Saturday, 23 November 2013

People power

When a senior manager at Ford was showing off an automated production line to Walter Reuther, leader of the United Automobile Workers union, in the early 1950s, he asked: "Walter, how will you get these machines to pay their union dues?" To which Reuther replied: "How will you get them to buy your cars?"

From article here.

Friday, 22 November 2013


Speaking in the months after her husband's assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy was so upset with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that she told a friend and interviewer that she could barely look at images of him.
"I just can't see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, that man's terrible," Mrs. Kennedy said, as part of an oral history series of interviews released this month.
The widowed first lady soured on King as a result of secret wiretaps arranged by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover had told President Kennedy that King tried to arrange a sex party while in town for the March on Washington, and told Robert Kennedy that King had made derogatory comments during the president's funeral, Mrs. Kennedy recalled.
But as for what was actually said by King and his circle, history remains uncertain. The original surveillance tapes involving King have never been released publicly, and are under seal by court order until 2027.
Rep. John Lewis, legendary civil rights leader and friend of King, told ABC News that he believes Hoover concocted damaging material about King to give to the Kennedys because "he wanted to destroy the man."

From the abcnews 2011 report here.

Monday, 18 November 2013

You wait all day for a sustainable superstore and then two of them turn up at once

A 'super green' 'eco store' designed by Chetwood Architects for Sainsbury's and built in Greenwich in 1999, with a design life of fifty years and expected actually to be able to last one hundred (Will we still be buying anything in 2113?), and nominated for the Stirling Prize is to be demolished to enable IKEA to build a larger store on the site, whilst Sainsbury's relocates to a new store three times as big.

IKEA says:

‘We are planning to demolish the Sainsbury’s store, as the current building is not fit for purpose to be turned into an IKEA store. We need a larger space, and therefore inevitably we need to demolish the existing building to provide this. However, we have made a commitment to reuse and recycle all of the salavagable materials from the existing Sainsbury’s store.

(How many bookshelves will it make?)

Sainsbury's says:

‘We are relocating our Greenwich store to a bigger site so that we can offer our customers the full Sainsbury’s range. Our new store, which has already successfully gained planning permission, will be fully fitted with modern sustainable technologies.’

(What would it be like, I wonder, to gain planning permission unsuccessfully?)

The architect (Paul Hinkin, now of Black Architecture) says:

‘It is an absolute outrage. A building with a useful and productive life is going to be demolished. It is an act of vandalism.'

"bombs and architects"

Rem Koolhaas's De Rotterdam

"This is our longest-running project. It began in 1997, but it only became possible to build it during the financial crisis – when the contractors were cheap enough to do it."

But is it anything more than an optical trick, a game of dancing facades best viewed from a distance? "That's all you need to see. The rest is just a cheap office building," he says, before leaving me to explore the interior for myself.

There is a sense of nostalgia in his voice as he drops me on the street corner, before driving off to his next appointment. "The weird thing is that this building might look cold or harsh, but we get grandmothers now writing to us saying they like it. Which has never happened before."

I much recommend Oliver Wainwright's article - all human life is there (well, some of it).

Friday, 15 November 2013

Fifty shades of white

the proposed new Apple 'campus' by Foster Associates. City of Cupertino
“There was a very surreal moment during the development of those glass fins,” recalls a former Foster employee. “There was a $30m mock-up made of a whole section of the facade, with five versions of the fin in different shades of white. The Apple guys were looking at them for ages, saying one's a bit too blue, the other's a bit more cream – but they all looked identical to the naked eye.”

Like Oliver Wainwright, it would seem, I have my reservations about both Apple and Lord Norman Foster, but, as for the whites, I have been there before them. Some years ago I did a job for a London architect, a little less stellar than the good lord, who was fitting out his own stairway and kitchen with shelving and cupboards. Unlike Apple, his intention was not to get the 'right' white (how can it be right when each is different from itself in different lights?), but to use the subtle differentiation of several different shades of white in the same job. The picture does not really do it justice. It is true of course that the one white will look different in different parts of the room, but a single range of, for example, cupboard fronts will all look the same, thus giving the justification for differentiating them with different shades to echo the effect of varying light.

Unencumbered upscale

"The pendulum [for residential development] has swung in favour of east London, Canary Wharf is becoming the truly 21st century part of London because it's unencumbered by the small period properties prevalent in the rest of the capital; developers can create larger, more international-style buildings."

Dominic Grace of estate agents Savils commenting on the news that a £1 billion residential skyscraper is to be built at Canary Wharf. Look for it in the 'Business' rather than the 'Culture' section of the Guardian.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Eats shoots - and leaves

Prone as I am to indulge myself in over-punctuation, I have never felt able to become a signed-up member of the tribe of Lynne Truss, perhaps feeling that if written language is to be purged of inexactitude it requires, not just the application of punctuation marks in a far stricter fashion than ever bothered 'correct' writers in the eighteenth century, but the wilful re-spelling of many common words to ensure that the same one cannot mean both 'departs' and those green things hanging on plants.

So whilst I agree 'Eats shoots and leaves' means something quite different from 'Eats, shoots and leaves', I do not think the latter totally unambiguous and the dash in my title attempts, not entirely securely, to establish 'leaves' as a verb and not as a noun in an after-thought.

But, to get to the point, yesterday saw the announcement in one day of two pieces of momentous economic news.

The first was that a new record for the sale price of a work of art at auction had been established when Christie's sold Francis Bacon's triptych of Lucien Freud for £83 million - it hardly matters what the exact figure was. That was a lesser price than the recent private sale of Cezanne's Card Players, but, hey, it's a big number and a record, so what does it matter.

It is a further tribute to the power of language to introduce unintended interpretations that I have never been able to believe entirely in the achievements of anyone called Bacon. Perhaps it is the unfortunate meaning of a type of pig meat that does it, but I think actually it is the fact that some people persist in telling us, against all sense, that a Bacon wrote all the plays of William Shakespeare.

Francis Bacon

Nor have I ever been able to rid myself of the idea that the numerous modern members of the  tribe of Freud (including that rather dubious banker who inhabits some ill-defined circle of the British government) have been called into existence solely to provide case studies of the ideas of their illustrious Viennese progenitor.

However that may, or, more likely, may not, be, (see how the commas breed like rabbits - someone should cull them before they infect serious writing) we have a new record and an 'art market expert' (the art market, like Formula One, seems to have a gravitational attraction for confident women) was on hand to tell us that the sale demonstrated that art had become 'recession proof', by which she presumably meant just that there were now sufficient people with sufficient personal fortunes chasing a sufficiently limited supply of assets.

The other piece of news came from the graver source of the Governor of the Bank of England, who told us that the UK economic recovery had now, officially, 'taken hold' and that one no longer needed to be a certified optimist to regard the metaphorical economic glass as 'half-full'.

Time was, not so long ago, when such announcements were made by elected politicians rather than out-sourced to a foreign head-hunted head of a quasi-independent agency. Time past - or passed, but still these metaphors have to be chosen with care before being offered ceremonially to the attending multitudes.

Not so long ago one politician was consigned to life-time ridicule for affecting to identify the 'green shoots' of economic recovery prematurely. As if he were a country parson writing to The Times in February claiming to have heard the First Cuckoo of Spring when all he had actually heard was a wood pigeon. 

Back then the multitude were true believers in the rite (and right) of recovery and it was a grave offence for the high priest to offer a false augury to the people. Now few care, and the fate of a pair of modern artists whose work the populace actually finds rebarbative (never mind the art, think of the money) flutters more brain cells.

It is not so much that Dawkins has made atheists of us all as that, whilst the rich, with their yachts and bacon, have become 'recession-proof', most other people have become 'recovery-proof' in the sure and certain knowledge that, even if more people are making money again (or perhaps just the same people are making more money), it's not going to include them.

A yacht made of bacon - designed by Zaha Hadid

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The sharpest tool in the box

There has been an interesting discussion recently on the furniture designer-makers' forum about tool sharpening systems. There are some quite cunning bench mounted grinding and honing machines available.

Bear with me: it gets more interesting.

As often happens, what started as a 'Which is the best one to buy?' enquiry opened out into a 'Do we really need this?' discussion.

Amongst interesting postings about the details of the performance of rival apparatus there was a distinct element, coming mostly from more senior members, of 'I just use a dry grinder and a honing belt - those machines are just for teachers who have to regrind 40 mangled plane irons before the lesson starts.' (Declaration - I write as one who still has, and uses, his Washita, black Arkanas and even Charnley Forest stones and never got to grips even with Japanese water stones.)

There is clearly a deep, emotional attraction to free-hand skill, the skill of risk. My wife recalls, decades ago, the university joiner at Aberdeen who never seemed to measure anything but whose shelves always seemed to fit perfectly. But then, one senior but rather maverick member of the forum asked why was it so unacceptable to use a jig for getting the right angle on plane irons and chisels when we used jigs for almost everything else in our work - in our making.

Why indeed? In making we have opted for the skill of control. which reaches its apotheosis in computer controlled machinery. Such machinery can even be programmed to simulate the variation of hand work, but that is little seen. perhaps because it lies at the extreme of such capabilities, perhaps because we do not want it. 

We have reached this state at the point in cultural and technological history that has seen the emergence of 'design' as something distinct from (though possibly, at least theoretically, fusible with) making, or craft, or art. Design, and the making that goes along with it (especially as practiced by furniture 'designer-makers') is no longer the free exercise of individual skill so much as a process of 'problem solving'. Making is no longer something that one just does, but something broken down into a series of steps along a path from A (intention) to B (object). 

That shift seems to me exactly to mirror the technological and perceptive shift in our society from analogue to digital. The 3D printer, digital fabrication, looms, or more than looms. The least frightening aspect of the news that a firm in Austin, Texas has manufactured a fully functioning gun in metal is that it is a gun. More of that in earlier and later posts.

Moreover, our espousal of the skill of control allows us to celebrate skill in making in either austerely minimalist work or in the kind of elaborately sophisticated work so often exemplified in fine furniture -'upscale' furniture as I believe the Americans call it, not afraid to make an allusion to social and economic metrics. Everything in between, which includes the kind of Morris-Gimson-Barnsley work in which furniture designer-makers, at least in this country, usually claim to find their spiritual roots, is left looking faintly ridiculous - or dead - by the skill of control. And what Morris or Ruskin would have thought of it in relation to the life of the maker hardly bears thinking about.

The rule of law in the UK

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Cluster think in the USA

Janet Yellen on employment.

And a jest that currently circulates on the web:

Our Fed
Who art in Washington
Yellen be thy name
Thy printing come
Thy will be done by Ben as it is with Janet
Give us this day our daily 3 billion
And increase us our debts
As we bail out our debtors
And lead us not into inflation
But deliver us from down marke
For thine is the printing, the bubble and the euphoria
Forever till taper

Monday, 4 November 2013

Architecture in the City

gleaming spires ...

... or looming towers?
It depends upon your point of view.