was a thing. Had it not been demolished, Pruitt-Igoe would surely have been repaired, refurbished and gentrified by now. The site still lacks replacement buildings of any kind. Anyone who achieves anything on this site that’s been systematically stigmatized for decades deserves more than some miserable Pritzker.

As it remains with Brutalism even now, what happened because of the absence of backup systems and ongoing maintenance is wrongly thought of today as an aeshetic failure. This over-concern for the aesthetics of social housing projects seems confined to the English-speaking countries. It’s as if their occupants aren’t allowed aesthetics of any kind, let alone decent maintenance. The elevators in The Barbican seem to work fine. Stylistically, some of Brutalism’s architectural ideas such as raw finishes and the absence of ornament weren’t bad ones but it’s the social optimism of Brutalism that really needs keeping going. It’s precisely this that’s under continual attack.

Patrick Sisson, writing for Curbed, was the only person who wanted to see more of that optimism before the movie revels in its unravelling.

• • •

In the closing scenes of total social and mechanical breakdown within the building, the Wilder character [one of the lower-floor tenants] makes his way to the penthouse where he kills the architect he sees responsible for the dysfunction. His assault on the integrity and authority of the architect is swiftly avenged by those still in thrall to his magic and power. This observation seems to be mine alone but you try saying something less than completely praiseworthy about any renowned architect living or dead, and see what happens.

• • •

FUN FACT 1: Nearly all reviews mention the architect character living in the penthouse. Some mentioned the architect Erno Goldfinger who famously lived on the top floor of his Balfron Tower – but only for two months, as some troublemaker mischievously repeated.

FUN FACT 2: Not a single reviewer mentioned the architect Ian Simpson and his fantastical apartment at the top of the 47-storey Beetham Tower he designed in Manchester, 2004.

Two-hundred year old olive trees were helicoptered up there one by one, I remember reading at the time.

• • •

• • •

29/09/2016: An article, published on the same day, encouraging us to consider Brutalism as a style devoid of social content or application.


The Sheep Shed

Sheep aren’t indigenous to Australia but their rearing and shearing factors large in Australian history and culture.

"Tom Roberts - Shearing the rams - Google Art Project" by Tom Roberts - lQEDjT-_MXaMJQ at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

True, sheep didn’t turn into ecological nightmares like starlings, rabbits, camels, cane toads and such but still, they don’t touch the ground lightly. They graze much closer than cattle and overgrazing by sheep has been causing soil erosion and denuding landscapes around the world for millennia. Of more immediate and global consequence is sheep flatulence at the rate of 30 litres of methane per day per sheep. The roughly 75 million of’em in Australia fart two and a quarter billion litres of methane (1,045,215 metric tonnes) per day. That’s over 1,300 times the approx. 770 metric tonnes of methane per day currently estimated to being lost from the broken well at the Aliso Canyon storage site.


It’s still not great compared to the global warming impact of CFCs but the agricultural sector is still responsible for 12.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions and for 40% of methane. Percentages are higher for Oz.


I only mention this for some contextual balance. This post is about Deepwater Woolshed by Stutchbury & Pape Architects. As a shed, I like it, but I like it independently of culture and history both Australian or architectural. Sheep do local ecologies and global atmospheres no favours so, ecologically speaking, should we not tar this building with the same brushIs it possible to like a building independently of its greater environmental context? OF COURSE IT IS! We do it all the time! We make and propagate associations with favourable contexts and propagated and ignore or suppress associations with unfavourable ones. The Seagram Building scores 3/100 on an EnergyStar assessment, for example. The environmental context in which Deepwater Woodshed is politely discussed is a favourable one but an extremely narrow one.

• • •

Shearing sheds are, foremost, sheds.


There are pens for holding sheep outside, and more pens inside to accommodate two days’ worth of sheep to allow them to dry if they’re wet.


Windows are basic.


A recent innovation is to have the holding pens beneath the building.


Another is for the shearing to take place on a raised platform rather than the floor.


This makes life easier for the roustabout to shift the fleece to the wool table for grading. Deepwater Woolshed incorporates both innovations.


The NSW government website offers guidelines for sheep shearing shed design.

we learn that

Much is written here, on “Oztecture”, about Deepwater Woodshed but I only want to mention things that are explicit. Sentences such as “The extreme heat experienced during the shearing season drove the placement, orientation, form and materiality of this building. The efficient movement of the sheep in a low stress environment and the technical requirements of the process of shearing drove the planning and layout.” do not prove anything.

“The building has embraced a range of design solutions to contend with the summer heat.” Fine – tell us more. “Alongside optimal orientation to capture prevailing northeasterly breezes that cross ventilate the interior, overhangs of a large portal frame roof provide shade to the walls and provide undercover sheep storage and access. A reticulated irrigation system sprays cooling water onto the roof. Large expanded mesh screens have been hung to the southwest, providing protection from the prevailing wind. Cascading water across these suspended surfaces utilises the cross-ventilating breeze and evaporative cooling, lowering working temperatures.” Huh?

One sentence says the prevailing breezes are north-easterly but the next says they’re south-west. Look, here’s the five-year average wind rose for Wagga Wagga Airport 60 kilometres south-east. Prevailing winds are due east. You can trust airport wind data.


The high end of the roof faces NNW. The rainwater tanks are at the eastern corner of the ENE side facing the prevailing winds more than any other side does.


Yet the screens aren’t on the SW elevation as stated, or even the ESE elevation above. They’re on the WSW elevation (below) downwind of the prevailing winds.


I don’t get it. At first I thought the writer had gotten themselves into a muddle but, even so, I can’t reconcile the locations of these screens with their stated function. It’s nice to see a monopitch roof all the same.

“Strip skylights provide natural lighting. The entire structure is bolted together; all linings, cladding and floors are screwed and fixed. Thus the entire shed is demountable. The usage of a structural roofing system was an initiative providing additional planning flexibility.” Good stuff.


“This project sets out to provide a quality work environment for one of Australia’s oldest trades. The resulting building has elevated the task of shearing at Bulls Run, while reinterpreting the traditional built form of an Australian icon. This is a sophisticated passive building in tune with land, man and beast.”  It’s a shed.

It’s also a very highly praised shed.

  • At the 2005 Royal Australian Institute of Architects national awards, Deepwater Woolshed won the Colorbond category and was a joint winner in the commercial building category.
  • It was featured in the 10th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale.
  • It won the Blacket Award for regional architecture, the Colorbond Award, the Commercial Building Award and the Energy Efficient Award.
  • Kenneth Frampton wrote about it here.

Frampton drops the full weight of his prodigious knowledge to bear onto this outback shed, making full use of The Fallback Context,

and The Cultural Context.


The Architectural Context is a subset of The Cultural Context. It means something is architecture if it can be likened to other, certified, architecture.


Referencing Katsura Imperial Villa has never hurt the reputation of any architect. Invoking Katsura Imperial Villa has never harmed the reputation of any historian. Here’s the money shot posed with window panels alternately half open and fully shut.

If we’re going to play Architectural Associations however, my first move would be Kenzo Tange’s first and only house of 1953,


quickly followed by Kazuo Shinohara’s first house of 1954.

Kugayama 1954 view

My next move would be Isé Grand Shrine that predates Katsura Palace. It has a big roof (to keep rain off its walls) and is raised (to protect the contents from floods). These don’t just indicate something is important and worth protecting, they actually protect it. The history of Japanese architecture is the history of protecting things.

ise grand shrine

My final and winning move would be a Yayoi Era  (300BC-300AD) kura (storehouse) that predates Isé Shrine by about a thousand years. These storehouses had a big roofs to protect the walls from rain and were elevated to protect the rice from floods and rats.

20091006-Ray Kinnane 44556557_storehouses

This bypasses Katsura Imperial Villa and Grand Isé Shrine and links the principles of materials, construction and environmental response of a modern shed with a shed 1800 years prior. Protecting grain from rats is clever but not classy. When talking architecture, buildings can’t be “elevated” to something below them. Most buildings can be given the pretentious posturing of architecture but few have the embodied intelligence of sheds.

Deepwater Woolshed is a shed, and a very good shed it is too. For an accurate assessment of what this building does we can turn to this 2011 issue of Australian Wool Innovation.

beyond the bale

I’m still waiting for those Shearing Shed Guidelines to be posted to the AWI website. From this next article we learn that The Bulls Run Property to which Deepwater Woolshed belongs, was sold to the Paraway Pastoral Company.

bulls run

Three years later, and reported that Paraway Pastoral was to sell part of the property.

stock and land

As of January 4 2016, the website of the auctioneers, landmarkharcourts, still had the property details.


The 617.96 hectare (1,527.03 acre) auction included the 1927 homestead, a cottage, silos and other agricultural buildings. The reserve price was only AUS$1.3 million (US$1.1 million) so the US$400,000 Deepwater Woolshed couldn’t have been part of the package.


Analysts report that for large pastoral companies to focus on their main businesses, it’s quite common to divest themselves of properties not crucial to their core portfolios. So click go those corporate shears. The rearing and shearing of sheep factors large in Australian history and culture. Sheep still get reared and sheared but the people who buy, operate and sell the farms don’t let romantic imaginings influence their judgment. We should do likewise when evaluating the buildings.

In the game, each player starts with a Sheep Station, consisting of five Natural Pasture paddocks, fully stocked with 3,000 sheep …

• • •


Misfits’ 2015 Midsummernights’ Quiz

Welcome to misfits’ 2015 Midsummernights’ Quiz! I know I know, there wasn’t one in 2014 but don’t worry – misfits haven’t gone all biennale on you. The quiz is only ever a compilation of oddities and curiosities that hadn’t yet found their way into a post. So go on – enjoy it for what it is!

Q1. First up, what’s this?


Q2. Who all-capped this on April 10?

all caps

Q3. One of the signs of a dysfunctional architecture is when buildings have active online lives but don’t know what to do outdoors. It’s increasingly common for a building to be more image that substance. Images however, are all image and no substance and this is why they have become the purest expressions of a dysfunctional architecture. Which of the following images is the odd one out?

Q4. We’re so used to looking back at images of buildings we’re becoming less and less curious about the intended user experience. Part of that experience was to appreciate a view of one’s expansive property or the views it affords. Here’s some views. Name the buildings.

Q5. Country and approximate date please.


Q6. What do you first think of when you see the following photographs?

Q7. What’s the significance of this next? 


Q8. What do you first think of when you see this image?

ALM_Museum (1)
  1. Total harmony with surroundings as strong verticals resonate with surrounding forest?
  2. Touches the ground lightly?
  3. Unapologetically industrial aesthetic?
  4. Looks a bit like the previous building?
  5. For such a simple building, it manages to look extremely pretentious?

Q9. Who lives here?


Q10. What do you notice about this washbasin? [Clue: washbasin]




Q1. It’s Arata Isozaki’s once-famous Marilyn Ruler derived from, one can all-too-easily imagine, a shot or shots from Playboy’s 1949 Marilyn Monroe “Red Velvet” photoshoots. In his early buildings, Isozaki claimed to use this ruler whenever he wanted a “sensuous” curve …… such as in the Kamioka Town Hall 1976-78. If you weren’t alive then, be glad – they were horrible times.

all caps

Q2. An easy one! The answer’s Patrick Schumacher on Facebook. The most important thing I’ve learned from this man is to stay away from the keyboard if I’ve had a drink. 


Q3. The correct answer is C. It has been built and is the Art Gallery of Alberta. When winter arrives I’ll no doubt agonise over the real-world function of architectural invention as we currently understand it but right now it’s summer so I’ll let it slide.


Regarding Fallingwater, has anyone ever seen a photograph of the eponymous falling water taken from the living room terrace? Do we care?


Not really. Ol’ Frankie wasn’t the first, and certainly not the last, architect to get a wealthy client to pay for their media content.


It would be an interesting exercise to design a house – in the style of Wright – for the spot Mr. Kaufmann originally envisioned his house would be.


F-R.van't Hoff, Villa Huis ter Heide, Netherlands 1915
F-R.van’t Hoff, Villa Huis ter Heide, Netherlands 1915

Q6. It’s not a Rorschach Test, but your answer may indicate you’ve had too much architecture this past year. For want of a correct answer, architectons is the correct answer.

The early career of Zaha Hadid and, for all we know, THE ENTIRE FUTURE OF 20TH CENTURY ARCHITECTURE might have taken a different turn had Kazimir Malevich used sand instead of plaster. The physical impermanence of sandcastles is something we learn at an early age as our parents tell us pick up our buckets and shovels and get a move on. These sandcastles use an inexpensive and impermanent medium to allow us to enjoy gratuitous form-making for the fun of it. This is vastly more responsible than using the medium of architecture. Take a bow, Calvin Seiberg.


Q7 It’s Le Corbusier’s Villa Harris. Designed in 1930 for a Swedish-American Marguerite Tjader Harris. (For some reason, she’s usually mentioned as the Swedish-American heiress Marguerite Tjader Harris.) It was never built. She divorced Overton Harris in 1933. Le Corbusier designed this house for her in 1930. When their long-term affair began is conjectural. According to kiss-and-tell Tjader Harris, he “was not a complicated man, not even an intellectual, in the narrow meaning of the word. He lived by his faith and emotions.”

ALM_Museum (1)

Q8 The correct answer is 5) It manages to look extremely pretentious for such a simple building. It does this by using few resources and simple techniques to do something that, if it needed doing at all, could have been done much more easily – by simply building on the adjacent ledge, for example. If this building is a lookout of some kind, one would have been looking out from just as high. The project is a zinc mine museum in Allmannajuvet, Norway.


Here’s another building from the same project. Take an unpretentious building and, rather than build it on the stone wall, hang it off the edge. Peter Zumthor’s genius is to give complex buildings a devious simplicity. We know we’re looking at “architecture” but we quite can’t pin down where the necessary wastage is.


Q9 Bill & Melinda Gates. The most unusual thing about this house is how little we know about it. It breaks the historic pattern of using architecture to flaunt wealth. This isn’t to say that it wasn’t used to flaunt other things. At the time of its construction, the media was flooded with articles describing its technical “innovations” that, curiously, have not come to pass.


Q10 The problem of overflowing has been ingeniously solved by making it impossible for the basin to ever fill! The English word ‘basin’ does not do it justice.


The Things Architect Do #8: Cherry Blossoms

And so, as Japan’s 2015 cherry blossom viewing (花見) season draws to a close , it’s time to reflect upon what these flowers have come to mean to us. 

A cherry blossom is the flower of any of several trees of genus Prunus, particularly the Japanese Cherry, Prunus serrulata, which is called sakura after the Japanese (桜; さくら). Currently it is widely distributed, especially in the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere such as: Europe, West Siberia, China, Japan, United States, etc. (ref.)


Cherry blossoms are getting to be widely distributed in the virtual world as well. Here’s four renders of W57th Street, courtesy of BIG/Glessner Group. “Yikes – they’ve got the joint surrounded!” Glessner and BIG have history. Here’s their 2009 VIL School With Cherry Blossom.

seeing double

That same cherry tree went on to have further adventures in America .


London also has its fair share of cherry trees, most recently those associated with Rafael Viñoly’s 20 Fenchurch Street death-ray generator. It’s risky enough on the ground but radioactive cherry blossoms in the Sky Garden up top are a sinister infra-pink.


Eternal spring beats grim realities. We know we’re being cheated, but more on this later. Here’s some cherry blossoms from a virtual Italy. No vertical forest is complete without a cherry blossom farm.

Render for Bosco Verticale

Just as a side-note, before and during cherry blossom viewing season, Japanese people often make polite conversation about the stage of cherry blossoming they most prefer viewing. It’s taken as an succinct indicator of character type whether one prefers 1) the fresh beauty of barely blossoming and full of promise, 2) the splendrous beauty of promises fulfilled, or 3) the fading memory of promises fulfilled. There’s added kudos for appreciating those sexually charged moments between 1) and 2) or the varying degrees of inevitable pathos between 2 and 3), and yet more kudos for articulating the appreciation of some tertiary stage even more fleeting. But Japanese will be Japanese, aestheticising everything. For us in cherry blossom render land, it’s always full-on.

But cherry blossoms in Arizona – really? This next image has the contrivedly balanced colour palette of a Chinese poster. It may not be accidental.

poster_baby30 copy

This one’s from


You’ll remember this turgid scene from The Third And The Seventh. Or maybe not. Sensing demand, CGI specialists share their triumphs and notes on how to best render cherry blossom trees. This is Tech Plaza Changsha (claimed to be) “for Austrian architectural company COOP HIMMELB(L)AU in 2013”.


Here’s one from Snøhetta for, it seems, a new kitchen for a French laundry in California.

Snøhetta and friends MIR are responsible for this next. It has a dreamy, surreal whimsy.


Not unlike a Chagall. But overall less gloomy. And with more pink.


Heatherwick (“Best of Class”) Studio isn’t beyond adding what seems to be cherry blossom as the eleventh of Bombay Gin’s famous botanicals although, to be fair, at this distance, it could be an almond tree.


It seems unfair to call this next building a “roadside café” but that’s what inhabitat did. These images are unique in that the cherry blossom trees are real. Imagine that!

* * *

On the zero–to-ten scale of EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG IN THE WORLD it’s not that important but have you noticed ArchDaily doesn’t make any distinction between photographs and visualisations? It’s all “photographs” to them. This is not right. The architectural marketplace has been slow to adapt to online selling but is now beginning to fully embrace it like anyone else with product to shift, hoping to convert likes into sales. In ignoring the distinction between reality and image, ArchDaily are going with the flow. In blurring that distinction, they’re really just lowering standards of content and therefore facilitating the flow of imagery from producers to consumers and, in the grand scheme of things, maintaining their advertising revenue.


I don’t know how this advance of the cherry blossom trees is going to end but I have a bad feeling. Like Macbeth had about the forest.

In a last attempt to work out what this all means, I avoid the haiku poets’ poet Bashō, and instead consult poet-for-the-people, Issa Kobayashi (1763-1828).

Twenty thousand poems! This is really quite a lot. Though none are very long.
And what did I learn? Inconclusive conclusions, but I sense a trend. 

In haiku, cherry blossoms often indicate an ethereal beauty or the transitory nature of existence. Or both. Or something else.

末世末代でもさくらさくら哉 (masse matsudai demo sakura sakura kana)
The world is corrupt, approaching the end of days … but cherry blossoms!
[ how easily we are distracted from what desperately needs putting right ]

米袋空しくなれど桜哉 (kome-bukuro munashiku naredo sakura kana)
I know my rice sack is empty but just look at those cherry blossoms!
[ people stupidly prefer pleasure to nourishment ]

大かたは泥にひつつく桜哉 (ôkata wa doro ni hittsuku sakura kana)
Most of them end up trodden over in the mud … those cherry blossoms.
[ we choose to not see the bigger picture ]

神風や魔所も和らぐ山ざくら (kamikaze ya madoko mo yawaragu yama-zakura)
Their divine wind makes an evil place less evil mountain cherry blossoms
[ renders of shit buildings look better with a few cherry trees ]


Silent City vs. Hello Kitty

In September 2006, the mayor of São Paulo passed the so-called “Clean City Law” that outlawed all outdoor advertisements, including on billboards, transportation, and in front of stores. Within a year, 15,000 billboards were taken down and store signs had to be shrunk so as not to violate the new law. Outdoor video screens and ads on buses were stripped. … In a survey conducted in 2011 among the city’s 11 million residents, 70 percent found the ban beneficial. Unexpectedly, the removal of logos and slogans exposed previously overlooked architecture, revealing a rich urban beauty that had been long hidden.  


People began to see the city instead of reading what was covering it. It wasn’t all good. The mercifully hidden became just as visible as the unfairly concealed. I can relate. Here’s a corner of Dubai so far untouched by outdoor signage. It’s my favourite point on the drive home and I dislike having to share it with other drivers.


People are still moving in, taxi drivers learning the building names, how to get around. No-one’s yet targeted with advertising or tempted with retail opportunities. It’s a refreshing change from every urban surface being intensively cultivated to add value to some square footage nearby. Surfaces are what’s being cultivated but it’s the people who look who are being farmed.

My refreshing scene isn’t without its noise. There’s that curvy building on the left crying out to be looked at and just out of frame left are a few screamers you don’t want to know about. Buildings such as these are the descendants of look-at-me architecture – architecture as advertising.

Robert Venturi is credited with some words that formed a basis of some kind for Post Modern architecture. He rightly picked on the Big Duck (1931) as a building that says something – a building that, in addition to originally providing a place for the sale of duck produce, also said “We sell duck produce!” to passers-by. Well … fuck the duck. There’s nothing new to say. This next image describes Post Modern architecture better than anything I’ve ever read or seen. It also describes the form–content relationship of pretty much everything since.

the duck architecture

Venturi could have made much the same point with the 1956 Capitol Records Building in Los Angeles. It’s likened by many to a stack of records. “Hey Granddad – tell us again what a record was!”

Capitol Records Building and AA Airlines Building from

1956 was already Post Modern. The beacon at the top of the spike spelt out “Hollywood” in Morse Code – how Post Modern contextual was that??!!  :-o#  Post Modernism existed, waiting to be brought to our attention. The signs were there.


When Claude Bell‘s restaurant sign no longer pulled in the customers, he built a building that said look at me! The year was now 1964.


Post Modernism made us aware buildings send messages but the one thing literary Post Modernism taught us was that different things mean different things to different people. Looking back, the duck and the dinosaur were kind of cute, casually inviting us to look at them and hopefully enter and buy stuff. After that it all got rather complicated.

Buildings began saying things. More things, witty things, ironic things, social commentary things, self-referential things, architecture things. Buildings sent messages, but there was no guarantee those messages were ever correctly formulated, encoded, transmitted, received, decoded, and finally interpreted in the way the sender intended. And, even if they were, there was no guarantee those messages were ever necessary or even relevant to begin with. Enthralled with the elegant simplicity of signifier and signified, Post Modernism in architecture ignored these inconvenient truths.

It all stayed up in the air for a while but, with entire cities of complex and contradictory statements, well … is it any wonder we needed a rest? These days, we still have some pointless shapemaking which, by the complexity and expensity of those shapes, still manages to say stuff about their clients and thus satisfy THE major social function of architecture. Such buildings are really just big billboards and it’s a shame we can’t pass a law against them too.

Even if there was, people would still find ways to circumvent it. This is Rolex Tower, by SOM. 2009-ish. It’s generally regarded as one of the more handsome buildings flanking DubaI’s Sheikh Zayed Road. And it probably is.

Exteriors of Rolex Tower, SZR

To their credit, SOM didn’t design a building that looked like a watch. And to his credit, the client did not just give it some swanky name but instead named it after one of the products one of their companies distributes. Branding – that beautiful synergy of form, content and message. We know it’s branding because the contractors didn’t get the logo font right first time.

A story: Mario Bellini designed many calculators for Olivetti at the time when a calculator was something that was designed, that could be designed.


In the 1970s, Signor Bellini observed the Japanese make calculators smaller and smaller until they were just the size and thickness of a credit card. He graciously accepted the calculator was no longer something that could be designed. It no longer needed a designer. It could do its job just as well without having a sexy shape. Bigger and better calculations were being performed. Life went on. The form and content of a calculator lost all logical relationship. Desktop calculators still exist but nobody bothers to make them look special anymore. It’s all about the functions.


Mostly, but let’s not digress with ornament. It’s criminal, and also very wrong.


Surface kicks in when shape can do no more. Using shape to add dubious value was always rather primitive when you think about it – especially in the case of buildings where those shapes usually cloak those architectural stalwarts of columns and slabs. There’s not much different you can do with them. It’s all just space enclosed.

The forced representation of shapes that change (whilst cloaking columns and slabs) is also rather crude – it’s still a fixed representation of something fluid – a lie. People may get off watching algorithmic morphings onscreen, but there must eventually come a time to freeze-frame the fun and work out how to build it. Buildings with shapes that actually do change is an idea that crops up every now and then.


The merciful credit crunch killed such explorations into dynamic shape but – swings and roundabouts – encouraged lighting effects as the more cost-effective way to get people to look at buildings.


In many ways, the 1999 Burj Al Arab was a groundbreaker with the whole bagful of lighting effects thrown at it. In the architectural lighting business, this is what’s known as a colour vomit. It fairness, it’s not usually as technicolour as this.

Venturi got it wrong, couldn’t see the wood for the trees. It wasn’t about architecture at all. It was all about the lights, the fake glamour, and the advertising.


Learning from Las Vegas II won’t happen only at night. Buildings with expensive shapes may still perform macro city branding but daylight-readable LED advertising is what we actually look at while waiting for the lights to change.


It’s only a matter of time before buildings such as this next one cut out all the middlemen and open up entirely new vistas of dynamic decoration, dynamic camouflage and dynamic advertising.


We’ve already been trained to want it. Building surface sold as advertising space goes back a long way.

The signs became larger, the technology better, and the lease duration shorter and shorter to match our attention spans.

Sites and cities where this wouldn’t be considered long-term, can still make effective use of site hoardings. This is good you might say, but it taught us to appreciate real buildings as 2D images of real buildings, and to be grateful for it.

Here’s Casa Mila shrouded in a site hoarding showing us what we can’t see, but even that pseudo-view is thwarted by a billboard. Brave new world.


2D graphics have been granted the legitimacy of Art. We learned a new term: “building wrap”. We learned to say “that’s amazing – so much better than the real building that was there before – this is a good thing.”

We were taught to want more, another dimension. Cities around the world now offer us sponsored building projection performances as Art – or at least as an attraction to entice us to some location where we can dispose of our income.

The best examples of architectural projection tend to use the existing building as a base for deformations and distortions that remind us of how amazing the thing is we’re watching. Building facades thus become screens upon which more interesting fantasies are projected.

In passing, my friends. Here we are, inside Casa Battlo, looking at a fantasy projection onto a model of the facade of Casa Battlo. Outside, on the street, the actual facade can be viewed for nothing.


In the future, every second we look at a building, we will want it to be thrilling.

The building is not trying to be a cinema. It just wants you to look at it.

When all this can be done in full daylight, it’s game over. It’s pretty much game over now but as soon as we have large-scale, daylight-viewable holograms then we’ll have entered a new and possibly final level. Using buildings to make puerile statements about Form will have gone the way of the desktop calculator.

I say “Bring it on!” We might yet get the buildings we need but probably only if better and bigger screens can be found out there to exploit. Hello, Kitty!


We all know about skywriting. People tend to notice messages written across the sky. So far, it’s mostly been text, although the resolution did improve some with the pseudo-digital puffs of stuff.  However, given the state of the lower atmosphere, we’re probably not going to see much growth in signwriting technology or usage. For the same reason, growth for cloud projections is limited. They just can’t be produced on demand. But here’s a cheeky one.


New Type of Hell #1:  Hi-res holographic images projected into the stratosphere.

Dames and dudes, listen. Why bother building pyramids, palaces of justice, cathedrals, culture centres, or any of the other architectural representations of immortality and omnipresence when holograms of one’s favourite benevolent client, despot or brand can be embedded in the sky? It won’t be cheap. Piling rocks on top of each other is so 3KBC. Buildings are too rigid and slow to be entrusted to carry communications with the flexibility, speed and immediacy that modern society demands. So sorry Schoomy. Live by the sword, die by the sword, etc.

But why stop at the stratosphere? Here’s LASERCAT. Same shit. If we can project Art onto the moon, then some company will jump at the chance to sponsor it. Art is the advance guard of advertising. I fully support this. The sooner buildings cease to be attractive mediums for messages of any type, the sooner we’ll be able to see and appreciate our buildings for what they are and can be.


Good on Paper

I’m rediscovering magazines now that magazines are rediscovering architecture. I recently renewed my subscription to The Architectural Review and, in their The Big Rethink series of articles which I’ll have more to say some other time, immediately found what I’d felt a lack of.

big rethink

I’ve dipped into Blueprint once again, less rewardingly, but still better than I remembered. My biggest rediscovery so far has been MARK magazine.


As a thing, it’s well put together and a pleasure to hold and read. The content is well curated and edited. Turning over a page in anticipation of the next one, I gave every page my full attention, knowing that somebody had chosen and designed its contents in order to obtain it. I rediscovered interaction. Content was more than something somebody provided. I read things I would never otherwise have bothered with. I learned things. I learned things I thought I knew. I saw some things in new ways, bigger ways. It was money well spent. I want a subscription.

mark magazine

I WANT THESE PEOPLE TO HAVE MY MONEY. Some of this enthusiasm is the result of shared interests. There were some updates on Kurosawa’s Nakagin capsule tower you’ll remember from The Microflat post back in March.

nakagin 1

I admired the way MARK presented it as documentary with description, photos and answers to some set questions about the residents’ motives for living there – mostly for mundane reasons such as close to work, etc. Nobody said “to live in a Metabolist icon” or similar rubbish. Rather than perpetrate some myth of the building, the article just showed some regular people with regular lives getting on with them in some rather extreme housing.

The piece assumed we weren’t even that interested in “what they did with the space”. And why should we be? It reminded us that people are different anyway, and that those differences show anyway, even if – ESPECIALLY IF – their spaces are identical. As a stance, architecture is not something that is derived from humans, but that lets humans be humans. This is the essential humanism of post-humanism.

Remember NEST? (Here’s a link to a description over on pedro gandahno’s blog.) I remember the first issue with a spread of some dude who decked his room out as a shrine to Farah Fawcett.


The magazine has become a bit of a legend itself. Over on Wikipedia, Rem Koolhaas is re-quoted as saying NEST was “an anti-materialistic, idealistic magazine about the hyperspecific in a world that is undergoing radical levelling, an ‘interior design’ magazine hostile to the cosmetic” – a statement with a core of truth struggling under The Remster’s ornamentally dense sentence stylings.

Moving back to MARK, the next article was on Hugh Broughton’s Halley VI research station – that misfits mentioned in last November’s Antarctic Architecture. Like with the Nakagin story, the text is in factual Q&A form that has none of the stench of scripted promotional interview presented as information.

sustainable halley VI

Any architectural writing struggles to convey the non-visual qualities of buildings but efforts in this regard tend to gravitate towards the ABSTRACT and CONCEPTUAL aspects of the visual rather than describe regard given to senses OTHER THAN THE VISUAL, or even the PHYSIOLOGICAL aspects of that stuff we call LIGHT and that makes the visual stuff possible. It was informative to see the regard Hugh Broughton Architects gave to the non-visual senses, and refreshing to see it reported in terms of their importance for human well-being rather than opportunities for luxury stimulus.

Halley VI stimulusThe striking exterior blue on white (with a dash of orange) image made the cover but the other images of bedrooms and corridors and dining area conveyed a sense of what the building might be like to inhabit. Can’t ask for much more than that from a magazine.

Other parts of the magazine featured some European house+landscape porn,

Paul de Ruiter

and some of the amusingly inventive but irreproducible stuff from Japan that, although trivial, would brand a magazine as insufferably highbrow and intellectual were their sort excluded.

Takeshi Hosaka house

All projects were given space according to how much they deserved. There was a feature on some well thought-out slum-clearance housing in untrending São Paulo.

Untitled 5

Untitled 8

There was also an introduction to the Luodong Cultural Workshop titled THE POWER OF EMPTINESS and which was a refreshing antidote to the parametric dross we’re being led to believe is popular in China.

Luodong Cultural Centre

The only bum note for me in the entire issue was Aedas’ “The Star” in Singapore and the accompanying non-committal text by Aaron Betsky.

the star aedas

“The building itself is a spectacle but one that does not expose what is so spectacular from the outside. For all its expressive forms and vertical stacking, the Star remains an enigma, a mystery shot though with riddles and a rock riddled with openings.”

This is what the sound of one hand clapping sounds like. My mother always said that if you can’t find anything nice to say, then don’t say anything. That’s not always true, but it seems to be Betsky’s policy for this tricky commission. The words “DOG’S DINNER!” do spring to mind though, if not to lips or fingertips. There’s something desperate about The Star that reminds me of Arabian Performance Venue by the same architect at Aedas.


Thank you over in Korea, for this image and for not letting the memory of this project die. WE MUST NEVER FORGET!

O friendly Credit Crunch! Thank you for preventing this. We owe you.

And finally we come to this piece that provided the inspiration for this post.

Architecture workshop TD from Flachau, Austria, organizes a workshop every last Friday of the month. The entire office spends the whole day working out themes that are not related to TD projects but that contribute to the profession of architecture as a whole. The most recent workshop assignment was to conceptualise architecture magazines that would be interesting to read and would help the profession to evolve. … Would more specialised magazines reinforce the trend towards fragmentation, or is fragmentation a trend that can’t be stopped and should be acknowledged and served?

Dunno. But I do know that this little assignment that “reinforces the profession of architecture as a whole”, somehow (as these things do) found its way into a magazine for us to think about. So let’s do the right thing and think about it.

Once Upon

The idea of this magazine was to have a genealogical tree developed for every building featured. At first, this sounded like a good idea but the PR side of large architects offices do this anyway – it’s just that we can’t trust them. Maybe High-Tech was a mash-up of Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, Chareau’s Maison de Verre, Eames’s Eames House and the sexier of the Case Study Houses, and with a dash of horizontal Gothic spiced up with that all-purpose influence Archigram. Whether or not this is the real lineage or a made up one hardly matters because it has now become the accepted WAY IT HAPPENED. I’m okay with this Once Upon magazine in principle.


This one is good. If we’re going to be stuck with celebrity architects, then let’s expect them to give more like we expect of other celebrities. Let’e get to know them, and not in a HELLO! way either. Let’s see them falling drunk out of taxis after a client schmooze and doorstepped and papped TMZ-style. Let’s see our favourite sleb architects pay the true price of fame. And let’s not just stop at time and space intrusiveness. While we’re at it, let’s also see them held to account for their ethical choices in much the same way as Sting was held to account for his earnings in Uzbekistan. (See ARKYTEKTYSTAN for more.) Here’s an update in the run-up to the opening of ZHA’s Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Baku. Expect a PR masterclass. Excited to see how they’ll play it.