Monday, 24 January 2011


Dulwich, London


Bill*, originally from Yorkshire, lives on ____ Street, in a small Victorian bay-fronted terrace. Perched on the bay window’s roof is a large illuminated Father Christmas in a sleigh, still greeting passers-by in mid-January. The windows themselves have been replaced with UPVC casements, the bedroom ones framing a pair of satellite dishes. Bill’s e-mailed reply to my letter stipulated that his Portuguese partner, the housekeeper, had requested that I did not visit; the uninvited step into the hall. He is a former mechanic and, as such, is the only person I communicated with in Camberwell and Peckham who could claim to be ‘working class’. He is modest about the scale of his home improvements; when asked what he has changed about his exterior he cites ‘just windows, walls, and tiling’ (Bill to Stewart, 2010), but I suspect he may have been responsible for the front door with its wrought iron ‘Olde English‘ decorative hinges. The ‘front garden’ - a strip of about 1.5 metres between the facade and the pavement - has been fully tiled in pale ceramic, of the kind more usually found in kitchens and conservatories, and the boundary wall is of cerise roughcast, topped with concrete, acorn-shaped finials. It is tempting to link these decorative quirks to his wife’s roots in more clement Portugal, but Bill does not think his house reflects them as people in any way, although he does say that ‘If it looks clean outside then 9/10 [houses] are clean inside.’

The ______ Estate is further in the direction of suburbia ‘proper’. Its prefabricated bungalows were intended as temporary ‘Homes for Heroes’ after the Second World War. Twenty nine are now owner-occupied. Their exteriors have been subject to a wide variety of treatments, from those where the strapping joining the prefabricated panels has been highlighted in black to give the effect of half-timbering to one with a skin of yellow facing brick, passing itself off as a conventional bungalow. Many of the houses display St George’s flags, or plaques with sentiments ranging from ‘Home Sweet Home’ to ‘BEWARE OF THE DOG’.

Barbara, a local, was lucky to acquire hers after her builder husband’s aunt passed away. They and their two children had been renting a flat nearby but when the opportunity for some ‘peace and quiet’ (Barbara to Stewart, 2010) and their own piece of garden arose they jumped at it. Their house is painted in a soft pink and the front door incorporates a mock Georgian fanlight and shiny gold-coloured doorknocker. Barbara tells me they would probably replace the windows if it weren’t for the lingering threat of demolition. Another resident, catching me taking photographs and keen to talk about the community’s plight, informs me that owners have been offered £30,000 each for their homes, a figure which in London property terms means the houses are virtually worthless. Ironically, it is only six unloved-looking and therefore untouched prefabs on the estate which have been given a grade II listing and might therefore escape the fate of the others. (Blackender, 2009)

Christmas is a presence at Claire’s on Camberwell’s _____ Street too, in the form of paper snowflakes in the sash windows - recently installed double glazed timber replicas, she informs me, to replace ‘horrible plastic things’ (Claire to Stewart, 2010) put in by the previous owners. The decision, I’m told, was ‘purely aesthetic.’ Their surrounds (Claire thinks they might be real stone) have been partially stripped of paint and the front garden features globe artichokes grown in a collection of requisitioned containers and a rough wooden signpost reading ‘CHATEAU PARADISO’.

Claire invites me into her kitchen (unfitted, distressed paintwork and children’s drawings everywhere) where she tells me that the exterior of her house does reflect herself in that she likes everything to be homemade; she is not interested in ‘the latest kitchen or things from catalogues.’ Claire is a wigmaker who graduated in Fine Art from Camberwell College twenty years ago, and her husband is an artist. She likes the range of exterior treatments in her street - ‘difference is marvellous, key’ - and suggests that this is an urban virtue, distinguishing the area from ‘the suburbs’, where ‘people morph into the same thing over and over again.’

By the time I receive contact from Brett (artist, designer and author) two streets away it’s clear that around here it is going to be challenging to solicit feedback from people whose occupations aren’t connected with aesthetics. This ought to be less of a surprise than it is; after all, I did not select houses entirely at random. Perhaps I have chosen an area with too high ‘a minority of freaks and intellectuals.’ (Richards, 1973 p.15)

Brett’s house has a pea green front door whose fanlight displays a carefully proportioned typographic house number designed by Brett himself. Eclectic objects are arranged around the door: animal skulls, rusty pieces of metal and dried seedheads. Brett is succinct about the function of this: ‘For someone visiting your house for the first time it's (sic) appearance is like a visual handshake.’ (Brett to Stewart, 2010) He thinks his house reflects him ‘somewhat - although being a private home it's not a public statement.’

There is a property is on a section of Ferndene Road, Denmark Hill lined with Edwardian and 1920s semi-detached villas, displaying Arts and Crafts detailing. This house has been subject to a radical makeover; above the minimal front door is a plate glass floor to ceiling window in place of the original cosy casement and the garden’s boundary is no longer defined by basketweave brickwork but by Brutalist concrete. I receive no response but when posting my letter I catch a glimpse of open plan white space within.

Julia’s house on ______ Street or ‘South London’s finest Georgian street’ (Wooster Stock, 2009) in estate agents’ terms, employs the classic Georgian device of variation in window sizes to denote the hierarchy of the storeys, from the piano nobile on the first floor to the mansard dormers. The grey paint on the lintels is flaking, in contrast to the black (previously red – the change was thought ‘more in keeping’) front door with its highly polished brass lion doorknocker. Julia is yet another ‘creative’ - an interior designer - and her husband ‘works in the City’ (Julia to Stewart, 2010). Julia says the appearance of her house is important to her ‘especially in a street like this’, and ‘it’s a bit of a cliché but I do think the garden is another room. I like it to reflect the interior’; she ‘loves the formality of the box hedging and bay trees’.

(*I've changed names, removed street names and some other details)

Thursday, 20 January 2011


matthew feyld


Eric Shaw

Pete Willis

Nieves Books

Ella Plevin (See also her PHOTOS of our Nicholls & Clarke show, which feel like they're from 36776835 years ago)

nura porat


William Edmonds

Travis Stearns

Ric Holland


Stéphane Prigent


2 weird 2 live, 2 wired 2 die

owl foreigner

三色井 Hsuan


Plus here's some stuff I said (which I may have just found while googling myself ok). It was a while back and I can't quite bring myself to read it back so you'll just have to, then tell me I'm a douche. ANYTHING FOR A COMMENT BABES.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Δ † Δ † Δ † Δ † Δ † Δ †Δ

After a recent excursion to the now crumbling and spooky Gillespie Kidd & Coia ST PETER'S SEMINARY, I was inspired to check out some churches. I'm an atheist natch but one of the things I miss about high school is our visit to church at the end of each term, even though I hated on having to endure Xtian services and assemblies in a nominally non-denominational school. Churches are kind of unusual in being smallish community buildings that aren't primarily about mundane functionalism - they're interesting because the architects are trying to express an abstract concept. Our local church was a typical Glasgow red sandstone Edwardian with a pleasingly austere white interior, but my faves are 'modern' (THAT CHURCH is the main reason I like The Graduate). Here's some UK church ~porn~; I love how incongruous a lot of these look in their surroundings, and the way pedestrian additions like the 'Jesus is Alive' banner and street signs jar with the purity of the architecture.


neon dog


Simon K



Ned Trifle

Steve Cadman

Lou Murphy

Aidan McRae Thomson


(A vaguely related piece of Google Street View tourism - "the bauhaus modernism vs. postmodernism battle is clearly fierce among taiwanese gravestone designers" by owl foreigner)



I reckon my dissertation was probably the part of my degree of which I was proudest, because it kinda felt like I was exploring something like unchartered territory, even if it wasn't strictly as relevant to my ~professional development~ as it was meant to be (errrrr). It certainly reads like it was partially written the morning of hand-in and it's defo light on theory, but it was fun to do. For your pleasure, I'm gonna serialize it, like how they do Princess Diana bios in the Daily Mail. This bit is THE INTRODUCTION. To preserve people's anonymity I'm going to substitute their names with mysterious abbreviations and get rid of street names and the proper accompanying photos. (My currently neglected FACADE HUNTER was part of the original inspiration for this as a subject.)

PS I'm trying caps out for size and it feels rly awkward and weird and like I'll be judged like when I wore my fave Kappa tracksuit to non-uniform day at school and it wasn't considered appropriate to my rep as an unusual nerd. I'm totally trying to be mature and businesslike and professional but you know me, I'm an anti-capitalist at heart :'( Just kill me if I ever write PayPal or eBay or Lol.



Walking around any inner London suburb, even the most passive observer cannot fail to be struck by distinct changes in atmosphere from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, and street to street. Here, a row of Georgian houses, their front doors running the gamut of the soberer end of a Farrow and Ball paint chart and framed by clipped bay sentinels; around the corner an artisans’ row which must once have been as pristine and homogenous as any new estate but whose facades and front gardens are now astonishing in their diversity, from the stone clad with plastic swan planters, to the one boasting reproduction double-glazed sash windows, its Helvetica number rendered in stainless steel and architectural agaves squeezed in next to the recycling box. What motivates their owners to spend time and money painting, pointing and planting, and what lies behind behind something we may consider to be vulgar or twee? What are these houses trying to say? Can we learn anything from these houses and is there an approach to exterior decoration which is ‘correct’? What do these converging tastes collectively add to the urban fabric?

My first childhood home was in an inner suburb of west Glasgow, a city as famous for its Victorian sandstone tenements as for its 1960s concrete tower blocks, many of which are now being replaced with individual houses with ‘their own front and back doors’. In our area everyone lived in a flat where exterior self-expression was limited to the occasional window box or, in less strictly policed buildings, replacement or painting of the window frames themselves. Essentially, the outward appearance of the entire area had changed little since it had been built a century before. Perhaps my unfamiliarity with them explains why I became fascinated by terraced houses and the myriad ways in which people adapt them. The Englishman’s home is, of course, his castle and in London I found that self-expression through the facade was a more complex and subtle art form than I could have imagined.

It was my frequent walks around south-east London, serving no purpose other than to satisfy my growing curiosity about the ways in which certain streets and houses made me feel, that sowed the seeds of this project. Of course, I was unwittingly carrying out my own psychogeographic procedure, mirroring Debord’s (1956) definition of the dérive, in which “one or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there” (Debord, 1956).

The areas of Camberwell, Peckham, Denmark Hill and Catford I plan to focus on are suburbs in the sense that they are residential districts adjacent to a major centre, even if many residents would argue that they are far from being suburban in spirit. Each of the areas has architectural similarities, but the variety of facade treatments is endless. I will be concentrating on the terraced houses so integral to these areas, along with the ______ Estate ‘prefabs’, which, though detached, still form a very high density streetscape.

In as much as this dissertation has a theoretical framework, it is derived from semiology; we are on the hunt for signifiers. I will begin by outlining the unique status of the home in England, before providing some detailed portraits of particular houses based on my primary researches. This is followed by analysis of the influences at play in the customisation of dwellings, including consideration of the ‘working class’, the ‘urbane aesthete’, conservative ‘middle class’ approaches and the roles played by snobbery and kitsch. Finally I will assess the problems inherent in trying to analyse taste, and discuss the contribution that individuals’ home improvements make to the urban sphere.

It is important to understand the unique relationship the British, and the English in particular, have with their homes. In 1896, the German architect Muthesius (cited in Hunt, 2004) reported on English housebuilding, writing that ‘no nation is more committed to its development, because no nation has identified itself more with the house.’ He suggests that this commitment can be traced to the Anglo-Saxons’ ‘reverence for individualism.’ But this individualism is tempered by the ‘decidedly conservative sense of the Anglo-Saxon, who seems scarcely to recognise the charm of change .’

There is an irony in the fact that many of these peculiarly ‘English’ qualities are attributed to Germanic invaders. Kemble’s The Saxons in England, emphasises ‘the Germanic tradition of worship ... for the mistress of the house.’ (cited in Hunt, 2004) Paul Oliver argues that this tradition continues in the symbolism of more recent houses; he provides a picture of a curvaceous 1930s entrance porch accompanied by the caption ‘The front door as orifice.’ (Oliver, Davis & Bentley, 1981 p.175) An uninvited step into the hall would be a violation. Human characteristics are routinely employed to describe houses, as on ITV’s House Gift (2010) where Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen observes that a particularly anonymous semi has ‘one of the best poker faces i’ve ever seen.’

Hunt (2004) describes how the postwar DIY boom meant that home improvement became the nation’s favoured pastime: ‘the celebrated individualism of the English was now expressed not through architecture but a particular shade (of paint)’. The contemporary house obsession continues to manifest itself in property prices making front page news, and the popularity of TV shows focusing on the home. In the past decade, many of these shows have switched their emphasis from the interior, as in Changing Rooms or Home Front, to the exterior; Property Ladder and Location, Location, Location have introduced ‘kerb appeal’ as a measure of the impression one forms of a house upon encountering it from the street into popular parlance.