Archives for category: Thoughts on Architecture

I wrote an essay on Caruso St John’s New Art Gallery, Walsall for ICA (Issues in Contemporary Architecture), exploring the idea of Intentions vs Realities: whether the built form can ever live up to what is written about it. It took a while and was excessively researched, and if I don’t post it on here it’ll be 5000 words written for one man to read, which makes me slightly sad… So have a look, I promise it’s at least a bit interesting (and there are plenty of pictures).

Link to essay: As Written?

Trieste is…

Fur rippling in the wind,

Across hunched shoulders.

Hundreds of zebra-crossings

(Some with lights, some without,

All equally ignored.)

Hills and steps,

Straight but not.

As if I’ve been spun in a circle and put down randomly,

All memorable spaces shuffled then scattered.



I wrote the above in Trieste, on a miserable, confusing day, and I have typed it here to make a point: perceptions of, and reactions to, cities are wholly subjective- different for each person, and affected by many tiny variables. Architecture is the same.

For this reason I see spaces as narratives, with characters and human detail. Buildings are stages for ever-changing events- as back-drops they can be simple and adaptable, with the ability to create or change to any desired atmosphere. As a reaction to a chain of events, a design can form, grow, split, merge, disintegrate: never static, as life plays out in and around it. Buildings become part of our stories, maybe the focus but more often on the peripheries, as reference points and anchors.

Do we react to buildings or do they react to us?

Maybe both; like tangible echoes, reactions to every tiny thing bounce back and forth from one to the other, eroding and shaping and changing.

What if a place is made through the act of ‘informal invasion’, where the users are temporary, and the use constantly changing? If, as Pallasmaa asserts, ‘architectural space is lived space rather than physical space’, what is the architecture of this ever-evolving space? Maybe it is defined by inhabitation- the simplest way of claiming a space as your own, and of adapting it to suit your needs.

So this place is a true narrative, without any clear beginning, middle or end, documenting life and all its players as scars and tattoos.

When is any building ‘finished’? The design stops, yes, but nothing else does.

We are in danger of letting the computer become the designer and the architect merely the enabler. We will become just like the hand in the drawing process: crucial yet limited (as we cannot draw without it but are restricted by its sensitivity and dexterity), and ultimately without creative control. We move the mouse and input the numbers, checking and editing constantly, and then we step back.

The sterilising effect of digitalising a creative process in this way is much like the conversion of an analogue recording to digital: no matter how high the sample rate, there are still in-between parts which are edited out and, as numbers are rounded up or down, tiny changes are made through necessity and ambiguities are lost. There is no ‘noise’, or ambience, and a key means of expression is gone. 

How can a space be for people if it was designed by a machine? We are more than statistics and parameters. We are emotions and sensations, irrational reactions and affections, fears and sensitivities, prejudiced perceptions. And so a space is more about the feeling of things, and the highest quality rendered perspective of an interior will never show as much as a hastily scrawled concept sketch, the idea anchored by paper before it can evaporate.

Designing should be about the passion of the moment when inspiration hits, with all the mess of intimacy: ink staining your fingers, the pen carving a ridge on your knuckle, smudges and slips sparking new creativity. There is joy in the accidental, as you affect the material and, crucially, it affects you.

Computers are distancing us, taking the fluidity out of design by putting up barriers that block and slow the flood of ideas, pushing architects further and further away from the design: we are losing touch, literally.

There is a subtle difference between appreciating something that is ‘everyday’ and appreciating something because it is so. The former is genuine- coincidental, instantaneous, uncensored. The latter, however, is self-conscious, often ironic or an assertion of ‘individuality’: an apparently different way of being different.

This ‘anti-taste’ can stem from a kind of inverted snobbery and a wish to be seen as removed from the modern and impersonal, in the same way that artistic types shun high-street stores in favour of charity shops and vintage markets (ironically, these stores then sell cheap faux-vintage fashion to the masses).

And there’s the rub: the line here is sketchy and shaky, so how do you distinguish between what is genuine personal taste and what is a carefully crafted style?

I write this sitting in my brown vintage jumper, feeling hypocritically indie, only almost certain that this is me; as soon as something becomes a fashion, it loses integrity, its sincerity gone.