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


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



IMG_7298s.jpg

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been Googling long and Googling hard. I've been looking for the location where Rod Stewarts video for 'The First Cut is the Deepest' was shot. The whole video consists of a dandified Rod walking up a staircase in a Baroque garden. The stairs have a water channel running down the centre and it's surrounded by rhododendrons. The song lasts as long as it takes Rod to get to the top of the stairs. Which seems a great length to make a staircase in a garden. A much more satisfying reason than simply the prosaic distance between two things. It forms a relationship between the dimensional length of an architectural feature and the length of time it takes to do something: as many meters as it takes to hum a song. It's a little like the Monument in the City of London. Here, the height of the structure equates to the horizontal distance from its base to the point where the Great Fire of London started. In both, a certain kind of literal meaning is encoded into the landscape as though they were part of a Dan Brown plot.

For some reason I assumed it was set in some Italian garden - somewhere like the Villa Cicogna or Villa Garzoni - both of which feature staircases/water feature combos. But neither looked quite right. I guess even Google has its limits. But then, leafing through a copy of Architectural Digest - with Rod on the cover - and there, beyond a Brown Jordan chair surrounded by antique urns, out in the garden, is the very staircase. Not in Italy in the 17th century, but terraced into the Hollywood Hills in the 1970s.

Case closed. Although, like many modern day sleuths, I've got a nagging doubt. Perhaps this staircase is a recreation, part of a landscape design that pays homage to the landscapes of Rods life - from the videos which sold the records which paid for his Hollywood home to patches of grass from Celtic Park (the gates to his home read "God Bless Celtic"). The staircase looks kind of right, but also much smaller. He'd only have got to the middle eight walking up this one. And it looks too old, as though a couple of hundred years have past over it. Like many of the homes of the very very rich and very very famous its hard to parse whats real and what isn't. Reality gets stretched into something that transcends scale and time.

I've been thinking about Rod and Houses, Rod and Landscapes since I went to see him play at Blenheim Palace this summer. In fact, he almost ran me over with his Bentley driving across Vanburghs bridge. Which, if I could choose a way to go, would probably be a close contender.

I'd wanted to see Rod at Blenheim because it was two grand English traditions colliding: 300 years of English history squished into one night. Blenheim was built as a monument to the Duke of Marlboroughs victories over the French. The house was designed by Vanbrough and Hawksmoor, the landscape by Capability Brown. It's military significance to Britain is enhanced by being the birthplace of Winston Churchill. Wrapped up in Blenheim are many of the events that allowed Britain to become what it is.

Contrasted against this old English history, is British pop culture, made flesh in the form of Rod. From 60s R&B to Mod, to leopard legginged Disco dancer to MTV poseur, and lastly his current shtick as top hat and tailed singer of the Great American Songbook. He's a one-man cultural institution. And, amazingly, hes still got it.

The building is a Baroque pile up of classical architecture: temples slotted through each other, stretched taller, bent around corners. Like a snake in a cartoon that eats an object, you can see one building pushing through the skin of another. The skyline is encrusted with sculptures: English lions strangling French cockerels, piles of surrendered weapons made stone. Its part Baroque and part Tabloid headline. Blenheim is perhaps the great great grandfather of the Hollywood Home: Statement before domestic function, a house as information rather than a machine to live in.

But instead of a crash, they seemed to glide smoothly past each other. The history of the building and landscape enhanced with the ephemera of a pop act. The event seemed to play out as a series of vignettes: long white Lincon stretch limos croncked out over the lawn, as though grazing under the chestnut trees, their chauffeurs eating chips framed against Capability Browns lake. An arm, tattooed with Rods face, a tartan rug. A display of embroidered cushions in an old fountain, Blenheim branded water, ice-cream, champagne. Teased up highlighted hair, dotted over the crowd live a contagious virus infecting post menapusal women. The banks of the lake seemingly formed of soft gas as an evening haze falls.

Rods show is great. The set up is relaxed - chairs arranged in the courtyard of the Palace, a stage placed on axis with the entry to the house. It's a temporary alteration to the architectural arrangements - crossing the grand axis that that runs from the column of victory, over the bridge and up the grand entrance portico. Rod is relaxed, cracking jokes, changing costumes, wandering to the side of the stage to let his band solo. And every single song a thoroughbred classic. Behind him is a large screen cutting live footage with prepared montages. Nostalgic Americana features heavily: a GI off to war. And of course, Celtics greatest goals (while Rod hoofs balls into the audience). The curtain drops to show a painted scene outside a New York theatre: Rod Stewart written up on the theatres sign canopy, a small queue and a Taxi. Rods own cultural reference points: an English born, Scottish, football fan in love with 50s America. If only Vanborough was around to turn this ephemera into stone.

Looking at Blenheim, the dramatization, sentimentality, and bombast that drip from Rods oeuvre were once things that architecture did. And if buildings once could do all that, then perhaps they could also articulate our inner dialogues as intricately as pop music can. The idea that building and landscape are explicitly communicative has for the moment, been all but been erased. It's allowed only in the entertainment ghettos of theme parks and casinos. Maybe it's the same reason I'm reluctant to join the crowd yelling: "wayyke up Mag Gie I Fink I got something to SAAAAAY to YOOOOU!" - embarrassment. Blenheim shows a time when the land as far as you could see was - unabashedly - sculpted and transformed. It feels like the planet itself has been sculpted.

Of course Blenheim is a product of aristocratic history, and like most other grand country houses is engulfed by a proletarian present. After hundreds of years of keeping us out, they are now desperate to entice us (and our wallets) in.

Every summer brings new rounds of bizarre events at stately homes around the country. Aristocrats turn their estates over to increasingly odd juxtapositions: I've seen Lions at Longleat, WWII reenactments taking up positions at Stowe, and aging pop acts bellow their hoary old hits across boating lakes. Contemporary aristocratic estate management has evolved a surreal embellishment of picturesque landscaping. What we need now are reconstituted stone ice cream vans, grottos that dispense tickets and guidebooks, tarmac car parks designed by some modern day Capability Brown.

Looking back across the crowd as Rod gets the encore of 'Sailing' underway, the waving hands silhouette against the summer-blue night sky are indistinguishable from the sculpted ramparts of the palace. The gobo-projections of leopard skin onto the walls of the palace make two forms of nostalgia indistingishable



Posted by anothersam at November 6, 2005 10:45 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:

www.fat.co.uk

www.samjacob.com

twitter.com/anothersam

Flickr:


Links:

IconEye
Archinect
Flip Flop Flyin'
Arts & Letters
Bldg Blog
City of Sound
Design Observer
Limited Language
Mcsweeneys
Things
Dezeen
Kieran Long
Arts Monitor
Loud Paper
Dwell Blog
David Barrie
Super Colossal
sit down man, you're a bloody tragedy
The Sesquipedalist
Londonist
Architecture & Hygiene
Pruned
Infosthetics
Aggregat456
A456Tumblr
Kazys Varnelis
Infranet Lab
Life Without Buildings
Landscape & Urbanism
HTC Experiments
Deputy Dog
Subtopia
The Dirt
Mockitecutre
Art Fag City
Triple Canopy
Where
Actar
Mechanophilia
Shrapnel
NL Blog