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Category: Writing

Writing February 2018

Night Trains

Night fell with the rainstorm that carried across the city. On a hill to the North, Franz Vekaris stared from the second floor window of his flat. The night air filled with the sound of rain and heaviness, a sickly warmth that deadened his spirit. The rain fell vertically, forming perfect geometry in imperfect puddles. Outside, the street reflect the warming glow of the sodium vapour lamps. The recently storm wounded tree lay dormant beneath him. A crooked tear peeled away at the pavement, where the roots lay bare. This aging anchor had stubbornly resisted the gales but caused gas to rupture forth from beneath.
Night workmen had worked deep into the twilight to make the conduits safe. Franz had watched them, toiling in the dark with portable lamps, that aided their careful investigations. The tree could not escape their accusatory enquiry. Once revealed the tree could neither deny its guilt nor had a voice with which to defend itself. Naked, more vunerable now in its maturity than it had ever been in its youth. It could only remain to take whatever punishment that would be meeted out.
Franz empathized, with the tree. The truth, once exposed, would attract public vultures to preen their feathers while casting acid remarks. Justice would be sought, even at the expense of truth. How wretched the tree must feel, he thought to himself. The root that caused the trouble had become its jailer.

What had it done but challenge the wind, exert its presence, to tell of its existence, its majesty, its survival. How could one punish that nature which is life. Franz remembered a time when he refused to punish a dog that had bit his hand. He recognised that it was in the dog’s nature to bite. Nature in all its forms and existences must be acknowledged and accommodated. When the gas company installed the main it had not respected the nature of the tree. Now the workmen had not considered the nature of the tree.
The night had grown quiet and interfered little with his thoughts. They flowed with the water along the street. They scattered before him as he tried to haul them back into some order. The rain tumbled in synchronous symmetry with the rumble of the night trains as the noise echoed in the streets. Blue-white flashes illuminated the low cloud behind the tall chestnuts. The electrical discharges from the railing cuttings cast their shadows into elongated threads over bridge and plaster facades. He had long lived with the sound of night trains. They never seemed too far away. A low guttural rumble echoed all along the empty subterranean corridors finding its way ceaselessly into hollow hearts.
Franz looked again to the gaping wound in the footpath. Like a decaying tooth, it had been left to be ravished further by weather and traffic. As he closed his eyes, he remembered the furious activity which unfolded earlier.

Arriving home from work he had noticed the faint odour of gas, elusively flickering on the wind. The elm which stood for over a century outside of his doorway buckled under the strain of the wind. Caution pushed him to park his car further down the hill. The scent, he noticed was strongest near the tree. Once inside he had telephoned the gas company. How clear the events were inside his head and how much part of the trial he had become. Later still, he had watched the men disembark from the company van to begin their survey. With strange meters and devices they stood, talked, walked up and down, stood and talked about things other than gas. Franz had tried in vain to distinguish the words from the rumble of night trains which had begun their vigil early. Giving up he had returned to the chair in his room where he watched television on mute. It had remained like that for a long time; the televison, the workmen, the trains, all conspiring to form a blanket of static more unintelligible than before. It droned inside his head, stirring lost passages into life.
Tonight was different. The conspiracy began as usual but had retired early. On his single bed, behind him, lay Carmen. He looked back at her prostrate body, half hidden by the heavy covers. He was jealous of her child like fortification secure in a world of dreams while all around him the darkness circled, tearing at the edges of his world.

She had arrived late and skipping dinner they went to bed quietly, their lovemaking softly bringing sleep. For Franz it had been a short respite. Awake now for over an hour he sat watching the rain. Under the blankets a curtain covered and protected them from thoughts distracting and foreign. Out here in the room there was no such protection where his thoughts brought him closer to the outer world. Gathering his things he dressed himself in the small kitchen located off the single room.
The street air cleansed the bedroom warmth from his face. Cool and refreshed he raised his head to the rain. The rain’s salt mixed with the salt of his dried perspiration. Thoughts of the sea flooded his head as he tasted the wetness. As he passed by the stricken tree he reached out to touch it in sympathy. Pulling his sleeve back his watch caught the light from the street lamp; 2.20. He moved uphill away from the tree, away from the flat, away from Carmen.
He liked this time of night when the streets were his alone. Feeling his heart take the strain of the hill he felt alive. His pulse sent shivers through his soul. The sound of night trains rumbled in his ears. The rain began to ease in front of the increasing wind. Echoes of the sea were carried with the sound of crashing waves in the tree tops. Steam issued forth from a gulley in the road, from a subterranean world of rumbling. Pictures of caverns beneath the hill filled his head.

Arriving at the summit Franz looked down at the city writhe among the shadows. At times animalistic and at others mechanistic, the city appeared to growl and change gears simultaneously. While the animal moved with long laborious effort at the edge of existence, the machine ground on, endlessly. Around him gentile facades of brick walls and even paned windows hid a masss of anonymity. Below him, he searched out his flat, in one such a house, amongst the masses of roofs and chimneys. He thought of Carmen. He was disappointed that he depended on her for encouragement. Franz continued on, with the rumble of night trains for company. No further thoughts disturbed him and time soon came to return as dawn approached and Carmen would soon awake. The cleansing was welcome but only slight.
The tree remained steadfast in its resistance, alone. Inside the faint hints of a red sunrise stretched ancient fingers across the covers to where Carmen slept. The light formed tiny impulses beneath her naked skin gently stimulating her to awaken. Franz sat in the chair watching her arrival from the dream state. The first image of her day would be Franz looking down at her. Carmen stretched out her hand to feel the dampness of the coat sleeve.
– “You were out.”
– “Just a walk, couldn’t sleep.”
– “You never sleep these days.”

– “They will probably cut the tree down.”
Carmen thought about the tree before nodding acknowledgement.
– “Come to bed.”
Franz obeyed her gentle order, undressing and letting the clothes directly fall at his feet, joining her as he slipped beneath the warm sheets. She breathed the freshness of morning from his neck and hair as she nuzzled into the nape of the neck, surrendering her warmth to comfort him. Franz was once again enveloped in her security.
– “Let’s go from this place.,” Franz said softly into her ear.
– “Where would we go?”
– “Somewhere quiet.”
– “Why?”
– “Because I hurt you being like this.”
– “It won’t be any different,” Carmen asked, opening her eyes.
– “Probably not.”
– “Why move, I’m here, what proof do you need?”
– “There will be no let up, no respite, no rest.”
– “I know.”
With that they closed their eyes in order to sleep. Sleep came to Franz a little easier than usual. She remained awake. Franz did not move, breathing slightly an inch away from her breast. She continued to stroke and caress his back allowing his head to fall onto her breast. She stared at the ceiling grow light as the sun rose higher in the sky. As it progressed her mind grew empty. She had no real answers for her own questions let alone those Franz would ask. Where could they go?
Franz awoke as the rainclouds had returned to the sky above their sanctuary. They found themselves in each other’s arms. When the raindrops hit the window panes he turned to see. Beside him Carmen lay quiet and he kissed her on the forehead, his fingers tracing loops on her arm.
– “Better get up, I suppose.”
– “Mmmmm,” Carmen mumbled.
– “Tired?”
– “No, no it’s just, it’s. Well, it’s Saturday.”
Franz knew and would have been willing to let the day dwindle into the nothingness of evening but he felt restless. He sensed that it was a restlessness born out of innocence but would bring guilty results. Leaving their bed they dressed silently. Instead of breakfast they decided on an early lunch. The rain spat at them from the clouds inconsistently as they pulled their raincoats tight. Armoured against the whole of the world they stepped out from the porch. There were no workmen because of the rain and the wound had been temporarily mended. Taking the bus into the city centre they browsed bookshops before taking lunch in a small cafe, away from the milling crowds of shoppers. Their togetherness was an oasis and their mood improved as the time passed. They remained in the city as little as possible but stayed for a film walking along the embankment before heading home.

As they turned the corner of their street they found themselves in the midst of boughs and branches shorn from the old elm. Franz halted dead in his stride. All joy evaporated on seeing the large pieces of canopy strewn around the roots. Carmen gently led Franz inside.
As they lay in bed Carmen noticed a tear on his cheek. She let sleep overcome her tiredness but for Franz it was not so easy. The night trains began their vigil, their rumbles cleaving a path through his brain. The sound of the machine crudely masked those of the earth as it swung its continuous arc through space. The silent night remained an elusive place. As he yearned for a silence he feared did not exist, Franz lay awake. Carmen’s breathing belonged to the silence. The great elm in the wind belonged to the silence. The conspiracy did not. The night trains did not; their poignant echoing call bouncing along the empty yards and gullies, voices moving slowly through the still air. There would to be no answer to their call.
Franz lay awake for hours before leaving Carmen again. The night became clearer as the wind rose to greet him. The wind invigorated him, lifting his step. Seeking again the highest place, his favourite place on the hill he saw the city reveal itself again. Lying below, vulnerable he felt an ache for those that lay within as he had for the tree.

Inside the song of life rose up, a grinding melody and deeply resonate mood. Stretching out his limbs he felt the muscles tense, stretching further as if to encapsulate everything and yet nothing.
Across the city, lights appeared in the western sky. Arcing over the city they headed higher towards the hill. Taking delight in this event he watched as a new set joined the others in tight formation. He lay back on the damp grass, eyes heaven bound, watching the aircraft take a position among the stars for a short time. As they neared, one after the other their alignment formed a liaison with the moon. In unison these arrogant sons of technology joined hands with an ancient soul. The night trains dwindled into the distance smothered by the sound of the wind as it coursed its way through the trees around the hill. The wake noise of jet engines overlapped with the wind as it grew ever stronger, ever more alive. Franz closed his eyes and listened. He heard the earth murmur. He heard it breathe. He rode its back into the night-side. He felt the emptiness of space rush past him. He felt his singularity. He touched the horizon. He glimpsed tomorrow. He saw the future as he saw the past. The boundary between had dissolved. He felt no longer the earth as ground but cloud, carrying him onward. Weight and gravity left him. He slept.

As Franz woke he saw the day’s new light touch the highest floors. Leaving the hill he recognised a new silence that had revealed itself at the threshold. He knew this would always be with him. Joining Carmen his heart was coloured with a new sense of understanding.
Later as Sunday opened into their flat she awoke to a smile.
– “You were out again last night.”
– “Yes.”
– “What sort of day is it.”
– “Quiet.”
– “It is Sunday after all.”
Franz smiled and kissed Carmen’s forehead and her eyes. The night trains would no longer conspire or haunt him. He had found what evaded him, within himself, within Carmen. Nature would find a way.

2,293 words
© 1987 Jon Gregory

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Architecture March 2015

 Innisfree Architectural Competition Entry by NJBA A+U

View of Portal

View of Portal

THE LAKE ISLE OF INNISFREE William Butler Yeats, 1892

 

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made; 

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee, 

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, 

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; 

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, 

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day 

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; 

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, 

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Portal (from above)

Portal (from above)

Somewhere between the city and Innisfree the poem exists as a portal to that other life, a life lived simply, a life experienced in innocence at one with the earth, alone. It suggests that the poet dreams of a self sufficient existence, sustained by beans and honey.  This project cannot wholly answer all of this.  In all conscience we cannot truly build a small cabin of clay and wattles.  Instead a portal has been created.  Like the valley temples along the Nile we have prepared a structure to accept the arriving visitor.  As a portal it receives the visitor preparing for their landing as well as being the point from which the visitor leaves.

Structure of Portal

Structure of Portal

We have calculated that this is the most minimal point of interference where you can hear “lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore”.  The structure is a simple timber frame on steel piles.  The roof consists of a suspension system using steel wire and sail cloth (for both weathering and structure).  Beneath this translucent roof an inner cloak of raw linen is draped.  This later element is inspired by the reference to an “evening full of the linnet’s wings”.  The Linnet is so named because of its link to the eating of flax seeds.  The shape of the portal roof is wing like.  Underneath the translucent roof are two boardwalks that take the visitor on and off the island to the waiting boat.  Floating lightly above the waves the whole structure can be easily removed leaving the island untouched. (from original competition report)

Arriving at Innisfree

Arriving at Innisfree

This approach is antithetical to the creation for a folly like architecture for the purposes of the competition.  Instead it sough to get out of the way, providing a portal, a gateway though which the visitor passes form the outside world to that sacred world of the mind on the island to which the poet seeks refuge.

 

Writing March 2014

NJB_Rice_1 

 the near, far and the in-between

(Neither Out Far Nor In Deep) [1]

The closest I was to Peter Rice was on the other side of a glass wall in what amounted to a gold fish bowl of an office in the basement of Norman Foster’s Office off Portland Place.  That was in 1986, a much different time and place.  We exchanged a glance shared by the Irish abroad finding comfort in recognising a fellow country man at distance.  Maybe it was some primal recognition of genetic origins, of facial traits, or bearing or maybe it was just the tweed jacket I was sporting at the time.  Nonetheless, whatever the reasons that knowing glance was as close as I would ever get to the person, a mere acknowledgment as he disappeared into the dark.  Therefore unlike some of my colleagues here my knowledge of Peter is affected by distance.  It is on this theme of distance that I would like to address the colloquium and to present a framework for understanding the work.  Rice might even like that, or to paraphrase; “once the rules are established everything else is easy”. [2]

His work had already attained cult status and his name joined a litany of great Victorian Engineers; the Brunels, Paxton, Stephenson and Telford who joined those of the modern era; Ove Arup, Robert Maillart, Luigi Nervi and Frei Otto.  The study of engineering genius was still part of the core curriculum of the late modernist school.  The work was however mediated through a few choice magazines in an environment starved of content compared to the current overload.  As architecture students we absorbed everything we could assuming that this familiarity would breed intimacy with our subject.  Nothing, however, prepares you for the real thing.

 


[1] The near, far and the in-between or to use the title of the Robert Frost Poem used in the Traces of Peter Rice Exhibition Catalogue, Neither Out Far Nor in Deep

[2] An Engineer Imagines – Peter Rice Artemis 1998

“When designing the main steel elements we had created a language of design.  We had tubes in compression, solid rods in tension and cast elements for joints.  Once these rules had become established everything else was easy.” P. 42

 

NJB_Rice_3_4images notes 4, 5

 


 

near

Though it seemed Peter was close in space that day in Fosters, the glass wall created a distance that no words could ford.  Without those words and before his insightful memoire I was left with mute buildings.  I would like to share my thoughts from that time.  When you chance upon the Centre George Pompidou it assaults your senses unlike the framed image from the magazine.  Gone from your thoughts is the contrasting colour against the 18th and 19th century facades, gone is the organising mantra of the vertical factory or the audacious externalised services.  Instead there is this urban theatre, a grand gesture opening up a people’s plaza in front of the building’s permanent scaffolding.  Before long you approach and engage viscerally with the building.  Tightrope walkers and urban gymnasts hang out of tie bars and on ropes suspended between.  At least this is how it felt ten years after its completion.   My experience was the equivalent of undertaking an autopsy on architecture; everything was revealed; cause and effect.   Nowhere could the elevation be found; eroded in favour of a dynamic composition of action and observation.  Instead an all consuming logic prevailed.  The building revealed a Victorian faith in the machine as the embodiment of enlightenment, a device to transport you to the future; instantaneously.  However this was no brutal engagement, no mere expedient construction.  Instead a hierarchy had been crafted to provide clarity to the diagram.  Each logic element had its own expression, its own weight and texture; partly polished, partly matt, partly painted with some elements cast.  Though obsessively factory made, there was an invitation to touch.  Permission had neither been asked nor given but taken by the people.  The need to reach out and touch its alien presence in the city pulled everyone closer, in the same manner you would reach out to the giant column masses of medieval cathedrals.  As if to confirm their ability to hold high vast amounts of masonry I found myself similarly placing a hand on these massive columns.  To be able to embrace and become part of the affirming nature of its promise is the search for the true nature of its expression that Rice spoke about.

“The search for the authentic character of a material is at the heart of any approach to engineering design.”[1]   If it were false in any way, if its material masqueraded as another all would be undone.  In photographs it was impossible to ascertain this truth.  In touching the thing itself it is revealed.


[1] An Engineer Imagines – Peter Rice Artemis 1998 P. 78

NJB_Rice_7_8

 

far

However though we would desire it, much of architecture remains aloof or distant in time and space.  To fulfil our ambition to understand and reveal the truth of any work requires considerable effort, funds and commitment.  As a consequence, magazines and now the internet intercede to provide a simulacrum of intentions.  The extensive availability of digital photography has provided a bridge to distant places but this remains stubbornly disjointed.  That the work of Rice and the teams in which he has collaborated remains powerful at a distance is testament to the rigour with which the language of parts is conducted.  The clarity and discipline of roles within the structure becomes a signifier of sorts for Rice’s work.  Within each project the task assigned to the column, the wall, the beam, the glass, the frame are carefully described to allow them their own space within the overall concept.  The overarching conceptual framework has at its heart is a permanent scaffold that was premièred in Pompidou.  In the collaborative work with Renzo Piano this takes flight, literally in Kansai Airport and in de Menil where the ceiling articulation is like sheets (sails) in the wind.  As it was with Utzon a singular idea holds the attention from afar, directing the attention of the observer to a few memorable images, stunningly photographed.  Despite these photogenic qualities the idea manages to cross from its’ reality to the mind’s eye, even if “The sand we used was marble sand and the cement was white, which gave a sparkle to the finish of the surface,” is lost in translation. [1]  The assured dissection of the problem and distribution of elements to a system of classification is worthy of the best of the Victorian Scientists and Engineers.

The potential there is for cacophony is arrested by the desire for dialogue.  In the drawings, sketches and models the clues to the types of dialogue emerge in time to provide a platform for understanding the relevance of the work.

 


[1] An Engineer Imagines – Peter Rice Artemis 1998 P. 90

NJB_Rice_10_11

 

in-between

It is at the nexus between concept and reality, between idea and touch that the work really excels.  It is there that the dialogue between engineer and architect, between designer and builder, between client and user is resolved.  The modern propensity for segregated thinking and segregated responsibilities would be more than happy to see any attempt at dialogue framed by a system of ring fenced borders where trade is embargoed.  Rice attests to the fact that to him the border does not exist.  I am mindful of the use of these terms coming from the territory he occupied as a young man, close to where I grew up along the border invisible in life but permanent in the minds of some.  Though an internationalist he refused to be dragged across the border or worse occupy the no-man’s land as Architect-Engineer or Engineer-Architect.  He steadfastly retreated from this special category of refugee instead expanding the potential of engineer to embrace a foreign language by resorting to an international language of Architecture.  “I am and engineer, pure and simple.” [1] His efforts however provide us with a Rosetta stone made from drawing, modelling, building, testing, trying, failing and succeeding to guide us in our own endeavours.  The joint is the touchstone, a fulcrum, the point around which everything rotates.  Unfortunately the joint would later become festishised by impersonators.  For Rice though it is the resolution of parts, it is where we come to know the man that was once glimpsed at the bottom of the garden, or in the basement office, as someone worth knowing. “Often it is the expressionism of the jointing which humanises the structures and justifies their friendly feel.”  [2] This common human exchange is concretised in this final thing, the residue of the knowing glance, recognising similar traits, equal in our humanity, but different in contribution, where anything is possible if you only have the courage, “just courage, care and attention to detail, and above all belief and getting started.” [3]


[1] Traces of Peter Rice – Edited by Kevin Barry Lilliput Press 2012 Renzo Piano Quoting Rice P. 19

[2] An Engineer Imagines – Peter Rice Artemis 1998 P.26

[3] An Engineer Imagines – Peter Rice Artemis 1998  P.126

 

NJB_Rice_Last

the near, far and the in-between

(Neither Out Far Nor In Deep)

NCAD_RiceExhibit_Sydney_241013

© Noel J Brady 2013

presented as part of Peter Rice Colloquium at NCAD 2013

Image credits

hands:  http://www.centreculturelirlandais.com/modules/movie/scenes/home/index.php?fuseAction=popup&rubric=art&article=art_may2013

 geberette: http://www.engineering-timelines.com/who/Rice_P/ricePeter5.asp

 ironbridge:  http://www.sedgleymanor.com/people/abraham_darby.html

chalkboard: http://www.engineering-timelines.com/who/Rice_P/ricePeter3.asp

sydney sketch:  http://www.sydneycloseup.com/sydney-opera-house-facts.html

ibm: http://www.structuremag.org/article.aspx?articleID=476

scarpa: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/418623727834266390/

 

Writing

A selection of published material other than by 12 Publishers is now available on our website.  These mainly feature Architecture and Urban Design.  There are interviews with Architects such as Winy Maas, Glenn Murcutt, FOA, Juhani Pallasmaa, Craig Dykers, David Chipperfield as well as the Artist/Sculptor Michael Warren, see; http://www.12publishers.com/Writing.htm  The material is available as free pdf downloads under creative commons licensing.

Version

Version_Name_Blurb_2012

12 Publishers has launched Version, a multidisciplinary booklet/zine available in digital format and as print on demand package. The mission is to present a range of enquiries across the fields of Architecture, Art, Design, Music, Photography and Writing. The original intention was to bring into the open material that has previously been seen by very few as a reflective process. The planned editions are open ended with no set date for completion. It is expected though that the material presented in the zine editions will be reassembled in different formats in the future. The zine could be considered a foundation for future publishing concepts.
Our first complete edition is Version 12.2.1 “the impossible memorial”, documenting the memorial to victims of abuse (ireland) by NJBA A+U. This is available to purchase from Blurb and to download as an e-book. Future plans include Version 12.1.1, “competing visions”, a range of competition entries by NJBA A+U, Version 12.3.1 “identity”, identity design from synthetic reality and Version 12.4.1 “water power”, sleeve notes for MEC the first experimental music album by Oblique Projection.
The Verison logo is based on the renaissance vescia symbol. The original reference is being used here for is gateway reference (to design based material in this case). A specific logotype has been created by synthetic reality for this purpose as well.
The 6 areas of enquiry are colour coded according to the colour wheel (in alphabetical order) and numbered accordingly from Architecture to Writing. The numerical system derives from this and is unlimited. The colour and number scheme is therefore;
Yellow 12.1 Architecture
Green 12.2 Art
Blue 12.3 Design
Purple 12.4 Music
Red 12.5 Photography
Orange 12.6 Writing
The chosen font is Trebuchet MS, a reasonable common typeface which falls between Arial and Helvetica in terms of recognition while having some traditional characteristics. The zine will have a common template for covers based on the colour logic above. The subject of the cover will be a suitably abstract image from the content. Only “Version” and the relevant number along with the logo will appear on the cover as the identifier.

Version_Logo_Blurb_2012

Welcome to 12 Publishers

Weclome to the 12 Publishers WordPress Blog. 2013 will, we hope, be a significant year for our work across all of the inter related fields of Architecture, Art, Design, Music, Photography and Writing. Our new website http://www.12publishers.com has gone live and further details will emerge in its new format. In addition to the WordPress Blog, we operate facebook pages for NJBA A+U (Architecture), Synthetic Reality (Design) and Oblique Projection (Music). We hope to add more material in the coming months. Through Blurb.com we will also be releasing a number of physical publications as well as e-books. Watch or read this space.