Saturday, March 10, 2018

ARCHITECTURAL PRACTICE – WARTS AND ALL


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: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/classic-difference.html



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: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/revive-beaux-arts.html 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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Bulkeley_Creswell - 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.


See sidebar - ARCHITECTURAL PRACTICE

# 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

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