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Wednesday, March 26, 2008


The seductive myth of a domestic utopia. Architectural media has a habit of creaming off the most interesting work, a tiny percentage of a percentage, casting an almost wholly skewed and inaccurate portrait of any contemporary scene. The internet has only exacerbated this situation, and there's an almost Pravda-like project underway to position modernism - usually a LEED-led, SoCal inspired, prefab friendly, Case Study-infused aesthetic (via) - as the dominant style of residential building around the world, with tract housing, McMansions and little brick boxes as the new class enemy. Online, architects can revel in an imaginary domestic utopia, a global yet entirely virtual exurb of endless, picture perfect modernism.

Periodically, the design media indulges in rants against the moribund aesthetic of the status quo, yet the 'average style' that makes up the majority of houses built around the world remains almost entirely invisible in media terms. As a result, the 'average home' has taken on an abstract quality, a universal design bogeyman of indeterminate form - although it is always ugly, invariably oversized, and inevitably representing a lapse in taste on behalf of planners, the public (and, whisper it, other architects). There's currently a certain amount of soul-searching going on within the Australian design media. While the long-standing international success of architects like Glen Murcutt and the late Harry Seidler (as well as the increasingly important work of studios like John Wardle and Bates Smart and the younger generation represented by media and web-savvy architects like Andrew Maynard) portray a country forging forwards with a highly evolved form of vernacular modernism, critics still feel that the majority taste represents the Triumph of Ugliness. Philistinism is rife, and it is harming the country's image. '"We haven't engaged with this country and its limitations," [Philip Drew] says. "And we haven't engaged with it visually, in terms of creating an architecture which is sympathetic, which builds on the visual qualities of both the flora, the weather and the land itself.'

It's not enough for architecture to be simply modern and tasteful, but it has to engage on a physical, environmental and spiritual level with its surroundings. Reading 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache: The Great Australian Dream and its architecture, CoS's extended riff on the role of the private Australian house as a laboratory and place of experimentation, the comments by the likes of Drew seem to be a misguided attempt to sustain the pessimistic but high profile arguments first fostered by Robin Boyd ('The Australian Ugliness'). So is Australia a nation completely hamstrung by a relentless and insatiable suburbanism? It's frustrating how easily - and willingly - discourse about modern architecture slips into us-and-them dualisms. But without a fundamental antagonism, modern architecture loses its radical thrust and threatens to become just plain old architecture, and that would never do. The argument at the core of the Australian debate - that building should accommodate landscape, rather than the other way around - seems to be about modernism as a means of assuaging environmental, even post-colonial, guilt about interaction with the land.

*

Other things. The oceanic migration of plastic objects. See also Stuart Haygarth's ' chandelier (which seemed to reference 'Cold Dark Matter' (i.e. the exploding shed) of Cornelia Parker), or the more likely source, The Real Toy Story, the photographic series by Michael Wolf / things we have downloaded, which pointed us towards the excellent Launchy / you will need many grey bricks: a Lego model of the Discovery, via tecnologia obsoleta / all about Switzerland's 2000-watt society plan, a long-term goal to reduce individual energy consumption.

Alden B.Dow was an American architect working in the organic modern style made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright. He was also the son of Herbert H.Dow, founder of the Dow Chemical Company, and after studying at Frank Lloyd Wright's quasi-mystical Taliesin, he returned to the 23 acre family estate to build his organic masterpiece. Dow's fortune came from the commercial scale production of bleach. In later years, Dow became known for making napalm, invented by Dr Louis Fieser, silicone breast implants and Agent Orange (which it was 'compelled to produce' by the US Government), all perversely at odds with the organic, adhoc, nature-loving visions created by Dow Jr.

The end of Christiana and architectural idealism / The Pointless Museum, revisited / delving into the AA Diploma Unit 9 for a bit of pure architecture form-making for form's sake. Eleftherios Ambatzis's work is a case in point. 'My aim is to displace the ecclesiastical reality into a new field condition where imagination is the guiding principle structuring everyday life.' This is a new form of sacred architecture based on generational form: '"The Church of the infinite paths" takes Christianity as a starting point to an erratic journey into the future.' Rather than create a structure based on the straight liturgical and theological paths of the faith, Ambatzis offers the worshipper multiple ways of reaching wherever it is they want to go.

Frinton Park Estate, Essex / 5 of these and 3 of those, etc., etc., at the weburbanist / more concrete in peril: an enormous, epic and completist post on the history and future of Robin Hood Gardens over at City of Sound (where the 'architecture' tag is getting out of control, unsurprisingly) / YouTube - Bristol In The 1920s, via Phil Gyford / a feature about the emperiled VDL House by Richard Neutra, at archinect / it's not quite Ian Martin, but this tale of the Bilbao-12 ('The case was made for using architecture to revitalize the economies of postindustrial cities by establishing a brotherhood of "superstar" architects who would generate spectacles bolstered by our reviews, creating "archi­tourism," or what has become known today as the "Bilbao Effect."') made us laugh nonetheless.

Wallpaper has a gallery from the Adventures with Objects show currently on in Turin / our collective recent history, online, kottke puts together a useful round-up of the steady stream of free archives opening up content from major publications, including Time, Harpers and the New York Times, plus an article on the logic behind public access / The Stray Voltage, a weblog by artist Roy van der Ende, who makes fabulous sculptures out of reclaimed timbers / when architectural renders go wrong / a bit more on the unsolicited Eiffel submission, a story that might work either way for its architect (presumably Nakheel have already called).

The Norwegian Collection of Potential Architecture is a promising project, an attempt to create an 'online collection of the half-baked, the promising, the raw and the invisible architecture; Projects that miscarried, went over the top, were turned down by clients or for other reasons never became realised.' A sort of flipside to the fast-expanding MIMOA database. In other news, enter We Heart It, 'visual bookmarking' gets moved on another step. Not wholly convinced by this one yet / ORDOS 100, new architecture in China.

The Gateshead Carpark Demolition Project (via i like). Accompanying flickr pool. Related, a set of images of Luder's late, lamented Tricorn Centre. Taken by us in late 1998 / 'how does Outside actually rate?' / Stashpocket, a weblog / We Are The Lambeth Boys. Have a ferret around Channel 4's documentary archive as well / needs a bit more design clarity, but the automotive family tree is a revealing bit of corporate history / The Dome is Home - South Pole history 1975-90.

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