Seattle’s beautiful room
May 13, 2011, 6:16 pm
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[The main hall in Seattle Public Library by OZinOH.]

Dutch architects OMA set out to make a beautiful city room in Seattle and this picture shows it so well.

Beside awe, I had a sense of something very new happening when I went to visit this fantastic place while working on a project in Seattle two years ago.  It stuck me that the architects would be so bold to present a four story concrete wall to the public immediately upon entry to their new library – people want baubles, not abstraction.  But there it is, directly in line with the front door, looming, menacing and slipping into a black night sky ceiling.  It’s Kubrick’s 2001 a Space Odyssey, or the Kabbah in Mecca – silent and mysterious.

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watching the royals


Why so enthralled with the royal wedding?  It’s senseless to care about quaint, ceremonial institutions. Fairy tales and princesses – we’ve moved on, haven’t we?  We revolted against and removed the heads of monarchs and dispatched the ideas that held us in thrall and them in power:  divine right, heredity.  And with blood and politics ushered in emancipatory ideas to fill the void:  enlightenment, meritocracy, democracy and modernism.  Plebiscite, suffrage, revolution: these are the hard fought – and won – battles waged against the long pre-modern night.

To the wedding, reaction among my friends was pretty tepid.  Except for three Brits who donned their fascinators and watched on the BBC big screen in DUMBO and later the repeat in a bar in Brooklyn, no one seemed to care much. Each was one of nonchalant, bored, oblivious, mocking and categorically opposed.  Some were a mix.  I’m busy, we defeated the Brits, we’re anti-pomp, but mostly, we’re American, was the field of responses.

When Diana died, I watched, in the middle of the night in my east coast studio:  the cortege of the Princess, her sons, the princes and her shocked brother walking in black suits behind.  “The half muffled bells of Westminster Abbey ring out their quarter peal across an unusually still London,” said the announcer.

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May 9, 2011, 5:08 pm
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May 9, 2011, 5:04 pm
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six stories

In autumn the surface water in lakes begins to cool and grow heavy.  Eventually the heavy top water sinks and displaces the lighter water at the bottom of the lake; and the lake turns.

History can be like a lake.  Take for example how we see class, particularly the members of the upper and lower ones.  Alain de Botton, in his book Status Anxiety, uses three stories to illustrate how we used to see the rich and poor, until about the middle of the 18th century, and three more stories to show how that perception of class has literally flipped.

We used to believe the labour of the poor drove wealth creation, that there was no shame in poverty, and that the riches of the upper echelons were generally ill gotten.  Now we believe the opposite.

Arguments can be made about the relative truthfulness of each of the two antipodal visions of society.  It’s much harder to argue that the radical shift in perspective has not had a profound effect on our lives.  To claim we’re not worse off, for instance.  Among many other things, it’s quite clear we have become uncompromisingly and unapologetically uncharitable.

From Status Anxiety:  the first three stories are the old vision, and the second three are what we believe today.  The old view of class:

Three useful old stories about failure:

From approximately 30 AD, when Jesus began his ministry, to the latter half of the twentieth century, the lowest in Western societies had to had three stories about their significance, which, while they could be believed, must have worked a profoundly consoling, anxiety-reducing effect on their listeners.

First Story:  The Poor Are Not Responsible for Their Condition and Are the Most Useful in Society

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May 8, 2011, 2:17 pm
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1930s society ladies dress as goddesses:  Ariel, Hecate, Europa, Flora, Dido, Arethusa, Minerva, Helen of Troy, Queen of the Amazons, Ariadne, Clio, Medusa and Venus

from the Guardian online.

Photography from The Yevonde Portrait Archive.

the good citizen’s alphabet

The Good Citizen’s Alphabet, Bertrand Russell & Franciszka Themerson, Gaberbocchus Press, from Design Observer.

excerpts –

CHRISTIAN – contrary to the Gospels.

DIABOLIC – liable to diminish the income of the rich.

GREEDY – wanting something I have and you haven’t.

LIBERTY – the right to obey the police.

OBJECTIVE – a delusion which other lunatics share.

VIRTUE – submission to the government.

XENOPHOBIA – the Andorran opinion that the inhabitants of Andorra are the best.