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America wins the Vietnam War. The Watergate scandal is never exposed. Tension between the US and Russia and the looming threat of World War III. History has been changed by the emergence of costumed superheroes . . . but who watches the Watchmen?

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Watchmen is an American comic book series published by DC Comics in 1986 and 1987, created by the British trio of writer Alan Moore, illustrator Dave Gibbons and colourist John Higgins. Its primary theme, the idea of masked vigilantes into a gritty and realistic world, is something that marketed subsequent superhero fantasies to a more literary, mature crowd. With modern and contemporary fears of the time, such as the Cold War and threat of nuclear annihilation, Watchmen adds to this grounded layer, grounded superheroes. Superheroes that feel silly in their costumes, that question the very nature of what they do, that stubbornly resist or meekly bend, becoming puppets of the government or being destroyed by the insistence on their values.

In other words, these vigilantes are painfully human. The Watchmen are a former group of costumed vigilantes who have flaws, desires, dreams and fears, who must disband once the United States passes the Keene Act, which prohibits ‘costumed adventuring’. And the only member who can genuinely be considered a superhero is the iconic Dr. Manhattan, who through an accident at a nuclear plant becomes a superhuman blue entity who can control atoms and matter. The rest of the cast have no special abilities as such, but are compelling and memorable characters. Rorschach, Nite-Owl, Silk Spectre, the Comedian, Ozymandias. All play key roles with different views on the state of their world, and what they are prepared to risk to ‘fix’ it.

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There is plenty to like about this collection. Illustrations are detailed, realistic, and the structure is consistent throughout, with each page divided into a nine-panel grid, but for a few select scenes where the drawing takes a page and does the talking. A villain who isn’t hopelessly inept with a morally reprehensible plan that could save the world. A comic within a comic, Tales of the Black Freighter, which are intersected between panels in certain chapters of Watchmen and seemingly provide juxtaposition to events occurring in the real world. Within the panels of the comic there is genuine excitement, suspense, violence and tragedy.

Watchmen was adapted into a live-action film directed by Zack Snyder in 2009, which I admit I haven’t watched. But the comic collection is a classic and absolutely worth your time if you have any interest in graphic novels and the origins of gritty, realistic universes in which superheroes fight to protect.

About a year ago I heard about The A3 Review, a monthly contest where writers and illustrators are encouraged to submit work on a particular theme. This can be prose, poetry, graphics, photography, painting – as long as it fits the theme, can fit on an A6 panel and is limited to 150 words. The chosen pieces are then displayed in a neat, folded sheet of A3 that can be opened out. I’ve entered a couple times over the last year (haven’t been successful yet!) without ever actually checking out the Writing Maps, the central focus of the site. 

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Creator Shaun Levin is a writer himself and has taught workshops and classes on creative writing for over 20 years, and his writing maps aim to combat writer’s block. Within each folded map are several ideas for prompts, with hints and guidance on how to expand your writing.

Not only do the maps give informative tips, exercises and examples on several aspects of writing (for example, the map I bought focuses on tone of voice and point of view), it can provide a source of inspiration, a prompt for ideas upon which you can put any new learnings into action. If you’re looking for some extra help and inspiration that comes in a slightly different form – fun and visual and easy to digest – then take a look at the multitude of different maps available on the site.

Visit www.writingmaps.com for more details.

Whilst studying architecture I did some weird things. I dressed up as a clown. I interviewed, photographed and filmed a food vendor in Camden Market. I posed as a waiter trying to serve wine and pasta with an inverted periscope attached to my face. I trespassed through a hospital (actually I did a hell of a lot of trespassing as an architectural student). Carrying chairs into a forest and to the top of a hill. The list goes on. 

One day, in my second year, I found myself down in Hastings, a beach town east of Brighton. I forget why, but I purchased fish guts from a fishermen to encourage the (intimidatingly large) seagulls in the area, then I chased them away. I live on an island and thought I had a good grasp on seagull behaviour and mentality, but the seagulls in Hastings are terrifying. There are hundreds of them everywhere, they are huge, and they eat anything and everything.

seagull image 5I don’t like seagulls. No, I’m not scared of them. I just think they’re great big bastards (I’d also recently watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds which may have had some influence). So whatever the project, or design brief was for our trip to Hastings, I reckon I used the location as a chance for revenge. Seagulls love to swoop down on unsuspecting beach-goers and grab their chips and ice creams, so I thought I’d set a trap involving bread crumbs and fish guts, before chasing them away.

seagulls2I set down seagull treats at one metre intervals from a bench in Hastings. After waiting for enough seagulls to show interest, I would then jump up and chase them away. It was cathartic, even if I did get a lot of strange looks from the locals (and a few cheers from the onlooking fishermen and fishmongers). I had some course mates photograph and film the event, without really knowing what I would do with it.

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I filmed all of this from two angles, one camera on the bench and one from the side. I took freeze frames and drew over stills that I then imported into Photoshop to play around with.

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I ended up turning this sequence of events into a ‘flipbook’, where I first set down the seagull snacks, then waited for the seagulls to arrive before springing up and chasing them away.

I look back at a lot of the weird stuff I did at university and struggle to remember exactly what it was all for at the time. There were always reasons, often loosely connected and stretching. I don’t study architecture now or have any desire to work in the field, and I will always question whether those years were worth it, whether I would make different choices if I could, and what those choices would have been. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say “it was dull”.

Sometimes on this blog I talk about something a little different, not necessarily relating to something I’ve read or written. Today it’s a video game. Well, I see it more as an interactive piece of art. A little indie title named LIMBO.

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Developed by independent game developer Playdead, LIMBO was initially released in 2010. I remember seeing it and thinking it had a great art direction, but ultimately 2D platformers aren’t really my thing. A few months back I downloaded it, being on sale at a really good price I figured I might get round to checking it out at some point. I’m so glad I did, because LIMBO is one of the most thought-provoking, beautiful little games I’ve ever had the joy of playing.

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I thought I would show a few screenshots I captured on my Xbox One. Straight away you can appreciate its black and white tones and the lighting used, but what you can’t get from simple screens are the grainy animations and minimalist sound design, which all add up to create a wickedly eerie experience.

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And it is an experience. In terms of gameplay it’s wonderfully simple but very clever. It’s a platformer and puzzle game and I’ll hold my hands up, I got stuck plenty of times. I also died plenty of times, as this is a hellish world where almost everything can and will kill you.

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The plot is as wonderfully understated as the aesthetics. A boy wakes in an evil forest and must make his way through in order to find his sister. Along the he encounters aggressive creatures (such as a giant spider which is freaking terrifying, and parasitic maggots which take the movement of the boy out of your control), violent people (?) who lay traps and throw projectiles to keep the boy from escaping alive, and the environment which, with its sheer drops and sharp edges, will hinder your progress at every turn.

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The game has received critical acclaim, and if you own a PC or gaming console and haven’t given LIMBO a try yet, you should. It’s an absolute bargain, a haunting, beautiful game, a disturbing, never-ending dream. Or nightmare.

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There have been several posts now on my exploration and findings within Guy’s Hospital and the surrounding area. The theories, programs and ideas that I created on the basis of that initial research has been discussed somewhat, but in terms of final drawings and solutions to the problems I identified the project has been lacking. In this post I want to give a glimpse into some of the work and ideas I put forward to make the hospital a better place.

Epiphytic architecture

The idea of creating and almost growing self contained programs of space that hang off the pre-existing structure of Guy’s Hospital was a strong and favourite one, right from the start. I remember describing them to my tutor during a crit as parasitic, in the way they cling to the structure and rely on it for support. I was soon shot down for this phrase, and rightly so. A parasite is something that takes from a larger organism but doesn’t give anything back – it works at the detriment of the host creature. The word that I was suggested to use was ‘epiphyte’, a term typically used to describe a plant that grows harmlessly on another plant, and thus I began to use the term ‘epiphytic architecture’ when describing these additional spaces. I wanted them, if anything, to grow and exist to the benefit, not detriment, of the hospital.

Working models demonstrating the existing structure of the tower, encouraging new and additional spaces to grow upon it. Spaces such as hostels (for family members of patients to stay close to their loved ones), a diverse, multi floor waiting room model 3(the smaller waiting rooms are merged into one flowing space that spans multiple floors and comes out of the main tower to give freedom and reduce anxiety while waiting) and walkways which come out of and back into the hospital, providing fresh air, an escape of the oppressive walls of the hospital as well as fantastic views of London.

The models were very conceptual, and gave me a flexibility to constantly change them, whether that be in shape, material, position, on the tower. I kept asking questions, and in this way the models helped me a lot. For example, I used ripped up pieces of masking tape to simulate hanging vines and green walls. Thin pieces of MDF held in place by copper rods, to represent moveable facades. Flexible walkways of card that wrap around the main structure of the tower, which itself I replicated using a tall wooden plinth.

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The Hub; a place to wait in comfort and peace. Forget you are in a hospital.

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Through my site visits and studying of existing plans and sections from the architects behind the recent recladding project Penoyre & Prasad, I noticed that the 18th and 19th floor were different – they had a kind of double space between each floor, very high ceilings, and this was due to the lift access points. I wanted to take advantage of this expanded space above the heads of patients. It was to become The Hub, an expansive open space halfway up Guy’s Tower, which offered spectacular views of the surrounding area, jutting in and out of the existing parameters of the building, with plenty of freedom yet also privacy, and green walls hanging down to give a feeling of being in a floating garden.

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Final Section

The final section, when printed, was over two metres tall. Scaled 1:50, it was a huge task. Parts were left unfinished in order to show the spread of changes across the existing hospital. It was a mixed media piece; most of the section was done in Vectorworks, a CAD software. Some of the instalments were drawn by hand and copied or scanned into place, and it was finished off with atmosphere and occupation. In hindsight it perhaps would have been beneficial to show larger sections of each program. This would have given more detail but lost a sense of wholeness – being a long, all-in-one section keeps the scale of this project at the forefront. The project was met with mixed reviews at the end of the year. The theory and ambition was praised but ultimately there was not enough conviction and finesse in the final drawings and representations.

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A while since I last posted. Apologies, plenty more content on the way over the coming months. And sorry for that title.

For now I want to share a few collages I began working on a while back. They are crude, simple, and took very little time to make. First, some insight to my motivation and inspiration.

Pinterest link to a board containing Surrealist work and art that I really dig.

And another for more general collages. Cool stuff.

Collages can be a great way to throw ideas together and spark your imagination. They formed a key part of many design processes during my time studying architecture and I believe they can work for a variety of mediums, not least writing and literature. Forming thoughts in your head as you write is one thing, but to visualise something that you might normally just scribble down in note form and turn it into a piece of work itself, is something I see a lot of use in.

Even if these pieces are rather basic, they do serve a purpose. I have thought about the key themes from my story/work-in-progress and combined several throughout these collages. There are surreal aspects to all of them.

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loss of innocence / identity / isolation / kudzu / wilderness

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age / vertical city / skyscrapers / knowledge / looking back

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reaching upwards / vertical city / the stars / overpopulation / technology / science

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child / loss of innocence / violence / isolation

The London Bridge area is steeped in history. The hospital was the main source of interest for the project but to restrict yourself to looking for ideas and intrigue in just one setting is pointless, and I found the surroundings of the hospital to be just as fascinating as the hospital itself. Taken on the same day as my hospital visit I took in my previous Guy’s Hospital post, here are a few areas around the hospital in London Bridge that captured my imagination.

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The murky Thames water beneath London Bridge

To get to London Bridge itself from the hospital is a good ten minute walk. There is plenty of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. Across the bridge takes you out of Southwark, and so I would remain on the bridge, observing the Thames, the waterfront and Tower Bridge in the distance.

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The area is built up and short distances can take longer due to pedestrians and traffic.

Plenty of pubs and bars around, to my joy.

Plenty of pubs and bars around, to my joy.

One of the oldest stations in the city, London Bridge Station still remains incredibly relevant today; the fourth busiest station in London and the U.K. It acted as the main hub for my visits to the hospital. Being situated in Brighton at the time, it would take about an hour to get here. I would then usually head off after my ‘work’ at the hospital was done, catching the tube further into the city, either to meet friends or get a bite to eat.

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The underground station entrance.

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Old brick interior of the station, below the Shard.

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Exit toward the base of the Shard and Guy’s Hospital across the street.

Over 1000 ft high. 95 storeys. The tallest building in the EU. The Shard, designed by Renzo Piano, the spire like structure can be seen all across London. As tall as Guy’s Tower is (the tallest hospital building in Europe), it is dwarfed by the Shard. As a former architecture student I should probably give my critique on it…it’s alright.

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Escalator down from upper level of the station to the ground level. McDonalds and the hospital across the street.

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Looking up the facade of the Shard.

King’s College, London, or KCL, is the third oldest university in England. The Guy’s Campus is directly opposite Guy’s Hospital; convenient as the Guy’s Campus focuses on medicine. It is home to the school of medicine and the Dental Institute, which is actually within Guy’s Tower itself. The streets and roads between the hospital and the campus were filled by groups of students, walking to lectures or off to the McDonalds on the corner.

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KCL Campus. Taken on a Saturday, so not too many students here.

I believe this is Thomas Guy, the founder of Guy's Hospital.

I believe this is Thomas Guy, the founder of Guy’s Hospital.

Allegedly existing since 1014, the bustling, noisy and colourful Borough Market is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London. The photos below were taken on a Saturday morning, and the number of stalls, vendors and shoppers was overwhelming. Fantastic smells and tastes, it was a carnival atmosphere with a bit of everything on sale.

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Thousands, tourists and locals alike, flock to Borough Market every day.

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There is plenty of fresh local produce on offer, and some stands offer tasters and samples.

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The waiting time for queueing customers wanting the famous steak sandwiches at this stand was over half an hour.

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There is enough variety and choice to satisfy anyone’s tastebuds.

So why did I go to the trouble of documenting my exploration when the project was to take place in the hospital itself? Because I had decided what I wanted to do with the hospital. I wanted to create new spaces within, some seen and unseen, some expected and unexpected.

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Above is a collage I created to illustrate the incorporation of elements from the surrounding area into the hospital. I drew a quick section of one of the towers that make up Guy’s Tower, then began to overlay the image with aspects of the London Bridge area that I wanted to see in the hospital environment.

Cranes were everywhere – London is a growing city, and adding cranes to an already towering skyscraper, bring in spaces to expand the tower, was an ambitious opportunity I couldn’t turn down. When you are given the rare gift of creative freedom you need to dream big.

Ideas such as a speakeasy, an illegal bar hidden deep beneath the hospital where patients can defy the wishes of their doctors to drink and smoke during their stay. Or a performance theatre where the doctors sing or tell jokes in order to gain votes. The more votes you receive, the more patients will want you as their doctor. Or walkways and balconies that came out from within the hospital and wrap around the exterior, spaces of green and light and fresh air to get away from the stuffiness inside.

Ideas that were wacky and strange appealed to me. People suffer and die in hospitals. Without edging towards disrespect and distaste, why not open up the hospital to allow for a lighter, more holistic experience?