Thursday, March 31, 2011

london belongs to me

Cheshire Street, Londonas I touched upon it in the last part of my previous post I feel it might be time for a digression on memory, dreams and the city.

the first time I went to London I was almost 25. that means that for at least 20 years I had watched tv programmes and films set in London, and for more than ten years I had listened to music set in London, and read books and articles about bands in London. I was basically steeped in references to a city I had never visited. so finally coming there, for a rushed two-day trip where we were meant to stock up on clothes (at the time my travel companion and I were both living in Dublin and, as much as I love that city, it really wasn't the place to find clothes) and records was a weird experience.

everywhere we went I encountered names and places I'd read about but didn't really have any actual relation to: Neil's Yard, Wardour Street, Portobello Road, and, most puzzlingly, Ingestre Place. Ingestre Place was a mystery, suddenly we were standing in this tiny cul-de-sac surrounded by anonymous walls, and it had been me suggesting we'd go in there. because I had seen the street sign on passing and it stirred some kind of memory: I knew, I knew there was something that had been important to me that was related to Ingestre Place. but, to be honest, there was nothing there to even give a hint what that thing might have been.

way later, after having moved back to Sweden, I was rummaging through my LP's looking for some record or other when I cast a glance at In the Beginning There was Rhythm and there it was: Soul Jazz Records, 12 Ingestre Place, Soho, London W1F OJF England.

suddenly it made sense, suddenly it fit, something that was very important to me did have something to do with Ingestre Place. just not the actual street because to me Ingestre Place was never that cul-de-sac, never those office buildings. to me Ingestre Place was Soul Jazz Records, the company that had released some of my favourite compilations. and in the same way Parkway is Saint Etienne's London Belongs to Me, rather than the actual street. even when I last walked along it – in dreary January weather – I was transported to a lovely lunch in Regent's Park from years ago.

I have never really encountered this phenomenon on any other of my travels, not in Tokyo, not in Berlin nor in Milan. I guess it's because London is ubiquitous for those taking part of any kind of pop-culture. it's probably the same with New York, at least for those of a more American leaning even if not to me. it was strange, though, the feeling you knew this place but not having a clue why or why you'd even like to know this tiny little street in the middle of a bustling city.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

please allow me to introduce myself

I'm a man of impeccable taste; I've even got a diploma that says so. five years of my life I've spent in a government-sponsored correctional institution to make sure I have good taste. and I like things that are to my taste, or what I like to think of as my taste: neat, slender and ordered. so how come I like this:

Parkway, CamdenParkway* in Camden?

this is not the kind of of bad taste architect's prefer to quote when trying to be edgy or showing off their oh-so-risky guilty pleasures (which I'm fully aware is kind of what I'm doing just now). Parkway is just too banal for that: there's nothing clever about it, and nothing particularly upsetting either. it's just a stretch of road lined with terraced houses of yellow London brick. the houses themselves aren't particularly coordinated with parapets changing level more or less with each building and on the ground floors there are shops. fronting the shops are hideous shop fronts in every kind of garish font imaginable.

Entrance to the Jewish museum, London - Long & KentishI was on my way to visit Long & Kentish's Jewish Museum and when arriving I was presented with a sombre door set in a rendered ground floor wall. and this is something I could have designed myself, this is what I really like. I even remember being impressed by the detailing of the door. so how come – when I later look at it in photographs – it looks so dull? I mean, I still am impressed, and feel this is what I like, but it looks objectively dull. in a lot of ways there's nothing particularly wrong with dullness, one might even say there are certain activities that need the dullness to preserve an air of dignity, but if this would be all there were to cities then they'd be terrible places to spend your life. a city needs the unplanned, the ugly, the left over.

what I'm getting at is this: at times when work are hard to come by voices are raised to protect the function of the architect. unfortunately I think the result would be utterly horrible. that is to say it would be charming, beautiful, well thought through and very tasteful - but also dead. because to a profession educating someone means to train them so they have the skills society expects of that profession. unfortunately, when it comes to architects, that also means to train their taste, to teach them to appreciate what an architect is supposed to appreciate. what an architect is supposed to appreciate is the well behaved modernism so beloved of the progressive upper middle classes at the beginning of the 20th century. I think (or deludes myself into thinking) that's what I've liked all my life – so I'm fine with that – but what about other people whose tastes aren't catered for in architecture schools, why shouldn't they be allowed to influence what our cities look like? and when they try to, by changing their shop front say, why should their wishes be mediated through consultants who have been trained to have good, government approved, taste?

*the first time I heard the name Parkway was in the St. Etienne song London Belongs to Me, and I must say that compared to the loveliness of that song the reality is pretty meagre, but as a city street I find it quite exciting.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

the road to ruin (pt. 2)

seems it's time for a lot of follow-up posts. here's some recent news from the AJ about St. Peter's Seminary. there's also a link to the brochure from the Scottish exhibition at the Venice biennale on the right hand side of the article.

I will try to come up with some original content soon.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

the glasgow school (pt. 2)

I'm finally back to leading a normal life, going to sleep at normal and socially acceptable hours. still all I can offer you is yet another link to a Rowan Moore* piece:

Renfrew Street from the eastI think the article does raise some important questions, especially as to if a new strong architectural statement just across the street from the GSA is what will benefit the existing building and context. the buildings on the site today are no masterpieces, but they're hardly horrible either (well, the GKC staff common room might actually be), they're just that kind of background buildings which make up most of our cities. and to me that seems just about right. of course you can argue that a new building for the school should have as prominent a place in the city as the existing one, but will anyone actually benefit from two buildings having some kind of architectural shoot-out across Renfrew Street? even if it's a fairly low key shoot-out? I dread to think what would have been the result had Zaha Hadid had her chance to build there.

I used to think that the only thing planners should influence when it comes to a new building is the maximum height and volume as materials, massing and expression should be left to each building's architect or their client. but this time the client is the owner of the most important building in the vicinity and for that reason maybe they should reconsider.

having said that, the school seems to have paid great attention when selecting architect: short-listing competent firms that aren't the ones they would have chosen were they only out to make a statement. maybe the problem is in the programme, maybe they're trying to cram too much onto too small a site? it would hardly be the first time that has happened. I was once involved in an extension for a Swedish college where the city had decided the foot-print, height and number of floors after a competition. still the client constantly asked us to try to cram more and more accommodation into the set volume leading to the loss of any decent intermediate spaces so that what was an atrium ended up as mean corridors receiving no natural light.

I'm not entirely sure why I'm so hesitant about Holl's proposal, it might just be the glass. I mean, I love the glass of the Diener & Diener college in Malmö, so it's not glass per se, but something about an all-glass building just seem alien to the site. a little too delicate and crisp. and it won't be glass as a membrane, as on the main elevation of the Mack, but rather glass as a sharp, angled object.

ok, maybe this post amounted to some more than merely posting a link, let's see how long I might be able to keep this up for...

update 21/3: the extension passed the planning committee

* he's become one of my favourite writers of architectural criticism. to paraphrase an old movie: he had me at "If bright colours always cheered you up, then entering the blue-and-yellow cabin of a Ryanair jet would be like swallowing a bottle of happy pills. It isn't." incidentally I read that piece just days after first visiting the Mack.