Monday 25 March 2019


In an age littered with trash, and when recycling has become such a challenge for the world, it seems timely to consider the art of repair and reuse – the celebration of breakages: kintsugi – it means ‘golden joinery’ or ‘golden repair’: see -

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. Its origin lies in the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, a belief in the beauty of imperfections: see -

This Japanese concept makes disasters into precious expressions, incorporating love into the idea of beautiful repair – improving the piece because of this process,# broadening its references with a display of care that not only creates a wonderful pattern, but also adds value because of this – a moral value if not financial. It is an act of respect that maintains a piece and its role in one’s life, embodying a shared history in the fact of its markings that delineate an experience. Kintsugi has a Zen rigour about it, a raw sensitivity that glows in a practical world with restraint, the withholding of that desire to rudely, mindlessly discard the broken item at the time of annoyance, frustration and disappointment, and move on to a new item, another, the replacement.

Kintsugi offers the chance for redemption; somewhat ironically, for improvement after the despair of trauma. Not only does the mended item look beautiful with its added dimension of pattern, but the emotions are quieted, managed with the dismissal of dismay by the knowledge that the item can be reassembled beautifully after the breakage; that it can be cared for, remade. It holds something of the character of expression that Antonio Gaudi sought when he broke the pottery for his decoration at Parc Guell in Barcelona. As with kintgusi, everything is astutely arranged and organised by a craftsman skilled in his work, for the making of the renewed object.

Parc Guell tiling

The esoteric mind is able to see quality and meaning in the process, in the salvation of the piece and the wonder of the care and skill that has gone into its putting together again, as well as being able to appreciate the simple practicality of the act. Humpty Dumpty would be very pleased. The golden lines take on a new relationship with the form and its original patterning, layering lines of lightning across the surfaces with the same wonder that the cracking of ancient glazes gives to pieces, but on a different scale. There is something natural in the lines of these forces of rupture that becalms the eye. Behind all of the appearances lies the intent – the love for the piece in its parts, and the love for the work and the workmanship that will give the integrity back to the fractured item, and more.

Our era knows little of any of this. Broken items are discarded thoughtlessly as hopeless trash; and working with love and skill is something that we only consider as being something that occurred in older times. Our workmen have every gadget to allow them to work more carelessly, more quickly, and with less effort, under the guise of efficiency. No one encourages craft or craftsmanship; few appreciate it or are prepared to pay for it. Love is something left for the cheap novels: it has nothing to do with work which is the opposite of play, and is squeezed aside in the search of entertainment, and the long weekends. Work is just something that has to be tolerated and minimised, with the count of the days to retirement being important pastime. The idea of concentrating on one’s task to such an extent that one might be ‘transported’ by the involvement in the challenge to hand, is mere spiritual nonsense. Workmen toil away reluctantly, with their day filled with the blare of the radio acting as the background distraction, to fill the gaps in the mind as the body suffers.

Kintsugi involves the opposite of these circumstances. Like the traditional craftsman, the practitioner sets to work only after having concentrated, knowing. Only after having envisaged the task in full, to its completion, does work begin: the project is completed before it has begun. Today we see tradesmen hop in, knock something out, install an item, or drill a hole, only to then stand and wonder why or how. Little wonder that those sensitive enough to care for craft and beauty are so frustrated. Good work is something of other eras; but kintsugi requires good work, as Schumacher knew it and spoke of it. It holds something of a religious rigour, logic and commitment: here is the Zen link. There is much for us to learn from kintsugi today.

It is truly a Zen situation. We can learn not only the tolerance, perseverance and frugality of Zen, but also how to see beauty as rigour; how to understand and respect elegance, grace and refinement so that we might seek out more artistry in our lives. Our built environment and nearly everything in it is ugly, ill-considered or simply otherwise shaped for random and varied interests and private expression, and we do not care less. Our towns and cities are a shambles, but planners do not care less. We fail to see how this can and does have a critical impact on us all, on our well being – both physical and mental: we just do not care.

Maybe we need to start with Zen, and then we might get closer to understanding; but we do need the faith and hope that kintsugi can bring – that knowledge that the broken beauty can be improved, enriched, just as our lives can be, by experience. We need to understand that our lives that are bruised and battered in their living, can be infused with the golden threads of redeeming experience that will change them – but faith, hope and love are all needed as lived facts rather than any blind creed or an emotional, cliché quote.

Let the mended bowl sit in our homes, maybe on our mantelpieces, as a reminder of this perception: that we can all play our part in mending, growing the golden threads to knit communities and families, shattered lives and dislocated places. There can be no better, more tangible symbol for possibilities than kintsugi. Maybe we can just start with a photograph pinned to the wall: but we must start. Repair is much better than recycling, as it embodies the latter in greater things by enriching the circumstance rather than merely indulging in reuse. This approach to repair is something that grows only with an understanding that can create the space for things like this to happen.

There is an emotional and practical connection with boro – the art of mending: see


It is not as though the west is ignorant of the aesthetics of wear and tear. My pair of Church’s brogues came with a small card that told me to polish the shoes with natural polish rather than the solid black shine, even though the shoes were black. The reason was that, with this subtle maintenance, each pair of shoes would generate its own special character as they grew older with wear: see -

It is a stance that, if it now exists at all, has become an elitist’s position rather than gaining any popular understanding. Our era seems more interested in cheap products that can be thrown out and replaced rather than having beautiful things that can be loved, respected and cherished.

Perhaps we should come to know kintsugi as the art of cherishing. It is needed more than ever.

For details of the process, see:

Saturday 23 March 2019


How do ideas begin? How does meaning become embodied in form and function? How does form shape meaning? Hebert Read asked the question in his book, The Origin of Form in Art. One ponders such things with a serious commitment, so it comes somewhat as a shock to hear an architect talk about the beginnings of his thinking on a house as being the letter ‘K,’ the initial of the surname of the client, when there must have been many alternative options open to him.#

Howard Raggatt, the ‘R’ of ARM Architecture - was this acronym the inspiration? - in ABCTV Dream Build on 19 March 2019 at 5:55pm, without any hint of embarrassment or flippancy, told how, after his initial idea, he searched for "the right ‘K’ to use for the house." As a variety of typefaces flicked across the screen by way of example, he noted how he eventually settled on a ‘K’ that looked like the bold letter in the Kmart logo: was it really?

R spoke of how he made a model of the chosen letter form, apparently guessing at its appropriate depth: why did he choose any particular profile for the cross section? It was then that he wondered how he might make this special ‘K’ into a house. Surely not? Has meaning no better roots? Oh! Yes! - it is said to have happened just like this. A quick check, and the chosen ‘K,’ with its distinctive spiky, italic shape and characteristic nick in the lower leg to locate the ‘mart’, was confirmed as the big, red ‘K’ portion of the logo of the Kmart discount store – well, a store with ‘everyday low prices.’ It turned out that the colour was to become as important as the letter form, perhaps to maintain the integrity of the insight: ironically the catchphrase appeared to be ignored.

R continued explaining his approach, still wondering aloud in his description of events about what to do with the ‘K.’ The answer was to split it into two pieces, horizontally across its waist, rotate the parts, and place them against each other - bingo: the house form. How else might one choose a shape? It appears as though the bottom portion of the letter has been turned on its side and placed beside the top section: the lower notch seems to have been conveniently forgotten, as well as the rear alignment.

But there was more: it soon became clear that the site and functions needed a lower floor space. What else might one use as a guide for this additional massing but the shadow of the castrated, now conjoined ‘K’? The model was shown on the screen under strong lights to emphasize the dark, inspirational shading. So, there is was, meaning in architecture, well maybe ‘forming,’ in one simple step. R noted how easy it was to plan the massing in more detail, as if it was meant to be, achieving the fine, sharp edges that he seemingly found so satisfactory. What does one do on the inside of what looks like a thirty degree wedge when a finger is unlikely to be able to touch the intersection?

The ‘K’ became the theme for everything: the stairs; the door openings; the bookshelves; the spiky, trampoline balustrades; and the bright red interiors. It reminded one of the jingle in the old advertisement: “When you’re on a good thing - stick to it.” One wondered if the ‘K’ of the bookshelf might have been reversed to muddle the easy ‘Kmart’ reading, as here the logo image was complete. Who would want to live with this familiar image every day? Logos are designed for easy recognition.

R noted that he had imagined a completely red exterior, no doubt being inspired by the Kmart colour and wanting to be true to his vision, but the local authority would not allow this: so the exterior became grey with a few bits of orange. Was this a protest in undercoat colour? One can get a feeling for the impact of the original idea, what it might have been, from the interior, the kitchen, where every surface is a bold, bright and glossy Kmart red. Is this the ‘blood and guts’ of the house: a grey, outer skin with a rich, throbbing, living interior? One wonders how the steak might look in this kitchen; how tasty the lettuce might appear? Could the beetroot get lost? How delightful might the onion be; an apple; a banana? Hospitals, surgeons, even ambulance officers, are sensitive to such readings of hue in context, preferring soft blue greens to other dramatic, traumatic colourings: it does matter.

What has one to look forward to, ‘A’ to ‘Z’ houses; in Arial, Roman; bold, italic, etc. in all primary colours? Possibly: why not? The only hindrance seems to be that the appropriate bespoke ‘interest’ might not be able to be readily achieved to fit any function, even loosely. Here function has to follow form.

The question lingers: why persevere with ‘K’? Were the ramifications considered or just the appearance? Does R not know of the traumas, the frustrations, of Kafka's K. in The Trial? What might this association mean? Is the house an objection; an outcry? Then there is Kellogg’s ‘Special K;’ is this more ‘special’ than R’s choice? One might consider the possibilities of a ‘Special K’ house, perhaps built on a lean budget, just to maintain the theme, all in a nutritious colour - ‘full of essential nutrients to help support your overall wellbeing.’ Random forming using diverse references for different, bespoke outcomes can become embedded with unwanted associations: some jokey; others bland; some troublesome, unwanted; irritating.

It is interesting to note that ARM is the same architectural firm that designed the National Museum of Australia where text has also been used, but as decorative braille: see - Is this strategy a continuation of a standard, random ARM method of generating ‘different’ ideas - ARMatures? One wonders if ARM is entranced with letters as formal games. R notes that the firm has previously explored letters – see below. The irony of the braille is that it can never be touched to be interpreted, maybe a little like the reading of the deconstructed ‘K.’ 

ARM Architecture

The firm also did the scheme for the Gold Coast Arts Centre where, yet again, it used references to develop forms. Here the Gold Coast fun parks became the inspiration: see - Is this all there really is to architecture: grasp something and transition it into forms and a story, the quirkier the better? Surely architecture is more than this game of grab, split, mix and match, and make a yarn both in words and by weaving the pieces together as a repeated theme – a meme? Kafka’s K. might have hoped for more; and so might many others.

The project is promoted as the ‘K House’ by ARM. It appears as though the firm dare not speak its name: the ‘Kmart House,’ in spite of its beginnings, its roots; its origins; its very being: see ‘K is for ...’ below, where the title is cleverly left unresolved, avoiding the ‘Kmart’ identity, while leaving the answer up to the reader to decide, like most modern art does. It seems that the form of the ‘K’ is desirable, but not its ‘ordinary, everyday’ association. While the ‘K’ and its colour are clear, the Kmart House itself did not look like the brand – cheap, everyday and accessible. Such work shows how clever architects are; how smart, how ‘K-smart’ they can be; how intellectually esoteric. Strangely, ARM is not emphasizing the brand side of the story – why not? The Kmart logo only gets a minimal mention, almost as an aside (see below); but the logo is very recognizable: is it copyright? Might the client work for Kmart? Is it their favourite shop?

Maybe, instead of appearing to be something of a ‘smartypants’ with a split and inverted model of the red Kmart ‘K’ approach to their work, architects might be better addressing the challenge of architecture for the everyday, designing and building homes that are modestly meaningful and affordable, rather than spiky and unique, designed for good, declarative display, and detailed with repetitive, slick ‘K’-type themes: see - and

What could be next: the Target house, a Woolworths house, or a Big W house? Maybe all in a Walmart housing cluster? Architects might impress some folk and some colleagues with their chosen games, but the towns, cities and suburbs will still get shaped by others not interested in letter forms or clever architectural strategies. Now that the idea has been explained, exposed, one can search out new options and discover lots of lettered houses. There is another ‘K's house’ in Tokyo, a backpackers centre that does not appear very flash, not that this is good or bad; just that it is such a contrast to the R design. There is a ‘Y’ house; a ‘U’ house; an ‘E’ house; a 'D’ house; an ‘H’ house and more. One can go through the alphabet and Google, and see them all. There are many places with letters, but not all places deconstruct or use the letter form.

The mind wanders: why not numbers? Could one imagine a 4 Corners house? Wow! (see: ) One might suggest that these ideas should be kept at arm's length. Imagine a group of houses spelling out a name! Why not start with ARM? Gosh, it might happen! One means no ‘arm.’ Such terrible puns are indeed the lowest form of humour; but what is architecture that is based on similar punning strategies? The simple question is: is ‘K’ OK? Oh, K! Why not an elephant; a vagina? – see: and Might these be better references? What could be the criteria for assessment? Cheek? Interest? Difference? Experience? Alarm?

There is an interesting aside: while modern artists and architects deconstruct the world, cut it up into pieces for interest’s sake and difference, traditional artists joined pieces together to make marvels.* (For a new inversion of the traditional world, see: Heatherwick and his Vessel where the step well stairs are raised to ground level to step towards the sky for entertainment, with medals being presented to the first group to walk this ‘Olympian’ design: )

One only has to look at Angkor Wat and other work in the region, and ponder the process of its making, its pieces, its joints.^ There is a stark difference in approach and intent between the traditional and the modern artist that is best revealed in the face of the sculpture of Jayavaraman VII (National Museum of Phom Penh) - a different commitment to thinking about the origin of form and art. The astonishing feeling and presence embodied in, cut into this stone head, leaves one flabbergasted, dumbfounded. Both the intent and outcome highlight the floundering of our era, its shallowness, when it has to seek out commercial logos for the clever beginnings of uniquely striking forms for grand displays, leaving one wondering just how might difference, envy, hate, love, community and contentment be best managed in our egocentric times that seem to have other entertaining ambitions and indulgent distractions?+ The schism is great. Might it be the difference between making and breaking; construction and deconstruction?

Jayavaraman VII

# One is reminded of the local architect who gave his client a reinforced concrete house just because he “had always wanted to do one.”
* Martin Lings has beautifully described the experience of traditional art as being such that “one cannot marvel enough.”
^ The case for considering joints in architecture needs developing – see:

"We didn't know what we wanted, but we do now that we have got it." Mr. K.

K is for...
Tuesday 20 Nov 2007
This house is brought to you by ARM and the letter 'K'
The clients’ brief was to design an intelligent, environmentally friendly holiday house to which they could retire in the future. Visually the size of the building appears as a large explosion of form but internally it is quite modest, with a site footprint of less that 10%.
Beginning with the letter ‘K’ was not entirely arbitrary as our clients’ family name begins with the letter, and we had tried exploring writing and letters before, and also the space between letters as negative objects. We decided to use the Kmart ‘K’ for our K, now making it the size of a house. Eventually by cutting the K in half across the middle and rotating the two pieces, the house began to emerge as a composition suspended along the maximum building height envelope to achieve the best sea views. Under this we projected its shadow to form the ground level accommodation including the entry and space for two cars.
From the start we wanted to paint the entire house red but due to council regulations and our client’s wishes we made it grey instead and are probably glad we did.
Cladding both ‘K’ and shadow in the same timber panelling allowed the house to achieve a single dynamic as if inspired more by ships than signage, more like a rather racy ark than the sign and its shadow.
Yet it is really the projection of these shadows which defines the large timber decks, especially at the front which provide an elevated platform directly off both the living spaces and the main bedroom. Inside this theme of timber underfoot has been used throughout the living spaces using polished bamboo.
The kitchen joinery, pantry wall, big sliding door and the enormous ceiling-high bookshelf ‘K’ are all painted brilliant, glossy red.
As a plan the house is simple with the ground floor cut into the sloping site and entered directly off the car park with mudroom and storage, two bedrooms, bathrooms and home cinema, then up to the long living, dining and kitchen, all facing north and open each end, east to the sea and west to the garden.
The main bedroom and another bedroom form the other half of the house at this level, with a spiral stair to the library above.
This is a shiplap weatherboard house in the tradition of the seaside shack. It has bold and legible forms and an easy liveability that belies its extreme derivation in the shape of that K.
Maybe K is for kangaroo; knickerbockers; kite? The problem with leaving matters open is that one can do anything with the words and ideas: scatty hopscotch; late bloomers; kite flyer. Is this 'K'? Modern art hangs its identity on this ad hoc ambiguity and names it as meaning.


25 March 2019
The report in The Guardian seems to sum up today’s attitudes: see -
My wife and I don’t have sex, and I have secretly been buying women’s clothes
Until you test the boundaries of your desires, you’ll be perpetually dissatisfied, says Mariella Frostrup
Everything seems to relate to the individual and only the individual. Issues of community that involve awareness, care, respect and restraint seem to have no place in our self-centred times. If architecture reflects culture ( ) then there is much to reflect upon. The concern with the approach to the world articulated by Ms Frostrup is that it can give outcomes like the Christchurch mosque shooting. The implications for architecture need to be taken seriously too.

29 MARCH 2019

On ABC RN, about 11:00am, the person being interviewed was explaining how he used Reddit: "I'm not interested in conversations. I write what I am feeling, and then log out."
Is this the self-centredness that has taken over today, the complete disinterest in others and community? Is this giving us a self-centred architecture, those buildings that declare only 'ME'?

. . . 

Things architectural do not get any simpler in this ‘selfie’ world. In an E-mail received today, 29 March 2019, advertising an architectural talk, the words flow with a determined ambiguity:
. . . practice involves the interrogation of personal and cultural histories that are expanded or destabilised through the creation of physical modifiers, condition objects and temporal mourning sites. His works utilise materials and techniques that are empty of overt signification and as such they are manifested as wholly new narrative vehicles.
What on earth might this mean? The modern American jargon response might be: “Go figure!” Is the text supposed to impress?