Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


Ornament is Grime 2



'In theory, the patio would have been a nice place, the size of a barbecue and a chair, but instead there were bags of beer cans and booze bottles piled up so high that we'd have to hold back the trash to keep it from spilling into the house every time we opened the door. The neighbours complained about the smell and the rats that had started swarming all over our patio, but there was no way we were touching it, even after the Los Angeles Department of Health Service showed up with legal papers requiring us to clean the environmental disaster we had created.'

That's from Motley Crues autobiography, titled 'The Dirt'. It's a no-holds barred chronicle of the bands decent from debauchery, addiction, near death to further debauchery and snorting ants off the pavement with Ozzy Osbourne. What the Crue mean by 'The Dirt' isn't just their patio trash. They mean the whole unexpurgated story.

In rock and roll, dirt equates to authenticity. Being dirty means being real. Sometimes it can symbolise very particular positions. Hippie dirt was about being natural, Punks filth was an eloquent statement of opposition to the establishment: The Clash dirty like freedom fighters, the Sex Pistols filthy as Dickensian urchins. But being revolutionary didn't always mean being dirty.

For early Modernist architects, dirt meant the squalor of the recently industrialised city: slums, disease, poverty. Architects and planners wanted to erase these old cities, filthy with history, and build clean environments fit for what they described as the 'industrial artisan'.

If look you back across the landscape of history, the view helps explain why Modernist architecture looked like it did. Those beautiful white Modernist villas of the 1920s and '30s are set against a backdrop of belching dark clouds of late nineteenth-century pollution - the kinds of urban scenes described by Marx and Dickens. The London smog became personified in fiction as a thick fog that shrouded evil. It sometimes assumed solid form as a criminal, murderer or mythical half-man, half-beast.

Modernist architecture used rational logic and science to combat ignorance, dust and disease, just like Sherlock Holmes' scientific proto-forensic techniques against Victorian urban sin. Cleanliness was central to the Modernist project. Its ambition was clean Euclidian space, manufactured by industrial processes. Cleanliness meant honesty and authenticity. Cleanliness was utopian. It was political in the eyes of Le Corbusier, who warned that cities were so terrible that there was a stark choice: 'architecture or revolution'. Cleanliness was aesthetically resolved by Mies van der Rohe in projects like the Barcelona pavilion, where chrome columns reflect polished marble through large sheets of glazing.

You can still see the nineteenth-century filth that turned London black, but you have to look harder each year. Those once sooty buildings are gradually being cleaned. St Pauls is the latest. It is halfway through a 40 million pound restoration project to mark its 300th anniversary in 2008. The West Front - the main entrance facing the top of Ludgate Hill - has recently been unveiled. This part of the project cost five million of the late Sir Paul Gettys pounds. The work comprised mainly stone cleaning and repair, but also included the re-carving of eroded stones, re-gilding, repairs to the clock face and bells and the relaying of the west steps. Lady Getty says: 'Paul remembered St Pauls from a boyhood visit to London with its West Front looming in the fog above Ludgate Hill. He loved the Great Northern Baroque Cathedral of his Patron Saint and would be overjoyed to see it shining and clean again.' Like many of Londons other significant institutions, it is built from white Portland stone. The change of colour, before and after restoration, is high-contrast dramatic; the transformation from black to white is as startling as Michael Jacksons and almost as strange.

Gleaming white and gold, St Pauls looks odd, as though newly born or a heavenly apparition. In some ways a layer of meaning has been removed from the building: the dirt and filth had built up over the centuries, reflecting the life of the city around it. In its most famous photograph, St Pauls is solid amongst the billowing smoke and flames of the Blitz, symbolic of Londons finest hour. And the dirt in and on St Pauls itself assumed significance when Cornelia Parker collected dust from the Whispering Gallery, forming it into ear plugs. Perhaps she was suggesting that we are deaf to historys whisper.

Conservation is assumed to be benign and essentially neutral, but actually, cleaning is a highly charged act. Restoration is like rewinding history, and as anyone who has seen the Back to the Future films, this can get complicated. The process of cleaning idealises the object and, just as there are different kinds of dirt, there are many varieties of cleanliness: scrubbed up and plain like the front step of a house, or polished by minimum-wage guest workers into a state that feels unreal by machines pushed.
apfel.jpg
The Grey Blanket is a project by graphic designers A Practice for Everyday Life. The phrase refers to the layer of filth that coats London and their intervention was to rub out pollution build-up to create four metre-long typographic messages. It is a kind of anti-graffiti, inscribed by taking away rather than adding. The messages are ephemeral, existing as Emma Thomas puts it, until 'the city is completely cleaned up, or enough pollutants build up again for the message to vanish'. The project suggests that cleaning could be used in imaginative ways to create temporary interventions in the fabric of the city. Imagine cleaning new patterns across the face of St Pauls. Like the finger that traces text into the grimy canvass of a white van: 'I wish my wife was this dirty'.

Anthropologist Mary Douglas studied dirt and its cultural significance in Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (1966) Douglas cross-culturally examined definitions of impurity and argued that pollutants play an important role in maintaining social structures. She defined dirt as 'matter out of place', suggesting that dirt is culturally constructed rather than a naturally occurring phenomenon. Dirt is more than mess. It is as alive with culture and meaning as bacteria.

Dirt is also an intrinsically architectural material. Both architecture and grime are by-products of the grinding wheels of civilisation. Architectures unnatural and artificial environments help define what dirt is. Look under your sink at those products designed to help keep your house clean if you need evidence: Cillit Bang!, Cif, Mr Muscle, polish, bleaches, peroxides, detergents. Think of the time, money and physical effort spent cleaning architecture. Think of contract cleaners polishing the marble foyer of a Wall Street bank after-hours. Think of crumbs falling from a croissant and being trodden into a carpet. Imagine the action of a vacuum that disturbs the carpet fibres, dislodging the crumb while the force of the vacuum drags it upwards into a stainless steel tube. Think of the constant leaking, flaking, staining, smearing, shedding, spilling of everyday life. Think of the action of detergent - imagine it dissolving dirt like an animation in a washing powder commercial. Think of an abrasive scouring action in concentric circles.

Sometimes, architects take an alternative approach, where dirt and architecture enjoy a more positive and constructive relationship. Caruso St Johns recent entry for the Londons Architecture Foundation competition recalls the streaky facades of London buildings. They liken the polluted surfaces 'to the effect of mascara and blush in beauty treatment'. They propose 'a building of pure white concrete with a surface of fine grooves and polished aggregates. Over time, the rougher surfaces will gather dirt and darken, highlighting the brilliant smoother surfaces, and revealing the figures of huge typography, spelling out the letters AF, interwoven into the facade. The patina of history would make a thoroughly contemporary super-graphic on the building's elevation'. Adam Caruso adds 'I suppose that it has something to do with being provocative. Perspectives of mainstream architecture always show thousands of people, purposefully milling about the new project, looking into the Books etc. window and drinking Costa coffee. The building and the people are always very clean. Good cities are not shiny and new like this, places like Rome and London can tolerate a lot of dirt, emptiness and pathos, and good architecture should not rely on 'newness' to be valid.'

I'd heard that Adam had been in a punk band with artist Mark Pimlott. So I asked if this dirt was a kind of punk filth creeping into his work: 'Our band played some Jam and Who covers, two famously 'sharp' bands, so the dirt has nothing to do with punk.' While the Jam might have been suit sporting mod revivialists, they also wrote Mr Clean , to whom Paul Weller sang 'if i get the chance i'll fuck up your life'. Like different kinds of dirt, there are different kinds of clean too.
r
French firm R&Sie are working on a project for an art gallery in Bangkok called B-mu. Their response was not to the local building vernacular or the massing of the neighbourhood, but to the dusty atmosphere of the city: 'Bangkok is a very dusty and luminous city. The pollution cloud, CO2 residue, filters and standardises the light with only grey spectral qualities.' The building itself is a jumbled stack of boxes - white cubes arranged as a kind of 3-D labyrinth. An aluminium lattice is draped over this with an electrostatic charge running through it. The static attracts and holds dust, which gradually forms the exterior of the building. It would be filthy on the outside, clean as a cosmetics counter on the inside, as though a Victorian dust-yard has enveloped a space station. It's a juxtaposition of states as striking as baked Alaska, dramatising and exaggerating the difference between interior and exterior: the exterior skin as an interface with the outside world and the interior as an artificial world. Francois Roche describes it as 'schizophrenic' and the exterior as 'plunged into the an intoxicating urban chaos' - like shifting sands of a desert, in a state of flux over the solid lumps of the city. The project is a kind of perverse high-tech, hijacking technological innovation to achieve a disturbing end. Most high-tech architecture uses machinery to the point of fetishism in order to deliver a well-tempered environment (beautiful air-conditioning ducts, exquisitely detailed window cleaners hoist and so on). The B-mu looks like it will offer an experience similar to the last hours of Pompeii, delivered with a detached coolness.

Dirt is a symptom of the passing of time over an object. Its use as an active design element is shows an acceptance of the real context of architecture, which is place and time. Idealised versions of architecture are often seductive precisely because they brush the mess of everyday reality under the carpet. Dirty architecture suggests high concept buildings with their feet in the gutter.

R&Sie
APFEL
Caruso St John
first published in contemporary



Posted by anothersam at February 22, 2005 3:25 PM.



Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

Other:

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