Sketch Elevation


The difference between the 'picturesque composition' that one sees here, and the 'conceptual composition', which I favour today, is not in the level of calculation applied to either mode. The 'picturesque' is just as contrived. What separates them is that the picturesque is, to put it brutally, suitable only for Architectural illiterates. One is obliged to say this because the one thing that probably appeals to people about this design, (it will automatically be assumed to be impractical and over budget) is its relaxed 'romantic', slightly ruined, 'artlessness'. Nothing could be further from the truth, as a section revealing the endless labours (over six months) of the design will reveal (when I have the time to publish it).

The real function of the 'artlessly romantic' compositional strategies that began to overtake Architecture with the 'exotic' style revivals of the 19C, is to obscure the uncomfortable fact that formality exposes the inability of both the 19C and 20C to 'fill the voids' it creates, when it erases the contingent 'realities' of site, nature and history. I discovered this peculiar 'formality effect' while building Wadhurst Park, back in 1982-85. It became clear to me, as I achieved the extraordinary precision of having my new 'Robot Order' frame out both floor, walls and ceiling, that the house had (as my Client desired) plucked a 'calm(e, luxe et volupte), out of the bustling airs of its hilltop, that was like the silence before a piece of music. This 'void' suggested the possibility of a 'composition' in another, more intellectual mode than mere wood, metal and plaster (and travertine and carrara arabescata too). Formality is like the insistent heatbeat of an imperceptible rhythm. It is the metre that supports 'poetic' dexterity. It sets the scene for a piece of 'whatever' that will be, as it must be, a pure invention. What we are talking about, here, in Architecture, is the wholly tabooed subject of 'decoration'. Ornament is the melody, the purely conceptual 'cerebral front end' of Architecture. It can only come into existence, as an aid to ratiocination, within a strictly formal 'space' because it needs the 'silence' of formality for the slighter, but more complex, refrains of mere pattern, figure and colour, to register against the giant physique of the architectonic torso.

'Artlessly Romantic' composition, which we may track from Neo-gothic to contemporary Neo-Expressionist (Decon) overwhelms the intellect with an increasingly thunderous disposition of architectural masses and spaces. When to this 'dance of the dinosaurs' is added the prolixity of surface capable of being manufactured by digitised machinery, which appears to be the project of the major part of Architects today, we have a technique capable of projecting us, these Architects of Ecstasy hope, into a permanent state of sublime intoxication.

Conversely, one may read this as merely the latest chapter of that fan dance of disenfranchesed planes, which the West finds necessary to obscure the fact that the 'big questions' that Architecture can not help but ask, remain, it seems, unanswerable. While this remains so there can be no role for Architecture, as a formal medium designed to provide a field for philosophy. My work, when it is examined in this light, will, I neverthelss hope, go some way towards charting a way out of this charnel house of professional ecstatics.


(Medium: drafting pen on tracing paper. Size of the original 200 mm wide)

The Competition Design for the Burrell Museum, Glasgow.