Monday, 16 September 2013


Lieutenant Tatiana Preobrajenskaya chewed her lower lip as she reduced the throttle on the победа as its final destination drew closer. The 32,000 tonne  Russian freighter under her control was due to dock at London Gateway in less than ten minutes, but the young woman had other designs for the победа, and her window of opportunity was closing.

Ahead of the vessel and just off the starboard bow loomed the island of Canvey. Though in plain view, Tatiana thought it pertinent to bring up a schematic of the  island’s southern coast on her display monitor. She managed a thin smile as she considered the schizophrenic imagination behind the master plan for this peculiar corner of the globe. Many years ago funding from the European Union had resulted in the creation of a daring development on the 186 hectare site. The objective had been to create 4,000 new homes along a strip of land lying largely below sea level, principally to accommodate the many workers at Tatiana's ostensible destination, Britain’s largest deepwater container port. The plan was to provide the services and infrastructure essential for the social sustainability of this new community; to furnish the thousands of new residents with spaces to exercise, to play and to consume as well as putting a roof over their heads. Grand in scope and ambition, it had been considered vital for the regeneration of the sluggish regional economy.

That desperation to resolve the economic malaise and return everything to the pre-crash status quo had led to some surprising design decisions slipping past the planning review panel. Tatiana chuckled slightly as the first zone of development came into view. Though the most conventional element within the overall plan it nevertheless demonstrated the ambition of what was to come. Addressing the constraint of the monolithic flood sea-defences by building atop the 1950s sea wall, establishing a new concourse and promenade above the original sea front which now served as a subsurface conduit for vehicular traffic. The exception to this approach had been around Ove Arup’s pavilion, which though dwarfed by the emerging residential structures was re-connected to land and sea by situating it within a sunken bowl, simultaneously referencing the prevailing marine modernism that once characterised the seafront.

The active waterfront engaged in a new dialogue with the tide, a dialogue that was joined not only by residents but also (and for the first time in many years) tourists, too.   This dialogue was extended by the extrusion of existing jetties into the water, creating a framework for new landscapes and vertical built form- a theme that would be expanded on deeper within the scheme.

Tatiana observed the density of the urban grain subside somewhat as it encroached upon Thorney Bay, the thin strip of beach so beloved by holidaymakers of the past incorporating a recreational space or perhaps a quick breath of air before once again the fabric intensified. A heterogeneous array of worker’s blocks stretched across the marshland that had once been a vast caravan park, resilient to the apocalyptic waves that were for some indeterminate future date. As with the seafront the organising structure colluded with the existing jetties and interrupted the estuary, though this time with greater gusto, and thousands of tiny vessels cleaved to their vast steel frames, some serving as homes, others as floating farms harvesting either crops or tidal energy.

Converse to the reduction in urban development’s intensity, the structures (an appropriation of existing industrial infrastructure) seemed to multiply. They extended into the waves upon great piers, the thirsty feeding tubes of a swarm of giant metallic insects.

Thoughts of the social insects flitted through Tatiana’s mind as in the distance the greatest of these structures, the Occidental Jetty, stretched along the horizon. The colonist of this new landscape matched the invertebrates in terms of industry and resourcefulness as well as scale: though vast and imposing the success of the settlement depended on the smallest of individual contributions. Nothing was wasted: the very fabric of the colony was hewn from the recycled elements of decaying hulks and abandoned containers- the waste products of the lumbering behemoth that was the gateway, further upriver. Not quite tethered to land or sea, this new city was neither grounded physically nor ideologically. It allowed the ambitions of its denizens to soar without devastating the delicate ecologies of the environment beneath them.

The Occidental colony now in sight, Tatiana drew the победа closer to the island. Beside her the alcoholic Ukrainian Captain grunted, but gave no orders. By the time he realised what the young woman was up to it would be too late.

The young lieutenant beheld the rusting cylinders that had once been liquefied methane tanks. This had once been an active industrial sector and it had taken many years to ameliorate the consequent contamination. Biotopic planting had been used to decontaminate the soil and was succeeded by a gradual phasing of human occupation to replicate the habitat at Canvey Wick, further to the west. There, sporadic forays into the brush by bored youths in stolen cars had prevented the site from reverting to its vestigial state (woodland)... in a controlled emulation of these conditions developers had encouraged the site to be exploited by live action gamers, head-up displays transforming the landscape into a virtual battle ground. The participants in these augmented reality games unwittingly facilitated the creation of the scrubby grassland so beloved by the reptiles, avians and invertebrates found at the neighbouring nature reserves.

When sufficient time had passed the denizens of the walking cities extended their tendrils backward, plugging in to the remaining framework of pumps and cylinders, exploiting the surfaces for food and fuel production. This juxtaposition of old and new, “natural” and artificial stretched to the very fringes of the project. A smattering of low density settlements (marketed as eco-homes) stood on stilts, surrounded by wet marshland and Lammas grazing. Here too the amphibious hives exerted some influence, though the relationship with their land based cousins was at times fractious. Both communities kept a watchful eye on one another.

As the good ship победа approached the great insectoid arm of the jetty it was greeted by a riot of colour, not only in the materials and fittings comprising this entity but also in the kaleidoscopic planting that covered it. The scheme was designed to recreate the terrestrial habitats in order to control pests and pollinate crops.

“What are you doing, Preobrajenskaya?” the Captain exclaimed, “why are you slowing down?”

Tatiana ignored him, surreptitiously activating a nano-alarm in her right pocket.

“What are you doing?” He repeated, “we’re suppose to be heading to Gateway! I order you to get back on course at once!”

She remained resolute. She could not turn back now. Already the Occidental colonists were gathering at the jetty-head, an eclectic array of pirates ushering the vessel towards them.

The Captain placed the barrel of a handgun against Tatiana’s temple. When he spoke his voice was calmer, but simmering with thinly veiled menace:

“Turn the ship around now or I will shoot you and do it myself.”

But she knew it was too late for the Captain to change course. Her crew mates were complicit in the mutiny: alerted by her nano-alarm, they swiftly filled the bridge, side arms all levelled on the Ukrainian Captain. His position untenable, the Captain lowered his weapon and Tatiana exhaled. Calmly, she brought the победа to dock.

Later Tatiana enjoyed a cocktail on the promenade, her gaze torn between two awesome sights. To her left she witnessed the incredible spectacle of the победа being dismantled by a vast team of men and women, stripping the ship not only of its cargo but the every panel and rivet and beam that held it together; to her right her eyes were treated to a sublime view of a chemical sunset lingering over  the distant City of London. 

She was under no illusions: this would be but a brief moment of respite before the storm that was brewing would hit the colonists. Crucially, this had been her choice. She had chosen a new way of life amongst people that respected her. Her old crew were eager to begin and were already making friends with their new hosts.

The Captain... he belonged to the past, to the cumbersome deepwater port and the crumbling city of steel and glass that it served, its phallic skyline backlit by the sinking sun. He would be executed soon enough, but nothing was wasted on the colony: his bones and blood would fortify the compost and... well, she didn’t know about the rest of him, but she’d always wanted a suede jacket.

Friday, 13 September 2013


NAME:                  DONOVAN, JOEY
RANK:                  ENSIGN
NUMBER:                  000517783-9
                         (UNIVERSITY OF GREENWICH, 2011)
                         CURRENTLY COMPLETING DIPLOMA

“Canvey is an alluvial island in the Thames estuary surrounded by a fourteen mile wall of reinforced concrete. Nearly 48,000 people live here, and 4,000 new homes are needed. 

“This scheme revives the pioneering spirit of Canvey’s first colonist (Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden) to create a dynamic new settlement on the south Essex coast. Through a process of détournement relics of the island’s industrial past are are transformed into amphibious colonies straddling land and sea: a New Jerusalem via New Babylon.”

“A New Jerusalem! How pompous!” Hindsight is indeed a marvellous thing, but it was within plain sight that the pomposity of these words were rendered unto the ensign. For whilst the rest of the cast and crew of the good ship Dreadnought were enjoying some well-deserved shore-leave, he was left stranded in the real победа, tethered to the rusting occidental jetty pondering where it had all gone wrong.

Yes, the real победа was no 32 kilo-tonne freighter but a light cargo ship that had seen far better days. Cobbled together through haphazard bricolage the vessel was barely ocean-worthy. The name of the vessel was Russian for Victory, but the first two glyphs had mysteriously disappeared, leaving only the word беда.

“Trouble,” he translated for the benefit of his imaginary audience. It was appropriate given his circumstances, for he was in a lot of trouble now thanks to the ship. Quite why he had taken on the task of breaking away from the main fleet to sail into what he described as uncharted waters was anyone’s guess... they weren’t uncharted, of course, just tricky to navigate without the appropriate skills... and a good boat.

It was all in the spirit of the site, of course. Why build a 45,000 strong town on a swamp next to an oil refinery? Because we can! Because people like Cornelius Vermuyden and Wilko Johnson are fucking pioneers, man! A day as a lion or a lifetime as a worm etcetera, etcetera... so he and his misfit crew of heteronyms embarked upon their quixotic quest and now were grounded.

The line between the победа of his fiction and the беда of reality was becoming increasingly indistinct. Wandering alone through the particle cloud of his own mind had taken a turn for the psychotic, and as he watched the sun setting over Shellhaven he wasn't sure whether he was Tatiana dreaming of the ensign or the ensign dreaming of Tatiana... he was watching the same sun set as she, sinking behind the glistening spires of the city far and away. Repetition, remember, is also a form of change.

It was beautiful, in its way, and he wondered if Blake would have felt quite the same had he seen these new satanic mills yearning for a touch of heaven. he could ask of course: it was simply a matter of tuning in to the correct frequency. Cyclothymia granted him a special affinity for waveforms of all kinds, be they the lapping tide of the Thames or electromagnetic messages drifting across the ether. It was simply a matter of getting the dosage right.

The opium fwas grown on the anterior deck of the беда, a combined hydropnic-aquaculture system grafted on to the existing desalination tanks. Load up the pipe and try not to concentrate. That was the trick: nothing was ever accomplished by actual effort, so far as he could tell: it was through trying that he now found himself in this terrible mess. To speak to Blake’s ghost he had to let his mind dwell on something else entirely, and so it was with comparative ease that he soon found himself instead fretting over the dwindling supplies of his crop. It appeared that it was rather moreish, and demand was swiftly outstripping supply: ‘the perfect product’, Burroughs had remarked in Naked Lunch. 

It was Burroughs that had led him to the Opium. The ensign had seen himself as a kind of alchemist, hoping that by pouring in sufficient quantities of radical ideas into the Canvey Project he could somehow transmute his leaden imagination into gold.

Conrad, Burroughs, Ballard, Blake... even Dickens. But there was no longer any Mr. Magwitch lurking on the marshes, and the ensign’s great expectations were to remain unfulfilled. He had to admit that he had failed.

But wait! The ley lines were aligning. Somehow his foggy intellect had sharpened the nebulous mass of his soul into an object sharp enough to puncture the veil dividing this world from the next. Just by briefly recollecting that name, Blake, he now found himself before the spirit of the godfather of psychogeography.

“Mr. Blake sir!” he intoned, “what do you make of these dark satanic mills?”

The ensign’s ethereal hand made a vague gesture to where he thought the columns of Coryton might be in relation to the disembodied Blake, but the ghost seemed disinterested, and when pressed further merely asked to be left alone with his engravings.

Ensign Donovan was crestfallen. Rejection by the ghost of Blake felt like the last straw. What now was the point? Stranded and rudderless and rapidly running out of poppies, all that he had left was the pirate radio stations that he listened to through the mercury in his mouth. Of course, the pirate stations (many based upon the North sea forts not far from Canvey that had inspired Constant’s New Babylon) had long since disbanded, though remnants of their signals still reverberated through the wrought iron supports that held the jetty up.

Yes, everything was clear now: in sharp relief he saw a project that had failed because it had not followed through on its vision. In its attempts to describe a future possible world (if not necessarily a better one) it had not delivered an image that was strong enough, iconic enough or... well, it simply wasn’t as polemical as it thought it was, was it? The ensign frowned. He’d heard those words before: was that a thought of his own or another radio message from the past? He laughed: of course it was the latter, there were no thoughts of his own, there were only radio signals from the past.

But hark: the radio in his brain was crackling to life!

“ENSIGN DONOVAN!” It was Colonel Kurtz... no, wait... Commodore Kotzen? “You have to finish what you have started. Report back to us by the end of August and we may reconsider your commission!”

The Ensign punched the air gleefully. the tide had totally gone out and he was stranded in a rusty boat with a dwindling poppy supply, but everything was going to be okay.

It was going to be okay... right?

Saturday, 31 August 2013


Residual Condition by Boo Saville


We have no prairies 
To slice a big sun at evening-- 
Everywhere the eye concedes to 
Encrouching horizon, 

Is wooed into the cyclops' eye 
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country 
Is bog that keeps crusting 
Between the sights of the sun. 

They've taken the skeleton 
Of the Great Irish Elk 
Out of the peat, set it up 
An astounding crate full of air. 

Butter sunk under 
More than a hundred years 
Was recovered salty and white. 
The ground itself is kind, black butter 

Melting and opening underfoot, 
Missing its last definition 
By millions of years. 
They'll never dig coal here, 

Only the waterlogged trunks 
Of great firs, soft as pulp. 
Our pioneers keep striking 
Inwards and downwards, 

Every layer they strip 
Seems camped on before. 
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage. 
The wet centre is bottomless. 

-Seamus Heaney

This is my favourite poem by Heaney, for the lines Butter sunk under/ More than a hundred years / Was recovered salty and white. I have never seen the bogland he describes, but somehow it stirs a deep ancestral memory, buried like the bodies- butter sunk- that are fished out by our pioneers. My ancestors were peat cutters.

Three years ago wandering east London in a mushroom haze I happened upon an exhibition by the artist Boo Saville at Trolley Gallery on Redchurch Street (sadly no longer there). The title of that exhibition was Butter Sunk, and consisted principally of biro drawings of bog men (see above).

A year or so later and I happened to be at Spitalfields market, no too far from Redchurch Street, traded a copy of The Myth of Sisyphus for P.V Glob's The Bog People, an amazing catalogue of immortal remains.

In ...Sisyphus Camus addresses the principal of absurdity: namely our search for meaning in a Universe that is apparently meaningless. We all desire immortality, yet we all die. After death most of us remain as some kind of shadow, a slip of memory for a time at least, until ultimately we are forgotten. For men and women like Heaney (and there are but few) their work survives them, long after their flesh has withered. The bog people attained a different kind of immortality: their deeds, words and names are long forgotten but their flesh remains.

Monday, 26 August 2013


Good landscape architecture appeals to a very primal part of the human psyche, an ancestral memory of a life lived not in labyrinths of brick and concrete but in the open air. For the most part, it appeals to the concepts of prospect and refuge... and what man-made structure combines prospect and refuge better than a tree house?

I was recently given a copy of Philip Jodidio's Tree Houses as a gift and have selected my fifteen favourites for Psychocartography.


Designed and built by Roderick Wolgamott Romero, the charm of this structure lies in its ability to nestle very comfortably in its surroundings. This can be attributed to the use of reclaimed and salvaged lumber (including driftwood collected from the shore of Long Island) as the primary building material, in addition to the successful effort on the part of the designer to emulate a real bird's nest...


Image courtesy
 Designed by by Sean Orlando and the Five Ton Crane Arts Group. Like all things Steampunk the design references Jules Verne, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and H G Wells. Those big stills in the background are for  the brewing of beer.

Image courtesy

Image courtesy


By Kobayashi Takashi, this was built in 2005 to accommodate backpackers on the island of Okinawa.

12. UFO TREE HOUSE, Harads Tree Hotel, SWEDEN

One of several tree houses that form part of Harads Tree Hotel in Sweden, this incredibly convincing flying saucer was designed by Inredningsgruppen of Sweden.

Despite it's other-wordly, retro futurist design it seems to fit very comfortably into its environment... maybe because of some repressed mitochondrial memory concerning extra-terrestrial ancestry? Or maybe the influence of science fiction on architectural design more generally...


Two astounding things about this treehouse:

1- It is in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon... the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, to be precise

2- It sits an incredible 27 metres (90 feet in old money) from the ground, in the rainforest canopy!

Like the majority of tree houses featured in this blog, this structure forms part of a luxury hotel complex and is rented to tourists. Unlike other similar resorts, the Inkaterra Canopy is run by a non-profit NGO organising eco tourism to help subsidise the preservation of the 104 square kilometre Inkaterra Reserve.

10. 4 TREE HOUSE, Lake Mudkoka, Ontario, CANADA

Designed by Lukasz Kos of four o nine, this tree house was selected because it combines contemporary design and fine craftsmanship whilst still adhering to the principal of a tree house: it is supported by four living trees! So many contemporary structures are just platforms next to a tree...


If the previous entry earned itself merit points for staying true to the principals of the tree house then I have to immediately demonstrate my own hypocrisy by including three creations of Terunobu Fujimori.

The first, illustrated above, perches atop five giant bamboo stems that have been brought to this location rather than trees that grew naturally... but in Fujimori's work nature provides the materials not the overiding aesthetic, which instead is informed by fantasy and faery tale. The appeal of the Irisentei Tea Nest is in its incredible character, perched atop five improbably high legs it looks as though it is ready to embark upon some Hayao Miyazaki inspired adventure...

8.   HORACE'S CATHEDRAL, Crossville, Tennessee, USA

Faith compels ordinary men and women to commit some extraordinary acts. To men and women of reason these acts are often baffling. In Horace Burgess' case, faith compelled him to build a cathedral in the trees, after the Lord told him "If you build me a tree house, I'll see you never run out of material." How one interprets Horace's actions determines where one might sit on the faith-reason axis, but the few could mock what he has achieved: the construction of a ten storey church in the trees. 


Situated in the "Nanshan Buddhist and Ecological Theme Park" this truly captures the spirit of the traditional tree house: the structure is built around the twisting branches of the incredible Tamarind tree in which it perches.

Designed by David Greenberg of Tree Houses of Hawaii

6.   LANGEAIS CASTLE TREE HOUSE, Parc de L'an Mil, Château de Langeais, FRANCE

As with the Big Beach in the Sky the design and construction of the Langeais tree house was carried out with deference to the magnificent tree (in this case an enormous Cedar of Lebanon) that supports it.

Designed by Enéa based on an idea by Dans Mon Arbre, the tree house is an exciting multi-level structure built from larch.

5.   TEAHOUSE TETSU,  Hokuto City, Yamanashi, JAPAN

A fantasy in cherry blossom, supported by a single cypress trunk. Again, the work of Terunobu Fujimori.


The acclaimed baumhaus designer Andreas Wenning features heavily in Jodidio's book, but only the tree house at Djuren has made the final list here. Built upon two levels, the first nestles gently between two oaks whilst the second maintains a detached and aloof elegance atop four thin steel columns.


Directly referencing the organic forms found within the forest, designer Peter Eising of Pacific Environments wraps this New Zealand Redwood in a shell or perhaps a chrysalis, within which is a 44 sqm restaurant.


Another entry from the Harads tree hotel in Sweden, this time designed by Tham and Videgård Arkitekter. A simple idea executed incredibly well, by using reflective glass the cube vanishes into its woodland context.

The reflective glass creates a peculiar effect when, at dusk, the lights are turned on inside treehouse, creating portals into an invisible world.

1.   TAKASUGI-AN, Chino, Nagano, JAPAN 

So, an odd choice for finest tree house in the world? Mr. Fujimori's creations possess neither the adherence to the rough and ready reclaimed aesthetic of the traditional tree house, nor the elegance and finish of more contemporary designs. Only one of them featured on this blog actually sits in a tree. But they all possess incredible character.

Takasugi-an literally translates as teahouse built too high, and possesses the same quality as the Irisentei Tea House- that it appears to be about to stroll blithely into the beautiful vista beyond. The handbeaten blue copperplate roof is shaped almost like the hat of Snufkin, Moomin's nomadic bohemian friend, another restless soul unwilling to be tethered to the ground.

It is difficult to understand the charm of the interior without the addition of a human scale element; we are fortunate to have Mr. Fujimori himself provide such scale in the image below:

I thought at first that the roof of this amazing tree house was similar to Snufkin's hat, but now I see it was actually Fujimori's hat in the picture. The fact that the window of Takasugi-an frames a view of the town where the designer grew up further cements my opinion that this is a work of childhood wish-fulfillment, like all of the creations exhibited here. Do all children dream of living in a tree house? Perhaps not, but few of those that do are fortunate enough to realise that ambition. Takasugi-an is the greatest tree house in the world because it is true to that childhood ambition, without the fastidious embellishments of adult life... apart from the facilities for making tea, naturally.

Tree Houses: Fairy Tale castles in the Air by Philip Jodidio is available to buy from Taschen Books now.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


68 years ago Hiroshima became the first city to be targeted by an atomic weapon.

The Last Song

I am a shadow on the wall.
My memoir- that you read now-
Is but a product of someone else’s imagining
But my story is true.
It is a love story…
…or, rather, a love song…

           When you opened your mouth
            It was not words that came out
It was music:
A melody, pitched above the baritone drone
Of propellers and engines overhead,
A melody pitched beneath
Shrill klaxons,
The air raid sirens.
I took you in my arms and embraced you.
It was music- not words-
And your smile filled the sky
And all was saturated in white light.
A moment.
A moment passed, imperceptibly.
The white light- a flash-
And there was nothing but you
You and I
Bigger than war
Bigger than war and death and God.
But what I saw was not you before me.
Just an image burned on my retina.

                I was clutching at a shadow when the shockwave hit
                Turning my bones to dust and ash.


Friday, 31 May 2013


These past few months I have been desperately attempting to complete my landscape architecture diploma, hence the lack of blog activity. The end in sight, I thought it pertinent to share some of the work I will be presenting to the external examiners next week.

The following images were all produced for the third design development area, the occidental colony.

The purpose of the third development area was to produce a cogent planting scheme whilst remaining true to the underlying concepts espoused in the original master plan. Native species were utilised in accordance with the ecological imperative of the master plan, with the plant list drawn from the Natural History Museum's postcode analysis:

As with the other development areas, I produced AUTOCAD models prior to refining the design, the better to understand the spatial relationships engendered by the layout.  With the addition of materials, these rendered reasonably well within Autocad and represent interesting concept models:

With the assessment criteria for this development area focussing principally on technical execution and plant knowledge, it was right that the majority of drawings produced were planting schemes. As I was producing vector drawings in plan, I elected to invert the colours to white on black to make them stand out more. This scheme was replicated in the title sheet (top). 
Unifying the third development area drawings with a white-on-black colour scheme inspired me to carry a similar theme with the other two development areas. In contrast to the black gloss used for this area I used a buff/grey and mauve/blue sugar paper for the hardworks and wetland areas respectively. The rough texture also permitted the use of chalk and charcoal to augment the vector drawings. I will post here Monday or Tuesday.

Friday, 15 March 2013


Image courtesy
The erotic fetishisation of Urban Decay has a poster girl/boy in the city of Detroit. This much we know, yet how rarely we consider the human cost of this process. With the announcement that control of Detroit's budget is to be passed to the state of Michigan, recent news reports paint a picture of a city in socio-economic free-fall  The state has appointed Kevyn Orr (an expert in corporate bankruptcy) as its financial manager, with attendant Draconian powers to achieve the "Olympian" task of restructuring a sprawling metropolis that has witness a halving of its population in the past twenty years. Read the story here

It seems timely that Radio 4's book of the week is Mark Binelli's "The Last days of Detroit", reminding all of us in the realm of urban design and landscape architecture of the human element lurking in the shadows of the abandoned industrial infrastructure and acres of brownfield land.  Serialisation of Binelli's book has taken the form of a series of sensitively drawn portraits of Detroit's inhabitants,some of whom subsist on its margins whilst others attempt to facilitate change in what was once America's Motor City. Along the way we encounter Detroit Techno, Motown, Urban Farming and the weird world of the Concealed Weapon Certificate.

Get it while it's hot right here (link goes to episode four of five). Today's broadcast looked at the delapidated education system, drawing attention to one beacon of hope at a school for teenage mothers that incorporates a fully operational urban farm (including goats that must be milked). 

I should also mention that Radio Four has also been exploring  the Baroque in Britain with an emphasis on architecture, particularly in episode two, which considers the missed opportunity of the Great Fire of London and Wren's aborted street plan for London. A potential derive- following the streets of Wren's plan that were never built?

Friday, 8 March 2013


Adaptations for colonisation of water:

Fauna of Canvey Wick:


Canvey Psychogeography:

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