Tuesday, 4 January 2011


Don't worry, come back! It's not another list! But it is the end of one year, and the start of a new. It's a time to reflect, to take stock, to blah blah blablah. What I will say is that on a number of levels (although not that many) 2010 was a far better year than 2009. I was employed in what amounts to 2.5 jobs for the whole year, got to write for various people, got to travel across Europe to write, got to give talks to various people, got to travel across Europe to talk to people, even got to do a bit of teaching. During this time I met a lot of wonderful people, many for the first time, and for all this I'm very grateful. As well as this, my carousing became less desperate & less fatalistic, I took better care of myself, and also some loose ends were tied up, writing a less tragic ending to one of the most horrible stories of my last three years. All in all, it was a damn sight better than the year before, although at the end of the day I'm still the same old miserable bastard.

So anyway, what follows are some collected thoughts on the year just passed, apropos of nothing, and not really in aid of anything either. Perhaps this will help me figure out what next year is going to be all about, or maybe I'm just writing this to pass the time, which will pass in any case. But no matter! Onward! Things can only get better!


By far the most embarrassing object to come to my attention this year was the ArcelorMittalOrbit, the ugliest, most aggressively stupid piece of public art I have ever seen, and it's not even built yet. Everything about it, from the anecdote about BoJo the Clown meeting Lakshmi Mittal in the pissers at Davos, to the clichéd sub-Derridean patter that accompanied the planning application, to the banality of the napkin sketch to the already tired digital resolution of the silly shape, nothing signified the moral and aesthetic vacuum at the heart of this pathetic little island better than this 110m tall trinket to be built within stumbling distance from my flat. ARGH!

Well this one has to be a toss-up between one of two buildings, one of which I think is better than the other, one of which I actually visited.

The former is the Spanish Pavilion from the Shanghai Expo. I wrote about the Expo a couple of times this year, both in print and on the blog, as well as interviewing Benedetta Tagliabue for ICON magazine around the middle of the year. What I thought was good about the Spanish Pavilion was that it showed a mature attitude both to the implementation of digital technology / fabrication in a building, as well as to its symbolic language.
Regarding technology, rather than any quasi-avant garde-ist babble about CAD plug-ins being the generators of an unprecedented spatial complexity that enacts its very own detournément, this building was digital in that it used computers to resolve the structural gymnastics, without making any hi-falutin claims that don't stand up to expert scrutiny.
The building also understood the architectural value of formalism for the façade, functionalism for the insides.
And as for the formal language, in an Expo notable for its vacuous pop-formalism, its doily facades, its sand-dune buildings, its frankly stupid conceptualism, this building took the dumb gesture, that of the wicker basket, and made something abstracted and complex from it, referring at once to Chinese tradition, Spanish tradition and previous works by EMBT, as well as all of the other architectural clevernesses they're good at. It was good to see them get some credit, after such a long time as being 'the firm that completed Miralles designs'.

The second building was the 8 House by BIG in Copenhagen, which I reviewed for ICON. I'm suspicious of BIG, to be honest. I find the post-Koolhaas overblown functionalism to be a conceptual one trick pony (HEY guys! What's the zoning envelope? Let's just build right up to it! etc…), and of course I find Ingels' hyperactive optimism to be precisely the opposite of my own ideas about architecture, but it was excellent to see people having a go at the megastructural housing block. Basically a yuppiedrome, the 8 House put all the speculative housing completed in the UK over the last year to absolute shame. In fact, even the developer seems like Nye Bevan compared to the scum we've got over here in the UK. Depressing.


This shower of bastards sneaked in, and already they're wrecking the place like it was an unfortunate Oxford restaurant. The simplest way I can understand the situation is that these gentlemen have come to the conclusion that the only way to improve the economic climate in the UK (meaning stimulate opportunities for 'wealth creation', i.e. profit extraction for their friends) is to roll back the rights that our parents and their parents and their parents fought so very hard for so very long for. These hooligans have looked jealously at levels of exploitation in the third world and have thought "Bingo! That's what we need!" It beggars belief.

Not only have they managed to sell the country the mind-bogglingly stupid analogy of the economy being a cupboard that has been left empty by the profligate previous government, thus we're all (i.e. just the poor) going to have to starve, but they're also in the process of destroying the state higher-education system, squeezing the poor out of the inner cities, and crippling the NHS yet further.

As an intellectual, an aesthete, and a person with a strong attachment to the notion of the universality of humanity and its suffering (phew!), I've never felt more adrift from the zeitgeist. I want them stopped. They are bastards, and they're trying to ruin it for everyone apart from them and their clique. STOP THEM!

But then, inamongst this genuine anger, and despite the fact that as K-Punk so perfectly put it: 'history is starting again', there is always the looming fact that this is a systematic crisis in capitalist society, one that is of course intrinsically linked to the looming (unfolding?) environmental catastrophe. Perhaps capitalism might not collapse in the next 100 years, but it's going to get a lot more ugly, as if the world weren't already ugly enough. My wild prediction for what to expect from the next decade? Pogroms. Lots of 'em. All over the place, happening to all sorts of people. Maybe not, but something spectacular needs to be pulled out of the hat if we're going to avoid WWII levels of horror in the next generation or so (but of course, we saw WWII levels of horror in the last ten years in the Congo, didn't we? It just goes on and on…)
Trümmer auf Trümmer…

Oh, it's difficult for me to talk about music much these days. I mean, it's still very very important to me, ridiculously so, but it feels strange to be a music lover nowadays. I hardly ever buy music any more, the occasional album by a contemporary artist, mostly experimental electronic-y stuff, but there's just such a hell of a lot of youtube watching, spotify listening and so on that I can discuss at length various aspects of 'the latest shit', without actually feeling any kind of enthusiasm for it. I suspect this is a very common feeling as the crisis of music consumption brought about by the internet becomes yet deeper, as the sense of discovery that once went hand in hand with finding new music vanishes yet further. I did go to see Hype Williams playing in Hoxton, for example, although I decided that I couldn't be arsed with the Salem gig at Shoreditch church.

I continued trying to practice, although business meant that certain projects I had going during the idleness of 2009 are now on the back-burner, perhaps indefinitely. This year I'd like to make recordings of some of the myriad arrangements that I have almost completed, if only to get them out of the way, to give oneself the feeling of having done something, anything!

2010 also saw me give proper time and consideration to Wagner, which led to some (what I thought were) fascinating insights into the High Romantic imagination and its relationship to technology. Verso reissued Adorno's book on Wagner, which is excellent, although I don't know if I can really be arsed reading what Badiou has to say about him in his newly published collection.


Well, it's going to have to be Keiller's 'Robinson in Ruins', which I reviewed for ICON. One of the most striking things about this film was the way that the exquisite melancholy of his earlier Robinson films had given way to a sense of pessimistic dread, as Vanessa Redgrave read quotes of climate scientists earnestly discussing the imminent 'End of Life on Earth'.

Overall it certainly wasn't as good as the previous films - one got the sense that Keiller had turned his RCA research fellowship into a Robinson film only under duress, but I still cannot get over the breadth, intelligence and wit of his work, and I'm totally in thrall to its ability to draw out the embedded history and struggles that are latent in the landscapes we inhabit, while also making comprehensive artistic statements.

Accusations of clique-ness are probably well founded here, but Owen's book 'A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain' is a really stunning piece of work, a real demonstration that rather than the current standard of reactionary complacency posing as radical theorising all sheathed in unbearably turgid prose, it is eminently possible to combine architecture and politics in a work of genuine literary quality. Good for him!

Other literature that really stuck with me this year included Jonathan Littel's 'The Kindly Ones', Alisdair Gray's 'Lanark', & reading Geoffrey Hill's poetry.


In other literature news; I'm expecting that the first half of this year will see the publication of THE ARCHITECTURE OF FAILURE, the short book that I wrote about architecture, technology and weakness last year. Part history, part polemic, it takes a new look at the founding structures of modern architecture, the giant Iron & Glass palaces of the late 19th century. Instead of the triumphant expressions of technical prowess that they are generally understood to be, these buildings were expressions of a far more doubtful culture, which saw fragility, ghostliness and melancholy in their lofty transepts. This historical analysis begins to form a theory of architectural failure, a theory that starts to coalesce in the second half of the book where I apply it to three significant periods of architectural modernism, all of which have established conceptual links to these founding monuments - the 'Zoom' wave of Archigram et al, the Decon lot of the 1980s-90s, and the new generation of digiwibblists.

It will be neither conclusive neither definitive, but I would like to think that you'll enjoy it. I'll keep you posted.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I can already announce my Word Of The Year Twothousandandeleven: