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5 Three Fire Stations Kate Macintosh 9 Sensitive Contextualism Kate Macintosh and Patrick Lynch 18 Room as Horizon Peter Carl 23 Hybrid Houses Paulo Moreira 32 Narrated by Water Eleanor Grierson 40 Myth, Mourning & Memory Will Jennings 57 Whispering Blooms Jack Orton 67 Shatwell Farm Stephen Taylor 72 Civic Architecture and the Municipal Estate Dominic Wilkinson 76 Civic History Douglas Carson and Rosaleen Crushell 86 Other Strangerâ€™s Paths Tim Waterman in homage to John Brinckerhoff Jackson 90 The Idea of Home Michael Higgins 97 Gwendraeth House Peter Finnemore 107 Lambent Materials Patrick Lynch 112 Poems Sarah Arvio
Editor’s Letter Patrick Lynch
Gaston Bachelard suggested, in The Poetics of Space, that we each have a house inside of our hearts that situates us in our dreams, when we read, and in our waking life, making both imaginative and quotidian life possible. Since bad dreams and the cruelty of life cannot be discounted in this analysis, it’s no surprise that the actual poetry of home points less towards easy resolution, as towards longing, homesickness, frustration, anger, boredom, and to some degree fear of home, and the fear of losing what is loved. We also talk somewhat ambivalently about Mother Nature, and are still trying hard to overcome prejudices and accept that we share our home equally with non-human beings (for example cows). Any serious architectural poetics of home, I think, has to recognise the shared etymological roots of economics and ecology in oikos, homestead. When even Conservative politicians acknowledge a Housing Crisis, you’d imagine that the topic of Home should be of primary importance to architects and architecture schools, but it is hardly ever directly or even indirectly addressed in Britain today. Although strange, it is perhaps not hard to understand why. Home is a slippery and difficult subject: as many people are running away from its bonds at any one point, as those that crave it. We continue to use euphemisms and technical jargon to try to disguise our ambivalence towards home: Housing, Resi, Dwelling, Property, Investment Opportunities, Units; and the problems of home offer many opportunities for hyperbole and self-righteousness: The Housing Crisis/Scandal/Standards. It’s as if talking about, never mind thinking about home directly is so messy and complex and painful that we’d rather avoid it all together. Yet when I was an exchange student at l’Ecole d’Architecture de Lyon in my 4th year, the second semester project (for the entire country) was entitled Urbanisme et Logements. Every French architecture student has to study the theory and practise of urban housing, and they have to demonstrate competence in it. At the time this seemed doctrinaire to me, but now the alternative seems bonkers, hopelessly out of touch, arrogant and unforgivably slack. Housing is a compulsory core module in most European architecture schools. Perhaps this is why they build such good housing? I devised a student design project called Heart House. Participants draw fragments of a house or houses that they’ve loved and felt loved in; then write a sentence or two about this; combine these into a collage, and then make a model of this story. The results are never less than weird and interesting, revealing the Rattle Bag of memories and archetypes that underlie and inform imaginative design work. The great West Indian poet, playwright and painter Derek Walcott once explained, when challenged as to how he could combine all of these seemingly disparate activities (on 25th February 2004 at The Queen Elizabeth Hall in London), that “poems are really images”. He also claimed in a poem (Codicil), that “To change your language you must change your life.” The inverse is also true, especially if you want to design a home: to change your life you must change your language (a similar point is made in Denis Villeneuve’s film Arrival, a version of Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”). This is the challenge that sits behind the various contributions to this (bumper) issue I think. 3
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© 2019 Canalside Press and the authors. All rights reserved.
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A graduate of The New School in New York, Sarah Arvio is a poet and translator. Her collections include Sono:Cantos (2006), Night Thoughts: 70 dream poems and notes from an analysis (2014), and Frederica Garcia Lorca: A Poet in Spain (2017). Her many awards include The Rome Prize (2003–4) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2005–6). Arvio’s poems have appeared in numerous anthologies including The Best American Poetry (1998 and 2015).
All opinions expressed within this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily of the publisher. Editor: Patrick Lynch Designed by Emma Kalkhoven Printed by KOPA, Lithuania British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data. A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library. ISSN 2516-9165 No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior permission of the publisher. Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked the necessary arrangements will be made at the first opportunity. Thanks to all the contributors, and to Niamh Darlington for invaluable help with this publication. Thanks to Jay Merrick for his editing skills. i m ag e c r e d i t s
Solent School by Peter Durrant; Dawson’s Heights courtesy of Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections; Skywalk in Spokane by Jim Ehrhardt; Villa Ottolenghi sketch courtesy of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union; Fifth Element courtesy United Archives GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo; JB Jackson by Peter Brown; Carson Crushell projects by David Grandorge and the architects; Canning Place fire station courtesy Hall, O’Donahue & Wilson archive. Cover images: Shatwell Farm, Stephen Taylor. Photograph by David Grandorge. Previous spread: Drawing by Kate Macintosh of George Finch, architect, with their son, Sean Macintosh, architect, Tuscany, 1975. Peter Carl’s essay is revised from a version originally published in Masks02, Sirens as Muses, Cambridge, Mass., 2018
A graduate of Princeton University, where he studied with and worked with Michael Graves, Anthony Vidler, Kenneth Frampton, Emilio Ambasz, Peter Carl is currently Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Chinese University, Hong Kong. Previous to this he was a visiting professor at the GSD, Harvard, after nine years as professor at The Cass in London where he established the PhD seminar Practical Wisdom. Prior to this Peter spent thirty years teaching design and the graduate course in The History and Philosophy of Architecture at Cambridge University. He is the author of numerous articles including Ornament and Time: A Proglemena, City-image vs Topography of Praxis, The Godless Temple: Organon of the Infinite, Civic Depth, etc. carson and crushell
Graduates of University College Dublin, Carson and Crushell Architects are based in Dublin. Prior to this Douglas Carson and Rosaleen Crushell worked in London for Edward Cullinan Architects, Eric Parry Architects, Woolf Architects and Lynch Architects. Douglas teaches at UCD. Rosaleen holds a Masters in Urban and Building Conservation, and is a founding member of Built Heritage Collective Ireland.
pau l o m o r e i r a
is an architect. Born in Yorkshire, she studied at the University of Cambridge, The Cass and the University of Westminster. She works at Lynch Architects where she is currently project architect on a new building for Westminster Council. She has spent time making art (winning the Apulia Land Art Festival 2016) and has also designed exhibitions at Kensington Palace and The Wallace Collection, the former awarded silver at the 2019 London Design Awards.
is an architect based in Porto. He received his PhD from London Metropolitan University, is a graduate of the Faculty of Architecture, University of Porto, and also studied at the Accademia di architettura,in Mendrisio. Paulo is the co-coordinator of The Chicala Observatory, a research project based at Agostinho Neto University (Angola) and a member of Africa Habitat, a research project based at Faculty of Architecture, University of Lisbon.
j ac k o r t o n
Previously a lecturer in the department of political science and sociology at the University College Galway, where he studied, Michael Higgins has been the president of Ireland since 2011. He is also a poet and a broadcaster.
is a photographer currently based in London, working on commercial and documentary projects. I am also first assistant to photographer Zed Nelson. His practice depicts an interest in Nostalgia, Disconnection and Narrative by exploring peculiar new towns, radical architecture and urban areas.
is a visual artist and writer based in London. He is interested in the intersections between cities, histories, politics and culture. pat r i c k l y n c h
is an architect based in London. He studied at the universities of Liverpool and Cambridge, completing his PhD at The Cass with Peter Carl, Joseph Rykwert and Helen Mallinson in 2015. He has taught at The Architectural Association, the University of Cambridge, The Cass, and since 2016 has been a Visiting Professor at Liverpool University. He established Lynch Architects in 1997. Recipient of numerous awards, their projects have been widely published and exhibited at major events, including The Venice Biennale in 2012, the Irish pavilion at Venice in 2008, and the Milano Triennale in 2017. Patrick is the author of Civic Ground (2017), Mimesis (2015), and The Theatricality of the Baroque City (2011). k at e m ac i n t o s h
A graduate of Glasgow School of Art, Peter Finnemore is an artist working within the broad practice of photographic art. He has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions both nationally and internationally, including, representing Wales at the 51st Venice Biennale (2005). Major published works include Gwendraeth House (Ffotogallery, 2000) and Zen Gardener (Oriel Mostyn, 2004). Album / Silent Village catalogue (Ffotogallery, 2010). Finnemore’s works are included in a number of private and public collections including Arts Council of Great Britain, Scottish Arts Council, National Museums of Wales Collection, Argos Center for Media and Art in Brussels, Lidice Memorial Museum in the Czech Republic, The Art Museum at Princeton University.
is an architect. A graduate of Edinburgh School of Architecture, Kate worked on the National Theatre with Denys Lasdun. At L.B.Southwark architect’s office she designed Dawsons Heights, 296 dwellings on a hill above Dulwich. The sheltered housing scheme, 269 Leigham Court Road, that she designed for Lambeth council, was listed grade 2 in 2015. Following a brief interlude with Ahrends Burton and Koralek, she moved in 1974 to East Sussex County architects, where she designed, three buildings for the county fire service, schools, old person’s homes and sheltered housing and a children’s home. In 1986 she moved to Hampshire County Architects, where she designed buildings for the fire service, social services and education, and taught at the Portsmouth school of architecture. Taking early retirement in 1995, she then went into private practice with George Finch.
pau l s h e p h e a r d
is an architect. He has published three books with the MIT Press, What is Architecture? (1994), The Cultivated Wilderness (1997) and Artificial Love (2003). How To Like Everything was published by Zero Books in 2013 and Buildings: Between Living Time and Rocky Space by Circa Press in 2016. Paul is currently working on Slogans and Battlecries (to be published by Canalside Press in 2020), and teaching at the Royal College of Art. He has taught at the Architectural Association, where he studied, The University of Texas at Austin, and in Holland and Belgium. s t e p h e n tay l o r
is an architect based in London. A graduate of the RCA, Stephen has taught at many schools of architecture including Kingston, The Architectural Association (with the editor), The Cass and at EPFL, Lausanne. He is the recipient of numerous awards, and his work has been published and exhibited widely across the world. t i m wat e r m a n
is Senior Lecturer in Landscape Architecture History and Theory on the new Master’s programme in landscape architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture. Recent books include Landscape and Agency: Critical Essays and the Routledge Handbook of Landscape and Food. In his youth, Tim was a restauranteur and quite a successful musician, and he waims “for a future that is both a little bit tasty and a little bit rock and roll”. dominic wilkinson
is an architect and Senior Lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University. A graduate of Liverpool University, his current research projects include a book for the Twentieth Century Society on the Church architect F. X. Velarde, and publications on the Modernist houses of Merseyside.
Three Fire Stations Kate Macintosh
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t h r e e f i r e s tat i o n s
It is not often that architects have the opportunity to build a landmark tower, unless one is designing a bank, or offices in the city. On moving to the county architectâ€™s office in East Sussex, and being presented with the project of a replacement fire station, I thought I would try to make the drill tower more that the usual utilitarian bald structure. I was inspired by the writings of Kevin Lynch in the Image of the City. Drill towers are divided into two sections: there are the drill faces, where the fire-fighters practice pitching ladders, firing hoses and carrying down dummy bodies; and the second part is a hose-hanging shaft, where the hoses are hoisted to hang and drain. This has to be well ventilated. The aesthetic problem of fire station design, for me, is the search for a unified image, integrating the industrial garage/shed with administration uses and a sense of the domestic. The scales of these two aspects of a fire station are quite different. At Halton, in Hastings, I resolved this by means of a big zinc roof, which partially envelopes the vertical surfaces of both parts. The properties of zinc are favourable to a saline climate beside the sea. The roofs allow day light into the appliance bay, which is important for the maintenance of the equipment. At the Fire Training HQ at Maresfield, I faced the demand for a 7 storey, rather than the standard 5 storey tower. The apertures of this tower are fitted with roller shutters, so that it can also be smoke-logged. The tower sits beside the tallest tree on the site, an oak, at the edge of a woodland. The Firehouse is smoke and heat logged, humidified, in total darkness. Movements are remotely monitored, so that if trainees collapse, the extract fan is activated, and lights go on. Rushmoor is a five fire appliance structure, with the possibility of an additional sixth being provided at a later date. It is next to Farnborough airfield. A 15-man watch was expected to rise to 18. This would trigger the addition of a sixth appliance bay, completing the pairing to road frontage. The pole-drop is located at the centre of the cruciform roof structure, enabling a three-minute turnout. The framed structure allows for adaptation. For example, the introduction of women into the force required an additional dormitory. The covered wash area, at the rear of the appliance bay (below which the fire appliances returning from an incident park are hosed down), is a cantilevered structure. There are no columns to obstruct tired drivers. Contrasting areas in the planning of fire stations are: clean/dirty; quiet/noisy; highly disciplined, training versus sport/relaxing, areas for socialising-bonding, developing and maintaining trust. Means of escape from sleeping risk must be exemplary. At Rushmoor, escape is via the lecture room.
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Sensitive Contextualism Interview between Patrick Lynch and Kate Macintosh February–March 2019
Lovely to meet you last night at the Beauty debate at Central St Martins (CSM). At the debate last night you recommended that architects think about children when they are designing. Can you say a little more about this, please? For example, how you did so in the design of your projects. I’m also always generally curious about everybody’s memories of buildings and gardens and rooms and landscapes from their childhood, especially architects obviously, and I have a set-piece workshop project for architecture students that asks them to describe these spatial recollections in words, drawings and collages. I think that remembering how we felt about spaces as children is a good way to ground the architect in us, in the human being. km:
My early childhood memories go back to the years of WW2 when my family were living in Cheshire. My father was an engineer working for the local authority and engaged in the design of shelters, therefore he was in a protected occupation. But in 1941 he volunteered for the RAF, so from then until 1946 (he was posted to the Far East) we saw little of him. One vivid memory, when I was probably 4 or 5, is of getting together with a bunch of other kids, and constructing a primitive shelter on a scrap of wasteland near our homes. It was made by driving posts into the ground, tying on horizontals with string, weaving round a grid of twine, vertically and horizontally and then attempting to infill the squares with long grasses. If we had had some mud we might have progressed to a mud and wattle hut. It was just about large enough for one child to curl up in and fall asleep. All children should have the chance to experiment and invent in this way, from first principles. A war-time childhood in the UK, for those not living in a target areas, had some advantages, even given the shortages of almost everything. As compared with the lives of children today I enjoyed great freedom to roam. There were very few vehicles around and few men other than agricultural workers. I walked to school across meadowland, learnt to swim (after a fashion) in the muddy waters of the river Weaver. We also learnt what food there was for free in the local hedgerows. Above all, the streets could be our playgrounds. Another memory is connected with a Morrison shelter, which we had installed in our dining room, is of a nightmareish event, when my brother, 2 years my junior, at the age of about two and a half, attempted to climb into his highchair, which was not secured to its base. The upper part tipped over and he cut a gash in his forehead on the edge of the sheet steel lid of the shelter (which we used as a table). I felt a rush of terror as the blood gushed out. I had always felt repelled by this crude steel structure, which seemed to bring the horror of war right into our home.
On my father’s demobilisation in 1946 we had our first family holiday in Wales, and on the return journey stopped off at Harlech castle. I walked all round the battlements on my own and experienced a tremendous exhilaration, the first truly architectural experience. I was aged 10 when we moved to Edinburgh, my father working for Scottish Special Housing Association (SSHA), which provided social housing across the length and breadth of Scotland. We settled in Morningside, famous for its kippers and pianos ethos, and Miss Jean Brodie’s fictional Gillespie’s College for Young Ladies. Edinburgh has an architectural lesson on every street corner, especially in the old town of the High Street, and the New Town. Though we did not live in a tenement flat, many of our friends did, and I have always seen this as a very civilised way to provide for urban living, combined with the generous communal gardens to which residents have access. p l : The incredible urbanity of Edinburgh struck me as something physical when I first visited. I spent a week there in August 1985, at the festival, with my girlfriend and her family, when I was 16. We were all involved in amateur dramatics, and so were temporarily in heaven. The whole city seemed like one long, continuous, golden stone theatre. From the hills to the streets, the stone steps and facades seemed one thing—a form of urban nature. For someone from the softness of the Thames Valley, Edinburgh was a shocking revelation. I was completely in love with it for a few years, and really disappointed that I couldn’t matriculate at the university (I’m deaf in one ear and so wasn’t allowed to study for a foreign language O Level). Is it ridiculously too simplistic to suggest that your architectural imagination could be described as playfully topographic? Dawson Heights is perhaps very obviously a type of hill town—city as citadel, house and rock, stage and playground? k m : Yes, Edinburgh is certainly one of the finest cities in the world. Its many landmarks at all times help you to orientate. When I was a student in 4th year, together with another student, I set up an exhibition in what was then the concourse of the Caledonian Station at the West End. It was inspired by the running campaign in the Architectural Review by Ian Nairn and Gordon Cullen, attacking the bungaloid suburban sprawl, totally without any regard to the magnificence of the topography, and much of it built by the then Lord Provost, Miller (the same firm that forgot the wall-ties on the Scottish schools). The station management soon got protests (we had told them it was about architecture, which was true) and demanded that we take it down. We replied that we had a
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2-week agreement and went to the press. I was interviewed on Scottish television. We did take it down early. I guess that was the launch of my career in architectural politics. pl:
banal suburban situation below and providing it with summit and a point: individual amenity notwithstanding, the communal spaces became, you suggested the other evening, places where children came to play, they came there. I wonder if you might speculate why?
Back to Poetics: architecture as topography—? km:
k m : That is certainly part of the context to which architects ought to respond. A volume house-builder tries to treat every site as though it were flat and featureless: and so we end up with clone towns. I always tried to respond to the particularities of the site and the brief. p l : Ah yes, but actually one brutal aspect of financial and socialist modernity, is to deny the typological and intellectual dimension of architecture, resulting in the literal “flattening” of our discourse into a one-off, problem-solving mode of operations. I’m interested in trying to unpack a cultural dimension to the architectural imagination, no matter how repressed by Puritan dogma, in whatever guises it adopts at various points in history. Dawson Heights appears on the skyline like an image of a castle, like a city abstracted into an archetype of settlement, redeeming the
The residents have recently laid on events, attracting in the local community. The nature of the central space is, most importantly, that it is car-free, accessible and overlooked (casual supervision). So it feels safe and protected, but you are not hemmed in; you can escape. The staggering of the high points, as I said, is to minimise blocking of sun and view. But it also reduces the sense of confrontation, of two large buildings staring at each other. P.S. My thesis subject was an opera house for Edinburgh, which I located on the Northern slope of the High Street, just below the esplanade. It entailed the demolition of a listed building, in which my year tutor was living. p l : If you tried to do something this laconic today you’d have to justify it with a lot more words, which is why the analogical method—i.e. “it’s a hill town”—springs to mind as a defence, and not just as a dubious justification. Might the difference also be that today one would have
to produce lots of images and models, and also the design process is heavily consultative; one has to discuss the mass and bulk in a Design and Access Statement accompanying a planning application, and it’s usual to cite precedents and references. Even when the planning authority is also part of the client body, albeit separated by “a Chinese wall” as with our housing for Hackney; or perhaps especially then, you have to make an argument for your design, and ground this in a communicable idea of place. Sorry to go on about Dawson Heights for a bit longer: I’m curious to know what were you looking at when you designed it, and at what point you realised that you had something that transcended a functionally useful diagram? Giancarlo de Carlo was working with the natural topography of Urbino at this time? Did you visit his work? And were you aware of deliberately playing up the “undulating topography” of the site creating “an Italian Hill Town” (as the 20th Century Society say on their website: www.c20society.org.uk/casework/dawsons-heightsthe-italian-hill-town-in-dulwich/). I’m conscious, too, of wishing to downplay the interpretative aspects of creativity in one’s design processes, in favour of focussing instead on the task at hand. But is the design really the unselfconscious result of purely pragmatic concerns?
Surely you must have had to explain your thinking to colleagues in the town planning department? You must have made models and photographed these, no? I’m curious about two things here, Kate: the process of making the work, and the process of reflecting on the work. This isn’t a trick question, it’s a fascinating project, and arguably you projected onto the shallow Thames Valley setting a fragment of something that gives it an amazing physical and analogical power. The photos attached, of the fusion of architecture and geology on the Edinburgh skyline, and your bricky version of this, seem uncannily similar. The lift and staircase towers take on a figurative power, which you must have at some level been aware of and celebrated, if only at a proportional and formal level. I’m not putting “meaning” higher than “use” here, just proposing that they’re fused in really good architecture: the trick is to notice when they diverge in the design process, and when they converge. The art of architecture emerges out of, and transcends, utility? At what point did you realise that you were onto something that had the potential, realistically, to be really good? k m : I had visited Assisi while a student and seen Italian hill towns in passing as I travelled. I had also been to Athens and other places in
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Greece and was aware of the concept of an acropolis. But, really, you do not have to look much further than Scotland for plenty of examples of hill top fortifications. Yes, I did want to both blend into and enhance the contours of the land.
I met Colin once—a gentleman, and a really good critic. Your Hampshire work, in particular the school projects, is exemplary of the sort of contextualism that you describe, I believe. Could you say something about these projects specifically please? Perhaps unpacking your comments at the CSM talk a bit?
p l : Hope you enjoy the JoCAs. Apologies for radio silence—been incredibly busy. We’re going to New York next week over half term, and I’ll have some time then, and energy, to think up some more questions.
k m : I enjoyed Johan Celsing’s article on decorum in architecture. Roger Scruton would benefit from reading it. I visited Peter Celsing’s wonderful St. Tomas Church in Vällingby, during my time in Stockholm. p l : It’s really good isn’t it? He’s a great lover of poetry, and not a bad poet too. We had a lovely time in New York. Visited some friends who live north of the city, and saw something of small town life, Dia:Beacon, as well as the staggering scale of Manhattan. I wonder if you might be able to say something about decorum with regards to your own work? The move to Hampshire seemed to coincide with a slight change in your architectural accent, as it were. I’m particularly interested in what you said about architecture for children, and in the school projects that you showed at CSM the other week. km:
Glad you enjoyed NY. I very much like the Frick museum. Decorum in architecture, in my understanding, is another way of discussing sensitive contexturalism. In my interpretation this is responding in all aspects to the particularities of the site, including the social context. Regarding the effect of my move from East Sussex to Hampshire, the chill wind of Thatcherism was increasingly felt in East Sussex, so it came to the point where it was mooted that the QSs would put together a dossier of approved details, with which all architects would have to comply. In Hampshire, there existed what was probably a unique culture of shared values between the County Architect (Colin Stansfield Smith) and the Leader of the Council (Freddie Emery-Wallis). Emery-Wallis was nominally a Tory, though certainly not beloved of Thatcher. He was more in the Harold McMillan mould, and believed in public expenditure and civic dignity as basic to the quality of life of the majority. He was a champion of the Architects’ Department, and so there was great support for striving for the best achievable quality within the available budget. Colin was also very keen on promoting the image of the department’s work with publication, and on applying for awards, which were framed and displayed in the entrance foyer. So it was very liberating for me to join this team. Colin also had a policy of personally crediting the project architect, which was in line with the RIBA code, a clause introduced through the Salaried Architects Group, of which I was a member.
When designing for children, I try to make the building stimulating for play and encouraging of the imagination. Also, as I think I said at CSM, the construction should be legible, transparent, and not mysterious. This should be empowering for young minds. Colour is also important, therefore I stained the various structural timber elements in different colours (see photo of Solent Infants School). I think of the building on plan as rather like a friendly dragon; the hall is the head and it has a long tail, under which they must pass to enter. All the classrooms face south, and on that elevated site they see over the roofs of the houses opposite, all the way to Portsmouth harbour. pl:
It looks like there are a number of moments where the children are actively engaging with the structure, playing with it, and sitting and laying on it, like its a big piece of furniture. The photos are lovely. I must admit I don’t understand architects’ references to their buildings being like animals or mythical creatures. It might be a generational thing. I also love The Frick Collection, and we visited again last week. It’s a very curious thing though, a modern house that’s a sort of replica of an Italian Palace, or a grand villa, replete with the decorum and decoration and decor, e.g. a galleria filled with art, overlooking a highly orchestrated version of “nature”. Regardless of whether one could bring oneself to imitate the style of the building, in typological terms it’s very intelligent and precise: a modern oligarch’s sense of their role as a patron, and of the architecture as a contribution to the cultivation of a civilised city. It fulfils, exactly, Alberti’s criteria for a civilised family house in a city (set out in Book 9 of De re aedificatoria). I believe that it is possible to fulfil this cultural program in a less obviously anachronistic “classical” manner, e.g. Aalto’s Villa Mairea demonstrates this in a rural setting; Tony Fretton’s Red House does so in London; ditto Loos’ Müller Haus, etc. This sort of interpretation of architecture, as something analogous and culturally nuanced, was arguably lost in the mainstream modernist way of talking about and thinking about design. In some ways it came back into our discourse in the 1960s and in what was called Post Modernism. Were you aware, then, of the way people were talking about their design work changing? You seem committed to being very straightforward (bar the dragon allusion!), which I can appreciate—design for human situations seems always to succeed, where metaphors almost always fail in architecture. But something seemed to have changed in design thinking in the 1970s and 1980s, which seems to be reflected in your projects. Were people like Aldo Rossi, Venturi and Charles Moore discussed at Hampshire County Architects? Or was it all Sharoun and Aalto and Asplund, the Cambridge School, “the other tradition”? 13
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Apologies, this is a long response. I’m working on research prior to writing about the shift from late 1960s to 1970s architectural culture in the UK (extending the conversation with John Meunier in issue 2), and I’d really appreciate your remembrance of this period please. km:
The dragon reference was something that occurred to me after I did the design. At the Steiner school I attended it was part of the philosophy to tell children the stories of ancient myths and beliefs. When I was in The Hampshire Department there was a very good library with books on most of the theorists, including Rossi and Moore. Colin was a bit of a magpie, picking up whatever the fashion was. He even commissioned a small library from Robert Adam. I think that David White provided the ethical ballast in the office, and when he died it became more wayward. Colin’s choice of which practices to commission was pretty good (other that Robert Adam). Venturi: no, I think all in the office thought the Sainsbury Wing, and the way it happened, a disaster.
rhythms of the facade so much). But I like very much their fire station, and The Vanna Venturi House, which seem modelled, and properly 3D. Can you explain what you mean by “just superficial decoration” please? Your Priory School project in Portsmouth has decoration— what’s the difference between this, and The Frick, and the church I mentioned? k m : What I had no time to fit in the five minutes allocated at CSM was this composite of two photos of the facade of the Wrenian Baroque original grammar school to which I was attempting to relate. I hope this is at least a partial explanation.
We’re all prone to influence, of course. Would you say that you were consciously aware of being critical of modernism; or rather, did you see your work, and the work of your colleagues at Hampshire, bar the Robert Adam anomaly perhaps, as an evolution of modern architecture? There’s lots of talk of ruptures in the histories of modern architecture, largely written by art historian-trained architecture writers who see things (erroneously, I believe) through the distorting lenses of style and epochs. Most good architects I talk to tend to think in terms of the specifics of a project on the one hand (what might be called contextualism?)—and in terms of continuity, the development of professional knowledge. Architecture is a long career... k m : I was always of “The Other Tradition” strand, as Colin St John Wilson called it. I came to the position that it was OK to borrow from past forms, provided they had been fully understood, absorbed and digested. I was, and am, fully opposed to meaningless imitation of past forms as you see in the Sainsbury Wing, just superficial decoration.
Aha—that’s interesting. Can you explain how the building relates to its neighbour? I think it’d be very interesting to our readers to hear about this in your words— if that’s not too insistent. What is non-superficial decoration seems to be the question, from your point of view. km:
Is the Frick Collection just superficial decoration I wonder? We visited The Church of Heavenly Rest (Mayers, Murray and Philips, 1929), which is just up from the Frick (which was finished in 1914 to a design by Thomas Hastings). Do you know the church? We were really impressed by it, moved emotionally and really impressed by the artistry of the architecture in concert with sculptures. It’s a steel frame structure that appears nonetheless as if it’s been hewn out of solid stone. Partly, this is an attempt to be authentic about an experience, there’s no irony or cynicism at work in the church, or at the Frick. The English reaction to Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown seems to have been negative, because they appeared to be ironic; and your generation assumed, perhaps, that this was also cynical?. I don’t like the National Gallery extension particularly (a perspectival staircase just seems a bit illiterate to me, although I don’t mind the flat 14
Non-superficial decoration is expressive of a purpose. It might be a celebration of a structural junction, an elaboration, which draws attention to an aspect of the construction, which the architect finds particularly satisfying. The setting back of the rendered gable of the sports hall, recessing it back from the wall below, was a way of drawing attention to the depth of the diaphragm wall, which stops and becomes normal depth at the top of the window. pl:
Isn’t that just Structural Expressionism?
k m : I should thank you for forcing me to examine my sources of inspiration and to articulate them; something I rarely consciously do. I think most creative people work a lot by delving semi-consciously into a memory bank; so the longer you live, the richer the references at your disposal.
Like most UK architects, and certainly those from Scotland, Charles Rennie Mackintosh is a big influence on me, and others of his contemporaries from Glasgow. They, in turn, were taking inspiration from an ancient Scottish tradition. The Scottish Castle is very often a battlemented tower, within the parapet of which rises a pitched roof; good for defense, and good for roof maintenance (see photographs).
I immediately thought of Leigham Court when you sent the other Scottish castle images. All of these projects are terrifically plastic and well modelled, the volumes articulated and equal to the mass of the blocks. There is an equilibrium between the modernist notions of “space” and “form” (of Gideon?) that destroys these clichés On both the East and the West gables of Mackintosh’s Glasgow in favour of something much older and powerful: volume, a unity School of Art, you can see a gable, which is set back from a parapet, between construction and idea, matter and inhabitation. and which has a central groove, or projection. The Glasgow architects There is a strange sense of Home and something Civic about of that time did all sorts of weird and wonderful things with gables Leigham Court: it’s a courtyard type, something like a monastic (see the photograph of a very original church in Paisley, which I or educational settlement (others have observed), but also small attach). The architect was actually an engineer. Andy McMillan was scale and domestic. I like the design very much. writing a book about him. Not sure if he finished it. My mother recently moved to a similar sort of place (the Here are two more photographs, showing the context of the architecture isn’t as sophisticated but the program is probably given at my Priory School project. The elaborate extravagance of the indebted to your exemplary project I think). She enjoys the benefits Wrenian Baroque, and a former Catholic orphanage, which stands of a ground floor flat overlooking a park, one that opens onto between my sport hall and the main building. a communal garden (albeit she has a deep threshold and some more or less private terrace) and also the boon of community rooms and shared facilities (she is chair of the residents’ association). John Meunier uses the term “intricacy” to describe something between complexity and intimacy. I also like using the phrase “naturalness and time”, and have been using “very, very minimal figurative architecture” to describe our work recently—which is a bit pretentious I know, but seems accurate at least. This might mean architecture that responds to both the passage of the sun and a sense of history, exhibits the communicative power of type, and is concerned with human inhabitation as territory, and with architecture as a sort of language of gestures. Christopher Alexander was talking about these matters, and some other phenomena, as “pattern language” obviously.Do any of these terms resonate with your understanding of the project? Lastly, I have always loved the early Italian renaissance churches Could you say something about the design process of the Old (who does not?). Their solution to providing a stop-end, to what is People’s Community Housing please? The title of the brochure that essentially a gothic plan, and presenting a humanist front to the street, you produced to illustrate your proposals was polemically nuanced, or piazza, is a masterly solution to a conundrum. Here is my sketch no? Certainly, this understanding of the architectural project as a of a part of the facade and campanile of Santo Spirito, in Florence by specific type, i.e. not a hospital, was one reason why, I think, the recent Brunelleschi. I hope that gives you food for thought. controversy surrounding its possible demolition by Lambeth Council P.S. Here is another great building from Glasgow, Lion Chambers, resulted in the buildings being Listed. You’d invented what Joseph Hope Street. Rykwert likes to call “a new type” I think. 15
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I have a great respect for John Meunier and know the Burrell gallery well. It is a regular place of resort, when I make my annual trip to Scotland. Yes, I like the term “intricacy”. It implies that an architectural decision has several motivations and purposes. One of the characteristics of the de-contructivist (sic.) school of architecture, which I despise, is its arbitrariness and whimsy. It is OK to have the odd flourish, but I value constancy and cohesiveness. Architecture should have dignity. I hope my buildings exemplify Ove Arup’s philosophy of “total design” (laid out in the recent exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2016. See www.aestheticamagazine.com/engineeringworld-ove-arup-philosophy-total-design-va-london/). As with Dawson Heights, so with Leigham Court Road. I tried to give external expression and recognition to each individual dwelling, with the modelling of the blocks, while at the same time offering encouragement for social interchange. Internal corridors were to be 16
avoided as much as possible: they spell “institution”. This last, by such small moves as creating a joggle in the covered way linking the blocks at each intersection with a cluster block. So that at these points, the path doubles in width, allowing chance meetings and lingering friends to pass the time of day, without obstructing the route for others wishing to pass by. There is a shop onto the road frontage, which was my initiative, approved by the housing manager, designed both as a convenience for residents, and as a point of social interchange. The common room is adjacent to the entrance, so there is a view onto the street, and also so that anyone in there can meet and greet their neighbours, as they pass in or out. The project was Lambeth’s first metric and modular coordinated scheme, hence the 300×300mm grid. This was what inclined me to use the Forticrete dense masonry blocks, 400×200×100mm. There are no cut block, but lots of standard specials. It set a discipline for the design.
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Room as Horizon Peter Carl
The Room Above A Convenience Store from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks series is the opposite of everything for which architectural design strives. Virtually derelict and tobacco-stained, it is an empty box apparently about 4.5m square equipped with furniture discarded in the 50s and 60s. Bowls of creamed corn—“garmonbozia”, the ritual food of those who are members of the Black Lodge, indigestible by people who are not—occupy a centrally-placed green Formica table addressed by The Arm and Bob. They laugh insanely, sitting in chairs supported by metal struts like the table and stools in the background (and unlike the plump Art Deco furniture often used by Lynch). The Jumping Man marks the middle ground with his own spotlight. He wears a red suit like The Arm and a beaked mask similar to that worn later by the grandson of Mrs. Tremond/Chalfont (she has two names), who together occupy one end of a sofa as brown as the floor. Next to them is the Electrician. Two Woodsmen—who act as custodians of the Black Lodge, revive Evil Dale and crush people’s heads—support a cobbled-together screen in front of a malevolent electric uplighter. Three tornpaper windows suck air and light from the room. 18
“Convenience” here refers to life’s little needs or pleasures, sold at elevated prices often to transients, a commercial semiotics Lynch exploits throughout the series (even the characters seem imported from advertisements, exercising choices within their market segment). The third series of Twin Peaks locates the Convenience Store in a petrol station alongside a “lost” highway in a rural Midwest of America marked by absence and estrangement: incomplete stories/lives, intermittent wireless and great distances inhabited by anything other than up-todate urban sophistication. A neglected void within an expanse, the Room Above a Convenience Store is a resolutely negative rendering of convenance (propriety), eighteenth-century French architectural theory’s version of Vitruvian decor. If the Vitruvian temple is the apex of goodness and beauty (from which all other architectural order is derived), this is its opposite. The Room Above a Convenience Store is linked to the Black Lodge, the Red Room (or Waiting Room), the Dutchman’s Lodge (a sordid motel), a pit of petroleum surrounded by twelve sycamore trees, all settings devoted to evil and ugliness, even violence and disgust.
For Lynch, a convenance of neglect and decay appropriately shelters the recently-dead-but-not-yet-forgotten people, who congregate in a coven or supernatural Freemasonic Lodge, with their meeting-places, modes of dress, behaviour and signs by which they recognise each other. They are not zombies, rather they are a visual metaphor for those who arrange the world’s evil. They can emerge from mirrors or, for example, Mrs. Tremond/Chalfont gives Laura Palmer a painting which she enters to arrive in the Red Room shortly before she is killed. The liminal milieu they inhabit—the evil they constitute—has a character like the Freudian Id: turbulent desires that threaten social conventions and are most alive in dreams (and in the Midwest). Indeed the Room Above a Convenience Store is only visible when it is needed (thus violating also Vitruvian firmitas); and the affiliation of film with dream (MerleauPonty uses “hallucination”) hardly needs rehearsal. In fact the room is obviously three canvas flats on a sound stage (as the Red Room is red curtains and a zig-zag floor pattern); and the question arises as to how the metamorphoses of such a room could be credible. Although sleeping dogs twitch their legs and bark in their dreams, we generally imagine that it is only humans who can speculate outside the immediate demands of survival; and of course since Parmenides, thinking and Being have belonged together. Exercising one’s freedom as a commitment to ethical coherence is a standard for right thinking, elevated to a cultural principle in Enlightenment Reason. However, this is evidently a special condition within our more generous capacity for evil, for misunderstanding, for delusion, for deception, for playing with options, for suspicion and jealousy, for being overcome by love or hate, dread or anxiety or even mental illness, for being afflicted by phantoms, for having gods, myths and their sometimes bloody rites. The Sherlock Holmes who can read the physical evidence and people’s psychologies as well as sniff the cultural winds represents a canny wisdom—with its roots more in experience than scholarship—on which the reader/ viewer relies for moral orientation. Lynch, co-author and director, plays this role (as Gordon Cole) in Fire Walk with Me and the third instalment of Twin Peaks, after the series’ original detective split in two between a Good (more dead than alive) and an Evil (more alive than dead) Dale Cooper. The “world” of Twin Peaks is less attached to the Lynch who appears in the drama as Gordon than to the author/director Lynch, who is effectively trying to rescue his original avatar. However, in the viewer’s world, Lynch is a distant media presence living just downhill from Mulholland Drive and wrapped in motifs of strangeness, Surrealism, happy movie-sets, etc. (but also inviting suspicion of indulging rather than understanding violence against women). The distribution of clues by the author/director for himself to interpret creates a tension between autobiography and a geography centred on the rural Midwest (both “heartland” and topography of freedom-as-estrangement), stretching from fingernails to New York and Buenos Aires (“good airs”). Moreover the clues are peculiar, hard to understand; banalities might be significant. Twin Peaks evidently falls within the genre known as psychogeography, which strives to re-situate within current protocols of understanding the archaic question of one’s place in reality (cosmos). The principal difference between the archaic and the contemporary renderings is that, for the latter, the perspectivism of Cartesian epistemology accords authority
to intellection or mental life (psychology from which soul/psyche has been subtracted), whereas for the former, the given conditions are authoritative, associated with gods and a transcendence to which we no longer subscribe. Accordingly, Lynch deploys a cascade of frames beginning with the screen on which the drama unfolds, whose fourth wall allows us to peer into rooms that are similar to the ones in which viewers are sitting, but also into the dreams and psychological states of characters. This framing principle resonates in mirrors, pictures, curtains, windows, portals as well as stage-sets, rooms, houses, institutions (e.g., bars, hotels, police-stations through which transients pass), towns, regions. To these are attached more or less stereotypical associations embodied in characters and their mannerisms or customs which appear as events currently happening in the drama, in the past, in a dream or shamanistic transport, in a conspiracy, in a myth, as an obsession, always suspended between fear and hope. The series scrambles the conventions of TV soap-operas; it is a convenience-store of apparently disconnected episodes, one next to the other like products on shelves, each fraught with good and evil. Following the commercial semiotics, the purchasable goods—coffee, cherry pie, furniture, drugs, women, etc.—are extracted from an ostensibly neutral “market” whose promises of gratification obscure the evil attached to desires, according to the spiritual economy of Twin Peaks. We consequently find inversions. Cosy domestic propriety hosting evil is a familiar horror trope, Bachelard inverted. However, Lynch also recasts the supposedly benign forest wilderness, the moral corrective to urban corruption according to Jefferson and Olmsted...sent through the sawmill in the opening credits of the original Twin Peaks, more centred on the optimistic Pacific Northwest of the 80s (e.g. Starbucks). In Twin Peaks the forest recovers its ominous, other-worldly character from the middle ages and Romantic Gothic; it is a realm harbouring native-American lore, aliens, drug dealing, gambling, prostitution, and violence. Urban civility creates wilderness as its complementary sublime, paradoxically both pure and dangerous. “Nature” generally in Twin Peaks is not the nourishing salad for suburban delights: the pictures in the Palmer house are of nature, as are the views out the windows—leaks in domestic introversion—and floral wallpaper is menacing. Conversely, electricity is not the silent obedient service supporting the appliances of domestic ease, but an obscure malevolent force; one learns to beware a blinking light in a Lynch movie. If anxiety regarding frames of reference is one way to understand Post-Modernism, the communication between frames attracts attention. In Twin Peaks, the iconography of electricity—from sockets to American telegraph-poles and their wires—provides a recurring metaphor for the transmission of “messages”, whether they arrive on a phone (voice or text), a screen, in a dream or vision, by telepathy, by a sign inscribed on a building or jewellery, or via conversations or gestures. People twitch and speak in aphorisms and epigrams, as if they were speaker-phones for a remote agency (ultimately, Lynch). Indeed, the viewer becomes so alert to messages that nothing seems casual or inadvertent; and we share the characters’ fervent attachment to clothes, furniture, objects. Lynch seems not to be persuaded by Baudrillard’s disdain for American culture—and so this fervency is not cynical or 19
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ironic so much as tragic or comic. For all the invocation of other places, other realities, this is the world we have made for ourselves in prime-time; and our condition of constantly interrogating the topography of clues—always more interesting than the resolution— makes us co-conspirators in a wedunnit. The “it” we have done recalls a museum full of religious objects addressed by every emotion but worship; faith becomes Marx’s fetishism, that is, a convenience store. If it is true that animals are trapped in their needs, that their imaginative topography is dictated to them by their ecological niche—that daylight’s dauphin, dappledawn-drawn Falcon never appreciates the countryside but sees only the traces of rodents—Twin Peaks suggests that the main difference in our behaviour is that we create the niches. We are not of course utterly free in this regard, except in our imaginations; and one person’s idea of goodness—a utopia—is generally more evil than the evil that already exists...which suggests a limit to Vitruvian or French theory concerned to enable, or perhaps to enforce, a “good” architecture. From whence, then, come the moral interpretations attached to the topography of clues—from the commerce of “exchanges” Hayek called the market? If our imaginations are the hallmark of our freedom, are they purely mental, and are they not very vulnerable to a variety of “reasons”, even wrong or evil ones? Despite all the emphasis upon psychological ambiguity in Twin Peaks (and in film generally), we are never utterly disoriented, even in the face of apparently non-sequential scenes and episodes, or of the purely black-and-white patterns following the A-Bomb test in Part 8 of the last series of Twin Peaks, a kind of ground zero for any imagecreation. Similarly dreams are rarely incoherent or arbitrary; the settings and materials of which they are composed are communicable, even if the narrative is obscure. Demis Hassabis, working from the perspective of computational AI, acknowledges the importance of settings to our narrative episodic memory. The objects of desire or need in the ecological niche, or the concernful, obsessive, fetishist or ritual attachments to people or things and their “messages” are extracted from the assumption that they are always-already there in peripheral vision awaiting attention. The silent darkness between showings or between episodes is the condition (or common frame) for their appearance (recalling the apeiron of Anaximander, from which everything emerged and to which it returns, paying recompense for injustice according to the ordinance of time), expressed as the movement between forgetfulness (death) and recollection. Peripheral vision does not exist as non-being or a blank slate; it is always vision-of-something, of a context redolent with promises or threats, opportunities for understanding or misunderstanding. There is always more in these deep backgrounds than is available to focused or conscious attention (though of course the choices matter); and it is from these given conditions that our customary being-with people, things, technology, “nature” (i.e. as a concept) takes its measure. We are beholden to the deep backgrounds, but the reflective distance from our contexts granted by our imaginations is the basis of the moral tragedy: our inability to resolve the tension between freedom-from and obligation-to the fundamental natural conditions. The ancient insight regarding the authority of the given conditions may still be instructive, even without gods. 20
Regarding something like gods, explicit Classical references in Twin Peaks seem to be limited to the Medici Venus and the Venus de Milo in the Red Room (presumably related to the ideals of beauty represented by the prom-queen Laura). However the referential universe of Twin Peaks moves intriguingly close to the Eleusinian Mysteries (paradoxically both secret and open to all Greek speakers). The initiation hall, or Telesterion (light in the darkness), hosts the drama of Persephone’s third of the year in the underworld as bride of Hades, a cycle of divine/human death and renewal governing the seasonal rebirth of crops—notably corn. Demeter’s search throughout the land for her Kore and her subsequent withholding of the crops creates a land afflicted by great distress. Along with Gordon and his assortment of allies or helpers, viewers of Twin Peaks similarly find themselves wandering an anxious land (a common enough mythic theme) on behalf of a young woman taken to the underworld. The fire in which Demeter places Keleos’ son to endow him with immortality may be reflected in Twin Peaks’ frequently-intoned “fire walk with me”. Twin Peaks is utterly reticent about the putative White Lodge, it all takes place in thrall to the Black Lodge. The initiates of the latter, unlike those at Eleusis, are agents of the dead; and the third instalment of Twin Peaks is haunted by the considerable number of actors (the cast is another “lodge”) who aged and died across the twenty-seven year history of the series (most poignantly the Log Lady’s sign-off to Hawk, aired two years after she had succumbed to cancer). Although both the Demeter myth and Twin Peaks involve violent fathers who consign daughters to the underworld, death in Twin Peaks is associated with evil and the redemption promised at Eleusis is denied or treated ironically. Only the first half of the Demeter-Persephone cycle would be relevant to Twin Peaks; and Lynch may doubt the possibility of redemption. The scrambling of Tibetan lore with nuclear warfare, conspiracies and the psychology of disfunction does not allow for the authority of gods, only a suspicion of forces beyond our powers (however accurate to conventional speculation). However, more important for our purposes is the capacity for the Telesterion to re-enact events from a mythic past. For both Eleusis and for Twin Peaks the reciprocity between reality in general and mystery-rooms invokes a transcendence embodied in fundamental conditions to which we are all obliged. Lynch demonstrates, moreover, that the special conditions of the time-out-of-time performed in sacred or secular celebratory settings depend upon how rooms behave anyway. He works with what is usually consigned to peripheral vision—the furniture, furnishings and architecture. He exploits the backs of things, the gaps which support the foreground, such as the space behind a sofa or between a bed and the wall, from where communications with the other world emerge (goodness has potential evil for its context). The Red Room and the Room Above a Convenience Store are both equipped with generous voids (in this respect a putatively crowded Convenience Store is the reciprocal of the Room above it). The morbid efficiency of modernist corridors, even brightly-lit ones, become apprehensive journeys by introducing a bend around which a protagonist (and the viewer) cannot see. The space beneath tables, chairs and stools perched on metal legs is visually unstable, therefore ominous. This estrangement of the background conditions de-stabilises whatever takes place within a
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room (enhanced by Lynch who laces the evil with a sardonic humour). That is, a room is an horizon for praxis. Paradoxically, the integrity of a room allows us to forget its immediate context whilst it is always imbued with the cultural (institutional) typicality of the whole context— much as taste moves between individual freedom, personal mementos, and conventions typically called “style”. We instantly accept the world conjured by the Room Above a Convenience Store whilst acknowledging it is only three painted flats in a moving image that allows certain characters to emerge from mirrors. The spatial horizon is the receptacle of the temporal horizon. The horizon’s embodiment of memory— literally or as legend or lore or tradition or recollection/reconstruction or reenactment (all versions of recognition)—supports the movement back and forth between actual and potential, between immediate absorption in practical obligations and the timeout-of-time of rite, ceremony, drama, reflection. Memory of course can be dread or hope, confused or exact, and this is what Lynch exploits in his use of what we hold in peripheral vision. The singularity of an horizon gives the general orientation or character of a room, which terms like convenance or decor attempt to capture. However, the movement between potential and actual is extremely differentiated—a cup of coffee is more mobile and closer to the present than the desk on which it sits (even if the coffee is drunk “automatically”, in partial attention). Temporality is always embodied, and therefore plural; it is more true to speak of temporalities than of “time” as such and in the singular. The dependency of the coffee cup upon the desk is only part of a more general stratification: our thoughts and speech depend upon (and move faster than) our gestures and posture, which depend upon the furnishings and furniture, which depend upon the walls and floor. To this extent the horizon has a depth, which reaches into the past, into the primordial typicalities of dwelling (of which architectural types are a reified part), ultimately into earth as horizon of world (Heidegger’s rendering of potential/ actual, conditions/possibilities). If it is our custom to regard a room as a species of Heideggerian clearing, it is Derrida who demonstrates the depth—and ambiguity of readings—of that in which the clearing appears; and long-dead figures like Lao-Tzu or Maimonides can claim our attention alongside last night’s dream, an unwashed plate, a child’s laugh or the medieval carving scavenged from a World War, all without collapsing in confusion (a competence beyond the mentalist concepts governing current AI). Lynch recognises the rich scope to intervene in the “peripheral” structure of temporal dependencies; but he also recognises it cannot be arbitrary—there is a world at stake which is the measure of credibility. Unlike the pragmatic temporality of history, the paradigmatic time-out-of-time that can be re-enacted is complete (someone chopping onions at the beginning of a play alerts us to watch for knives and onions during the rest of the drama). The spectrum of time-out-oftime exhibits another stratification: in ritual our relation with the cosmic conditions is at stake, in ceremony civic order is at stake, in drama the division between actors and spectators allows for speculation on human finitude, and reflection is always with us (which presently seems to require the elaborate apparatus of think-tanks, laboratories, publications, libraries, server-farms, the web and educational institutions—the so-called “knowledge industry”). Secular culture regards ritual as a somewhat
desperate or irrational attempt to find meaning, best neutralised in the disciplines of psychology and anthropology. Although we have some ceremony—notably in law-courts or parliaments—drama and reflection presently constitute the centre of gravity of our investment in time-outof-time. It is therefore instructive that Lynch works backwards through this spectrum to arrive at intimations of transcendence regarding our obligation-to the fundamental conditions. Whether or not Lynch is convincing, the implication is that we “think” with an imaginative room whose horizon-depth of memories comprises the constant conditions for the possibilities of praxis. Thinking currently enjoys a priority over the embodying conditions which make it possible. In fact the greater part of our “intelligence” lies in the latent conditions for our freedom—the floors are level, tables are at the right height, we easily navigate firm and unstable ground, the sea offers journeys like those of Ulysses or Ahab, and so forth. Indeed, as Lakoff and Johnson observed years ago, most of our metaphors arise from our bodily involvements with the claims and affordances of these latent conditions apprehended in peripheral vision; and, for Gadamer and Ricoeur, metaphor is the basis for philosophy. If Heidegger is right that, for Parmenides being preceded thinking, whereas for Descartes, it was the reverse, the reciprocity of earth and world is mutually dependent—earth is always already architecture (and vice-versa). In other words, the room’s time-out-of-time incarnates our capacity for anticipation and planning, for imagination’s freedom—and therefore its vulnerability. It must be on behalf of this freedom coupled with adherence to the facts of science that for the last century architects have used this room to create its opposite. Room-as-horizon depends upon potential practical involvements (claims and affordances) with all that lies in peripheral vision, whereas “space” flattens this concrete, differentiated topography to a vast generalisation. “Space” is a concept of immanent infinity that seeks to encompass everything from nonEuclidean geometries to individual psychology. Yet it perversely asks to be apprehended in “experience”, preserving the perspectivism inherent in Cartesian epistemology, as if we would otherwise evaporate into the infinity. According to this regime, walls no longer harbour depths but become objects—planes or surfaces—obedient to “geometry” (whether clinging to the remains of a Neo-Platonic ontology or offloading design to the computational generation of shapes), that is, to the principal icon of Reason. In practice of course, the situation is much more ambiguous, as the experiments in so-called autonomous architecture demonstrated—an interior accommodates but also greatly exceeds geometric specification. When Leger complained that one could no longer hide things in modernist architecture, he meant more than the remains of last night’s party. What resides in the depths of the room’s horizon—which can be invoked by even less than three panels of painted canvas—are the ethical claims upon our freedom (reified to buildings in the mandates of decor and convenance, and developed in terms of evil by Lynch). Indeed the ethical horizon provides the context for the moral judgements of praxis (always made in particular circumstances by particular people in history). The world’s cultures offer a variety of ontologies embodied in analogical practices by which finitude negotiates its tragi-comic suspension between freedom-from (modernism) and obligation-to (myth and ritual) the fundamental conditions. 21
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Hybrid Houses: Symbiosis Between Chicala and Luanda, Angola Paulo Moreira
the role of houses
Chicala is one of Luanda’s most central informal neighbourhoods. Its particular geographical location, along with its integrity and specific development, made it vulnerable to colonial invasions, and more recently to aggressive urbanism and large-scale masterplans. In the context of Luanda’s current neoliberal trajectory of urban regeneration following a protracted civil war (1975-2002), Chicala is undergoing a process of demolition and replacement by high standard real estate developments. The research at the heart of this article began shortly before plans for the complete erasure of the neighbourhood were implemented, and local authorities and private investors forcefully displaced its inhabitants to remote peripheries with unsuitable living conditions. It became urgent to document and understand the urban form of this neighbourhood before it disappeared. Chicala’s ongoing clearance and suppression is but the most recent episode in a broader process of continual change: the wider area has been destroyed and rebuilt several times during the history of the city of Luanda. Yet, amid constant tension and uncertainty, despite the rejections, constraints and erasures experienced by the neighbourhood over time, it continued to develop and was able to flourish into a viable place for accommodating many ways of life— without it ever having been properly recorded and understood. The formation of Chicala as a neighbourhood was strongly influenced by the redevelopment of the surrounding areas, in particular the opening of an adjacent street in the early 20th century (cutting through the hill that borders Chicala to connect the city centre to the ocean, providing the starting point for Chicala’s main street—and hence the depth of the whole neighbourhood), and the construction of Agostinho Neto’s Mausoleum (as construction began, the earth removed from the building site was displaced to the natural sandbank that had begun to form by the coast). During the civil war years, the site started to densify, as Luanda became a safe haven for many internally displaced people fleeing the armed conflict. Communication between Chicala and Luanda developed as part of a process of reciprocity, on many levels. An infinite description of every level of this relationship is obviously neither possible nor useful. This article focuses on Chicala’s houses, and their role in the symbiosis between the neighbourhood and the city. It presents observations relating to architectural and urban articulation, and affirms this informal neighbourhood as a receptacle for civic life.
The feature that most clearly typifies Chicala (and Luanda’s bairros in general) is the nature of its dwellings. Self-built houses, in accordance with the Angolan modus vivendi, became symbols of urban adaptation, traces of family cycles, a demonstration of the effort and investment which went into the building of Luanda’s informal neighbourhoods. It is common for houses to be adapted and extended over time, depending on the family’s growth. This generally leads to a separation between the casa principal (main part of the house) and the anexos (external rooms), connected by the quintal (outdoor courtyard). The semi-covered areas connecting the different parts of the house (verandas, porches, corridors) become rooms themselves, often with larger dimensions than the actual internal rooms. Therefore, their typological classification tends to be a matter of some complexity. In Chicala’s houses, there is a preponderance of what might best be called “hybrids”: courtyards used as kitchens, living rooms used as bedrooms, a freezer by the bathroom door and by the bedroom window, within a covered courtyard used as a living room, pots and pans sharing a table top with a DVD player and a TV, a wall used for hanging both clothes and kitchen utensils, an oven placed a meter away from a bed, etc. Hybrid rooms may include cases in which a given activity has no room whatsoever in which to be carried out. For instance, a woman may be found working on her sewing machine in the street in front of her house, while neighbours may gather on the street nearby to watch TV. The concept of “flexibility” is insufficient to describe the full scale and ambiguity of the phenomena observed— the word “hybrid” may be a more precise categorisation, as it implies a simultaneity of uses, while “flexible” tends to denote different functions taking place sequentially. In terms of articulating all of the activities taking place in the house, the quintal [courtyard] has remained the most important feature in both social and typological terms. Culturally, the quintal is the primary receptacle of collective life in the domestic space. The fact that most houses are organised around a courtyard does not imply that there is not a wide variety of housing situations found throughout Chicala’s dense built environment. Immediate, superficial observations would point to a straightforward division of houses into “poor”, “regular” and “affluent”. However, the categorisation of houses based purely on their material formation fails to acknowledge their true virtues and spatial qualities. As John Turner suggests, “it is what housing does for people that matters more than what it is, or how it looks” (Turner, 2000: 96). In other words, the aesthetics and appearance of most houses in Chicala may appear hazardous, imperfect or unfinished from Western 23
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normalised standards, but they generally possess their own qualities: local materiality, climate adaptation, functional organisation, and incremental growth, for example. There are other distinctions which apply to the field of housing in Chicala. A “front gate” or “front door” may be shared by two or more houses (assembled around a common quintal). However, the distinction between what constitutes the front and rear of a house may be complex (in some cases, the official “door number” may be shown at the rear or side of a house). This may be explained by the fact that houses are frequently connected to the street by a public area, be it a shop, an office or a workshop—hence, the living area is commonly accessible through the rear. s y m b i o s i s b e t w e e n c h i c a l a a n d l ua n da
Living in Chicala and the centre of Luanda for periods of one or two months since 2010 (for a total of eleven months) contributed decisively to defining the ground on which this research project is built. By observing and reading the city’s built environment, experiencing local customs and habits, and interacting with several institutions, both within and outside Chicala, an interpretation of a possible symbiosis between Chicala and Luanda began to take 24
shape. It was equally meaningful to live in three different houses in Chicala—including the unique “Bottle house”—and in the Bay of Luanda, in a modernist building which had been renovated and fitted with all mod cons. In Chicala, there is a true “real-estate market”. There are cases where a single landlord rents out several houses (often, he/she owned an initial house and began to landfill the backyard in order to build several more). Just as in any other part of the city, rent prices depend on both tangible characteristics (such as the size of the plot and the number of rooms) and market-driven factors (proximity to the ocean or the main street, views, etc.). The rental business can be extremely profitable, even by Luandan standards. Some landlords do not live in Chicala, merely renting out houses there. In other cases, Chicala residents may rent out an apartment “in the city” to expatriates or global companies, with the high rents allowing them to live a wealthy life in Chicala. During several of my trips to Angola, I also lived in the Baía de Luanda. It was highly significant for my research to experience these two living situations simultaneously, in such different houses separated by only a few kilometres. Living in the Bay was an opportunity to expand and complement my urban experience in the city.
Opening spread: Plan of Chicala highlighting evicted areas. Opposite: Part of Chicala demolished, with the Sodimo masterplan in the background. This page: 3D visualisation of Chicalaâ€™s main street (close-up). Following spread: Plan of a fragment of Chicala, demonstrating its urban vitality (the number of people represented in the plan corresponds to the actual number of inhabitants per house).
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On the floor where I stayed for a longer period, there were two recently renovated apartments and one in which refurbishment was beginning. The main reason for these refurbishments was the intention to add an extra bedroom and/or bathroom to the apartments. Each apartment gained an internal bedroom (without windows), created by reducing (or substituting) the living room. The densification of these flats is not so different from what I had observed in Chicala, where every house had an increasing number of bedrooms over time, depending on the family’s growth and economic situation. In the bay, this densification strategy was also underpinned by economic motivations, reducing the high rents for each apartment (at the time, 6–10,000 USD) when divided by the number of inhabitants. Despite the high prices, the water or electricity supply to these expensive apartments would often fail— this is a problem of public infrastructure that cannot be fixed simply through private investment. The three apartments shared a veranda. It reminded me of a quintal, where people living in different apartments met and had meals together. Every day, a zungueira (street vendor) would enter the building and walk up the stairs to sell vegetables and fruit. The empregadas (housekeepers) did business with the zungueiras. This 26
was very similar to what I observed in Chicala, where the zungueiras do not only sell in the market, but also knock door by door. The informal market covers the whole city. From the veranda, we had views over an office roof on the first floor. The roof partially covered what used to be an open common area of the building, which was privatised to extend the office area. This was another example of the densification strategies also seen in Chicala (and considered “informal”/“illegal” there). Once I asked the office administrator how they had managed to obtain permission to cover the whole area of the plot. He admitted, laughing, that they had had to deal with the fiscais (controllers), but that “everything was sorted”.
Top row, left to right: The street as “room”: hybrid rooms include cases in which a given function takes place in the public space, as an extension of leisure/working activities. This demonstrates that there is an open relationship between the private and the public spheres. The street as “room”
Bottom row, left to right: Courtyards are historically and culturally the main receptacle of collective life in the domestic areas of Chicala. They are key mediators between private and public life. Twin House, quintal [countyard].
“Twin houses” in Chicala. The quintal organises the various parts of the house. The family structure takes the form of extended family, constituted by a constellation of nuclear families, whose connecting element is generational, i.e. from parents to children. Most commonly, the family group is coincident with the population of the neighbourhood—the neighbourhood becomes a kind of nucleus of families.
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Behind the former common area/office, there was a backstreet. Here, several homeless children washed and looked after parked cars, and were tipped or offered food by the privileged Angolans or expatriate owners. Several tower blocks under construction formed part of the view. At night, they were lit with spotlights, and the loud sounds of the construction site reached the veranda. On the building sites surrounding the bay, there are likely to be contractual deadlines which force non-stop working times. This is also similar to what can be observed in Chicala, where some people build overnight. Besides the obvious differences, there are common or at least similar routines in the Baía, Chicala and across Luanda as a whole. The borders between the “formal” city and the “informal” neighbourhoods seem to be based more on superficial appearance and people’s perceptions than on observation of the actual situation on the ground. To some extent, the experience of living in both Chicala and Luanda assisted me in demystifying the differences and understanding the reciprocity between the so-called “formal” and “informal” parts of the city. Having lived for some time along the Bay, while simultaneously living in Chicala, I realised that the ways in which the city is built and made to work are more similar than one might expect at first glance. In other words, the material that forms Luanda’s urban culture, in both material and human terms, stretches right across town.
This article set out to understand the nature of “city” through the lens of a particular architectural feature. The study of Chicala’s houses contributes to a greater understanding of the neighbourhood’s interconnections with the wider context. The accomplishments of this research are related to the ability to strengthen linkages between architectural and urban fragments often seen as fractured or unrelated. This is perhaps the main finding of this study: above all, working within a complex urban situation implies becoming
familiar with the territory, on many levels. Ultimately, learning about and understanding the reciprocities of any complex urban situation is most likely to result in a credible praxis. My observations are anchored in a postcolonial framework which reads the city as a hybrid territory (Robinson, 2006; Simone, 2004). On the one hand, the distinction between “formal” and “informal” can no longer be clearly differentiated—I argue that in Luanda the relationship between the two is one of reciprocity, maturing throughout the postcolonial period (since 1975). Indeed, Luanda is a type of city that may be categorised as “hybrid”, where institutions and cultures intermingle and adapt to the urban milieu—what Herbert Gans calls an “urban village” (1962: 4). This kind of understanding aims to lend nuance to the discourse of certain architects and urban practitioners, particularly in the city of Luanda, who tend to divide the urban population into oversimplified groups and dismiss the virtues of the city’s social and cultural diversity. Throughout these processes, I positioned myself in the “middle”, moving constantly between the (segregated) neighbourhood and the (higher spheres of the) city. I argue that between them there is a “grey zone” which it is crucial to explore. The discipline is in a privileged position to pursue this intention, as architects can speak the specialist language of “decision-makers” while simultaneously engaging with the struggle of the disenfranchised. This is why collaboration is important: it is a fundamental tool for enabling dialogue and engagement. As a final reflection, I could say that the collaborative methods employed in surveying Chicala’s houses gave rise to a viable practice of “blurring”—blurring borders between formal-institutional-official orders and informal-subversive-dissident tactics. Blurring became a form of continuously questioning the conventional relationship between architectural research and practice, and between academic and socio-political structures. Blurring became a way of being in the city of Luanda.
At that time (2012-5), rent was paid six months or a year in advance. With the economic crisis taking hold in Angola, rents are now paid 2-3 months in advance.
I discussed this once with an expatriate flatmate who was working in the construction sector—he explained that at night there is less traffic, and it is the only time that truck mixers can drive from the cement factories to the construction sites.
Agostinho Neto was Angola’s first President. His rule lasted for only four years (1975-9). After his death, the rulling party (MPLA) decided that the body of their Herói Nacional (National Hero) was to be preserved in a Mausoleum, built in close proximity to the Chicala area. The armed conflict in Angola took place largely in the provinces. This is the main reason for Luanda’s spectacular urban growth rate during the civil war years.
Financial analyses of the actual construction costs of self-built houses have been largely ignored in studies of Luanda’s rising economy. It is estimated that the cost of building the most simple, poor quality two-room house (the basic unit in Luanda) to be at least US$6,000. This shows the relevance of the informal construction market, when compared to the spectrum of wealth in Luanda. This fact help to underline the financial capacity of the inhabitants of informal neighbourhoods.
Some say that people build overnight to avoid the fiscais (although probably “everything would be sorted” there, too, if a fiscal were to comment). As I was able to confirm, night-time tends to be the only time the owner can build, because he/she is busy working during the day.
I lived in the Bay in 2012 and in 2013 (twice), while simultaneously living in Chicala 1 (2013) and Chicala 2 (2012, 2013). I then lived in other areas within the city centre in 2015, 2018 and 2019.
The bottle house is an example of the inventiveness with which everyday materials are reused as building materials. While some of these solutions may not comply with either urban regulations or the protocols followed by the construction industry, they do denote a creativity which may provide inspiration for architects. Any object may take on a different function from that for which it was originally intended. The apparently unexpected symbiosis between objects, pavements, walls, windows, roofs, etc. acts to define a series of architectural situations typical of Chicala and of Luandaâ€™s informal neighbourhoods.
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Narrated by Water Eleanor Grierson
a j o u r n e y t h r o u g h cas a d e h u é s p e d e s an d v i l l a ot t o l e n g h i
When studying the plan of an unfamiliar building one sometimes encounters an interesting phenomenon that can be felt in the body as a memory, or in the ears as a sound. It is sense of déjà vu where the spatial rhythms of one plan read like footsteps taken in another. This is how I felt when coming across the Casa de Huéspedes Ilustres by Rogelio Salmona. Just as the sound of the water narrates the passage through the house, I was led by water to a recollection of the work of the architect Carlo Scarpa and, more specifically, to Villa Ottolenghi, which I had visited on a crisp winter morning five years ago. Carlo Scarpa (1906–1978) is one of the best known, and most studied, modern architects and shares an uncanny architectural sensibility with Salmona and, yet, I could find no examples of critical comparisons between these two great, late modern architects. I believe this is a relationship which deserves more study, in particular the architects’ use of the elements, and creation of masterpieces, from the symbiosis of water and stone, earth and sky. (Architecture) must establish a symbiotic relationship between existential, cultural, geographic and historic needs.1 —Rogelio Salmona Just as water scores the journey through a renaissance garden, whispering along paths and calming courtyards, both Scarpa and Salmona use water as a device to guide and alter the spatial experience through sound, site and smell. Scarpa grew up in Venice—a city built on water—and he weaves water throughout his works like the Venetian street plan. At the Villa Ottolenghi (1978) water is used to express the relationship between inside and outside, between the natural and the artificial, and in its quiet reflective pools the sky is brought down to earth. There is something profoundly poetic about the contrast between the ethereal sky reflected in the water and the heavy stone columns that rise from the earth to hold it. The building is not just situated within the landscape but within time. As the water slowly marks its journey on the stone it becomes part of the dance of the elements, the interplay of natural and human and the unpredictable nature of both. I believe Rogelio Salmona would call this “terratemporal” architecture: of earth and time.2 At Salmona’s Casa de Huéspedes Ilustres—the House of Illustrious Guests (1981)—built on the site of a ruined fort overlooking the Bay of Cartagena—water acts as an orientation instrument through a house which is built around a series of seven courtyards, two as cloisters and seven as patios.3 The water flows with a diagonal bias echoing the way one moves through the house, with babbling channels carving their way across patios as places of movement, and pools as places of rest. Although these juxtapositions are highly calculated and crafted there seems something subconscious and song-like in the way water narrates movement through the house. I imagine stepping from the sun-drenched stone courtyard into the cloister where the effect of water flowing through the small rill in the floor is echoed by the vaulted roof. The smell of moisture intensifies as one moves between sun and shadow and the different plants that thrive in these different environments. Here, plants and water are as much a material
for creating the space as bricks and mortar. The courtyards are as much defined, and named, by the Ferns or Bougainvilleas as by their intended function. Each element coming from, and belonging to, the earth; each changing in their own way with rainfall and the movement of the sun. There is a similar delight in the way Salmona and Scarpa both play with the horizon through the manipulation of the ground. In both houses the ground folds up to become roof, taking one gradually from the embrace of a courtyard into the wider landscape, constantly re-situating and re-connecting the body to the natural world, the wider cultural context and the history of the place and its society. In Villa Ottolenghi, upon emerging from the level of the carved pools, a gradual slope leads up to the roof where there are views to Lake Garda (water) and a connection to the street (society). In Casa de Huéspedes Ilustres the ground is an undulating carpet of steps, pools and forms. Dancing on the diagonal between inside and outside, cutting off and revealing oblique views and then up on to the roof, to the sea to one side (water) and the silhouette of the city on the other (society). The relationship between near and distant is also played out in the details of both Salmona’s and Scarpa’s work. To both architects, details seem to represent typographies in the natural, social and historic landscape. Fragments of places and ideas with water’s passage through them representing our collective memory. As it runs through the channels, timeless in their form and character, it reconnects with the past, reminding us of the passing of time.4 There is something pre-Hispanic about Salmona’s angular details, reminiscent of sites such as Monte Alban, one of the earliest Mesoamerican cities, where the water channels connecting the vast site run in Scarpa-esque slices through the overgrown grass. Salmona’s details are less embellished than Scarpa’s in this instance but in others could have been drawn by Scarpa’s hand. In both architects’ work it would be hard to describe their architecture as “buildings” because the built forms are only part of the overall composition. They are as much landscape, the spaces held between and spaces framed beyond. Their works revel in the interplay between the material and immaterial; sun and shadow; earth and the sky; water and stone. According to Rogelio Salmona: “Architecture is an event that forms different spaces, places that are changed by the incidence of light, the sound of water or the appearance of a cloud.” I think Carlo Scarpa would agree.
Rogelio Salmona, “Between the Butterfly and the Elephant” in Mikko Heikkinen (ed.) Elephant & Butterfly, Permanence and Chance in Architecture. Helsinki: Alvar Aalto Academy, 2004, p. 17 Ken Tadashi Oshima and Oscar Arenales-Vergara, Interview with Rogelio Salmona, April 2007, Bogotá, Colombia. in A+U 450 Special Feature: Rogelio Salmona, Tokyo: A+U Publishing, 2008, p. 13.
The connection between water and memory is something which is written about by Gaston Bachelard and intrigued to explore if Salmona wrote about or studied this.
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Opening image: Villa Ottolenghi Above: Casa de HueĚ spedes Ilustres Below: Villa Ottolenghi Opposite: Carlo Scarpa, Villa Ottolenghi, study for the entrance stair.
n a r r at e d b y wat e r
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This spread: Villa Ottolenghi (1906â€“1978), one of the greatest architects of the 20th century, was a Venetian whose fascination with craft and materiality and the interplay of building and landscape has been the subject of much scholarship. c a r l o s c a r pa
n a r r at e d b y wat e r
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n a r r at e d b y wat e r
This spread: Casa de Huéspedes Ilustres (1929-2007), born in Paris, was a Columbian architect well known for championing the distinct traditions of Latin American Modernism, yet relatively unheard of or spoken about in architectural discourse in the UK. With ten years’ experience working as an assistant to Le Corbusier, his legacy is one of dignified, sustainable civic architecture notable for the democratic public spaces at the heart of his housing projects in Bogota, his use of water, and for anticipating and rejoicing in the natural processes of decay in his use of materials. He was awarded the Alvar Alto Medal in 2003. rogelio salmona
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Myth, Mourning & Memory: A Walk Down a Permeable Boundary Will Jennings
Diagram of essay, ovelayed on OS Open Data map. By the author, 2010.
“When I’m in New York and I used the word ‘now’, what I mean is sometime between yesterday and tomorrow. When I’m in [Suffolk] and I use the word ‘now’ I’m referring to a much more extended time period that goes back a long way and into the future a long way. I think their sense of ‘now’ is nowhere near as crisply defined as the urban sense of ‘now’”¹ —Brian Eno
Family photograph, Southwold, by the author, c.1988
I find myself in the Suffolk seaside town of Southwold, site of so many childhood visits. Six targeted canon recall the 1672 battle of Solebay when 1000 times more shot out to sea. 91 Dutch ships fought 101 Anglo-French, the waters turned red with 4000 bodies washing up onto the beach over the following weeks. No side claimed victory. Another time’s devastation is today’s momentary memorial. I’m here because of a photograph I took of my parents sometime in the late 1980s. I don’t know why I came here, but after finding the image it somehow felt like something I should do. I’ll go for a walk. To contemplate. To forget. To remember. I’ll head down the coast I think I know so well; the coast I knew so well from countless childhood trips to the beaches and towns strung along. My eyes have changed since, and maybe the landscape will look different through older eyes—ones of an adult, artist, mourner. Childhood memories feel hidden, irretrievable, and those I can recall quickly dissipate allowing a more recent one to come to the fore; Norwich Hospital, claustrophobic hours without respite, even the window only offering a view across a courtyard into a similar private room housing another family and similar conglomeration of emotions. I want a view and offer of brief escape. The colourless sky would do, but better, a view across the river to Denys Lasdun’s concrete ziggurats to remind of teenage trips to see art and hear music. More innocent times. The University of East Anglia ziggurats have little similarity to those of ancient times which witnessed sacrifices to call favour from God and offered raised platforms for people escaping Mesopotamian floods. I feel like I need one of those ziggurats right now. The recurring image scarred into my mind as I start to walk is of the precise moment death reached my mother in that viewless room, like a high-speed photograph capturing the briefest, and yet most eternal, moment. Not the image I want to keep as icon, but a powerful and unshakeable one nonetheless. My frequent youthful visits to the coast were by car to a place, a location; maybe this walk will penetrate the gaps between. I’ve walked most of this eastern coast, but in small circles starting and ending at a parked car, linear walks are something else. I have no destination, just this starting point given to me by this photograph of over twenty years ago. With no pre-planned route, I have limitless time and an aimlessness to dwell and think. Open, empty space. 41
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Southwold — Dunwich — Minsmere
Westwood Marshes Mill, by the author, 2011
Dunwich Priory, by the author, 2011
May 1637, John Youngs, his wife Joan and their six children sailed from Ipswich on the Mary Anne for a new life in America. Like his father, Youngs was a puritan minister and in spite of new laws preventing mass religious emigration he boarded a boat to Boston, Massachusetts. What was going through his mind when he led his family on board the claustrophobic vessel holding over seventy others, their belongings and livestock? Perhaps of the torture and imprisonment of his fellow followers by King Charles I and Archbishop William Laud. Perhaps his thoughts were of his sister Mary who had died in Massachusetts the previous year. Maybe concerns for the village he was leaving behind were in his mind, a declining wool industry and increasingly regular plagues were fuelling a rapid desertion of the once rich area. Or perhaps he recalled, as he floated towards where the River Orwell melts into the North Sea, the time ten years earlier when his younger brother and sister drowned with twenty others while returning from the annual Dunwich summer fair. From Southwold to Walberswick a bridge crosses the river Blythe. Local tongues set myths racing, Chinese whispers, turning history to a mix of truths, half-truths and fallacies. Does this matter? In the 16th century, rumours and tales spread quickly of Black Shuck, a “black dog, or the divel in such a likenesse”, who roamed the land terrifying and slaying. When younger, I looked for the scratch marks on Blythburgh church door. I now can’t remember if I saw any, but Shuck’s marks remain in literature and folk talks, which describe him wringing the necks of praying victims before collapsing church towers, if not the oak.2 This was once a rail bridge, literature myths claim the train which ran upon it was made for a Chinese emperor who waited but never received delivery.3 The less romantic truth is that rail gauges of Suffolk differed to the Chinese, and the Manchester made engine was manufactured solely for this Suffolk line. The truth is that W.G. Jackson, foreman of the first train to travel in China on the Woosung tramway, later set up home in Shanghai Cottage, Southwold where he held parties dressed in traditional Chinese costume. But over years truth erodes and reforms. A Natural England information board sits to the south of the bridge, the final paragraph recalling historic military use of the area, giving contact details and advice should historic military objects be encountered. Beyond Walberswick it’s mainly marshland and horizontality. Ahead, a wood slat footpath raises above the boggy land, then a derelict wind-pump, minus the sails, shows itself in the fog. I pass it, a souvenir to previous endeavours to organise flooded lands. The early fog makes for a beautifully solitary experience. Haze clouds everything beyond the middle distance beyond, leaving all except the immediate unknown. Behind me is a memory, ahead yet to be discovered. Each side, sea left and marsh right, is flatness disappearing into imagined realms of the infinite indefinite, a landscape Ken Warpole considers more psychologically challenging than mountainous terrains: “It is not a case of ‘because it is there’ but ‘because you are here’.”4 Algernon Charles Swinburne’s 1880 poem By The North Sea comes to mind; melancholy, dereliction and decay repeat as tirelessly and rhythmically as the waves pulling at the coastline I tread. It is also a gesture to time as the most powerful entity; more than man, more than God. Swinburne’s land is rotten with bones of men, his sea endless and boundless, winds relentless and sleepless. There is a sense of infinity hanging over the poem — not dissimilar to my immediate fogged view. “And year upon year dawns living; And age upon age drops dead; And his hand is not weary of giving, And the thirst of her heart is not fed.”5
myth, mourning & memory
Dunwich beach, by the author, 2011
Swinburne wrote his poem while visiting Dunwich, popular destination for ruinlusting Victorians. There had been a settlement here since Roman times, continuing through the Anglo-Saxon period, gaining dignity and importance. The Domesday book of 1086 suggests a population of 3,000, a huge tax payment of 68,000 herrings and, ominously, a first mention of erosion, noting that half the farmland had fallen to the sea over the previous twenty years. A prosperous porttown with renowned mills, a a national religious focus, Dunwich began to flourish and in 1199 King John granted the town a charter. This gave numerous privileges to citizens, including “soc and sac, wreck and lagan” allowing individuals ownership of goods or materials washed up on the shore from shipwrecks.6 By 1205 the port and town had developed great prestige and wealth. The lists of King’s ships indicate Dunwich owned as many galleys as London, and in 1229 provided 30 ships, or an eighth of the entire fleet, for war with France. But for all man’s wealth, religion, power and importance there was no respite from nature’s waves. 1286 saw up to 100 metres of the eastern town washed away. Houses destroyed, a priory ruined, churches lost, people drowned. On average the land recedes by a metre a year, with losses largely occuring at extreme high tides and storms when vast areas suddenly disappear into the mists. 400 houses were claimed in 1347, and in 1600 the town was half the size it had been in 1200. A huge storm lashed the coast in 1739 with such violence it ripped up the submerged remains of Eastwood, a forest previously submerged by the sea, tempestuously throwing roots into the remains of the town. The sea brings back what it takes away.7 “What houses and woodlands that nestle Safe inland to lee of the hill As it slopes from the headlands that wrestle And succumb to the strong sea’s will? Truce is not, nor respite, nor pity, For the battle is waged not of hands Where over the grave of a city The ghost of it stands.”8
Lost Town by Niemann Ingrish, 2007
In 2003 Landmark East launched a design competition for a series of sculptures around East Anglia, searching for iconic art in the shadow of The Angel of the North. Of the four shortlisted entries, German architects Neimann Ingrisch’s was sitespecific to Dunwich, reconstructing six of the lost churches in their original locations, now as distant sea sculptures. Made of steel tubes giving an ethereal, haunting reflection upon loss, the proposal faced large local opposition from the outset. Gossip of hundreds of thousands of visitors, imaginings of required major new roads to ship in the tourists and a fear of disrupting historic nature led to Landmark East asking the designers to relocate the work where “regeneration” was needed and it could be down-scaled to a single sculptural church. The idea migrated to Waltonon-the-Naze in Essex, the place-specificity silently shifted down the coast echoing the longshore drift rolling the sands. The Lost Town website no longer mentions its Dunwich roots, truth consigned to an invisible history for future mythologies.9 As I walk south, the wind constantly strikes my left cheek, battering with cold and grazing with spray, threatening to age one side of me faster than the other. At Dunwich the path leaves the sea and passes inland to the top of eroding cliffs. Passing through the current town takes moments, reduced as it is to a few houses, a pub and a large car park catering for tourists to gaze at that which is no longer there. The gradual fall of the town was documented in 1722 by Daniel Defoe, writing of its decline and putting the blame at “nothing but to the fate of things, by which we see that towns, kings, countries, families, and persons, have all their 43
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elevation, their medium, their declination, and even their destruction in the womb of time, and the course of nature.”10 As a few cottages and a church precariously perched on the cliff’s edge, the final days of Dunwich’s existence coincided with melancholic cravings of writers and artists. In 1824 Turner travelled the Anglian coast filling his sketchbooks with ruined churches, ruined castles and ruined windmills, regular recipients of his gaze. It’s understandable that Turner, ever interested in that soft place where sky meets sea, would chase the locations where land and sea also conflate, where thing and nothing overlap. This is a land sculpted by artists as much as the sea; painters, poets, architects, even musicians (a Brian Eno track is titled Dunwich Beach, August, 1960) setting landscapes as constructs onto which imagination is projected, or to Simon Schama, “culture before they are nature”.11 Myth has it that the sound of fallen church bells can be heard from the waves. As a child I listened intently, and with my youthful senses probably believed I could hear them. Now with older ears, I don’t believe I can. I listen for returning chimes, but the deeper I search the more resolutely my mind fixates on the imagined rhythmic bell motif from Alain Robbe-Grillet’s short story La Plage, calling the children onwards. Dunwich, by J.M.W. Turner, c.1830
Minsmere — Thorpeness — Aldeburgh
The figure of the Indians’ Ford or Palizado in New England and the Maner of the deftroying it by Captayne Vnderhill and Captayne Mafon by John Underhill, 1638
“…the sound of the gravel being sucked up by the sea drowns the extremely faint ringing.”12
As the Youngs spent their first fortnight at sea, the landscapes of their future home were being prepared for incomers. Connecticut, to the South and West of Massachusetts, was the first settlement for many puritans who heard rumour of fertile and open lands. By the end of 1636 three towns had formed, comprising 800 people. The indigenous Pequot tribe found themselves pushed to one side by these white outsiders who considered the indigenous a threat to both their Puritan values and ideas of lateral migration across the horizons. No place for dead-wood in their new model society. Following an attack on one of the Puritan towns revenge was sought against the Pequots. The English, joined by another Indian tribe, marched by moonlight to the locals’ fort and massacred seven hundred sleeping women, children and elders before burning the settlement down. The circular encampment became a huge inferno under the orders of John Underhill and John Mason, with those attempting to escape the flames slaughtered by soldiers who had set the trap. The village men, who were away in another fort, were hunted down over the following days and either murdered or enslaved. “…the Fort blazed most terribly, and burnt all in the space of halfe an houre; many couragious fellowes were unwilling to come out, and fought most desperately through the Palisadoes, so as they were scorched and burnt with the very flame, … many were burnt in the Fort, both men, women, and children, others forced out, and came in troopes… which our souldiers received and entertained with the point of the sword; downe fell men, women, and children;… there were about foure hundred soules in this Fort, and not above five of them escaped out of our hands. Great and dolefull was the bloudy sight to the view of young souldiers that never had beene in Warre, to see so many soules lie gasping on the ground so thicke in some places, that you could hardly passe along.”13
myth, mourning & memory
World War 2 anti tank cubes, by the author, 2011
Plan of Decoy with 6 pipes, Friskney by Ralph Payne-Gallway, 1886
While chasing and slaughtering the remaining Pequots, fine fertile landscapes were observed by the English and word quickly spread back to the new colonists, including the now-landed Youngs, of new open territory to settle in. Smallpox epidemics deliberately spread by the English, to which the natives had no resistance, were interpreted as God’s way of preparing and opening up space for the migrating English who encountered silent native settlements abandoned in haste at the threat of deadly illnesses. Wigwams were not understood by the newcomers who considered the lack of permanence and perceived temporality a sign that the natives did not claim ownership to the land. Wilfully reading the emptiness as something free to lay claim to, they were more than glad to “improve” the landscape with enclosures, wooden buildings, planned towns and planted fields. To the English migrants, the landscape was wilderness, not acknowledging that the natives’ seasonal, shifting use of land was simply an alternate relationship to place to that which had developed in the Suffolk they left behind. Each autumn the Pequot burnt areas of thick forest to provide access routes and give sightlines to approaching enemies, and each year the English saw the smouldering stumps as burnt offerings, utilising the clearings for developments which slowly grew outwards, chopping deeper into the forests. By March 1638 word of these empty lands reached the Youngs’ and they joined a group of Puritans to found the New Haven colony. The flat Connecticut landscapes they moved through, with its coastal inlets, would have been somewhat reminiscent of the Suffolk left behind, though with traces of Pequot slaughters, lands still scarred from burnt villages and shallow graves yet without nature growing over. As Michel de Certeau later wrote, “haunted places are the only ones people can live in”.14 It’s been written that the first settlers in Suffolk burnt forests to create settlement clearings, trees burning for months scarring the first moments of “civilisation” onto a previously natural landscape.15 But this is a fallacy. There was no burning of woodlands. Some forests were taken by encroaching seas, others were felled for house and shipbuilding, and most were lost to increasing pastoral farming. As I walk, the trees open up into heathland, one of the last remaining areas of a heath which once covered much of Anglia after the decline of the woods. Yet to erupt into pink and purple and with the gorse barely flickering yellow, the view is more reminiscent of burnt and ashen offerings than the disorientating, overwhelming full flower of summer. The high cliffs suddenly drop, and Dunwich becomes Minsmere, a nature reserve popular with birdwatchers—serious ones carry expensive cameras and lenses to carefully capture their prey. Minsmere, like Dunwich Heath and much of Anglia, was land requisitioned for the 2nd world war. Seawater deliberately flooded over existing grazing marshes as anti-tank and landing measures. Reed marshes formed and after the war 1500 acres were leased from the Ogilvie family and the celebrated nature reserve was formed. War structures still dot the landscape, some re-appropriated as visitor facilities. This coastline has witnessed various relationships between man and animal, from historic hunter-gatherers to today’s twitchers. It was in marshes like these that duck decoys were subtly located, a careful architectural interjection into a seemingly untouched land. Dogs lured ducks down an ever-narrowing cornering tunnel, appearing behind layered screens along the routes and enticing the curious birds unwittingly to their death.16 To a walker’s perspective the coastline reads uniformly straight until sky, land and sea merge together into unifying fog. It’s quiet, not many of the 100,000 annual visitors are here today, just myself, the solitary walker, and birds mediating between sea and land. In Robbe-Grillet’s La Plage there is no narrative, just a journey. The children listen for bells, though the narrator never says if the chimes come from 45
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where they’re headed, where they’ve been, from land or from sea. A group of birds sits ahead of the children, and as footsteps approach they take off to then land further along the beach, this chase continuing rhythmically through the text as traces of footprints in the sand behind are erased with each returning wave. The motifs repeat endlessly. I briefly imagine myself in the place of the children, my steps keeping rhythm and yet feeling so out of time, aware of the unstoppable forces chasing me, and yet finding myself in a timeless landscape with a compressed sense of past, present and future. I try listening for the bells of Dunwich, in case they have been carried along the coast with all the sands, roots, soc and sac, wreck and lagan of a former time, but the sounds of the washing stones obscure all else.
Thorpe mere, by the author, 2011
“In spaces of uncertain sight, when we are unsure of what we are looking at and so rely on a willed act of memory to orient us, it is often the disorienting failure of memory to endure that we encounter and then briefly identify as something gone missing or lost.”17 The birds startle and take off as I approach, lifting me from my daydreaming. A birdwatcher further inland, binoculars in hand appears through the sea fog, levels of detail normally clear from this distance removed , stripping him back to the simplicity of a human figure without the burden of contemporary baggage. Just a figure in time and space, an interchangeable form I mentally substitute with Fergus Menteith, youngest son of the Ogilvie family who walked the same stretch of coast observing birds over a hundred years ago. From Sizewell Hall, the family home, he compiled notes which went on to form Field Observations on British Birds by a Sportsman Naturalist, published two years after his death in 1918: “…the salt-water part ebbs and flows with the tide through a little ‘haven’, covering the flats or leaving them bare.”18 For Fergus, the great joy of his family home’s location was the proximity to Thorpe mere, just to the south, a marshy salt-water flatland and home to a wide variety of nature. I can imagine Fergus floating across the mere in his punt for hours on end, and his notes suggest an attachment to this landscape as much as the wildlife, hinting at a fondness for the flat mere which his family considered ugly and unwelcoming, but a place where he could be at one with and study nature. Study, that is, with both binoculars and gun: “…shooting, when combined with observing, seems to me to be perfectly fair and proper — your observations are confirmed or corrected, you have the skin for study and as a permanent record and, lastly, if the bird is not wanted for preservation as a specimen, it is almost sure to be excellent eating.”19
Sizewell Hall entrance gate, by the author, 2011
Visual observation only offered a certain level of understanding to Fergus, while the actual possession of a shot animal provided evidence of having witnessed a particular bird. He developed a vast taxidermy collection of over 700 specimens, all donated to Ipswich Museum by his widow and which I remember excitedly exploring as a child. This wasn’t the first Ogilvie connection to the great provincial museum. Around 30 years earlier Fergus’ mother, Margaret, had given a large sum of money towards the newly conjoined schools of art and science. A new art gallery and education buildings were constructed to provide the town with a new platform for artistic endeavour. Just as I had spent numerous childhood hours wandering among those birds, my mother before me had spent hours training in the adjoining art school.
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“The natural characteristics of Thorpe Mere have been greatly altered since this description was written. In 1912, ‘improvements’ were commenced, with a view to increasing the amenities of Thorpeness as an ordinary seaside resort. Bungalows have multiplied; an artificial lake has been created, and the marshy areas of the old Mere have been drained. Ornithologists will deeply regret the passing of this famous bird-resort, whose attractiveness to bird visitors will be greatly impaired.”20 So read the editor’s footnote to Fergus Ogilvie’s comments on Thorpe Mere on “improvements” undertaken by Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, Fergus’ older brother, who inherited the lands and house in 1910. Where his younger brother saw mudflats rich with value and life, he only saw emptiness and a development potential inspired by utopian visions of William Morris and Ebeneezer Howard. Glencairn designed and built a dreamland holiday getaway for wealthy visitors from London who resided in buildings pastiching all historic English vernaculars, transforming his brother’s cherrished wild mere into a vast managed boating lake dotted with islands named after mythical locations in children’s stories. “Little is known of the early history of Thorpe, except that formerly it had a chapel, St. Mary’s, which was standing for some time after the Restoration, but is now demolished.”21
Map of Thorpe Mere, Suffolk by H. Balfour, 1920
The North Sea, by the author, 2011
So states Chapter 1 of the guide to Thorpeness, as the area had by now been renamed, published in 1912. I wonder how hard history was searched, the still existing fishermans’ cottages had residents in who had been there for generations before the new mock-architecture and mock-history of Thorpeness surrounded them. The older native cottages of defensive and robust coastal-Suffolk vernacular were swallowed into the fog of Ogilvie’s developments, occluded behind new houses, completely removed or simply hidden by newly planted trees which “in a few years should form a pleasant screen of foliage”.22 De Certeau later wrote, “what can be seen designates what is no longer there… that [a place] is composed by these series of displacements and effects among the fragmented strata that form it and that it plays on these moving layers.”23 Four years ago I fell to the ground outside the modern art museum in Barcelona, catching my shin on a marble ledge. Resolutely, I carried on around the gallery and only later noticed the swelling and bleeding, a wound that can still hurt, and on occasion bleeds. While grinding my way over these shifting pebbles each pang brings a sharp Proustian involuntary memory of that holiday, and I am immediately taken to the door of the gallery in Catalan sunshine. Even now in this cold winter fog, I walk on, mentally located somewhere between the monochromatic endless horizon of Suffolk’s coast and the sun-drenched Ravel district in Barcelona. Today the sea is calm and though it’s offered a continuous soundtrack to my route it’s one that’s seeped deep into the unconscious rather than dominated the soundscape. Here though, I listen. The pebbles underfoot a staccato rhythm to the rolling and ever-changing subdued roar of waves forcing up the shore then, stone by stone, dragging Suffolk into the water. Composer Harrison Birtwistle wrote La Plage: 8 arias of Remembrance in response to Robbe-Grillet’s short story, a piece of horizontal music picking up the rhythmic motifs, turning them to sound, and I feel somehow part of an ever-changing ambient composition at this moment, subtle sounds overlaying one another. It’s the sea which asks to be listened to most though, and it’s fitting that this same stretch of beach I now tread was that which Benjamin Britten visited daily. It is also the same stretch which was once filled with 47
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Scallop by Maggi Hambling, photograph by the author, 2011
Aldeburgh — Slaughden — Orford Ness
Aldeburgh’s streets before the town’s fortunes declined and the sea ate away at houses and roads, taking them into the waters and halving the settlement’s size. In the distance as I head south, the northern buildings of the place appear. Aldeburgh, now home to 4×4s on trips from London, second homes and cafés too expensive for the few indigenous locals to eat in, is now only a fraction of the size of the old town. The Moot Hall, where much of Britten’s opera Peter Grimes is set, was once in the town centre but now directly addresses sea to the east where once as many as four more streets ran. How much longer until it, like Dunwich, becomes myth and memory? Before reaching the northern buildings of Aldeburgh, I stop at Scallop, Maggi Hambling’s sculpture in memory of Britten, and shelter under it from the wind for a while, a purpose intended for it by the artist. It collects noises from the sea, like the sound mirrors of Dungeness or shells plucked from the beach for a child to eternally steal the sound of the shore with them as a souvenir, each time they hold it to their ear.24 Walter Benjamin talks of souvenirs as the “complement to isolated experience [which precipitate] the increasing self-estrangement of human beings, whose past is inventoried as dead effects.”25 It requires a childlike ear and suspension in disbelief for the shell to truly work as container of seasounds, any adult listening to a shell also hears the sea, but if souvenirs relate directly to the known precariousness of memory, in that we keep a memento in order to direct the mind to a memory; to adults the shell acts more as souvenir of a collective childhood memory, when distance and time do not hold the same the same preciousness as in adulthood. When a child hears the sea in a shell, it really is the sea the child is hearing. When an adult listens, they hear deeprooted childhood memories. Graffiti has been scrawled over the sculpture numerous times and a loud minority of residents repeatedly claim their dislike of the work. Why ruin an unspoilt area of natural wilderness, they ask. Though, in a few centuries more of the shoreline will have disappeared into the sea and Scallop will be underwater as the houses which once stood to the east now are.
In 1640 John Youngs moved with his family and set up the first English settlement on Long Island, Southold, after purchasing land from the local tribe. Later, Southold would offer retirement and respite from a lifetime of wars for John Underhill, Pequot murderer, and much later still caused pangs of nostalgia in Benjamin Britten. In 1939 Britten was holidaying with the Mayer family who had moved to the US from Germany following the rise of the Nazis, and was invited to remain as their guest indefinitely as war was announced. It was, perhaps, the passing of his mother in 1937 which gave him the mental freedom to travel to America, just as it freed him to start relationships. Her death had been a recurring childhood nightmare, and the notion of loss of childhood innocence informed compositions throughout his life; from his musical setting of Victor Hugo’s L’Enfance, in which a child sings over his mother’s body unaware she is dead, written when he was 14 years old, to his later operas of Peter Grimes and The Turn of the Screw. A 100mph hurricane wrecked Long Island in 1938, killing hundreds, flooding islands and causing more expensive damage than any previous disaster. As Britten drove towards the Mayers, scars on the landscape may still have been visible as gaps in trees, spaces where buildings once stood, and graves not yet
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grown over. He also passed welcome signs at the edge of Suffolk County and would have seen directions towards Southold, perhaps reminding him not only of Southwold but also his bringing forth childhood memories at schools in South Holme and South Lodge in Suffolk. It set within him a nostalgia for his childhood coast which only intensified after reading an article by E.M. Forster on the Aldeburgh poet George Crabbe in 1941. “I suddenly realised where I belonged and what I lacked… I had become without roots.”26 he later said of the moment, and began reading Crabbe’s poetry, starting with The Borough, from which he drew the story of Peter Grimes. “I worked from life with Father and Henrietta, then death, then memory. They still inhabit me, it’s ‘unfinished business’.”27 Maggi Hambling has said good art takes her into a place “between life and death, simultaneously composed of both”28, and her North Sea Series exemplifies this, obsessively trying to capture the precise moment in time at which a wave breaks, a simultaneity of erupting life and dissipating death. Before the North Sea Series, Hambling was better known for portraiture, an interest in death and memory within her artwork which developed when two of her muses, lover Henrietta Moraes and her own father, began to die. She continued to paint them until they were no more, immediately after they passed and then later from memories. Not dissimilar in approach, the wave series are also enquiries into memory after death, observing the crashing water on morning walks before heading to her studio and recounting the moments to canvas. “A great storm was raging, in the sky and at sea, the waves lashing and crashing. I came back to the studio where I was working on a portrait from memory of a London beggar… I remembered the intense and dramatic experience of the wild sea at Thorpeness that morning, and it was much more alive inside me than what I was trying to do on the canvas. So directly on top of the portrait of the beggar I painted the first of my North Sea Paintings, a memory of the morning’s storm.”29
Henrietta/North Sea Wave by Maggi Hambling, 2004–5
A sudden act concealing human forms within the waves, instigated by the violence of the sea. Hambling saw momentary faces in the fighting waters, taken further in works from 2004 melding her lover’s portrait with that of the North Sea, a transitional moment packed with as much psychological implication as Britten’s Four Sea Interludes or Constable’s Golding’s Gardens. This coast refuses to be held still, as countless attempts at sea defences have proved. In Hambling’s paintings one also reads the futility of trying to remember accurately something so massive and momentary, and of trying to fix something so fluid and alive. On the massive canvases, vertical dripping paint lines fall in front of the cascading image where gravity and fluidity have the last say on the work. In these wave paintings I see more than just faces, I see the Suffolk Pink of houses, ochre of heaths, red of sand soil, green of trees, white of flesh, colours all destroyed and taken by the the waves. But to Suffolk folk the sea doesn’t need over-loading with psychological meaning, it has fed the very life, death, wealth and land they live upon, with more dialect words in East Anglia for water than there are for snow in Inuit. But landscape art here frequently falls into the realm of the picturesque, so the imbuing of psychological implications into seascape art by Hambling, in response to Britten, is welcome, Hambling wishing to do for Suffolk’s sea what Constable did for the skies. In 1821 while working on his 49
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Map of Orford Ness by John Norden, 1601
Cloud Studies Constable wrote “It will be difficult to name a class of Landscape… in which the sky is not the key note… the standard of Scale and the chief Organ of Sentiment”30, and in the same letter, “Painting is but another word for feeling”. Ronald Blythe considers this to concern “life itself, and for being on the earth. For relationships. Not for farming”.31 Constable’s skies, often described as objective scientific studies, appear more psychological and romantic to the artist, evoking “fleeting states of mind, feeling, and atmosphere” and becoming “a language for inner activity: darkening here, lightening there, here an ascent, there a fraying or an accumulation of intensity; a passage of calm before a storm, or a glimpse of cerulean sky”.32 In two private paintings, Golding Constable’s Flower Garden and Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden, he rendered the view from his parents’ house, seemingly, and unusually, painted in-situ.33 As a child I saw these paintings in Ipswich frequently, an agreement with my mother meaning I could visit the museums in return for being dragged around Marks and Spencer. Constable painted these canvases shortly after his own mother died, and less than a year later his father followed her to the grave. These came from a threshold of his existence, the flower garden darkened by the shade of Constable’s family home, heavy clouds in the distance adding psychological weight to a landscape of grief and longing. When I looked at these paintings as a child, I just saw a place, not the imbued loss within. As an adult I still see the place, but layered over I see the loss within each brush-stroke, and a folding in of my own memories. South of Aldeburgh I pass the Martello tower, the most northerly of the early 19th century structures built to repel French invaders from the south and east coasts. Made of a million barged-in London bricks, it was surrounded by the village of Slaughden until, house by house, the village fell to the sea , the final cottage disappearing in 1936, the tower now precariously sited on an ever-narrowing spit. To my left the beach slides into water and becomes a polished surface of London clay, riddled with underwater holes from which divers find bricks, timber and debris of the former settlement.34 The spit broadens into Orford Ness, a place in permanent flux, and which will one day break to create an island, but currently offers a narrow pathway onto Lantern Marshes, named after temporary lanterns were erected following thirtytwo ships crashing into the spit in a single 1627 night, with few survivors. Along stretches like this the linearity comes to the fore, the lay of the land dictating my path. Sounds of tourists and parking cars gradually recede. Gulls, shifting stones, washing of waves overlaid with whistling winds take over. Nature’s never-ending song. I think of Lantern Marsh, a track from Brian Eno’s On Land album, though it’s difficult to mentally conjure up the composition while walking in situ. However, I do remember the overarching feeling and atmosphere, slightly dark and haunting with a threatening soft aura throughout, relating to Eno’s reading of place: “In using the term landscape I am thinking of places, times, climates and the moods that they evoke. And of expanded moments of memory too.”35
Golding Constable’s Flower Garden (top) and Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden (bottom), both by John Constable, 1815
Though I don’t think I’ve visited before, even in childhood, I have an uncanny sense of having heard this place before. Maybe from the Eno composition, or possibly the sounds I’m hearing fit so remarkably well with my knowledge of it’s haunting history. Perhaps there’s an element of sensory over-compensation in this monochromatic space. Whichever, the role of hearing as part of experience seems critical here.
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Aerial view of Cobra Mist, 1972
As I head south twentieth century war installations become visible. The fanarrayed masts of Cobra Mist, a cold war over-horizon radar, loom overhead. Black Beacon is a shadowy figure on the distance. Ziggurat like silhouettes of nuclear trigger testing buildings, concrete hulks on pillars designed to collapse and absorb an accidental explosion, are distant forms. The Plate Store, now home to barn owls and inaccessible to visitors, was in 1946 the centre of Spark Research, where pioneering work into high-speed photography assisted the development of ballistic delivery systems. The studies progressed over ten years, needing the construction of a fifty metre long hall with the highest speed cameras every five feet along its length to capture the projectile’s shadow and surrounding airflow. Revolutionary photography to visually capture the briefest moments ever witnessed by man.36 Passing the bomb ballistics building and across marshes, the distant keep of Orford Castle, defensive architectural companion piece to these installations, sets my direction. Aerial photography shows scars of life caused by man, nature and time. Each trace a scar opening a way into the present and history of the shifting landmass. The human perspective, close to ground level, renders this reading invisible. It sometimes helps to step away, leave the ground and take a fresh look away from the constriction of space and time we’re trapped to within the body, to take off like Robbe-Grillet’s birds, re-assess the land then find a new position. In the early 1990s the National Trust took ownership of the Ness, an unusual component of a portfolio more closely aligned to picturesque nature and architectural grandness. They recognised a unique natural habitat, scientifically and atmospherically, as well as its unique position in warfare and defence history. In 1993 the Historical Buildings Adviser to the Trust said: “The feeling of mystery and secrecy created by sound, silence broken by gulls and wind rattling in buildings, by dilapidation of ruins, and by incomprehension as to what happened here.”37
Stills from Cobra Mist by Emily Richardson, 2008
The notion of sounds offering an archaeological reading of history as much as aerial photography was explored in Emily Richardson’s 2008 Cobra Mist, a timelapse film exploring the Ness and traces of military history. It creates a disjunction between visuals and sound. Time rapidly passes as a day is compressed to seconds and cloud-shade races across the land, but the continuous calls of birds go on as normal, uninterrupted by speeding visual time. Other sounds crackle and scratch, underpinning the visuals, but differently to Eno’s rendering of the same location. Field recordings of rain, waves, sands and wind made by Chris Watson were presented to the composer Benedict Drew as a “soundmap” from which the composition was formed. By separating Watson’s original contextual sounds from Drew’s distanced listening, a break between the actual source and a new rendered meaning is created, not unlike a personal subjectivity of memory amending and altering the past. By being unable to root each sound to an object, truth or event the content of each sound is transferred onto a new personal object or meaning, a slippage in truth which then folds into the reading of the final film. The sounds absorb meanings, and traces augmenting ghostly histories in the images rather than explaining them. The military past, the memory and flux evoked through place and time all conjoin to give a more emotional, poetic and atmospheric rendering of the landscape than a factual one.
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a c o n c l u s i o n t o t h e wa l k
Orford Ness — Woodbridge
Witness drawing of Rendlesham Forest UFO incident, by StaffSergeant Jim Penniston, 81st Security Police Squadron, 1980
I leave the coast to head inland, through forests harbouring countless cold war mementos and memories. The extremities of a nation is where you find its defences — the Martello tower, the sea walls, the canon facing seawards. Two World Wars and the Cold one which followed also left architectural souvenirs, including in Rendlesham Forest, the fringes of which I now enter, where the twin bases of Bentwaters and Woodbridge hide amongst natural shelter. In 1980 the forest was home to a UFO incident labelled Britain’s Roswell, witnessed by senior American servicemen over three nights. The lighthouse at Orfordness was one explanation for the lights, visiting aliens tampering with nuclear warheads another, a space capsule dropped from a helicopter, soldiers messing around with a Jeep’s headlights. It became myth, every new “fact” unearthed opening up new re-readings, suspicions and sceptics. Can memory become myth so quickly? Thirty-one years after the sightings visitors now follow a UFO Trail as they get taken on a circular walk. On my seventh birthday I walked around my home town of Woodbridge, happily splashing in deep puddles while the scars of extreme weather, fallen trees, broken boats, and deep flooding, decorated my surroundings. A few days earlier a storm had lashed the south of England and left havoc behind. I remember the storm, but more I remember my dad telling me about a storm he remembers from when he was my age, the great storm and floods of 1953. His grandmother’s beach hut washed to sea, and with it a model boat he kept inside. 308 people died in those floods, though the image of them I have is a toy boat floating somewhere distant, unaware of the traumatic moment by which it came to be released. In the 1987 storm Rendlesham Forest was largely flattened, half a million trees falling like dominoes. It read as a horrific climax to the natural landscape. “It’s turned out to be a great event. We’ve learnt so much from it and from a conservation point of view it did so much good.”38 But, what is a natural landscape? The woods were man-made in the 1920s when vast forests were planted to make up for timber shortages from the First World War. The flattened woodlands encouraged the regeneration of indigenous trees and shrubs, open spaces allowed rare flowers, birds and animals to flourish, and insects are still benefiting from the tonnes of deadwood created that night. After gradual replanting, the post-storm forest is reaching skywards again, though the constant reminder of man’s hold on nature and the landscape is visible through a rigid linear planting. As one walks through, and at most angles the woods appear as dense randomly arranged trees, it’s only when the vantage is changed that the straight rows are realised. It’s through a straight linear cut in the trees I glimpse a way out and head through. “Particular ideas create a point of view that organises something that, from any other angle, is chaotic. The same is true of memories. You can think about your past as a kind of jungle. Suddenly you’ll have what I call a crack in time, where you can see right through the gap to the field at the other end… It has to do with perception; where you stand in relation to something is what you understand about it. I always saw a field of trees in rows, but what changed is where I stood.”39
Rendlesham Forest, by the author, 2011
Out of the woods I pass by Sutton Hoo where, in the 1930s, recently widowed landowner Mrs Pretty, turned to spiritualism and a belief in contact with spirits of the dead. Spiritualist visitors to her home reported ghostly figures around mounds
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Shield boss from Sutton Hoo
on her lands. Inspired, she employed the services of an archaeologist from Ipswich Museum to excavate, who opened up the largest mound, discovering a burial chamber stacked with Anglo-Saxon treasures. This walk, though started as an endless ramble along the coast, seems unerringly to be taking me back to my childhood home and memories. On the edge of Woodbridge I pass through a park, overlooked by a wooded hill where I used to play football. I’ve never been into the neighbouring woods, but I realise they offer a direct route to my dad’s house, the seemingly unavoidable destination of this trip. Up until 200 years ago this area was a mix of fields, meadows and osiers. In the late 19th century the basket making industry declined and the osiers were abandoned, consumed into the expanding woodlands. Brian Eno grew up near here, the alien sounds of doo-wop playing in a local English teashop for American military servicemen forming his early interest in sound re-contextualisation. Later, his development of ambient music was formed after he was rendered immobile and hospitalised after colliding with a taxi. A friend put on a record of harp music though the volume was low, rain outside was loud and one speaker was weak. At first annoyed, he began to appreciate the “melted into the environment” quality and started to realise his music, and, life should go this direction.40 So began his multi-layered experiments in sound collage which developed into the ambient series of works, culminating in Ambient #4: On Land. The album was written after visiting Ghana, and recordings of African animals and places may have found their way onto the track Unfamiliar Wind (Leeks Hill) as what I hear around me now seems far more native and understated than the echoing and exotic scape of Eno’s composition. But, as a child walking through these woods how much louder, exciting and other-worldly the birdsong and natural sounds may have appeared. Woods seem much greater from inside than from the outside, space and time warps. In the liner notes he writes how Fellini’s Amarcord, and with it the notion of unfaithful reconstructed childhood memory, was an inspiration for the album. The Lost Day is a track from On Land Eno wrote after chancing across a quiet bell motif on his piano which had an unexplained pull on him. Over time he built around this sound others which seemed to match the quality of the bell motif, and identify with him an unidentifiable particular time and place from his psyche. It was only years later when revisiting his parents in Woodbridge that he heard metallic ringing of sails on masts as they rocked with the tide, identical to his recurring bell.41 The album is an experimental process into the realm of memory to find out if he could tap into a past subconscious to make use of experienced feelings in the present. If Birtwistle’s La Plage was music concerning experience of place as a horizontal landscape, picking up rhythms and pace while passing through, Eno’s On Land was about looking at a verticality of a single place, overlaying moments of past, present and future into a singularity. His composition Lantern Marsh, which conveyed to me a mournful feeling shared by the place, was somewhere he spoke of: “My experience of [Lantern Marsh] derives not from having visited it but from having subsequently seen it on a map and imagining where and what it might be. We feel affinities not only with the past, but also with the futures that didn’t materialise.”42 From afar Eno’s compositions appear minimal and without much content, though at the microscopic level there is a constant state of flux and depth. Richard Mabey speaks similarly of the Anglian landscape, opposing the commonly held cliché that the region is flat, as the divers who swim into the Slaughden potholes may testify to: 53
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“I suddenly saw, drawn out in a three dimensional diagram, the fact that the reed bed is not just one expression of flatness, that it has an astonishingly intricate, minute, internal topography. It may be the matter of a few inches here and there, but it creates gradients that are perceptible to a hunting falcon’s senses, it creates currents in the air which can lift insects six inches higher. And I suddenly saw that the whole of the supposed flatness of East Anglia was like this, that it was a submerged landscape, that it might appear flat from our very positional human viewpoint that is standing five and a half feet above ground level with our front-mounted eyes, and assume that is the only way you can see the world.”43
Ambient 4: On Land cover artwork, Brian Eno, 1982
Ipswich Art School, storage, by the author, 2011
The idea of seeing diagram instead of place was also picked up by Sebald in Rings of Saturn where he highlights how Thomas Browne saw the quincunx pattern throughout nature. To de Certeau a “voyeur-God” looks down at the diagram of Manhattan streets, turning a bewitching world into a legible text44, and Eno talks of a diagram being worth a thousand words, how a little picture drawn to structure an idea can provide more than was known previously and lead towards new ideas.45 Eno developed his diagram-philosophy whilst studying at Ipswich Art School under Roy Ascott, pioneer of the cybernetics approach to art and instigator of a new policy in art education, Groundcourse, based on the stimulation of consciousness and the exploration of information in the early 1960s.46 In the same few years Maggi Hambling, Brian Eno and John Constable (the great, great, grandson of the John Constable) all graduated from the Ogilvie funded Art School. My mother may also have, if she’d been allowed to complete her studies and my grandfather hadn’t pulled her out of school and her art evening classes as a teenager and placed her into a job as a secretary instead of wasting time on creativity. I became aware, as I studied art, that her frustration of never pursuing an artistic potential was a melancholic black dog on her back for the rest of her life and a depression which contributed to her death. Eno has spoken of a childhood experience walking through a forest that seemed like an undifferentiated mass of trees, but on later visits as an adult came to contain familiar places that trembled with emotional resonance.47 Maybe it was these very Leek Hill woods I have just emerged from, where I find myself facing an imposing house where I once attended a drunken teenage party hosted by a new boy at school. His parents had recently bought the house from Eno, and the party was held in the basement which, to my gap-filled memory, had the marks, traces and fixings of a recently dismantled recording studio. A short walk through town and I end up at my dad’s house. The walk created a destination, some gravity drew me here. I stop walking, and look again at childhood photograph from Southwold which began this path. I easily recall holding up my Polaroid camera and taking the image, all those years ago. Looking at it now, with photographer’s eyes, it’s technically awful with forced poses, bad framing, contrasting lighting of the subject, out of focus and peppered with yellow dots (sand from the beach which affected all my Polaroid images). But I also recall none of these failures bothering me at the time, as I watched the image emerge from the black square. I remember a visceral excitement at the magic and possibilities of emergence. I search in the fuzzy image for the detail of my mother, but the closer I look the less I see , the gloss surface preventing deep access, image quality preventing deep reading. But, a crisp image may give too much information to serve as memory, may be too factual, as “Memory… is selective, fuzzy in outline, intensively subjective, often incoherent, and invariably changes over time — a conveniently malleable form of fiction.”48
myth, mourning & memory
I notice a rogue black dog caught in the corner of the frame. The punctum, now I see it. A visual rendering of the “catastrophe” of the subject’s death contained within the historic photograph Barthes referred to shortly after observing the “intensity” of time as an overriding punctum.49 These photographs “defeat Time”, he stated, by simultaneously containing both that which is dead and that what will die. But only for the duration of the physical image itself which, as he realises, will fade, deteriorate, decay and perish.50 Time is eternal and, as Swinburne poetically rendered, is the most powerful force, defeating all in its path.
Family photograph, Southwold, by the author, c.1988 (detail from first photograph)
Brian Eno, in: McKenna, K. “Eno: Voyages in Time & Perception”, Musician magazine, 1982. Fleming, A. (1577) A Straunge and Terrible Wunder wrought very late in the Parish Church of Bongay …. the fourth of this August 1577, in a great tempest of violent raine, lightning, and thunder . . . With the appearance of a horribleshaped Thing, sensibly perceived of the people then and there assembled. London: J. Compton, 1577 (1820 Reprint) Sebald, W.G. The Rings of Saturn. London: Vintage, Random House, 2002. p. 138 Warpole, K. “East of Eden”, in Evans, G. & Robson, D. (eds.) Towards ReEnchantment: Place and its Meanings. London: Artevents, 2010. p. 63
Section I, Stanza 6. Swinburne, A. By The North Sea. London: Chatto & Windus, 1880.
Parker, R. Men of Dunwich. London: Grafton, 1980. p. 54
Mabey, R. “On the Virtues of DisEnchantment”, in Evans, G. & Robson, D. (eds.) Towards Re-Enchantment: Place and its Meanings. London: Artevents, 2010. Section IV, Stanza 2. Swinburne, A. By The North Sea. London: Chatto & Windus, 1880. www.losttown.net
13 Underhill, J., Newes from America; Or, a New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England; Containing, a True Relation of Their War-like Proceedings These Two Yeares Last Past, with a Figure of the Indian Fort, or Palizado, 1638. p. 35 14 de Certeau, M. The Practice of Everyday Life. London: University of California Press Ltd, 1988. p. 108 15 Sebald, W.G. The Rings of Saturn. London: Vintage, Random House, 2002. p. 170 16 Payne-Gallway, R. The Book of Duck Decoys: Their Construction, Management and History. London: J. Van Voorst, 1886. p. 23 17 Geer, S. “Trying to Remember my Mother’s Face”, in Patt, L with Dillbohner, C. (eds.) Searching for Sebald: Photography After W.G. Sebald. The Institute of Cultural Enquiry. Los Angeles, 2007. p. 587 18 Ogilvie, F. Field Observations on British Birds: By a Sportsman Naturalist. London: Selwyn & Blount, 1920. p. 11 19 Ibid. p. 13
25 Benjamin, W. “Central Park”, in Selected Writings: 1938–1940 Jennings, M. W., Bullock, M. P., Eiland, H. (eds.), Trans. Howard, E. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2003 .p. 183 26 Oliver, M. Benjamin Britten London: Phaidon, 1996. p. 90 27 Berger, J. & Hambling, M. “Breaking Bread with the Dead”, in Modern Painters, vol.14, issue 3, 2001. pp. 49–51. 28 Hambling, M. “Good Morning Death”, in Art of England, Issue 65, January, 2010. 29 Hambling, M. The Aldeburgh Scallop. Framlingham: Full Circle Editions, 2010.
39 Grant, S. “Brian Eno Against Interpretation”, in Trouser Press magazine, August, 1982. 40 Lubow, A. “Brian Eno”, in People magazine, October. 1983. 41 Eno, B. “An Evening with Brian Eno”, in The Complete Music Magazine, 1982. 42 Eno, B. Essay (Liner notes to On Land). 1982, revised February 1986. Virgin Records: UK, 2004 issue. 43 Mabey, R. “The Return of the Pathetic Fallacy: Sebald’s Dunwich and the Revenge of the Heath”, talk at Artevents: After Sebald: Place and ReEnchantment, Snape Maltings, 29 January 2011.
31 Secret Lives of the Artists: Constable in Love, Directed by Roger Parsons, London: BBC 4, 11 January 2011.
44 de Certeau, M. The Practice of Everyday Life. London: University of California Press Ltd, 1988. p. 93
32 Jacobus, M. “Cloud Studies: The Visible Invisible”, in Gramma magazine, special issue: Objects: Material, Psychic, Aesthetic, 2006. pp. 219–47
45 Eno, B. “An Evening with Brian Eno”, in The Complete Music Magazine, 1982.
33 Bennett, C. Suffolk Artists 1750–1930. Woolpit: Images Publications, 1991. p. 6
22 Ibid. p. 43
34 Bacon, S. “Suffolk Marine Archaeologist Reflects on East Anglian Coastline”, on Coastnet, 2008.
11 Schama, S. Landscape & Memory. London: Fontana Press, 1996. p. 61
23 de Certeau, M. The Practice of Everyday Life. London: University of California Press Ltd, 1988. p. 108
35 Eno, B. Essay (Liner notes to On Land). 1982, revised February 1986. Virgin Records: UK, 2004 issue.
12 Robbe-Grillet, A., “The Beach”, in Lyon, P. (ed.) Parallel Text: French Short Stories 1. London: Penguin, 1966. p. 19
24 Art of the Sea: In Pictures. Directed by Matthew Springford. London: BBC4, 6 January 2011.
36 Heazell, P. Most Secret: The Hidden History of Orford Ness. Briscombe Port: The History Press, 2010. p. 156
10 Defoe, D. Tour Through the Eastern Counties of England, 1722.
38 BBC Suffolk website, Great Storm 1987, 2007.
30 Constable, J. John Constable’s Correspondence IV: Patrons, Dealers, and Fellow Artists. Beckett, R.B. (ed.) Ipswich: Suffolk Records Society, 1966. pp. 80–81
20 Ibid. p. 12 21 Parks, W.H. Thorpeness. Aldeburgh: Meare Publications, 1912 (2001 edition). p. 9
37 Ibid. p. 232
46 Pethick, E. “Degree Zero”, in Frieze magazine, issue 101, September, 2006. 47 Lubow, A. “Brian Eno”, in People magazine, October. 1983. 48 Batchen, G. Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance. Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum, 2004. p. 16 49 Barthes, R. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Translated by Richard Howard. London: Vintage, 2000. p. 96 50 Ibid. p. 93
Whispering Blooms Jack Orton
“They talk entirely for their own pleasure. Nothing they say is designed to be heard.” —Evelyn Waugh 1989 saw the release of A Vision of Britain: A Personal View of Architecture written by Prince Charles. In 1993 his dream became reality, and the urban extension named Poundbury was born. Although Poundbury is an extension of the Dorset town, Dorchester, it is slowly becoming its own community. Described as a “Brexit Bubble” by one of the residents, this series of images aims to explore the lives of the older generation in the 21st century and the strong symbolic relationship that we have with flowers. Whispering Blooms questions this relationship with flowers, from the everyday banal uses, to the more ritualistic uses for our loved ones and the origin of these traditions. The flowers are a continual link to the Poundbury cemetery that quietly sits overlooking the town. The link to the flowers and the cemetery is also a reference to Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One. Waugh’s book is based upon a real place called “Forest Lawn” which is a memorial park in America where the rich and famous are buried for the reverence of others. It seems that the Prince wanted to set a scene for his dwellers, creating an illusion of heritage and nostalgia that fuels the ideals of the town. These gentle nationalist ideals are becoming increasingly popular within the mainstream, and this project explores the dubious future that may lie before us. After all, the Prince does talk to his flowers.
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Shatwell Farm, UK Stephen Taylor
The historic enclave of Shatwell Farm, Somerset, has seen a slow decline in its agricultural activities over recent decades, rendering several of its buildings derelict and necessitating a broad and sensitive regeneration. Our new buildings are part of the process to revitalize the farmstead at Shatwell, bringing a renewed vigour to its dairy farming activities and intensifying the working environment of the farmyard. The northern edge of the farmstead has been supplemented with two colonnaded agricultural buildings, a new cowshed and its associated haybarn. The cowshed is the single largest building within the group, capable of accommodating 50 cows. It is positioned with its covered feed line forming an open stoa as part of a walking route through the valley, from the neighbouring Hadspen Estate onto the farm. The new pair of buildings face each other across the mouth of the valley to frame the entrance into the built complex from the open countryside beyond. The colonnaded frontispiece of the cowshed is crafted from semi-dry cast concrete using locally quarried stone, acknowledging this civic role played by the building. This is echoed by the colonnaded front of the haybarn, which is executed in a red clay pressed brick, laid in a radial dogtooth pattern. The new buildings work together with several existing structures to strengthen the edges of the farmyard and provide accommodation for a range of disciplines.
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Civic Architecture and the Municipal Estate Dominic Wilkinson
In adverse times we often reflect fondly and with a degree of postrationalisation upon past glories, such is the purpose of this essay, to offer a rose-tinted reflection upon forgotten monuments to local democracy. It makes no claims to comprehensiveness or balance. There are legions of advocates, reams of paper and megabytes of data dedicated to the study, preservation and appreciation of the modernist masterpieces of post Second World War liberal democracy. We will not be discussing the Lasduns or the Stirlings but the Paterson, Macaulay & Owens, the J.C.Prestwich & Sons, the Hall O’Donahue & Wilsons. Ever heard of them? No, not surprising for they are the local disciples; the providers of branch libraries, fire stations, and schools. Not for them the RIBA Gold Medal, glossy monographs or whispered excitement at North London dinner parties. Theirs is the civic architecture of the municipal estate. Often knowing and referential, frequently compromised, this architecture provides the civic backdrop to housing estates and new towns, it is the remarkable made everyday, and it is an endangered species. A perfect illustration of this type is the Canning Place fire station in Liverpool by Hall O’Donahue & Wilson, 1971–73. A small branch station to serve the city centre, this was planned as part of the proposed Strand/Paradise Street redevelopment, a fore-runner to Grosvenor Estates Liverpool One shopping centre. Located adjacent to a section of the inner ring road in the shadow of a mixed use block of warehouses and offices by the same architects, it was influenced by Corbusier’s unfinished church of Sainte-Pierre at Firminy 19711. A curious transposition of functional precedents made all the more bizarre by referencing the new ruin. A reference lost with the completion of the church in 2003. The formal association, de-coupled from the supposed functional determinism of the precedent, makes architectural references to and for other architects. The white stack bonded ceramic tiles are another collaged element, this time from the work of YRM, which included the nearby Liverpool University Electrical Engineering building, 1965. As a fire station it was incredibly popular with its users and despite its diminutive stature became something of a local landmark. Demolished in 2006 its site is now occupied by the entrance to the Hilton Hotel. This practice was rather fond of Corbusier references, with another Liverpool fire station the extraordinary Storrington Avenue Fire House 1967, giving a passing nod to the Maison Jaoul 1954. This is a well-trodden source with the rather more famous Liverpool trained James Stirling also using it for his Ham Common flats, 1958. Stirling was at Liverpool School of Architecture with George Hall and Colin Wilson and would visit their office on his return to the city to see relatives at Christmas2. Featured in the Architects Journal 27.12.1967, this was a training school which involved designing a domestic scale structure which was entirely fireproof so that it could be filled with combustible material and set light to on a regular basis. The result is a house which takes on a monumental quality through its material pallete and strong simple forms. The mannerist use of exposed concrete slab edges and Fletton bricks brings a peculiarly contemporary feel to the composition (would Caruso St John be happy with this in their back catalogue?).
Above: Canning Place fire station and Paradise Street re-development, Hall O’Donahue & Wilson 1970 onwards Opposite: Canning Place fire station, Hall, O’Donahue & Wilson 1971, with warehouses by same architect in background.
“This remarkable building already looks and smells, especially internally, like an aged relic” —Architects Journal, 27.12.1967 p164 This building still exists although the adjacent fire station has been replaced and it is now concealed behind a collection of lacklustre suburban community buildings. Across the River Mersey on the Wirral another practice was drawing upon the oeuvre of modernist motifs to good effect in the Bebington Civic Centre. A collection of Library, Police Station and Health Centre set in a mature generous landscape, this grouping designed by Paterson, Macaulay & Owens, 1965, represents the very essence of local municipal functions made solid. Listed Grade 2 by Historic England in 2016 the library in particular plays a similar game: 73
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Storrington Avenue Fire Training centre by Hall, Oâ€™Donahue & Wilson 1967.
Bebington Public Library by Paterson, Macaulay & Owens, 1965.
c i v i c a r c h i t e c t u r e a n d t h e m u n i c i pa l e s tat e
Turnpike Centre, Leigh by J.C. Prestwich & Sons 1971
“..confidently referencing both Denys Lasdun’s 1960–4 Royal College of Physicians and Le Corbusier in its form” —Historic England list entry number 1422767, April 2015 The listing goes on to mention not just the exemplar of 1960’s library planning but also: “...lavish provision of other community activities alongside the library in the form of a suite of civic meeting rooms, originally with a coffee bar, and an exhibition space” —Historic England list entry number 1422767, April 2015 Here we have a comprehensive set of public functions set out as a playground of architectural references by a local practice with an international image library. The projecting Piano Nobile with the paired offset fin wall columns is Lasdun all over whilst the roof top objects come straight from Corb at Marseille. Formalism at the service of the state giving a civic focus to the suburbs. This example of Civic values in the Municipal estate has been recently afforded a degree of protection but many more are vulnerable to changing patterns of use, local authority budget cuts, maintenance backlogs and a lack of understanding of their importance. The Turnpike Centre in Leigh, halfway between Liverpool and Manchester, is another example of local architects delivering upon the welfare states promise of culture for all. Designed by J.C. Prestwich & Sons in 1971 this combination of library and gallery provides the civic focal point in a small mill/mining town whose other architectural wonders extend to a Victorian town hall, a couple of brick mills and a terracotta pub or two. In this environment, manifest state indifference is only countered by the residue of past Municipal investments. The Turnpike Centre replete with its William Mitchell concrete relief sculpture over the entrance has the promise of a future that is only dimly remembered.
Again, the future is one of Modernist motifs, in this case the source is Ahrends Burton and Koralek’s Berkeley Library at Trinity College Dublin, 1960–67. The concrete hooded vents are substituted for concrete hooded windows, the ground floor glass oriels at Dublin become framed in concrete at Leigh but the overall effect is of a lesser, later, reduced budget relative. Recently (2008) threatened with a rather insensitive upgrade, incorporating a new foyer which would have concealed the front façade and obscured the William Mitchell relief. For now it appears that local authority budget cuts have saved the building from alteration as it slowly passes into community group administration. The role of poverty in preserving the built environment, (Georgian Dublin, Victorian Liverpool), is an interesting subject for another time. These examples of municipal modernism have a value greater than their architectural lineage, they represent a faith in the future, in liberal vales of the Enlightenment updated for the welfare state. At 50 years plus of age many have been demolished or altered beyond recognition. When an architecture supposedly derived from a functional basis no longer functions surely, the argument goes, it should be demolished. This makes the mistake of conflating what architects say with what they do, and by extension would lead to the loss of any building that changes its function. The need for investment is obvious, even the apparently indestructible fire house at Storrington Avenue won’t last forever. That they will receive investment is far less certain, perhaps the best we can expect in the current political climate is benign indifference tempered by local activism. The small selection of North West examples could be repeated in any part of the country with a different set of local practices of equal obscurity, each producing on a good day work which has architectural merit. Combined, however, they represent much more, the grass roots of a Civic Architecture. 1.
George Hall in conversation with author, 1998.
Letters from James Stirling to Colin Wilson in the archive of George Hall, recalled by Evelyn Hall in unscripted interview with author, 2016.
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Domestic Civic Architecture: Two Recent Examples in Dublin Douglas Carson and Rosaleen Crushell
“North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground. The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces... The wild garden behind the house contained a central apple-tree and a few straggling bushes under one of which I found the late tenant’s rusty bicycle-pump. He had been a very charitable priest; in his will he had left all his money to institutions and the furniture of his house to his sister.” —James Joyce, “Araby” (from Dubliners) Like most, if not all cities, Dublin is marked by civic ambitions, failures, unintended consequences and many conversions. I am going to talk about these phenomena in relation to two recent projects that I have worked on alongside my partner Rosaleen Crushell at Carson Crushell Architects in Dublin. r i c h m o n d p l ac e d u b l i n 6
The history of our house, which accomodates our family and our architectural practice, number 8 Richmond Place in South Dublin, falls within that tradition of domestic civic history. Situated close to Dublin’s Grand Canal—an ambitious yet short-lived infrastructural project of the late nineteenth century—our house is located in Dublin’s first township suburb of Rathmines. Rathmines was developed to house the middle and upper class at a safe distance from what had become an increasingly overcrowded, and what became, a largely destitute city centre1. Our house was built in 1840. It sits in the middle of a terrace of three Georgian-style townhouses built and owned by the 10th Earl of Meath, one of the wealthiest landlords of the time. It was built for a fluid housing market, a market of short-term rentals catering to single-occupancy by professional, business and landed families2. With 120m2 of accommodation ranged over three floors, it is a modest yet fairly typical representation of the ad-hoc speculative housing developments that prevailed in Dublin in the 18th and 19th centuries. The well-to-do suburban ambitions of the builders of Rathmines was short lived though, with poverty spreading to the suburbs3. Initially occupied by a single family, our house subsequently became a tenement house. It was occupied in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by at least ten persons, and was at various times let as five separate tenancies or “households”4. Following the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, number 8 was once again occupied by a single working-class family. They became lifelong tenants for the remaining years of twentieth century. Our first architectural collaboration was the purchase and refurbishment of a one bedroom apartment in London, purchased during our six years there, 2003–09. The fortuitous timing of its sale, in 2009, allowed us to move home to Ireland, against the tide of emigrating Irish architects. Our aspiration was for a combined family home and work space, as well for something that could act
as a project for the first few fallow years of our newly established architectural practice. The refurbishment works became a test of the knowledge gained by Rosaleen during her recently completed masters in Urban and Building Conservation at UCD. The Irish banks, by then fully devoid of their Celtic Tiger confidence and curtailed by new lending regulations, laughed at the prospect of lending money to a pair of self-employed architects for a historic property in a significant state of disrepair—even though its asking price represented the depths that the Irish property crash had sunk to. With that setback, family members were called on for multiple loans, allowing us to put in an offer. An offer lower than others were making, but one written on our newly formed company headed paper, assuring the sellers of our professional sympathy for the property’s condition; a cash sale, and therefore lower risk of our withdrawal during the exchange, as was the case with their previous offer. Our offer accepted, the property passed into our grateful hands from the 16th Earl of Meath in 2011. One of the most striking characteristics of Dublin Georgian-style townhouses, when compared with their counterparts in London, is a consistent absence of external ornament. Christine Casey attributes this clear tendency to minimal expression in the Dublin facade to economic rationalism.5 The rather plain street elevations are typically faced in soft handmade brick. They rely on the raised entrance door case details for decoration, without any of the cut stone surrounds, cornices or platband detailing of the public buildings or houses of the very rich. Wittgenstein referred to the “good taste” of those Dublin builders in “that they had nothing very important to say, and therefore they didn’t attempt to say anything.”6 Our own street facade abides with these observations. It is of a local, soft, yellow brick, brick also being used within for the loadbearing internal walls, and for the rear elevation’s opening surrounds. This rear wall, along with the basement walls, is otherwise of a rubble, coursed, calp limestone. The existing narrow plan has an oblique geometry, generated from the intersection of the adjacent medieval military route connecting Dublin Castle to one of its southern outposts; and by the underground Swan River running roughly east-west. Additional compromises came from the building’s poor condition: the basement was flooded under a foot of water in the month after its purchase, and there was no heating or internal plumbing. Many of the fireplaces, internal joinery items, shutters and balustrades were missing, presumably ripped out and sold by previous occupants. We had few funds to pay for substantial building work, and had to occupy it quickly. While planning permissions were sought, we camped out in the dry rooms, using that time to develop our designs, whilst also working on the few first projects of our, then, two year old practice. Major internal opening up works in the basement, the addition of basic plumbing and electrics were the only things completed prior to the arrival of our eldest child in 2013. a r r a n g e m e n t s a n d m at e r i a l at m o s p h e r e s
The design process was one of negotiation and improvisation, with the existing fabric, and our limited resources. Those as-found compromises became opportunities for invention. We worked neither 77
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quite intuitively, nor entirely un-selfconsciously, but according to fixed plans developed following many iterations. These design iterations were supported by a single, ever changing 1:20 working model, and by multiple sketches and orthographic drawings.7 Whilst in some sense we are the authors of the new works, the house itself, and the things which we discovered about it during the building works, exerted a powerful authority over our design. The basement bedrooms are cool in the summer, and warm in winter. Two new garden courtyards are dug out for the front and rear facing bedrooms. They bring in more daylight, desaturated the sodden walls, improve views out, and give garden access to these lower rooms. The existing window openings were cut down to become doors to these new courtyards. The front, 1st floor master bedroom door is set back from the street, sat against the one brick deep reveals, opening inwards. The rear children’s bedroom door, mirrored by the half landing garden door, is placed externally over the original opening. These mini-extensions, just a door frame deep, create ante-spaces made up of the full wall depth plus the new door frame, suitable for occupation outside the edges of the original room’s plan. Otherwise, these new doors and the existing sash windows do not, in their outward appearance, indicate the particular function within. Whether that function be staircase or kitchen, bedroom or office. We have followed Adolf Loos’ belief that “the house does not have to tell anything to its exterior, instead all its richness must be manifest in its interior.”8 New basement partitions, of solid, oiled douglas fir, are stacked without glue or nails, and arranged as free-standing screens, detached from the roughly lime-plastered limestone walls. White linen curtains line many of the bedroom walls, concealing clothes and replacing conventional internal doors. A new bath is sat under the front door’s entrance stairs, with its own new window to the master bedroom courtyard. A new suspended ceiling over the bathroom and lobby conceals new pipework and is painted with a high gloss lacquer. Otherwise, the basement ceiling exposes its timber joists. The new concrete floor is painted with a white resin. The kitchen looks west to the rear garden, with the worktop dropping down 45cm to the cill of the original sash window. This drop creates a bench for our children climb up on, to help with the cooking or the washing up. Offcuts from the basement walls made up this disjointed worktop. A new kinked wall, of galvanised steel kitchen cupboard doors, reflects evening sunlight into the depth of the room. The kitchen door to the rear garden mirrors that of the children’s bedroom. It is placed over the opening, to negotiate its non-orthogonal and imprecise quality, while creating an enlarged half landing. The route to this door passes a pair of new douglas fir sections, standing within the kitchen that hang—or is it prop?—the edge of the staircases’ landing. The sitting room is entered by doubling back from the hall through the kitchen, and via a new square opening in the central spine wall. Full height, insulated and painted timber shutters slide over the sash window, facing east back to the street. Recent grants have allowed all the sash windows to this facade and its surrounds to be repaired to the highest conservation standards. The timber floors in both of these 78
spaces are exposed, and whitened, softening the contrast between old and new floor boards. The walls are lime rendered, with rounded edges, and a clay paint finish has been applied, with some isolated parts of the original paintwork left exposed. A circle on the half landing, where a child’s nineteenth century drawing was revealed— under five wallpaper layers, or a decorative section of the printed wainscoting—left exposed. The top floor houses a third bedroom, and our studio at the front, in a full width, east facing room. Walls are left with the original plaster exposed. Various new interventions will be made only when funds and time allow: an ensuite is planned, new shelving, office lighting, attic access, shutters. Repairs to parts of our own work, completed 8 years ago, is part of an ongoing project of stewardship. The front garden has a formal arrangement with gravel paths, box and sage hedges, two rowans and an arbutus. In contrast, the rear garden is a site of ongoing creativity and growth. Adjacent to the rear façade, the new sunken courtyard garden is made of concrete blockwork. This forms stepped walls, with plenty of shade for damp-loving ferns, and leads to a miniature football pitch on a clover lawn. The lawn contains two ten year old cherry trees, and is bounded by a new terrace, raised and surfaced from the excavated rubble fill and flagstones of the old basement. A century old ash tree divides a more decorative front-of-house garden from a productive area at the rear; an area of raised vegetable beds, compost beds, fruit trees, and tool storage. Daily transitions between the street and the garden and the interior—between family life and professional life, between the civic and domestic, between night and day—are expressed in the plan and section of the house; its material surfaces express also a spirit of continuity and improvisation, and healthy habits of economic necessity.
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merton house dublin 6
This semi-detached house refurbishment, close to Richmond Place in South Dublin, completed last year, is our latest finished project. Like most homes of that type today, the 1930s garage was considered redundant—due to car alarms and improved car paint. The leanto larder and outdoor loo to the rear of the house were considered redundant too. The clients, two lawyers; one Irish and one French, along with their three children, did not require additional floor area. Rather, they desired an improved relationship with the rear garden, and an interior more attuned to their family and interests. In particular, a room for entertainment, somewhere to celebrate eating and drinking, and the pleasures of urbane family life. The project is, unusually, instead of an addition, a reduction, and an intensification of the existing architectural character of the house; an aspiration for all our projects with existing buildings. We took aspects of the Victorian front facade as cues for the new works: the round headed arch; square proportions; high level clerestory glazing; the bay windows’ oblique angles; crisp brick in a common bond and white painted joinery. These elements re-appear in a new composition of disparate, collaged materials sat within a series of repeated geometric figures. These figures are mirrored, distorted, and attuned to new rhythms in our designs. For example, the original front door becomes an arched window on axis with the stairs. The reworked garage doors integrate a new front door in a new position, and there is a new painted shutter to the shower room. 82
The architectural expression is relatively mute to the street, for reasons of planning and decorum, however a more sensual architecture lies inside. A new stairs and enlarged stair hall, accessed through those reimagined garage doors, allows the family to greet and to say their farewells, out of the rain. The black tiled and timber lined hall leads to a robust kitchen. It has a new, long concrete worktop, a galvanised steel splashback, white-waxed cupboard doors, and scorched black timber floor. The new kitchen is now located in what was the “good front room”. It faces towards the morning light and the street. Refurbished sliding pocket doors lead back into the dining room with a new fireplace that is taut within a cast concrete surround. On its other side, the double fronted fireplace has a deeply set, curved hearth facing towards the sitting room. These curves repeat in the ceiling plasterwork. The two rooms have new glazed openings to the rear garden. A cast concrete terrace is bounded on one side by a square pond—reflecting evening light over the dining table; and on the other by a serpentine “crinkle-crank” shed wall (made from the brick reclaimed from the demolition of the rear lean-to’s and some internal walls). The circulation route imitates and continues the new rhythms of the curved elements described above, spiralling in plan. The route upwards involves a return to the stair hall, and then continues up the new stairs to a refurbished half landing bathroom, and then onto bedrooms on the first floor.
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t e n tat i v e c o n c l u s i o n s
In the case of our own house, the architectural project emerged very slowly—and is emerging still—from a process of almost archaeological intensity. The history and form of the house provides the main character: its aged materials, peculiar geometries and the impact of the sun’s diurnal path from front facade to rear elevation. Our own interventions attempt to reveal and reflect that character. They carry with them—either explicit or concealed, the story of their making for our own appreciation and professional support as we inhabit it both day and night. Without a strict deadline—but certainly with a strict budget, time was the one plentiful resource. Considerations could thus go beyond utility and into research for our young practice’s benefit. Prototypes and approaches tested there have been more confidently proposed to our clients. Merton House, in contrast, involved a much more decisive, and a relatively faster process of design and construction. This is partly an expression of the differences in our material circumstances; partly the difference between a clearly defined and an evolving brief; and perhaps also has something to do with that greater confidence in our resources and abilities as designers. Merton House acknowledges the pleasures in returning home after a city-based workday—with forms and materials veering towards appearances that could be more immediately appreciated. The blackened floor, the curved living room ceiling, the half-landing oculus, the stairs handrail—while somewhat irrational, gained client approval relatively quickly. A sign then of the domestic 84
interior’s sensual role for our clients and, perhaps, less of its purely pragmatic purpose as a shelter. Both projects make suitably expansive surfaces for the hanging of art or, in our case, also the display of our architectural projects. Both attempt to situate you in the city and to offer new locations within for reflection. Both orient you towards enjoyment of the world beyond the interiors: a breakfast table facing the morning sun, a shower with a street view, rooms with a generous garden view.
The passing of the Act of Union in 1801, with the transfer of power to Westminster, reduced Dublin to a regional capital and prompted the gradual departure of the aristocratic classes from Dublin. Their former houses became amongst the worst tenements in Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Daly, M., “Forward”, in Casey, C. ed., The Eighteenth-Century Dublin Town House, Dublin, 2010, p. xxii.
The Rathmines debt was per head was double that of the city. See Dublin’s Suburban Towns 1834–1930, Ó Maitiú, S, Four Courts Press 2003, p. 138.
5 “The Dublin Domestic Formula” in Casey, C. (ed), in The EighteenthCentury Dublin Town House, p.49–50, Op. Cit. See also The Plain Style: Protestant Theology in the History of Design, David Brett, James Clarke and Co Ltd, (2nd edition), 2005. 6
Architectural Reflections: Studies in the Practice and Philosophy of Architecture, St John Wilson, C., Oxford, 1992, p. 63.
7 “Sketches Archive 2011–2013”. A video piece of these process drawings made for the 2015 Describing Architecture Exhibition, Dublin is at www.youtube. com/watch?v=rIQNZAgPY0o 8 “Heimat Kunst” (1914) in Trotzdam: essays 1900–1930, Loos, A, Innsbruck, 1931.
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John Brinckerhoff Jackson in 1987
Other Stranger’s Paths Tim Waterman in homage to John Brinckerhoff Jackson
Nearly sixty years ago, J.B. Jackson wrote one of the most insightful essays about landscape ever written, “The Stranger’s Path”. Jackson’s warm, gentle, and wise voice and keen observation have been constants in my career as a landscape architect and writer, and I offer the following piece as a kind of fugue, a flowing together of Jackson’s voice into mine, in the way that so many stories flow together in the city along the Stranger’s Path. Our dearest hopes for the future will always evolve from the places and the voices of our past. The city is a cosmopolitan story we write together, and so many of us have come there to write it as strangers. s p o k a n e , was h i n g t o n , 1986
short recovery were also empty and decaying. Spokane possesses one of the most extensive “skywalk” systems in the USA, built around the time it hosted the environmentally-themed World Expo of 1974. Presumably grown from the Corbusian ideal of the “death of the street”, but also in defence against the area’s frigid winters, this shopping-mall-in-thesky had first killed the streets below, then slowly killed itself. Lisa and I wandered its empty corridors eating chocolate-covered espresso beans and contemplating a seemingly post-apocalyptic cityscape from which all the citizens had simply disappeared. A few streets away, at the Greyhound bus station, which was full, not of travellers, but of people trapped by permanent transience and precarity, and the smell of urine and fear, we wondered together whether bus stations, once planted, would spread their black tendrils of decay into the neighbouring soil; bad seeds that would ensure a continuously poisonous urban harvest for an area. Lisa and I sat on the pavement and sang a comic jingle together from the Sex Pistols movie Sid and Nancy, “I want a job, I want a job / I want a good job, I want a job / one that satisfies / my artistic needs.” We laughed together at the irony of the postmodern condition, savvy, world-weary punks. “We are welcomed to the city by a smiling landscape of parking lots, warehouses, pot-holed and weed-grown streets, where isolated filling stations and quick-lunch counters are scattered among cinders like survivals of a bombing raid.”
In what was, I think, the spring of 1986, my good friend Lisa and I ran away from the small town of Moscow, Idaho where we lived and went to high school together, and spent the day in Spokane, Washington. Spokane in the 1980s was a city only in shape, hollowed out by suburban expansion as well as an economy depressed over most of the twentieth century, though it had briefly stuttered into faltering recovery in the late 60s and 70s. For youngsters like us, with sarcastic anti-establishment attitudes, vertical hair-sprayed hair, and cassettes of obscure German industrial music in our Walkmans it was precisely Spokane’s grittiness that gave us both something to sneer at and to revel in. In Moscow, my friends and I would spend hours mooching around by the railway tracks, and exploring abandoned grain elevators and empty farmhouses, participating in the birth of an aesthetic based in the blasted remnants of rust-belt style decline and the demise of the small farm and farmer’s cooperative. In Spokane these same forces were writ slightly larger, and the modern and postmodern buildings and landscapes produced in its
No matter how blasé we pretended to each other to be, though, this was one of our first, rare moments of escape from home without our families. Rather than being swept solicitously past the iniquitous and ubiquitous head shops and adult book stores of the Stranger’s Path, we were now free to stand and stare at them, even enter them. Though we pretended we’d seen it all, we hadn’t really seen anything yet, certainly not in Moscow, Idaho. We were both making a time-honoured exchange with the city of Spokane; its secrets and lures for our inquisitiveness and invention. But poor Spokane—where Jackson’s ideal Stranger’s Path would lead us from potholes to a clean, bright city centre, Spokane’s Path at the time only led to a gaping absence where that centre should have been. “[I]s it not one of the chief functions of the city to exchange as well as to receive? … These characteristics are worth bearing in mind, for they make the Path in the average small city what it now is: loud, tawdry, down-at-the-heel, full of dives and small catchpenny businesses, and (in the eyes of the uptown residential white-collar element) more than a little shady and dangerous.” 87
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l o n d o n , e n g l a n d , 2015
It’s Saturday the 14th of November 2015, and there is a steady rain. I’m starting a short walk from the base of Christopher Wren’s monument to the great fire of London, just at the intersection of London’s two most venerable Stranger’s Paths: London Bridge, for 700 years the only dry crossing of this reach of the Thames, and, of course, the River Thames itself. London has many Stranger’s Paths, which now include some routes oddly distended by public transport. Heathrow Airport, for example, sits amidst a vast terrain of potholes and parking, but travellers smear quickly across the suburbs via the Piccadilly Line or the Heathrow Express to eventually rejoin the Stranger’s Path in Earl’s Court or Paddington, each place raffish and slightly sleazy. The Borough High Street and London Bridge are still part of continuous Stranger’s Paths that, from Borough, fan out into Kent, Surrey, and East and West Sussex. I’m walking the stranger’s path out of the city, because now I’m a long time resident here, a Londoner as much as any other, it doesn’t make sense to me to walk the Stranger’s Path from the view of one entering. I will walk from the civic centre, that which absorbs, towards the periphery and beyond, from which the Path flows. 88
“The simile was further that of a stream which empties into no basin or lake, merely evaporating into the city or perhaps rising to the surface once more outside of town along some highway strip; and it is this lack of a final, well-defined objective that prevents the Path from serving an even more important role in the community and that tends to make it a poor-man’s district.” Vistas in the City of London, with its tangled, medieval streets, are tightly enclosed. As one approaches London Bridge from the City of London along King William Street, the view expands dramatically. It is possible, here, to quickly comprehend the topography; the high north bank and the once-marshy south bank. The surface of London Bridge, a very clean plane, emphasises the horizontal and draws the eye out over the river. The water is shining as the sun breaks through the day’s dark, moist clouds. To the east, the Tower of London with flags waving. When London Bridge was crowned with its twin walls of houses, shops, and chapels this experience would have been very different. Before 1760–61, when the bridge was cleared of these habitable encrustations, and at the height of British naval power and transatlantic shipping,
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it must have been possible to catch glimpses from the crowded bridge, between the buildings, out to countless masts and ship’s decks forming an unbroken but uneven ground where now there is open water. Out the gate to the south, one would have passed under the cautionary severed heads of the executed, held aloft on pikes, signifying, perhaps, that the rule of order was rather weaker outside the gate than it was inside. Outside we would find the petty criminals, hucksters and whores, bishop-pimps, betting, drinking, and theatrical acts of all scales. On the south bank I reach the Borough High Street, its narrow footpaths jostling with people and its streets full of cars splashing through puddles gurgling up onto the curbs. “The sidewalks are lined with small shops, bars, stalls, dance halls, movies, booths lighted by acetylene lamps; and everywhere are strange faces, strange costumes, strange and delightful impressions. To walk up such a street into the quieter, more formal part of town is to be part of a procession, part of a ceaseless ceremony of being initiated into the city and of rededicating the city itself.” The Borough High Street and the myriad alleyways feeding into it are a writing and rewriting of the dialogue between congestion and commerce. A succession of narrow courts and alleys open up with only a building’s width between them. On a map, they appear like the teeth of combs, and they echo the parallel streets that once thronged perpendicular to the Thames, pulsing with a constant flow of people and goods from across the heaving seas. This whole place Jackson might have described as “honky-tonk”, and despite recent attempts to Manhattanise the area, I have hopes that it will retain its rough-and-tumble demeanour. The incredibly fine urban grain here reminds us that not only would these streets have been congested, but so would the commerce itself, with many businesses not wider than a person’s girth—and the prostitutes, of course, themselves commodities—“commodity” even being a name for their most private parts. The prostitute’s business fits precisely the space of her body. The carts drawing goods into the city to discharge in its markets would have been constantly clutched at and called to from these many stalls, perhaps most when the carts were returning empty and the purses were full; bellies filling, balls emptying; the city’s carnal and pecuniary tides are one. The George, down one of these narrow side streets, is a rare survivor from the seventeenth century, and its history is longer— its original building was burnt. It is a galleried coaching inn, decked with balustrades on all levels from which to watch the comings and goings of horses and carriages below. Its interior is as intricately wrought as the streets outside. There are grand rooms and snug corners and stairways that allow glimpses of action above and below and which carry snatches of laughter from floor to floor. It’s full, loud, and friendly today with big groups crowding around tables filled with food and ale. It’s a dry spot to wet the innards, and my glass of Southwark Porter goes down a treat as I write, perched on the edge of a high bench with my notebook on a sticky table. The men next to me are talking about women, then about smoked meats.
“For my part, I cannot conceive of any large community surviving without this ceaseless influx of new wants, new ideas, new manners, new strength, and so I cannot conceive of a city without some section corresponding to the Path.” When I leave The George, the beer has gone cold in my belly and rainy day melancholy has begun to take hold of me. Just to the south a hoarding has gone up around a large building site. Signs show images of the excavations that preceded the construction; foundations and walls closely stacked parallel and perpendicular layer after layer, generation after generation. Somewhere they begin in the silty ooze this part of the city is mired in. They are a reminder that the trajectories we inscribe have been written over centuries. As a species we don’t simply leave trails on the surface, but also below and above. When I look through the windows cut in the hoarding, I see all that is now gone, and sheet pilings line the edge of a vast, clean pit with freshly poured concrete curing at its bottom. At last I arrive at the Marshalsea Prison wall, a place I have brought numerous visitors and guests because it is a place where you can feel the full weight of London’s terrible past. This blackened and dreadful high wall, studded with occasional spikes and rings, was the outer wall of the prison in which Charles Dickens’ father was incarcerated, amongst many others of London’s wretched. A site redolent of woe. Today, as the rain falls, I arrive to find the wall “restored” and almost completely rebuilt, still solid and massive, but clean and crisp and regular. I knew I would find it this way, as I had caught a glimpse of this atrocity of cleansing while it was underway, again behind hoardings, but I’m still unprepared for the magnitude of the loss now that the hoardings have been removed. All its presence, its meaning, has been washed away, scrubbed away, normalised. That cruel history that called out to every visitor, “Never again!” has been whitewashed. What once was chillingly, silently eloquent is now merely mute. I stand in front of the wall and I can’t stop the tears welling up in my eyes. Afterwards I wander aimlessly through the Borough Market, pushing through the crowds, and then cross the river at the Southwark Bridge, where the tide is high and the river is brimming with water that looks like cold, milky tea. Behind a glass curtain wall in a new restaurant in a new building near St Paul’s, a woman with shining hair and perfect teeth is laughing in a way that shows practiced charm, but that is clearly forced. I find my way back to the narrow streets with brick buildings shouldering in and panes of glass emitting warm, yellow light. “The Stranger’s Path exists in one form or another in every large community … preserved and cherished. Everywhere it is the direct product of our economic and social evolution. If we seek to dam or bury this ancient river, we will live to regret it.”
The Idea of Home Michael Higgins, The President of Ireland
We, all of us on this planet, share what Pope Francis has termed “our common home”, and, if we are to meet the challenges presented to this common home we are obliged to widen our perspective of home to encompass all the people of this earth. Dear friends, May I begin by thanking Dr. Catriona Crowe for her very generous invitation to address the Galway International Arts Festival, and may I commend you, Catriona, and all those who have volunteered and worked on this endeavour for such a wonderfully curated selection of topics and speakers. At the outset, I would like to pay a special tribute to Catherine Corless, who will be speaking later today at the Aula Maxima. She has demonstrated not only courage and perseverance but a remarkable commitment to uncovering the truth, to historical truth and to moral truth. All of us in this republic owe a debt of gratitude to Catherine for what was an extraordinary act of civic virtue. Today, I have returned to what are most familiar surroundings. I have very fond memories of delivering lectures in this university, though some of those lectures were given in very different circumstances. I can recall being handed that most dreaded of university time-slots—9 o’clock in the morning—for one of the courses I had prepared. Fortunately, this was Ireland in the 1970s so when I entitled the course “Deviance, Crime and Punishment” I was ensured a lecture hall full of students, many of whom I was later informed were in fact auditing the course. 90
I introduced them to Michel Foucault—then considered an avantgarde thinker—and to many an exciting source of the new sociological ideas on the role and nature of gender, incarceration and crime in modern societies, perhaps not what they were expecting or indeed hoping. I remember hearing from the chair of the Department of Political Science and Sociology, Professor Edmond Dougan, fellow sociologist, Head of Department, and a Franciscan, that our students had told him how, in introducing the concept of society, I had taken it all apart for them. “Yes, Michael”, he asked, “But did you put it back together for them at the end?”. The sheer breadth of the theme of “First Thought Talks” strand of the Arts Festival—“home”—provides me with an opportunity to return to, and to reflect on, some of the matters with which I have sought to engage, as a university lecturer, and as a citizen. It would be too great an impertinence to hope that I can put everything back together for you at the end of my reflection on the concept of “home”, and I’m not promising anything! Today, unlike my lectures all those years ago, I do not wish to begin with Foucault but with a reference to the work of two very different philosophers that Foucault himself nonetheless considered as formative intellectual influences, even if his own thinking developed in radically different directions—Martin Heidegger, whose legacy continues to be haunted by his monstrous moral failings in the 1930s and 1940s, and Gaston Bachelard, a French philosopher who transformed the philosophy of science in the 1950s. Though neither share much in terms of perspective or trajectory, they both offered meditations on the manifold meanings of “home”.
In an essay entitled “Building Dwelling Thinking”, published in the collection Poetry, Language, Thought, Heidegger asked two questions, “what is it to dwell?”, and “how does building belong to dwelling?”. He writes that, “[d]welling is the basic character of Being in keeping with which mortals exist”. Dwelling and the processes of building, making and shaping thus emerge almost as circular phenomena—even as people create a place, they forge a relationship between themselves and that place, such that they begin to dwell. In Heidegger’s words, “the relationship between man and space is none other than dwelling, strictly thought and spoken”. As a student of migration, I am particularly struck by the implication of this last sentence, expressing as it does an underlying assumption in favour of the universality of a fixed relationship with a specific space, and indeed perhaps a specific time. It displays a disposition so intrinsic to much of modern social science—one that finds it difficult to encompass the experience of movement or of the interstices, the space between spaces. Migration and movement have always been a part of the human experience—indeed, for some historic peoples they constituted the very foundation of their social and economic lives. An obvious example are nomadic peoples. The life of all migrants, seasonal and settled, cannot be handled by such formulation. That is not to say they did not dwell, nor that they did not form relationships between themselves and a particular space, such that it became a treasured place in which a home could be made, but they were never sedentary, nor bound to one place, or even one identity, often being people of split identities. “Transience” requires a near continuous re-definition of “home”. This is something caught in literature, as it is missed by a privileging of the sedentary in the social sciences. In 1958, a number of years after Heidegger first delivered the lecture that would become “Building Dwelling Thinking”, Gaston Bachelard completed a short volume entitled The Poetics of Space. Though better known for his epistemological work, he turned his attention to what he termed the “phenomenology of the imagination”, the study of the poetic meaning of the house and of the intimacy imbued within everyday household places, such as the attic, the cellar or the drawers. In The Poetics of Space, he writes, “[the house] is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word”, that it is “the topography of our intimate being”. Think of the positioning of the chair near the fire in Arensberg and Kimball’s Study of Lough and Raymona in Clare in the 1930s. The house, Bachelard reasoned, emerges as the home by becoming a site of intimacy and creativity, of memories and dreams. What is remarkable is the degree to which, in the work of Gaston Bachelard, concerned as it is on the face of it with the evocation of the architecture of spaces, home is presented not only as a physical space, but as an immaterial reality, not a defined place of retreat but a series of relationships and intimacies with places and between people, and indeed I would add that between people the estimation of the form of the house, the status it indicates takes on a role as an indicator of position in the class system, even of respectability, or assumed lack of it. Is this definition of “home” then to be a function of residence, simply occupying space with security, a space from which one moves to participate, circulate and how and when does a condition of ownership
arise? Is it as a guarantee of security, occupation being an insufficient criterion of what is “home”? Going beyond the theme of “home” as a set of balances, perhaps between security and freedom it may be useful to consider briefly the evolution of our planetary “home” from earliest times through to the “Anthropocene”. Time restricts a deep consideration of “home” in terms of our shared planet, our loss of symmetry between nature and habitation. Yet, I believe that this is a perspective that we must seek to recover and uncover anew as we try to wrestle with the consequences of the changes that humanity has wrought upon our shared and vulnerable planet, a planet home now to over 7.6 billion human beings and innumerable other animals and plants. These changes that we live with, suffer from today’s world, are themselves a product of a very particular type of human civilisation, one formed by two great revolutions in economic and social organisation, the Neolithic and the Industrial Revolutions, both of which produced and reproduced very particular ideas and ideals of “home”, ones which in their assumptions are our contemporary legacy but are not open to critique and evaluation as they should be in responsible scholarship and citizens’ debate, and perhaps this constrains our capacity to re-imagine our collective future today. The Industrial revolution, usually timed as in the second half of the eighteenth century, is now understood to have inaugurated what the Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, has categorised as the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch in world history marked by the influence of a single species—our own—on the global environment. The term Anthropocene has its own distinguished genealogy—it was first used by the Italian geologist Father Antonio Stoppani, in 1873, who was in turn influenced by the American diplomat George Perkins Marsh, whose 1863 book Man and Nature: Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action, was foundational for the environmental movement in the United States. At the core of Perkins’ work lay an imaginative analysis of the acute crises of the sedentary civilisations the ancient Mediterranean world brought about by soil degradation occasioned by the intensive farming techniques of the Neolithic Revolution, an early example of surplus seeking affluence provoking an environmental crisis. We can discern in the rise and fall of these ancient cultures a presaging of the Anthropocene. Though not yet cursed with the capacity to radically transform the carbon or nitrogen cycle, these older peoples were still yet able to degrade the environment enough to doom themselves, to lose their “home” in nature. Theirs was a radically different culture than that which had gone before. It was based not on migration, hunting and foraging, but upon the cultivation of the soil and the domestication of animals, upon settlement, whether in isolated homesteads, clusters of dwellings, or densely populated cities, and, above all, upon the capacity to transform the muscle and sinew of humans into energy. For the first time since our ancestors, the Homo habilis, emerged 2 million years ago, human beings created cultures focused on a single, sedentary space in which buildings, such as the temple, rather than nature, became the locus of spirituality, and hierarchical social relations emerged to co-ordinate production in Neolithic societies, overseen as they were by a new administrative/managerial class, often claiming divine sanction, driven by a new, highly gendered division of labour. 91
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It is not a co-incidence that slavery, the most abhorrent of human institutions, arose in those years—in a recent work, the anthropologist James C Scott made the chilling observation that the walls erected around settlements in the slave societies may have been built not to exclude those without, but to imprison those within. I do not necessarily subscribe to the thesis hinted at by such speculations, namely that the foundation of a state, whether historical or in the present day, has and can only rest on violence. After all, the city-states of the ancient world would create, over time, protean republics, albeit ones marred by systemic and profound injustices. We find, in ancient Rome, even in the works of conservative members of the senatorial class such as Cicero, a commitment to the ideal of political community founded upon solidarity, with a shared commitment to an ideal of justice, however hypocritical the exclusion of slaves, women and even other Italian men from citizenship would later appear. This ideal also suffused the civic life of Athens, finding its expression in the Politics of Aristotle and the orations of Demosthenes. It provided a basis for an ideal of “home” as a set of relationships and shared commitments, rather than a settled place—as important as place was. This is represented above all by the success of the Athenian statesman Themistocles who persuaded his fellow citizens to evacuate their beloved city to facilitate a unified Greek response to the invading Persian empire. Even though Athens was burnt to the ground, the Athenian city-state continued anew in a neighbouring fishing village. Yet, this was an ideal of immaterial home and homeland that was exclusive and profoundly unjust, available only to the small pool of men eligible for citizenship. How much can we consider the Greek household, the oikos, from which we derive the word economics, or household management, as a home in the physical sense, as the site of intimacy and belonging imagined by Gaston Bachelard? It was more likely that it was a place of alienation and loneliness for many members of the household, excluded as women and slaves were, from any participation in public life. Even as the concept of the public realm was given form by citystates so too arose a new vision of the private household, dictated, managed and controlled by the aristocratic patriarch, a social construction later given juridical form within Roman Law. We might recall the image of the Roman Senator, controlling households with thousands of slaves, in addition to his wife, sons and daughters. The social construction of the patriarch was to prove the most durable, if lamentable, foundation of the Roman world, weathering the disintegration of the sedentary Roman civilisation under pressure of countless migrations by nomadic peoples, who would in turn lay the groundworks for the feudal order of the Medieval world. The political imaginary of that new world was one entirely dominated by ideas of hierarchy, represented by the great Chain of Being imagined by the Neo-Platonists connecting the lowliest plants and animals to the heavens, and by the gradual sacralisation of the figure of the monarch. Despite all the distance in time and space between Medieval France and ancient Mesopotamia, they were both still Neolithic civilisations, impelled to produce energy through human effort alone. The peasant, the labourer bound to the land, was the archetypal producer in all Neolithic cultures. Tied to his homestead, subject to 92
the often-arbitrary power of his superiors, whether a feudal lord or a municipal administrator, he and his family provided, through a life-time of back-breaking toil, the material basis for the entire civilisation. The Roman Republic was one of the rare ancient or medieval policies that, for a time, professed to be a confederation of independent farmers, a community of households and families each with their own small stake in their country. The house of the peasant was clearly a place of work, one with its own gendered division of labour, as women and children carried their own burden of the labour, not only in ensuring the survival of the family through the historically feminised tasks of caring and cleaning but through work in the field and, then as the insatiable Atlantic empires of North-West Europe began to inexorably expand their economic capacity through conquest, the concept of the “workshop” emerges. For example, as a recent article in the Economic History Review by Jane Humphries and Benjamin Schneider has detailed the massive extent of hand-spinning in eighteenth-century England. In the 1750s, it was the single largest category of employment, with nearly a million women and children engaged in yarn production, their work constituting over a third of a poor household’s income. Such labour was overwhelming carried out in workshops in the home, and it was exploitative, as employers owned the materials and simply “put it out” to their employees to work on and return. Then came the mechanisation of production, which Humphries and Schneider speculate was a response not to high wages, as previously hypothesised, but to the availability for employment of still more impoverished women and children. This moved the world of paid work from the house to the factory. Social construction of time, of behaviour, social and even sexual, were changed by this. The split between factory time, without the allowance of discretion, and home time where the family could be reproduced. Inventions such as the spinning jenny still required energy produced by the human and animal energy. For all the sophistication of Neolithic civilisations, whether in medieval Ethiopia or early modern England, they were ultimately constrained by nature and relied on plant life to sustain both people and livestock. That constraint was eliminated in time by the discovery of the ability to convert energy released by the combustion of carbon into mechanical energy. This gave rise to a new relationship between economy, ecology, ethics, culture and society, one that rested upon a narrow and distorted vision of political economy. A vision of accumulation that sanctioned poverty amidst plenty, and internationally an imperialist ideology that integrated the new science and technology of the era in an ideology that asserted a hubris of superiority that regarded the conquered and the dispossessed as, at best, backward, inferior. In the industrialised heartland of Western Europe, this new industrial civilisation required, not peasants, but workers, and a new working-class emerged in the towns and cities. By the end of the nineteenth-century, skilled workers would be enabled, in a mimetic sense, to replicate the domesticity of a growing professional and mercantile middle-class, with women carrying out domestic unpaid labour and men undertaking paid work in the new factory system. The product of work and the worker were distanced from each other.
the idea of home
This is the era in which Emile Durkeim first begun his work which, inter alia, offered us the concept of “anomie” arising from his study of suicide, and of course, it is also the era in which Karl Marx wrote, to whom the idea of “alienation” was central. Changes in the mode of production forced deep changes in the wider context of personal, family and social relations. The writings from literature have a theme of a world in which one could not be “at home”. It is perhaps not surprising then that it was also the era in which there occurred, in legal scholarship as much as in everyday practice, a separation of the idea of home and house, of property and dwelling. For the conflict between ideas of home and property, between dwelling and belonging, was never greater than in the industrial and imperial era. The clash in the assumptions of differing civilizations in conflict would lay the seeds of a harvest that took a century to ripen. We need only think of the native peoples of North America and Australia, whose ideals of life and what was envisaged as “home” were very different from those developed in North-West Europe. When I visited Australia last year I did so in the knowledge that such ideas were still a matter of contestation, not least in the aftermath of the Mabo judgement which finally recognised the interests of the Aboriginal people to the land, at least within the ambit of the common law. The conception of land, and of “home”—of “country”—held by the first Australians, the oldest surviving human culture, was that the people belonged to the land as much as the land belonged to the people. The Mabo judgement overturned the doctrine of terra nullius, a hubristic, monstrous, imperialistic fiction that the peoples of Australia had no claim, at least under English common law, to the land they had inhabited and shaped for 60,000 years. The vast confiscation of tracts of land, not only in Australia but in North America were justified and consecrated by the theories of John Locke, sometimes heralded as a father of modern liberal thought and toleration, although his categories were constructed by exclusion. If his Essays on Toleration excluded the Catholic Irish with the memorable phrase that “papists are like serpents”, thus did he exclude those who did not farm the land from his theory of the right of property as a natural right. The native Americans were, Locke wrote, “savage beasts”. As the Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo rightly reminds us, the idea that land becomes property by virtue of being mixed with labour was used to exclude an entire continent of people who did not share such a conception of property, and whose natural resource management was not considered “labour” by those who considered themselves settlers. Such a theory of property was then the basis for what we should call the “great dispossession of home” inflicted on the peoples of America and Australia. David Hume in 1767 in his History of Great Britain wrote:— “The Irish from the beginning of time, has been buried in the most profound barbarism and ignorance and as they were never conquered, never invaded by the Romans from whom all the Western world derives its civility, they continued still in the most rude state of society and were distinguished only by those vices to which human nature not tamed by education, nor restrained by laws, is forever subject.”
Our own national history is indeed marked by its own great dispossession and the sustaining prejudices of the project of colonisation. Even as the conquest and creation of the imperial settler states reached its zenith and its conclusion in the late nineteenth century the conception of “home” in this country, and its relationship to property ownership, was undergoing its own transformation under pressure from one of the greatest movements of thought and action ever seen on this island, the land movement. Irish society in the 1870s was a product of the conflicts of the seventeenth century, of an Act of Union that would lead to the impositions of single paradigm of economic thinking as to trade and productivity, and of the catastrophe represented by the Great Hunger. Ireland was a largely rural society, characterised by a large number of fragmented smallholdings, though not as many were farmed on a subsistence basis as on the eve of the Famine. At the height of economic and legal relations sat a small number of landlords, operating through estate mangers or middle men, with intermediate landlords and sub-letters. The common sense political economy of property ownership had changed in content but not in form, as the Lockean idea of property as a natural right had given way to the Benthamite idea of secure property rights as the most efficient means to ensure that the owners of capital would maximise the utility of capital, and do I not hear an echo of this in present circumstances? In 1848, in the depth of the Famine, James Fintan Lalor raged against the idea that property should be inviolable, writing: “I acknowledge no right of property in eight thousand persons, be they noble or ignoble, which takes away all right of property, security, independence, and existence itself, from a population of eight millions, and stands in bar to all the political rights of this island and all the social rights of its inhabitants. I acknowledge no right of property which takes the food of millions and gives them a famine, which denies to the peasant the right of a home and concedes, in exchange, the right of a workhouse.” Against that individual right, Fintan Lalor asserted a still greater right, the right, in his words, “to live in [this land] in security, comfort and independence”. His statue now stands in his native Portlaoise—despite his acknowledgement by and great influence on Davitt, Connolly and Pearse, he perhaps still remains something of a lost prophet, his democratic radicalism unjustly paling beside the more easily managed romanticism of his friends in the Young Ireland movement. Yet, it was his idea of “home” as an inalienable social right, and its association with the idea of the nation, of the wider national community as “home”, that was invoked, whether knowingly or not, by Charles Stewart Parnell when, at a public meeting in Limerick on 31st August 1879, he implored the tenants of Ireland to “ke[ep] a firm grip on their homestead” and to join the Land War, which had then taken the form of a nationwide rent strike to secure the historic demands of fixity of tenure, fair rents and free sale. Beyond the intimacies of home there is the longing for the security of the dependents to whom it constitutes shelter. It is still somewhat 93
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forgotten today that when the male leaders of the Irish National Land League were imprisoned, it was the women who took up the fight, bringing a level of organisation and discipline hitherto unseen in the conduct of the Land War, Parnell’s sister, Anna, being the most prominent amongst them. They brought a new and renewed energy and vigour to protests against evictions, and, where they failed to prevent families being removed from their homes, they erected temporary shelters and buildings for them in anticipation, it was hoped, of a return to their homes following victory in the Land War. Security of the home and homestead was not, as far as they were concerned, to be subordinated, as it might have been by others, to the prospect of Home Rule. It is significant that the Ladies’ Land League, the “first national organisation of Irishwomen led and organised by women”, as Jennie Wyse Power would later remember, sought no small or partial objective, but a transformative set of demands, orientated around the protection, and indeed creation, of “home”—home as a physical dwelling and shelter, home as a place of security and safety. In doing so, they redefined the very vision of what the wider national home could be, and what it should seek to be. I do not wish to necessarily revisit the history of the Land War or the manner in which vast amounts of land was redistributed, through successive Land Acts, to those who were in many respects the most powerful of the tenant farmers, even as those in marginal lands or landless labourers continued what had become a familiar pattern of emigration. Political economy does matter, the assumptions of differing versions of political economy feed policy. I would, like to reiterate a point I made during a lecture I gave at the University of Melbourne last October, where I reflected on the influence of Irish political economists in Australia and Ireland. It illustrates how an instrument can have different outcomes and be defined by historical setting. In the 1840s, an Irish disciple of the economist David Ricardo named Robert Torrens emigrated to the infant colony of South Australia, hoping to establish a “New Hibernia” in the Southern oceans, populated by independent Irish farmers tilling small plots of land. That plan failed as South Australia was instead caught up in a huge wave of land speculation as land grants issued by the colonial government were rapidly resold to such an extent that title disputes were endemic in the new colony. That crisis of ownership was resolved by Torrens’ eldest son, Robert Richard, through the introduction of the principle of registration by title, the defining feature of which is the indefeasibility of title given to the registered proprietor. There is a moral and ethical point here—the Torrens system did not only constitute a means to resolve a temporary crisis of colonial speculation, but it constituted a legal technology of empire by which to extirpate any claim to title held by the first occupants of the land, who in turn, did not share any of the assumptions inherent in either common law ideas of property, whether legal or philosophical, or in the Torrens system. Land grants had been issued to colonial speculators on lands inhabited by the first peoples of Australia, and the Torrens system guaranteed their expropriation, despite the pledge to respect the “rights and enjoyments” of the first occupants outlined in the Letters Patent authorising the colonisation of South Australia. 94
The great irony is that the Torrens system when extended to Ireland in 1891 in the context of the Land Acts of 1885, 1891, 1903 and 1909 which successively financed the purchase and transfer of the landlords’ interest in the land to their tenants. Even as the principle of title by registration was used to dispossess the first peoples of the colony of South Australia, it was used to reconstitute the property relations built over the long centuries of conquest in Ireland, severing the old ties to the land and delivering to Irish tenants unencumbered freehold title. In Ireland, this represented a partial liberation from the past to enable something of the making of home, albeit one gradually in much part dominated by a new hegemonic grazier class. In Australia, it heralded a total suppression of the past marking a subjugation of a concept of home to the new demands of industrialera imperialism. To return to the idea of the home as an immaterial reality, as that set of relationships between people and with place, we might gain an understanding of just how traumatic such a rupture and confiscation was, not just in Australia, but for all indigenous people. In what areas are markets the appropriate, mechanism? On what terms should their presence be regulated? If housing is to be a right in what circumstances does it being a right call for protection, vindication, by the State? These are unavoidable moral questions. Standing behind our present debate on housing are all of those assumptions as to the role of the state, the status of essential needs versus property rights. For citizen choice policy options have to be transparent and evaluated in terms of the assumptions they make as to the role of the market and the state. We are also forced to look once again at our own efforts in this country to utilise the idea of “home”. Those of you attending Catherine Corless’ talk later will recognise that for those placed in Mother and Baby homes, the “home” constituted a place of incarceration, of loss, of retribution, even of invoked revenge for the breaking of an authoritarian version of birth, life, the family and society. Returning to Gaston Bachelard’s idea of home as the site of intimacy and of safety, we must ask has not the “private home”, the household— that concept so prominent in the inheritance of Roman Law—has also been a place of oppressive gender relations, the most terrible manifestation of which is domestic abuse? As to work itself, the more quotidian example is of course the distribution of domestic labour, and the double burden of working in the market economy and in the household still placed on women. In this present moment, it feels as if the women’s movement has been infused with a renewed vigour and authority, and so I am confident that we will continue to make progress by acknowledging the past and continuing to build a better future. This university is fortunate I believe to host the Centre for Housing Law, Rights and Policy Research, whose work is so critical to enhancing our understanding of the housing system here in Ireland, and its complex relationship with international and European financial and monetary policy developments. The Centre is home to scholars who provide a comprehensive understanding of the role of housing, so may I quote Dr. Padraic Kenna, “[h]ousing addresses the basic need for human shelter, but also facilitates the essential human requirement for home”.
the idea of home
I am obliged not to stray any further into the detail of housing policy in Ireland, not only for constitutional reasons but also because I am aware that Catriona has assembled an excellent panel to discuss housing this evening. I do, however, wish to make two more general observations at the level of principle. First, that Dr. Kenna’s observation is absolutely vital—indeed, it is a moral truth that reflects the struggles in our history. Even as a residual or minimum response, the Land Acts were, after all, accompanied by a series of Labourers’ Acts which were passed, after concerted activism, to provide Exchequer subsidies to local authorities to construct new housing at fair rents for landless rural labourers in Ireland. Between 1883, the year of the first Labourers’ Act, and 1914, nearly 50,000 rural cottages were built by local authorities in Ireland, housing over a quarter of a million people. We should not underestimate what a remarkable deviation from the laissez-faire verities of the day this represented, nor what a partial victory, however belated it was, for the more emancipatory elements of the Land League, even if the purpose of the costs of losing social cohesion was to be the driving motive, that and the need for labour. In Irish cities, local authorities were rather slower to make use of the Housing of Working Classes Acts, the urban counterpart of the Labourers Acts. There was, of course, no legal right to “home” recognised, but a moral right was asserted, and it was partially recognised. It was a recognition that home is something greater than shelter, not merely any temporary expedient. It is about the acquisition of the means to belong in community and to participate in society without shame as Amartya Sen might put it. There is not, as yet, a justiciable right to home as housing in the Irish legal order, though I welcome previous discussions of the Convention on the Constitution on the possible incorporation of economic and social rights in our Constitution. This is a debate that we urgently not only need to continue but be deepened by taking into account the work of Professor P.J. Drudy, Des Collins, Punch, and others as well as Dr. Kenna. Can and should we integrate the idea of the right to a home into our law and policymaking in a serious way? If we recognise that housing is necessary for the creation of home in our society, we need to think seriously about all the constituent parts of our housing system. I use the term system deliberately, for the term housing market can obscure the massive and necessary role played by the state through fiscal, monetary or other policy areas, in all the various parts of the system, from planning to the financing of construction, to the design and regulation of construction itself, and to the various mechanisms by which occupation of a home is financed, whether it is through rent or by home purchase. How many homes should be constructed every year? How should construction be financed? How should living spaces be designed? What mix of housing tenure do we collectively believe is appropriate? What kind of ownership structures, whether it be municipal, private or collective? Let us widen the debate and engage seriously with a full range of the policy answers to these questions, being willing to eschew any ideological obstacles to the widest possible range of policies.
Re-reading the White Paper on Housing published in 1964 is instructive—its historical review outlines how the State decided to embark on a massive house building programme in 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression. As a consequence, local authority homes constructed exceeded private construction for the fifteen years between 1933 to 1948. That was a public policy choice, and the State was clear about it, and clear and open in its objectives. It was during that same period that the Swedish Social Democrats enunciated a remarkable political ideal, the folkhemmet, or, in English, the People’s Home. It is a phrase that contains within it the idea of a home as a political community and as a set of solidaristic relationships, not unlike in their period and setting the Irish “Clochán on Baile” and it is one that, in its policy implementation, demanded, and continues to demand the provision of homes as a matter of right for all the people. In this age of the Anthropocene I believe that not only that ideal of home as a political community committed to a rights-based vision of justice can be sustained, but that it must be sustained. To do so, however, our horizons cannot simply be confined to a single territorially-defined political community. We, all of us on this planet, share what Pope Francis has termed “our common home”, and, if we are to meet the challenges presented to this common home we are obliged to widen our perspective of home to encompass all the people of this earth. For in the twenty-first century there can be no partial solidarity, whether national solidarity or European solidarity. We require now an international solidarity, shorn of national antagonisms, open and willing to co-operate where we can and sacrifice where we must. For Europe, this may well be another century of the immigrant, a reversal of the great outflow to the New World and colonies experienced in the nineteenth century. This is not only a moral or political argument, but a practical one. After all, birth rates are far below replacement levels across the European Union, and an ongoing necessity for immigration to support our economies in the Global North will continue to draw people to our shores. Then too, given the current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, despite all the promises of the Paris Climate Agreement, there will also be millions of people seeking refuge from environmental degradation and the depletion of natural resources. Our capacity for solidarity will be tested, and it will be measured by our willingness to welcome those fleeing climate disaster, war, and persecution. Many of the challenges we confront are those which test our capacity for, and willingness to engage in, collective deliberation to discern the common good, and collective action to achieve it. The history of the indigenous peoples of the world is their testament to our human ability to forge collective conceptions of home, conceptions upon which collective institutions of government and governance can be built. Let us recall and draw on the best ideals available to us from our collective past, and let us imagine together a shared future for all the peoples of our common home. Go raibh mile maith agaibh go léir.
Gwendraeth House Peter Finnemore
Houses are commodities, homes are souls. Gwendraeth House is the umbrella title of an on-going, 30-year long photographic project that divines and pictures interior and exterior spaces at my family home in Wales. This domestic space is embedded with the charge of generational memory. Where latent images are waiting to be uncovered, made visible and given concrete artistic form. Gwendraeth House is an arena to lyrically explore conscious and unconscious relationships with deep time. The home space is perceived as axis mundi, a dreaming centre to divine and survey the spaces between darkness and the stars. These images are gateways that picture a fusion of collisions and constellations of universal, primordial, historical and artistic inheritances. This habitual space becomes a compact manifold; it is without boundary. This stone house is a breathing entity where light, air, dĂŠcor and companionship nourishes its well-being. It is a stationary stone ship, an enclosed deep time capsule; occupying both physical and unconscious dimensions. These photographs are a collaboration with this habitual entity, allowing it to guide and participate in the manifestation of images. Gwendraeth House as a spatial dwelling becomes an instrument of measurement, a stone, bricks and mortar astrolabe to chart the universal interior.
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Lambent Materials: Body, Nature and Cosmos in Gwendraeth House Patrick Lynch
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“We are not in space like things. Rather, we haunt space.” —Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception A house memorializes its inhabitants. People and their things resemble each other and establish both human character and architectural character—and its location—as a form of haunting. Inhabitation is a form of habitual activity whose etymology is closely related to the haunts of someone: “Where would I find Peter?”: “Oh, his haunts are regular, try The Red Dragon or The Fox, failing that, the garden”. Animistic qualities are suggested in the exchange between people and their places, and the influence of one on the other. “In House images”, Peter Finnemore suggests in his book Gwendraeth House, “the generations of conversations, actions, emotions are embedded like psychic strata dwelling within the walls and physical make up of a house. The past is continually present…” This atmospheric and psychic resonance is sensible to us, if elusive. And this further suggests to Peter that photography can act as a “divining rod to tap into these energies or emotions” making available to us the stratification and lamination of time and memory; divined in shadows and light. gwendraeth house
“A house that stands in my heart My cathedral of silence Every morning recaptured in dream Every evening abandoned A house covered with dawn Open to the winds of my youth.” —René Cazelles, De terre et d’envolée This divination is visible in the imprint of a body’s habitual shadows or as watermarks on wallpaper, in yellowing and stains. Shirts filled with light make a body diaphanous. It is as if luminosity is embodying absence, suggesting the powerful presence of an absence or loss: the co-existence simultaneously in the same space of what cannot be seen, what was there and what remains from what has left. What is left? Artefacts: personal things; foot-worn carpets laid atop each other; clothes hanging in front of windows; sunlight faded delicate colours; shirts flying through the garden air. Blurred visions, blurred sight, making visible the abiding agony of remembering, and the stubbornness of time. Something is seen by the camera’s eye, which, usually, pulls invisibly underneath the surface of sight. Finnemore’s house photographs spatialise miniature and monumental things: he creates a lucid room and places them there for us. His images are an echo of a miniature world that we usually find inside of ourselves. Gaston Bachelard suggested, in the Poetics of Space, that we each accrue a house inside of us that is made up of all the places where we have lived and loved; and that for each of us this “heart house” is the summation of all of these other houses. This imaginative
house is here and also elsewhere, suggesting that dwelling, as much as making art, is an act of remembrance and imagination. This everyday creativity is clear in the predominance of photography as a universal act of inhabitation today: we dwell by recording and posting evidence of our lives online, the physical and digital realms entwined on a virtual timeline. Our bodies are virtual, Maurice MerleauPonty suggested: enabling us to make plans and project ourselves forwards, and to suffer physically from anticipation and regret. In Peter’s house photography inhabitation is exposed as the repetitions of millions of small acts, and in the replacement of a multitude of things; their combinations reveal a lifetime of accepting and adjusting, of habits and commemorations; they presuppose humans’ endless arranging and list making. Emotions: menace; fear; sentiment; longing; endurance; involvement. Effects: entropy; surfaces peeling; revealing hidden textures; trapped air; brittle glue; ropy tapestries; painted wood; similarly painted metals; suppressed surface differences and expressed depth disjunctions. Observations: perishable; weak; contingent; conversational; dependant; awkward; familiar; temperamental; unforgettable; unnoticed; reassuring; careful. Conclusions: beautiful loss; time obliterates things before thought. the garden of gwendraeth house
“Irresistibly the festival penetrates each and every working day… A grain of Sunday is hidden in each weekday, and how much weekday in this Sunday!” —Walter Benjamin, Naples The analogy of a garden as Prelapsarian Eden, or recreated Hellenic Golden Age, was typical of a Renaissance garden, and made it a place of cosmic significance and poetic potential. Renaissance architecture and gardening recovered the ancient belief in an explicit connection between constructed reality and poetics. Architecture united mathematics and optics—knowledge of the visible and invisible realms of reality—with poetics (the articulation of presence), in the revelation of their relationships and reciprocal hierarchies. Architecture at this time was understood as mode of poetics, one closely related both to rhetoric and painting: and poetics was in one sense understood as the art of disclosing how, and why, things fit together well. A Renaissance garden was a form of theatre from, and within which, one viewed the world. A Belvedere, or at least the view of the beautiful that it offered, presented a microcosm of the world, one in which it was possible to see human actions as if in a drama; a celestial firmament and dimension of witness was applied, one invoking essential situations of tragedy and retribution. Perhaps the inheritor of this art today is photography? Gwendraeth Garden is a site for the expression of mythic visions of nature, and of themes associated with abundance, excessive fun, fecundity and imaginative possibilities. Finnemore is an “avant-gardener”, as he sometimes suggests, and a Zen Gardener: he cultivates a deeper sense of reality than the contemporary art scene ordinarily allows. 109
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l am b e n t b o d i e s : c o s m o s o l o g y an d p h oto g r ap h y
“… is not art really defined by the fact that, whatever may be presented in it, humanity encounters itself?” —Hans-Georg Gadamer, Intuition and Vividness It was widely believed, in the 16th century, that if you dug a hole deep enough, you would be able to see the stars within it during the daytime. Whilst the techniques of seeing may have changed, and certain beliefs shown to be untrue, the motivation behind this idea may be said to have remained the same throughout time. One such surviving intuition is the capacity for new art, with new technologies, to seek to reveal what is hidden. This phenomenon is considered by Hans-Georg Gadamer to be the capacity of art experience to open connections of thinking across human time. Gadamer insists in The Relevance of the Beautiful that “art of whatever kind always speaks a language of recognition.” This encounter obliterates temporal and national borders through its intensely particular qualities: what is local is universal, the material reveals the immaterial. For Gadamer, the renewing capacity of festive time enables it to be at once unique and repetitive. This paradox fuses the present with the past, and also elaborates a sense of imminent recurrence. The festival unites consciousness of time passing, with another mode of experiential clarity and recognition: of cosmic time revolving around us anyway. Rupture and rift, continuity and horizon, the festive experience stills and enlivens our sensation of time; stalls the rhythm of the year, and starts it up again revitalised, altered, transformed. Art understood as festival, symbol and play, what Hans-Georg Gadamer called “The Relevance of the Beautiful”, lies within our capacity to empathise with a particular mode of historical thinking in which the experiential is capable of being shared in a communicable,
Gwendraeth House, Peter Finnemore, Ffotogallery, Cardiff, 1999.
The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard, Beacon Press, 1969.
The Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, (1945), Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1978.
See Peter Finnemore’s website: www.peterfinnemore.com/ Content#zen For example: “Zen Gardener: Flying under the radar… the garden becomes a site of interconnectedness, a microcosm of a larger world, where issues of
borders, homeland and cultural margins and politics are explored. Predominant within these photographs and films is a military figure dressed in ill-fitting army camouflage clothing. The uniform is a mask of symbolic authority and is deflated of the power of machismo. I am also interested in ideas of cultural camouflage and how “blending in” becomes a survival technique. An outward mask to move around unnoticed. This militaristic motif also becomes a contemporary extension of the pagan/Celtic myth of the Green Man—a ritual figure made out of tree branches, foliage, plants, flowers. My guerrilla gardener film character fuses both nature and
public manner. Aesthetic experience is not only sensuality or conceptual in this tradition, but an example of the heuristic capacity of the mind to spontaneously recall things via the body; and of the capacity of the phenomenal effects of things to imbue life with sentiment and meaning. The paradox of art time, or time-out-of-time, Gadamer suggests, is that it is at once extempore and also fulfilled; infused with place and idealised experience: commingling, ambiguous, ambivalent, here and there, then and now, within and without, new and renewing, deeply within in and outside of time. Art experience is absorbed and aloof; free and enraptured; spontaneous and rhythmic; intuitive and vivid. This capacity for duplicity enables new art forms to tamper with time. We needn’t hold the myths of historical progress dearly; primitive and modern are nothing more than names given to the living and the dead; and the same snow falls, as James Joyce pointed out, on the living as on the dead. The border that connects both, is the site where Peter unearths currents of recognition of what is forgotten. Beyond the house and its garden is a graveyard, where his Nan was taken. His photographs of her, and of her things retell this story, as if it were mythically important: his head is a house, the head-house burns, the house remains. Divination and Shadow (Mud & Gold) record the absence of a human figure within seed and in the presence of a shadow respectively. Natural fecundity and light commingle; earthly time and cosmic time are joined in the form of a body. The connection occurs in the Shaman figure of the artist. His vision extends our own until we see, deep into the spaces left behind by him, perpetuity and propinquity, a premonition of creation as a premonition of death. Orpheus in the garden, the bard’s lyre becomes Leica; Avant-Gardener digs for meaning with his Pentax. Light is dead matter, stardust. The world, for Peter Finnemore, is made of lambent materials, waiting to be seen.
culture. He is an amalgam of different archetypes. A light and shadow figure; benign, comic, sinister, a poet, holy fool and bum, a shaman, foot soldier, rebel, guerrilla, and survivalist.” Finnemore describes this film work as part of an artistic project with a much longer duration than normal: “Gwendraeth House is the umbrella title of an on-going 30-year long photographic project that pictures my family home. Here, the house becomes both a conscious and unconscious link to a wider cultural, universal, primordial and artistic inheritance. Within the charged setting of the flux of generational memory, this environment is embedded with latent
Images waiting to be uncovered, made visible and given concrete artistic form. The house, its interiors and the natural inhabitants of the garden become a constellation of artistic possibilities. The domestic as axis mundi, a dreaming centre to divine and survey the spaces between darkness and stars.” (Ibid, accessed 06.11.2019, 12.30 pm). 5
See “Intuition and Vividness”, and the other essays in The Relevance of the Beautiful, Hans Georg Gadamer, Cambridge University Press, 1986.
“The Dead”, in Dubliners, James Joyce, (1914), Penguin Classics; 1996.
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Poems Sarah Arvio
Though the home, we say, is where the heart is, wonder if the heart is where the home is. Had I found a heart for my home and did
I am nothing if I’m not a lover, a loved love; we are nothing if not that; I wasn’t but I am if you’ll let me
I live there and love there: this was the point that all roads should lead to if I traveled. This was the question that was romanesque,
be your amphora and your amulet. For there were days to live and days to love, meaning there was still a lot of life left
or else something random or romantic; this was the ancient question of amor, was it Rome and home and could I live there.
for us, for me if you were there in it, and maybe you would be and maybe not. This was the question for me, of our amour,
Here was a hurrah and a holiday, all the domes planting a star in the sky, all the domes pointing upward and somewhere,
our armor, the mind and body that we wore, or were, the armor of our arms and more, the morphology of our amour.
all the crypts sinking downward and nowhere; but did they point and did they also pierce, did they crack the shadow or the sunshine.
There was only this life, this love of ours, together as we were and as we are, armed and firing in the line of fire.
Chiaroscuro of the coffered heart, or the yes and no of the offered heart. Did I fit with it, did it fit with me,
We were amateurs in the art of love, you ami ami and me, you and me. Here was shape-shifting in the truest form,
was I its shadow or its positive, was I its pentacle or palindrome. The point was to see there was no point
meaning more than form and more than us, rubbing the stones in our pockets for luck. Those lucky in love were lucky in life.
or was the arrow pointing to the heart, a road sign, a feather or a weapon. There was a dome and a home, there was Rome,
A great view of the city lay below this statue to our metamorphosis, a monument, my love, to love not war—
and for every recto there was verso. One lives to live and that’s the best we know, and then dies to die and then it’s over.
ambling arm in arm, drinking up the night. Think if they made statues to love heroes returning from the Campus Martius.
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Issue four of the JoCA brings together a series of essays and visual essays that consider the theme of Home, or more precisely, the role of...
Published on May 4, 2020
Issue four of the JoCA brings together a series of essays and visual essays that consider the theme of Home, or more precisely, the role of...