Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

Building the Smug

Sunday, April 9th, 2017

It all started quite promisingly with ‘Grand Designs’. An occasional fix of outlandish property porn fronted by the urbane Kevin; surely one of the twenty first century’s most influential figures when it comes to design. A whole generation now aspire to underfloor heating and sheep’s wool loft insulation thanks to our Kev.

Kevin ain’t getting any younger though. His boyish locks, luxuriant in the early shows, have gradually greyed and shrunk. As his bank balance has increased, his teeth have gotten more perfect and his casual jackets more designery. He’s become more shiny, self-assured and, I believe, a tad complacent in that “I’m at the top of my game” way which eventually affects the Star Host. [ Cf Ross, Wogan, Titchmarsh etc, etc yawn ]. Kevin may now, at least partly, believe his own publicity and it is the programme commissioners who are to blame.

There is a whole generation of TV People who, it would seem, have all done the “How to Build on Success” module as part of their Media Studies degree. The secret to building the ratings is basically ‘more of the same’. If that slick quiz with the dramatic lighting effects and pulsing synthesiser soundtrack pulls in the punters primetime, make another version! [ Only much cheaper and shove it on every day at teatime when you’ve got a captive audience of overstimulated schoolkids and semi-comatose pensioners ]. “That Antiques Roadshow has been doing well for fifty years. I know, let’s make a cheaper version for the unwashed masses. They can flog all the old tat they would’ve taken to the boot sale and we can get that nice Scottish lady that everyone loves to coo over everything.” “That Simon Cowell is on to something, let’s make a talent show with a twist! How about punk pensioners / garage grandads or hip hop hooray henrys? We need to workshop this in the thought pod on the sixth floor – bring your ipad Tristan.”

Gradually, the clone TV sausage machine has filled the schedules with different versions of the same thing. The presenters change, the music is tweaked, the budget heads ever southwards but it’s basically the same idea.

So now it’s not just Kevin. It’s Caroline and Piers swanning around the globe in search of ever more iconic houses. “Yes, we’ve found a mountaintop mansion made from marble helicoptered in during a snowstorm!” It’s George – ( he’s an ‘Arkytec’ you know ) – he sheds a tear as you re-tell the story of your war wound / emotional loss / chronic constipation that lead you to buy this pile of rubble and mortgage your spleen to do it up. How about Grand Designs in half an hour? We can get that scouse bird off Brookside to pritt stick the B&Q wallpaper onto the ensuite during the commercials. Film it fast and no-one will see it fall off when we get the hell out by teatime. And so it goes on, more property shows. Always ‘Will they do it in time?’, ‘The doubtful host’, ‘The Reveal’, ‘How much is it worth’? Zzzzzzz.

Kevin may be on the downslope. He’s no doubt, paying an army of pre-Brexit Eurobuilders to construct his porcelain retirement complex on a sunny hillside somewhere. He may have peaked. That mansion made of mud a few series back was big enough to be seen from space without magnification. Grand Designs has spawned many many progeny.

Least attractive of these is “Building the Dream”. A half-baked concept about half-baked houses. The owners pretend that they haven’t already ordered the avocado shower tray and Diamonique pedal bin. They call in ‘Architectural Designer’ Charlie to ‘advise’ on how to make their dream home even more dreamy. Charlie rocks up wearing an anorak and looking smug. They all sit round the table in their caravan (they spent the entire ice age there you know) and Charlie doodles a few ideas on their expensive CAD drawings with his Pentel. The rest of the show is a gradual revelation that they’ve ignored everything Charlie suggested and stayed true to their original snot green vision. Charlie returns, even smugger than before and pretends not to be bothered. He does a little Kevin-style homily at the end (though never as sanctimoniously as RevKev) and then walks off to collect his fee and do a closing smugshot. Meanwhile the owners fester in their mucous mansion looking equally smug. Everybody’s happy and the viewers hit ebay for bargain bogey shower trays.

Eternal Valentine

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Who lived in a house like this?

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Monopoly House

By the power of Google Streetview I bring you the Bignjuicy House Quiz.

Identify the former homes of famous personages and pop them in the comments box.

A new house will be added each day until I run out of houses or lose the will to live.

House number 1

House number 2

House number 3

Monday, September 4th, 2006

Unfortunately named architects: no 1
Massimiliano Fuksas

The ultimate aim of all creative activity is a building!

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2004

Its Architecture Week – and in celebration I’ve decided to write about one of my favourite buildings. For some reason this building has come to represent for me something fundamental to my beliefs about design and my enthusiasm for modernist ideas.

Since 1982 I held an ambition to visit The Bauhaus in Dessau. At that time, pre – perestroika – Dessau was in communist East Germany and the prospect of a visit was fairly remote. All I knew about the building at that time was from my studies. It’s symbolic construction in 1925. The Bauhaus as the seat of a revolution in design, the ripples of which continue to spread across the world to this day. The dissolution of the Bauhaus under the Nazi regime in the 1930s and the spread of it’s ideas to the US underpinning the post war boom in American industrial design and architecture. A huge legacy for one building eh? Only this, I realised, was my personal myth of the Bauhaus. The building was a manifestation of the Idea and therefore came to symbolise it for me. My delight in the work of the Bauhaus masters, Kandinsky in particular, was a delight in the freshness and new thinking that the Bauhaus philosophy allowed in the design and production of objects. The unashamed use of modern materials, an embrace of machine methods, beauty in pure forms, a modern reinterpretation of classicism – a reconnection of the spiritual element in man with the mass produced objects that surround us.

In 1999 I finally walked through the doors of The Dessau Bauhaus and up those wide stairs iconically rendered in Schlemmers 1932 painting. It was one of the most thrilling days of my life. For so long anticipated and now finally to be here. It was also disappointing because I realised only then that what had drawn me to this place was a desire to more fully understand the ripples from here that had affected my own perceptions and ideas.

Gropius’s building which now looks not unlike every other modern office building was the first – there was nothing else quite like it at the time. It pioneered the use of glass curtain walling, prefabrication, steel framing. The aesthetic was revolutionary: steel framed furniture, colour blocked walls, machine made fittings – everywhere clean unadorned rationality and space.

Tons of space and light – everything for which we now strive in our modern buildings.

The building today although still in use as a Design Institute, is no longer home to what made it famous. My romance with the Bauhaus is a romance with the possibilities it opened up. Beautiful, well designed objects and environments of our time – embracing technology, not fearing it. Celebrating human creativity in our own era – pioneering new approaches. Making the world anew. For me this is what architecture and design is.


Still time to scoop some points on the Architecture Week Quiz – 4 questions left – answer as many as you like!