Saturday, March 25, 2023

KING BEE RULES

 

 In 2001 I had a little three piece blues band in Zimbabwe. The three of us would cram ourselves plus all the gear into my little hatchback mazda and drive across Harare to weekend gigs. Seen here at the Art Cafe in Avondale.

Kudos to Neville for laying down a solid rhythm guitar plus operating the dreaded drum machine. And to Sydney for his fluid and responsive bass playing. I took the bulk of the vocals, but everyone chipped in on the harmonies.

It was good while it lasted, a necessary outlet for me in a period when I was both project architect and effectively single parent to teenage boys.

We did "versions" by mixing lyrics from one source with riffs from another and mixing in improvised solos mostly anchored around a five note scale.

The name came from one of those songs and I designed the logo, drafted in Autocad of course 不不不

 



Dividing things into three parts seems to be a very deep human instinct. The "rule of three" is evident at many different scales but most obviously in the three side-by-side windows of a Singapore shophouse.

Sometimes they are identical. Sometimes the middle one is a door, flanked by three windows, or a balcony sticking out like a nose on a face.

You can't break the rules if there are no rules. Three houses, each with three storeys and three identical bays. Such strong symmetry, broken by an off-centre paint scheme in vivid colours.

This is living history, a tradition that prospers and evolves. Climate, culture, materials and function, wrapped up in a tight little package.

 


A page from my history pack of 1992. Returning to architecture school as a mature student I was pursuing the idea of architecture as the reflection of a particular time and place, often subliminally expressed.

We think we are fulfilling the brief, or developing a personal style, but in retrospect we notice distinct periods and regional styles that reflect the nature of the society in which they arose.

I was gathering quotes to this effect from architects of note and illustrating them with enigmatic sketches using a mirror as metaphor.

Perhaps I should have given Mies a cigar... Another missed opportunity

 

 

Most of the light wells that are the defining feature of shop-houses have been glazed over in these days of air-con. Multiple layers of adaptation for reuse in all the ones I visited yesterday.

I was struck by the huge timber beams, a reminder that Singapore was carved out of rain forest where supplies of hardwood must have seemed limitless. Some of the trimming beams around the light wells were six courses deep, so 18" x 9" and carrying brick walls over spans of up to 5 metres.

Mixing my units here as a concession to diversity and inclusion. 不不不

 

 

This one is for Paul Aubin. Some rather #liberal interpretations of the #Corinthian Order that we have both tackled in different ways using Revit. These ones are from the shophouses I walked around at the weekend with Thomas Milburn and Vicky Truong

It never ceases to amaze me how adaptable classicism is, a perfect reminder of the paradox of #freedom. Free expression often flourishes within a framework of apparently rigid rules.

Call me a #conservative but... I love me some boundaries 不不不

 


Sunday, March 19, 2023

TRIPPING AGAIN

 

I photographed this model of a shop house on a previous visit to Singapore. One of many fascinating models at the City Gallery.

I love my virtual models. Revit and BIM have given so much to me over the last two decades, but... There is a lot to be said for physical models of buildings whether during the design process, or as part of a retrospective analysis.

If you've ever been to the Soane Museum in London you will appreciate how much store he put in building models that often take apart to reveal how inside and outside form relate.

 



Another image pair spanning my transition from Sheffield to Africa.

My daughter Wendy with her two older cousins, Cathy and Kundai at the farm school, Rusununguko, where I lived for two years, met Wendy's mother, immersed myself in a new and radically different environment.

A page from my ideas-sketchbook just months before when I was searching for my next "move" in the game of life. A meditation on topsy-turvy worlds, Escher-style inversions of perspective.

Strangely prophetic of my own life journey. It shows a soul seeking profound change although I had no idea what form it would take. Indeed the implication is that I imagined a future as a subversive graphic artist and part time bricklayer in the socialist Republic of South Yorkshire 不不不

 



Arrival photos. One way or another it's taken me almost six years to get back to the beautiful city of Singapore.

This will be a hybrid visit : part digital nomad/ remote dayjob, part family bonding time, part shophouse research. If my luck holds, Singapore may become a home from home over the next few years as my anti-retirement plans unfold.

Up until my 50th birthday, I never would have dreamed that my family would be spread across the continents like this. I tried very hard to put down roots, first in South Yorkshire, then in Zimbabwe and those were wonderful times. But I better accept that I have become a floating point in this digital world.

 



This is from 1992. I had gone back to university to complete my architecture qualification. Towards the end of that two years in Joburg I submitted a boxed "learning pack" as my history project.

Rather than a single essay it was a collection of materials around the topic of regionalism. Was it possible for southern African nations to express their identity through architecture? or does it inevitably collapse into an embarrassing caricature?

I was trying to reformulate the mistrust of mainstream architecture that had delayed my entry into the profession. Could I resist the commercial treadmill?

I tried to harness the playful irreverence of a bricklayer poking fun at the self-important architect, while embarking on my own professional journey.

 


I'm in shophouse world. Spent half a day wandering around talking family stuff and snapping away happily with my phone.

This one made me think of @Philip Gaches and all the wonderful insights into sculptural plaster that he shares so joyfully on here.

Two small shophouses that we happened upon, clearly a pair, but with differences. One boasts beasts in its plaster panels, the other birds. One all white, with shutters open, the other with shutters closed, picked out in black.

Unity and diversity, nothing forced. It looks so easy but how many building projects today achieve this modest serenity? With all our university degrees and clever software there is no substitute for an evolved tradition like these shophouses.

Hashtag "In my opinion"...

 



 

 

REVENGE OF THE SHOPHOUSE

(note this is posted 2 weeks later)

I will fly to Singapore end of next week and stay for 3 weeks. Happy to meet up for coffee if anyone is interested.

There will be day-job work to do online. Part of the idea of this trip is to test-fly digital nomad mode. Also visiting family.

Hopefully I will find time to apply the BIM pencil approach to Singapore shop houses, an urban type that fascinated me on previous visits. I managed to rough out the basic skeleton of a row of six today

 



This morning I pushed my shop-house model to the next level.

This is very much a generic version. I guess I will take it a bit further, maybe set up a couple of sheets, then duplicate and develop 3 or 4 versions in different styles.

Let's see how I feel when I get to Singapore. Maybe something else will grab my attention. But it would be nice to work on some different door and window families, not to mention stairs, railings, eaves details.

 

 

I'm doing a "BIM pencil" study of a Singapore shop house. It's partly based on an 1893 permit drawing, featured in a book I bought 6 or 7 years ago. Where I don't understand or it seems crazy, I improvise.

These studies force me to think more deeply about building traditions and famous historic structures. It's more about my learning experience than the end product. I grew up with the habit of drawing things in order to understand them better. This work is in the same spirit.

I am all for AI as long as it forces us to think more deeply. That's what I love about Revit. I know that Autodesk emphasise the labour-saving aspect, but for me it's never been about churning out more product.

The ability to toggle rapidly between plan, section and 3d views stimulates my thought process, shakes me out of the tunnel vision of software that locks me into 2d, or even into 3d. It's the ability to have both the traditional, dimensioned orthogonal views and the live 3d that pushes my understanding to a new level.

 



 

These are shots from 2016 when I first visited my son Tom who had recently moved to Singapore. A wonderful row of shop-houses curving round as they rise up the hill, and apparently trying to fall over in the process.

Not sure I will attempt the rising curve but I definitely want to develop families that capture some of the charm of this urban form which can be found all up and down the strait.

 



Shop houses sit on deep narrow plots, getting light and air from small courtyards that puncture the mass internally but are invisible from the street.

To the outside world they express themselves via tightly constrained street facades. These public faces may be highly varied as in these examples photographed on a previous visit to Singapore. Styles from different eras jostle for attention.

In other locations the entire row will be in a single style, although over many years of use the colour schemes might attain a similar hotch-potch effect.