Wednesday 20 November 2019


Architects seem reluctant to delve into things poetic in architecture with any serious intent. Such matters are alluded to superficially only if they are useful to enhance a flashy presentation; to give it poetic prestige; an intellectual touch. In the same loose way, architects avoid theory too, preferring discussions on the identity of the work, its obvious characteristics, and their eulogistic explanations and rationales that highlight the unique, creative skill of the originator. Ideas of metaphor and intent, indeed poetic method and technique, have become too obscure, too vague and fanciful to take seriously, when attention can be grabbed by referencing the new technologies that sprout impressively slick and complex images for everyone to gaze at in utter dumbfounded astonishment that is equated to the amazement arising from true artistic quality.

Even the creator of the image can be baffled by this technological wonder, stimulating a burst of self-indulgent, pleasurable praise at the appearance of this bespoke beauty, its perfection, as if the work might have arisen from another; from a vague distance that is also interpreted as being similar to that mysterious silence experienced in great works of art: such is the separation that the new technologies place between an architect and his/her work. The idea of the thinking hand; the meandering, searching pencil; the pondering, emotional intelligence; has become an anachronism, all meaningless acts from another era, like sharpening a pencil rolled on the thumb, as Frank Lloyd Wright did. These mundane acts are seen as trite and irrelevant, 'horse-and-cart' asides when the flash names of slick, new programmes can be smartly spruiked with a pompous, almost arrogant understanding that is baffling to those who do not know them, let alone do not know how to manipulate them.

Architectural hands


‘Grasshopper’ was the ‘in’ word at the last university presentation attended; it appeared to be mentioned by everyone as a mark of importance; a signifier of a certain standing marking one as a member of the elite group ‘in the know' - see NOTE below. The only ‘grasshopper’ technology that I am aware of is Elna’s first sewing machine, a 1937 design that still astonishes with its beautiful detailing and making. The machine is green and has been given the friendly nickname ‘grasshopper’ by the quilters who love its compact portability. It is certainly not this technology that is being referenced by the confident young architects who appear to know nothing of doubt and self-criticism, let alone having any interest in another's circumstance or the past. Robert Graves called the doubting act, the experience, ‘the reader over my shoulder’ - that constant standing back and assessing what one is doing as one is doing it; looking, reviewing, revising, checking, feeling, . . . the repeated reaching out for context and place as a test for true meaning and relevance to make sure one was not working in a private void of misguided indulgence.^

To get any understanding of poetics in architecture, one needs to do what architecture has always done – to reach out into other fields of understanding and develop ideas and concepts by way of analogy and parallel, using the different language to transform things that are architecturally difficult to grasp, a challenge to articulate. Architecture seen as ‘frozen music’ is one classic example. The 60s, 70s, and 80s was a period when many diverse fields were involved in architecture – semiology; archaeology; art history; linguistics; anthropology; and more. Sigfried Gideon drew on Einstein’s work in physics, with his title Space, Time and Architecture, (Harvard, 1941), a seminal work even though Einstein mocked it as an irrelevance. It was a publication that stimulated Bruno Zevi’s Architecture as Space, (Da Capo Press, 1948; translated 1957), yet another publication that was to become a landmark in architectural understanding. It was not until the Team 10 Primer, (MIT Press, 1968), that matters began to diversify. Aldo van Eyck’s ‘place, not space’ was to offer different channels of thinking that embraced the new interests. Van Eyck used the Dogon village as his inspiration to broaden and enrich architectural perceptions with the idea of ‘twin phenomena.’ The era offered a rich field for thoughts, ideas, experiment, and discussion.

Aldo van Eyck

Dogon Village (see note below)

This aspect of architecture is a gaping gap in today’s world of ME and ME that shuns the challenges of thinking on theory, concepts, metaphors, and ideas in architecture. Even quality architectural criticism has now come to be seen as gross negativism, an unnecessary, bitchy waste of time, a threat, when open praise and adulation can be so positive and promotionally advantageous. Anything critical seems to stimulate a negative ‘quid pro quo’ response rather than a considered debate – a discussion in which folk are prepared to change ideas and opinions, not merely throw them up and defend them to the unresolved, unsatisfactory end.#

Team 10 - the Otterlo Meeting of 1959 (also CIAM '59)

While nonchalantly browsing some ‘op’ shop shelves just a couple of weeks ago, a small book of essays was picked up; it looked interesting. The author was a Tasmanian, Christopher Koch, unknown to me. The first essay read was on his experience in the 60s world in the USA. He was at the heart of the drug experimentation, but kept to one side, observing. The writing was informative and intelligent, and proved to be an enjoyable read. It had been some time since writing had been found to be so engaging: the reading continued. It became clear that Koch’s ideas on the poetics of the novel held some relevance for architecture too.

Aldo van Eyck's Otterlo Circles

Christopher Koch Crossing the Gap Fourth Estate 2013

      Christopher Koch

p. 55-56
Didn’t I see, he said, that drugs opened doors to unknown levels of vision, and that if I wrote my work while taking them, I would produce insights and revelations I could never otherwise have?
No, I said, there was no short cut to vision for a writer. The vision had to be already in us; and drugs wouldn’t discover anything that wasn’t already there: they would only turn into static. Nor could we give up the mind’s control, since no worthwhile art could be produced where the intellect was crippled, where a space had entered the mind. I was opposed to that space.

In spite of his lifestyle and the appearance of his work, Francis Bacon agreed with Koch, noting that drugs did not aid the artistic process - (in interview with David Sylvester). The point is clear: there is no mystic shortcut to good writing, painting, or architecture.

p. 150
The aims of the novels and short stories I’m talking about are also essentially poetic – in the essential, not the superficial sense of that term. Such works tend to do two things at once: they tell a story, and they work through extended metaphors – which are not decorations, but organic to the narrative itself, and which set up echoes, like multiple themes in a symphony. This is why their endings in particular are symphonic, and can move people so deeply . . . This attention to structure and metaphor, if one wants to be stringent about it, means that poetic fiction is not merely classifiable by cadence or by richness of writing, but by internal method.

Here one is reminded of Kandinsky’s ‘internal necessity,’ and Sullivan’s organic decoration and the idea of a building as an interrelated, integrated whole.

p. 151
Works of poetic fiction end by saying what cannot be said through direct statement, or even through reference. . . . It is the nature of the poetic novel, as well as of all real poetry, to attempt to express the impossible and never quite achieve it. Were it ever fully achieved, there would be no further need to write, as Faulkner himself recognised in an earlier part of the Paris Review statement:

In my opinion if I could write all my work again, I would do it better; which is the healthiest condition for the artist . . . that’s why he keeps on working, trying again – he believes each time he will bring it off.

and for the architect too:
One recalls the question put to Frank Lloyd Wright:
“Which is your best project?”
“My next one.”
Wright’s responses could always be seen to be bluntly, almost rudely arrogant, like the advice given to a client:
“Mr. Wright, the roof is leaking onto my antique dining room table!”
“Then shift the table.”
What appears to be an architect’s disrespect for the client’s problem with the ‘art,’ is really just good advice. What else might be the best first action to try to save the table? Likewise, the “My next one” response embodies the same thinking as Faulkner’s rather than any assumption of inherent, bespoke brilliance.
The traditional world has always understood that, if the mysteries of this world could be said, they would have been: as Faulkner said, that's why we keep trying again and again.

      Christopher Koch

p. 152
Time was the enemy, but also the source of the buried, unlivable life they yearned for, constantly bearing them backwards; but for Faulkner, as for Conrad, the need was also to freeze present time so that just for a moment, ‘for the space of a breath’, all was grasped, all was seen, the minute and the marvellous and the fearful made deathless and comprehensible forever. Faulkner’s novels live for these timeless moments of pause; that hiatus only possible in art, when the flux is arrested: the electric halt of the Spanish flamenco dancer; the heartrending stillness of the figures on ‘s Grecian urn.

One has to ponder the impact of time in architecture, not only the wonder of the moment, but also of the occasion, that movement of the feeling body through space and place, and the dance of the eyes over surfaces and light.
One thinks of le Corbusier’s statement:
Architecture is the masterly, correct, and magnificent play of masses brought together in light. Our eyes are made to see forms in light: light and shade reveal these forms.
One should perhaps add time to this quote.

p. 154
I’ve always been impressed by a story about the T’ang poet Po Chű-I, one of the greatest poets in any literature, who is loved in China as no other poet except Tu Fu and Li Po are loved. He used to read his poems to an old washer-woman; and if she didn’t understand them, he rewrote them until she did. This is the norm to which literature must constantly return.

- one could add architecture too.
Architecture needs to move away from its identity as smart, bespoke creativity – the making of something uniquely different for the astonishment and adulation of all.

      Christopher Koch (16 July 1932 – 23 September 2013) 

The concepts of the poetic novel in literature can apply to architecture and its ambitions only if one gives them space and time for reflection and inclusion. The sense of ‘internal method’ needs more thought too: might this apply to the work and to the artist/architect?

There is a pattern in everything, and that the ego-centred West adopted Hesse as a mentor in the sixties was a sure indicator of its spiritual situation. The exploration of the ego, seen then as the key to wisdom, does not seem to have brought the enlightenment or happiness it was supposed to do. Perhaps Hell is not other people,* but the unrelieved contemplation of the self.
* (Jean-Paul Sartre).


Grasshopper is a visual programming language and environment that runs within the Rhinoceros 3D computer-aided design (CAD) application. The program was created by David Rutten at Robert McNeel & Associates. Programs are created by dragging components onto a canvas. The outputs to these components are then connected to the inputs of subsequent components.

First published 1958

A 1958 Koch novel


The intention of this paper is to make a thematic explication of Aldo van Eyck's architectural thought through his treatises on the Dogon villages. The analysis consists of three chapters as follows: Chapter 2 illustrates his principal concerns with Dogon villages whose features are described as being "anthropomorphic" and "twin-ness". Chapter 3 illustrates his unique understanding about them with his concepts such as "identification", "twinphenomena", and "interiorization". In Chapter 4, through analyzing his diagram "the Otterlo Circles", it is explicated that he intends to meet "ourselves" through pursuing "archaic" essence of human beings which remains the same in all places and ages.

:consider twinphenomena; interiorization; archaic essence - sadly, all that seems to be of interest today is Grasshopper, and the unrelieved contemplation of the self.


The top illustration is from the sketch ‘Play Brubeck’ by Peter Smithson
It was published in Team 10 Primer with the following caption:
“Ideogram of net of human relations. P.D.S.
A constellation with different values of different parts in an immensely complicated web crossing and recrossing. Brubeck! a pattern can emerge”


This sign seen in Dubai sums up the circumstance:

Sunday 10 November 2019


A thought - looking through the book titled Louvre the collections, published by REUNION DES MUSEES NATIONAUX, Paris, 1991, one asks oneself the question: do we create a ‘special’ art/architecture-world of expectation and understanding by selecting historic items and holding them up as icons for secure display, to be put on exhibition in supervised, untouchable places for public perusal, amazement and ‘appreciation’? Does this allow, encourage, the perception that all and any art/architecture needs to be unique and exceptional, indeed, remote, separate, and bespoke, if it is to hold any value worthy of consideration: that things ‘everyday’ are of much lesser value; maybe of no value at all because of their very common availability and context? Is value really rooted in a marketplace mentality?

Is this why we seek big sums of money for ‘quality’ art, knowing that the museum exhibits are ‘priceless’? Might the logic be: therefore new work of ‘quality’ must be priceless too, or vary in the rates of extremes in accordance with fashion? Compare how a Francis Bacon was once getting 100,000 pounds when his best friend, Denis Wirth-Miller was getting only 1000 pounds for his paintings: therefore Bacon is better than Wirth-Miller. The market decides on value and quality because great works are at the very top, applauded as being literally beyond value, incomparable - see: Jon Lys Turner The Visitors’ Book In Francis Bacon’s Shadow: The Lives of Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller Constable 2017.

Is this a pattern that defines how even young artists consider their efforts, naively putting huge figures on their work of whatever peculiar or particular genius or otherwise, just to prove that it is ‘art’?

Is this museum display ethic why architects seek to exhibit their work with carefully selected, framed images, to match the quality of isolation in the displays seen in the great museums like the Louvre? - see:

Do we interpret all things of value only as something remote, unique, and different; something elsewhere and otherwise from ordinary living that sees the need to isolate anything considered valuable, just as museums do, leaving the everyday mocked as base ordinariness?

Do our art galleries attempt to recreate the museum context, thereby placing a similar 'untouchable' reading and understanding onto the items being displayed, whatever these might be, and whatever the quality might be? Does context create expectations developed by the museum – if it is on display, it is meaningful and expensive, whatever the object or act?

Is it in this manner that we have been trained to see art as something uniquely special, made only by people who are creatively different, uniquely quirky?

Is this why we tolerate the behaviour of our artists, expect them to be strangely variant; even outrageously different: the more so, the more creative? Again, compare Francis Bacon and his contemporaries - see: Jon Lys Turner The Visitors’ Book In Francis Bacon’s Shadow: The Lives of Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller Constable 2017 - where the world of artists is described; where (then illicit) homosexuality, heavy drinking, and gambling are the core daily activities after a morning’s painting, if the homosexual activities, the drinking, and the gambling have stopped within the 24-hour cycle to enable the restart .

Is living ‘on the edge’ the equivalent of, a necessary part of things interesting, edgy, avant-garde – read this to mean ‘rare, smart things of quality and value’ – in art/architecture?: compare Lucien Freud and his life and work - see -

How do we get art and architecture back into the ordinary everyday life and its basic expectations?
How do we ever regain the understanding that an artist is not a special kind of person; but that every person is a special kind of artist, as Ananda Coomaraswamy said of traditional art. It was a position also promoted by Eric Gill: see -

Have we lost the ability to ever do work like that we now hanker and drool over in museums?
How do we regain our skills and confidence; genuine confidence, not the con man promotional huff and puff declaring ‘How great I am’ that we hear more and more of today both from politicians and artists/authors/architects.

What do we have to do?

When did we start putting things into the storage of museums for special protection and adulation? On the first museum, see:
The word ‘curiosities’ is worth noting. Do we try to see all art and architecture as unique curiosities for our entertainment, perhaps enchantment, with museums merely indulging in things curious rather than seriously stimulating our curiosity?

We do need to try to regain, to understand, the traditional position that created most things in our museums that we now admire. We should expect quality art - good work (Schumacher - see; - in the everyday without outrageous pomp and glorious circumstance; work that can culturally enrich without being created for promenading, praise, and profit alone.

The traditional artist was anonymous; such artwork was never signed or attributed; there were no heroes in that era.

It seems that one possibility is that we need to rediscover the roots of meaning before we can express them.

We are keen to line up to see the ‘wonders’ that we believe we are no longer capable of; just look at the Louvre: but how many items are seen as they might have been when they were made? Ananda Coomaraswamy pointed out the way that we bring our perceptions and understandings to traditional art and see it ‘aesthetically.’ We need to learn from it by seeing it in its context, by understanding its origins.: see - Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art, Dover: Why exhibit works of art?

Why are we so prepared to accept this work and its ambitions as being beyond us, with our being happy with it to be behind glass just for our visual amazement?

Why are we incapable of creating work that leaves us unable to marvel enough, as Martin Lings said of traditional art? (For an introduction to Martin Lings and his writings, see:

We seem adroit at using the notions behind marvel – astonishment, silence, amazement, difference, etc. - as a fake guide, a checklist, to pretend quality: c.f. Gehry - as if amazement might necessarily mean or equate to quality.

Consider a Persian rug; Islamic calligraphy. We have been told to be neurotic about the Muslim world, but it has as much to teach us today as it has done in the past.

Maybe we need to close our museums, as they appear to have played a role in creating ‘the tourist,’ folk strolling around the world just to gawk at different things in their bucket lists - (see - ) – people who bring everything with them and take nothing away but their prejudices that continue on with them.

Here seeing is just a matter of ME and a selfie, a tick in a box; a termination that starts yet another quest, as though this was a search following a detailed map for a lost treasure that will never be revealed or known, because the act of tourism, of MY being there, is superior to any search or understanding; to any discovery.#

We need to do more about our ways of seeing if things are to change – yes, even architectural seeing: see -

24th November 2019

The phenomenon of the ‘tourist’ is summed up in this ABC ‘Life’ report -
'I did champagne toe shots during a hurricane': Why we feel invincible while travelling overseas.
It is all fun, games and ME! There is a total disregard for anything else. The real concern is that, to encourage visitors and their money, places are now designing experiences for this behaviour; and when these places are not there, the local character or ‘difference’ is interpreted in the same manner, as if it might be a fun park. Nothing is ever learned. The only ambition seems to be to better the previous challenge on social media. Museums see themselves in between – wanting to attract these masses while trying to be serious, with the first intention always diminishing the latter.