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DAVID CARR-SMITH - IMPROVISATION / DESIGN / ART / KITSCH / CHANCE

"HOME"  

DEFINING MY LOCATION / MY NEEDS / MYSELF VIA MASS-MARKET PRODUCTS & TASTE

 

INDEX  
IMPROVISED-ARCH IN AMSTERDAM INDUSTRIAL SQUATS & COLLECTIVES

IMPROVISATION - PUBLIC & LEGAL - ALLOTMENTS  
IMPROVISED VILLAGES - WANDSWORTH / KEW BRIDGE
VERNACULAR & STYLE - BERDUN, HUESCA  
TEMPORARY-ARCHITECTURE - FRANK'S CAFE / SOUTHWARK LIDO 
"HOME" - MY LOCATION VIA MASS-PRODUCTS/TASTE 

"HOME" - MY LOCATION VIA PERSONAL-CHOICES 
ART - GOTHIC INTO RENAISSANCE INTO 20thC
ART - 20thC COLLAGE INTO MASS-MEDIA 
GRAFFITI INTO STREET-ART  

DESIGN & CHANCE

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THE BRITISH MASS-MARKET HOME - p2   ... in process

p1: "HOME" - THE 'LIVING-ROOM'   

p2: "HOME" - THE HOUSE

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THE HOUSE

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INTRODUCTION  ... in process

An extraordinary aspect of British culture is that people whose main social/working persona is 'adult' - 'tough' / 'professional' / 'hard-headed' / 'no-nonsense' / 'commonsensical' / 'power-seeking' - can, apparently without embarrassment, expose to the gaze of all who pass their house, even proudly display, a view of a 'private' persona that is dominated by childish fantasies and dreams of homes from childhood stories. 

Most of us grew up in late 18th to early 20thC mass-housing, 'arterial-road' semis, or more recent builder/developer derivatives of these, and for lack of alternatives gleaned from design-education or public examples, we seem to cherish, not desires for spaces and facilities that would free us from the social/experiential restrictions of these outdated forms, but fantasy versions of pre spec-developer domesticity. The british mass-culture dream home is located in a dream-time when country dwellers made their own vernacular cottages and wealthy landowners built with the help of eminent classical designers their dignified mansions. Since these choices are usually unattainable the majority have settled for spec-builder boxes spangled with ethnic and/or snob-historicist evocative motifs.

A basic human desire is surely to creatively co-operate with a designer or improvise for oneself the character and structure of ones own home, rather than simply follow mass-taste and buy commercial products, nevertheless in Britain originality is 'normally' suppressed by neighbours and local-councils. However ignorant/crude/stupid/ugly are the 'designs' of builder-developers, as long as they conform to a list of practical building-standards and to a local-council's aesthetic ideal: which is almost always 'conformity with what already exists' [1], their boorish and potentially antisocial products must be allowed, and the (always at least interesting) results of individualistic inventiveness, as well as the innovative (or at least modern) solutions of designer-architects, will usually - for the sake of the negative 'value' of homogeneity - be denied. In the face of this virtual ban on innovation, for most people an attempt to originate a uniquely personal home is 'unthinkable' [2] and the expense and bureaucracy associated with employing a designer is daunting - thus almost all personal home-origination is reduced to searching the mass-market and buying a house from builder/developers and then perhaps squandering ones small reserves of creativity on embellishing this bought 'shed' with emblems of mass-taste. This outcome is a disease of the roots of our culture - our experientially most influential and generative products are our homes.

It seems in this rather architecturally-unaware country that the only difference between house makers and consumers is that the former have skills in physical building crafts (empirically acquired and thus necessarily 'traditional'); apart from that, builders and buyers apparently share ignorance and lack of curiosity in the structural and economic, let alone experiential possibilities of 'modern' homes (beyond new gadgets for home-entertainment and labour-saving). Supply and demand is thus stuck in a 'closed-loop' and qualitative advancement largely stifled. Because of a lack of basic design education and paucity of public examples, and a consequent lack of critiques applicable to experiencing, choosing, planning homes, plus design-informed consumer-demand financial-incentives bearing on builders' design initiatives, the closed-loop of conception, production and acquisition of british homes will continue to be underpinned by embarrassingly stupid, irrelevant and utterly outdated motivations [3].

A pragmatically, aesthetically, economically and socially debased house-developer vernacular has consolidated - ruining the outskirts/environs of almost every british city, town and village ... it should not have been allowed to happen - school-level education in design, and especially home design, could have brought consumer power of choice to bear on the ignorance of home providers.

NOTES :

  1. Their judgment as to what is 'similar' to the predominant local building style is inevitably crude - a simple display of its macro-mnemonic features is sufficient (a feature as visually/'stylistically' striking as 'drainpipes' need not be shown on designs that are submitted to the council for aesthetic judgment!). An original building ('architecture') that fulfills/innovates possibilities of living must often, in order to slip past the planning-dept's attention, be hidden behind facades that resemble their neighbours, however simplistic, outdated, ugly these are, or if it must be a whole in and out structure, it may help acceptance if planned to be built in some unnoticed nook or cranny behind and out of sight of existing roads and 'frontages'. Consequently the public majority rarely sees these demonstrations/exemplars of present domestic needs and possibilities and is mentally, emotionally, physically stuck with the outdated stupidity of spec-developers' mass-market habits.

  2. Its full realisation is attained only in sub-legal squats [ref: IMPROV ARCH and IMPROV VILLAGES]

  3. For a wonderfully apposite demonstration of this paragraph watch BBC "HOMES UNDER THE HAMMER"

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THE FANTASY OF HOME - MODELS

Instructions for and products of a mass-fantasy ... the vernacular cottage :

'THE COTTAGE' MASS-DREAM: MAGAZINE AD FOR PLATE WITH PAINTING BY A 'FAMOUS ARTIST'
(Recorded 7-11-2002) 

 

THE COTTAGE MASS-DREAM: MAGAZINE AD FOR PLATE WITH PAINTING BY A 'FAMOUS ARTIST'
(Recorded 7-11-2002) 

THE COTTAGE MASS-DREAM: MAGAZINE AD FOR BOOKS WITH PAINTINGS BY "VICTORIAN & EDWARDIAN ARTISTS"
(Recorded 7-11-2002) 

 

THE COTTAGE MASS-DREAM: MODEL COTTAGE (PAINTED PLASTER)
(date? - before c 2004) 

THE COTTAGE MASS-DREAM: 'WENDYHOUSE' - BENBIUCK GARDEN CENTRE, nr RIPLEY, SURREY
(pic 1981) 

 

THE COTTAGE MASS-DREAM: BISCUIT BOX (IN GIFT SHOP WINDOW - ISLEWORTH, MIDDLX.)
(pic 1980) 

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THE FANTASY OF HOME - HOUSES:  BUILDER-VERNACULAR  ... in process

Suburban fantasy fulfillment ... the spec-builder vernacular :

The most obvious characteristic of these spec-builder-vernacular objects is that they are 'models', experientially almost identical, except in size, to the objects shown above. Their size demands that the techniques and materials used to make them are different [1], but the attitude that conceived, designed, made them is similar - their realiser's experience is that of a model-maker and therefore we perceive them thus. Furthermore they are usually lined-up on a location that has no more visible relation to them than a display-shelf in a shop. A selection of functionally similar but differently 'dressed' versions of some basically practical object in a large store, like a row of kettles in Currys.

However, one interesting difference between these 'appliances' and their modern consumer-product cousins is that, compared with the kettles or the cars in a showroom, these developer/builder houses appear weirdly kooky, hand-made and indeed clumsily put together from not-very-securely-joined, separately made parts (roofs, vertical walls, windows and doors, applied decor-patches, trim, and (more mental this) seemingly 'pasted-on' 'picture-skins'). The most significant cultural effect of this 'primitive' hand-madeness and the apparent awkwardness of the fitting-together of parts is its disconnection with all of this society's other practical products. It seems that this product alone must be seen to be not practical, not a tool or appliance, not a product of rationality, not made by industry and machines ... that it must exist primarily as dream or story (both always in the past), as if designed (and even made: so seemingly ephemeral are its techniques) for a theatre production - the scenery of a play about 'home'.

It seems that, apart from its interior appliances and practical services, it must reassuringly refer - unlike a car or kettle - to the authority and associational richness of ancestral-history (distracting attention from its sloppy craft with visual references to quality and/or coziness). Before all, it must evoke the fantasy of a 'family home' in a manner that must appeal to as many people as possible. Without reinforcing and quoting mass-mediated stereotypes associated with 'homes' it cannot evoke the mass-fantasies of family-castle / family-nest / family-inheritance / family-breeding-pen; nor, seen from outside, would it contribute to the ubiquitous social/personal sense and desire for 'security'; nor could it stimulate possessive envy, or so easily stand in as a 'value-counter' in the hierarchical game of social getting. Individualistically invented or pragmatically designed and manufactured houses are like thorns caught in this cuddly tribal swaddling. Developer-builders have little (financial) choice but to model stereotypes.

NOTES :

  1. However, model-makers might wish, for complete verisimilitude, to put together their model building using model building-parts. However, if they acquire a habitual skill at this, and especially if their aim is selling and they begin to repeat a popular model, their attention may drift away from scrupulous concern for physical precision and adopt a somewhat easy attitude towards 'style'. The houses below seem to convey such wanderings ... in a culture of informed experiential values would objects of such imprecision and triviality merit replication! 

HOUSES 'STYLES' - GREEN ST, SUNBURY-ON-THAMES 
(pic c 1970s / built c early-1970s) 

Here the spec-builder displays (his?) 'catalogue' of styles and offers us 'choice'. Via this pitiful array of Brit-vernaculars, differentiated through years of media filtration, we may now exercise our 'right to choose' and publically expose our taste. 

They all 'look-out' at the street as if expectant, like a row of eager dogs waiting for their owners. This latter effect has two aspects: 1: windows are for looking out of so are analogues of eyes, 2: it manifests the desire of their 'designer' to attract the attention of a buyer (or indeed, flatter their proximate owner). 

 

HOUSE 'MODERN' - GREEN ST, SUNBURY-ON-THAMES
(pic c 1970s) 

 

HOUSE 'COTTAGE' - GREEN ST, SUNBURY-ON-THAMES 
(pic c 1970s / built c early-1970s) 

Ref this and the next pic: how many of these silly hutches were built? Separated by at least five miles, yet even the garage, the front walls and gates are the same - they were presumably made by the same building company. However each is displayed as one in a row of differently 'styled' houses and each was probably marketed with a stress on 'individual choice' [see previous pic]. In a culture of informed experiential values would objects of such imprecision and triviality merit replication?! 

HOUSE 'COTTAGE' - NEAR HERNE-HILL, LONDON 
(pic 1986 / built ?) 

Was this one identical to the last when newly built - were the differences (shutters, porch-roof, door) added by the owners during the decade since the last, or are they initiatives of the building company: 'improvements' on the 'design' or style adjustments thought commensurate with the area's consumers.

 

HOUSE SEMI: A "McLEAN QUALITY HOMES" DEMO -  WESTMINSTER CRESCENT, SHEFFIELD 10
(pic 1981)

A horrible pastiche of 'modernised traditional' (eg windows) and tediously habitual motifs, semi-randomly scattered over an absurdly confused and wastefully (practically and financially!) shaped form, apparently precariously perched on the sloping entry corner of a new estate of asphalt-marooned houses. 

HOUSES: "CORNFIELDS ESTATE" - BURNET RD, off BECCLES RD, GREAT YARMOUTH, NORFOLK
(pic 20-8-2012 / built
late 1980s)

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THE FANTASY OF HOME - HOUSES:  OWNER 'IMPROVEMENTS'   ... in process

Suburban fantasy fulfillment ... house-owner 'individualising' :

House owners' innate creativity is often invested in 'home-improvement'. However, though their primary motivation may be to individualise their mass-consumer house, their choices of embellishment are often fuelled by boastfulness (or rather 'status communication'), which must (obviously) be mediated via mass-recognisable significations. Thus, in such cases, their individualistic creativity is (ironically) restricted to mass-taste and mass-marketed style-motifs. The rare examples of truly individual choices are as likely to attract neighbours complaints and/or the local-council's objurgation, as appreciation of their expressiveness, pleasure in novelty and praise for originality.

HOUSE PLUS OWNER-RESTYLE - VILLIERS RD, KINGSTON-ON-THAMES
(pic late-1970s / built c1920s / restyle c1978) 

A straightforwardly modest council house semi, with ordinary 1920s metal-framed windows, an elegantly minimal porch and door-case, and enduring roughcast, is now eclipsed by the ferocious stylistic mélange of its other half - 'individualised' with a display of mass-taste style-signs: 'Classical' (plastic) door-case (with Lloyds logo'!); 'Elizabethan Baronial' door; 'Baroque Palace' (plastic) parterre vases; 'Cottage' side-gate with lucky-horseshoe and 'hand-wrought' nails; 'International-Modern' white walls with 'picture-windows'. When chosen and installed each motif seems to have been perceived as if alone: there is no sense of irony or awareness of their mutual subject-content tensions - [in contrast here is an example of 'solved' stylistic collage: [ROBERT ADAM - OSTERLEY HOUSE CONVERSION (1761-)]


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Except that they issued from one 'agency' (one person or family) this confusion of messages resembles this zebra-crossing site [ref: DESIGN CHAOS
]

 

 

HOUSE PLUS OWNER-RESTYLE - MAYALL RD, BRIXTON, LONDON
(pic 1986 / built c1860s / restyle 1980s)

This house in a mid 19C terrace has been 'personalised' with added motifs.

The front has been divided into two separate visual zones - the lower zone is 'medievalised': its neo-classical porch has gone and the whole portion rendered. Black on white patterning is quintessentially kitsch-medieval: black = structural timber-framing, white = plastered (brick or wattle/daub) infill. Apart from the strip of quasi 'timber-frame' (which - especially as a railway viaduct backs the house - seems in its geometric regularity to weirdly resemble a 20C industrial steel bridge truss) there seems some confusion re these stereotypical colour designations - it's as if area below the 'truss', confused by window and door, was too complex too visualise in terms of structural timbering, and has simply been blocked-in - framing the door and flanking the newly widened window (jumping across its bayed black top) like a (quite visually dynamic, though spoiled by the big builders' board leaning under it ) example of 1960s 'abstraction'. The white 'infill' seems to signify rough-textured hand-applied 'daub' technique, the black parts are smooth. 

The 19C door and sash windows are replaced with ones whose multi panes obscure the view but evoke earlier technology; the upright ground-floor window is hugely enlarged and is now a 'Queen Anne' bay. Its original simple brick front-wall may have been elaborated previously. 

 

HOUSE PLUS OWNER-RESTYLE & TERRACE - MAYALL RD, BRIXTON, LONDON
(pic 16-8-12 / built c1860s / 2nd restyle ?)
In the last 26 years the house has changed again. The absurd lower half is simplified, re-rendered smooth and whitened. However the original visual harmony of these terraced, but nevertheless paired houses, whose flanking doors bestowed a shared centre that afforded them a (conceptual) dignity of doubled size and visual symmetry, is now - via silly 'individualising' by more moneyed but no less purblind owners - on the verge of irretrievable loss.

HOUSE PLUS OWNER-RESTYLE OR OWNER-INITIATED DESIGN - GREAT WEST RD, OSTERLY
(pic 7-1991 / built or restyle c1989-90) 

 

HOUSE PLUS OWNER-RESTYLE - GREAT WEST RD, OSTERLY
(pic 1985 / built c1920s / restyle 1980s) 

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INDEX  
IMPROVISED-ARCH IN AMSTERDAM INDUSTRIAL SQUATS & COLLECTIVES

IMPROVISATION - PUBLIC & LEGAL - ALLOTMENTS  
IMPROVISED VILLAGES - WANDSWORTH / KEW BRIDGE
VERNACULAR & STYLE - BERDUN, HUESCA  
TEMPORARY-ARCHITECTURE - FRANK'S CAFE / SOUTHWARK LIDO 
"HOME" - MY LOCATION VIA MASS-PRODUCTS/TASTE  
"HOME" - MY LOCATION VIA PERSONAL-CHOICES 
ART - GOTHIC INTO RENAISSANCE INTO 20thC
ART - 20thC COLLAGE INTO MASS-MEDIA 
GRAFFITI INTO STREET-ART  

DESIGN & CHANCE