Modern house in traditional setting – why not here

Checking out Dezeen (one of my favourite sites) the other day I saw this item on a startling modern new house built in Norway – Villa Wot is a Brick Cuboid..

What impressed me, along with how much I was taken by the house itself, was the fact that it’s not like the other ones in the street, in fact it says in the article “The plot in the Tåsen neighbourhood to the north of the city centre is surrounded by traditional timber-clad houses from the 1930s” which it clearly is in the photos. Villa Wot is just not like it’s neigbours, and why the hell should it be? I know I’ve blogged about the aspic nature of the UK’s attitude to building design before but I want to revisit it in the context of this because it’s just not the sort of thing which happens here. Here it’s all about homes fitting in, and even if the planners would let you build something very different somehow people opt for not doing so.

It’s all so exemplified by the Prince of Wales famous comment about one of the proposed extensions to the National Gallery being a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend”, which for some reason seems to have contributed to the proposed design being scrapped Now I’m not denying that HRH had, and continues to have, the same right to comment as any other citizen; unlike some people I don’t think his role in our society should mean he can’t express an opinion on whatever he likes. I don’t agree with him, heck I don’t agree with the idea of a Prince of Wales, but I reckon he shouldn’t have been slated for having said it. What he said seems to have struck a chord deep in the society of the UK which believes that somehow modern is something which has it’s place…and that place isn’t where anybody seems to be! Buildings have to fit in with other buildings in a supposed harmonious whole.  Which brings me to, and I give myself the same rights as HRH here, to his own driven development of Poundbury outside Dorchester. Dear God what a place, it’s one of the most soul devoid places I’ve ever seen. It’s like being in ‘The Prisoner’ only somewhere less imaginative. There’s nothing wrong with any of the individual buildings (though the huge building visible from the Dorchester bypass always seems to me like something Albert Speer might have designed if he’d lived in rural Britain) but it’s all just so clearly a one-hit pastiche of the sort of towns which develop over years and which have far more variety of building types than HRH possibly thinks they do. Historically we didn’t do this, houses were built in whatever style the builders were comfortable doing: now we worry about them fitting in rather than being visually interesting and a pleasure to live in. When they had the huge fire at Hampton Court Palace they spend lots of time and money lovingly recreating it the way it was before: Christopher Wren would have pulled it down and built something new. 

We’re busy building houses in the UK, though not as many as we need, and they’re very much out of the HRH school of thought. They’re very much like every other house built for years. Is the house-buying public really so locked into this view, and they are pretty much like the pictures of houses kids learn to draw at nursery, that they wouldn’t buy something different? The modernist estates which grew up after the war weren’t bad in themselves, the flats were big and the buildings were striking in their own way. What let them down was that they were built to a price which sometimes wasn’t high, and then run by councils who both penny-pinched and didn’t really care about them. If they’d had the money spent on them, and on-site staff who cared, and they had mixed communities, then they might well have worked. I suspect none of this helped modernism in the UK, but I’m sure loads of young aspiring professionals would be more than happy to consider modernist housing if only people built it.

Which brings me back to Villa Wot, which sits among 1930s homes and looks nothing like them: and you know what? It doesn’t matter. Just because every other house in a street looks the same there isn’t the slightest reason that one can’t put something very different in an empty space should one appear. It doesn’t matter that it’s a similar house, it just has to be a good house: a house which would make a good home. 

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Hair and Makeup – sculpture and 3d painting

My son was chatting online to one of his friends the other day, who was getting ready for a party. He was bemused by the fact that she was going to allow an hour to do her hair and makeup..with the comment that “I can get ready in 10 minutes….5 if I’m out of bed when I start”.  So I explained to him that what he was seeing was in fact art of the highest level, which is something that I suspect a lot of people don’t think about.

Makeup; something women put on their faces, right? Well now that depends. On one level it can be a bit of lipstick or eye shadow or blusher…but at the other end it’s multiple layers of toning shades all with varying levels of translucency, applied with a variety of brushes and pencils. If somebody does it with paint on paper then everybody acknowledges it as an art form, but somehow not if somebody is doing it on a 3d surface, in a mirror. How bizarre is that?  What’s more, women have to pull this trick off with a colour palate limited by what they happen to be wearing.

Hair: guys if you think making this look good in anything beyond a ponytail is easy then find a long-suffering female acquaintance and try it on them. You just have to take several thousand very fine fibres, which may or may not be slippery, and turn them into something stylish and pretty to look at! Again if this wasn’t something women did on themselves to make themselves look good then it would be acknowledged immediately as an art form.

So, every day millions of women and girls, some of them in their mid-teens, pull off amazing feats of artistic skill and dexterity….

Appreciate it for what it is!

The PRB – my long term and variable relationship

I’ve had a long-term, and very fluctuating relationship with the Pre-Raphaelites; we’ve been together on and off since the 70s. In my late teens I was very taken with them, I loved the colours and the scenes in a way which one might normally associate with a particular kind of artisticly over-wrought teenage girl, the sort with long hair, long dresses and with an excessive enthusiasm for black, crimson and purple. Then I went off them for a fair while because I found them a bit too over-done, too romantic, a bit too, well, teenage girl with long hair, long dresses and an over-enthusiasm for crimson, black and purple. In the last few years I’ve re-engaged with and found that I’m more positive again; though not uncritically. I’m with whoever it was who said that Millet’s Ophelia managed to make dying beautiful, though I have trouble these days with things like A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druidsa painting which frankly I want to spend less time looking at than I would have to saying the title.

How Millet could have produced Ophelia and then gone on to paint Bubbles is beyond me, she’s mesmerically beautiful and tragic (with of course the whole story of Lizzie Siddel catching cold in the bath)…Bubbles is just an exercise in mawkish sentimentality. Blech. Let’s be honest, if you had to be dead wouldn’t you, just a bit, want to look like Ophelia? Would you, really, want your kids to look like Bubbles?  Eve of St Agnes, liking that one.

Holman Hunt is a bit too keen on shoving Christanity down the viewer’s throats, though there is something of the gothic I think in The Scapegoat and you do get all the bit about having to go abroad to marry his wife’s late sister which gives him a bit of romantic shine. Can’t stand The Light of the World, never could. sorry.

Which of course leaves the most Byronic of the Boys in the Band..the rockstar of the PRB, Rosetti. A painter who, for good or ill, has linked every girl with long wavy hair with the word ‘pre-raphaelite’ (including at times when younger, my wife). At his best, he’s amazing as in his drawings of Lizzie and his drawn self portrait, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Ecce Ancilla Domini! though I’m not sure I can put my finger on why. Then you get all those over-lush portraits of women which are verging on pinups…well okay they are pinups. Got to admit it some of them are cute though a lot of them are clearly the work of a man who knows there’s a market for pictures of cute women especially if you dress them up in some kind of classical label.

Do I think they deserve their place on chocolate boxes, table mats and ‘artistic’ girls bedroom walls? Yep, definitely, and I think that both Millet and Rosetti who both in later life worked out that painting stuff people will buy is a good thing 🙂

The Future of Design Requires Free thinking and ‘Free’ Software

Or at least, very cheap software.

The creators of the visual world of tomorrow are in schools now. If we want an amazing visual world tomorrow then we’ve got to nurture them today, we’ve got to build their confidence and let them practice. We’ve also got to show all the kids that this is for them; I don’t mean that they should all do it, or even want to do it, but we’ve got to show them that if they want to then they can.

The problem is that the digital tools for this are expensive. In some cases very expensive. I’m not going to name names here but some software, while still sold much more cheaply into schools than it is into industry is still very expensive in the constrained budgets for education. If we want top flight and excited visual creatives in the future we’ve got to give them time to play with the tools now (the lack of time to play in the crowded modern curriculum with the multitude of targets and grading is another issue). I’ll will name-names and praise Autodesk for biting the bullet and giving schools and their students free access to their stuff saying “The challenges of today will be solved by the designers of tomorrow. That’s why Autodesk gives students, educators and educational institutions free* access to professional design software, creativity apps and real-world projects. Autodesk Education helps to inspire and prepare the next generation to imagine, design and create a better world.” – okay so the folks at Autodesk have twigged it, you want designers tomorrow you’ve got to let them play with the toys today.

Sure, there are brilliant free tools out there like GIMP and Blender, but you come up against the issue that most people have only heard the name of one piece of graphics software and will use it generically, like we do ‘hoover’ for a vacuum cleaner, and believe that you have to use that. And frankly much as I love GIMP if you want to let kids play with the pro tools for graphics and web design now there is one game in town…but that’s an expensive game to play for a school. Then there are all the programs used by VFX companies which lots of kids in schools would love to use – now under the Autodesk package they could have Maya or 3Ds  but there are others which would be great to let kids use, even just to play on in extra-curricular clubs, but which are expensive. The core business of these companies is selling into the graphics industry, wouldn’t it be an investment in our visual future, and also their future businesses, to either let schools and their students have free use of it, or price it at a peppercorn level?

In ten years I want to be blogging on Visupulse about exciting stuff being produced – I reckon that will be so much more exciting if all the kids in all the schools could play with all the toys