Thursday, February 15, 2024

SQUAT

It's an amazing thing that I can wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking about the past, reach out one hand, and enter this time-tunnel. Currently this consists of about 700gb of data stored in "the cloud" wherever that is. Multiple synchronised locations I guess.

Certainly I have several local wormholes with different form factors. One at least is a fairly complete clone, but the one in my hand as I thumb-type this is just an index, full of "on-demand" hyperlinks. Such things were unimaginable in 1980, when I was illustrating a book called "Squatting : the real story"

One of my illustrations depicted a terrace of derelict houses in South London which had been occupied by a group of mostly young people who went about adapting it to their various needs. Living a fantasy life on a shoestring budget. Such things were not uncommon in the 70s in many cities across Europe.

I'm still pretty proud of this drawing. I think I did a first draft in pencil, then overlaid a sheet of tracing to draw the finished artwork with a Rotring pen. Altogether probably a week's worth of effort. Then photo-reduced to paste into the page layout, which Caroline did by hand.

Magical memories without any doubt. Days spent in their Limehouse studio, taking a break from bricklaying in Sheffield and letting my visual imagination run free. Forever grateful that Nick and Caroline invited me on that journey.



 

Another illustration for the squatting book. I just drew a globe, then Caroline pasted it into a layout with various news clippings. Letrafilm gave it the grey tone used on all the main section pages.

We didn't have Internet, not even a personal computer. I don't know what I used as my reference for the world map. Probably Nick had something. Maybe I even did it from memory.

My major interest was in the hatching technique and the representation of cloud cover. All that was certainly coming directly from my imagination. I was fascinated by the challenge of just putting pen to paper and trusting that it would work out.

There was some scope for a little scratching out with a razor blade, but this could also ruin the freshness of the whole image if you weren't careful.

Why did this kind of illustration not become my day job? I guess it could have happened. I was open to the possibility. Ready for a change. As it turned out that change was volunteer teaching in Africa. Just popped up and I went for it. Never looked back.

 



I guess you could subtitle this image pair "the arrogance of the architect". It was conceived by three young people who rebelled against the profession way back in the early seventies, and each found our own diverse paths through life.

Caroline sadly left us. Nick and I soldier on. Our views have matured, but I think we both still stand behind the premise on display here. The Victorian street pattern in London was based on hundreds of years of experience. Changing gradually, sometimes expanding rapidly, but maintaining continuity of form and intent.

I personally have great affection for some branches of Modernism. But there are vast swathes that disrupted human community and tradition for no good reason except for the vanity of ideologically driven experts.

It would be nice to think that we have learnt our lesson, but I have my doubts. The inanity of the games people are playing with chatGPT and its siblings, "just because they can" is depressing enough. But read the comments. "so cool" "awesome" "let's do the Taj Mahal in the style of Zaha Hadid"

I digress.

I love the terraced house typology in all it's myriad variants. So wonderfully adaptive to future changes of use. So effective at nurturing street life (cars permitting) It's not the only way. There are other very successful traditions.

But that's the point. Build on the local tradition. Play around with it by all means, but don't just toss it aside in a fit of hubris.

 



 

The Heineken slogan was written in 1973 and remained a staple of their advertising for more than 20 years. The idea of adapting this for a section page of the Squatting book was developed by Nick and Caroline. They gave me quite a detailed word-picture of what they had in mind and off I went.

My first few illustrations for the book had been done in a Rotring pen style that offers clarity and crisp transfer to an offset lytho printing process. But I was itching to spread my wings a bit and the dingy background in this image gave me an opportunity to try some much looser pencil work.

I do hope I can find my way to doing something similar again. It could provide an interesting foil to the work I've been doing with Revit under the "Way We Build" rubric. Just need to find a way in.

 



 

Caroline sent me out with a camera, capturing boarded-up houses of various types in East London. These were peiced together to form a kind of framing device for a story, disguised as a comic strip.

Perhaps this is what worries me most about the AI driven style game. It's like all the other style games architects have played for the last couple of hundred years. It forgets that buildings are brought to life by people.

Architects are not brought into this world to showcase their mastery of style and form. They exist to create places that people can inhabit.

 





The story is a classic. The people fight back against a corrupt, oppressive system. They face many setbacks, but they also achieve some notable victories. The struggle goes on. "A luta continua."

These days I would take a more nuanced view of these kinds of "activism" Not surprising really given that I'm almost 45 years older. But we need stories, and stories tend to have heroes and villains, plus a variety of other characters. All the same, a really good story avoids moralising.

Once upon a time I could draw these human characters at will. Can I reclaim that fluency?

 



Friday, February 9, 2024

DAILY LIFE STORIES

 

So this is a tiny portion of the view from my living room, the phone - cam simulating our natural ability to focus attention on a small portion of the field of view. What it doesn't simulate is the brain's ability to subconsciously scan the periphery at low resolution so we don't miss something important while concentrating on a demanding task. But that's another story. (Ask Iain McGilchrist)

My point today is about the messy world of ordinary people who inhabit buildings and try their best to adapt them to their needs. The square mesh is part of my ongoing struggles with pigeon poop. That grid is echoed in the larger grid of the building facade, engaged in its own struggle to impose order on our laundry habits.

 


 

Coming out of the corner shop I came across 4 young guys enjoying the night air. Two Egyptians, one Jordanian, one Palestinian. I asked them if it was a private club. Long story short I ended up sitting with them out there in the street and chatting for maybe half an hour.

Maybe I am out here on my own, getting old in the desert, but l do like living in this heterodox area among the hoi polloi. And it does seem that there are ways of finding human connection.

Maybe it's just a state of mind.

 

 


 

True story. Last week, coming out of the supermarket I met this Chinese guy. He said to me "where do you live?" I said, "Here, in International City" So he said why do you want to live here? It's all Chinese people "

"What's wrong with Chinese people? " says I, but I think he missed the subtle irony. Anyway there are so many other nationalities and ethnicities jumbled together in this concrete paradise. But maybe it's indicative of the Chinese community here being inward looking. What do I know?

When I was younger. I was so socially awkward. Why did it take more than 60 years for me to learn the trick? Maybe these things come to us when we are ready for them. Or maybe everyone is curious about this old white guy with a pigtail. "WTF is going on here?" 🤣🤣🤣

 


 

Needless to say I pride myself on being a misfit, but finally a misfit who gets along with just about anybody. For a while at least. Let's be real. I still spend 90% of my time on my own thinking about buildings, drawing, painting, playing guitar. Hermit stuff.

Can't ignore people altogether though. 🤔

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

NEW YEAR TWEAKS

 

Energised by a very special family gathering over Xmas and New Year, here are some of the tiny changes in my daily life since returning to Dubai, less than a week ago.

Put a pinch of salt in your cup of coffee to shade out the bitterness. Buy two new grey coffee mugs to counterbalance my proclivity for dropping things. Buy super glue to attempt a repair. Buy little plastic picture hooks to hang the calendar I got for Xmas, right next to my desk. (reminiscent of the woodcuts my father did when he was young)

Lost in the middle is a reminder of the Sukkery Dates I found. Distinctive taste at a very reasonable price.

Picture two illustrates a radical upgrade of my vision technology. The Melson Wingate glasses were bought in Sheffield, 45 years ago, when I was (belatedly) learning to drive. Cheap National Health frames. They didn't get much use until recently when I found that they worked well as computer glasses. Unfortunately they tend to slip off, and I had repurposed a covid mask as a device to keep them on. (probably the best use that mask was ever put to in my opinion) They now have little rubber hooks on the end. Much better 🙂




For longer distances I need stronger lenses now. I had some variable focus ones made about two years ago. Never got used to the disorienting fishbowl effect. Finally towards the end of my holiday one of the hinges broke. So I have much cheaper lenses and frame from the same local shop in International City. Fixed focus this time which is much better, but I need to slip them off when I use my phone.

Hence the chain.

These are the little bits of technology and culture that we adapt to our individual needs. It's not a competition or a race. Embrace the small enhancements when you stumble across them and exhult in every moment of this wonderful experience we call daily life.

 



 

Why do I do these kinds of pictures?

Windows are a fascinating phenomenon. I have been searching for a comprehensive and consistent approach to window families in Revit for more than 15 years now. With some success, but there are so many variables.

We have been devising ways to let light and air into our buildings for thousands of years. Sometimes this amounts to little more than gaps in the fabric. The archetypal round mud hut typically has a halo of light at eaves level. The eye adapts and this becomes sufficient for daily activities to proceed.

But back to my drawing. The source is Volterra in Tuscany. There is an ancient arched opening that has been bricked in to create a smaller "modern" window, with shutters. It is off centre, presumably for pragmatic reasons. But this pragmatism becomes picturesque, in a town that bears the mark of more than a hundred generations. Physical traces of change in the daily life of people as the years go by.

So I can make a Revit family and I can make a fanciful collage... It amounts to the same thing. Grappling with a human artifact that is vastly bigger than me in its history, its scope and emotional baggage. Never mind the panoply of technologies behind it.

Drawing is about understanding and there are many ways to draw a cat. (or skin a window 🤔)

 



 

Two quite unrelated images except that they both represent digital adaptations of my lifelong love of "drawing" in its widest sense. There is no sharp distinction between drawing, modelling and design. The etymology of the words in various languages bears testimony.

One image of a dog I spent some time with recently. In this kind of sketching activity I focus on marking quick instinctive decisions, being selective, messing with the colour scheme, aiming for some kind of emotional truth.

I used SketchBook Pro and Pixlr, two softwares that passed through Autodesk's hands in the days when they embraced the "cloud - mobile - social" mantra. I have them installed on both Samsung Note and IPad, but for various reasons the phone wins out in practice. That's the device I have to hand always. It's where I can sketch on the spur of the moment, when the spirit moves me.

 




The city model is Luzern /Lucerne modelled in Revit after a visit on the way back from Denmark. It's a wonderful city and I also did an acrylic painting that hangs on my wall. Revit was never intended for city modelling, but it's my "BIM pencil" so I use it to reflect on places that catch my imagination.

The sketching approach may strike some as odd, but I find value in "quick and dirty" Revit models. Not for commercial work, but for my own private studies. I do think it's unfortunate that BIM has become such a specialist domain, identified with technicians, coding, ROI etc.

Nothing wrong with those approaches, but I do wish there were equal numbers of intuitive artists, abstract visual thinkers and creative generalists using BIM tools. It's all about balance. Do we have balance in our increasingly polarised world?

Let's say it's a worry.