If I was crossing Westminster Bridge, how would I go ? (How would I go ?)
By taxi or car or bus or boat, or bike, or foot or horse, of course.
This is a knot in the oak floor of our studio at Bankside which we call The CABIN. It represents in a single image the four major forces influencing the product and the process of our work: Nature, Mankind, Time and the Machine.
On entering Bankside in the ancient borough of Southwark, if we bypass Bear Lane – which would have lead to one of the ‘Beere Bating’ arenas in the days when there were wild bears in the forests around London – and look straight past the Cabin up Great Suffolk Street, we see a view; a view given to me and my wife Bella for 10×10 this year.
It is a view with a magnetic attraction – to eyes and mind, feet and fingers – which in a strange way flattens space.
It is always good to stop still, stand and listen to a view as it goes by; the experience of the street gets better and better that way. But it is also good to trace over a view, take it apart like a jigsaw puzzle and put it back together; simplified, flattened, coloured and pressed into relief.
To watch this view, looking towards Tate Modern and the Thames beyond, changing – with its grand dancing pyramid fully formed now, standing naked, soon to be clothed in a cloak of crusty brick – is like seeing time slowed down; watching the city change before our very eyes. And to move into the Cabin is to be part of this process.
The picture will be sold at the 10×10 Auction tomorrow – raising money for far away places in dire need of shelter and support, thanks to Article 25. Thanks to Bella for the colour. Thanks to Bankside for the place.
Looking across Doha Bay at the glistening towers opposite, there is one which stands out; the Burj Doha, by Jean Nouvel. From a distance, its surface is smooth but with a lustre which draws the eye. As one approaches, the building’s skin reveals itself to be made up of three layers; a single geometric pattern cut from silver metal plate, each layer of a different scale to the others. Behind the skin is a cavity; space for the window cleaners to do their work in safety. It creates a veil of protection from the harsh Sun and filters the light within into a pattern of continually moving dappled shapes. This building is a beautiful object, sitting amongst the other isolated towers of West Bay, however – having enjoyed the way it nestles into a soft green pocket set into the ground – the profound thrill is in understanding its skeleton.
On going inside, on being lifted – weightless – within the elevator shaft in behind the ‘diagrid’ structure, and on coming out onto an office floor, the benign immensity of the angled concrete columns is striking. They are irresistible to touch; smooth like an eggshell. From far away and close up, from outside and in, to explore this building is an experience of graded scales. To be inside the building is strangely like being inside a giant, not diminished but expanded. It enables us to understand what is behind the skin.
This is an extract from
Touching the City: Thoughts on Urban Scale,
published by John Wiley
70 pieces of brick clay, cooked in ovens, worn by Sand and Sea. Gathered on the beach in ancient Argentario, by father and son.Loaded onto Instagram by daughter and father just a day or two ago. Subtle selections for which ones are nice: nice to touch, nice to Look at – or to See – what is best about each individual piece. And then to discard the ones which don’t make the grade.
These are the makings of floors, walls and roofs; pots, jars and vessels of every description. They have travelled by sea to our beach. The sandwich of clay and concrete is nice, so are the biscuits with a glazed white crust, ready for eating.
I am pushing against the wind to enter the Park. I leap the fence and suddenly everything is alive; the leaves and grasses bend under the force of the wind and shimmer in restless animation.
I have lapsed lately in Thinking Quietly, so let this be my revival.
I am 49 today, 7×7, 14th June 2014. Having been obsessed with the number 7 since the moment I could count, it is a good number to be. Full of imminence.
Why do I like 7 ? Is it the seven days of Creation, or the days of the week, the number of levels in Heaven and Earth according to Islam or the number of celestial objects in the solar system visible to the naked eye from Earth ? I don’t know, I think it’s just a satisfying number; neither a beginning nor an end. Seven is on its way somewhere; part of something bigger than itself.
At the far end of the MIA Park, buffeted by the wind is ‘7’, Richard Serra’s tower of seven steel plates located at the tip of Doha’s baby Corniche; this is somewhere I have not been since the sculpture was installed.
Seen from afar ‘7’ never seems big enough; viewed across the Bay, dwarfed by the great museum, because it is so far away, it seems less significant than it really is. It is prevented from interaction by mere distance. The Bay is like Doha’s ‘lens’; magnifying the grand structures which surround it and bringing them closer, but not in the case of ‘7’. Up close it is very large; but is it large enough ?
I arrive at the ‘baby Corniche’, like the child’s arm held in embrace, arm in arm with the mother, and look across the roughened water, planished by the incessant wind, making a surface like beaten metal. The slightly leaning form of ‘7’ becomes a flattened shape with the towers of West Bay beyond, distinguished now by its darkness of tone rather than by height; two layers simply glued together.
I want to reach over the water and touch ‘7’, or fly across the baby-bay like a sea-bird, but instead I will walk round the encircling curve, leaning into the wind.
On my way, I am drawn to climb the green hills, cushiony under foot, velvety to touch; a false horizon, truncating forms; and an irresistible vantage point for the quiet few who are out there with me.
The Sun is going down behind the Grand Mosque. The tipping light, from day to night, softens everything; makes it quieter even, inspite of the raging wind.
I look behind me and there to my surprise is the full Moon rising. Sun falls, Moon brightens, Earth spins.
Turning back to ‘7’, and looking beyond it to the city, there is the National Archive, its mottled surface beginning to glow in the dusk light, there is the Islamic Museum beginning to show its age – silicon joints failing – and our own new office (a new home for the next year). It is a time of beginning; the next in a cycle of sevens.
On arriving at ‘7’, this tower of rusted steel seems rather self-contained. I cannot hear it speaking, or singing in the wind. The little man guarding it is comfortable though; sheltered between two of its plates. He brings it to life. Maybe he is there to show its scale.
The patina and thickness of the steel is indeed magnificent. Its warmth to touch is pleasing. Looking up, the way the plates lean against each other is good, although I wonder about its junction with the ground. I move on.
‘7’ ignores the directional forces of the place, something which the trees, shaped by the prevailing Northwest wind, do not. On my way back, a man leans windwards to continue sweeping, until his day’s work ends and he, like me, can go home.
Two layers flattened.
Drive a few miles East of Vellore, towards Chennai – the burial place of Doubting Thomas – and you will find a green place, on the South side of the road, spreading out like a garden, leading to the foot of a high hill. It is the site of a new hospital. As you begin to explore, looking down at the rich ground, wherever you look is Touch Me Not, a comb-like plant, Mimosa Pudica, which I have never seen in England. Why is it called that ? Because if you touch it, it recoils instantaneously, with a ‘seismonastic’ movement; tightening its flat spread surface into a fine blade.
You can tell this is a good site for the hospital because Touch Me Not only thrives where there is a good water supply. The hospital will have to be self sufficient for water, at the outset at least, so this is a good site.
Look up now past the lines of palms, heavy with coconuts, and there is Golden Eye Hill, looking down on you, fresh and wild, its fauna and flora co-existing in comfortable balance, untouched by Man.
It is easy to imagine the hospital in the future, opening up towards the Hill. When it is built the landscape will be changed beyond recognition but the hill remains the same. The hospital and the hill will be in continual dialogue; speaking and listening to each other. The wards, consulting rooms and surgeries, OPC, ICU, Emergency, Cardiology, Neurology, Gastrology, Renal, Admin, Labs and Prosthetics, waiting areas, store rooms and laundries – the hurly burly of their grueling daily lives – will all look towards the hill, stable and still, calm custodian of peace, and signal of health.
At the centre of the hospital sits the Chapel. The chapel is central to the hospital just as the healing works of Jesus are central to their work. The Chapel looks out across water, towards Golden Eye Hill. Between the Chapel and the Hill is a garden, a plateau of green pastures and a path leading upwards.
It is just before dawn and I wake. I will walk to the top to see the Sunrise, to clear my head and gain a perspective. I imagine a mother worrying about her sick child in one of the wards, eyes filled with tears; she is walking that way too; walking out from the hospital to the hill, across the Plateau. She sees someone in the garden and thinks it is one of the gardeners at work; ‘Noli Me Tangere’, Touch Me Not.
Normally the layers of cities build up over time. The city gets thicker and thicker and the ground level rises. We are used to walking on a cushion of time (the fourth dimension), six or twelve inches (or feet) above where our forbears walked.
But have you seen the House on the Hill in Zone 18 ?
What was once a high point has been eaten away to be part of the general flatness; except for the House on the Hill, which is still where it always was.
It is now a rare piece of treasure; a flash of ancient gold in an urban patchwork, calling out to be passed from one generation to the next. Could it ever be saved from the jaws of the bulldozer; by will or by law ? Would it be worth it ?
Indeed this is the spice which makes the stew delicious. It might cost four times as much to renew as to destroy and redevelop but the ‘flavour’ it would give to the entire neighborhood would be of untold value.
In its own right it is a building of unusual charm (an archetype of its kind) but it is not just its charm which matters. It is rather the fact that this is one of the increasingly rare original buildings to be built in the area. Before this very house was built there was sand. It is a direct link to an ancient past, even within a single life-time; a time whence the traditions of human habitation had not changed for centuries, perhaps millennia.
And, according to the writing sprayed on the wall, if you want to live there you can. Just ring 77390030.
There was once a cook who was known for making stodgy stews. They were filling – more than enough to stave off hunger – but they lacked flavor. His restaurant was never full. One day a passing merchant knocked on the door and offered the cook a very small bottle of spice, for the modest price of a thousand riyals. ‘A thousand riyals for that little bottle ? That is ridiculous’ said the cook; ‘I am not interested’.
‘But this is the best spice in the land’ said the merchant, ‘A small fingerful in one of your stews will transform it into a delicious meal. This bottle will last you for a year. There will be queues around the block and you will be able to double your prices. Let me show you…’
So the merchant went to the kitchen and sprinkled a few grains of the spice into the stew, which was bubbling lugubriously on the stove. As the merchant stirred the stew a mouth-watering fragrance wafted up amongst the steam. The cook took a sip and smiled.
He bought the spice bottle for a thousand riyals and from that day on his restaurant became famous. He still made stews with the same simple ingredients he was used to using but there was now something about them which made his customers sigh with delight, and tell all their friends.
It was the spice.
There was once a street lined with very ordinary buildings. Half way along the street was a small run-down old house – one of the original houses to be built when the city was beginning to grow. I am glad to say that an enlightened developer saved that building. It cost him four times as much to refurbish as it would have done if he had knocked it down and built something completely new but as he said, ‘it was worth every penny; people pay more to live on that street now because it’s different from the rest’.
That is the spice.
This is one of the last remaining ‘first generation’ houses in Old Salata – it is an original – and as such it has Value.
It is the ‘spice’ which makes the meal flavoursome.
It is the spice which we remember.
The Joy of Tracing
The act of tracing is an ideal state sometimes. The image is softened by a veil of tracing paper. The mind can disconnect as the hand connects. Something like electric currents can be felt at the tip of the pencil, guiding the hand.
Subject and Object are perfectly in balance as the hand responds to the image below. It interprets; neither dumbly copying nor being obliged to create something entirely new, in the emptiness of a blank piece of paper.
In this case the artist is a filter; not a creator. The hand can relax, entering into a state of pure intuitive action. Time is slowed down. The triangle between the hand, the eye and the brain runs smoothly, without interference. If I was a writer I would call it ‘Autonomism’.
It is always good to go to a high place; one gets a perspective on things, looking down. Things at a distance seem to move in slow motion. The sounds of the city become murmurs in a prevailing silence. I see a person on a street, or in a window, far far away. I notice them as I never would from the ground. My mind’s eye becomes a telescope and I zoom in; it is a fusion of the seen and the imagined. It is a frozen moment ; Time is slowed down.
All Change at Dalston Junction
Dalston Junction isn’t what it used to be. The very name used to have a thud about it but now, on September 20th 2013, it seems bright and sleak.
I am on a mission; to look down on this year’s 10×10 grid from Barratt’s Dalston Square. They are sponsoring the event for Article 25 and doing this drawing binds their regeneration work around town into the personal views of myself and 99 others across the grid; coming together to make a ‘collective snapshot’ of the city; a moment in time.
It is a good view from the tallest tower. The deep cut of the railway leads the eye South, just beginning to veer East as the City rises. Trains move like toys and the bridge seems to hover over the cutting. It is a brown grey patchwork but one red light and one yellow for sale sign shine out. Green tree cushions billow like clouds amongst the blocks of De Beauvoir Town; rising like froth towards the wooded horizon far away.
I watch a mother with a buggy crossing the road in slow motion. I see the London Eye but cannot see it moving. It is easier to see my pencil’s shadow move as the Earth spins, if I hold it still.