Tag Archives: misfits

12 Months

June to December last year was a golden time for the blog. Visitor and page view numbers were rising to approach what they’d been in 2018 before I tired of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the treadmill of promoting. I continued to announce new posts on LinkedIn though.

American reader numbers have always been the largest but I took pleasure in watching the number of readers in China grow steadily even though, in December last year, they were still only one third (2,354) of those in the US (7,792). I felt good, and the blog was growing organically by person-to-person recommendations as it should.

But come this year, view numbers flatlined while visitor numbers stayed approximately the same. There are now few or no visitors or views from China. Instead of being the country with the second highest numbers of views, only once every ten days or so will China appear near the bottom of the top ten list of countries. The net effect is as if access to the site is somehow being throttled to approx. 40%. It’s easy to say “Ahh it’s obviously The Great Firewall of China!” but the loss is greater than what the number of Chinese visitors and views had been. Something is happening and I’m trying to get to the bottom of it. If anyone has any thoughts, then I’d be grateful if you could share. misfitsarchitecture is currently hosted by the US web hosting company Bluehost.

While that has been happening, the blog continues and each Sunday grows by one post even if all of them aren’t pearls.

Of the blog’s 16 categories, this past year had no new posts for the CAREERS category even though there are architects like Jean Prouvé who would make a fascinating career case study. I discovered no new MISFITS in the past twelve months, even though there must still be many more little known architects from whom we can learn. There was nothing new in NEWS, even though there must have been items that I might have had some thoughts on had I known of them. However, in the past 12 months either no such thoughts crossed my mind or, if they did, they then went somewhere else.

The categories of MEDIA and FOOD each had one new post in the past 12 months. The one in MEDIA was the relatively recent one reflecting upon the generally perfunctory media coverage of the death of Ricardo Bofill. The one in FOOD reflected on continuing attempts to make the countryside more like the city.

I’m currently reading James C. Scott’s Against The Grain that makes a case for agriculture being used as a means for the formation of this thing called The State and its subsequent enslavement of populations via taxation. Extending this reasoning, rather than seeing the countryside as the new urbanism, cities are more correctly called the new ruralism in that they’re machines for faming people.

These past 12 months I’ve been fortunate to have been able to travel to Shanghai, Tianjin and Nantong. I thought Tianjin and Nantong were both extremely comfortable cities but Shanghai defies easy labels. All I can do is write about what it makes me think about. My first visit to Shanghai led to Misfits Guide to Shanghai, The Gardened City, and ZHA@MAM Shanghai that led to Automatic Design

My second visit to Shanghai led to The Elevated Road and three new posts in the HISTORY category, pondering the various ways the life of building stock is extended.

There were five new posts in the AESTHETICS category. Even re-reading the Aesthetic Efficiency post just then took me back to Fang Ta Yuan/方塔园/Square Pagoda Garden in Songjiang in outer Shanghai. I’m not normally moved by gardens but this was a totally contrived miniature universe of calm. Questions of natural and artificial didn’t apply, and that too was relaxing. Maybe my calmness came from the lack of display of authorship. It just was.

Someone once pointed out that my use of the word myths was incorrect but I think waht’s happening is that the word myth now has a touch of myth about it. I use it to mean those things we believe anyway despite the basis for that belief being rather shaky. Flexibility, Individuality and, only last week, Self-Sufficiency were three typical posts for this category. There’s a book there somewhere.

With eleven and ten posts each, EDUCATION and TYPOLOGIES were the categories with the largest number of posts although three of the Architectural Myths posts also appeared in MYTHS. I try to keep the categories separate but overlap between education and the continuation of architectural myths is no surprise.

Eight of the eleven EDUCATION posts dealt with various ways of having, generating or otherwise prompting an architectural idea. This is something of a preoccupation of mine. They’re all different ways of generating what it’s been fashionable for a while now to call “mutations”. An intern farm is the infinite monkey metaphor applied to the generation of an artificial diversity of architectural ideas.

If you give a monkey a typewriter and an infinite amount of time then sooner or [much, much] later it will type Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s a disingenuous metaphor because 1) it assumes we all think Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the pinnacle of human creativity, 2) it wants us to ignore the fact the monkey will also reproduce every piece of crap writing that has ever existed, and 3) it also wants us to ignore the fact that, should it succeed in typing Hamlet, it’d be a chance occurrence and not creativity at all. (“Hey monkey – somebody’s already written this!”) The random generation of mutations simulates the appearance of architectural ideas but design as a creative endeavour only exists when a process of selection is applied and decisions made.

Because infinite numbers of typewriters, time, and monkeys (and infinite bananas to incentivize them) are hard to come by, we have algorithmic design but somebody still has to sift through all those possibilities and find something that can be used to make design decisions. It’s just another way of arriving at an idea and not a way of designing. In Formative Houses I recalled some buildings that made a huge impression on me, and became aware of how much I was still referring to them. Knowledge in the form of a library of images and memories is just one more (traditional? conventional? archaic? inexpensive?) way of generating an architectural idea. More recently, in Associative Design, I wrote about how a project can begin by recreating some memory, and then being sensitive to how that memory leads to another, and then another that opens up more memories. This too is nothing more or less than an old fashioned analog way of generating a sequence of mutations, all of which are design ideas. As a way of designing though, it has the advantage of there always being a finished project because the universe of possibilities is always the universe of possible possibilities. You don’t have to select a design and then fit your program into it. Let’s pick this up again some other time.

I suspect I might be using the word typologies when I should be just using the word “types”. Nevertheless, the TYPOLOGIES category best represents my interests. The posts in this category all look at a particular building type and all produce some proposal that I think improves upon or solves some problem. The Space Between Apartments and The Not-so-elevated Road are not just two of my favourite posts from the past year but two of my favourite projects.

All these proposals are collected on my other website grahambrentonmckay.com with projects added to the five categories from the top. These categories are ill-defined and have considerable overlap but they’re all about the sharing of building elements.

These are the ones from the past 12 months.

There are also links across categories. For example, there’s a progression of thought from The Handshake Apartments to The Handshake House to Handshake Hotel, but there are three different proposals for three different situations. Non-Algorithmic Housing I and Non-Albgorithmic Housing II are obviously related.

There’s another book in there somewhere. Proposals that find their way to this website are all concerned with high density or high-rise and this is no accident. One way of saving space and resources is to make detached houses smaller. Another is to not waste space and resources through inefficient planning. A third way is to share the same building element for two or more dwellings. High rise buildings share floors, lobbies and elevators and most have shared walls on shared floors but the high-rise apartment block outside of south-east Asia has settled on the Lake Shore Drive single-sided apartments off dual-loaded corridor configuration because it’s cheapest to build and heat. I believe there are other, better ways of doing it.

I’ll post this one under NEWS to be with all the other posts about this blog, and I’ll tag it misfits, education, and typologies.


Ten years ago this week was misfitsarchitecture‘s first post, The Tree is Not Trying to Look Beautiful, about how some things are beautiful precisely because they’re not trying to convince us they are. Here we are, ten years and five hundred and ten posts later.

The blog’s name misfitsarchitecture was chosen to indicate a position but the word misfit rarely translates into something positive. In Russian it translates into something like outcast. In Chinese, it can translate as inhuman and in Japanese it translates into words like nonconformist or eccentric. In English, it’s never used to describe people excluded from the mainstream for being original. Maverick is praiseworthy but only because the mainstream sees itself in the maverick it helped create. Not so the misfit. When the blog began, I had no idea its defining concept would be that of the misfit architect – architects who believed in their approach to architecture strongly enough to just do it without concern for whatever culturally-sanctioned notion of architectural creativity was the current fashion.

The logo happened around 2014. It’s from a poster for the 1929 Soviet film Fragment of an Empire [Обломок империи] in which a shell-shocked soldier regains consciousness in what appears to be a new and better world. I liked the hand motif for its confident optimism suggesting buildings were a part of it. I don’t know who designed the poster or understand why it is the way it is but I like it anyway.

The niche position indicated by the blog’s name hasn’t changed but what has changed is that I’ve become more aware of just how fitting that name is. Academia and practice find their respective balances between thinking and doing but, when I was in practice, I was always known as “the academic one” yet on campus I have a reputation as “the practical one”. It’s not that I mean to be contrary. It’s just that neither’s a perfect fit. I enjoy thinking and writing about buildings and teaching allows me to do more of that even though, in academia, thinking and writing about buildings conventionally involves participating in a separate and largely reflexive ecosystem of peer reviews and publishing in ranked journals of high impact factor. Blogging is not that.

Practice is another largely closed ecosystem with little interaction with Academia other than when the personalities, ideas or buildings of Practice are a topic of study or when there are prestige appointments for mutual benefit. The Media is the third major architectural ecosystem. Its previous symbiotic relationship with Practice doesn’t exist anymore as larger practices all now either have in-house teams for media management or outsource to the shady world of architectural PR. Moreover, as a new creature, we now have the research-driven media-focussed practice that neither wants nor needs the validation of Academia or Media.

What all this means is that Practice research is presented as PR and PR is presented to Media as information. There’s a lack of variety, little choice in how to access it, no opportunity to give critical comment and no appetite to receive it. Not that it matters. The rate at which new content is generated and broadcast makes any attempt to filter and process it futile. misfitsarchitecture began as a response to this. For the first few years it carried the following mission statement.

Have you ever thought Rem Koolhaas might be just another person? Or Harvard GSD not the centre of the Universe? Are you unmoved by biennali and festivali, and don’t like or ‘like’ anything on ArchDaily? Do you sense something’s very wrong with architecture? 
We do too. Welcome. 
Food and shelter are both essential for human life but food is anything from a bowl of rice a day to some exquisite mouthful for a moment’s pleasure. Junk food is somewhere in-between but so too is just the right amount of nutrition our bodies need. 
It’s the same with shelter. We’ve got bread buildings that fill, cake buildings that thrill, and junk buildings that make us want more. 
All misfits wants is a nutritious architecture that does the shelter thing well, makes us feel good because it is good for us, doesn’t cost the earth or cost us the earth. 

Here’s some noisy comments co-founder and original collaborator Bashar and I made in a UK construction industry magazine in September 2010, most likely in response to some building by Ken Shuttleworth and MAKE.

  • We have no problem with beauty when it is the natural beauty of sunsets or trees, or the human beauty of smiling faces. But we do have an problem when the siren of visual beauty distracts us from the more pressing problem of making buildings perform better, with fewer resources and at lower cost. The ugly reality of visual beauty is that it is a waste of resources and is not leading our buildings towards any kind of perfection. 
  • It wouldn’t be so bad if visual beauty was no more than the concealing of efficient construction, inexpensive materials and all manner of useful things not seen as beautiful. However, what many notions of visual beauty have in common is the decadent flaunting of resources to deny architectural realities such as opacity, weight and artificiality to create fictions of transparency, weightlessness and naturalness. Such chimeras aren’t even universally attractive let alone achievable or useful, whereas tangible qualities such as stability, comfort, security and economy are. 
  • In the future, there’s going to be less of everything. Anyone championing reactionary visual beauty should have to prove that building performance has not been compromised and that additional resources haven’t been wasted in its pursuit. 
  • People obsess about visual beauty because they think achieving performance is easy. They’re wrong. It is difficult to use less resources to make buildings, it is difficult to make buildings use less energy and it is difficult to use less energy to make buildings. Disgracefully, we still don’t know what these buildings will look like. They probably won’t be ‘beautiful’ to the eye but they will have an inner beauty tangible to all our other senses.
  • True, some people will feel alienated by such a built environment – but so what? Sexy shapes, clever cladding and cultural and intellectual frippery are not going to solve their existential problems. 

And then there was this next comment from 10 June, 2010 in response to some article titled Architecture’s Final Frontier, calling for the International Space Station to be thought of as Architecture.

That was ten years ago. In these ten years In the UAE I’ve mostly worked in Sharjah and lived in Dubai. The photo on the left below was taken on my first visit in 2006 two years before I moved here. The photo on the right I took yesterday. Much has changed in those ten short years between one global crisis and the next.

And much hasn’t. I still write about whatever interests me and always follow up readers’ suggestions for topics, buildings and architects I would never have discovered by myself. Another constant is that I’ve never shared content or posted any sponsored content. The blog remains doggedly not-for-profit, living up to its name by refusing to acknowledge this one metric by which so much is judged. It may not have made me any money but it has made my life richer and my world larger. I’m always happy to learn that around the world there are readers and friends who share the same interests. Of these friends, I thank those in New York, Russia, Paris, Brussels, Hong Kong and Australia also for their generous hospitality.

There’s much in the UAE I still have to process but sometime in July I will be moving to the city of Wenzhou in China. It won’t be some new life or beginning but just the same me and the same misfitsarchitecture carrying on doing what they do somewhere different. And different it will be. This is Wenzhou. It’s like no place I’ve ever seen.


Some memorable collaborations.