Mapping Architectural Controversies

Just picked this up off the Volume Magazine RSS [], a course initiated and managed by Dr Albena Yaneva of Manchester University which attempts to map architectural controversies for projects such as the London Olympic Stadium. The method is transferred from the social-scientific community, based on the work of Bruno Latour, and seems to ascribe to the fashionable Actor-Network Theory []:

“The methodological and conceptual roots of this approach stem from the discipline of Science Studies, with the writings of the French sociologist and philosopher Bruno Latour forming the primary source for its subsequent development. Latour first developed his ideas in relation to the analysis of scientific and technological controversies in his book Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987. Controversy analysis is also part of the Actor-Network-Theory developed in his most recent book Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. ”

The published work samples to date seem to have followed the London Olympic Stadium with some animated network diagrams, with a bunch more seemingly in pipeline. The project sounds interesting, I would be curious about the production of outcomes which might effect the design or regulatory processes of similar schemes, so that the work becomes more then the recording of traces and relationships, but I’m ahead of myself there without having gone into this in any considerable depth.

Here’s some more about the project and its supporters:

“Documenting and visualising recent controversies in architecture, it also aims to address a broader audience interested in the design of cities, spatial networks and built environments as well as planners, representatives of city government, NGOs and citizens. As it is a part of the EU-funded project MACOSPOL, Mapping Architectural Controversies draws on a variety of documental sources and visual methods to explore the multifarious connections of architecture and society.”

London Olympic Stadium Visualisation


I was in Samoa recently chatting to someone about my favourite architects that actually build stuff and decided to write a list of my top ten. Given that I’ve studied architecture for a number of years that is really to scary to write down I was quite surprised how hard this list was to write. I don’t know if this means that my memory really is appalling or whether architects are just a bit shit at their jobs. Anyway without any doubt here’s ten that definately are not shit… in no particular order.

1. Geoffery Bawa (Sri Lanka)
2. Gerald Melling (NZ)
3. Peter Rich (South Africa)
4. Donovan Hill (Brisbane)
5. Laurie Baker (India)
6. Herzog de Meuron (Swiss)
7. Sumangala Jayatillaka (Sri Lanka)
8. John Scott (NZ)
9. Paulo Solari (America)
10. I guess I have to put Gaudi in there.

I’d be very interested to know what other people think.

ps. I’m well aware that there are no women on this list which is a devastating comment on something.  I’m not sure if its my tastes, the architecture profession, the media, the institutions…

Real Organic Architecture

While I travelled around Sri Lanka before I left a few weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit the stunning jungle abode  of Sri Lankin artist Laki Senanayake which is called Diyabubula, near Dambulla.  Calling Laki an artist is a bit of an understandment, he is also known as draftsman, architect, artist,  painter, birdwatcher, naturalist, sculptor, inventor, gardener, landscaper, etc etc.  An artist in the mold of De Vinci perhaps.  We spent a lovely evening and beautiful rare cool night upon Lakis platform in the jungle, a house without walls that floats above his carefully flooded property.

(Click on the pictures for full size photos)

Laki worked as one of Geoffrey Bawa’s main draftsmen and landscape advisers, and without any formal training as such he has more knowledge of how to build both houses and landscapes than most other people on the island; architects or not.  His latest design invention, which he is happy for me to promote, is his startling a-frame palm tree house, or Areca Palm house, which can be seen below.

On first glance this looks like a tidily designed and well proportioned A-frame house with a raised timber platform inside to provide a bedroom and bathroom.  Upon close inspection I was startled to see that the Areca Palms are infact pre-grown and then re-planted on an angle to provide the primary structure.  As can be seen in the photos these palms are alive and still growing vertically! Because this construction process relies largely on pre-grown palms and labour (which is compartively cheap in Sri Lanka), it is a much cheaper model for housing than alternative conventional one or two bedroom options.  ( If anyone has any further questions about this amazing house and its construction please contact me mrbarnabyb(at) and I’ll pass them onto Laki)


This entry follows on from the excellent dialougue started by Monsieur Fincham, where he argued, amongst other things, that creating Architecture is an inherently intellectual activity and that Architects should be more aware of this.

I take something of a big-tent approach to design and architecture and prefer not to spend too much energy following the seams and fissures in language which are used to divide disciplines, and so I’m quite comfortable with the idea that design is an inherently intellectual activity.

I’d like to renew this discussion by exploring a specific aspect of these statements.  I am personally rather ambivalent about the need for Architecture or Architects to realise the intellectual component of their disclipline as I find the concept of Intellectualism, or the Intellectual rather void of meaning until there is some content poured into the phrase.  For my mind being intellectual is a means, not an ends, and is a rather neutral position until the ends are more explicitly explored.     So I’ve become curious to understand what the purpose of intellectualism is?

Purpose is itself an interesting word which in this context is meant to suggest force and direction rather than a neat resolution.  It asks what is the tractory of intent of Intellectualism?  Where does it lead?  I fear if we don’t ask these questions, and answer them honestly we risk becoming trapped by our own language, becoming imprisoned in our own textual constructions.