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1st December. 7 days to go. That is all…

 

Draw Duke Street shopfront.

Draw Duke Street shopfront.

What passers by spot - note the biscuits!

What passers by spot – note the biscuits!

2012-11-20 10.18.10

Another view of the gallery from the workspace.

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The all-important urn by the research area.

2012-11-11 18.16.21

The boards laid out for scaling and planning.

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Biscuit crisis.

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Panoramic view, courtesy of @borrachoeneldia.

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My better half intervenes…

Work area

I have started to think of this as home – after all, it’s where I hang my coat!

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Close up of the research area. Books are on hand for the curious and those waiting to speak to me.

 

Sketch plans for the final display

Sketch plans for the final display

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Sort of. There are exactly twelve days to go until the end of the campaign to fund the Red Road Underground exhibition. The show will be held at the New Glasgow Society gallery in Partick in February this year, and is a joint collaboration with the filmmaker and photographer Chris Leslie.

All the funds we raise go directly to the cost of making prints, flyers and admin for the exhibition at the gallery run by New Glasgow Society in Patrick. The NGS is a charity that promotes public interest in and care for the history and character of Glasgow, and did a great deal to prevent the demolition of many historic tenements during the demolition-happy days of the 70s and 80s. We’re delighted to have been asked to exhibit, but as a voluntary (if distinguished) organisation, their resources are limited. So unfortunately, are ours. We are taking no fees or funds for this show – we just want the chance to show the public what we’ve been doing at Red Road these past couple of years, in a really great exhibition space that will allow us to show the artworks off at their best.

So far we have raised $755 dollars, which will help somewhat, but still falls far short of what we need to cover at least the minimal costs.

So, I’m not in the habit of making appeals, but if any of you have enjoyed this blog so far, and have a spare 6 or 7 quid or so (which I do understand is often not the case in January) then I’d be very grateful if you’d consider a visit to our campaign site and looking at how you can donate, and the gifts that we’ll give you in return for that. By gifts I mean receiving exclusive art prints, films and DVD souvenirs, all limited edition. You will also be listed as a patron and sponsor of the show, and be offered our firstborn to do with as you please (only two of those three perks are actually true…)

To get a sense of what you will see at the exhibition (and to finally see the latest dialectogram of The Bingo at Red Road!) visit www.redroadunderground.co.uk, and if that should inspire you, then here’s the link to indiegogo again – www.indiegogo.com/Red-Road-Underground-Exhibition .

For those who don’t like Indiegogo/want to stay anonymous, please do feel free to contact me directly on the ‘Get Involved’ page of this site  – I can still hook you up with a nice thank you gift from either myself or Chris!

In any case, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of you who have read the blog, contributed comments and offered up ideas and words of support over the past year. A Happy New Year and all the best for 2012 – here’s a ‘minigram’ of the Brig for your pains!

Mitch

I aim to make each Dialectogram as widely accessible as possible, whether people want to appreciate the odd shapes and textures of line created from the arrangement of the information, or to scrutinise and take in every scrap of information. If all people take away is some interesting information, or pleasure at the look of it, I am happy. But reading and thinking does go into the creation of these drawings, from a range of different sources. For those who are interested, ‘Behind the Dialectogram’ will be an occasional series of posts that give some insight into the ideas I have been experimenting with. It starts with Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space.

Readings from Bachelard: The Introduction (Part one)

The French Philosopher Gaston Bachelard gave considerable thought – more than arguably anyone before, or since – to how people conceive of and imagine the spaces they inhabit. His masterwork, The Poetics of Space is a dense, closely argued work of philosophy that sets out to show how space is conceived as images that hold particular significance and meaning for us, and in so doing, he draws on the work of poets such as Baudelaire to state his case . The book is almost stereotypically ‘French’ in the way it complicates and exhaustively explores the everyday, apparently straightforward and unremarkable, but I think – beyond ruminating on how certain corners of nineteenth century French living rooms inspired Baudelaire – his work retains real relevance and power. The scope of Dialectograms is by circumstance and inclination, more proletarian, but I would maintain that is not just 19th century French poetasters who turn their domestic surroundings into a mesh of symbols and meanings. I have found Bachelard’s understanding of how the imaginative process is shaped by our immediate surroundings present in both the spaces I am currently trying to draw, and in subtext to the many interviews I have been conducting.

This is why, while I have dipped in and out of Bachelard in the past, I am at present reading The Poetics of Space right through, page-by-page, beginning to end. So, as an aid to thought and intellectual digestion, I am going to post up my ‘readings’ of his book on an ongoing basis. These readings will, inevitably, be heavily influenced by my own interests and purposes, aided and abetted by – what else – some drawings that have helped me to understand and apply the ideas better. Not everyone knows, or cares about theory, some are even hostile to it so, you may choose to skip these posts in favour of those more directly related to the subjects I am drawing. That’s fine; if this whole project works as it’s meant to, it should be accessible on a number of levels. Liking them because it reminds you of something, teaches you something, or just looks strange and gnarly are perfectly fine, valid responses. But if you do want to get into the workings of the ‘brain’ behind the scribblings, then these posts should give some indication as to how I relate those ideas that percolate in my head, to the actual practice. So, let’s keep it linear and begin at the beginning.

The Introduction

Bachelard begins his Introduction to the book with a long discussion of the nature of ‘poetic imagination’ or a ‘philosophy of poetry’ and its relationship to how we inhabit our ‘vital space.

We should therefore have to say how we inhabit our vital space, in accord with all the dialectics of lide, how we take root, day after day, in a “corner of the world”.

To Bachelard, poetry is a process of creating/evoking images in the mind from this ‘vital space’ (put more simply, where we live, grow and develop) and to appreciate it, we must be ‘receptive to the image the moment it appears’ and, more importantly, not seek to distance ourself too much from this process – the ‘ecstasy’ of the ‘newness’ of the image. Poetry, he seems to say, makes us see familiar things and aspects of our life differently; they become new again. Whatever they were to us before that is gone – ‘they have no past’.

This is why Bachelard does not believe the philosophy of science, in its rationalising, dissecting fervour really cuts it as a means of understanding poetry and the effect it has upon us. He also criticises philosophers who fail to develop their ideas in ignorance of the position most people develop their own understanding of the world around them, saying that too many ‘know the universe before they know the house’.

He does suggest an alternative system, but not before he makes us run ahead of this train of thought by trying to break down the processes that take place during the ‘onset of the image’ – the moment when a human being sees or hears something and makes a poetic or imaginative association with it. I have tried to draw it for you, below.

Ok, so what does this show? For Bachelard a human being can be anatomised into a heart, a soul and a sense of being. All three of these are called into play when this human being sees a ‘poetic image’ – they affect and are affected by the process of this image suddenly coming into the human being’s consciousness.

None of this is too hard to understand, I think – you see an object, or phenomenon that is meaningful to you, and you, as a thinking, feeling and complex human being respond to it, infuse it with a meaning and significance that changes it from being just a simple place, or object, to something much more powerful. That something, Bachelard would suggest, is nothing less than the defining point of our humanity. To Bachelard, the soul exists, at least in operational terms – there is something in us that innately orders and remembers our experiences, feelings and perceptions, and is acted on by these. This soul underpins our humanity and experiencing the poetic image is part of what makes us human.

Now, this may already be going a little far for some of you – does this mean that to be human is to be a poet? That depends on whether you define the poet as a narrow professional term. Dialectograms give us some clues here as to what Bachelard means. At their simplest, the drawings give particular attention to the idea that everyday spaces are important, are significant and have meaning to the people who inhabit them. An example would be a small part of a flat I am currently working out how to reconstruct the Niven family’s flat at 7/4 Red Road, and in particular a box room that I would say had a poetic significance to them, so much that their memory of it remains very vivid a few years after they left the scheme. This room was the repository for objects from their past that defined their history as a family; a sideboard they took from their old tenement, the last Robert Niven snr used when he worked as a cobbler, or the children’s toys. They called it the ‘lumber room’ and it seemed to encompass and accommodate almost all of the family’s keepsakes and large valuables in a jumbled up, tightly packed space. The memory of this seemingly impossibly sized room was clearly still very strong, given how many of their stories and accounts inevitably led us back to the box room, and in particular, an image of their mind of how concentrated all of the items in it were – almost a museum of their life in Red Road. Put simply, the clutter of the room has come to symbolise for them, the length of time they spent in the scheme (40 years) and the richness of their own family history.

To go back to my drawing above, you will notice there is more happening here than just a process of identification and imagination – there is also the reference to an archetype that fully renders the poetic image. As any fule know, archetypes are ideas and images that others have already formed and are part of our culture (and if you believe the Greek philosopher Plato even exist in another, perfect dimension of which everything in this world is a feeble copy). Bachelard points out that the images we create often refer to, or attach themselves to some kind of archetype – a rose, for example, will almost inevitably conjure up archetypes of what the rose is meant to be, and what it represents – the perfect rose, with its fanned out petals, its associations with love (thanks to Burns), its sweet smell, its luxury (check out interflora for the going rate on a bunch of roses and you’ll see what I mean), feminity, a feeling of transcendent beauty, of nature at work, balance, harmony or even War (thanks to the houses of York and Lancaster). While some of these are corny and each person will attach different weights to them, we almost can’t help interpret the rose, and do so in reference to past interpretations stored up in our cultural memory. Bachelard calls this reverberation or ‘retentir’ – the moment when a human being intervenes in the world to give meaning to it and detects in it, some sort of sign or symbol. In forming these poetic images we inevitably ‘reverberate’ to a store of archetypes and prior understandings we have been exposed to or somehow know– in that instant we compare, contrast and evaluate. And yet, this image feels very new and unique to us.

It may be simpler to go back to the example of the Nivens and their lumber-room; in searching for a way to characterise the lumber-room and its qualities the family almost inevitably alighted upon a recent, but powerful archetype of a small space that unaccountably contains more inside it than the outside would suggest (much like your average human being…) and of course, called it ‘The TARDIS’. Naming it in this way, a special way, immediately tells us this place has more meaning and associations to the family than almost anywhere else in the flat; that they named it intimates they have a fixed image of the place that stays with them, even when it is not in front of them – we can imagine the jumble of probably very different objects crammed in next to each other, and the confusion of the uninitiated as to exactly how all this stuff fits in here. I already know that a couple of the objects – a big table and a sideboard, came from their old tenement flat in Maryhill and thus, has a further symbolic continuity that connects Mr and Mrs Niven to their old life, through objects that they could feel and touch – a hook for their memory and understanding.

For their children though, who were young, or not even born before moving to the Red Road scheme, these objects from the tenement are probably historical, museum pieces – much more abstract than other objects that were found in the living room, veranda or kitchen. This was shown in the way Bob, who was born in Red Road, throughout showed the greatest attachment, and sense of significance to their flat, while their father seemed to have a much less visceral connection to this place. By attaching their lumber room to The Doctor’s time travel machine, the archetypal ‘big thing in a small package’ that travels in time, they expand that meaning even more. It achieves a deeper resonance as one set of images – the furniture, toys, etc., crammed into a few square feet merges with those we have of the interior of the Tardis and its impossible blue painted exterior. It makes it larger – and almost instantly, at least in the Anglophone world, more universally understood and recognised. People can thus come at the poetic image from two directions; the Nivens, from the grounded, experience-based knowledge of the lumber-room, and the rest of us, through the archetype of the TARDIS, and ‘get’ the poetry of the moment. This is because, somewhere in the meeting between the two, the authentic image, the poetic association itself, is formed and appreciated. The central concern of Burns’ poem about the Red Red Rose is the moment where his feelings suddenly find a resonance, or association in the flower; from the other side, his readers (or listeners – it is actually a song of course) recall and remember the shape, form and exquisite complexity of roses and can come to understand how this might relate to the feelings the poet is experiencing. They are drawn in and, in the meeting point, acknowledge that what Burns is telling us about love is that it is, in this case, seemingly perfect, harmonious, complex, delicate blossoming etc etc ad infinitum. We don’t and can’t share exactly the same feelings and notions Burns has about his direct experience, but can come to an authentic understanding of it, if we are willing to look deeply into the poetic image he offers up to us. By referring to their lumber room as the TARDIS, the Nivens were doing exactly the same thing to me, except generations of schoolchildren are highly unlikely to study their particular poetic image in school. This is why Bachelard’s book is important – it argues that poetry is an essential, active branch of human communication.

It is for this reason that I would disagree, slightly, with the filmmaker Humphrey Jennings whose book, Pandaemonium and the coming of the machine collaged a huge range of written documentary material as part of his ongoing project to critique culture through artistic expression;

Unless we are prepared to claim special attributes for the poet – the attribute of vision – and unless we are prepared to admit the work of the artist (that is to say, the function of the imagination) as an essential part of the modern world there is no real reason for our continuing to bother with any of the arts any more, or with any imaginary activity.

But according to Bachelard, vision is not a special attribute of the poet – it is the poet’s feel for it, his or her craft that is their ‘special attribute’. What makes the poet important is that they have the means to not just form the visions we all see, in some way, but communicate these, that makes their work important. It resonates, because this vision is a widespread, common experience in trying to make sense of the world.

I should perhaps clarify what is meant by ‘poetry’ here – I don’t just mean lines of verse – though it is Bachelard’s starting point – but the ‘poetry’ found in paintings, films, photographs and other associative, representative materials. I’m therefore fully with Jennings when he argues that;

…to the real poet the front of the Bank of England may be as excellent a site for the appearance of poetry as the depths of the sea.

I would humbly submit that Concierge stations are market stalls are just as excellent. Jennings goes on to explain why he thinks this process of envisioning and poetising is so important;

The Imagination is a function of man whose traces are more delicate to handle than the facts and events and ideas of which history is usually constructed…they contain in little a whole world – they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space – the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear…

But is evident that these delicate traces nevertheless, interact with facts, events, ideas and, I would, submit, places. The imagination can float far and wide, but it is impressed from concrete beginnings. One of Jennings’ great influences was Mass Observation (more about it). In a frequently quoted episode, a researcher noted a moment in a working class pub when a patron suddenly pulled a tortoise out of his pocket and puts it on the bar. The report is cut and dried, but the effect is immediately surreal. Why? Because even though we don’t know it, tortoises have a string of associations attached to them that do not slot in neatly with a working class milieu. The ‘out of placeness’ of the incident immediately makes it an image in our minds – we can imagine this odd scene, rebel against it and cannot help but wonder and reflect as to how this situation came about – what does it mean? And Bachelard – and I – would argue that looking deeply at the everyday in a search for its greater meaning is a poetic undertaking. For his part, Jennings sees this imaginative process as fundamental to the human condition, and any hope of its improvement.

Let’s relate it again, to matters dialectographical and my work in the showman’s yards of Dalmarnock; when you see a fibreglass reindeer sitting amid the greys and sandstone pinks of industrial Glasgow, you are immediately struck by its dissonance; your brain immediately commences on a train of thought and feeling that takes you, like it or not, into poetic territory. If, says Bachelard, that sounds like daydreaming then it’s largely because that is precisely what it is. In such ‘idle’ moments we see the poetry in the oddly placed object, the withered carnation or the tear in the wallpaper, almost despite yourself.

If you think that’s daft, fine; but consider that the most accepted building block of poetry – words – are arguably, the most commonplace aspect of our waking lives, yet we have no trouble in accepting that we can take them, turn them inside out and wrest a string of meanings from them.

As a phenomenologist, Bachelard sees the poetic process as a system in its own right. This sets apart from the main thrust of literary theory at the time which was heavily influenced by psychoanalysis. For Bachelard, poetry was not just a by-product of anxieties, neuroses and sexual desires (although they all play their part) but are an end to themselves – an autonomous system of thought and feeling that is integral to our humanity. In Bachelard’s scheme Vases, ornaments or items of clothing become associated with a person, or a time, a feeling, or a series of conclusions about our common situation. Bachelard frequently refers us to Baudelaire to make his point, and I shall be no different –

The clock! a sinister, impassive god

Whose threatening finger says to us, ‘Remember!

Soon in your anguished heart, as in a target

Quivering shafts of grief will plant themselves

Note the interplay of new images – the clock, its ‘threatening finger’ and old archetypes – the anguished heart, the idea of pagan gods, graven images and the ‘quivering shafts of grief’ (arrows) that are marshalled in to support, enhance and expand this new imaginative turn. But it is not just symbolist poets, or hoary metaphors that can be used this way. In the novel The Busconductor Hines, James Kelman gives us the titular working class character who is prone to protracted, deep, tangential reflections on his surroundings. This segment comes from a moment where Hines contemplates the shapes formed by the backcourt of his Glasgow tenement, and uses apparently abstract geometry as a means of universalising his experience;

The rectangle is formed by the backsides of the buildings – in fact it’s maybe even a square. A square: 4 sides of equal length and each 2 lines being angled into each other at 90˚. Okay now: this backcourt a square and for each unit of dwellers up each tenement there exists the 1/3 midden containing six dustbins. For every 3 closes you have the 1 midden containing 6 dustbins. But then you’ve got the prowlers coming around when every cunt’s asleep. They go exchanging holey dustbins for nice new yins. Holey dustbins: the bottom only portionally there so the rubbish remains on the ground when said dustbins are being uplifted. What a bastard.

From a simple observation, Hines’ thoughts drift into ever more complex situations, associations and understandings of where he lives, including some that seem very fanciful, such as the archetype of the sneaky and underhanded ‘prowler’, as well as the play on words in the ‘Holey Dustbin’. Hines conceives of his surroundings in more than just prosaic, physical terms; there is meaning, significance, history and narrative all at play. Although Hines knows this back court very well, letting his mind work upon the place almost renders it as something exotic, murky, even sinister. Similar things start to happen when I draw dialectograms.

Working at Red Road gave me lots of examples of this, and my primary task as I continue my work here, and elsewhere, will be to honour the complexity of the imaginations that inhabit such places. Bachelard describes the process Hines goes through as reverie, which I shall go into in more detail in the next part, as it crucial to his ideas as to how we form our own ideas of what ‘home’ is.

Over the past couple of weekends I have finally begun to get to grips with the third strand of my Dialectographic adventures, the Barras market, and I must say, I am hugely relieved! I have an ‘in’ at Red Road and am ‘in’ with the Showman’s Quarter, but after all the bravado with which I proclaimed I would draw parts of Glasgow’s great concession to bric-a-brac and dodgy DVDs, I was at a bit of a loss at how to proceed. My friend Alan Knight, who is a filmmaker and photographer, has been working down at the Barras with Diversity Films, and has made many helpful suggestions. Chris Leslie, whose work I would also, strongly advise you getting to know, also has links there and I met quite a few traders through an opening celebrating his work at Paddy’s Market. But, there is nothing quite like getting off the bahookie and getting down there. This weekend, I was supposed to be the guest of an arts project up at Mull but for various reasons, was not able to go; so, being grounded at the big smoke (nothing to do with ash clouds) I thought I should make good use of my time, and headed down the road to the Calton.

I mentioned previously, my relief at having made a start with the Barras – but after my first visit the heart is also feeling a little heavy; drawing just a stall would be a mammoth task. Take a look at these pictures from one of the covered markets:

See what I mean? The amount of stuff to draw, document and recreate is enormous; it dwarves the level of detail at Backcauseway, and makes the concierge’s office a vacuum by comparison. I could do it, but getting the time is a worry. Last night, I sat with my delightful better half and catalogued all the things I do, and got progressively scared, so immediately stopped. I’ve always been against this idea that writers and artists sometimes buy into, of ‘retreat’ – of removing yourself from actual people, as if they were some kind of grit in your ointment, to repose in some kind of glorious self-absorption, to go and embrace your art in some charmingly dysfunctional hovel. I dislike the elitist, and patrician connotations; I like to be where people are, and things are happening; they are the basis and point of my work. Still, the idea of a few months in a creaking shack, just me, the research images and lots and lots of white stuff (paper of course) does appeal.

Enough whining; these things will be worked out, by hook, crook or other such snagging implement. The first day, Saturday I trekked out in search of stalls, and traders who might be interested in some weirdo drawing their place of work. I hit upon a deeply cunning method of striking up conversations; I picked something up from the stall, and bought it.  Not only did this identify who the trader was, it gave me an excuse to start asking them questions.

Now, books are my catnip; I acquire them like others breathe and a bookshop or stall can detain me for hours on end, so I decided to start with one of those. In the McIver’s market near the London road end, looking for Brian, a contact Alan had recommended.  His stall is hard to miss – spreading out as it does across much of the floor. The purchase of a Bud Neill collection of cartoons got us talking; he clearly thought my plan to turn the markets into diagrams was odd, if not weird, and he was very keen to point a DVD made of the history of the East End, and that neither I, or the Diversity project were the first to take an interest in East End history. He had no DVDs left for me to buy, so I promised to come back for one, and ended up chatting to one of his regular customers who had been coming to the Barras almost every weekend for years. He also knew a lot of Showpeople and clearly valued them for their straight talking and trading – for various reasons (see below), this particular connection of mine may be as important here, as it will be in the actual Showman’s Quarter segment of the project. Much was said but I noted nothing down, for though I had my wee camcorder in my pocket, this was a scouting rather than a foraging mission and I didn’t want to spook anyone. I do remember Brian showing off his skills though – implying – though never saying -that Andy Murray may well have played with one of the second hand tennis balls he sold to a couple of kids.   I enjoyed the show until they began to close up, and just managed to get a celebratory carton of hot mussels from the seafood stall before it shut.

The approach to Brian's stall.

'The Regular' helps out while Brian is attending to a customer elsewhere.

The next day I felt a little shy about venturing out again – it had gone so well on Saturday that I was almost fearful of what a colder reception might do to my confidence. I decided, ultimately, that I was being a wimp, so set out again, a little earlier this time, so that I could have a look around then drop in on Brian again. I sought out one of the smaller markets I had always particularly liked, ‘The Wash House’ and was glad to find that it hadn’t changed much –the cafe felt very ‘old-school’!

It is one of the smaller markets, but perfectly formed and full of fascinating stuff. Whereas some parts of the Barras are feeling a little thinned out now, with stalls shutting and traffic inevitably slowing (and that is ‘cooperative capitalism’ for you – you need your competition to be there in order to entice the public into the commercial killzone), the Wash House is still fully tenanted and fairly bustling.

One of the quieter markets.

I gravitated, once again, to the bookstall (ignoring the fortune tellers, the stall selling old TVs and a huge bric-a-brac outlet) which occupied the far corner – and again, a large portion of the stall. It didn’t take me long to find my item for purchase, which has, I think, the best title ever given to a book, as shown, and modelled by my good self here;

Hmmmmm.....

Fortune was smiling on me for all sorts of reasons that day – Michael, the bookseller was a lover of Ancient Egypt (which takes up rather a lot of the Last Two Million Years, though geologists and biologists may quibble) so it was no trouble in getting a conversation started! And we certainly covered a great deal – health problems, murder trials, his daughter, national insurance  –  are just a few of the topics I remember. I discovered, and mentally noted that his sister ran the café across the floor.

Just a part of Michael's stall. I found 'the Last Two Million Years' in the corner by the red pillar.

You can just see Michael's seat where he holds court in the centre.

All to the good – but I noticed a twang to his accent, especially on the vowels that was hard to mistake and it was no surprise at all when he told me he had circus ancestors on two sides, and was in fact, like myself, a Showperson. The revelation that we were both travellers melted the already broken ice and the rest of my  ‘research’ involved swapping notes and stories – he of course, knew my parents.

He also thought that I, and my idea was loopy, but said it would be perfectly alright to come back, talk some more, and take some pictures (who, after all, wants to offend a madman?). With my book of all knowledge tucked under my arm I sidled out of the Wash House just as the shutters clanged down, feeling somewhat triumphant – until I thought back to Michael’s stall, and the sheer complexity of it – the goods, the details, the personal touches. Or the antiques stall next door, which sprawls just as much as the bookstall, with even more complex objects. Or the Jewelry repair stall, basically a cavern-cum-workshop with all sorts of oddments and unique features. How to get all this down? And how to account for the inevitable changes over time, as goods were sold, rearranged, shifted from the backroom to the front of house, and vice versa?  Yes, I was hugely excited at having decided, there and then, that one of the drawings I shall produce will be to draw the Wash House – all of it. It felt good to have decided on another of the subjects for the drawings, and I was in no doubt that I wanted to see it reproduced in a dialectogram. I just hope I can survive the experience.

Via the miracle of Facebook I was alerted to this amazing site by Parisien artist Vincent J. Stoker. Wonderfully rendered images, making symmetry out of decay and chaos.

As Glasgow gouges out half its eastend to make way for the M74 motorway extension, our vision of urban improvement and renewal already seems woefully behind the times. This thought provoking piece from A Town Square suggests the whole logic behind cracking the city open to let more cars through runs counter to the tide of history (whatever THAT is) into obsolence. Take a read of it. It argues that ‘vernacular’ city arrangements, such as the Middle Eastern souk, the Chinese huton and even Chicago’s streetcars offer a viable template for high density living that is organic, efficient and on a certain level much more human. Starchitects such as Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas have tried to respond, the latter claiming that it is possible to find ‘optimism in the inevitable.’

The M74 is, we have been told by Glasgow’s city councillors, one such inevitability but current thinking on urbanism suggests we may be taking, literally, the wrong direction. The Foster and Koolhaas ideas are interesting but – and this may be sentimentality creeping in – seem less effective than existing approaches. I always get a little disturbed over the grand visions of architects – instinct (rather than reasoned intellectual contemplation of the designs, I grant you ) tells me there is something totalitarian in both the designs here, even though Foster has attempted to construct his design around the traditional souk.  I will look at them in more detail, but in the meantime the message that taking note of how people actually do accommodate each other, rather than constantly trying to tell them how they should do so – or, cynically ensuring that what they do build will only suit certain classes of people – is a good one, and very much in line with this blog and the project it stories (I wonder what the average annual income of those living in a Foster or Koolhaas future city would be? Of course, the recent financial travails of the Emirate of Dubai may make our notion of what is ‘inevitable’ suddenly obsolete, and thus never inevitable in the first place…) .

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