Wednesday, 12 December 2007

the death of the archive

As if by magic, this comes to my attention.



Becoming Ruin

Ok, briefly to follow on from previous concepts: the ruin is not an example of some kind of neglect, or the absence of the action required to keep up a building. Nor is it the synthesis of the Power of Nature opposed to the Will of Man. The ruin is a typology - a thanatological supplement. It functions as an effigy of destruction, a memento mori. The ruin is an exception of space that helps to keep the basic spatial order intact; all other buildings can better signify their permanence if there is a space in which spatial decay can be contained and presented as an exceptional circumstance. Here, then, is the petrified spectre of transience, held in a coma of sorts, not to be resuscitated and not to be allowed to die, preferably held in a kind of elsewhere, where a pilgrimage can be made, a special time can be found to visit this premonition of death.

If the archive is predicated upon destruction, if the condition of possibility for the archive is forgetting, and the archive is the physical manifestation of an immaterial body which is fleeting, and always in the process of disappearing, then the ruin should also be understood as an archival space, albeit a very specific condition of an archival space. It is oft said that the city, or spatial structure as such is an archival system. In other words, the material of the city embodies certain memories, whether that be on the level of the individual, or on a much larger cultural level. Indeed, there is something specifically spatial about remembering, and there is a whole system whereby one's memory can be best understood as a system of spatial events. What does the ruin add to this? Ruination is the making apparent of the destruction that makes archiving possible.

The library is an archive, in particular, it is the space in which the immaterial material of knowledge is made physical, in the form of books. This is similar to the way that a graveyard functions as an archive of the dead in which the immaterial identity of the other is made material. Both of these archival spaces contain physical manifestations, 'effigies' of that which is fleeting. For a long time now we have been experiencing a 'becoming ruin' of these spaces. As knowledge becomes more digital, more spectral, we begin to see loss as such diminishing. We can now conceive of a digital archive in which everything we know that we know is stored, contained as digital information, spectral archive. What happens to the library now? This process is a becoming ruin of the library- when all is stored digitally, all there is that is left is the decay of the books and the incompleteness of the collection. As with the graveyard - as we document lives ever more completely, for over a century loved ones have been staring out at us from mantelpieces, have been speaking to us from beyond the grave, and now have the potential to sit there as permanent digital contacts, forever not returning our 'pokes', and the gravestone merely exists as the ivy crawling up and eating away at the name inscribed upon it. This is facetious, yes, but we are beginning to see our abilities to archive becoming effectively absolute, and this is the becoming ruin of the archive.

During times of war, when everything around is being destroyed, the ruin serves no function. The blitz was not a becoming-ruin of all buildings, it was a becoming useless of the ruin. A question that should be posed is this: what is the becoming-ruin of everything?

I can haz end to this now?

Good grief. Those who should know better... shame and shame.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

the form of ivy

ivy, of course, often acts as a secondary surface material, the purpose being to add a picturesque element to the facade of a building, decoratively alluding to nature and decay and suggesting old-ness. This secondary surface material creates a new form around the building, potentially damaging but also providing potential shade, weatherproofing and insulation.

ivy often grows upon graves and derelict buildings, and is thus associated with decay and death. Thus it is important for our appreciation of ruination. However, as well as the thanatological associations of ivy, it can also be thought of as a surface material with properties that change over time, and also that has varying degrees of presence, never fully solid nor void. In a spectral system, ivy could be a very valuable material. It can outline a form without the form necessarily being built. It can communicate, say, the outline of a previous building, or it can act to screen the boundaries of the a buildings territory.

Anyway, here's a little ivy on a somewhat familiar form.

Friday, 9 November 2007

The Spatial Politics of Ruination - Witley Court

Georg Simmel, in his text ‘The Ruin,’ posits that the ruin is attractive to us because it represents a synthesis between the power of nature and the will of man. It is the resolution of upward drive and downward force. There have been many different ways of thinking ‘the ruin,’ all of which, to some degree, coincide with this concept. It is not the case, however, that ‘the ruin’ is a typology like any other, and that this synthesis between man and nature is in itself synthetic?

An excellent example is Witley Court, in Worcestershire. A rather spectacular country house, it passed through the hands of various aristocratic families, gradually moving from old money to new money, before it was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1938. At this point is was supposedly ’left to ruin,’ which of course is a fine narrative, but neither the decay that the building did suffer after this, nor its arresting are due to some extra-human power of nature.

Rather than gradually being taken back over by vegetation, collapsing, disintegrating and rotting, the building was picked clean by financial scavenging. Sold off to a salvage dealer, anything that was still of value was removed and there were acts of vandalism and sabotage aimed at allowing the building to be demolished despite its grade-I listing. English Heritage took over (rescued) the house in the seventies, and since then it has gradually come to rest in the petrified state in which it now sits.

Generally, the intention of heritage is to restore and conserve, but in a case like this, where restoration would be financially impossible, the intention becomes to consolidate – the physical state of the building is not allowed to worsen, and yet it is not improved either. It is at this point that the building ceases to be derelict, destroyed, or desperately in need of repair, and finally becomes ‘the ruin.’

It is worth describing the spatial effects that occurred as a result of transforming this derelict house into a ruin. The dominant effect is collage; the whole building is now a series of variations on two main systems, the original fabric and the structures and details used to arrest its decay. The original building is a typically stately example of a number of overlapping architectural styles, gradually built up over the course of almost a thousand years, while the insertions cover the course of the last one hundred.

Massive cast iron beams, similar to those that hold open the walls of the shallow cut underground railway tunnels in London as they open up to the sky, prevent the walls of the ballroom from caving in upon themselves, inserting themselves into the load bearing brick in a disjointed manner.

The two porticoes at either façade of the building have both lost their roofs, they are held out from the main walls by reinforced concrete beams. Unadorned; they mock the ionic columns which they meet at the corner.

Even more striking is the way in which one of the towers, destroyed on two sides, is propped up by an unforgiving brutalist concrete frame. Here a game is played with revelation and concealment, the classical skin betrayed from two sides.

Along with the multiple structural systems in play, there are other interesting aspects of detailing. Around the house are a series of remnants of stuccoed panels, original aspects of the interior thrust out into the weather after the roof and upper floors were lost. Wherever these occur, above them have been situated lead flashings, creating drip lines that protect the stucco from being washed away. There are umpteen of these projecting surfaces around the house, exposing and protecting the surfaces beneath. Other surfaces have also been flashed, the tops of brick walls are sealed off, even when the wall has fallen to leave a serrated edge there is a zigzag of lead that follows it along and down.

With many of the rooms of the house destroyed and now open, there are many windows which open from the outside to the outside, and many walls that mark an exterior space from another exterior space. Although there is still a small space that can be called an interior, the rest of the building engages itself with a series of screens and masks as the bar between inside and outside is stretched further and further out and around, the territory of the building becoming undefined. This effect should be considered complementary to the act of terracing the landscape, which when the house was built was meant to allow the construction to ‘blend in’ with the ground around it.

The nudity of material in the ruin of Witley Court should be mentioned. When the building was in use, great swathes of ivy covered some of the facades, and yet now there is little or no vegetation to be seen on its skin. This very much stresses the artifice of this ruination; when the building was used as a dwelling it was allowed to become slightly overgrown as a picturesque gesture, whereas now the ruin needs to be kept clean, to protect the stonework from ivy, again, to halt its disintegration at a specific point, that imposed synthesis of will and force that pleases us so.

What is to be learned from Witley Court? Of course, that the ruin is always a construct. Even when a building is not actively destroyed, neglect is not an absence of action, it is a productive force that is not outside of ‘use.’ Also, the ruin needs to be tended, to be maintained so as to satisfy us with our ruininlust. It is our thanatological architectural supplement, kept in its specific place so as to be useful to us when we want it, a counterpoint to what are supposed to be the ‘complete’ spaces that we are used to. Going further though, there is a language of incompleteness at work here, a spatial logic of disjunction and collage, of indeterminate boundary and line, a returning movement of construction, where addition and subtraction blend into each other. It is not inherently critical, but there is a glimpse of a critical language at play here, one that demands to be examined further.

A ruin is not in itself hauntological; the hauntology of ‘The Ruin’ is the spatial action required to bring the ruin out from dereliction. Extending this logic; a properly hauntological ruin would perhaps be indistinguishable from an unfinished building, a spatial logic that extends the gap between complete/incomplete. In Spectres of Marx Derrida cites Hugo, writing of the barricades of 1848:

”Ruin. You might say: who built that? You might also say: who destroyed that?”

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Brutalist Camp

I was recently thinking about the caryatids from the Erecthyon, and how they have had a much smaller influence upon architecture as their ordered neighbours, when I came across this; an if only if ever there never was one.

Begging from Dubai

From the blurb relating to the upcoming AA winter school, which will be off to dubai:

"Today, there is an urgent need to understand the Gulf's tranformation in a different light - not one defined by a knee-jerk pessimism, but to take seriously what is often being ridiculed."

Now, I would consider the urban development of the Gulf to be worthy of both pessimism and ridicule, but for different reasons. The ridicule is basically for the nouveau riche-ness of the iconography and aesthetics of the place, a grown up disneyland with as little taste. This is of course impotent; it is reminiscent of the scorn heaped upon the rising bourgeoisie from the usurped aristocrats at the fin-de-siecle, and the pamphleteer would be correct to say that this condescending attitude (oh, the crassness, the gold!) is pointless. However, the pessimism comes from elsewhere, and it is wrong to conflate the two. It is because of the gross exploitation upon which the glitter of the Emirates is built that we are pessimistic, an exploitation that is on a different scale to what has been seen for a long time: it is not for nothing that the Sheikhs portray themselves as latter day Pharoahs, commanding their armies of slaves up into the sky. Nothing new, of course, but this is just the ever-intensifying nothing new, going taller, bigger, with worse consequences.

Then, after being informed that to criticise Dubai is knee-jerk, a solution is proposed;

"Rather than delivering a mere critique, we will initiate a critical practice of involvement."

I'm sorry, but there is no difference in the level of impotence between a mere critic of Dubai and a critical-practitioner in Dubai, it is just that one is paid. It is disingenuous to suggest that there is any kind of field in the spatial productions of the Gulf that is in any way responsive to critical practice and I can only translate the sentence above as: "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" Again, nothing new, the ever present Speer-syndrome, one must work for those with the power, but why must this gold rush be dressed in quasi-critical language? Of course, an ethical architect is an unemployed architect, but the disjunction between the pedagogical position and the practical position is greater than it has ever been.

Sunday, 28 October 2007


East End Life reported the resignation from Respect of councillors Rahman, Begum, Khan and Hussain under the headline Laptop is Stolen. What on earth is going on?

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Bad Poetry Appreciation

A Tragedy - by Theophile Marzials

Death! Plop.
The barges down in the river flop.
Flop, plop.
Above, beneath.
From the slimy branches the grey drips drop,
As they scraggle black on the thin grey sky,
Where the black cloud rack-hackles drizzle and fly
To the oozy waters, that lounge and flop
On the black scrag piles, where the loose cords plop,
As the raw wind whines in the thin tree-top.
Plop, plop.
And scudding by
The boatmen call out hoy! and hey!
All is running water and sky,
And my head shrieks - "Stop,"
And my heart shrieks - "Die."

My thought is running out of my head;
My love is running out of my heart,
My soul runs after, and leaves me as dead,
For my life runs after to catch them - and fled
They all are every one! -- and I stand, and start,
At the water that oozes up, plop and plop,
On the barges that flop
And dizzy me dead.
I might reel and drop.
And the shrill wind whines in the thin tree-top
Flop, plop.

A curse on him.
Ugh! yet I knew -- I knew --
If a woman is false can a friend be true?
It was only a lie from beginning to end --
My Devil -- My "Friend"
I had trusted the whole of my living to!
Ugh; and I knew!
So what do I care,
And my head is empty as air --
I can do,
I can dare,
(Plop, plop
The barges flop
Drip drop.)
I can dare! I can dare!
And let myself all run away with my head
And stop.
Plop, flop.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Do you enjoy your hardcore?

Disregarding the fact that the current discussion of 'jumpstyle' absolutely reeks of being a hoax, that fact that it is being talked about at all is still quite interesting. This DMZ fellow seems like the sort of concept that gets invented as a joke over a long sunday afternoon spent sat in the Old Blue Last; a mixture of the rebel/refugee chic of MIA and the ground-up organic exclusivity of Dubstep, with a bit of paramilitary turbofolk unpleasantness thrown in for good measure.

Last time it was Doom Metal and its unbelievably earnest self-regard that got hipsters interested, with people queuing along Bethnal Green Road to attempt to see Sunn 0))) etc. and now, we are being led to believe, it is this scene that we should be crashing into (although anyone who's been out in the Slavic bars along Kingsland Road will know that this is already occurring). I recall that there was an interview with Sunn 0))) posted on the the Touch radio website, where fans spoke up and bemoaned the sudden surge of vicarious interest in Black Metal coming from readers of The Wire and its milieu, wanting to protect the authenticity of their passion from the intellectual faddishness of the modernists. You can see this process at work elsewhere; any time you go to FWD on a friday night in shoreditch there's an almost 50/50 split in the demographic of the audience between the true headz and the people (like myself), who started listening via Burial etc. In fact, was there not a grime night held at the whitechapel gallery for people who felt intimidated by the prospect of attending a real grime night?

Another connection between black metal and gabba / post-gabba music is their completely hermetic music theory. Just check wikipedia for exhaustive descriptions of either the importance of basing an entire sonic universe on the 'devil's interval' of the tritone, or the precise method by which one can create the correct clipped thud kick-drum sound. And anybody who has read or heard a metal fan trying to explain their musical system in terms of the western classical method will know how embarrasing that can be, not because of its inadequacy but because it has no need to be explained thus. This is just to say that there is also structural exclusivity to these musics, that they are not empty vessels of sound waiting to be culturalised.

It's safe to suggest that the internet has facilitated these fads in music, where people can safely search out the most extreme or random things possible, resulting in 'ordinary' people simultaneously owning music from all possible positions, essentially breaking down any kind of genre barrier or exclusivity. Intellectuals can profess their adoration for the 'Umbrella' song and their little sister might have a couple of Fennesz tracks that they like on their i-pod. This is no bad thing, striated boundaries in music are pointless, and we should be pleased that their disintegration continues. It's just that the conjuring up of 'scenes' to satisfy the taste for something organic and non-corporate is only different to the spectacle in terms of quantity. A 'passion for the real' perhaps, but searching for it in forms that it has already taken is not helping anyone.

Anyway, any mention of hard dance of any kind automatically takes one back to Glasgow, and this lot, Ultimate Buzz, actually played a gig at a real school disco at my secondary; an hour long set sandwiched in between two bouts of ceilidh dancing. The video has a certain Taggart-ness about it, I feel.

And this is perhaps the quintessential Scottish Rave tune:

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

la maison de vos rêves

Tower Hamlets council has two similar flats going in Goldfinger's Balfron Tower in E14, both are 2 Bed, 4 person, going for £100 a week. What better chance do you have to live in a piece of history? Get on the list!

p.s. I'll let you know next time there's one available in Robin Hood Gardens...

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Lenin's Grave

There are times when spatial memory is actively hidden, when the authorised narrative of the history of a place excludes whole episodes. This can occur at a huge scale, for example the urban cleansing of entire parts of cities in the name of regeneration, but it can also occur at the scale of individual buildings and objects. A pertinent example of the latter would be that of Lenin in London. There is a blue plaque, one of those banal examples of sanctioned memory, dedicated to him at the site of a now non-existent house where he once lived in Percy Circus, which is all very well, but he’s also buried in London…

There was once a statue of Lenin, erected by Tekton architect Berthold Lubetkin in 1941. Cast in concrete, the impossibly sharp likeness was set within a typically modernist white wall, staring fiercely. The bust sat somewhere outside of Lubetkin’s Lenin Court, which is home to a glorious staircase and a rather half-hearted mural in that quasi-Picasso style so common after the war. As time went on however, the statue became subject to consistent acts of NF vandalism (although it has been written that it was ‘the public’ as a whole who insisted upon destroying it, as if post war Islingtonians just couldn’t walk past a communist without smashing its face in). Undeterred, Lubetkin kept a supply of busts in order to maintain the monument, but eventually the council got tired of protecting and replacing so it was decided that it had to go. Strangely, Lubetkin took matters into his own hands and in fact buried the sculpture before it could be destroyed, turning up one morning with a mate and a digger. The council also renamed the entire building just in case it got its face smashed in too...

Visiting again the other day and passing over the site where it was lost, I tried to identify exactly where it could be. I recalled the very few photos that exist, trying to picture where it might have stood, begging some Tony Robinson type to arrive and film a TV archaeology special, locating it with a scanner before digging it out with a toothbrush. I suspect that it would look very different now, just some sludgy grey colour, squinting out from behind its rotten goatee, perhaps as unrecognisable as some disintegrated caryatid from the acropolis.

Of course it’s best that it stays underground; the very real-ness of the decay it must have gone through by now could only possibly be read as that old cautionary message of the frailty of man and its ambition. This is typical of the ruininlust that is making its return to consciousness now, a lazy warning against even daring to think the new. This highlights the problem of decay as a trope – on the one hand it has a necessary function within the politicised aesthetics of hauntology, but it is constantly slipping on the edge of kitsch and the reactionary picturesque. The question is; how to negotiate this boundary?

PS – we're very excited at the prospect of Burial vs K-Punk in The Wire…

Monday, 1 October 2007


I came across this on my travels today. It's the earliest known recorded music in existence and it's bloody incredible.

It's "a chorus of 4000 voices recorded with phonograph over 100 yards away," made by Edison's foreign sales rep at the Crystal Palace on June 29th, 1888.

Hauntogeography II

This tomb was photographed somewhere in Hampshire.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

minimal uncanny

On Jon Wozencroft's typically excellent cover art for the (mildly disappointing) second fennesz/sakamoto collaboration 'cendre' there is something rather exciting. Barely visible on the front of the sleeve, running horizontally across the sky is a slight white line, faded, not present at all points, but there (albeit not visible in this image). One hardly notices it at first, it could easily be a scratch acquired in handling, prior to purchase, but an uncanny moment occurs upon opening - the line continues across the inside of the sleeve, in exactly the same position, across an entirely different image. Upon further examination this mark appears to be the area where ink is damaged when a piece of paper is folded, or perhaps it is just a miniscule photoshop subtraction, but either way, upon perception, a barrier springs up between you and the image. This second screen, the addition of another layer of distance from the image, makes the first distance, normally ignored, all the more apparent.

Could this not be described as a minimalist hauntology? Instead of the technological uncanny being the focus of the work, the object as it were, this tiny mark actually works as a point of minimal difference, where the phantasmal barrier between image and eye is given body, where the normal fiction of a direct connection between the image and its perception is no longer tenable.

In other words, unlike 'the caretaker', where the decay of the memory is almost complete, and only the tiniest trace of 'the object' remains, here we have the very opposite, the out-of-jointness of memory even at its most clear.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007


"What is it, now, to chew carrots? Why this plural? Could there ever be more than one of them? Could this question even have meaning? Could one even speak of the chewing of a carrot, and if so how, why, to whom, with what onto-teleo-theological animus?"
- Eagleton 'haunts' the prose of Derrida, in Marxism without Marxism from Ghostly Demarcations.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007


This is perhaps the most incredible photograph that i have ever seen. From Jean-Louis Cohen's 'Le Corbusier and the Mystique of the USSR', the image is subtitled 'The unveiling of the Palace of Soviets' model, Paris, 1931.'.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Hauntogeography I : Gunkanjima

A few kilometers off the coast of Japan sits Hashima Island, abandoned in 1974 when its coalmines were closed. At one time this 450x150 meter island was one of the most densely populated spaces on earth, now it is entirely devoid of people. It seems to be a strange cross between Tarkovsky's Stalker and a Tuscan hill-top village, the perfunctory concrete housing blocks have shed all of their wooden balconies to the streets below, and the steep terrain has led to some amazing staircase configurations, now with trees growing in and out and around them. The beauty of situations such as this should not just be reduced to some guilty eschatological pleasure, what can we take from this into our own production?

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Choons fir deid weans.

At the other end of the spectrum, this is rather impressive. Fischer-Dieskau manages to achieve the haunted look rather well, and there's an intriguing patina caused by the sound clipping at the top. The recording of Kathleen Ferrier singing the Kindertotenlieder is rather bloody special too. I bought the piano & voice edition recently with a view to arranging the whole cycle, perhaps even then becoming the first complete think, pig! lieder project but the sheet music is now 'entschwindet und vergeht' itself, which is a great shame.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

concret pH

More pavilion work, this time the seminal philips pavilion of Xenakis. this was the film and music for the interior, courtesy of Le Corbusier and Edgar Varese. Xenakis also contributed 'concret pH' to the intervals, a charming piece of music consisting of manipulated samples of burning charcoal. I recommend it to you.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

oh well...

A slice of work in progress; a sodden wet, collapsed Apollo Pavilion. This is part of a series of works based upon various pavilions and memorials, transfigured memories of avant-garde intrusions into quotidian space.

These works will be fully documented at a later date.

Also, if I could recommend that you visit my musician alter ego before you leave, that would be great.