Sunday, March 18, 2018


The doodle below is taken from my notebook. It is a quick sketch on a Post-it pasted onto a page, recording a fleeting thought that was jotted down some time ago. The cartoon incorporates a play on words, translation and images: the sacred and the profane. Nothing further is intended that the exposition of that playful clash between the ideas, the interpretations, and the references - the words, as English and German, and the image: the rubbish bin; the wheelie bin. There is a joke that plays on 'wheelie' and asks: "Where have you really bin?" The interaction has something of the duck-rabbit about it, an image that was referred to by Ludwig Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations - perceptual interpretations. John Berger's classic title captures the sense nicely: Ways of Seeing: maybe one should call the phenomenon involved here as Ways of Understanding?

For those wishing to follow up on the title reference, see:

I Am that I Am is the common English translation of the response that God used in the Hebrew Bible when Moses asked for his name (Exodus 3:14). It is one of the most famous verses in the Torah. Hayah means "existed" in Hebrew; ’ehyeh is the first person singular imperfect form and is usually translated in English Bibles as "I am" or "I will be" (or "I shall be"), for example, at Exodus 3:14. ’ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh literally translates as "I Am Who I Am." The ancient Hebrew of Exodus 3:14 lacks a future tense such as modern English has, yet a few translations render this name as "I Will Be What I Will Be," given the context of Yahweh’s promising to be with his people through their future troubles. Both the literal present tense "I Am" and the future tense "I will be" have given rise to many attendant theological and mystical implications in Jewish tradition. However, in most English-language Bibles, in particular the King James Version, the phrase is rendered as I am that I am.

The classic duck-rabbit

Ludwig Wittgenstein

A variation on the theme


Young lady/old lady

Face and vista

An Escher-like illusion

Thursday, March 15, 2018


Tiny tasks in life arise from time to time, creating small opportunities and little challenges. Mother’s coming 100th birthday, Tuesday, 27th February 2018, was celebrated on the prior Saturday for the convenience of those whose everyday commitments meant that a Tuesday attendance would not be possible. The luncheon event was planned in parallel with the Tuesday occasion, a second celebration that promised an array of letters from various dignitaries, and another cake. On the Saturday, the more formal day, the families of the four siblings were asked to speak in order of seniority. So, directly after lunch, I had the job of making a short speech on behalf of my branch of the family tree. When starting to write this piece, it just happened to fall into the pattern of a poem that reminisces on a life and one hundred. The process of writing, like that of designing, remains a mystery. One leaves oneself open to the muse in both situations: it happens.

For the historical record, a congratulatory notice was placed in The Courier Mail and The Shetland Times. Father was a Shetlander. The family has close contacts with the folk of these islands even though most still live in the south-east of Queensland. Dad came to Australia as a teenager and lived his life here, first in the Laidley district where he met mother, and in Brisbane, at Kalinga; then New Farm, and finally Tenneriffe, while always dreaming of ‘home.’ After Dad's death, mother moved from Tenneriffe to New Farm. She moved to Wynnum West when developer Tom Dooley, who had purchased the property from the Churches of Christ Care, moved the residents out of Glen Eagles in Moray Street so that he could redevelop the towers, originally designed as inner-city retirement accommodation by the Buffalo Lodge, into luxury apartments. The award-winning towers were designed by the Brisbane architectural firm Curro, Nutter, Charlton in the 1960s: see

This is the talk:

tuesday mother

ninety nine
         one hundred
               coming ready or not

life’s a little like this
it’s just not cricket

         well it
it is

the number
is made special
         significant landmark
in this sport
         as in life
many affairs
         of state

in the bat-and-ball game
                  the century!
         cap waving
bat swinging
         arm throwing
random running around
         copious group huggings
               in the extreme

we review the first
         100 days of power
in politics
as if they were relevant
               as important
as significant
         as a life

we go over
and photographs
         of the century
         with enthusiasm
and intrigue
those were the days

we play games
counting to
number bubble
         a double bull
it is
         a digital juncture
               a destination
an ambition

the number
         mesmerises us
in the everyday
         every day
as we cleverly
                  avoid it as
         99 cents
a deceitful decimal game
imperial mishmash
         metric pellucidity

so today
leaving us equally
by the count
         and the life
we gather to celebrate
mother’s coming

it is a
         a digital wow!
just ones and zeros
the last ones
         and zeros
were at 10
                  more than
32,850 days
                  leap years

when one considers
the biblical three
         score years
                        and ten
her years are
the bright side of averages
            the right side

being a card player
this makes her
a winning
         six hearts
an appropriate reference
for her life
both cards and love
that she could not
         no trumps
         if only!
we are burdened
with him

in cribbage
is two thirds of the
         the second run
still with good cards
in her hands
         to yet come

in monopoly she holds
in transactional counts
from shrewd and
         lucky deals
the throw of the dice
                  the game of life

the cake has 100s
         and extra
zeros in 1000s
or should have
                           let's pretend
just for this unique
this occasion
the century!
         it takes the cake

it is a special time
because we love
         counting and establishing
marking life on land
         in time
         on time
1 . . 2 . . 3
tick . . tock . . tick
doesn’t it go quickly!

the stories over time
         like the box brownie
                              browning images
of other epochs

the time scale
the differences
                  alert us
the achievement
         the experience
the understanding
         the eras
their people
                  the change
now slick internet
then slate
in timber frame
         with one side ruled
                  slow pencil
         and scraps of paper
if you were lucky
crystal radio too

but life was still

18 presidents u.s.
more soon
allowing for the successful
card call score
of 120
a better world

prime ministers
23 u.k.
25 a.u.
making the bingo call of
                  clickety click
66 in total
presidents and prime ministers
                  us au and uk
         the angel number

era after era has been
each celebrating
         remembering its own
and 1000s
                  killed in wars
to end all wars
                  if only
if only

as with cricket
perhaps we should
         as good sports
arm waving
         body swinging
cap throwing
         copiously running around
                  randomly group hugging
                           in the extreme
for mother's
health and well-being
her vitality and love
         of life
her coming

no bingo call for this other than
It’s a bullseye! It’s a bullseye!
two 50s
90 + 10
top of the shop
                           then what?

happy birthday
tuesday mother


Saturday, March 10, 2018


First published in Mcmxxx
by the Architectural Press, Ltd.
Reprinted in Mcmxliv by Faber and Faber Limited
24 Russell Square London W.C.1
Second impression December Mcmxliv
Third impression September Mcmxlv
Fourth impression March Mcmxlvii
Printed in Great Britain by
Latimer Trend & Co Ltd Plymouth
All rights reserved

This book is produced in complete conformity
with the authorized economy standards

It has been some time since such a scruffy, modest publication has been opened and enjoyed; and many years since one has seen dates expressed as Roman numerals. The fragile, fading, thin yellowed pages that look like poor, porous blotting paper printed with handset Times text in varying degrees of fuzziness, all roughly, unevenly bound, reminded one of other tiny publications produced in the same era of war-induced restrictions. These naive, imperfect, and honestly crude documents lack the slick certainty and glossy flawlessness of digital productions that we have come to expect today. Compared to such panache, publications of the past are made to look childlike, scrappy, and unprofessional by this perfect, printed world that turns handwriting into just careless, sloppy, and unconvincing scrawl. Yet texts like this one once held character; and the marks of the individual hand once displayed impressive, expressive personal characteristics: but alas, no more – see:

Faded, worn, and pale-blue, the tatty, half-quarto, cloth-covered book was found in a bookshop in Armidale in northern New South Wales, Australia – in an interesting revived Art Deco store of secondhand volumes named wisely, and cleverly, after the boobook owl. The insignificant narrow edge of the cover, partially concealed by the larger, bolder neighbours, had to be egged out, and the book opened, to discover the title, such was the state of its aged, hazed, smokey spine and its worn, faded gold script. One was familiar with The Honeywood File which was Creswell's fictional record of the construction of the house at Honeywood Grange, a faux account of the typical events experienced in an architectural practice, documented as a novel. This book, The Honeywood Settlement, covered the next stage involving the occupation of the dwelling and all of the problems, defects, extras, failures, changes, charges, etc., associated with this time until the final certificate is issued.

The Honeywood File was a remarkably successful publication that established the author’s reputation. Creswell's account explored the typical occasions, events and struggles of house-building experienced in their real, revealed, everyday rawness. The book was promoted as a text to inform budding architects of the trials and tribulations of practice. In one sense the book was ironic, humorous, and farcical; in another, it held an educational ripeness and richness that students of architecture were directed to in order to understand 'the real world' that they were getting involved in: architectural practice - unvarnished, unappealing, unattractive. The promise was that the chosen profession was not going to be as grand and gloriously heroic as the coffee-table books made it appear.

The Honeywood Settlement does likewise for architectural practice, its experience, documenting the challenges and crises during the period after ‘practical completion.’ The term defines the stage when the project has been completed for all ‘practical purposes,’ even though certain matters might still require attention. The Honeywood Settlement is a book that has lingered through time with varying accolades and sundry neglect, eventually being dismissed as an ancient and irrelevant, outdated tome – it is now 85 years old: but it remains of interest, if only to show how the profession has changed, and how it hasn't. One grimaces from time to time, such is the reality of this fictional, real-world farce: one knows about this! On other occasions, one delights in the expression, the language. Here English is seen in its 1930s style, pure and precise. It is a real pleasure to see the cared-for perfection of the punctuation and spelling,(almost),# as well as the punch of the particular expression. It makes for far better reading than most journalism today, where one is constantly stumbling on unapologetic spelling errors, poor punctuation, or none at all, and terrible grammar, as if all this was irrelevant, with only the message being critical. What is missed is that these factors are the story; they make the message, just as details make the architecture.

Creswell sits in the background behind his own concocted communications that take the form of filed correspondence. Here he becomes the objective, rational commentator, explaining some special architectural issue, or expanding on the context of the subject; or passing on advice as to an approach, noting its weaknesses, its failure, its benefits; perhaps its shrewdness. He frequently suggests solutions to subtle problems; alternative approaches: nuances. The book is an instructive text in many ways, not only in relation to architectural practice, but also in regard to letter writing, general expression, logical thinking, and in personal relationships. One wonders what might be written today on this subject, in our indulgent era of egotistical expressionism enhanced by digital gadgets and gizmos.

It is precisely because of our lack of such understandings and studies – where are the theoretical texts; the discussions on ideas; on practice? - that Creswell's book can be seen to be relevant. The publication highlights our weakness in grasping at the phantom ‘progress,’ in our simplistic dismissal of the old publications in favour of the most freakish, frenzied fashion of the hyped-up moment that distractedly declares ME, clever ME! Creswell is certainly worth a read. One is left asking, why not read, re-read, say, Trystran Edwards and Howard Robertson? Maybe Sigfried Gideon? Why not indeed? - see: We would be bold to suggest that there was nothing to learn in these works: yet we do.

The problem with damp and dry rot

What we have to do is overcome the casting of aspersions on matters arising from other eras, demeaning them, defining them as asses, irrelevant to our new, special, progressively smart, and smarter world. Creswell – see: - shows us how human nature does not change. We need to understand how other eras were as rich and as clever as ours – maybe more so. This perception becomes a core understanding for knowing the art of other times – and architecture. Ananda Coomaraswamy told us of this approach: to always read other cultures through their particular contexts, not through our own preconceptions, preoccupations, or the fabricated, fanciful, flimsy frameworks of our times.* Creswell can help us in this way, ease us into a broader acceptance of things otherwise: his old book can reinvigorate our attention, redirect it to matters of manners, guile, intrigue, and the human condition as it deflates, defeats the rudeness of the concept of ‘progress.’

The problem of the jamming doors

Following most architectural talks, a colleague usually makes the casual comment: "They never talk about how they get the job; or of the problems they have in the architectural process beyond anything quirky that might endorse their standing as the hero." Creswell's writing has the skill to represent this everyday world, the ordinary, non-heroic struggles of the architect, with an adroit skill and intensity that impresses because of its complete lack of pretence, its openness to ordinary facts and foibles. It is this awareness that makes his writing enduring, an enjoyable, interesting and instructive read in spite of its years, and our prejudices. We should be more open to its messages, for we need to learn to be inclusive of the complexity of architectural practice – warts and all – rather than being selectively special with our uniquely selfish, selfie beliefs that spruik otherwise of great gleams and grand gloss.


# Alas, even after so many editions, perfection gets spoilt on page 173 where 'jalling out' appears instead of 'falling out' - there is much 'falling out' in these pages: such is architectural practice!
- and, sadly, p.208: 'then' for 'than' - a phonetic problem that equates to the verbal 'would of' instead of 'would have.'

Consider the Indian painter:

The Indian painter . . . created his masterpieces not in a spirit of imposing his personality on an admiring world with a desire for personal honour and fame, but obliterated himself, almost deriving supreme satisfaction in that his art was an offering to God.
C. Sivaramamurti Chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottara University of Baroda 1978 p.3