Sunday 30 January 2022


The format in architecture is typically ‘presentations,’ usually given by invited guests at schools of architecture. These are talks on the outputs of particular architects where the work is spoken about by those involved in the projects, or by the office representative. The architects always try to explain their various approaches, and give their strategies contexts by formulating some meaningful relevance, perhaps introducing something scholarly or intellectual, as if to just want to do something for no reason at all, maybe because it was ‘personally preferred,’ was never going to an acceptable strategy to reveal in public. Is this nothingness too shallow or too random a concept to be a beginning; too ad hoc to be acceptable?

The reference in this report has to be the most strange, the most exotic, maybe the most oddly simplistic, yet still believable, ever heard. Maybe it is the most contrived, as though it might be real, even though it seems to be implausible: but who is to say what really stimulated the vision? Life is indeed strange. One can, however, comment on how things appear: see -

The reference is to ‘the Brownie camera’ - Kodak’s classic Box Brownie# - as if it might actually have been the origin of the concept for this project as it is said to have been. One wonders how? On looking at the project as presented in the accompanying images, one struggles to see the similarity between the little black camera with its box punctuated by a variety of openings and various gadgets, and the house. Yes, ‘Box’ might be a good start, but ‘Box Brownie’? Is this stretching things too far? One looks at the Kodak Box Brownie and wonders how this could have been the stimulus for anything like the house we see. The camera is a wonderful design, and one can easily see how it could be a remarkable inspiration with its compact complexity structured by a determined, functional necessity that seems to support Sullivan's words: 'form follows function' in every detail.

One can easily suppose that Mies, maybe the Farnsworth house, might have been the beginning of this inspiration, but we are told otherwise; it is the Box Brownie. There is a clear reference to the idea of a central lens, a similarity that seems to struggle with reality and the ordinary perception of what a camera is and does. As for the other elevations, one can only hope that there might be something there that one can relate to as ‘camera,’ or 'Box Brownie,' but alas, no! It seems not to be. This project has its own intentions that appear to differ to those seen in the camera.

Mimicking the construction of the Brownie camera, the understated house features two solid wings that flank a lens-like central glazed element which offers views of a nearby valley.

"We wanted to create this transparent centrepiece that you look straight through, almost like a lens," Smith said in the video.

One doesn't look out of the lens of the Box Brownie. Why bother with the ‘Brownie-beginning’ story just for this symmetry in plan? One recalls Hannah Tribe, see:, who used the portrait as the beginning of her houses: life stories became the more elegant reference; but the analogies weakened when one looked at the work, as they do here. With the Tribe story, the idea even became jokey, when elevations looking like diagrammatic, 'child-drawn' faces were able to poke fun at the concept. One struggles to do likewise here, because the schism between the outcome and the reference appears too great; too distant; it looks to be too large a gap.

The Box Brownie has its own identity, its own proportions, its own compactness, its own relationships, and a quirkiness that are all difficult to see in this ‘box’ house. Why tell us that the design might have been generated by the Box Brownie? Is it just to get a good story to fill in the gaps between beginnings and end, for the gaps exist as questions. Are stories used to add some serious layer to something rather 'modernistic' and ordinary? One recalls Seidler's mother's house in this form: see -  Why do we struggle with simple things? Does everything have to be converted into a bespoke wonderland, the work of a genius? 

Rose Seidler house

We need to be better than this – something more straightforward; well, rigorous; perhaps honest. We do not have to try to show how our inspiration has been so different to that of others, unique, arising from the root source of MY genius. We need to be simply open and frank, and say that, perhaps, we love Meis’s works. Why not? Explaining outcomes can become just too special, indeed somewhat awkward, when things fairly ordinary by way of familiarity turn up, even if beautifully detailed. Why is it so difficult today to say that one copied an idea? Copy books used the be the basis of architectural practice in the past. Tradition has it that one’s inventions were perversions; that it was better to copy than try to be ‘different.’ Self expression was frowned upon. Today, we see things otherwise.

‘Box Brownie,’ one supposes, might mean circular windows; folding walls; skylights; coloured glass portholes; textured black walls; a cubic proportion; and more – but here one only sees something like a framed rendition of the Farnsworth house. Then there is the strap; and the interior: what might one make of these? One recalls the stark, matt black void of this little box; that mysterious, forbidden, inner darkness; infinite blackness, as one fiddled carefully with the Kodak-coloured roll of paper-shrouded film on the spools before getting the dots and numbers to align. Might these spools be circular stairs; a shower? An entry? Gosh, there is a circular stair on a corner here, but no reference is made to the camera.

The 'lens'?

Why do architects feel the need to create stories about beginnings; to fabricate yarns about origins; to establish ‘as if’ parallels as references? One senses something of a knowing that the project is perhaps not quite up to scratch as a 'bespoke' item, needing the creation of the origin story to beef up the credentials, perhaps after the event; maybe just for the article? If this project had indeed be stimulated by the little Box Brownie, then one might have seen a far more stunning building with exotic interiors – spools, paper, pinhole, camera obscura perhaps – it has happened before: see -  Kodak colours might have dominated too: black, yellow, and red; who knows? The references could have been much more subtle and elegant too, developing the technical detailing we see in the camera that reminds one of the rational naivety of the various parts of the classic Leica camera, and the Elna 'Grasshopper' sewing machine.


Elna 'Grasshopper'

But no, we see classic modernism with a slat-decorated, glass box. Is there something of an inferiority complex here that asks for more profundity in origins? What is going on. Is it all truly make-believe – as if it might be so? The worry with these origin stories is that architects reinforce their reputation for just babbling on in their own dream world, suggesting the situation where clients are merely paying for private indulgences that they have to endure.

One wonders: what might the owners of this house think when they discover that they live in a 'Box Brownie' house? Did anyone ever tell them? One recalls the Kmart house – see:  Are clients really just benign playthings with enough money to spend on others’ indulgences? One recalls the architect who gave his clients a reinforced concrete house just because he had always wanted to do one; and another who presented his clients with a house where every room had only three walls and opened out to a courtyard, because he liked camping. Here the client was very gracious: "You don't go to an architect if you don't want something different." Mmmm!

'Camera' buildings.

If the Box Brownie is to be a model, one might have hoped for more rigour in the analogy; perhaps more fun too: maybe that the reference might be used as Gehry used binoculars, giving the world a real 'Box Brownie' house made from the idea and its origins: this might be interesting. It is not as though all the clues are not in the original very ‘architectural’ design.

The odd thing in this report is that the parts of the project that do appear to relate to the Box Brownie are the remote bedroom and sewing room; yet this obvious reference does not get a mention; just the idea of “some transparent centrepiece that you look straight through, almost like a lens" is used for the reference. This seems a very poor analogy, as the Box Brownie lens projects light onto the rear solid surface, onto the film - the sensitised surface. It is not even a peep hole to look out from. One is left puzzled, befuddled by this story. There could have been so much more made of the rather nice idea - the Box Brownie house; one remains profoundly disappointed. However, the good outcome of this story is that it brings new eyes to the Box Brownie; and a new appreciation too.  

The camera building.


The 'Box Brownie house' concept could have played with ideas in the same way as this lens cup does.


The 'Box Brownie' idea generates a whole new set of visions with the Folding Brownie.


The patterning of the front of the camera could have been developed as an idea too.

The camera obscura is a most obvious reference.
It highlights the problem with the idea of looking straight through the lens.

The inversion offers yet another idea to develop.



The reference ‘Brownie’ is assumed to be the classic Brownie, the Box Brownie. There are other versions and camera styles that are also known as ‘Brownie.' These vary in form, and have a large central lens and a view finder on the top. One could see this version of 'Brownie' camera as being closer in form to the house, but the critique on the analogy remains.

The question is: why choose a camera as inspiration for a simple elevation when there is so much more going on with the source of the idea than symmetry.



Mies van der Rohe   Farnsworth House


Inigo Jones

Classical temples

Plan books

Japanese houses

Japanese gatehouses

Le Corbusier

Mies van der Rohe inspired houses

9 Feb 2022


ZHA tells us that it was inspired by the hulls of dhows:

In creating the shape of the stadium, ZHA was inspired by the hulls of dhows, the traditional boats of the region.

One wonders about this. Might this story merely be an attempt to make the design more ‘regionally’ meaningful; was it an idea developed after the design had been completed? The hull of the dhow is a smooth, curving surface; it is not clinker built like the Shetland boat: and, again unlike the Shetland boat, there seems to be no history of the dhow being used as a roof – see:

In creating the shape of the stadium, ZHA was inspired by the hulls of dhows, the traditional boats of the region.

The dhow hull.

Is ZHA referring to the interior?

The Shetland boat-roof.

Clinker built longship.

2 MAR 22

Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle house is more 'Box Brownie' than most.

 4 MAR 22

Design intents can easily be distracted by other issues: see -

29 MARCH 2022

House informed by surrounding boulders! - see: