After the first weekend of the Games, it’s already becoming clear that the relationship between the city and the event is working well. This is partly because half the population of the British capital has apparently been scared into going on holiday, making the DLR and Jubilee line relatively clear for Olympic tourists. This generous act has left the rest of us and the visitors free to enjoy the sport and, for the design geeks amongst them, see how adaptable architecture has been embedded into the city with subtlety and no small amount of humour (in contrast perhaps to the main stadium itself – see this for more details!). Indeed, I would argue that the main stadium aside, the 2012 games is a triumph for temporary and adaptable structures. London is seeing 270,000 temporary seats used, more than the last three Olympics combined and in doing so the organisers have created what I want to argue is an uniquely British experience both to the TV viewer and to the spectator and one which grows out of and capitalises on our culture of sport and entertainment.
Using the Olympics to present an image of the host city has come a long way since the poster for the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, United States. This simply showed a map of the USA with an arrow on it pointing to the words Lake Placid. It was, however, the first time the Games had been used as a tool for tourism – a notion that is now an integral part of the Olympic package and for which the language of spatial design forms a key component. The aim by designers has been to place key events within the working heartland of the city so that select images of London’s architectural highlights will be beamed to audiences all around the world. Continue reading
This short film essay looks at how man has built and talked about elemental architecture forms since the Tower of Babel. It takes the viewer inside the ArcelorMittal Orbit for the first time as well as placing it in historical context. I made it with Simona Piantieri, who I first worked with on her film about the Shard. Less about the merits of the structure itself, I like to think that it asks important questions about how we judge architecture and art in a modern society.
Policeman Wenlock Figurine.
Some people saw it as symbol of a military state’s collusion with the corrupt forces of international sport. To me it looked very much like a penis dressed as a policeman. When I read in this Guardian article that the heavy weight of oppositional satire was being brought to bare on a wee Wenlock doll, dressed as a policeman my heart went out to it for the first time. Certainly I had not warmed to the pair of scrotal cyclopses that had been chosen to represent London until that point but when you read him being attacked by rabid killjoys like Games Monitor guy who sees in it a symbol of our violent police state, my heart leaped to his defence. Perhaps there was something to like about this clear attempt to get us to think of policemen and sexual organs at the same time. Continue reading
Having written a short book analysing the architecture and urban plan of the Olympics, I’d like to address some of the other criticism about the Olympic development. I have taken issue with Iain Sinclair on this blog before, not just his new book Ghost Milk but also the older, much better book, Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire. However, I’d like in the face of a widening interest in the unqualified acceptance of the term psychogeography elsewhere, widen this debate. For me the Olympic Park and the Lea Valley has become not just the site of a major development a but a place in which the conservative nature of what we take to be a radical criticism of architecture is being revealed.
To go back to Sinclair for a moment. In Hackney That Rose Red Empire he conducts an interview with another self-proclaimed psychogeographer, Will Self about the wedge of park land driven into the dirty north-east of London. After visiting the Olympics site, Self declares ‘this is an idea of America imposed on human topography that is so much older and more ancient, confused and anarchic. It has the air of imposture.’ It is a criticism derived from walking – an act that Self deems political – following the real contours of the land is more rewarding, more intuitive than imposing a new human order on top. Building, creating, doing, making: all the most positive aspects of human endeavour is here reduced by Self to the act of an imposition.
How can ‘psychogeography’ have come to this? Continue reading
President Jimmy Carter beneath the solar panels on the West Wing.
I read White Noise recently and noticed by chance that Picador have bizarrely just published a 40th anniversary edition of Don DeLillo’s book, although it was first published in 1985. Perhaps it is the accumulated prescience of the book that is urging them to bring forward its anniversary. Certainly we are only beginning to appreciate the importance of a book which manages to give a portrait of an American academic and his relatively happy family in such a way as to depict the deep crisis in modernity. Martin Amis went someway to acknowledging its power when in reviewing the later book Underworld in the New York Times in 1997 when he referred to White Noise as “that beautifully tender anxiety-dream”.
What is happening in this image below, badly captured on my phone? Is it a picture of a man under threat from a natural disaster? Is it a warning? If it is, what is it a warning against? The man is vainly holding back the tide, and he will soon be swamped.
Barnes Railway Bridge
I have been following the work of illustrator Nigel Peake since I published his student thesis in the Scottish architecture magazine Prospect just before he won a Silver Commendation in the RIBA President’s Medal in 2005. Since then he has created a number of studies of vernacular architecture as well as thoughtful illustrated analyses of how we perceive the world around us. I wrote an essay in his book Maps in 2008 and loved his later work Sheds. However I think his most recent book Bridges – a series on the Bridges of London drawn is his best work yet. Its publication gave me a chance to talk to him about the way he views drawing, its relationship to architecture and more importantly the city.
18th Fina Visa Diving World Cup, Monday 20 February 2012 at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park London. First competitive use of the Aquatics Centre diving boards.
Photograph from Cedric Price's archive. The McAppy project.
Fantastic news that the Cedric Price Potteries Thinkbelt exhibition curated by Barnabas Calder and designed by Alan Pert of Nord has made it to London from the Lighthouse in Glasgow. This great exhibitions reinvigorates Price’s plans and drawings as a set of instructions. Rather than conferring on the designs a value that its creator would have disliked intensely, the exhibition is instead an ambitious rethinking of contemporary infrastructure, both academic and industrial. A scale model train set showing the largest and arguably most revolutionary of all of Price’s work The Potteries Thinkbelt sits at the centre of the exhibition.