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Anarchist voting : voting Anarchist

The vote cage - by Brighton Solidarity Federation
The vote cage – by Brighton Solidarity Federation

In 6 months on 7th May 2015 we have the opportunity to vote out the shambles of the Con-Dem Coalition and condemn David Cameron to the scrapheap of “one term Prime Ministers”, and Nick Clegg to where he belongs… wherever that may be!

However I as someone who identifies as an anarchist, or anarcho-syndicalist, or anarcho-communist (depending on my mood) I am in theory opposed to voting. As the oft cited phrase, attributed to anarchist hero Emma Goldman, says “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal” the vote within a Parliamentary democracy is not democratic. As an anarchist I hold that a truly democratic society does not need and is actively oppressed by the appointment of national governments, armies, police forces and other tools of control. I believe that The People are the true authority in society from whom all power flows. To put it at it’s simplest, as Marx argued, if the working people were to withhold their labour the power structures that seem so eternal in our society would collapse overnight. Those that live off the backs of others could not continue to do so if those they live off stop producing for them.

Similarly, if we withheld our vote the political class would have no legitimacy. Thus could not weald the power with which they are endowed. Any attempt by them to impose their will through force would be the imposition of a military dictatorship. Either way this results the end of representative democracy, and potentially a popular uprising against an illegitimate government. That said of course the chances of an overwhelming majority of the electorate not turning out on 7th May is slim to none. Certainly any such change would need to be incremental and therefore begins with one person refusing to engage with and thereby legitimise the system of representative democracy.

There is a burning desire in many sections of society to be rid of this useless and heartless government which has stumbled from crisis to crisis over the last five years, through poorly executed spin and scandal. How can I therefore blame people for voting to oust this bunch of bastards from power? I can’t and I don’t. In fact I question the wisdom of my own abstentionist position instead. I want to be rid of this government. I want a fairer, and frankly, kinder society in which people no longer compete with each other in cutthroat fashion by co-operate to achieve the best for all.

I have in my hour of need and self-doubt turned to my old friend the late Colin Ward, one of the anarchist writers who introduced me to the idea of anarchists’ as something other than Black Bloc tactics when I was a mere 22 years old. In his 1987 essay “The Case Against Voting” Ward says:

“…it is the anarchists who, for well over a century, have been the most consistent advocates of conscientiously staying away from the poll. Since anarchism implies an aspiration for a decentralised non-governmental society, it makes no sense from an anarchist point of view to elect representatives to form a central government.”

So far so straightforward, I am an anarchist ergo I do not vote as I wish to delegitimise the system of centralised governance. It is telling that Ward wrote this essay in 1987 in the midst of the Thatcher Government that is as opposed to Ward’s politics as it is possible to imagine. However he makes the point that, then as now, the preceding and he imagines the following administrations would be little different:

“… the similarities between the present government and both its predecessors and successors far outweigh the differences.”

The ruling class is ever the ruling class, whether they are Labour, LibDem or Tory. The differences are there undoubtedly, but they are so minimal as to be next to pointless. The effects therefore of a change of administration will be similarly minimal. All the parties that have chance of taking power at the next election are subscribed to the fucked up wisdom of austerity, enthral to big money, committed to the monarchy (and by extension the British class system), to the maintenance of the last vestiges of the English Empire in the form of the UK; all things to which I am opposed. Most significantly they are as with all those in power determined to protect their vested interests and their own power at all costs.

My quandary is cause partly this year by the rising appeal of the Green Party. Having listened to their public announcements over the last few years and studied their manifestos (such as the one for the 2012 London Assembly Elections) they are perhaps the closest to my own political philosophy. They advocate public ownership of key industries and utilities, notably the railways, they support the public ownership of the NHS (as somebody who has spent considerable time in hospital in his life this is personal for me) and obviously their advocacy of a low carbon society. I support their campaigns for changes to fuel consumption, their pro-public transport stance (I don’t drive), and their opposition to the centralisation of power. All these policies appeal and accord with my life philosophy of Buddhism as they too represent the most humanistic, pacifist and peaceful of all the major political parties in England. They are the best political example of a group who are creating rather than destroying value in society.

So will I vote? And if I do will I vote Green?

To answer the second question first, yes; the Greens do seem the best option for any Leftist (in the broadest sense of the term) disillusioned with the Right-Wing-ism of all mainstream political parties. However under out first-past-the-post voting system one has to live in Brighton to stand any chance of electing a Green MP.

(As an aside: if we had a system of Proportional Representation I would probably be more inclined to vote as the vote may have an affect and be counted in the final tally. However again this is still legitimising a system of centralised governance.)

I have the comfort (if that is the right term) of living in a safe Labour seat, thus my vote will have no effect on the overall result of the general election. Any vote for the Green Party on my part would be gesture of defiance against the establishment parties and nothing more. It would register my support as one of less than 1000 people (going by the last election result in 2012) voting Green in my constituency and nothing more. That It may be argued, by some tortuous process of extension, influence others to vote Green in future and many years hence lead to a Green MP in Manchester, but this is a poor reason for me to break my vow of anarchism.

In the end the vote I cast in any circumstances will be the legitimising of the central government and the fallacy of representative democracy. So no, I still won’t be voting. As Colin Ward ends, quoting Petr Kropotkin writing in over 100 years ago:

” ‘The state organisation, having been the force to which the minorities resorted for establishing and organising their power over the masses, cannot be the force which will serve to destroy these privileges.’ In urging the need for more popular, more decentralised, forms of social administration, he stressed that we will be compelled to find new forms of self-organisation for the social functions that the state fulfills through the bureaucracy, and that ‘as long as this is not done, nothing will be done.’.”

To Hell with Architects?

“Christ in Lambo” by Hieronymus Bosch
“Christ in Lambo” by Hieronymus Bosch

In advance of the upcoming conference at the Manchester School of Art “To Hell with Culture? Re-examining the commodification of culture in contemporary capitalism”, organised by Dr Dani Child and Hugh Wahl I have been looking at Herbert Read’s famed essay.  Specifically I have been looking at Read’s ideas through the lens of housing as a form of architecture most associated I would argue with Read’s ideas. I’m questioning is architecture as we experience it today an art? And can it ever be de-commodified as a form of artist expression.

As Dani Child says in the conference “call for papers”: ‘Over 70 years ago, the anarcho-syndicalist art critic – Herbert Read – wrote ‘To Hell with Culture’ (1941). This was an essay that sought to criticise the capitalist co-optation of culture, whilst simultaneously calling for a functional art within a democratic society. While Read understood function in terms of a natural beauty, an understanding perhaps based on his anarchist ideas coupled with a modernist conception of the artist, his essay provides a useful starting point for thinking about the commodification of art today, drawing upon Marxist, communist and anarchist ideas.’

Obviously my politics being what they are I’m taking is solely from the anarcho-syndicalist tradition from which Read too hails. As is explored in Hugh Wahl’s film To Hell with Culture? (2014) on which the conference is premised, Read was a contradictory character a rich man, son of Yorkshire farmer, obsessed with the natural world. Read lived on large country estate and accepted a knighthood for his services to literature yet maintained he was anarchist. This perhaps typical of the compromises that someone self-identifying as anarchist in our authoritarian, capitalist, representative democracy has to make, but accepting a knighthood is something of step too far I feel.

However, back to the architecture, famously referred to by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright as the ‘mother art’, it can be argued is the basis of our civilisations, or as Wright continued it’s soul: ‘Without an architecture of our own we have no soul of our own civilization’.

Architecture therefore stands along side the production of artists per se as a key element of a society’s culture. Like valued art valued architecture is preserved, glorified and held up as an example of the cultural achievement of a civilisation. Architecture is also a manifestation of society’s politics and, as Bill Risebero explores, the hegemony of a culture:

‘Architecture, like all other elements of the social superstructure, rests on our society’s economic base, that is the capitalist mode of production, which determines its essential nature. […]

Conversely, politics depend on culture. What Antonio Gramsci calls ‘hegemony’, that is, the ability of a bourgeois-democratic state like that of Britain to obtain and exercise power, depends not only on the coercive machinery of state itself but also on the participation of the people.’ (Risebero:1992:34)

Art and architecture are then both tools of hegemony the latter perhaps more so than the former, as whilst art may attempt to be revolutionary and to ask question of the status quo, architecture is, due to the very nature of its realisation bound to the hegemony of its culture. As Risebero goes on to say:

‘“The ruling ideas of any age”, as Marx and Engels have said, “have ever been the ideas of the ruling class” – and these ideas include architectural ones.’ (Risebero:1992:34)

It is perhaps possible to argue that contemporary housing does not represent a form of cultural production, or not in the way that Read uses the term. However I see the current condition of housing architecture to be a consequence of the development of housing from a social project into an element of commodity fetishism. The subjective market value of property has become realised to such a degree that houses are now valued above and beyond their functionality, or their reliability or sustainability. Their value is now determined by the price it is possible to sell them for and the market determines this, as do the locations and the professions involved in their sale.

Therefore the value placed on buildings may in some cases be more tangible but can also be just as conceptual as with art. If a building is not valued for its physical properties, its materiality or its use value, it can only be valued for the experience it enables one to consume within its confines.

 

But is architecture art? And if so has it been commodified in the same way as Read argues in this essay art has? I would answer yes in both cases. To illustrate the first point I invoke Read himself:

‘If an object is made of appropriate materials to an appropriate design and perfectly fulfils its function, then we need not worry any more about its aesthetic value: it is automatically a work of art. Fitness for function is the modern definition of the eternal quality we call beauty, and this fitness fir function is the inevitable result of an economy directed to use not to profit.’ (Read:2002:18)

The example that Read gives in the essay is that of a chair but the analogy can be extended to buildings or entire towns which are in and of themselves objects only differing in scale from the chair.

Therefore by Read’s definition the work of Modernist architects such as the famed Le Corbusier, or Alison & Peter Smithson, or Chamberlin, Powell & Bon can be classed as art. This architecture is often decried as ugly or cold and perhaps betrays Read’s call for us not to ‘…worry any more about its aesthetic value’ perhaps because pure Modernist architecture in particular is considered by many to have no such value. As a purely functional, yet I would argue beautiful, way of building buildings it is perhaps the closest architecture comes to Read’s conception of a work of art.

As I see it housing, and by extension housing architecture, has become a key example of the commoditisation of the art of architecture. Housing, as opposed to just houses, has since Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy’ become an integral part of the UK and indeed Western economies in general.

It was in housing that something of a seachange occurred after 1980 in the UK. The post-war social project of providing decent publically owned housing for all, not just the working classes, which had begun to be eroded by the Labour administrations of the 1970s. By 1980 housing began its inexorable slide into a commodity to be traded and to be used to create wealth. This is not to say that housing has not been a commodity before the 1970s, it clearly had, but the ‘Right to Buy’ generation made the failure of the project of social housing all the more acute due to the fetishism thereby associated with the ownership of property. Property has therefore become a means of creating wealth from nothing.

So has architecture in this field stopped being an art? Yes and no. Where housing architecture is actually produced for specific clients and sites or in similar circumstances by co-operative groups or self-builders then yes, much housing architecture may qualify as an art as defined by Read. Where however it is produced by “volume housebuilders” it may be consider as nothing more than an object, and badly produced one at that. The chair analogy that Read uses in To Hell with Culture provides us with an apposite description of the volume housebuilder’s product:

‘…the capitalist must progressively lower the quality of the materials he is using: he must use cheap wood and little of it, cheap springs, cheap upholstery. He must evolve a design that is cheap to produce and easy to sell, which means that he must disguise his cheap materials with veneer and varnish and other shams…

Such is production for profit.’ (Read:2002:17)

The self-builder, whilst historically serving as an example of “other ways of doing architecture”, has also recently been co-opted by the housing market owner-occupier fetishism. This form of housing architecture (I will focus on housing again as this is chief area in which self-build manifests) is one example of where the architect and more importantly the architectural profession and establishment has been excluded from building for the first time in the industrial and post-industrial ages.

Prior to the industrial age architects as we conceive of them today did not in fact exist. As Read explains: ‘…the Middle Ages, is rivalled only by the Greek Age; but, oddly enough, it too was not conscious of its culture. Its architects were foremen builders, its sculptors were masons…’ (Read:2002:11) As such architects were skilled craftsmen not a rarefied stratum of society, an over-educated and culturally elevated professional. The skill of the craftsman still exists in architecture but often now as an element of a lengthy and anonymised process. This is sometimes at an extreme, as in the example of the volume housebuilder, where the skilled craftsman is utterly divorced from the totality of the work of art (gesamtkunstwerk) and the end user as to make their presence meaningless.

The master craftsman role does manifest in the example of the self-builders building their own homes. Be that as a group of autonomous individuals in a co-operative or a single individual employing craftsmen to build for them. The self-builder has returned to what N. John Habraken called, in an echo of Read, the natural relationship. The natural relationship is at its most pure in the expression of individuality: ‘It [the natural relationship] all started at a primitive stage when this relationship expressed itself directly in the action of man who by himself, without any help, built his protective environment’ (Habraken:1999:25). Clearly many degrees of separation now exist between the occupant and this direct expression of the ‘natural relationship’ in mass housing. It was the mass housing process that Habraken was railing against in 1967. The self-build thesis therefore presents an opportunity for the natural balance to be restored.

So as Read said regarding the artist, I say to hell with the architect!

‘I have said: To hell with culture; and to this consignment we might add another: To hell with the artists. Art as a separate profession is merely a consequence of culture as a separate entity, in a natural society there will be no precious or privileged being called artists: there will be only workers. […]

“The artist is not a special kind of man, but every man is special kind of artist”.’ (Read:2002:23)

That precise argument is the one I would make for architecture and architects, as a mode of cultural production, as a form of elitist and privilege. I concede however some of these questions and challenges do come from inside the professions, as the architect and theorist Michael Sorkin said last year in New York ‘[We architects] should not renounce our expertise, but use our expertise in order to build socialism.’ (Sorkin:2013)

But in the end the drive for these changes come now from the people as it did in the 1970s in the UK (see earlier posts). Whether we today have an opportunity truly subvert the nature of architecture, to turn it into genuine tool for democratisation of development, of design and of land ownership remains to be seen. But the examples of the Architects’ Revolutionary Council give us further evidence that this tradition of alternative building, which is building without architects or architecture, is a lot older than architecture and representative of something and perhaps somewhere else.

 

References:

Habraken, N.J. ([1972]1999), Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing. (2ndEdition), London: Urban International Press UK.

Ibelings, H. (2002) Supermodernism: Architecture in the Age of Globalisation. Rotterdam: NAi.

Read, H. (1941) “To Hell With Culture”, in Read, H. (2002) To Hell with Culture. London: Routledge.

Risebero, B (1992) Fantastic Form: Architecture and Town Planning Today. London: Herbert Press.

Sorkin, M.(2013) “Architecture or Capitalism/Architecture and Capitalism” at Storefront for Art and Architecture, 97 Kenmare St, New York City. [online] [url: http://blogs.artinfo.com/objectlessons/2013/11/06/5-thoughts-from-michael-sorkin-on-architecture-and-capitalism/]

All About the House

Terraced housing
Terraced housing in Islington, north London.

I have recently completed my upgrade from MPhil student to PhD student at the Sheffield School of Architecture, University of Sheffield; as part of my Doctoral studies. In the process of this I had cause to reassess what I was doing in my studies, what purpose was I going to put all this blood, sweat and, no doubt tears, to! It seems my key area of interest is the same as it has always been housing. How people live, why they live that way, what housing as a form of architecture and building, provides for us to live the way we want to live. The housing market and the associated inflation busting price hikes are a symptom I believe of a broken system. A system of capitalist exploitation of something that I believe fervently is a right not a privilege, decent housing.

As in the recent article “Where Will We Live” by James Meek in the London Review of Books and the new book “All that is Solid: the Great Housing Disaster” by Danny Dorling lay out, our housing system is broken beyond repair. Therefore I would argue a new form of housing needs to be developed, or in fact I think it already exists! I don’t mean in terms of structurally or architecturally (although both are problematic) but in terms of the old maxims of supply and demand. The market completely distorts the housing (as verb) process and thereby undermines everything that should be achievable in a country as rich and technologically advanced as ours. Simply put, a decent house with suitable amenities for every single person regardless of income, class or of education. Which of course was the aim set out by those who first developed council housing, now such a dirty word. (See the BBC film ‘The Rise and Fall of the Council House’ for a good synopsis of this)

So housing is once again my key area, I don’t want to limit myself artificially to this as a couple of examples I have already identified, the Black-E or “Blackie” in Liverpool and the SOLON project at St Peter & Paul Church, Clapham; diverge from this, but it is my principle area of focus.

My title, ARCHITECTS AND OTHERS: Anarchist and radical modes of ‘doing architecture’ in the UK, 1969-1985” and the time period of the study have changed slightly has I have began to focus more on the area I want to pay particular attention to. The 1970s are still my key area of interest but this is now bookended by the Housing Acts of 1969 and 1985. The former giving local councils the responsibility not to just clear ‘slums’ and build new dwellings, but to improve existing housing stock significantly introducing General Improvement Areas. The latter by entrenching the ‘Right to Buy’ of the 1980 Act and the official end of the Labour Party’s opposition to the ‘Right to Buy’.

These two moments in housing policy are I feel most significant in determining the potential causes for the period in-between that saw the emergence of other ways of ‘doing architecture’ most specifically and importantly for me housing architecture.

It is principally however my ideological approach and my self-identification as an anarchist (specifically an anarcho-syndicalist) that is driving this study. This is the basis of my critique of the current status quo where the group of individuals with control over architecture is incredibly small. Therefore the opening up of the profession and the disestablishment of its power structures is the only practicable means by which ‘Other’ people will gain greater power and control over architecture.

My approach to anarchist architecture and theory is based on the work of Herbert Read, Colin Ward, & John F.C. Turner; along with Marxists Bill Risebero, David Harvey & Bill Hillier all of which are critiques of architecture and its position in the capitalist system of economic and social control.

So to return to where I began the issue as I see it with housing is the same issue as I see with some much of our capitalist, market drive, profit motivated society; the purposeless desire to acquire wealth for what purpose we seem not to know, but nonetheless that is what we do. So we don’t live in houses we need or even want but the ones we desire, or desire others to see us living in. The construction, marketing and occupation of these buildings is driven not by need or usefulness; not as Marx said from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” but by social and economic status and consumerism. That is in the end the basic problem with which I an wrestling and within the small area of study I am carrying out over the next three or four years it is the area I hope to be able to make some useful contribution to.

Watch this space!

The Tube, the gesamtkunstwerk of early 20th Century British Modernism

I have recently been reminded, as if I (as an absolute Tube fanatic) needed it, of the wondrous and futuristic qualities of the London Underground. Now I admit this I difficult to envisage at 8:30 in the morning with your face in someone’s armpit when your train breaks down in a tunnel under Camden Town. But nevertheless just the notion of electric train hurtling through tunnels underneath one of the planet’s busiest cities is surely worthy of the sobriquet ‘futuristic’. The Tube, its design, its shape and extent tells us a lot about the nature of London in the first half of the 20th Century.

The expansion of the Tube network, most notably the Northern Line to Edgware in the north in 1924 and to Morden in the south in 1926 was responsible for providing people and property developers with the opportunity to travel easily to the city. The network was designed as an ‘object’ in and of itself. This was a significant factor in the way in which the suburbs the Tube linked to the City developed. This was not an accidental occurrence it was a plan formulated by a number of people.

Morden extension now open
Morden extension now open, by unknown artist, 1926 (Published by Underground Electric Railway Company Ltd, 1926. Printed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd, Format: Quad royal Dimensions: Width: 1255mm, Height: 1010mm Reference number: 1983/4/2129 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection)
Hendon-Edgware extension
Hendon; Edgware extension now open, by Charles Shepard, 1924 (Published by Underground Electric Railway Company Ltd, 1924. Printed by The Baynard Press, Format: Double royal. Stylistic influence: Decorative map. Dimensions: Width: 635mm, Height: 1016mm. Reference number: 1983/4/1634 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection)
Frank Pick
Frank Pick (url: http://www.londonreconnections.com/2009/a-typeface-for-the-underground/ ).

 Chief amongst them as far as the London Underground was concerned was Frank Pick. Pick was a huge force in thedevelopment of the design coherence of the London Underground. Appointed ‘Commercial Manager’ in 1912 he was responsible for commissioning in 1915 calligrapher Edward Johnston to create a clear recognisable typeface for the London Underground network. The now famed Johnston Sans

Johnston Sans
Johnston Sans (url:  http://www.londonreconnections.com/2009/a-typeface-for-the-underground/ ).

Johnston Sans was the result and (with minor modifications) is still the typeface used by the current incarnation of the managers of London’s public transport system Transport for London. Along with a number of other influential designers and theorists Pick was also a founder member of the Design and Industries Association in 1915.

 “… the DIA set out to reconcile the ideas of [John] Ruskin and [William] Morris to the machine age by integrating art with industry, commerce, and education.”[1]

Brent station site (© TfL from the London Transport Museum collection)
Brent station site (© TfL from the London Transport Museum collection)

Pick boldly envisioned the expanding transport system as the modern equivalent of a medieval cathedral, an integrated work of art [or Gesamtkunstwerk] that would be a joy to both makers and users. Like the cathedrals, the transport system would provide a unifying function for society.”[2]

The use of the phrase “a joy to both makers and users” is significant as it is oft repeated tenet of William Morris as illustrated in a collection of his talks and essay from 1882 Hopes and Fears for Art[3] in which Morris says repeatedly “Art made by the people and for the people, a joy to the maker and the user.[4]

Morden under construction
Morden under construction (Inventory no: 2004/9789 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection)

“the expansion of the Underground in the twenties provided  Pick with his opportunity to realise the utopian ambitions the he… shared with other members of the DIA.

   He intended to use the expanding transport system to shape a new urban community.”[5]

Pick became noted for commissioning what was for the time quite radical poster art. The use of forms of Fauvism, Cubism and Expressionism was not greeted by the profession of advertisers with any enthusiasm, and in some cases with outright patronisation. Particularly, as is recounted by Michael T. Saler in his book The avant-garde in interwar England: medieval modernism and the London Underground, by the Pear’s advertising director, who…;

“…wrote to the London Mercury in 1921 that

Impossible ducks, futurist trees, vermilion grass and such like absurdities may well appeal to… ‘higher thought’, but believe me, Sir, those people who live their lives in the ordinary conventional way, as do the bulk of the general public, need nothing more subtle in poster than a straightforward appeal to their sense of pleasure, duty or whatever it may be. They don’t understand, and have no wish to understand, the essentially unacademic.

Futurist trees
Futurist trees – Edgware by Tram, by Aldo Cosomati, 1923. (Published by Underground Electric Railways Company Ltd, 1923. Printed by J Weiner LtdFormat: Double crown. Dimensions: Width: 508mm, Height: 762mm. Reference number: 1983/4/1552. © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection)

But Pick had faith in the public’s ability to appreciate the new spirit of art when it was directed toward specific ends:

Those who decry posters which for their understanding require pains and thought underrate the attractiveness of a puzzle, underrate the urge to stretch the mind a bit more than usual, underrate indeed the intellectual level of the urban population.”[6]

 

Hatfield by motor bus
Hatfield by motor bus, by Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1920 (Published by Underground Electric Railways Company Ltd, 1920. Printed by Dangerfield Printing Company LtdFormat: Double crownStylistic approach: Flat colour. Dimensions: Width: 508mm, Height: 762mm. Reference number: 1983/4/1024 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection)
Museum of Natural History
Museum of Natural History, by Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1923 (Medium: Gouache. Dimensions: Width: 356mm, Height: 535mm. Reference number: 1995/4088 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection)

“By using the stylistic hallmarks of the postimpressionists, such as simple two dimensional designs made up of sharp outlines and bold colors[sic], posters could telegraph their messages rapidly, unencumbered by the mediation of narrative. (Figure 2.4).”[7]

the North Downs
The North Downs, by D Legg, 1921.  (Published by Underground Electric Railways Company Ltd, 1921. Printed by Waterlow & Sons LtdFormat: Double royal. Dimensions: Width: 635mm, Height: 1016mm. Reference number: 1983/4/1159 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection)

“The Underground posters were the first to deploy the new styles in art and appear to have exercised a broad and possibly profound impact on all levels of society following the [First World]war. Many accounts in the press praised the Underground for bringing modern art to the people, turning the system into “the people’s picture gallery.”… the art critic Frank Rutter observed [1933] that the Underground had become in effect on the of the largest and most influential art galleries in the country.”[8]

Pick had therefore taken what could have been an entirely mundane function of a city it’s underground railway and turned it into (literally in many cases) a vehicle for modern and modernist art in poster design initially but later in architecture. Pick hired fellow DIA member Charles Holden in 1924 and promptly commissioned him to design the stations of the southern Morden extension of the Northern Line.

Tooting Bec 1952
Tooting Bec. Photographed by Colin Tait, September 1952. (Tooting Bec Underground station, Wandsworth SW17. Image no: 3816. Inventory no: 1998/87060. © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection)
Tooting Bec 1975
Tooting Bec. Photographed by R S Watson, Oct 1975  (Tooting Bec, SW17. Image no: unknown. Inventory no: 2007/7930.  © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection)
Tooting Bec 1980
Tooting Bec. Unknown photographer, Circa 1980. (Tooting Bec, SW17. Image no: unknown. Inventory no: 2001/16397. © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection)
Tooting Bec eastern entrance
Tooting Bec eastern entrance
Tooting Bec western entrance
Tooting Bec western entrance

Holden developed a simple, functionalist design, austerely classical.”[9] Holden is however perhaps better known for his designs for the northern Cockfosters extension of the Piccadilly Line in the 1930s.

Cockfosters station building
Cockfosters station building
 Cockfosters interior
Cockfosters interior

“Pick now began to lecture on the necessity for town planning,… Pick cited the ideas of Raymond Unwin and Patrick Geddes, two influential leaders in the town-planning movement. Unwin and Geddes themselves were influenced by Ruskin and Morris and argued that town planning must be organic,… This conception cohered with Pick’s own romantic belief in the possible reconciliation of diversity within a totality, and his hope that an organic unfolding society could coexist with the modern necessity for urban planning”[10]

More on the suburbs that emerged from the expansion of the Underground and the station and architecture of the 1930s on another day.


[1] p61, Saler, M. T. (1999) The avant-garde in interwar England : medieval modernism and the London Underground. New York ; Oxford : Oxford University Press.

[2] p93, Saler (1999) Op cit.

[3] Morris, William (1882) Hopes and Fears for Art, London : Ellis & White.

[4] Morris, William. Hopes and Fears for Art; Chapter 3, “The Beauty of Life”. [Online] Accessed 05/08/2010  [url: http://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/index.htm]

[5] p106, Saler (1999) Op cit.

[6] pp99-100, Saler (1999) Op cit.

[7] p100, Saler (1999) Op cit.

[8] p101,  Saler (1999) Op cit.

[9] p105,  Saler (1999) Op cit.

[10] p107,  Saler (1999) Op cit.

The Pedagogy Of Silence

The Quiet Carriage by Callum Baker via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/curiosdusteye/
The Quiet Carriage by Callum Baker via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/curiosdusteye/

On reading Robert Zaretsky’s article in the Times Higher Education supplement this week, I had the horrible sense of creeping realisation. “I do that!” Arrgh! What am I doing wrong/with my life, etc. What was Zaretsky (A professor of history in the Honors College, University of Houston and author of A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning) talking about, well, silence. Not nothing, which I almost typed there, but silence, the presence of absence as Derrida might have it.

Zaretsky asks what is the purpose of incessant talking? He, as I, is an academic, and fears “the silence”. In the seminar or after the question posed in a lecture, a deafening silence. This silence for the academic is scary, one begins to think what am I doing wrong here? Have I baffled them completely? Are they awake? Are they dead‽

This leads to chattering; to the answering ones own question if no answer is forthcoming from the room in a fraction of a second.  He refers to this silence feeling like the “…aural equivalent of the Dead Sea, No life here, I tell myself: no depths to plumb.” However this article is not a critique of the lazy or indifferent student stereotype, it is a critique of the academic. Why can we not just shut the hell up sometimes!

Academics do like to talk it’s true, it’s what we are paid for, it’s what we have chosen to do with our lives. Talk, talk and read, and mark of course. However we perhaps need to remember that we all take time to process new ideas, and (hopefully) the ideas that one as a teacher is imparting to students are new. These ideas need to be given time to filter through, to be processed, the silence may not always be due to unconsciousness (unless its before 10am of course!)

As Zaretsky himself stresses this silence is not the dramatic pause after the controversial or “funny” comment. For although lectures are certainly performances they are not supposed to be emotionally overwhelming all of the time, some degree of security should be provided. Silences can be intimidating for both lecturer and student alike, the desperate need to fill the void takes over, and it becomes an awkward silence. However silences need not be awkward or confrontational, like when in the company of particularly good friend you can be silent with each other and just enjoy the silence of each other company.

So let us treat the ideas expounded upon in the lecture not as great monoliths of knowledge that have the battered in to dust by the stream of words from the lecturer and instantly comprehended by the audience. They are perhaps more akin to the metaphor of the friend, to sat down with and chewed over in quiet contemplation. Of course the luxury of time is something we often lack in our modern white-hot technological age. We are all rushing from one thing to another, one hour in the lecture theatre, which is actually 50minutes, waiting to get in, and making sure you’re out on time. Trying to cram too much stuff into the session, forgetting something important, extemporising for five minutes and losing ones thread, and probably the audience in the process. These are all reasons why the silence doesn’t happen, isn’t available, feasible, possible! But making time for silence seems all the more pertinent given the lack of time for quiet elsewhere in our day.

More silence is called for, less talking and more thinking. So if I shut the hell up once in while in a lecture I’m just giving us all thinking space, I’m not asleep.

A land-owning democracy?

Sheildeg, Scotland (CC) from http://www.flickr.com/photos/martindelusenet/
Sheildeg, Scotland
(CC) from http://www.flickr.com/photos/martindelusenet/

UPDATE 22/08/13: I just came across this article in the New Statesman setting out the inequity of “owning” a flat in London, specifically in this case the issue of leasehold, renting by any other name…

I have recently become aware of Kevin Cahill’s book Who Owns Britain (Canongate: 2001) and having found a reference copy in my local library have begun to read this somewhat seminal under published and distinctly subversive text.

OK, it’s not the Communist Manifesto but the ideas that are discussed in it are quite extraordinary when you place them in the context of our class system. Cahill discusses the ways in which the ownership of land is by-and-large obscured by the lack of functioning land registry and how the vast majority of us live on and own only 4.4million acres of Britain’s land mass (of a total of nearer 60million, approximately acre for every person in the UK) the rest exists under the ownership of one group or another (the Crown, National Trust, etc.) with a considerable proportion of this belonging, in obscure circumstances, to the landed gentry, aristocracy and baronets (who apparently aren’t part of the aristocracy, you learn something new…)

Here are a few of the figure Cahill quotes:

The UK’s top five landowners (excluding the Crown Estate, the Ministry of Defence and the Forestry Commission):

Duke of Buccleuch, Acreage: 270,900
Value: £598m
Subsidy Entitlement: £20.4m

Estate of Atholl (Dukedom), Acreage: 147,000
Value: £200m
Subsidy Entitlement: £11.0m

Duchy of Cornwall, Acreage: 141,000
Value: £480m
Subsidy Entitlement: £10.6m

Duke of Northumberland, Acreage: 132,000

Value: £463m
Subsidy Entitlement: £9.9m

Duke of Westminster (excl London), Acreage: 129,000
Value: £450m
Subsidy Entitlement: £9.2m

I find it intriguing that Cahill uses the Irish example that advance the view that home, and by extension land ownership, is part of the democratisation of society. The redistribution or land in the south of the island of Ireland after 1922 was part of the throwing off of the chains of English imperialism and about the reconnection of thew Irish people with their land. This seems logical when laid out in such a fashion, at least it seems logical to my anarchic tendencies anyway. But due to home ownerships associations with Thatcher and flogging off of State property in the 1980s in the English tradition home-ownership is seen differently. I’d always treated home ownership as petty bourgeois behaviour, not to be encouraged. The argument advanced by the Labour left in the 1980s should perhaps not have focussed on a “class war”-lite approach on the basis of ownership, but on the selling off of public resources and privatisation of housing provision. These were certainly arguments that were made to degree but Thatcher’s campaign of people owning their own home was a success perhaps because it spoke to a part of people that desires a “little place to call their own”.

Ultimately however the issue is one of land-ownership not home-ownership. After all how many people actually own their own home “lock, stock and barrel”? Very few, most homes are owned by banks, as is demonstrated by the foreclosures and repossessions of homes during the current recession.

The issue of land ownership arose in the English tradition in groups such as the Chartists and early Socialists in the early 19th Century. Additionally Ebenezer Howard and Garden City movement held a desire for land to be owned in common, as was instigated in the setting up of Garden City Associations, whom collectively and publicly owned the land of the garden city.

This seems particularly pertinent to my PhD which is looking at ways of opening up, of democratising, architecture, in particular housing, to those beyond the architectural professions or without the financial means to opt-out of mainstream housing. As the prohibitive costs of property pushes more people out of the housing market (even those who do want to own) the clearly inequitable distribution of land exacerbates a complex and thus far insoluble problem, the challenge of “housing the people”

So unlike a Thatcherite home-owning democracy a true democracy socially, politically and architecturally can only be achieved when we are a land-owning democracy, all land held in common for all the people.

This blog has been quiet for far too long.

Image

Having previously concentrated on my work related studies and the to-be subject of my PhD I plan to reorient this blog from here on. I have over the last six months, through my PhD research and general life experience, come to the conclusion that much of what I am interested in boils down to few basic “truths” (I use the term advisedly!)

I believe in achieving a society that is truly compassionate.

I believe that we can only be judged by our deeds, not our words or our intentions.

I believe that everybody has a right of self-determination that should not be inhibited by State, religion, moral precepts or political expediency.

These may sound like grandiose ideals verging on anarchist utopianism, and as an anarchist I find the idea appealing I must admit. However I suppose the point here is that I have resolved to not accept the cynical logic of the “realist” (a moniker I have oft applied to myself) and to believe that ideals are not only achievable but are necessary.

How can one live in a society with other human beings all ultimately striving to be happy and not believe that this happiness is achievable? What would we have left in our lives if we did not have some sort ultimate aim? Or some aspirational target upon which to focus our energies, not to the detriment of all others or all other aspects of our lives even, but nevertheless a belief that we matter and that we can perhaps make a difference to others.

Much of these ideals of late have come from my refocusing on what I would now describe as my “faith”. As much as I struggle with term as an atheist, it is difficult to use the word and not think of God(s), “faith” is the most appropriate term. I have been for the last four years on-and-off (more “off” than “on”) following a particular form of Buddhism, the Japanese Nichiren Buddhism, as propagated by the lay organisation the SGI.

I will not go into an in-depth exploration of this now, as that is not what this blog is about, but sufficed to say as with virtually all forms of Buddhism Nicherin Buddhism is based on the essential premise that we all seek ultimate happiness in our existence and most importantly that this achievable, by everyone.

This basic premise that we all seek ultimate happiness and we are all capable of achieving it has had a profound influence on my worldview; it essentially has grounded me in a compassion for others that I may have struggled with in the past! This realisation as I would characterise it has given me a new focus on what is really important in life.

The work I do, teaching, helping others essentially, my PhD, designed to look at the ways in which people could achieve genuine satisfaction in their built environments, all seem to converge on this idea, that true happiness is obtainable. This means I think that we owe it to ourselves, and to others, to realise this happiness, and to do all we can to ensure the happiness of others as well as ourselves.

The current political situation globally, not just in this country, makes this seemingly particularly difficult to achieve. Not to mention the idea that one needs to be compassionate when considering for example the recent policies of cuts in disability and income benefits that seem so manifestly uncompassionate in and of themselves.

However this idea of compassion is not passive or subservient in a sort of stereotypically C-of-E sort of way “oh, well, you know I’m a Christian so I forgive you”, it is active. That my compassion for others has been so roundly insulted by recent political developments should not cause me to recoil in horror it should cause me to forge on with renewed vigour. To believe that *I* can, will and indeed should make a difference in these circumstances. That I should be able to achieve not only my own happiness but through being compassionate, enable others to do the same.

My politics seemingly have come into greater focus; I can now say assuredly that I am anarchist, with anarcho-syndicalist leanings in particular. I do not believe the state or “private” enterprise can ever create truly happy people. People seem universally to want self-determination; they want the opportunity to live their lives as they wish. It seems recent disaffection by the young (and not so young!) with political parties, unions or any other organised structures of power reflects this.

We are, as I see it, moving away from the early Modernist ideals of collective societies bonded by company, party or state/nation, towards the anarchist idea of free associations that come together to address a certain issue or fight for certain causes. Mutual aid syndicates, cooperatives, community associations, charities; all can work towards certain aims without setting up permanent structures of power or bureaucracy that inevitably lead to vested interests and the establishment of hierarchies.

Bizarrely even the mainstream political parties have acknowledged (paid lip service to?) these ideas with the Tories’ “Big Society” and Labour’s “One Nation”-ism. However these policy catch-all’s barely scratch the surface of true mutual aid and interdependence that we are so often told is the basis of global capitalism but is also the basis of globalism anarchism. Perhaps our “leaders” should be careful what they wish for? If we become too interdependent, too globalised as individuals (not companies/states/races/nations) we may have no need for them any more. I can hope, and I suppose that is point.

This is nub of these issues for me a rather this practical person comes back to the statements of the truly enlightened that seem to fit so neatly here. One such individual is Mohandas Ghandi, his ideal, so often abbreviated to “be the change you wish it see in the world”, what he actually said more profoundly was:

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do”.

VOL 13, Ch 153, General Knowledge About Health; Page 241, Printed in the Indian Opinion on 9/8/1913 From The Collected Works of M.K.Gandhi; published by The Publications Division, New Delhi, India. Copied from http://www.gandhitopia.org/forum/topics/a-gandhi-quote

You need to do it. We need to do it. If we become compassionate, each and every one of us, then uncompassionate behaviour will become extinguished.

OK, so what has this got to do with my teaching, or my PhD, or more particularly this blog? I guess that’s the point here. I have of late found that I am asking, of my PhD and my job, how useful is this? My studies, my work, what do they contribute?

It seems the principles of true enlightened happiness run as a backbone through everything I do and everything I have ever been interested in. I believe in people and believe they deserve respect and freedom; this compassionateness is the driving force behind my PhD study and why I teach. This has come into greater focus of late as the interconnections between these seemingly disparate strands have begun to be become more apparent to me.

The purpose of my PhD study is to make the world better. Not all of it, that’s an impossible task for one person, but a small corner of it, a small patch of policy, or of housing, or one street or even one home, to make that “better”. If I can achieve that I will have done what I can to improve the lives of others, and by extension have improved my life state and thereby improved my chances of being truly happy as well as the chances of others. This premise applies to my teaching as much as my own research, the two must inform each other. The opportunity to teach, to engage others in thinking, doing and developing each other is a rare privilege.

So what does all this mean for the future? It means I have clearer motivating force for *all* of my work, my studies and the living of my life in general. It should mean I update this blog a bit more often as I will be doing more worthy of publication! This blog will now contain my PhD, my teaching, my attempts to overthrow the Establishment😉 and my general musings on life the universe and everything. These things are all interconnected. They rely on each other to develop and no one can exist in isolation from the others.

Thus this blog will change form and direction a bit, wander off on tangents and have the occasional openhearted moment like this one.

fotm

50 ideas for the mind?

The current University of Sheffield organised Festival of the Mind in Sheffield over the next week contains numerous potentially interesting spatial, architectural, and design based elements to it, but, to be blunt it also contains a awful lot of overblown publicity.

The most interesting element of the  “50 Ideas for Sheffield” staged by key member of the University Sheffield Architecture department Dr Christina Cerulli. This exhibition consisted of 50 ideas by University of Sheffield students for the regeneration of various parts of Sheffield.

House building : why and how, and what is important

Edited 09/09/12: Rowan Moore, I like the cut of your jib, a rather good short article on this subject from this weekend’s Observer

from Mr. T in DC on Flickr

The more I hear about current central government moves to encourage house building the more I am concerned about the motivations of those involved and the means by which they intend to achieve their ends.

Today’s announcement (see the BBC Politics Blog) to relax planning regulations and rehabilitate derelict dwellings, could have a positive impact on availability of opportunity for those excluded from the present housing market, but the whole tone of this announcement is rather more of the advantages to business of these moves. The most concerning thing, coupled with he recent abolition of squatters rights, a motion that passed our Parliaments allege scrutiny with barely a peep (see access-legal.co.uk, and The Guardian, here for a couple of informative article on the recent move) is the removal of the requirement for house builders to build affordable homes in their developments.

This morning the Prime Ministers office alleged that this requirement is blocking “75 000 homes currently stalled due to sites being commercially unviable”. The question for me is how is this judgement being made?

I suspect this is to do with property prices. If a developer can build a one class, one income bracket, estate, a high income bracket of course, then the property on that estate will have a higher aggregate value on the market. I have no proof of this (or am yet to find any) yet it seems logically that the kind of people who buy executive starter homes on Barratt estates are also the kind of people who want their executive starter home Barratt estates to be monocultural. These are suburban (or even exurban) environments, and suburbs are designed to not be challenging, to be neutral, bland, biege to ensure that nothing threatens the value of the property. The attitude being that property is property, not houses or homes but investments that must be protected. Local councils (read: Labour councils) who insist that affordable housing is built on new estates to house people of modest incomes will, in this new legislation, be able to be bypassed. The erosion of local democracy that this implies is horrendous. Local people could protest all they like to their councillors, their planning authorities, they can go to planning and council meetings and raise objections, but the house builder can bypass this entire process and go straight to the new Planning Inspectorate.

” • Thousands of big commercial and residential applications to be directed to a major infrastructure fast track and where councils are poor [again, read: Labour] developers can opt to have their decision taken by the Planning Inspectorate.”

I have no doubt that at today’s launch of this policy it will be left to Clegg and the Liberals to claim this is not Tory class war as the following allowance has been made:

” • Up to15,000 affordable homes and bring 5,000 empty homes back into use using new capital funding of £300m and the infrastructure guarantee.”

15,000 is a paltry figure and with the scrapping of the requirement to build affordable, who will do this? Which developer will build these estates? The system will have to subsidised by the public purse to ensure private developers reap the same if not more financial benefit from these projects to guarantee these dwellings will be be built. Or the vacuous “Big Society” in the form of Housing Associations and charities will be expected to plug this gap. The next point is where will these homes be built? The answer I fear is on further monocultural low income estates, thereby repeating the disastrous council housing policies of the 1970s and ’80s that led the social segregation and violence of the likes of Broadwater Farm and Toxteth. The ghettoisation of housing and of classes and people is the all to possible result of this corporate, Tory, big business friendly legislation.

The similarities with the establishment by Heseltine and Thatcher of the Special Development areas and orders, most notably the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) Enterprise Zone during the early 1980s, are striking. The removal of planning regulations, the exclusion of local people, the demolition of local democracy, and the wholesale destruction of the existing and construction of redoubted middle-class enclaves seems entirely in keeping with these proposals. The current move does perhaps not appear quite as mendacious as the example of the early 1980s but such is the presentation, the superficial appearance of cuddly Conservatism under Cameron and the Liberals.