The Mass-Observation Movement

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The New Yorker has published yet another interesting and relevant article. In his discussion of the Mass Observation Movement Caleb Crain describes how, during the 1930’s and 40’s hundreds of observers recorded the everyday habits, actions and attitudes of the ordinary person. “No detail was too trivial. Mass-Observation studied which end of a cigarette people tap before lighting it (57% of people tap the end they put in their mouths)”.

The inventors of the movement were anthropologists, poets and painters and had strong links with the Surrealist movement and yet from these fantastic beginnings the movement eventually became incorporated into the most respectable of activities, market research.

Mass-Observation

Hidden Rooms

Our friends at ARCA have kindly forwarded this article from the New York Times about Secret or Hidden Rooms. The piece brings to mind the Priest Hole, a term given to hiding places built into many of the principal Catholic houses of England during the period when Roman Catholics were persecuted in England.

As John Lee at ARCA asks: “Where would you put yours?”

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Thinking Inside the Box: Interiors in the 21st Century – New Visions, New Horizons & New Challenges

Interior Architecture, Design and Decoration is a growing intellectual discipline, as the subject has become more accessible and highly visible so it has become more respectable and is now considered as a subject in its own right rather that an adjunct to architecture or an extension of decoration. The study of the discipline is so often dogged with issues of decorative finishes and cut MDF. Interiors are frequently regarded as the forgotten elements within a much larger theoretical discussion, as the spaces left over and produced very much as a consequence of building exterior. It has been regarded as a superficial practice that lacks a particular set of distinct design theories or principles, but there are more than 100 interior design and interior architecture courses listed on the UCAS website in Britain as well as the subject specialism in architecture. It is extraordinary that is there very little academic writing on the subject

The Interiors Forum Scotland will be debating the identity and future of Interior Design at a two-day symposium at the beginning of March 2007. Issues of theory, identity, design, and practice will be discussed at the Lighthouse Gallery in Glasgow. The event is organised by a collective group of Scottish Interior Educators. The Keynote speakers include Sally Stone, the leader of the College of Continuity in Architecture, MSA and Graeme Brooker, Course Leader Interior Design, MMU. This should prove to be an interesting conference.

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The Greatest

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Edwin Lutyens was the greatest British architect of the twentieth century. The crowning achievement of his career would have been the construction of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool. Of course, the building was never completed – construction, started in 1930, was stopped by WWll with only the crypt complete. Pevsner in ‘The Buildings of England: South Lancashire’ describes it as “undoubtedly the greatest monument of the inter-war years, in its unjustified optimism and its refusal to accept the new style of architecture”. The crypt can be visited, sitting below the post-war cathedral by Frederick Gibberd. And now the great model of Lutyens’ cathedral can be seen at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool: The Cathedral That Never Was. Until 22 April 2007. See you there.

Space, Time and Architecture: Horologium Augusti in Rome

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While Roman pragmatism found uses for the magnificent monumental areas constructed by numerous emperors, there was also the use of space itself as a display of power, no more amply expressed than in the complex of the Horologium Augusti, or Augustan sundial erected in the area of the Campus Martius to the north of the city, and built in relation to the mausoleum of Augustus and his altar, the Ara Pacis Augustae inaugurated in 9 B.C. The marble panels on the exterior of the altar enclosure instructed the Roman citizens in the benefits of Augustan rule and the imperial destiny of his heirs, making claims to dynastic political supremacy as being divinely sanctioned through its reference to Aeneas. The altar stood at the edge of a marble pavement measuring 160 by 75 metres with bronze inlaid lines mapping the hours of the day and months of the year, times indicated by the shadow of a massive 30 metre high red granite obelisk transported here to symbolise Augustus’s conquest of Egypt. On his birthday, 23 September, the shadow of the sundial’s gnomon was cast across the entrance to the enclosure of the Ara Pacis, linking the space of the city with the life of the emperor in a dramatic display of apparently cosmic power. The personal mythology of Augustus as offspring of the sun god Apollo was thereby expressed in physical terms through urban monuments.

Text and illustration from Eamonn Canniffe’s forthcoming book The Politics of the Piazza: Meaning and History in the Italian Square to be published by Ashgate in late 2007.

Strong Language

CiA recommends the following new book:

When Buildings Speak: Architecture as Language in the Habsburg Empire and Its Aftermath, 1867-1933 by Anthony Alofsin (The University of Chicago Press 2006).

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This well illustrated book surveys the architectural experimentation which defined mitteleuropa at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Historicist eclecticism features, but the more startling work includes Ivan Vurnik’s Cooperative Bank in Ljubljana of 1921-22, an essay in defining a Slovene architectural identity. Wagner, Hoffman and Plecnik who also figure in the book appear quite jaded in comparison.

Supercasino: From this filthy sewer pure gold flows revisited

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Alexis de Tocqueville’s assessment of the topography of industrialisation seems all the more prophetic as Manchester celebrates another success in its bid to become the centre of ‘trickledown urbanism’. The proposed supercasino presents itself with all the anodyne allure of a suburban leisure centre after a ‘Trinny and Susannah’ makeover – it surely will not be long into the design process before its aesthetic masochism surrenders to the command of the trash of signage and fastfood outlets which will be its inevitable accompaniment. Look out for the KFC bargain buckets speared on the B-of-the-Bang! But of course these joyous prospects are only superficial matters in comparison to the decision to use the local impoverished population as fodder in an experiment into optimising the connection between revenue-harvesting and gambling addiction.

There used to be a general idea that urban regeneration was a benign attempt to address social ills, but that mission would appear no longer to provide the prevailing paradigm. The private miseries of gambling addiction will remain difficult to see, but the tawdry spectacle of Las Vegas-style weddings in the ‘Little Chapel of the Mancunian Miracle’ and the inevitable body-count of the turf war between rival gangs will become obvious, even to the deluded city-fathers with their parochial desire for pseudo-sophistication. For a scholarly reading of the American origins of this political strategy see Still Learning from Las Vegas: The New Face of Urban Redevelopment in a Scavenger Economy Robert Goodman Perspecta, Vol. 29, 1998 (1998), pp. 86-96 Jstor Link (registration required).