…and then everything changes

You know that melancholy sense we sometimes get when recalling memories of growing up, playing games with your sister in the house you grew up in, visiting your grandma for your tuesday pie, those long days playing on the beach.   These memories have a ripe sweetness as we fondly reflect on times we can never get back.   The graph below is reproduced via The Standard and Auckland Transport Blog.  It illustrates an apparent growing gap between global fuel supply and demand.  This is not to suggest that fuel supplies are running out, but economics tell us that once demand outstrips supply the price will start spiraling steadily upwards.  All data such as this is a forecast so the timing it is arguable, but unless we develop some amazing new technology the mechanism are inevitable.  Just as we inevitably grow old and loose our time and abilities to play, Mankind is aging and the youthful supply of cheap energy is coming to an end, and with this everything changes.  Our food supplies are based on cheap oil, our globalized transport systems are based on cheap oil, the design of our cities are based on cheap oil, even the power supply for the internet is based on cheap oil.  All this must change.   And the data in the graph below is from the USA Department of Energy.  This is serious, and its not happening in twenty years, but in two or three years.

The Water Bullies, the Great Local Government Swindle, the Erosion of Democracy and those fucking cows.

There is something terrible afoot in New Zealand at the moment and it is being played out in a few different ways all over the country.

Aucklanders’ are being swindled with changes to their local government, leaving them with say over only about 35% of what their new Supercity council does. Control of utilities is being given to a non-elected body run by a CEO who will answer to the Minister of Local Government. This means Aucklanders will be at the mercy of interests of the rest of the country, with national parliamentary elections their only opportunity to exercise their democratic rights and have a say about how water and roading are run in their city. Considering that it is current Local Government Minister Rodney Hide who has overseen the erosion of Aucklanders’ democratic rights I don’t think Aucklanders should be too happy with this corner that their democracy has turned.

And then there is the situation in Canterbury. All elected members of the regional council Environment Canterbury (ECAN) were recently sacked and replaced with a board of commissioners. This was in response to a government ordered review of the council’s performance and concerns about its management of water in the region.

From www.teara.govt.nz

Canterbury has over 70% of New Zealand’s fresh water supply, mostly stored in a huge network of aquifers under the plains. Since 2002 there has been a huge increase in dairying in this geographically dry region, an industry that requires lush green pastures to sustain it. I grew up in here and each time I return to visit I notice more and more of the land is covered in huge green circles, the product of massive irrigation systems. What is so scary about this is that no one knows how much water there is in those aquifers. Scientists haven’t been able to accurately estimate the volume and regeneration rate of water and there are no real measures in place to track or control how much water is being taken out of them by agriculture and industry. I will also go out on a limb and say that dairying is now New Zealand’s number one polluter. Farmers fertilise soil with nitrogen to make lots of grass grow for their cows. And then the cows shit and piss a whole lot of nitrogen back into the soil and into water systems in the area. Nitrogen leaching in soil is a problem to which there is currently no solution and it takes decades for its river and lake choking effects to become apparent. Increasing nutrients in water systems and soil cause things like algal blooms which have severe effects on the ecosystem and kill other species. Dairying is draining and polluting the Canterbury aquifers, NZ most valuable water resource, and our minister of the Environment Nick Smith is busy helping dairy farmers to get irrigation consents by sacking the very organisation set up to manage water use.

According to their website “Environment Canterbury is the regional council working with the people of Canterbury to manage the region’s air, water and land. We are committed to the sustainable management of our environment while promoting the region’s economic, social and cultural well-being.” So get this, the Creech report into ECan’s performance says that “ECan put too much emphasis on the environment”. I’m a tad confused, isn’t that what it is suppose to be doing?

There are some serious conflicts of interest in all of this too. Wyatt Creech the is a director of Open Country Cheese, which has convictions for dirty dairying. Creech’s firm has been twice prosecuted for contaminating Waikato farmland and rivers. And Nick Smith’s brother Tim Smith has just pleaded guilty to 21 charges brought by ECan because of unconsented discharges in the region. Last June Tim had this to say about ECan “I told them their organisation was bloody hopeless and they were all useless bastards who should be sacked,” he said. “I also told them that with some luck my brother and Rodney Hide would do something about it”

It turns out that they did do something about it.

After sacking the council Environment Minister Nick Smith has cancelled the upcoming ECan elections and Cantabrian’s won’t be able to vote in a new council until 2013. This is a blatant removal of democracy and in my view suspicious and totally unnecessary. If the real issue was that this council weren’t up to scratch then surely an election later this year would have been the perfect opportunity for improvement.

What is Rodney Hide up to removing our democratic rights? Something stinks and I think it is the National Government. Here is some more interesting reading on the issue: No Right Turn.

And I have ranted this much without even talking about their intention to mine in the Coromandel, one of New Zealand’s most valuable conservation areas. And how convenient that they don’t have to pay anyone to mine on conservation land! They also want to privatise the management of our prisons and introduce a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy in an attempt to reduce crime. It doesn’t work in the US so why would it work here?

A friend of mine put it well recently: “National releases new fuck everyone policy”


In My Language

In Lyall Bay this afternoon, over cups of tea and dominoes, a bunch of  got talking about art and communication. Which lead to discussion about language and how much is communicated by the way things are said rather than what is said. I think we were talking about acting exercises where you repeat the same phrase with the stress on different parts of the phrase, thereby changing it’s entire meaning each time. Anyway… autism came up. And we remembered this video made by an autistic woman to try and explain her experience of the world.

When I watch it I can’t help but think that her direct communion with the physicality of life is something I look for when making theatre. Only it takes hours and hours of exercises and experimentation in order to “let go” enough to be able to do what she can so naturally. And then put that communication into a context that will make sense to an audience. There is something to effortlessly truthful about responding physically to your surroundings without the filter of language to change and reframe experience. I love the way dance can do that.

To Butterfly Brains

The rediscovered poem and accompanying images from David Greene, 2004.

To butterfly brains

Keep your brain like an
Exposed nerve he said
To dreamers and slackers
To workers for the beauty
Of ideas
To prisoners in the
Revolving door between
The room called doubt and
The one named belief
To the slaves who work for
The small triumphs of
You can roll a piece of
Steel any length
To those who prefer the
Parking lot to hypersurface
To those who think a
Traffic jam is a temporary

To the cybernetic park
To those who love the
Crystal before the palace
To those who see the park
As a paradise for learners
Dreaming in the city
Stuffed with objects and
We can dedicate
This park to the birds and
The laptop
To the invisible
Data networks of the modern sky as we smell
The roses
To the imagination of the
Flowers and to the
New blue-tooth cell-phone
Event life into the

David Greene, 2004

Archigram Archive Project might enliven Architectural speculation.

A few years ago now a small bunch of wellington architecture students and recent grads flew up to Auckland, excited by the prospect of a Conference about a radical Architecture Student Congress that happened in the 70s in Auckland.  There are a number of stories that have unraveled from this event, but a particularly memorable presentation that day was from Kate Heron (or was it Sam Hardingham, i can never remember, shamefully) from the University of Westminster, who had been working alongside David Greene -a poet and member of the Archigram group- anyhow, she presented on a particular project called the Invisible University -which we were invited to contribute ideas to (the presentation included a recital of a poem from Greene, which was particularly great, and should probably be posted here…I have it somewhere).

A lasting impression was the excitement that a revitalised and active member of an incredibly famous group (in the architecture community) was to some extent continuing its work some 30 years later, in a reasonably radical way.

Westminster University has just published the Archigram Archival Project online. It is an amazingly comprehensive digital archive of the entire Archigram oeuvre, containing hundreds of projects and thousands of staggering images produced by the group in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

“Almost 10,000 items are included in this archive, including digital versions of drawings, collages, paintings, photographs, magazines, articles, slides and multi-media material, accompanied by original texts by Archigram wherever these are available. Around half of these items belong to the 202 projects currently listed and given project numbers by Dennis Crompton in the Archigram Archives. The rest are supporting and contextual material such as letters, photos, texts and additional projects provided by the depositors.”

What I find interesting given this new availability is the possibility for a renewed enthusiasm and experimentation in architectural representation, especially from the student body, which in large, produces increasingly frigid architectural representations –a tangential discussion to be had relates to the uptake of digital representation in architectural practice, which in my mind is still largely in a state of clumsy infancy in most conventional architecture schools and practices: the uptake seems too excited by production rather then quality-.

What I find interesting is the conceptual and intellectual rigour and consistency applied throughout the body of work, which radically attempted to imagine future conditions for modernity, the city, the suburb (and so on, the breadth is phenomenal), and to a huge extent has been proven as fairly accurate.  Commodity-fetishism, virtual nomads, techno-environmentalism and invisible network cities are just a handful of ideas flooding through the work, which remember, was created when only snippets of these conditions were evident -the mobile phone was really only taken up in the 70s.  In some ways the work might be framed as evolutionary, exploring and fantasizing about the things they saw around them, and developing those aspects they thought would persist.
A few favourites:

Sin Centre

“Entertainments Palace’ on the site of the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square, London. Originally ‘failed’ as student final thesis project at the Regent Street Polytechnic

The Polytechnic failed the scheme and continued to do so several times even after its prominent display at MOMA and published status as an epoch-making and original technic icon.”

This makes me think of the stories heard (in nz…a few years back) of students being failed in final years of study, only to retort that the university wasn’t able to argue its case based on the assessment criteria, and eventually were forced to pass the student under legal presuure.  I wonder what it would take to fail these days, sure you could do it by being crap -maybe, but it would be interesting to see which directions you could take architecture that might be considered un-architectural enough to be denied by the university.  I know I tried… and there’s plenty to be analysed there, but I havn’t been bothered yet.

Plug In University Node

“The University Node was an exercise to discover what happened to the various notions of gradual infill, replacement and regeneration of parts on to a Plug-in City megastructure: but with a specific kind of activity.”

Instant City

“Instant City forms part of a series of investigations into mobile facilities which are in conjunction with fixed establishments requiring expanded services over a limited period in order to satisfy an extreme but temporary problem.”

Sorry about the clumsy formatting, but i like how hungry the images get all over the website.

Love it.

Room at the Table? Women and Architecture.

I recently made a list of ten architects that I admire, and well I guess I shouldn’t be, I was somewhat surprised when I realized that they were all male. (and almost entirely white, but I’ll leave that for another day).  I mentioned this to a colleague recently and he wisely pointed out that it wasn’t that long ago that women didn’t really go to architecture schools, and we now live in more enlightened times, but that it takes a long to time ‘to-get-to-the-top-if-you-want-a-sausage-roll’ in Architecture.  Meaning its takes a good 30 or more years of practice in architecture to achieve the positions of authority that lead to big commissions and important publications.   I remember making a comment along similar lines a few years ago to a female friend that surely the role of men in feminism these days is just really make sure we aren’t getting in they way, rather than actively campaigning for things.  She didn’t take to kindly to this, and wrote me a poem in protest!  I’ve never quite worked out what she thought I am supposed to do.

I just read a great article by Architect Denise Scott Brown who discusses what is like to be married to a Architect while they work and live together, and how her husband receives almost all of the recognition.  Denise Scott Brown and her husband Mrs. Robert Venturi wrote what is one of the seminal books of the late twentieth century in architecture, Learning from Las Vegas.

“When Bob and I married, in 1967, I was an associate professor. I had taught at the Universities of Pennsylvania and Berkeley, and had initiated the first program in the new school of architecture at UCLA. I had tenure. My publication record was respectable; my students, enthusiastic. My colleagues, mostly older than I, accorded me the same respect they showed each other, and I had walked the same corridors of power they had (or thought I had).

The first indication of my new status came when an architect whose work I had reviewed said, “We at the office think it was Bob writing, using you name.” By the time we wrote Learning from Las Vegas, our growing experience with incorrect attributions prompted Bob to include a note at the beginning of the book asking that the work and ideas not be attributed to him alone and describing the nature of our collaboration and the roles played by individuals in our firm. His request was almost totally ignored. A body of theory and design in architecture apparently must be associated by architecture critics with an individual; the more emotional their criticism, the stronger is its focus on one person.

A few years ago at a conference we organized a very interesting conversation emerged about how we select the 20 or so international speakers we were inviting.  (Incidentally I think we actually invited Scott-Brown) We didn’t really have a system apart from interestingness until about 2/3s of the way through we noticed that almost all the men were speakers.  I raised this issue at a meeting, with my thoughts been that we should focus on speakers that would balance out the conference from then on.  Interestingly a few of the females at the table rejected this notion as been inversely sexist because we were then selecting women based on gender rather than skill or interest.   I’ve never quite got my head around how to deal with that problem either.

In principle my personal position is that the discriminations against women (not to mention racial) are very deep rooted in our cultures and also in the past.  Correcting behaviours from our past that we now see as abhorrent is not a simple or easy process.  Changing a law or even a perception does not necessarily signal a shift in behavioral change.  So  I think at a points we do need to make active effort to live in the world we want to,  and not think that the current one will automatically correct itself.  I’m not sure what the best mechanisms for this are, but I suspect positive discrimination is one of them.

On a further note, I was at a meeting last night and we ended up talking about pregnancy at design firms. It turns out there were no senior women Landscape Architects with children in Melbourne that anyone could think of, and in none of the architecture firms at the table were there any senior positions held by women with children.  I find it deeply disturbing that ones gender and the very natural decision to bear children to mean such a fundamental sacrifice in ones financial and professional position.


The legendary illustrator Toby Morris, who is currently resident in Amsterdam, is releasing a new book of drawings. In his own words

“So I’ve been a little tied up getting everything ready for the book of the last year’s Amsterdam diary work – well, I’m glad to say it’s all done and sitting at the printers right now.

I’m doing an exhibition of all the drawings at my work (Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam) which opens next friday – the 5pm BBQ is for w+k staff, but if anyone else wants to come along just let me know, and roll up about 8ish. And we’ll move the party down the road to Soundgarden later on.

There will be a limited number of books available at the party, and after that I’ll have a website set up where everyone can place orders for the larger second run. And I’m organising stockists now too. Exciting times!”