Saturday, 17 December 2011

School's Out- for Christmas

Well, that's term one over and done with. Aside from David Watson's CAD/ photomontage assignment it's going to be a relaxing break! Weirdly, I'm feeling a bit edgy about being on top of the workload for once. Don't know what I'm going to do without the prospect of looming deadlines..

So anyway, thought I'd post the two Theme Project vids I did for the POS and Urbanisation assignments... looking back, really would like to re-edit them but have to draw the line under that one for now. Let me know what you think!

Thanks to the Advanced Planting design group for letting me sit in on their crit today. Some really impressive work on show- still glad I took Art & Context though, found it a bit weird that their was so much critique of spatial/ circulation and hard materials usage in what I thought was a a planting module... still, some great schemes and evidence of some seriously late nights. Well done everyone.

Oh, thanks to Duncan Goodwin for letting me drink all his win and eat all his cheese. I recommend the pate.



Saturday, 3 December 2011

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow Featurette (2011) HD Movie

Watched Over your Cities Grass Will Grow, a documentary concerning Anselm Kiefer's landscape in the South of France. The above video is an good summary of the film by its maker, Sophie Fiennes, featuring footage from the feature.

Friday, 11 November 2011

rambling man part II

Ted Hughes, Lars Von Trier, Anselm Kiefer, Pan and making supplications to an invisible destructive female deity (and failing). Part II of II

rambling man part I

Some mental ramblings through the forest. Part I of II

Friday, 14 October 2011

Gillett Square- Art and Context in Urban Spaces/ Places

In the quest to uncover what makes a 'space' a 'place', or if there's any real difference between the two terms I elected to explore Gillet Square in Dalston, Hackney.

Dalston is renowned as a vibrant cultural and social hub concentrated principally along Kingsland Road. There is are few open spaces or public squares. Gillett Square was devepoed on the site of a former car park as part of ken Livingstone's public space strategy.


The scheme consists of a 1500 sqm open space fully enclosed by built mass on three sides and a one metre high fence partially enclosing the north side. There are three entrances to the site, indicated below:

The scheme was initially devised to act as a cultural hub for the area, with the construction of "Dalston Culture House" on the western perimeter, now serving as the home for the Vortex Jazz Club (previously sited on Stoke Newington's Church Street). The block on the southern edge is owned by the Hackney Community Cooperative and comprises a parade of shops and a bar on the ground floor (all of which face out of the square and on to neighbouring Bradbury Road), with apartments and artist studios on the first and second floors. Balconies from the uppermost floor overlook the square., as indicated below.

The scheme has been criticised by the local free press as being contrived and clinical, with critic referring to it as "Stasi Land", presumably referencing inhuman eastern bloc urban design.. Certainly, on previous visits to the site I have found it to be lacking human activity in spite of the cultural programme. for this reason I thought it would be an interesting site to critique in terms of the space-place axis. It is also popular with street drinkers, who are widespread feature of city life, if often considered a negative aspect.

The social acceptability of street drinking (or lack thereof) is an interesting consideration in the use and design of public space. The gentlemen in the image above might be considered negative or undesirable, but are certainly enjoying a bit of landscape architecture. Public perception does tend to hinge on valued judgements concerning social class: ultimately, the two men above ware no different to a mature couple enjoying champagne from their Fortnum and Mason hamper on Parliament Hill.

Hoping to observe how street drinkers used Gillett Square at night I ventured there on Monday evening, expecting to witness one or two seedy groups of middle-aged men sharing cans of cider. Instead, a quite different scene unfolded before me.
A group of four or five skateboarders, aged 25-40 had monopolised the centre of the square, skating around an upturned plastic crate. It was a constant ballet, with the skaters using the raised deck in the west as a kind of launch platform, rolling around in wide circles observed by other users of the site.

The atmosphere was warm and pleasant. Outside the Vortex groups of people sat on tables drinking, talking or watching the skaters. Beside the skateboarder-launch pad-cum deck a group of seven or eight middle-aged men gathered, drinking from cans and talking about nothing in particular. I tried to record their conversation on my phone but haven't quite worked out how to upload it here. Additonally, there were scattered couples enjoying the evening, some on the steps by the southern edge and some on the raised deck.

Along the southern perimeter some kiosks have been erected, housing a phone/ internet shop, a coffee stall and an Afro-Caribbean barber shop. The coffee stall was shut but two quite separate but adjacent groups of young men congregated outside the two other stalls, sat on deck chairs, drinking and smoking.

To complete our mise-en-scene, the most curious addition of all: a ping-pong table (sometimes referred to as a "table-tennis-table", which strikes me as a pleonasm). Two young men were playing table tennis, watched by a kid of a bout ten or eleven.

Two things struck about this the square...

Firstly, most people were drinking alcohol. In terms of the social acceptability of this, there was definitely a hierarchy. The group outside the vortex imbibed cocktails purchased from a licensed bar, on seating provided by the venue. To their right, the men outside the kiosks were somehow affiliated to the business operators of the kiosks, and were lent some degree of legitimacy by this. Finally, the men drinking beside the skateboarders were using informal seating, had no business connections and drank alcohol of higher potency.

Of course, I'm breaking the ethnologist's golden rule by immediately imposing my own value system upon the study group (or at least what I consider to be the value system of the society I inhabit).

SECONDLY, I felt very much that this was a "place", because Gillett Square was somewhere something might happen.Indeed, something WAS happening. The skater, as I've stated, were engaged in a kind of impromptu performance- as I described earlier, a ballet. And like every good performance, they had their own audience. The ping-players were performing, too. Gillett Square was something where people did something in time.

Whilst this same argument could equally be considered as an argument in favour of labelling Gillett Square as "space" (in euclidean terms, the four dimensional matrix in which physical processes occur), maybe space can be considered as something where an event or performance might happen, whereas place is where something has happened or is happening.

I think of a court room drama: the defendant is asked where the event occurred. It is more likely that s/he would be asked to describe a place rather than a space, unless of course they were being asked to describe the dimensions of the box in which they had been unlawfully imprisoned.

Space/ event/ performance/ place- there's a lot of this in architecture theory, with performance and event often being synonymous with any human element, and gave rise to the concept of space being people. Like the tree that falls down in a forest, if no-one's there to see the landscape does it actually exist?

Of course, Gillett Square is also a cultural centre, and when the programme dictates the performance of everyday life is often subsidiary to programmatic performance. This was the case on my visit the previous Sunday, when a concert and film festival was held at Gillett Square to... celebrate (?) World Mental Health Awareness Day.

As part of the day's events a very good reggae band were performing on a stage erected on top of the deck in the western part of the square. Family groups had gathered to watch. It was interesting to see how the centre of the square remained relatively empty, dominated by the performers sound in the same way the skateboarders had colonised it with their performance.

I'm interested in the idea of everyday life being a performance, and unfolding ballet or play exercise by members of the public, with the landscape operating as their stage. As I explore this site further, i'd like to look into graphic scoring and notation to document how people use elements of the landscape and how their actions define the space or create places. I'm also keen to look into how sound and acoustics define an area by providing the soundtrack, how this can be scored.

I'm told Lawrence Halprin is worth reading on this particular subject.

As a footnote, here's the blurb about the square the Gillette Square website:

Gillett Square

A public space animated by the creativity of the surrounding community

Formally opened in November 2006, Gillett Square is a simple, hardwearing and flexible urban space for Dalston. It is bordered by the Dalston Culture House - home of the Vortex Jazz Club, the Bradbury Street Workspace and a number of small retail units. These have been developed and are managed by Hackney Co-operative Developments. On its northern side there is a public car park.

The square has been developed by the Gillett Square Partnership, which currently comprises Hackney Co-operative Developments, Groundwork East London, Hackney Council and Design for London. This partnership operates as an overarching strategic body for all aspects of the square’s function and development. Whilst this space is owned and maintained by London Borough of Hackney, its cultural and enterprise uses are the responsibility of the ‘Gillett Squared’ management group led by Hackney Co-operative Developments as its public entertainment license holder.

Gillett Square is a genuine community asset. It provides an accessible outlet for this area’s abundant creative talents and energy, promotes social cohesion, invites cultural exchange and education, and presents market opportunities. The process behind the building of Gillett Square, its current usage and prospects, are the foundations upon which a remarkable transformation is taking place in Dalston.

"Our ambition to take our programme outside the Centre's walls to audiences in the east reached new heights this year...with Hackney Co-operative Development's Gillett Squared project."

Friday, 7 October 2011

Importing OS Mastermap data into Autocad Map 3d

I've recently had trouble converting OS Mastermap data into an AUTOCAD dwg file. I'm not sure what's been going on but once I've gone through the usual laboured process a dialogue box flashes up telling me the import has failed and that I need to "check permissions". I have a sneaking suspicion it's down to the size of the data I have been importing (over 20 square kilometres- for the Urban Development Project and for my chosen ALD site)... anyway, in the process of trying to find a solution online I discovered that AUTODESK produce a product called AUTOCAD MAP 3D that can import OS Mastermap data and produce a dwg file.

The product can be downloaded in the same way as you would any other AUTODESK product (Autocad, 3DS max etc.) from the education section of the website. You will need to register if you have not done so already. I won't go into details here as to how this achieved, nor how one obtains mastermap data as David Watson has comprehensively explained this at his However, I would like to take some time to explain how to import the data into Aurocad Map 3D as most of the stuff online corresponds to older editions, which seem to operate slightly differently.

I've used screenshots from my computer to illustrate this process. Click on the images to enlarge them.

First of all, open AUTOCAD MAP 3D and change to the 2D drafting layout:

The next step is to open a mastermap template which will manage all the mastermap data that is going to be uploaded. The template is a DWT file which can be downloaded via this link or visit

Now, select "open" and change file type to "Drawing Template", open the mastermpa template that you have now downloaded:

Notice that the task pane on the left hand side of the screen and grouped together layers.

Now to import the mastermap data into the drawing: select the map drafting tab on the action ribbon at the top, and select the import option on the far left of the ribbon:

Select “import” and select the GZ file you’ve downloaded from digimap. A dialogue box will appear listing all the ;layers that are going to imported into the drawing.

It is important to ensure you create object data” by clicking on the data column and selecting “create object data” in the attribute data dialogue box. This allows you to update the groups when it comes to rendering the drawing later.

AUTOCAD MAP 3D will then import the data and create an Autocad drawing which you can edit. This can take a while, depending on the size of the data you have downloaded. Depending on the speed of your computer and the the size of your map data, this may take some time.

Once it is done the drawing will appear similar to the screenshot below:

To render the drawing ordnance survey style, right click on the topographic layer in the task pane and select update. Again, this may take some time depending on file size. Be patient! (Or upgrade your computer)

Finally, you should be left with a fully editable DWG fileof your chosen site rendered in the style of an ordnance survey map. Save the file.

This application has many, many tools and facilities for analysing map data that I don't fully understand, but expect to find very useful. I'll try and keep a record of my experiments with AUTOCAD MAP 3D posted here: let me know if you have any questions, or indeed any advice!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Urban Development Project

After a fruitful site survey or Monday and a very productive studio session today, my Urban Development Group have decided to maintain a blog of our many adventures.

Please follow us!

Monday, 3 October 2011

space and time

It's been a weird week. Very weird. And I've thought a little bit about this blog and what I want to do with it, but haven't really reached any solid conclusions. But it's always nice to start with a picture. Here is a picture:


Last year each of us on the BA landscape architecture and BA garden design programmes were told to keep a blog of our studio activities. I already had been using this site (to post intermittently) prior to the course and thought I'd carry on here. The blog was a really useful way of maintaining contact with other students and extending the studio beyond the confines of the South Studio mezzanine, out of meat space and into the rest of the world.

Problem is, I have a problem. And that problem is that I oft feel the compulsion to write about things going on in my life. It's what I used to do when I kept a blog on myspace (one for sgla and one for youssef ifscapulet) at a very different stage. Thing is, the kind of idiot who feels the need to share the tedious minutiae of their lives on the internet is the kind of idiot I can do without. However, I guess I have to learn to accept that maybe I am that sort of person.

Anyway, where is this all going? Well, it occurred to me that for a blog that is ostensibly about landscape architecture, I don't spend much time talking about it. Even the title- psychocartography- is supposed to be some kind of reference to the unitary urbanist practice of psychogeography, an activity I almost always manage to squeeze onto my CV (mainly to see if I get asked about it in interview*) yet fail to talk about much here.


So what's psychogeography? I'm sure it means different things, depending on whether you're asking Guy Debord or Ian Sinclair or Will Self or Merlin Coverly. To me psychogeography is about urban exploration: a purpose[less/ful- delete as applicable] ramble across the city, with or without a map. It's a time to discover new places or spend a little longer in familiar areas, a time to think, a time to be alone with the urban environment.

When I was a kid, growing up in a sprawling seaside town at the end of the A13 corridor, I spent a lot of time seeking out obscure corners of Southend with my friends and doing the usual stuff prepubescent boys do: minor acts of vandalism, firing air guns at defenceless animals, gawping at pornography or otherwise causing a nuisance. These activities took place in abandoned buildings, overgrown parks, the sidings of railway lines or other pieces of neglected civil infrastructure. I never really grew out of it, and though the anti-social activity roster became more varied in my teenage years, I still liked to cycle to weird places and explore them. I suppose in many ways I was lucky to live in a town with so many dilapidated buildings- not to mention abandoned jetties and piers and an easily accessible countryside peppered with pill boxes and abandoned military gun emplacements.

When I came to London about ten years ago, I still hadn't lost the urge to explore. But I did lose a bit of bottle. When one is deemed a "fit and proper person" (the result of my status as a liquor licensee), it is prudent to think twice about crawling through gaps in fences to explore abandoned cement works. I replaced the desire to trespass with the joy of discovering hitherto unseen corners of the city on foot. Whilst these areas might appear unremarkable to those resident there, learning how the different fabrics of the city were crudely woven together was an important part of my education as a future urban designer. Furthermore, I found long walks through the town presented a great chance to clear my head and process recent events.

As I began to explain at the beginning of this now rambling post, it has been a weird week. I thought I'd broken my foot on Monday evening following a sequence of bizarre incidents culminating in a torn t-shirt, wounded pride and a very heavy amplifier(worth £400) falling on my right peg. I couldn't walk for a few days, but after receiving some elephant-strength opiates from a happy practitioner at the Homerton (and an x-ray allaying any fears of anything more significant than soft tissue damage) I was back on my feet by Friday. So: I missed the first week of the diploma course and also had abandoned my musical project. It was all a bit sad.

Fast forward twenty four hours and despite having eaten one of the finest dinners of 2011 AND having spent the night with a pretty girl I awoke with a terrible melancholy. Suffice to say, said pretty girl- my girlfriend- was unimpressed and some short, sharp exchanges led to my angry exit, apparently unappreciative of my right foot's miraculous recovery.

I went for a wander. It was a glorious day.

I drifted along the Parkland Walk, an abandoned railway line and nature reserve linking Finsbury Park to Highgate Wood. Because this urban greenway occupies an old viaduct, its passage is uninterrupted by roads, passing over them (and sometimes under them) and creating an illusory sense of separation from the city. Even though at times the backs of houses are visible, I feel transported to a faraway time and place. I used to run along here when I lived in Stroud Green, watching the seasons unfold as I pounded heavily up the old track, hoping one day to witness a muntjac leap from the undergrowth.

de beauvoir

Perhaps it would be interesting to describe every inch of my journey from Finsbury Park, up the Blackstock Road, round the tall Victorian villas of Highbury and into Clissold Park before hitting the Kingsland Road. But I can't be bothered. Suffice to say that eventually my tramping took me to Dalston, loud and grimy in the unfeasibly hot October sun. Thee was a lot of noise in my head and I wanted to get away, but it was Saturday and every park in London was full of people enjoying the glorious weather. So instead I drifted away from the main drag, down the road taken by the no. 76 bus and into a weird corner of London known as De Beauvoir town.

De Beauvoir town is a district of Hackney (and part of Islington) abutting the Kingsland Road in the east and Southgate Road in the west. Originally planned as an estate for the upper classes in the 1820s, much of the original housing stock was never finished (with the upper classes instead opting to live on estates in West London) and the De Beauvoir family developed more modest, middle class dwellings instead. Modest, that is to say, by the standards of the Georgian Upper Class. De Beauvoir town is now considered one of the most desirable areas in North London.

So far so fucking what. Well, for one reason or another, I'd come here to get away from noise and people to be alone with more thoughts. And wandering around the elegantly proportioned roads of beautiful Georgian housing I was impressed by just how quiet everything was. One of London's miracles is its ability to juxtapose areas of contrasting wealth and... and feel. A thin line of shops along Kingsland Road's western edge is all that divides this pastoral estate from cosmopolitan Dalston, but the contrast could not be more pronounced.

London doesn't have quite the same extremes of ghettoisation witnessed in other European capitals, and this is often cited as one of its great qualities. The bourgeois (mainly white) residents congenially rub shoulders with the proletarian (and much more ethnically diverse) denizens: straddling the divide, the young urban professionals looking for a foothold on the property ladder (excuse the jargon) colonise the housing stock in poorer areas whilst using the commercial outlets preferred by the wealthy. I don't want to get into the pros on cons of gentrification here (pros: oo an organic cafe! Cons: I can't afford to buy an ex council flat next to the tenement I grew up in...) but sometimes I wonder how people struggling to scrape each month's rent together feel about living adjacent to such ostentatious displays of wealth.

Regardless, I guess it's testament to London's openness that despite the numerous private roads and traffic calming measures restricting vehicular circulation through De Beauvoir town unwashed and angry proletarian pedestrians such as myself are free to explore the area unimpeded. And in a way, this was providing a valuable social role. With the unseasonal weather creating incredibly congested parks the deserted streets and Georgian housing stock provided a place for me to be alone with my thoughts.

Despite my protestations that psychogeography is all about aimless wandering, there was- secretly- a purpose to my walk. I had come seeking a pub. A sad indictment of my ability to process emotional trauma is my tendency to drink. My happiest memories are punctuated with recollections of empty taverns after the lunchtime rush, bereft of punters bar myself, accompanied only by a pint of ale, a packet of Embassy No.1 and a quality newspaper. Things have changed and now smokers are relegated to picnic tables beneath environmentally-unfriendly patio heaters (prompting a period of nearly a year when I actually managed to stop), but the unseasonable weather was made for sitting outside and drinking and not actually thinking that your life is an utter mess and that you may have irrevocably damaged two of the most important relationships in your life.

The Scolt Head had always looked like a nice place to kill braincells, albeit one I had only glimpsed fleetingly from the top deck of a number 76 bus, and it was not long before my quivering lip led me to its gates. It has a pleasant , triangular shaped garden formed by the convergence of the two roads running either side of it. It was nice to see a good selection of ales: I settled for Crouch Vale Brewers Gold, for sentimental reasons. I'm from Essex and I'm pretty sure that the pub I used to work in was one of the first to serve Brewer's Gold outside of Chelmsford. Also, my first love was a resident on the River Crouch. I was drinking a memory, smoking cigarettes on a rickety bench in what could have been a pub in Bath but was actually five minutes from Dalston Junction.

place and memory

Sitting in the sun, smoking and drinking, pretending to read the newspaper, I started to think about place and memory. It occurred to me that in seeking out De Beauvoir town as a retreat from my own problems and from the background noise of city life, I was also seeking out somewhere to which I had no real emotional attachment. Having only ever passed through there, a usually on my own, the area has not acquired any real significance. The memories faintly resonating from the bricks and mortar were not my own, but those of other people. Strangers. So: that provided me with escape, and by luckyhap A glass of ale- perversely asssociated with some mostly fabricated memories of a failed teenage romance- gave me some point of contact with myself, an anchor point, a grounding. In seeking out new places we are seeking to create new memories, if not to replace the old ones then to sit beside them, as alternatives. Creatures of habit that we are, we keep returning to these places, a futile attempt to recreate the memories again and again, until some traumatic event stains it forever.

One does not have to live somewhere for very long to become familiar with an area. Streets and parks, pubs and palaces provide the backdrop for the drama of everyday life, the ever unfolding performance of personal narrative. Spaces become integral elements in the story: the bridge where she told you "I love you"... the street you crossed when you received the text message saying that your grandfather had died... the shop that used to be a Dixons where once you watched the twin towers collapsing on twenty plasma screens, now transformed into a pop-up moustache boutique and fixed-wheel repair shop... Over time these memories build up in layers, like palimpsest, present and tangible but never more keenly felt than when you are alone.

Alone with my thoughts and drinking Essex ale beneath an improbable sun I was something close to content. But the niggling sense that something was amiss would not be kept at bay for long, and that typically angry-young-man habit of externalising internal conflict quickly manifested. The gentle murmur of conversation from adjoining tables seemed to increase, and soon I found the impossibly middle class conversation began to interrupt the pleasant flow of my thoughts. It seemed to be coming from another world, and it was: I was on the wrong side of the Kingsland Road, and no matter how alienated I felt from the faux-bohemianism and all-too-real deprivation I was more at home there than in De Beauvoir Town. I took my leave.

clissold park

A circuitous route took me back into Dalston, down Shacklewell Lane and back to the Clapton/ Stoke Newington frontier that has been my home for a few years. My phone was still off and I didn't want to see if my girlfriend or the Footbreaker had texted, knowing that conversation with either was going to lead to more mental anguish. But it was still mid afternoon and that October sun was still in denial as to the actual time of year, compensating us, perhaps, for some many miserable weeks in August. It's hard to be depressed in the sunshine. It's also hard to enjoy the sunshine when you feel as though everyone's abandoned you.

My fellow misanthrope- my housemate, Illinois Jacket- agreed not to sit inside and to visit Clissold Park. Over the past few years the park has witnessed a great deal of improvement, thanks to £9 million of lottery and council money. This has included restoring the house and gardens, the extension of an existing water channel (including opening up a culvert linked to the Stoke Newington Reservoir) and the building of a butterfly house.

The biggest success, however, has been the creation of a "wheels" area, consisting of two bowls (one 1.8m deep, the other 1.2m deep) for BMX enthusiasts and skaters. Where the design has really triumphed, however, is in the creation of three mounds using spoil from the excavation of the bowls. These overlook the wheels area and are orientated towards the sun, meaning they attract a host of spectators, particularly on sunny days. The image at the start of this blog is of this skate park, and I really wish I'd taken pictures myself as this is a real triumph of civic design: a space that is used, in a variety of ways by large numbers of people of all different ages from a demographic truly representative of the area and beyond. Since it was complete last spring it has become a favourite spot of mine and have made a point of visiting when weather and circumstances permit.

What fascinates more than the gravity-defying acrobatics of the site users are the complex but unspoken rules of etiquette governing use of the bowl: one person is permitted at a time, with other skaters and bikers watching patiently (and encouragingly) from the perimeter. About half of the users are young men ranging in age from 16-32, usually of high technical ability and the other half are younger people, boys and girls less technically proficient but not lacking in enthusiasm of all ages and backgrounds. The beginners are tolerated and given encouragement, whilst parents of young children seem at ease with their children speaking with strangers who would usually be deemed to old to be hanging around what is essentially a children's play area.

Watching this odd mix of individuals cooperatively utilise a piece of landscape architecture not only filled me with pride regarding my chosen career, it also reminded me how much of our social development occurs whilst at play. This is old ground for anthropologists and psychologists I know, but it was pleasing to witness it with my own eyes. It was also good to witness the young men fulfilling their roles as social pedagogues, even if they weren't entirely aware of it.

It was also great to see so many people crowding on the mounds to catch sun and also enjoy the spectacle. In four or five visits this year I've seen similar sized crowds on every occasion, even when the weather has been less clement. I applaud this design, even if cracks have begun to appear in the shotcrete already...

Lager was drunk and Illinois and I headed home to eat. By the time the sun had set I felt ready to turn my phone back on, waded through a flurry of apologies from the Footbreaker (which I knew, no matter how painful to all concerned, I had to ignore) to reach a message from my girlfriend to call her. So I did, and we arranged to meet the following day, something ominous and dreadful hanging over our gentle words to one another.

sunday morning

That brings us up to this morning, when once again I awoke with the same melancholy and the same incongruous October sunshine. In your face, pathetic fallacy: it doesn't always rain on me (not outside, anyway). Having stayed up all night drinking Red Stripe and alternating my half-hearted efforts to redesign Wood Wharf (to be posted soon) with my mission to find a Fender Jazz master on ebay for less than £300 (nearest I've got being a neck for £180)**, I arose predictably late and had to catch the 106 to Finsbury Park instead of road testing my "new" right foot.

Earlier I wrote a little about place and memory: Stroud Green, for me, is one such place. I lived here for six years- six very important years in my life. The friends I made there are friends who I will keep for my whole life, and the people I lost during this time will stay with me forever. But whilst it is somewhere swimming with memories and populated by innumerable ghosts, it is somewhere that continues to give, that I keep coming back to. Alighting from the bus and wandering up Stroud Green Road the ghosts kept their distance, as another scene was beginning to unfold.

I met her outside the Dairy, the pub I used to run and where once we worked together, and took a long stroll into Crouch End, talking awkwardly about... well, about what we were going to talk about. I think people approach important discussions in a business like manner, consciously or not. They arrive with an agenda and some faint notion of structure of a timeline. I think I became aware of the course our conversation was going to take by the time we had sat down... sat down in a place that used to be a nice cafe (now insisting that all orders be placed at the counter and paid for on an item by item basis) that held its own ghosts, me thoroughly distracted and incredulous that I had selected here of all places.

Things had not been right for a while. That was evident. We'd only been seeing each other for five months and were bickering like an old married couple. Despite everything we held in common, we sometimes totally failed to understand each other. And we were both mystified, because we knew one another really well: we'd been friends for years prior to becoming romantically involved. Why was this happening? Why didn't this work? There was no way round it: we just didn't click in that way. And we couldn't look at each other because although we were both being rational and grown up, it was so very sad. Because it wasn't all terrible, was it? No: it had been magical, sometimes. But a lot of the time it was... tiring. Already I watched memories being painted on the walls: thick coats of emulsion, dripping into empty tip jar.

So we left. And we didn't have to wait for the bill because they'd made us pay already. And we had to get away from noise and confusion and find somewhere of our own to finish the conversation, to finish what we'd started five months ago. So we went to a park, somewhere mostly free from ghosts, no memories, somewhere alien. And the heat had dragged everyone out but we found a bench and said our last words and cried a lot, interspersing tears with nervous jokes about what idiots we were being and what a spectacle we were making.

summer's almost gone

My psycho-geographic map of London needs to be re-drawn. Priory Park in Crouch End is now the park where I had what was one of the most agreeable but at the same time saddest break-ups in my personal history. Refreshingly cliché free (because we were both honest with each other) and totally rational. Maybe I'm growing up.

We walked back up the hill and down again, holding hands for the last time, passing the Station House and the Old Dairy. Shared memories: but both of us with other (more significant?) people. Each of us a palimpsest, a sequence of narratives overlaid, one atop the other, frayed at the edges but still legible. We kissed one last time and said goodbye: not forever, but for a little while. We'll still be friends.

Too many thoughts to let the ghosts and the memories back in, my fully healed right peg carried me quickly back to the skate park. I thought a lot about... well, what I;'d previously been thinking about. We all need time and space to ourselves: in our cities and in our personal lives. But it's a zero sum game: everything at the expense of something (or someone else). Sometimes it's hard to be alone in the city. Should good design make allowances for this? For a minute I begin to contemplate the hierarchy of spaces laid out in the principles of intelligent urbanism, but pretty soon my mind is occupied by more conventional thinking. That old cliche about being loneliest in a crowd. And I think about other stuff, like how the fragmentation of the nuclear family is really a manifestation of the need for greater labour flexibility in post industrial economy. And how that nine year old kid just did a kick flip. Wait: that nine-year-old just did a sweet kick-flip! People actually applauded...

But now, reaching the end of this long and winding post, I realise something. For all this desperation to achieve solitude, to isolate oneself from society, to escape the maddening noise of the city, we need other people. Because when we attain it we realise we're sat up alone at half past midnight hammering away on a keyboard in a desperate bid to communicate with the world beyond, wishing their was someone else with whom to share his brief epiphany.

Well, that's it, for now: psycho-geography, landscape architecture and gushing confessional in a mere... Christ! Nearly 4000 words. Jesus, I'm not even getting marked for this. For those of you who made it this far: a medal. Please note: if any of you are lawyers, please don't try to invoice me for the time you've spent reading this unless you actually intend to give me legal advice.

Good night.

* fortunately I fail to make many interviews so am saved the embarrassment of explaining my hobbies
** yes, this really is how I spent Saturday night: drinking Red Stripe, smoking and alternating Wood Wharf designs with the Hunt for the Bargain Jazzmaster

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

WALKABOUT- diploma/MA induction/ EVA CASTRO


Poverty has driven me further into education... there is clearly something wrong with the British economy. Nevertheless, today I met my comrades on the diploma/ MA/ MSc programme and wandered around London with Tom Turner, Robert Holden and Benz Kotzen

In summary:

We walked around London. Flexible paving is better than rigid. Purbeck limestone was a common paving material in Georgian times.

Lawyers are rich.

If a bit of landscaping looks appealing it's Thatcherite plot to make you buy an over-priced riverside development.

Models are pretty but probably not as clever as landscape architects...

Interesting that we finished our round tour of London at Somerset House neck deep in fashion...


"I don't like fashion people"


"Sure, right... did we mention Eva Castro?"

(I plan to wear this as a t-shirt,complete with Estonian script)

Eva Castro IS hot....

(so hot right now)

(London fashion week)

(uh.. landscape urbanism?)

Yup. Urban planning, anyone?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Since I'll be using this blog mainly for landscape architecture stuff over the next nine months you'll be able to read about my adventures with no-wave/noise/sludge doom pioneers CAME at this URL:

Please follow me and tell your friends who like their music loud, discordant and fronted by a woman half  singing in swedish

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

noise rock saved my summer

So, finally, the ordeal is over: I am now Joey Donovan, BA Hons.


And thanks to the progression and award board, I have been deemed worthy of entering on to the diploma programme, which means by this time next year I'll be able to put more letters after my name in a thinly veiled effort to gain acceptance amongst the professional classes.

But right now, I can't say I feel great about that. Three years have passed and I find it difficult to shake the notion that more has been lost than gained. And though that notion is probably fleeting, if the next year is going to witness greater achievement than the previous three, I'm going to have work harder. In many, many ways.

Music is helping.Seriously, it's as though someone has cleaned my ears out and I'm everything again, for the first time. It's brilliant.

Three bands that have helped to make this summer bearable (despite the best efforts of Edexcel and the University of Greenwich to ruin it) are listed below.


I adore this band: a no wave/ noise outfit that plays beautifully atonal, high tempo punk. Half the band are in the slowly-getting-noticed (and excellent) Male Bonding, whilst the AMAZING front woman Akiko Matsuura (Keex) seems to be EVERYWHERE. When not fronting PRE she has her own noise rock duo/trio Comanechi; she drums for A Grave with No Name (who recently supported Sebadoh); plays with The Big Pink AND Brett Anderson of Suede. And she lives round the corner than me. I think I'm in love with her:


Back in... June (?) I went to Raw Power, a psychedelic/ noise/ krautrock festival in Elephant and Castle. There were loads of great acts that day- including Snapped Ankle, Part Chimp, Trans-Am, Teeth of the Sea- but the band that grabbed me by the throat and held me in absolute rapture were Bo Ningen. Japanese psychedelic noise rock. Nothing they've recorded really captures the enchanting spectacle of their awesome performances, but this video for "Koroshitai Kimochi" gives you a tantalising taste...

Trust me when I say they are the best live band in London right now. Amazingly, they're still playing free gigs- come to Rough Trade East (Brick lane) on 24th September. They will blow your socks off.

If I were starting a very niche religion based around my listening habits this summer, then the bands detailed here would be its Holy Trinity. Keex is quite obviously the messiah, psychedelic ghosts Bo Ningen are clearly the Holy Spirt, and the apex would be a resolutely non paternal...


I've been buying Sonic Youth records since I was thirteen. My dad got me a bootleg cassette (remember those?) of a show they did at Brixton Academy featuring "Expressway to Your Skull", "Youth Against Fascism", "Schizophrenia" and "Sugar Kane" (and many more I can't remember). I played it until the tape snapped. I cried. Then In Utero came out and I stopped crying. For a bit. Anyway, they fade in and out of my life but each time I come back to them I'm always surprised by how much they've recorded since they've been away. This time, however, I've bee mining their earlier work- debut album "Confusion is Sex"* has been on constant rotation, and the video below is a track taken from that album:

I've also been listening to "NYC Ghosts and Flowers", an album they did after having twenty years worth of instruments and kit robbed and having to totally reinvent their sound. it's beautiful. But if I'm going to show you one last video, it's going to be a track the did with Lydia Lunch (she of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks- google them now)- taken from their 194 album "Bad Moon Rising"- called "Death valley 69":

Dissonance. Atonality. Feedback. Dischord. Noise. No-wave. This inspires me. So I've joined a band. We're called CAME. We're rehearsing on Monday. You have been warned.

*in case there are any SY nerds reading this I am aware of the first, eponymous EP they released in 1981 and I know they consider it to be their debut album but... it's just not really an album, is it?Discuss below.

Monday, 25 July 2011

1:50 planting plan detail area 1

Here's the second revision of my planting plan for detail area 1:

It's a really simple scheme- not going to worry Piet Oudolf or anything but I think it's consistent with the overall concept of the design. Carpinus betulus and Pseudosasa japonica provide varying degrees of enclosure whilst tiered planting of perennials (and grasses in particular) provide movement. To the right hand side, partially cropped, raised planters accommodate existing London plane (beyond the boundary of this area). Under-storey planting comprises a carpet of Vinca minor 'La Grave' interspersed with Geranium sylvaticum 'Album', Luzula sylvatica 'Marginata' and Polypodium vulgare 'Cornubiense'.

One recent, spontaneous addition was the inclusion of wisteria at the four corners of the corten folie.

Roll-on resubmission...still completely heartbroken not to have at least had the option of going to graduation. Everyone look so happy! I'm really pleased for everyone who came through the mangle.

Hopefully in a few weeks I'll be holding a graduation ceremony of my own!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

amy winehouse

A tragic (if predictable) waste of a very talented young lady.

This song always makes me smile, even if it's not her at the top of her game. My sister always wanted to hear her sing "Bad Guys" from Bugsy Malone- for some reason, thought it might happen one day. Guess it won't now.

Rest in Peace x

Saturday, 23 July 2011

estelle the novelist

A short story I wrote as Youssef Ifscapulet, first posted on myspace, 11th April 2008.

Estelle- a short story

They paraded Estelle's offspring before her, as she lounged languidly on the chaise longue upon the veranda. Wearing a dressing gown at sunset and smoking a pungent cigarello in ebony holder, Estelle effortlessly maintained an air of louche disinterest as- one after another- each of her children presented her with their tribute.

Son number one... a nameless no-one. Conceived in an innocent passion- all innocence and unguardedness- he was not remembered fondly. Estelle perceived in his big, dead grey eyes the same naivety that had led to his creation reflecting off her own face, and was ever embarrassed by him. She had loved him in her youth, but as she hardened she grew to hate him and he never adjusted well. Simple and unsophisticated and ignored by all but Estelle's most fervent followers, son-number-one was the family joke.

Son number two- Maurice- was confident and assured and used to the kind of life son number one would never know. He offered his mother his hand by way of greeting. First, that hand was slapped. Then his face. He cried lke a baby to his entourage, though he was a grown man. They complained querulously until Estelle's protectors whisked them away.

Estelle was sick of the sight of hm. When he was a baby, everyone had told he how perfect he was. She swelled with pride, and out popped a third child, Vincent. Though still held in high regard, he was not held in such high esteem as Maurice, though at his birth she had loved him just as much.

"But look what happens to them..." she grumbled inaudibly, throwing the single rose her lone son proffered back at him. He allowed a slow smirk to spread as he regarded the red blood on Estelle's hand, drawn by its thorns. He'd turned out to be a clever bastard.

As a young woman with two sons attracting high praise indeed, it was only natural that Estelle should want to try for a girl. She felt ready, but contemporaries discouraged her: "For why? when you have such fine sons!" Heedlessly she proceeded.

The pregnancy was... tricky. The birth was unpleasant. First the midwife was called. Then the physician. Then the surgeon. Together they had to cut the baby out. Lightweight and gasping for air, she nearly didn't make it. Behind mother's back, as the infant stumbled through her early years, there were many whispers that it may have been better if she hadn't.

Happily hopping forward, the wretched invalid laid a few lillies, a chicken kebab and some copper coins at her feet.

"Happy birthday, mother."

Estelle spat in her face. The invalid smiled- it was more than she could have hoped for.

Then came Bruno. Heavy set and good-natured, he was born a number of years after the daughter. After that trauma, it was a long time before Estelle went back to the bedroom with anything but sleep on her mind. Eventually she met a kind man- sensible and money-minded- and he coaxed that desire out of her. In time, Bruno followed. Not in any way the equal of his elder brothers, he was still held up as a perfectly decent figure of manhood. with alarming regularity he was joined by an increasingly homogeneous sequence of younger brothers.

One by one they marched up to kiss their mother and offer her their precious tokens. Each one produced a bag of gold coins, though of steadily decreasing size. She could not remember their names.

The presentation complete, she turned to address her eldest sons once more.

""What do you bring me, eldest son"

"Some weeds."

"And you, second born?"

He was still smarting from the slap and did not meet her eye as he handed over the deeds to the villa in Andalusia, the chalet in the alps, the cottage by Loch Ness and the flat in Knightsbridge.

"My third-born. What do you have for me?"

Vincent protested that he'd paid all the servants and the legal bills and the gambling debts in Monte Carlo. Estelle sneered. With an angry wave her right hand, the servants swiftly descended upon her brood and led off the grounds.

Estelle watched them trudge noiselessly down the path towards the gates. Quite unexpectedly Estelle felt a sudden pang of guilt: did she not owe her offspring her love? But she had given them everything: she was an old woman now, no matter what they gave to her, she would never regain the youth they had taken.

Estelle sighed before pulling herself together. She knocked back a tumbler of pastis and rang the bell for service.

"Bring me my baby!"

Estelle's new hand maid (who looked the same as the last one but was Czech not Slovak) curtsied and scurried from the veranda like a little grey mouse. She sighed again.

The moors were beautiful at sunset, especially with pastis and fine cigars and piles of gold coins. After her last husband died- that sensible, money-minded man- there were no Brunos left in her. She fled into the comforting embrace of obscurity. Estelle withdrew from society. Her old friends and colleagues conversed with her only through her children, but they never had anything new to say.

Estelle had always longed for a daughter. Doctors and midwives and physicians warned her she was too old, that she didn't have it in her.

"Besides!" they would explain, "you have a daughter- Macey! Okay, she's a spastic, but she's yours! And remember her birth- would you really want to go through all that again?"

Estelle had been firm:

"I know what I did wrong last time."

A little grey mouse pushed a silver cross into the red glare before scuttling back into the shadows, all frantic and anxious. Estelle embraced her newborn, wrapped in Egyptian cotton, regarding her face:

"You won't get old. You're as well as can be. You're brothers and sister came out fully formed. Why should you be any different?"

Estelle's heart melted when her child's wooden lips mouthed "mama!" and- brushing the wire wool back from the little one's scalp- she drew the child to her breast.

"Mama!" It yelped, excitedly, before suckling at Estelle's wrinkled teat. Estelle watched her child proudly. So much had gone into her creation. Every single detail was perfect. Her critics might remark at how contrived she was, fashioned from teak not flesh. They might sneer that only a mother could love her. But as Estelle stared into the fine-set emeralds surrounding her baby's pupils, Estelle felt that love, truly, and for the first time. The gloaming light was fading, the stars were out, the other children were long gone and no-one stirred.

"I'm not going to share you with anyone else."

Share buttons