Saturday, 9 September 2006

Tropical architecture in Darwin

I'm posting these pics here partly because they help to understand the context of the 'shearing shed' that Den posted below. These are photos of one of Darwin's few remaining original, pre-air-conditioning tropical houses, restored after Cyclone Tracy. I took them about ten years ago. As you'll see, many of the features are replicated in Murcutt's own tropical house.

They do represent a quite significant achievement: the culmination of British colonial knowledge of how to build in a soakingly hot and humid, termite-ridden, climate. And there is something special about such a simple yet intelligently-designed building in such an extreme setting.

I'll quote from the photo of the signboard (above):
Designing for the tropics
Stretching west down Myilly Point [in east-central Darwin] is a group of four tropical houses designed in 1937 by B.C.G. Burnett, principal Government Architect for the Northern Territory. His previous experience in China and Malaya enabled him to understand the local climate. He designed elevated houses with steep-pitched roofs and open eaves to catch the refreshing sea breezes. Further innovations included replacing the external walls with asbestos-cement [ie., fibrolite] louvres that could be adjusted according to the weather conditions. The living areas and bedrooms were separated by three-quarter height partitions to allow for cross-ventilation. Burnett's practical and aesthetic designs established a regional architectural style that continues to influence contemporary housing designs.
Burnett's tropical designs are very well known in tropical architecture circles, and were widely emulated, as Murcutt would know and just as he would expect the readers of his own architecure to know. So, I would imagine -- and here I'm speculating-- that Murcutt was intentionally "reinterpreting the colonial response" to the Australian climate in a new "multicultural context." Or something like that. And he would expect his "readers" to be able to "interpret" what he'd "reinterpreted."All very "postmodern" in that respect, then.

But I'm posting the photographs for another reason too: simply because this was a bloody nice house to be in, even at the hottest part of the day. "Colonialist," "imperialist" or whatever you want to call him, Mr Burnett had done a very nice job of very intelligently and very simply designing a house for a bloody uncomfortable place in which to live. On this evidence I'd just call him a very fine craftsman, and a pretty intelligent architect.


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What architecture is all about

Now we're at the halfway point of our architectural debate here at 'Not PC,' here's a brief meditation on what architecture is all about. In five words or less: giving meaning to our lives. To quote the late Claude Megson, "If it doesn't have meaning, then you're just wanking."

For a few more words on the subject, read on...

*** WHEN HILLARY AND TENZING reached the top of Everest for the first time, the story goes that Tenzing fell to his knees and gave thanks to the spirits that had helped their journey; he prayed to each of the four winds, and he carefully placed in the ground a small stake on which prayer ribbons were attached. While he was doing this, Hillary stuck a flag in the ground, unzipped his fly and took a piss.

We each mark our territory in very different ways. But we do each mark our territory.

We make buildings to keep the rain off, and in doing so we raise a crown over our head and mark out from the world our own space below; we mark out for ourselves a place in the world by building a campfire that we keep burning and around which we make comfortable for ourselves, or by raising high our own totem that seems to say “here I am!”; we recognise the important rituals we’ve built into our own lives by making these rituals concrete, literally making them concrete, and by doing so we are saying, “This is important.” We erect buildings to perform some useful function, and in the act of erecting them they unavoidably perform another crucial useful or symbolic function for us: they embody our values. They tell us we exist.

Buildings are a concrete expression of values – the values of the people who designed, erected and occupy them.

Like every art, architecture is a shortcut to our philosophy. In building architecture we erect an armature that will support ourselves and our important values, and offer us as well a place from which to look out on the world around us. Amongst the myriad of ways this can be done , we choose the one that does it for us. It is a shortcut to our philosophy – which is why our choices are often so personal to us. The way it does that is as an extension of ourselves.

“Architecture,” as Aldo van Eyck once said, “is about making a ‘home for man’.” The space we build is space for human life, for us to inhabit, and from which we can emerge to 'do battle.' It is a place that expresses what a home for man looks like, smells like and sprawls like; it is here that we beging to find the meaning in architecture: the meaning resides in how it makes its home for man.

In the act of making and placing our buildings in the world, we make decisions about what’s important in the world. What values need to be 'built in' and made concrete. What should we include from around us? What should we keep out? Early morning sun is good; later afternoon sun isn’t. Gentle breezes are good inside the house; heavy rain is not; views of the lake and the trees and the beautiful hills about us are wonderful – views of the local slaughterhouse are not.

Some of these things are highly contextual. Early morning sun is good in Reykjavik, but not always in Dubai in mid-summer. Later afternoon sun is bad in most parts of the world, but in Murmansk, inside the Arctic Circle, “late afternoon” extends for several months, and is always a welcome guest. Gentle breezes in Hawaii are welcome; in Siberia they’re called a draught. A view of the local slaughterhouse from your lounge window might be highly prized if you’re … okay, I’m stretching on this last one.

The fact remains nonetheless that the choices we make about how we build our shelter, mark our place and decide what functions our building serves for us define something both about us, and about the place we make -- and about the context in which we make it.

WE NEED TO BUILD. Animals adapt themselves to nature, and they’re already adapted to do that. Humans can’t. We adapt nature to ourselves. We must. Unlike animals with their multiple defences against the world, our means of survival is our reasoning brain: on its own this offers no physical defence against predation, and no guarantee of survival: we learn to use our brain to plan, to invent, to create; to understand the nature of the world around us and to make sense of it and to adapt it to ourselves, to make of it a place in which we are protected, and in which we can feel ourselves at home.

We need buildings to shelter us, and not just in the physical sense of shelter. We need a place that is a home: our place, wherein we see ourselves and our own values reflected back, including the value of the home itself.

Good architecture then is not just functional on the bare physical plane. We've been out of the caves long enough to do much better than that. “A house is a machine for living,” declared Le Corbusier on behalf of today's cave dwellers. “But only if the heart is a suction pump,’ responded Frank Lloyd Wright. Architecture is not just shelter; it is not just ‘marking a spot’: its function is also to delight.

Bread and water nourish our stomachs; we need also to nourish our souls. Thirteenth-century Persian poet Muslih-uddin Saadi Shirazi offered this wisdom:

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft
And from thy slender store
Two loaves alone to thee are left
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed the soul.

But only if your heart is not a suction pump.

What good architecture does then is to deal with the totality of a human existence, to provide at one level the support structure to make human life possible, and at another much richer level to express back to us what it means to be human by giving a sense of place to all our occasions, by building in all our important rituals, by connecting us to what is meaningful in our lives: To sunrises and sunsets; to the sharing of food together; to relaxing with friends; to having time and space for contemplation and for conversation, and for rest, and for sex -- and for rest and contemplation (and conversation) after (and during) sex.

That’s about as important as a job gets, right?

Writing about Ferraris, PJ O’Rourke expressed it this way: “Only God can make a tree, but only man can drive by one at 250mph.” THAT is the feeling good architecture should communicate! We take the material that nature provides, and the needs that we have, and those moments where we say to ourselves, “Ah, this is what being alive is all about!” and we give those needs wings and we build in and celebrate those moments, and by doing so we express our lives, and we help bring meaning to them.

What could be more important?
* * * * *

*** You can look forward to more on the architecture debate here at 'Not PC' on Monday, when I'll post the third of my own architectural favourites. In the meantime, if it's thinking about architecture that you want to do, may I humbly offer a piece written a few years back as a book review: 'What Architecture Is.'

It begins by boldly declaring what architecture is not ...

*** And if you're already emboldened to read more about architecture than this humble blogger can provide, here's a suggested reading list on architecture to help you begin your own architecture library. Enjoy the adventure.

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5. Architecture V Architecture: Marika-Alderton House - Glen Murcutt

Tonight's post in this series comes from architect and blogger Den MT.

'Touch the earth lightly'...

The above is an Aboriginal phrase used as a design credo by auteur Aussie architect Glenn Murcutt, and one can see the direct translation from principle to built form in his entire body of work.

This house combines a sensitivity to local culture and heritage with a rigorous approach to energy-efficient design. This is a building which responds to its site and micro/macro-climate in a tangible, formal way, but not at the cost of visual appeal - in fact this is not a question of sacrifice, but more the generation of form through function.

The house was commissioned by an Aboriginal artist, and built in Aussie's hot and windy Northern Territory. Murcutt overcame the challenges presented by the local climate by creating a system of slatted panels on the long facades of the house, which could be opened and shut according to the internal temperatures, with fins located along the length of the house to channel breeze through the structure and keep the air moving.

The materials employed are simple and robust, as the extreme conditions demand, and are used in an un-fussy, pragmatic way that lends a sparsity and honesty to the clean lines of the house.

Murcutt takes a challenging environment, and rather than embedding an alien machine within it, complete with it's own life-support system (by way of air-conditioning and ventilation plant) he creates a responsive, organic shelter that lives and breathes with its owner, fluidly changing to suit the needs of the occupant, floating above the landscape to which it relates.

It is now fashionable across the board for architects to worm in as much 'energy-efficiency' double-talk as possible in client presentations, as people are demanding more and more in that respect, but it's easy to convince someone with no specialist knowledge that you are giving them 'low-energy' design features if you know which buttons to push. Murcutt's masterful response to challenging conditions shows exactly what is possible if one works with the conditions.

Here's the 'Not PC: Architecture V Architecture' series so far:
And related posts and threads:
And the one that started it all:
RELATED: Architecture, Art

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Friday, 8 September 2006

Peter Brock has died

News just in that legendary Australian racingdriver Peter Brock has died!
MOTOR sports legend Peter Brock has reportedly been killed in an accident in Western Australia.

Brock was thought to have been driving in the Targa West rally, and Sky News has reported that he was killed during a special stage.

The channel reported Brock's car collided with a tree, knocking it to the floor, leaving him with fatal injuries.

LINKS: Brock killed in accident - report - Townsville Bulletin

RELATED: Obituary

Beer O'Clock: It's Brew Time!

Another week, another 170 beers! Yes, that's right, 170 beers. It's BrewNZ time again - New Zealand's celebration of great beer.

I've been working all week in the Scoring Room, where the judges blindly taste their way through 170 beers to work out which beers are the best we've got to offer. Tough word, but someone just has to do it.

Blind tasting is not at all about drinking so much you can't see, it's about being presented a group of beers (all in a similar style), knowing nothing more than a code that identifies each beer and it's style. The judges quietly eye, nose and taste their 60ml samples for around 10 minutes before debating which beers are great, good or have missed the mark.

It's not just a subjective process. There are very distinct style guidelines for each beer to meet. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to any beers which meet the judging criteria. Gold are awarded to truly excellent, world class beers that perfectly fit within the style. Bronze are technically well made but may miss the style in part, or just lack the perfect malt/hop balance that brewers constantly strive for. Silver, funnily enough, fit in between.

For the last two years Steve Nally, the huggable owner/brewer of New Zealand's southernmost commercial brewery at Invercargill, has spent a week of his valuable time stewarding at the BrewNZ judging. He's doing this in an effort to see what the judges are looking for and to improve the quality of his beers. He's quietly succeeding. Last year Steve won two bronze medals from his four beers. This year he's brought back improved versions of three of those beers (a roasty sweet stout, a smooth fruity pale ale and a kristalweizen) and has re-engineered the fourth (hoppy English pale ale) into a much better beer. Expect to see him pop up in the medal list again this year.

Not only is he achieving awards for his beer. Steve recently received one of the highest commendations that I could think of as a brewer - at a tasting of Emerson's beers, Richard Emerson named him as the young up and coming brewer to look out for over the next few years. High praise indeed for this passionate and committed brewer. His beers are available through mail order from the brewery or Regional Wines and Spirits, as well as Bar Edward in Newtown, but he's recently doubled the size of his plant so look out for Invercargill's beers coming your way soon. Ask your local bottle store when they will be available near you.

BrewNZ also contains a quite unique category of beer - the Festive Brews. None of these are available commercially before the event and all are modelled along a common theme. This year the theme is "All Hail - Pale Ale", and I can assure you there are a few absolutely cracking ales that should be sampled if you are out and about Wellington this weekend. Step out and look for them.

The BrewNZ awards will be announced at a fomal dinner tonight, and available on at BrewNZ's website in the next few days. All of the medal winners are truly deserving of the accolade and are well worth trying out yourself. Hunt these beers down at your local good beer retailer (and if they're not already, then go in there and demand them).

Slainte mhath Stu

LINKS: RELATED: New Zealand, Beer & Elsewhere

Architecture v Architecture: What's on tonight?

Just an update here on the ongoing Architecture V Architecture debate here at Not PC, in which blogger Den MT and myself have been posting and commenting about our five personal architectural favourites -- not stuff we're saying is the world's best architecture (since Den is arguing we can't do that), but architecture that really touches us. At least, we're not saying that yet.
  • On the Fallingwater thread Brian S. commented:
    It would be interesting to get the opinion of [Den] and PC on New Zealand's best piece of architecture and also on what each of you consider to be your own best work.
    Great idea. It will be done. I promise.

  • And look out tonight for Den's next piece, a little beauty from Australia... (I'm enjoying this.)

  • Oh, and I should also point out that Auckland Architecture Week is also on the go this week: lots of politically correct architecture and architectural debate about. Details here. Tomorrow for example you can hear a lecture at the Britomart Pavilion on 'Sustainability in Urban Design' - in other words, how the concept of 'future generations' is used to hand power to planners, and to empoverish the people of this generation. But you can also, if you book in time, head off on a "guided tour of Auckland's historic pubs." So it's not all bad.
Here's the 'Not PC: Architecture V Architecture' series so far:
And related posts and threads:
And the one that started it all:
RELATED: Architecture, Art, New Zealand

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Unbundling still theft, still immoral -- and impractical to boot!

The so-called 'unbundling' of Telecom, ie., the theft and partial nationalisation of Telecoms property, is now being considered before select committee in Helengrad. Rodney Hide reckons that the best submission ever has just been made by Victoria University's Bronwyn Howell, in opposition to the nationalisation. Says she:
Even if there is some merit in pursuing increases in broadband uptake, the claims made by the [MED] Stocktake authors that mechanisms that increase competitor entry into the local loop market are strongly correlated with higher levels of broadband uptake are not only unfounded but demonstrably false.
"Demonstrably false." Very strong words those from an academic. As Rodney concludes: "Those arguing for the confiscation of property rights need to respond to Howell’s work if they are to have any intellectual credibility." Too right they do. If it's theft, and there's no good reason for theft, then what's the real reason -- is it just ideological? Just more crony-phony-capitalism -- just delivering somebody else's assets to competitors who haven't earned them. (Hello again, Annette.)

Here’s the submission and slideshow, both courtesy of Rodney Hide's blog, and both PDFs.

** And by the way, while we're talking about 'good Rodney,' what do you think 'bad Rodney' is up to with this dumb and Dunne-like comment of 'moral equivalence':
I’m not so sure that National’s tactic of getting down and dirty with Labour is smart.
What the fuck? Why do you think Rodney is wriggling over the well-deserved harassment of a Government whose been caught with their hands in the till? He knows exactly what the issues are here, so why the silence and now all the spin. Have you ever before known him to stay out of a bout of mud-slinging? I can think of three reasons why he is now, one good and two not very good at all. Do you follow?

LINKS: The truth about unbundling - Rodney Hide blog
Submission on the Telecommunications Amdendment Bill - Bronwyn Howell [167-page PDF]
Slideshow supporting the submission on the Telecommunication Amendment Bill - Bronwyn Howell [29-page PDF]
Annette Presley: Face of theft - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
Down and dirty with Labour - Rodney Hide blog

RELATED: Telecom, Politics-NZ, Politics-ACT, Darnton V Clark

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Supersize Auckland?

I must confess that on the question of Auckland's mayors' plans for an Auckland 'super city' I really have no opinion at present. Simply because Dick Hubbard is enthusiastic I'm prima facie against it (did I mention how much I dislike Mother Hubbard?), but how much worse could one new super city council be than the present four bloody awful city councils?

Anyway, Auckland mayoral candidate Stephen Berry does have an opinion, so go and see what he says.

LINKS: Mayors' secret city blueprint revealed - NZ Herald
Berry supports 'One Auckland' - Stephen Berry, Scoop
Stephen Berry contensting 2007 Auckland mayoralty - Scoop
Rates rant: Parental advisory - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)

Auckland, Politics-NZ


Dumbing down the Libertarian Party

Always a mongrel composition of odd-bods, the US Libertarian Party has now succumbed to strategists, spin doctors and the unprincipled wielders of spread sheets and white boards who have moved to dumb down the party's only remaining virtue: its slate of principled policies. Lew Rockwell, who is himself rather prone to odd moment of oddball-ism, has some very good things to say about this very bad development:
For those who haven't heard, the large, pedagogically useful, principled, and detailed Libertarian Platform — the best thing about the party — has been relegated to the wayback machine and is now replaced with a new one that is tiny, vague, rhetorically slippery, accommodating, friendlier to the state, and non-threatening to mainstream opinion.

Why? The small band that orchestrated this coup confesses: they want the LP to gain power.

They've admired the way the Republicans and Democrats have done it, and now they want to do it too. Gone is the posture of opposition, the radicalism, the edge, the braininess.

The debate has been framed as one between dogmatists and pragmatists. What's remarkable here is how the pragmatists are willing to concede just about every criticism made by the principled LPers of old. They admit that they have watered down the entire program. They admit to being pure pragmatists. They admit that they like certain aspects of the state, and were unhappy with the consistency and comprehensive radicalism of the old platform.

Carl Milsted — who seems to have played the major role in this — puts it this way. The LP has waffled between two separate functions. It tries to be "a radical protest organization (a PETA for liberty)" and also a "political party to get freedom lovers elected to office," so he thinks the former role ought to be abandoned in order to achieve the latter.

But you know what? The LP was not founded to get people elected to office. It was founded to oppose the regime and educate the public, and use elections as the vehicle to do so. [...]

Milsted is right that the idea of a principled political party is incongruous. So what conclusion does he come to? Let's get rid of principle and stick to politics. It's like saying there is a fly in my soup, so let's get rid of the soup and eat the fly!
As an example of the dumbing down, consider these two statements on property rights; the first is from the old platform:
We oppose all violations of the right to private property, liberty of contract, and freedom of trade, especially those done in the name of national security.
Sound, clear and principled. And now from the new platform:
The right to property and its physical resources, which is the fundamental cornerstone of a free and prosperous society, has been severely compromised by government at all levels.
Uugh! The former clear statement of principle has been dumbed-down to bland feel-ggod mush. The mush-merchants who've taken over say that much-peddling will lead to vote-getting which will lead to ... well, they're not sure what since the point now is only to get their feet under the political table. To what end? Blank out. No idea. The goal now is just and only to get their feet under the table. More likely however, by peddling such mush they will fail to achieve either goal: they'll neither educate nor achieve any tangible 'power,' and even if they did, what would gaining 'power' achieve if they've lost any ability to educate?

The equation of principle is quite beyond the 'pragmatic' peddlers of mush. (I'm pretty sure I've said this before somewhere. More than once.) In politics, pragmatism is not practical. Principle is.

Perhaps the US Libertarian Party activists should have looked to what happened to the Costa Rican libertarians in their last election (about which both I and Jacqueline Mackey Paisley Passey blogged, as did hardore Costa Rican libertarian Jorge). Here's Jorge and and Jackie summarising the results of the new softcore Movimento Libertario (ML):

"Does abandoning principle “work”?

"To answer this question lets look at how the “radical” hard core ML performed four years ago. In 2002 the ML received 1.7% of the vote for President and 9.34% of the vote for the Asamblea, electing six Diputados (congressmen). To do this they spend a bit more than US$ 200,000 in privately raised funds, explicitly rejecting government funds as immoral.

"This time around, they spent roughly US$ 1,900,000 and accepted state funds. For President, Guevara received 8.4% of the vote (86.9% counted). For Diputado, the ML has received 9.08%. It seems that they have elected six, but one has a razor thin margin, which may just disappear when all the votes are counted. So far 83.4% have been processed."

So let's see... after spending 10 times as much, with 4 more years of experience and organizing time, in the end the new "pragmatic" Movimiento Libertario achieved... exactly what the old "radical" Movimiento Libertario had achieved in the previous election. Except instead of electing 5 real libertarians to the legislature they've elected 5 or 6 "mostly" libertarians.

So much for pragmatism achieveing anything. From a principled party with 5 hardcore elected deputies giving them a well-used platform to educate and enlighten people about the ideas and roots of liberty, they've now lost all their principled members, and lost also any opportunity to educate anyone, even themselves -- they've become just another dumbed-down bunch of sharks in shiny suits with no reason for being in power other than just being in power.

I trust local Libertarianz will absorb Rockwell's lesson, one they've heard so often from me: "The LP was not founded to get people elected to office. It was founded to oppose the regime and educate the public, and use elections as the vehicle to do so." Exactly right.

LINKS: The Party of vacuous rhetoric - Lew Rockwell, Mises Institute
A spoonful of principle helps revolution fire - Peter Cresswell, 'Free Radical,' 1998

National Platform of the [US] Libertarian Party - May 2004, courtesy of the 'Wayback Machine' National Platform of the [US] Libertarian Party - June 2006, US Libertarian Party website Liberty lost her principles down in Costa Rica - 'Not PC' (Peter Cresswell)
Movimiento Libertaria loses principles, gets spanked - Jacqueline Mackey Paisley Passey
...and they didn't even get the votes - 'Sunni & the Conspirators'
Putting the 'P' word into politics - Peter Cresswell, speech to Tauranga Regional Libertarianz conference, 2002

RELATED: Politics-US, Politics-World, Libertarianism, Libz, Property Rights, Politics-ACT


Only in America?

Bernard Darnton has some, ahem, topical news from the US:
Illinois’s biggest political corruption trial in years has just concluded.

Former Governor George Ryan […] was sentenced today to six years in federal prison for […] using taxpayer dollars for his campaign and other offenses.
For once it would be nice not to say, "Only in America."

LINKS: Six years in prison - Darnton V Clark
Ex Gov. Ryan sentence to more than six years in prison - Rockford Register

RELATED: Politics-US, Darnton V Clark


Architecture v Architecture: 'Price Tower,' by Frank Lloyd Wright

My own second post in this competition of architectural favourites has already been trumped by Den's post last night of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, but never fear: Wright has nearly 600 projects to choose from, every one a gem.

Here tonight is his only completed tall building: the Price Tower, or as so he often called it, "the tree that escaped the crowded forest."

First designed for the New York of the twenties, and then as part of an apartment cluster in Washington DC in the forties, it was finally built in Oklahoma in the fifties (yes, that's right: Oklahoma again; and architect Bruce Goff lived and kept an office there.)

The Price Tower wasn't the only tall building Wright had worked on. He began his career in the office of Louis Sullivan, who in the Chicago of the 1890s when tall buildings were still a new thing under the sun, largely invented the means of expression of the tall building. As the "pencil in the hand of the master" as Wright was happy to call himself, he helped Sullivan build the first skyscraper masterpieces the world had seen, before leaving Sullivan's office to begin his own practice.

The Larkin Building of 1905 was his first tall-ish building on his own account (and some fity years before the so-called seminal 'modern' high-rises were erected in Chicago and Manhattan), and a revolutionary one it was too, but for all sorts of reasons numerous design, studies and projects just flatly refused to get off the ground or to find a backer -- the Mile High Tower was one project used in part to attract attention for all the many ingenious schemes Wright had devised that were just going to waste -- so the Bartlesville opportunity when it came was grabbed with both hands.

The Price tower itself picks up on the form of a tree: like a tree, it has a 'tap root,' a central structural core that extends down into the ground to hold the building erect. From this vertical core, the floors are cantilevered out, like branches from the trunk. And at the exterior, like the foliage at the perimeter of a tree, light and shade and decoration are made to appear. It followed the principle of the tree, said Wright, but to that he added his own inescapable ingenuity to the mix.

The floors, combining rental offices and apartments on each floor, are laid out using an ingenous grid system, with 'nodal points' such as interior mezzanine balconies pushed out to the exterior to gve a delightful geometric variety. At the edge of the cantilevered floors, each wall is treated differently depending on function and sun direction. Vertical copper sun shades are used to mollify the afternoon sun; pressed copper panels bear the imprint of Wright's imagination, rather like the beautiful foliage of a tree that decorates its perimeter; concrete 'fin walls' rise vertically through the building from its 'tap root,' bursting out at the top to anchor a playful geometric composition that crowns the bulding, and silhouettes it beautifully against the sky.

The overall effect is of a building almost shaped from crystal, like a jewel. It's masterful play of geometric form is, I'll use the word again, a delight. Unlike all too many tall buildings (like Auckland's pathologically disinteresting Sky Tower for example) it is different on all sides: like an ingenious puzzle it is a form that the eye never tires of taking it in and working out, all the time trying to establish the underlying principle that built it. To use Wright's words, "it is a grace, and not a disgrace" to the world in which it is built.

It is a building that is proud to be tall, and proud to be erect. It is by any standard a delightful building, and definitely one of my own top five.

LINKS: Louis Sullivan: What's the big idea? - Peter Cresswell, SOLO
'The Tall Building Artistically Considered' - Louis Sullivan - Not PC
Frank Lloyd Wright's St Mark's Apartment Tower Project - Not PC
Mile High Tower, Frank Lloyd Wright - Not PC
Crystal Heights complex, Frank Lloyd Wright - Not PC
Larkin Building, Frank Lloyd Wright - Not PC

RELATED: Architecture

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Thursday, 7 September 2006

"Leadership, credibility and values" in New Zealand politics

"When I called the election," said Helen Clark in the election campaign we all paid for, "I said that it was going to be about leadership and credibility and values." As Bernard Darnton observed yesterday, "It's kind of turned out that way, hasn't it." Oh yes. "Leadership, credibility and values": that's exactly how to describe their just-announced descent into the gutter.

I barely need to write anything about this ongoing row ignited over the Government's misappropriation of taxpayers' money to steal the last election; I don't need to since there's good commentary everywhere. Let me start with David Farrar:
Well I doubt even the most rabid supporter will defend Labour on this one. Having failed to distract attention with dredging up the Brethren's campaign and anoymous donations (which Labour has specifically kept legal, and receive themselves), yesterday they said they would start revealing "secrets about the private lives of National MPs" unless they back off about Labour's illegal election over-spending. It seems there really is no gutter low enough. I think even McCarthy would be repulsed.
Quite possibly, although McCarthy certainly knew all about repulsive. Here's The Press:
Labour's cynical attacks on National over election spending smack of a desperate attempt at self-justification. But amid these claims and the mutual taunts of corruption being thrown across an increasingly chaotic House, the real issue is straightforward: whether Labour in last year's election broke the rules by spending parliamentary funding on soliciting votes. Given that it defies belief that the pledge card was not designed to gain votes, the conclusion has to be that Labour took a calculated gamble to bend the rules and has now been caught. Its allegations against National are designed to divert attention from this basic point and from the issue of what role over-spending played in Labour's return to power.
And Russell Brown:
Labour's return of fire on National - with the promise of, literally, a book of embarrassing emails to and from Don Brash in advance of last year's election - is, of course, spin: a classic effort to change the subject from something Labour doesn't want to talk about to something National doesn't want to talk about...
And Labour hack Jordan Carter? Well, he's giving the perfect display of what happens when you lift a rock and see all the insects scuttling for cover. Like his favourite Leaderene he's realised there's no longer any point in defending the indefensible when flinging mud might take attention from their own corruption, and so the craven cokroachdeclares he and his colleagues are:
Very pleased to see the government coming out and actually pointing out that National's holier-than-thou approach to politics these days is the political equivalent of a castle built on sand. Can't wait til the whole pile of emails comes out, as referred to in this morning's 'Herald.'
So much for Helen Clark's claim before the election she wanted to bring back "leadership, credibility and values" to New Zealand politics. Labour's corruption and this pre-announced descent into the gutter outdoes anything seen in recent politics for sheer, shivering disgust. Muldoon's attacks on Colin Moyle look positively honest and upstanding by comparison. "Leadership, credibility and values" my arse.

And Bernard Darnton, whose litigation against the Government on this issue hangs over them like a sword waiting to fall, has found good Herald commentary:
Anyone with half a brain must know by now that there is something rotten in the state of New Zealand politics and the odour of dishonesty emanating from Parliament must have citizens of the capital walking the streets with pegs on their noses.
On the news that all of Helengrad's dirt files are about to be emptied, Darnton concludes in a post called 'Stench of Dishonesty':
In other news, Trevor Mallard has promised to go nuclear and start spreading tabloid gossip on opposition MPs who insist on calling the government corrupt just because they stole public money to buy an election. Presumably National will follow suit and one can only dream that Mutually Assured Destruction ensues.
One can dream. Meanwhile, ''Whale Oil' has put together one of their better short videos: 'Labour's Corruption,' set to the music of Iggy Pop; and they also have a wee visual peek at the controls of the 'Clark & Cullen spin cycle.'

So with all that to read, you hardly need my own commentary on the mud slinging. Let me just remind Labour's mudslingers of the real meaning of the fallacy of ad hominem: that if you attack the man instead of the ball, the ball is still in play. Whatever 'scalps' they themselves might win by throwing around their buckets of filth, it doesn't alter for a minute that they did steal the election with misappropriated money, they did knowingly lie to the Electoral Commissioner, and that eighty-one percent of New Zealanders already know that to be true.

It's hard to forget what you already know to be true, particularly when the accused have stopped defending the charges aginst them. I look forward to seeing Helen Clark in the dock to actually answer the substantive charges in a forum in which facts rather than spin are still valued: Roll on Darnton V Clark.

LINKS: Too many links to name, and still many more good comments around the place to mention. The Clark Government is on the ropes, and they know it.

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Politics-Labour, Politics-National, Darnton V Clark

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Architect v Architect: 'Fallingwater' by Frank Lloyd Wright

Well, just look what my interlocutor has selected in a blatant attempt to steal our wee show! For the second of his five favourites exhibited here at Not PC, Den MT has chosen ... well, just take a look what he's gone and chosen, this chap who maintains that my taste and his are galaxies apart. (Frankly, I would have thought this masterpiece far too 'unfashionable' for today's young Gen-Y trendies -- but I'm enormously pleased it isn't).

I give you,
Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, on Bear Run, Pennsylvania:

Says Den of this selection:

I have, no doubt, gazumped PC on this one [yes, he has], as it is probably not far from the top five buildings of anyone interested in architecture. Gotta be quick!

It was designed as the private holiday house for Edgar Kaufmann, in a sum total of three hours, if rumour [and the testimony of Wright's apprentices who assisted] is to be believed.

This building, for me, is an outstanding example of two crucial aspects of architecture - response to site, and narrative.

In describing the importance of considering site, one of my old lecturer's made reference to the 'genius locus,' or 'sense' of a place, and that good architecture necessarily involved invoking this concept. Basically a flash way of saying that the best buildings respond sympathetically and are in part 'created' by their site or context. With Fallingwater, FLW created a structure that was an incredibly sensitive response to what is a beautiful natural setting for a country getaway spot. The formal elements of the house all invoke the specific stand-out features of the site - the waterfall, the rock masses, the glades of trees encircling the site - in a truly original and sensitive way, that transcends a simple formal 'copy' of the surrounds. His use of materials further cements this feeling of unity with the site - building and site are inextricably linked - almost interdependent.

On the second aspect - narrative - I return to another of my old lecturers, Russell Walden (forever famous for his frothing tirade against Te Papa on Backchat with Bill Ralston) who was totally enamoured with this building. One of his traditional exam questions for first year architectural history students was based on a lecture he always gave, and involved relating Fallingwater to one of Beethoven's symphonies. Old Russell may have been a bit loopy (put mildly) and I disagree with such a didactic comparison, but the succession of spaces - both internal and external - in Fallingwater, create an undeniable narrative. The story told by each space, from the moments on the exterior where the visitor must gingerly step over rushing water to the 'safety' of the house, to instances inside, such as communal living spaces with riverstone jutting from the floor, all combine to create a palpable sense of narrative.

FLW majorly overreached himself technically on this project, which began falling apart almost from the moment the roof went on* (due largely to his over-ambitious cantilevers and shortcomings of the materials used at the time) and his cost control was as atrocious as ever, blowing his client's budget by a factor of FIVE, but it perseveres as probably the most famous house ever, for good reason. The understanding of site is virtually unparalleled, and the narrative created by the interconnected spaces is extraordinarily powerful.

Cheers, Den MT

RELATED: Architecture

* Ahem. We have slightly different information on this score. I outline my own understanding of some of the many canards held against Fallingwater here and here.

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Wednesday, 6 September 2006

All the 'Bullshit' you can handle

Damn. Despite a timely reminder from Libertarian Sus, I missed last night's episode of 'Bullshit' (in my defence I was out catching one last film at the Architecture Film Festival) but she tells me I missed another cracker. Bugger.

Fortunately MikeE has done all of us who just can't get themselves in front of a TV regularly a favour: he has a complete list on his blog of all of Penn & Teller's 'Bullshit' episodes available on Google Video, with links to very one. That's every episode from every season of Penn & Teller's 'Bullshit' that you can possibly find online, and all conveniently linked from MikeE's blog.

Go and thank him.

LINKS: Penn & Teller: Bullshit - The Home of MikeE

Libertarianism, Films, Nonsense

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How about them family values?

I'd just noticed that I haven't offended any religionists yet this week (yes, disgraceful, I know) when I spotted this incisive short post at 'Principles in Practice' (how's that for God working in a mysterious way):

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26)

Offer this as "grace" at a dinner table full of Christians. It makes for interesting conversation.

Wouldn't it just? Just another illustration of why Bible reading is a good thing. (And if you don't believe me, then maybe you'll listen to Penn & Teller?)

LINKS: Jesus on family values and self love - Principles in Practice
The Skeptics' Annotated Bible
The Brick Testament
'The Bible: Fact or Fiction' - Penn & Teller's 'Bullshit'

RELATED: Religion, Humour

Clark: "Bucket's of cash ... "

"Buckets of cash" ... "covert donations" ... "cash for policy" ...

Those squalid accusations above were all thrown across The House by the PM yesterday in an effort to divert attention from their own misappropriation of public money. They are all complaints she says she has against National's own "corruption." Let's have a quick look at each of them shall we?:
  • "Buckets of cash...": Yes, National did have buckets of cash, and all of it (bar $10,000 they've already paid back) was given voluntarily by donors. A concept Clark's Labour has trouble understanding, so I'll just repeat the word: Voluntarily. Labour too received some voluntary donations, mainly from unions, but the issue here is that $800,000 of involuntarily appropriated taxpayer money was misappropriated by Labour to steal the last election.

    Both parties had buckets of cash at the last electiion. National's buckets were filled with their own money. Labour's however were filled to the brim with yours, taken against your will, and used without legal authority.

  • "Covert donations...": Asked to defend that charge this morning on TV's Breakfast News, Labour strategist Pete 'I Admit Nothing' Hodgson "had a letter" sent by the Exclusive Brethren to the Electoral Commission asking for guidance on how to spend $1.2 million so as not to cause any problem with National's spending cap. Quite what he hoped to show with this, apart from showing how an organisation should go about ensuring they don't break the law, it was hard to really know. It was certainly no evidence of "covert" anything, except Hodgson's "covert" use once again of the Brethren bogie, a 'strategy' you would think a decent strategist would already have realised hasn't worked.

  • And what about the charge against National of "cash for policy"? Insurance companies donated to National because re-privatising the ACC was a chief National Party platform, just as it had been for years. Was there any evidence the policy changed because of the donations? No. Was it "covert"? No. So is there a problem? No.

    So as a charge against the National Party this one has no more resonance than the charge that Labour took money from the unions to scrap the Employment Contracts Act (although on reflection that charge might actually have more legs...)
Three charges out of three that are just plain bollocks.

I say all this not to defend the National Party -- for whom I hold no brief whatsoever, and very little love (as most of my posts on the Nats will show) -- but to point out the measure of desperation of this Labour Party. This is the best they can do to defend their blatant misappopriation of taxpayers' money to steal the last election. They've been caught with their hands in the till up to their elbows, and they hope that if they make up tales about their opponents it might all just go away. It won't. It's nothing more than misdirection, and that it is so poorly done and so shallow is an indication of how bereft they are of any defence against the charge of corruption.

Spin is in; lies are all; anything at all to divert attention from their own corrupt practices. Eighty-one percent of NZers know they're lying, know they're corrupt ... and to those charges Labour just has no substantive answer.

As litigant and Libertarianz leader Bernard Darnton says on his blog, "When Helen Clark called the election she said that it was 'going to be about leadership and credibility and values.' And it’s definitely turned out turned out that way, hasn’t it?"

There is one further charge which Labour's Darnton Darnton V Clark needs to surmount -- the 'test case' being brought by Libertarianz leader Darnton Darnton to show that there are still constitutional limits on the Government -- and that is this: the claim that the money misappropriated for the Pledge Card was not "election spending" since the Pledge Card was not part of Labour's election campaign. Once again, what Labour are relying on here is a public too ignorant to follow what's being said.

Despite the best efforts of the state's miseducation system over the years, even this electorate is not that ignorant.

On that score and as I noted yesterday, G-Man has posted a snippet from a tape he has in which Helen Clark tells a Wellington audience that the Pledge Card is the "centre-piece" of their election campaign. And this morning the boys at new libertarian blog 'Pacific Empire' note that even Brian Edwards's hagiography of Queen Helen is happy to explain in plain English how crucial the Pledge Card is and has been in delivering Labour's "election promises." How successful? As Edwards explains, "Helen believes that the card was a considerable success." A "considerable success."

As Darnton said yesterday, "Thanks, Helen. If you could just explain all that to the judge we should be able to wrap this up pretty quickly."

*** Oh, and by the way, as Helen Clark thinks the phrase "Pay It Back" is just another bumper sticker slogan, a Darnton supporter has been good enough to turn it into one. (Well done, Duncan.) You can get yours at his online store. "The target market for this product," says Darnton, "is 81% of the voting population."

LINKS: A smoking gun - Darnton V Clark
Eh? - G-Man Inc.
Pledge card most important part of Labour's campaign: Brian Edwards - Pacific Empire
Bumper sticker - Cafe Press store

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Politics-Labour, Politics-National, Darnton V Clark

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Architect v Architect: 'Bavinger House,' by Bruce Goff

The second posting tonight in the 'Not PC: Architecture v Architecture' debate, the introduction to which is in this post below. Seen here is the first of the contributions from yours truly, one of my own top five.

Architect Bruce Goff never designed to be published in magazines or to attract the bright lights, he never designed to be fashionable (he worked in Oklahoma, for Galt's sake!), and he never designed to fit the 'malatropisms' of the so-called intellectual elite, whom he shunned as if they carried plague -- which of course in a sense they did (and do). Bruce Goff spent his life designing and working simply to delight himself and his clients. And so he did. No two Goff buildings were ever even remotely the same.

I was introduced to him inadvertently by means of a wise-cracking insult by locally fashionable architect Ian Athfield, who had come up the hill to critique student work at Wellington's Victoria University. Seeing my own project he gave a snort of derision, muttered something about me and Bruce Goff which brought the house down, and moved on to look at something more post-modern from the student next door -- whereupon I left to find out about this chap I was supposed to be channeling, even if only in jest. What I discovered was that anyone channelling this guy was my kind of architect.

Goff was apprenticed to an architect at twelve, and by eighteen had designed his first church. Not bad going, even back in those laissez-faire days, especially for an atheist. He worked through the war years as an army engineer, delighting in using found materials and 'borrowed' structures to do things with them for which they were never intended, such as this simple chapel built on the cheap using Quonset Huts. In later years he was to use all manner of 'found objects' -- his favourite story of this was to tell of an ophthalmologist client who insisted that after looking at eyes all day he didn't want any circles in his house: Goff designed him an angular house, with a wall interspersed with small, thick diamond-shaped clear glass panels. These were square one-dollar Woolworth's glass ashtrays Goff had bought and set on-point in the house's entrance wall.

Goff's best work is this house pictured here, the Bavinger House. Built in 1955 for a young family in Norman Oklahoma, it brings together locally quarried 'ironrock,' mine tailings, coal rejects, glass cullets, airplane wire and a used oil-rig drilling pipe for the mast.

The result is astonishing. The outer wall -- and in fact there is only one wall performing many functions -- seems to grow out of the ground before moving out and around to surround and enclose a garden and an adjoining living area before spiralling in an up to form and fix the climactic vertical pylon from which the roof and floor 'pods' are hung. The 'pods' are hung off the wall as it ascends, providing withdrawing, bedroom and study space that can be closed off with curtaining (don't ask, some writers suggest something about goose feathers) but mostly remain open to the whole glorious space in which they hover.

A small jewel-like masterpiece. As this web description of the Bavinger house concludes:
Goff once wrote, “Beauty bursts forth when it must, because the Artist feels the drive within . . . and no amount of discouragement can stop him.” From America’s heartland, Goff transcended traditional ideals and proved to the world that architecture is an extension of nature, and the elements of sky, earth and water, its realm.
Bruce Goff's Bavinger House: Definitely one of my own personal top five.

LINKS: Architecture v Architecture: Introduction - Not PC
Goff's Historic Houses - Oklahoma University Foundation


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Tuesday, 5 September 2006

What architecture means ...

Perhaps the most appropriate cartooon to accompany our current Architecture v Architecture Debate here at 'Not PC' is this cartoon from Private Eye, sent through by David Slack:

And look out tonight for the first of my five favourite buildings, in response to Den's signal box from last night.

RELATED: Architecture, Cartoons


Al Qaeda no. 2 turns stool pigeon

I haven't seen it reported in the local press, but this thug is in captivity and singing like a bird: Al Qaeda's number two in Iraq.

"Hamid al-Suaidi led a group that kidnapped people. He ordered bombings and mortar attacks that killed a number of our armed forces and our citizens. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is severely wounded," Mr Rubaie said.

"After his arrest he gave critical and important information and we ended up killing 11 militants of the second tier of leaders and nine of the lower tier," Mr Rubaie said of Suaidi.

Good news. Apparently not every Al Qaeda piece operative wants to die for their cause -- the higher level scum just want to send others to do that for then.

LINK: Al Qaeda no. 2 captured in Iraq - Sydney Morning Herald

RELATED: Politics-World, War


More 'lies' about the pledge card

Attack is always considered the best form of defence, but will Helen Clark's attack on National help or hinder her I wonder: will it divert attention from her misappropriation of money to pay for her pledge card? Or will it ramp up the resulting call to "Pay it Back"?

Interestingly Don Brash told Nat Rad this morning that "Helen Clark stole the election," he demanded she pay it back, and he called for an early election -- perhaps the strongest statement yet from an opposition leader who has really begun to front-foot this issue.

That phrase on the Free Rad cover I helped put together just a few weeks ago now seems to have real legs.

Meanwhile, following Labour Party Secretary Mike Williams's admission last week that the Pledge Card was a "central part" of the Labour Party election campaign, the G-Man has begun transcribing tapes he made of Helen Clark addressing election meetings around Wellington, and in which she makes the same point. Says the transcriber:
If we are to believe that Labour were intending the pledge cards to be merely educational tools for dim-witted taxpayers who may be unaware of government policies, and that it was merely an absolute coincidence that a hotly fought election was a matter of weeks away, then why did Helen Clark have this to say to a public meeting [...] and then go on to outline over about half an hour how the pledge card was the centre-piece of their re-election campaign?
Visit G-Man to hear Labour hacks like Jordan Carter are now suggesting "did not solicit money, membership or votes."

Does he think we're all stupid? Yes, of course he does. In fact, he and his fellow hacks, and the PM-elect, are all relying on it. "Lies about the pledge card need to stop," says the hack, and I agree with him: the Labour Party should stop lying, and pay it back.

As it gets increasingly messy, I wonder how it will all play out in court come Darnton V Clark.

LINKS: Eh? - G-Man
Darnton V Clark site.
Labour looks at way to repay taxpayer cash - NZ Herald
Lies about the pledge card - (Just Left) Jordan Carter

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Politics-Labour, Politics-National, Darnton V Clark


'Chinese Girl' painter dies

The painter who once said that the main difference between Van Gogh and him was that Van Gogh starved whereas he had become rich has died aged 92. The Guardian has declared Vladimir Tretchikoff the the second most commercially successful artists of all time. "The critics hated him," they say, "and the public loved him."

His best-selling work was 'The Chinese Girl,' shown left. (Yes, those are the colours of the painting; you don't need to adjust your set.)

Try and work out for yourself if it's art, or illustration -- and try and determine too why (or if) there is a difference, and if so how it bears on the current debate about art ongoing here at 'Not PC.'

LINKS: Vladimir Tretchikoff - Obituary - Guardian
Vladimir Tretchikoff - Wikipedia

RELATED: Art, Obituary