Archive for the ‘Off-topic’ Category

It’s gone relatively quiet here, because I’m now involved in other projects. You can watch our progress over at the Studio 9 wiki.



With the end of year shows in Britain’s architecture schools all now done and dusted, I was a little late coming across an article in the architects’ weekly newspaper BD (10 August 2007) entitled A Sense of Adventure (registration required). The feature examined a number of projects from the cream of this year’s graduating diploma students in architecture. One project that caught my eye in particular was a house of sorts by Dundee School of Architecture graduate Paul Maich.

This project for “cognitive dwelling” is framed by an elaborate quasi-autobiographical narrative. Paul Maich establishes five characters — the insomniac, the inventor, the miner, the amnesiac and the recluse — each of which corresponds to an aspect of his own character.

The cognitive dwelling itself is a freestanding brick volume laced by a labyrinthine sequence of passageways which seeks to embody these different character traits.

“This is essentially my own existential Soane Museum,” says Maich. “It is an architectural personification of character. The design exercise questions whether existence and experience can be transposed into architectural form; a personified architecture.”

Within the narrative, Maich is murdered in his own building by one of the five characters and a police investigation ensues, deftly illustrated by a storyboard-like arrangement of scenes.

“This is a project that illustrates the ambiguities between architecture and art,” said Jeremy Dixon.

“It would sit very happily in an art gallery both as a piece of sculpture and a thoroughly sinister narrative. The graphics pull out the dark elements of the story very dramatically and sit alongside the enigmatic brick object in a way that stays in the memory.”

The article teases us with a few frames from the sequential narrative of the final project presentation. The use of extremely tightly rendered architectural images with superimposed comic-book-style narration doesn’t feel quite right. Perhaps it’s because the faux-hand-written typeface of the narrative boxes doesn’t do the rest of the frame justice, I’m still not quite sure, and would prefer to reserve judgement until I’d seen the whole thing. But the whole project oozes richness and sophistication – I would have really liked to have to seen the whole narrative to understand more about this building and the project.



Was lucky enough to nab a ticket to one of the advance previews of this film, which opens across France and Belgium on 27 June. A release in English is previewed for later this year. During the Q&A after the film, Marjane Satrapi was asked whether she would like to see the film released on the big screen in Iran. She said yes, but appreciated that with many Hollywood films, pirate DVDs are in circulation in the Middle East within 24hrs of the film opening in the USA, with unofficial dubbed copies appearing soon after. When pressed on whether she was advocating the pirating of her film so that it could be seen in Iran, she said (my translation) “only if the dubbing is done well”.

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Regular readers might already be aware of my fondness for the meandering monologues of Garrison Keillor on his weekly radio show A Praire Home Companion. The lingering sense of nostalgia for simpler times and closer communities draws an audience of hundreds of thousands every weekend.

While beavering away at some deathly dull drawings for unrelated work this weekend, I’ve been listening to a similar-yet-entirely-different show from the CBC Radio network in Canada. The Vinyl Café is broadcast on the airwaves of CBC Radio One and a number of networked stations in the USA. As yet there’s no podcast, so if you want to catch it online you’ll need to watch the CBC schedules and work out your time difference. The show blends live performances by Canadian musicians with tales of “Dave and Morley” as told by host Stuart McLean. Once again, the radio waves seem to be the perfect media for nostalgic tales and tightly rooted music.

I categorise posts on this blog as ‘off-topic’ with caution, since nothing is can be so off-topic not to influence what I’m thinking about or do. Professor Ruth Morrow at the University of Ulster in Belfast has recently uploaded the entirity of the pamphlet Building Clouds Drifting Walls, which describes the experimental design studio that she and others implemented in the first year of the Bachelors in Architecture programme at the University of Sheffield between 2000 and 2003. I followed this programme as my first year studying architecture between 2001 and 2002, and I can honestly credit it with forming my interest in the way that architecture is taught, discussed and represented.

Follow the link and click on the individual pages to open a full page scan. Double points if you can spot the very first architectural model I  built during my first week at Sheffield, which is feature in one of the illustrations.


Thank you AM for recommending me this article from the New York Times earlier this week, reviewing the recently completed Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum in the Netherlands.

Willem Jan Neutelings and Michiel Riedijk stand out from the usual Koolhaas clones. Still relatively unknown in the United States, their firm has steadily built a reputation in Europe for bold designs that draw on everything from primitive temples to comic-book illustration and the decorative ephemera of Andy Warhol. They also have something as rare in architectural circles as raw talent: a sense of humor.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, Encased in Glass
The New York Times, 26 May 2007, retrieved 29 May 2007

No… it’s not just the reference to comic-book illustration that interests me, but (still fresh from reading about Joost Swarte and Mecanoo building the Toneelschuur in Haarlem) the idea that a sense of humour can be conveyed in a building. How interesting that this should be found in a major public building dedicated to archiving, exhibiting and celebrating the broadcast image and sound.

An unexpected last minute phone call from a friend inviting me out this evening meant that I finally managed to watch the 2006 film Renaissance in its entirity. SUAS presented it earlier this year in Sheffield as part of our occasional film night series, but after setting up the evening I only got to see part of the film. Christain Volckman’s thriller is a dark (literally) animated thriller brought to life on the screen with a rich monochromatic comic book feel. The animation is superb, part based on live-action shots and part derived from fantastical visions of Paris in the year 2054. If Blade Runner was a revealing insight into eighties’ visions of a futuristic North America, then Renaissance is a similarly fantastical vision of what France might be like in the next century.

The film has now been widely released with two soundtracks, the original in French with Patrick Floersheim, Laura Blanc and Gabriel Le Doz providing the voices, and in English with Daniel Craig, Catherine McCormack and Jonathan Pryce. It is definitely worth hunting down.

Thank you Amanda in Chicago, who forwarded me this video, originally produced for This American Life on Chicago Public Radio.

It’s the first time I’ve seen Chris Ware’s cartoons animated, in a collaboration with animator John Kuramoto. The episode details can be found here.

In the last year or two, I have occasionally considered taking some baby steps from blogging into podcasting. It’s a new medium that I’m really interested in, and right now there’s some great stuff out there which embraces and fools around with everything you might consider sacred in audio broadcasting (Letter to America from Belfast, Northern Ireland, being one particularly surreal favourite of mine). However, issues to do with time, the amount of space on my hard drive and the way that I  sound on tape has encouraged me not to. Luckily for me there are people out there who are much more talented that I and who have none of those issues, so it’s with much excitement that I found Inkstuds this week: it’s a weekly one hour radio show on CITR radio in British Columbia that’s also published online as a podcast.

The programme’s been on the air for a while now, and it’s great to browse the back catalogue of episodes to hear interviews with big name artists and even a few old friends. Well worth subscribing for the variety of interviewees…


As I mentioned earlier, I should have been in Paris this weekend. Unfortunately a rather unpleasant bout of food poisoning sent me straight back to Strasbourg a day after I arrived. For many of the twenty-four hours or so that I spent in Paris, I was confined to my bed on the seventh floor of a crowded hostel that had no lift, no secondary staircase and no apparent fire escape. In the sleepless delirium, I was reminded of this cartoon from Punch magazine, by Peter Birkett. Click on the image to find out how to buy prints.


When I class a post on this blog as ‘off-topic’ I do so with caution, as it’s probably far too early to dismiss anything as being ‘off-topic’. Jeet Heer, a Comics Journal forum user sent me back to an earlier post of mine about Will Alsop and Winsor McCay to point out something that I’d most definitely missed.

Yes, Gray and McCay were both Masons. There is a subtle masonic joke woven into the famous “Little Nemo” page with the walking bed. The bed stumbles against a church steeple, causing Nemo to fall back into waking life: the idea being, as per Masonic doctrine, that organized religion is a stumbling block to the imagination and freedom.

There is a fair bit of Masonic themes in Gray’s work as well: the orientalism of many of Daddy Warbuck’s aids (Punjab, Wun Wey, the Asp) who form a brotherhood to protect innocence and goodness (Annie). Warbucks and company are an international fraternal order, held together by a common decency that trancends culture: the masonic ideal in a nutshell.

Or consider the figure of Mr. Am — a jovial diety in the Annie world. He looks like Santa Claus and dresses like an arabian sultan; he’s lived forever and testifies to the unchanging verities of reality (and of human nature); he’s a benign and jovial god, but somewhat distant from human concerns. He’s illustrates the principal of deism.

You learn something new every day…



My thanks go to billym (another user of the Comics Journal forum) who put me on to another artist who work I recognise but I hadn’t thought to look into: Ben Katchor. The picture above is an frame from A Date in Architectural History, a strip by Katchor in the January 1999 issue of Metropolis magazine. Follow this link for the whole strip.

I just love the mild humour of this short strip – perhaps that’s because I’m an architecture student training to enter a profession which has a strange language and value system that is so rarely mocked. Notice also the large panel: I don’t recall ever seeing an architect draw a building like that.

For any other newbies out there like me, there’s a good interview with Katchor by Catherine McWeeney here.


A not insignificant aspect of my interest in comics relates to storytelling. What makes a good story? Is it the story itself, or is it the way that you tell it? A mainstay of public radio in the USA and the UK, Garrison Keillor is surely one of America’s greatest living storytellers. His weekly radio show features a monologue entitled The News from Lake Wobegon, the fictional ‘home-town’ of Keillor. This segment of the show is now available every week as a podcast, and it’s wonderful stuff. You can find out more here, or if using iTunes to manage your podcasts just follow this link.

Photo: Brian Velenchenko

PS… I’ve just realised that in the gushing comment I made about the show on iTunes, I managed to get my spelling of ‘hear’ mixed up with ‘here’. Crap. A career as a serious academic is seeming even further out of reach…


    "no words no action" was an experiment in academic blogging. The blog recorded the progress of reading, research and investigations that lead to a Masters in Architecture dissertation at the University of Sheffield in autumn 2007. You can find out more about the author's interest in blogging here.

    To find out more about the thesis, download the original dissertation proposal (pdf format) from February 2007 or the semi-formal first chapter (pdf format) from April 2007.

    Further research projects are in the works, and their dependence on human interaction and networking suggests more blogging will be inevitable when the time comes.


    At the time that this blog was created, James Benedict Brown was a fifth year Masters of Architecture student at the University of Sheffield. James' personal blog is here.

    James graduated in 2008 and now lives and works in Glasgow.


    This project was supervised by Renata Tyszczuk at the University of Sheffield


    If you want to correct me on something, offer an opinion on a particular artist or building, or if you'd like to recommend someone or something to find out about, please feel free to leave a comment. Just click on 'Comments' under the headline of the relevant post...


    Click here to browse James' bookshelf, and to purchase books being used in this project.


    I've managed to miss almost half a dozen compelling conferences around the world so far this year, simply because I have no (more) money to travel and no time to escape my studies in Strasbourg and Sheffield. However, if I had a magic plane ticket and plenty of time, here's my selection of essential conferences to attend. Hopefully I'll be there for more of them next year... click here for the diary (updated every time I miss another one).

  • NOTE

    All images are used for illustrative purposes only, and the copyright remains with the artist and/or creator. Please contact me if I have misappropriated an image or incorrectly credited it. Thanks... JBB


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    The content of this blog is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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