Friday, 8 January 2010

SUMMER SIX-PACK: Architecture, creative destruction & some rules on objective journalism

Another six-pack of gold from the archives to add to your summer reading. Enjoy!

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Friday, September 07, 2007

"There is no means of avoiding a final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion"

    Would-be pundits such as Brian Gaynor et al who offer their opinions on the collapses and troubles in finance houses might want to add to their researches the two subjects "malinvestment" (a misallocation of resources often following a period of artificially excessive credit) and "creative destruction" (that “process of industrial mutation … that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one”—two concepts every would-be economic pundit needs to have in their kitbag, or else be considered misinformed.
    Without that understanding the various pundits are unable to see the malinvested writing on the wall, and unqualified to realise how important it is to everyone to let the creative destruction rip—not to prop it up. Writing in 1949, Ludwig von Mises might have been talking to today's pundits-of-ignorance:

    “There is no means of avoiding a final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as the final and total catastrophe of the currency involved.”

    If only the pundits were listening. There are no shortcuts to the inevitable. Tell failing finance houses "Screw up and we will bail you out," and what do you think that will do to the number of screw ups, and to the amount of extra risk the screw-ups take with your money?

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Objective journalism? Non-neutrality is objective, stupid

    What a fantastic cartoon in The Herald on the Clark Government's democracy rationing, following up yesterday's front page effort!

    Now as you might have heard, The Herald has drawn criticism from the commentariat for not being "neutral" in taking against Clark's democracy rationing. But objective journalism does not mean neutrality. That’s just flat wrong. The premise here is that if you have a point of view, then you can't possibly be objective. But as Paul Blair explains, "that's just plain false."

    “An objective report gives the audience all the information needed to draw a valid conclusion... But facts lead to conclusions. Just because one doesn't want to accept those conclusions doesn't make the facts wrong or the presentation non-objective: rather, the person who resists the logical conclusion is the one who lacks objectivity... Being objective means recognizing that not everybody's point of view is equally valid or deserves equal respect.”
     Over to you, critics.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Those dirty Americans

    News just in from BATTLE CREEK, Michigan, USA—the former stamping ground of dirty old Dr Kellogg, doctor at the Battle Creek Sanitarium and inventer of the eponymous corn flakes—that “a man who pleaded no contest to a sodomy charge involving a sheep says he should not have to register as a sex offender...”
    Hah! Time, I think to turn the tables.  Time for some sheep jokes about Americans for a change.

  • A Canadian bloke was walking down the street in Michigan when he saw a farmer going hammers and tongs on a sheep. The Canack yelled out, "Hey mate, in Canada we shear our sheep." The American turned around and said, "Piss off mate, I'm sharing none of this."
  • Q: What do you call safe sex in Michigan?
    A:Marking an 'X' on the sheep that kick.
  • 'A Michigan Nursery Rhyme'
    Mary had a little sheep
    With the sheep she went to sleep
    The sheep turned out to be a ram...
    Mary Had A Little Lamb.
  • A Canadian farmer and a Man From Michigan were walking out in the field one day and they spotted a sheep tangled in the wire fence.. "Wow!" said the Canack. "I wish that was a woman all tangled up in that there fence." Said the Man From Michigan, "I just wish it was dark!"
  • An American walks into his bedroom with a sheep under his arm and says: "Darling, this is the pig I have sex with when you have a headache." His girlfriend is lying in bed and replies, "I think you'll find that's a sheep, you idiot." The man says, "I think you'll find that I wasn't talking to you."
     That man from Michigan would be right at home in Brigend, Co. Donegal, Ireland, where a some years ago a publican installed some sheep in a house behind his pub for the pleasure of his patrons. He was convicted of running a brothel. (Yes, that’s a true story). So in honour of that publican:
  • Q: What do you call four sheep tied to a lampost in Donegal
    A: An Irish leisure centre
  • Q: What do you call an Irishman with a sheep under his arm?
    A: A pimp.
  • Q: What do you call an Irishman with sheep under one arm, and a goat under the other? A: A bisexual.

    And finally, just to finish off (so to speak), there's a message to sheep-shaggers at this link.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Robie House - Frank Lloyd Wright


    From the Chicago of 1906 comes Frank Lloyd Wright's house for the Robie family. (As it is today, here). Forward-thinking living room section showing environmental appurtenances here. And the floor plans here adumbrating Wright’s revolution in space planning. 
    In many ways the culmination of Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Prairie House' phase in both drama and spatial sophistication, the Robie House of 1908-10 is currently undergoing restoration to restore it to its former glory, before reopening as a fully restored architectural house museum on May 1, 2010. 
    Story here at Prairie Mod, and more details including pictures here at the FL Wright Preservation Trust.
    And even more pictures here, including the original presentation sketch

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Von Sternberg House – Richard Neutra


    I was sure I’d blogged this house before, but for the life of me I can’t find a decent post on it. (Well, apart from this one.)
    This is by far my favourite house by Neutra (pronounced NOI-tra). Designed in 1934 for film director Joseph von Sternberg, director of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel.  (Von Sternberg famously insisted that there be no door locks on the bathrooms, in case a temperamental actor or actress or two decided to end it all in the stalls.)

ftsl06_neutra   “’I selected a distant meadow,’ von Sternberg recounted later, ‘in the midst of an empty landscape, barren and forlorn, to make a retreat for myself, my books, and my collection of modern art.’ 
    “The building’s major space was a double-height living area surrounded by a balcony that was used as an art gallery. Displayed there were works by Gauguin, Kandinsky, Matisse, Léger, de Chirico, Kokoschka, Brancusi and Archipenko. Von Sternberg’s mirrored bath and bedroom, with a view of the rooftop reflecting pool, were the only rooms on the second floor.
    “On the first level, east of the living area, lay a studio and kitchen, followed by staff quarters and the garages, one for regular cars and a larger one for the Rolls-Royce. A specially designed space for the owner’s huge dogs was behind the garage. To enliven the otherwise simple, aluminium-clad façade, Neutra designed—in the best Hollywood manner—a series of remarkable “special effects,” which extended into the landscape. Most prominent was the high curvilinear wall around the front patio, which emphasized the streamlined personality of the house. A shallow moat-like lily pool surrounded the wall and, in broken stretches, the entire house. A long thin wall extended from the west façade, exaggerating the house’s size and dividing the front and rear gardens.”

    Head to the house’s website here to see a stunning slideshow of the Julius Shulman photographs of the house and, if you don’t already know, to discover which influential novelist lived here after Von Sternberg, where she began the novel that has come to define our times – the novelist who described the house as “unbelievably wonderful.”

    “Later, in answering a query from a fan, she [the novelist] described it as being ‘extremely modern—made of steel, glass and concrete, mostly glass. So you see, I’m the kind of ballplayer who endorses only what she really smokes—and smokes only what she really endorses.’”

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Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

What Architecture is All About

    Now we're at the halfway point of our architectural debate over at my main blog 'Not PC,' here's a very brief meditation on what, at bottom, architecture is really all about: In five words or less, it’s this: giving meaning to our lives. Or to use the words of the late Claude Megson, "If it doesn't have meaning, then you're just wanking." 
    Simple, huh? Read on now for the thousand-word meditation...

    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 begin 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.

    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?

*** PS:  if you want to think about architecture a bit more deeply, 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 much 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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