Friday, 11 December 2009

Smashing things

So I have a new job, and it's in a creative environment, and it's rather inspiring. It's also afforded me a little more time with which to discover the following design nuggets.

First of all, a truly stunning poster illustration for the 1970's soft-porn Dorian Gray adaptation, courtesy of Andrew Lindstrom's seriously tasty WellMedicated blog. It might be another Arnaldo Putzu piece, though no-one seems to know. More on him to come incidentally.


And secondly, I was fairly familiar with Eduardo Paolozzi from some research for a commission a few years back. I'd only recently become aware of his involvement however with the pivotal 1956 This Is Tomorrow exhibition, which lead me to this staggering print, found on the Grafik site. Beautiful choice of subjects, colours & composition.


Fuck me, this is like food.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Police Brutalism

It could be that The Sweeney is the most Brutalist TV programme ever made. Although in actual fact The Professionals - LWT's showbiz ying to the gritty, everyday yang of Thames & Euston Films - concentrated far more in the bomb-gutted, derelict and disused warehouse schtick that the The Sweeney has perhaps become more erroneously linked with, Regan & Carter hit their stride at a key moment in London's post-war overhaul. Alternate episodes are shot in either Victorian terraces and public houses, or amongst the kind of gleaming municipal developments such as those cast in two installments I've seen recently.


As if to perfectly illustrate the hard-hatted transition between decaying, smashed-to-fuck factory and modernist housing regeneration, the series 3 episode 'Down To You, Brother' (original transmission 22/11/76) bases its story around a slimy, somewhat old-school property villain in whose path Regan has previously crossed. The baddie, Raymond Meadows (played by Derek Francis, who also starred as the entirely unrelated Brother Martin, an exasperated monk in Carry On Abroad) attempts to cultivate a bent, bribe-laden relationship with Regan, with the shadowplay's setting occasioning visits to his latest development.


The Alexandra Road estate in NW8 takes this particular role, with Meadows in effect assuming the guise of site foreman to Neave Brown, the American-born architect. This swooping complex of stepped, Mediterranean-esque apartments has a real 'stadia' feel to it, owing to the tiered terracing, a ziggurat tilt redolent of the Brunswick Centre. Meadows hangs around a bit and points, and the production team plainly had limited - though fairly revealing - access to the site, for understandable reasons.


An episode from the previous series, 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' (original transmission 24/11/75), is afforded considerably more location time however for a good old-fashioned bank job. Two lunatic gunmen (one of which is called Monk - what is this monastic theme all about?) hold several staff and customers hostage in a university campus branch of the 'National Mercian Bank', whilst Regan & Carter plus an extended team of flying squad heavies including marksmen perch themselves around and about the network of adjacent buildings, poised to strike back.


Eventually, at the end of what seems like the entirety of a tense, balmy summer's day (during which a hapless George Carter delivers the requested sustenance of "champagne & tinned nosh" to the villains in his pants to prove he's not tooled up), even Haskins wades in for some uncharacteristic field work.


The heist eventually ends and our brace of nutjobs 'get theirs' off site, which in this instance is the grounds of Brunel University in Uxbridge, West London. These sapling-lined environs are exploited to the hilt, and our heroes gambol over the concrete like macaques, presenting via the stark geometry of the campus ample opportunity for dramatic, expansive angled shots. Alas the same site's extraordinary Ludovico Medical Facility is not featured, though it is of course the perfect companion to Thamesmead in A Clockwork Orange.


Everything else was puce & mint green.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

"Norfolk & Surrey Estuarial Slurry"

Now this is what you call hauntology. Back in 2002/2003 Baron Mordant expressed a wish to scatter his squalid East London environs with a spraycan Mordant 'M', and I fashioned the requisite stencil. He duly issued his nozzle, but alas the flimsy card frame didn't last too many repeat brandings owing to the font's linear properties (Cressida Swash Caps, initially taken from an old 1970's transfer where it was called Triline, and familiar to many via the Brown Watson publisher's logo seen on numerous kids tv/film tie-in annuals from the same era). Its deterioration thus led to a cessation of said guerrilla activity.

I'd not seen any evidence of MM's peppered urban ligatures until this summer, when out of nowhere a Mordant fan, one Graham Brown, snapped the following on the Hackney Road near a rehearsal studio called The Premises.


This week seems an apt time to mention it, as it sees the release of the brand new Mordant album, SyMptoMs. It's a curved through-ball of a record, classic MM in its singular gait yet a markedly more song-based departure from previous despatches, with smearings of pixelated folk, Krautrock & lunar synth hums gluing together the Baron's soaring 'Guildford Borough Council Planning Enforcement Team' vocal style.

Another surviving remnant from Mordant's past has continued to surprise and confound of late. This particular ghost being me. MM is still referred to as a duo, despite my having left the fold a full year ago; I've not had anything to do with any of the releases since the MM024 split Shackleton 10", and I'm beginning to wonder exactly how long this comedic misnomer will go on. Not that I'm complaining, in fact I quite enjoy it. The Baron has been expertly and seamlessly steering the ship alone through a glut of mercurial, mesmerising releases, and it's just odd that journalists and retailers alike can't seem to display the same agility by correctly defining who exactly is involved. A little unfair too to the Baron, the nebulous, skewed outfit of occasional Mordant artists (Shackleton, Vindicatrix, Dennis Greenidge among them), and a touch derisory in view of the lovely farewell MM site news page entry written by the Baron on the 9th October last year, which plainly hasn't been read by enough of those in the business.

So, slack yet amusing as it is, hauntology has its first true phantom artist. As the Baron rather chillingly told me last week, "you'll never leave".

Should anyone find an 'M' on their property (or indeed on their person) and is now considering pressing charges having read this, please note that Baron Mordant "doesn't remember doing it". Ok?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Mass Participation

As anybody who has ever met me will know, I do not take to taking part. I don't get stuck in, and I don't get involved. Therefore, my competing (a word not used strictly correctly) in the Great North Run the other weekend was something of a bizarre experience, lent a febrile edge by the unseasonal heat and chaotic nature of the occasion.

'The world's biggest mass participation running programme' - a blanket subtitle given to the full gamut of Bupa-sponsored 'Great Run' events - offered in this instance a place among some 54,000 numbered & singlet-decked entrants. We squeezed onto the gas chamber Metro into the city, got whipped into a whooping frenzy of a group warm-up at the start, burst the banks of the course throughout with torrents of piss (evidence that medical advice suggesting a mere 250ml of water was all that was needed in the hour before the race was not generally heeded - correct hydration should have kept urine a pale straw colour), and warmed down afterwards by clambering through the crowds for our family & friends and then shuffling for a good hour in the Metro queue home again.

Some 28 minutes passed between the firing of Sting's starting gun - sadly pointing the right way - and yours truly getting to actually start the race, such was the depth of the staggered herds stretched along the A167 central motorway. Scores of runners thusly found the time to jump the barriers and siphon themselves into the embankment before exertions began. The event MC saw us off with a salutatory cheer for each charity as respective fundraising participants sped by in an oblique, ecstatic hollering of myriad debilitation - "Muscular dystrophy!! Cystic fibrosis!! Children with autism!!!" - and we were off. Early upward gazes on a blindingly bright cloudless day afforded views of the Gateshead Trinity Square multi-storey (still standing but unlikely to see another summer) in and out of the spectator-thronged flyovers, before the course wound into sundry council estates.

Here, elderly grandmothers manned enormous soundsystems on parched driveways and mums & daughters weaved neatly among the runners to cross the road to the shops. Scores of volunteers were on hand to dole out the sponsored booster refreshments of Powerade and Aqua Pura in biblical quantities, whilst the good burghers of Jarrow and Hebburn offered the unauthorised repast of sausage rolls and cheese & biscuits via Tupperware. Prone oxygen-masked bodies lined the final strait, surrounded by cheering onlookers and their fanning high-five palms. I knew I could've done better.

So yes, it was surreal, exhausting in more ways than one, and for the most part complete fucking chaos, but I don't know how else a curmudgeonly sod like me would've ever been moved to raise money for charity. For this I have to thank my running partner Kelly, a fiercely motivated athlete who roared home nearly an hour in front of me, and of course my Rebecca Jane, for industrial stacks of Jaffa Cakes and unwavering support (not to mention her own reserves of endurance, in evidence over the 6 hour drive there and back again). A uniquely odd experience all told; I've never done anything quite so virtuous. Therefore, it was certainly worth it, and if you want to add to the JustGiving sum blinking beneath the banner on this page, then you can do so for another few weeks yet. Sincere thanks to all those who have already donated.

We came, we ran, we weed. There is, on the greatrun.org site, a facility which allows you to compare your time with that of any other runner on the day via name search, so it's possible to find out which celebrities beat you. If I ever do it again, my aim will be to beat my own risible time, and that of this woman, my newfound nemesis.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Wheezing For Coins

Finally, as you can see by that slightly cumbersome little widget to the top-right of this page, I've sorted out my Great North Run '09 sponsorship. By clicking on the 'donate' button you can access my JustGiving page and allocate funds directly to my charity of choice, The Stroke Association.

It was, if you excuse the phrase, a no-brainer to go for The Stroke Association. Late last year, my beloved Nan died after suffering two strokes, the last of my grandparents to go. Her first such episode was seemingly surmounted very successfully with no obvious lasting damage, but by the time the second more debilitating stroke occurred she was sadly too frail to recover. I feel bad about only visiting her the once after the second stroke, but to be honest I was too upset by seeing her on that occasion to want to go again. And anyway, the Nan I knew, to whom I owe the joys of many childhood summer holidays via late night rummy, sherbet lemons, tinned peaches and visits to Kew Gardens had pretty much gone.

The sheer frustration she must have experienced in her final months and the accompanying deterioration in quality of life I can only imagine. If you'd like to aid research into strokes, how they can be prevented and their sufferers rehabilitated, then please give generously. And have you seen that F.A.S.T. (Facial weakness, Arm weakness, Speech problems, Time to call 999) TV ad campaign, with the Sue Johnston voice-over? Pretty hard-hitting, as close to the 1970's PIF style as I've seen for years.

So while it seems a bit flippant to talk of struggle in light of what my Nan withstood in her last months, not to mention her entire lifetime, training has been bloody hard. March was blighted by knee injury, then extraneous work-related strife impeded on motivation, and now it's got really warm. No-one told me it'd get this hard when it got warm.

But after the refreshing camping pod escapade of last week (and after re-assessing my withering drive on seeing a peloton of middle-aged fell runners scaling the Cumbrian crags), training vigour has been stepped up. Clear the way.

Here's to you Nan. You may not want to raise a glass of sweet Budgens sherry in tribute (understandable), but do click on the link.

Pod Life

After a few wind whipped & rain lashed nights in a tent in the Derbyshire peaks last week, my girlfriend and I shifted our hols onwards and upwards into the Lake District, and a camping pod wedged between the Langdale Pikes. These lovely little Tolkien-esque huts, which resemble a cross between an upturned boat hull and a hollowed tree stump, offer the camper the same rudimentary back-to-nature experience as the tent, only from within a carpeted, insulated, locked & bolted (and safely moored) interior. The tent was fine, but did at times feel a touch like a placcy Tesco bag in comparison with the pod.


I'm sure we could sense the sneers from the weather-beaten real campers inhabiting the rest of the site, but we were still 'roughing it' enough to be woken at 5am by sheep chewing on the tiled outer shell. It was their manor after all. Keep in mind also that pods don't constitute the very top-end of no-frills camping: you can hire yurts which in truth are more like hotel suites - king-sized beds, Cath Kidston furnishings and everything.

Anyway, we had a smashing time, despite the sadly too late arrival of my Carry On Camping tea tray, bought specially for the trip.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Sell Me A Lung


It's possible to find some superb stuff when thumbing through old '60's/'70's issues of the Architectural Design journal. Fine design & illustration, excellent articles, and loads of period advertising. This however is a little chilling. Wonder just how 'detailed' that information service was.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

"Currie Gives Spurs The Shits"

Do you still get banners like this at Cup Finals? Maybe you do, I've not been taking too much notice. The one in this post's title comes from the 1982 FA Cup showpiece between QPR and Tottenham. I say showpiece, but in truth the game was something of a turkey, and this was the first match of course - after a 1-1 stalemate AET, a Thursday night replay took place which Spurs won thanks to a Glenn Hoddle penalty.

I've just seen the full BBC1 match coverage on an old Maxell Epitaxial 750 Betamax tape, and if the game had been anything like as action-packed as the finals that both preceded and succeeded it (I refer here of course to the replay in '81 and both the Man Utd v Brighton games) and, as with the 1983 decider, finished on 90 minutes, I could've enjoyed an eventually bumped episode of The Pink Panther straight after Grandstand.

And if it hadn't been for the slack Spurs defending that allowed Terry Fenwick to nip in with an equalising header 5 minutes from time, this particular Cup Final would have been decided not only by Hoddle's deflected slip-shot, but by the decidedly meaty Glenn Hoddle tackle (re-read those last five words if you have to) which set the move up. Gary Waddock did well to eventually get up again after said two-footed lunge, and it seems alarming now to note just how many rash challenges went unchecked back then, and were furthermore deemed quite acceptable. Take Fenwick's outrageous studs-up dive in on Garth Crooks earlier on in the match - it wasn't the future Spurs full-back who had his name taken (it would've been a straight red these days), but the hapless Crooks for retaliating.


The man of the match award was more or less impossible to allocate, such was the dullness and ultimately inconclusive outcome to the game. The BBC even held over their viewer's choice until the replay (cut to a trio of telephonists taking votes via headset long after the final whistle, and the rather cumbersome placing of ballot slips into dishes marked with the names of each player). That said, probably QPR 'keeper Peter Hucker laid more claim than anyone else to this particular title, brave and unflappable as he was in the face of increasing Tottenham pressure and a whack in the ribs from Steve Perryman late in normal time. Hucker looked considerably older than his 22 years, no doubt owing to his similarly stoic hair, whose sheer height and volume remained unperturbed at the last in the driving rain.

Incidentally, by '82 supposed footballing laxative Tony Currie was something of a warhorse and spent much of the game staggering across the pitch with various pulls, tweaks and cramps. Surprisingly though the achilles injury which had dogged him in the run up to the big match didn't seem to trouble him, and his only significant contribution (other than serving as something of a talisman to the then second division Rangers) was to divert Hoddle's shot into the net with his thigh on 110 minutes. Sadly for Tone, he was to top this in the replay, when, playing as captain in place of the suspended Glenn Roeder, he gave away the penalty from which Spurs ultimately triumphed.


In the familiar pre-match six-yard box suited & booted player interviews, Currie explained his heel woe to Bob Wilson and considered (somewhat incongruously as it turned out) the similarities between Hoddle and himself. Wilson then talked to the giant centre-back Bob Hazell, before beckoning over a young Clive Allen, a Ranger at the time. In a moving moment, Bob proffers some orange foamy headphones and links the striker up with his father Les, a 1961 Cup hero for Tottenham who's sharing the gantry with David Coleman. A stilted conversation ensues, tailing off into trembling lips and eyes welling over with mighty pride. Close to an entire stand of Allens were in attendance for what turned out to be a disappointing showing for Clive, who limped off early in the second half. Five years later he'd enjoy a coruscating 49 goal season for the lilywhites, but was alas to endure yet more Cup Final heartbreak.


Curious final for kits this as well, with both teams turning out in rare away red/black and yellow strips respectively. They're both fantastic, the Tottenham Le Coq vintage especially.

"Miller Grinds Hazell's Nuts", that was another one.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

The Scandal of Britain's New Towns, Built on Cake Board


Perhaps one of the editorial or design staff at Buttons lived on a particularly dilapidated high-rise and had a dark sense of humour. It's hard to believe that the inclusion of the above suggested activity didn't appear out of at least a little devilment, despite the tone of innocence found throughout the rest of the publication.

Buttons was a weekly comic for very small children which came as an annex to the BBC's 'See-Saw' strand of pre-school programming back in the 1980's, and as such featured cartoon strips of all the fondly remembered shows of the time. Whilst flicking through a pile of '82/'83 issues recovered from my parents' loft in search of some sweet King Rollo & Willo The Wisp action (pleasantly surprised to find considerable coverage given to the original Crow & Alice era of You And Me too), I found this thinly veiled ulterior commentary on post-war housing.

Now it is of course common to hear poorly built council houses described as being 'paper thin', but these innovative designs are recommended to be constructed from cardboard. This is a step up from the houses on the 1970's Thorplands estate in Northampton, which actually were made in part from paper, namely a waterproof 'breathable' sheeting fixed to plywood frames. The foundations however comprised of concrete slabs, not the foil covered cake board suggested here.

Maybe that 'leave to dry' line is something to do with rising damp, though I might just be reading too much into it.

Monday, 4 May 2009

The Deft Rattle

A photo taken by me appears on page 49 of the latest issue of The Wire. It accompanies a lengthy review by David Stubbs of the forthcoming Mordant Music/Shackleton dubstep compilation Picking O'er The Bones, and in the shot, Baron Mordant can be seen demonstrating how the Japanese apparently continually stretch their muscles in the street.

His hamstring extension came as we emerged from an underpass in Watford on a fairly abortive outing in February. The town was fetid with football as Crystal Palace were visiting Vicarage Road that day, so we schlepped out to Cassiobury Park to talk about masonic corruption and prog rock.

Picking O'er The Bones is due out at the end of this month, and collects together all the MM Shackleton vinyl releases onto one CD album.

Limber up. It's better than Watford.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Futura Display


In recent weeks a few other bloggers have mused on the Barbican's labyrinthine sci-fi delights, most notably as part of this psychogeographical picture posting and in Charles's affection for the complex's slippered space age highwalks. I can't really compete with these architectural breakdowns, so I won't try, but an Easter Sunday visit to the area brought to light a few design delights in the form of logos & type, and has set me thinking once more about the way that Brutalist buildings in particular have informed the regeneration of urban art.

My girlfriend and I had initially made the Le Corbusier 'Art of Architecture' exhibition the focal point of the day, and although I was more absorbed by this than possibly any gallery show I've attended in years, it was the surroundings that gave me more food for thought. I loved the incredible Philips Pavilion he collaborated on with the composer and architect Iannis Xenakis (who apparently composed according to geometric formulae - I must explore this guy properly) for the Brussels World's Fair, but the 'Le Corbusier in Britain' room was what I was really into. This showcased his influence on the trends in UK building design between the 1950's and 1970's, and naturally led us back outside.


There's not much more pleasing to the eye of the Helvetica fan than the bold-cut letterforms seen on several of the buildings onsite, including the City of London and Guildhall Music & Drama schools respectively. Their 3D appeal was undiminished on the day by a straight 'Barbican' i-dot's dislodging, a suggestion of motion in the otherwise unyielding brick & concrete stasis. Of late the arts centre has perhaps more aptly employed Futura as a blanket venue font in various weights, and a neat guide to its' use can be found here.


A cyclical swarm of serif 'B's can be found around the centre too, a windmill or swastika depending on your cynicism I guess. Better still however is the gold plate maple leaf-cum-crystal emblem of the adjacent conservatory, appearing seemingly out of nowhere and tucked high into the leaden porridge exterior like an inset diamond. Here I'll concur with Charles: there's something very Blake's 7 about this particular hothouse, appointed as it is with hard geometric decks and balconies over which the discord of the contrasting foliage is allowed to spill and envelop. For some reason it reminds me of the BBC's Adventure Game too - was there a set on the programme that looked like this?

After a pint of Special and a cheese & pickle sandwich at the Bunch of Grapes, London Bridge (the charm of the Young's hostelry lives on), we strolled on to the South Bank, where post-war metropolitan architecture feeds the urban language of graffiti most obviously. I've seen the Krylon-caked 'legal' walls around the underpasses and skate parks here many times, but it's only since developing an interest in the style of the buildings above ground that I've really made the connection between Brutalism and the next level of graf shapes.

The part played by high-rise social housing in the evolution of worldwide hip-hop culture is well documented, yet indirect with regards to the visual aesthetic reflected back in the mirror of graf angles & links. The jagged skyline formed by the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Hayward Gallery and IBM building however is met head-on by the vivid multi-dimensional vistas of spray-can frontiersmen like Daim.

Futura 2000 may have been conspicuous as an artist in his progression from trains to atoms and the street to true abstraction, but when writing is this groundbreaking, graf's interpretation of modernist cityscapes is distended into letters and character shapes seemingly via chaos theory. And crucially, just as the coldness of minimalist design is rejected and embellished upon with colour and complexity, so too are the roots of staid fundamentalist bubble letters truly redeveloped into something more visually representative of the continual interweaving of sonic urban scenes and settings.

A more in-depth study of this relationship can be found here. I'd have loved to have heard how Xenakis would have scored it.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Digest

A brief summary of recent extra-curricular thread-crossing:

First of all, many thanks indeed for this archive addition to my John Madin piece from Owen Hatherley.

Interesting to note from this that Madin was involved in new town planning back in the day. Owen's palpable fury with the civic fathers of Southampton sounds depressingly similar to the way that many residents of Northampton feel about the town's lurching growth and routine destruction of heritage over the last 40-odd years. A discussion relating to said theme has emerged here, borne of Taylor Parkes' discovery of the Development Corporation's tragically embarrassing foray into the pop world back in 1980. The use of the word 'tragically' is acutely necessary here if you're familiar with the wider story, and the town is ironically conspicuous in its' lack of energy, specifically on the part of the Borough Council.

This particular messageboard thread also morphed into some brief ruminations on new town music, whose burgeoning examination is touched upon via these kind words from Charles at Fantastic Journal.

Finally, the architecture theme pivots home to this lovely interview with Bob Stanley on Tecton, Trellick & PVC windows. And apparently just as distanced from ground-level Britain as Goldfinger this week is Morrissey, who, despite patting himself on the back for being "on the line" as a songwriter for so long, proved just how aloof he is from reality with his careers advice.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Enjoy/Endure


Like Logan, I've been running since I hit 30. To be more accurate, I've been running on and off for nearly 10 years but only started to take it seriously around the time of my 30th birthday, and fair enough, Logan himself was a 'Sandman' and not a legit runner, but anyway. This week I've learned that my late and fairly speculative ballot entry to this year's Great North Run has been successful, so a 'lifeclock' of a kind - that which counts down the time I have to train myself up to handling a 13.1 mile run by September 20th - has started blinking.

Although still really a beginner, I enjoy running immensely. Inside a year I've progressed from barely managing a mile three times a week to handling 5 miles every weekday fairly comfortably. My energy levels have increased, my immune system has successfully protected me from myriad seasonal bugs & viruses, and most noticeably, my general mood and sense of well-being has benefited dramatically. My motivation meanwhile stems in the first instance from a need to combat a fairly stagnant day job and ward-off the infinite resulting physical debilitations which have variously afflicted my colleagues, and has in recent months been boosted with the help of a running partner, whose name coincidentally rhymes with Logan.

It's common practice for runners to keep training logs, diaries of progress whose contents can act as reference points to aid long-term technique. It had crossed my mind to chart my own advances via a runner's blog, but to be perfectly honest, after some considerable trepidation ahead of this very weblog regarding its' likelihood to actually be read, I'm fairly certain that any such new blog really would be insufferably boring. Something like a cross between a truncated weather report and a brief and incorrectly detailed appraisal of the latest twinge in my left achilles tendon.

That said, I will post anything I deem of relative broad interest relating to my training. Like I said, I've a long long way to go before I'm in the kind of shape required for a decent showing in the event, so it'll be some journey.

Quite plainly, neither am I on the same planet as a wordsmith as Haruki Murakami, the celebrated Japanese fiction writer who has augmented his literary career with regularly impressive race times in marathons all over the world. He recorded his own experiences as a runner in last year's superb What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which included some fantastically articulated yet unpleasantly daunting tales, from running the original Greek marathon course on his own (for fun) during the height of summer and to the utter bemusement of locals, to his sole adventure in the seemingly terrifying world of the ultramarathon: a quite matter-of-fact account of some 62 miles in one day which involved a changing up of his trainer size at mile 34 due to swelling, and the depth of pain at mile 47, where he describes his muscles as a "seething Revolutionary Tribunal". Murakami is nearly 60 and his heart beats annually.

So whilst I've no real wish to become a fitness bore, I do fully intend to maintain my running as a long-term daily fixture beyond this September. The feeling of freedom and sense of achievement it gives you is immense - no need for gym fees, plenty of fresh air and an acute sense of reinvigoration every time. Murakami says he's never tried to zealously convert non-runners and that just because it may be right for one person doesn't mean that it's right for another, and I largely concur, but it does strike you on your daily run that no-one seems to even walk these days - in actual fact you're more likely to come across more runners than walkers.

But these are early days. I'm no know-it-all, in fact I don't even know if I'm an over or underpronator (please drop me an email on this if you've noticed either way), and I've not really nailed down a decent runner's diet yet. As an acknowledgement of this, and as a sop to all non-runners and non-believers, I include the above jpeg of the renowned American running guru Jim Fixx, who died of a massive heart attack aged just 52. After running.

(by the way, details on fundraising are yet to be established - if you'd like to sponsor me I'll post info on how to do so as soon as this is confirmed)

Monday, 19 January 2009

Madin's Lament


Birmingham is, for the uninitiated, a fair mecca for lovers of Brutalist architecture. Most of it was designed by one John Madin, a Brum native who came to dominate the city's post-war skyline with his vast concrete conceptions.

A trip into town with a camera today however is lent a plaintive, romantic air, as Madin, now in his eighties, is alive to witness the buildings he designed fall prey to the wrecking ball, one by one. Several of the structures he created between the 1950's & 1970's have both gone up and come down already (including the BBC's Pebble Mill studios), and now his most controversial design, the Central Library, is also set for demolition.

The upturned pyramidal stack or 'ziggurat' has been the subject of both considerable acclaim and scorn since its' completion in 1974, when it was originally intended to form the central focus of a wider complex including a bus station beneath the ground level of the structure, surrounding water gardens and walkways linking other civic buildings. Changes in fashion and taste and the conflict of private investment meant none of these further developments were realised, and a choice of cheaper but substandard materials have taken their collective toll on the building's facade. Madin himself has lambasted the city's council for allowing his plans to be compromised so drastically, and for stuffing the main square with cheap shops and fast food outlets. The neglected pools he designed he described in 2007 as "a scene of absolute devastation".

In the summer of 2008, the Dutch firm Mecanoo won an international RIBA-launched competition to design a replacement for Madin's library, which, according to the Architect's Journal, "the city council is trying to persuade architecture minister Margaret Hodge not to list".


The old NatWest building on Colmore Row is another of Madin's designs, and looks even more forlorn, peppered as it was on the day we visited with the ejected contents of both kebabs and bird's guts. However, the 20th Century Society are strenuously campaigning for the protection of this period of architecture, whose sci-fi planes and elevations continue to inspire designers and graf writers the world over. And despite the seemingly wholesale culling of Madin's work, Birmingham is still host to a number of memorable Brutalist structures. The corrugated casing of the New Street Signal Box - complete with giant lever - is absolutely stunning, as is the sheer expanse of the Jury's Inn hotel, a skyscraper possessing the kind of bravado which might have been rewarded with a split-screen starring role in the Dallas title sequence had the Ewings relocated their enterprises.


Meanwhile, another of the city's broadcasting landmarks is, as I type, being levelled. The old ATV studios, adjacent to the former ITV franchise holders' headquarters, the enormous Alpha Tower (Grade A locally-listed), is slowly seeing its' distinctive diamond arches disappear after lying empty for a decade.


As I emerged from Broad Street, a chill wind whistled through the Alpha's angled piloti and flattened the demolition contractors' 'keep out' boards, helping to reveal the sad exterior in various states of destruction. A combination of crisp, sharp sunlight gently fading and the image in my head of flan-flinger-as-reaper conspired to ghost the lens, and the shots accordingly lost their focus. Here's hoping Mecanoo will help Birmingham's civic fathers regain theirs.