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Lion of Doubt"Are you sure that you do Total Digital Drivel (sorry I meant Design)?", asks the Lion of Brexit.

'Yes of course" replies the delicious little puff of 'British Balkanalia'.

"Everyone does "Digital" now. I know Architectural students who have qualified without ever learning how draw. Computers can do everything'.

"Not much meat on this one", mused the Lion as the next Remainer (sorry I meant Designer), came in.



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If you want to meet those who command our "Age of Trash" (which Rem Koolhaas has cleverly nominated our Present Age to be), you have only to visit the most prestigious Academies of Graphic Design, of Art and of Architecture and go straight to the top, to the Professors and Lecturers of "Total Design". Even the biggest and best Museums are downgrading their Curators and hiring these work-shy incompetents whose commonest skill is how to escape from earning a living by providing a service for which the Public, in their diverse forms, will pay a Fee or a Wage. Their one facility is the manufacture of "PURE DESIGN". This is provided for the entertainment of the neophytes that are their 'Clients". It may be also in its lighter, drier, better scented mode, be just called "Puff".

It sounds better in French when it is called "Le Monde eternelle du "Puffisme". It is a territory in whose windy landscape every French intellectual of ambition seeks to figure.

If Brexit means anything it means that the Lion of Brexit will feast on the Blood of these "Puffistes" - that is if they actually have any of the red, sticky stuff in them. For one is hard put to commiserate more with the ravaged "Designers" who justly deserve their fate as the CHIEF CAUSE OF THE BREXIT ITSELF, or the infuriated Lion. For he, and she, will find little of sustenance to their Being by consuming these dessicated ontic frauds.


But then one must have some sympathy for these "Designers". Their bloodless fatuities and meagre 'guts' are bred into them by the hopeless 'tastes' of the British Lion itself. What chance has a Local "Designer" when serving the British Mass Market? The only taste in which Britain exels is Punk. The Sex Pistols are its heroes. Nigel Farage's entorage call themsleves, when they are not too smashed to call-out at all, the "Brex Pistols".


Post-WWII Italy was as broke as any other country. But the taste of the Italian Mass market was so elevated by centuries of Cameralist government that its manufacturers swept the world with manufactures that were more than merely simple and cheap. They had behind them, and before them, the critical judgment of a population accustomed to the Machiavellian assumption that human desires and tastes are unlimited, hence the need for discipline and control whose theory of "Il Principe" he proposed. The numerous courts of Germany bred a similar 'taste' for "the best" which was inherited by that country's post-WWII mass market.


Only Britain lacked this history of what the British media now term "decadence". Britain with her unique history of trading cheap fakes to alien cultures learned to despise quality, admire fakery and above all value cheapness. It was a glorious history while it lasted, one of Empire well beyond the wildest dreams of the island people. One suspects that its deepest psychic amiabilities were the total, and strangely effective incomprehension, with which the Imperial Rulers and Subject Peoples regarded each other's mutually insulated cultures.


It has proved impossible to build a profitable "consumer industry" upon the "uniquely British" taste of the island's home market. Prime Minister's Teresa May's promise "never again (pace Iraq), to invade anyone to convert them to our way of life" promises to enter the Eternal Pantheon of British Boobs. She is too young to remember that however hard the elite members of the "Subject Peoples" studied the niceties of Cricket and afternoon tea it was always well, if somewhat privately, understood that "they" could never be entirely "British". The only reason for invading some Asiatic principality was to stop the French getting it and then to take-over the important functions, like collecting the taxes on behalf of the local ruler and installing a "military adviser" to protect him and his loyal subjects from any locally ambitious neighbours. The British, when they were rich and powerful, never had any desire to spread anything as peculiar as a "culture". Only the French did that, and now, with varying success, the Americans.


Nonetheless the relentless vulgarity and squalor of the island's preferences has made it hard for any British business to do what the Continentals do, which is merely to export what they sell to their Home Market.



The ambition of the V&A when it was founded, coming-on for two centuries ago, after the Great Exhibition of 1851, was to bring to the notice of the British Public, amongst other things, the choicest ideas in foreign and historical interior furnishings and design. The military victories of the 18C and early 19C had brought a global trading empire under the control of London's capital. The Exhibition was to dramatise and popularise this fact by displaying the products of this enormous engine of commerce. But, it was realised that Britain's products, at least in the sphere of domestic luxury, lacked the sophistication of Britain's imperial enemies and contestants across the channel. For these were the results of the elaborate and ancient tastes of the Continental Courts rather than those of the merely wealthy Whig merchants and a dawning Middle Class.


The Continental Dynasties ruled through the globally unmatched Architectural Culture of Urbanity in which cities like Venice, Rome, Turin and Paris were instruments of political authority and stability. Their level of 'domesticity' had achieved an elaborate finese which the British tended to find excessive. The British approach lacked the iconic depth of older cultures - even when they were revived after the onslaughts from the East, whether of Goths or Monotheisms. The island's valuations could be little more than aesthetic and turned-out to be cognitively fragile. The V&A was founded as a result of this nagging apprehension of being "outclassed". Its focus on Interior Design was perhaps originally merely commercial. Furnishings could be traded easier than cities! Britain has been mainly unaware of the Architectural Interior as the primary engine of 'Urbanity' itself. But good results can be born of accidental conjunctions.


The cultivation of 'luxury in the home' has waxed and waned over the succeeding years. In the 1930's, aware of the militaristic turn of history the V&A whitewashed over the richly decorated ceramic facings of certain rooms and staircases. It was necessary to accustom the King's Subjects to a culture of economy and domestic privation. More recently, after seventy years of MAD, 'atomic', peace these have recently been restored. Yet this has not been a mere movement of 'taste'.


Consumerism has become the motor of the all-powerful economies of the West. This began, especially in 1950s Anglo-America, with just getting people out into the suburbs and buying automobiles. It involved the deliberate wrecking of the 19C cities and any off-road transport systems. This is detailed, for the UK, in my Lecture No. Three: "The End of Urbanity". It later developed into encouraging the citizens of these advanced states to strive for an upward mobility in their domestic equipment (ie. to change houses all their lives). For it came to be understood that this was the most politically popular, and so the most effective way to enlarge the fiscal waterfalls that allows a state to acquire wealth and military power.


A 'Museum' such as the V&A thereby becomes more than just a nice place for the sophisticated consumer to sharpen her taste for china, glassware or carpets. An institution of such a vast and comprehensive scale is now central, while working through the mysteries of mainly feminine taste, to what one might call the political metaphysics of the contemporary state!

Does anyone in the V&A actually know this?

Does anyone in the UK Establishment actually know this?


Seventy years of the home-grown, 100% native Welfare Labour policy to destroy (suburbanise), Britain's Cities when allied to the equally 100% home-grown Welfare Labour 'Modernist' taboo on Architecture (as it generally understood), has led to the enormous flowering of a London Design Culture akin to that Japanese Knotweed which erases all physical obstacles and can only be itself erased by incinerating its supporting soil. Digitisation has been the final catalyst to this semantic delinquescence. Today everything is DESIGN and everything is DIGITAL. Zaha Hadid became famous because she was the most extreme example of a "Designer" who could "Design" everything (from shoes to pieces of a City), in such a way that it was nothing but "Design" because it was rather definitely not anything else - like useful, or beautiful, or easy to make, or cheap - and so on. As for symbolic, that is to say "textually enriched", Total Design is its substitute. Who needs to think rationally when one can be Totally Anything? Its like being Totally Totalised, or even quite plump.


The agents of this marvellous "Digital Design" seemed very shocked by the Brexit Vote - even I would say frightened by it. Two of their most prominent Agents, namely Martin Roth, the director of the V&A, and Brett Steele, the Principal of the Architectural Association School, have already decided to leave London. Roth has gone already and Steele goes in five months - off to Digital Heaven in U.C.L.A. I met Roth on the 10th October 2011 at the house of one the V&A's larger Donors. He was like a Black Hole. Whatever one put-in nothing came back out. I inputted a carefully-argued essay on how to understand the sad failure called Post Modern Architecture that his new Empire was about to 'puff' with its trashy 2011 Exhibition of the same name. Roth was universally received as dull. In fact he was just amused to be trashing History until it could be 'consumed' by a Public raised on Puff, Punk and Total Design. Steele, like Roth, treated his subject as if computers were the 'answer' to everything. But what was the question? Brexit has now asked it.

Brexit tells the Establishment: "We hate what we are and we hate what you are and we hate what you are making us into. What are you going to do about it?

These "Design Gurus" from the airless summits of "Total Digital Design" have nothing to say except "its up to you". "Computers and 3-D printers can give you anything you want!"

What, like a civilised lifespace?

Pull the other one!


Sadly, though, the Public does not seem to understand that this "Total Digital Design Culture" comes with the term "culture" already attached! Not only can you buy a vacuum cleaner, or a sofa but "culture" too! These dear islands, after 70 years of bungalow bumbling mall-rat suburbanity, are now too incurious, uninventive and soporific to produce anything worth buying. "Design Culture" is London's brilliant response. "Design-Culture" lifts the object well out of the reach of anything merely beautiful, cheap and functional - such as one buys from boring places like Italy, or Spain, or (a bit pricier), France and Germany. "Design-Culture" is exclusive (and probably Punk). It has "attitude", cult status, and sets you apart from Sartre's "les hommes, moyen, sensuel". "Design" is the passport to that elevated sphere in which one is a willing, disciplined, cultured slave to, to...well, er what?...if not "DESIGN"!

What else?


What is important about "Design" is nothing to do with that good old 1945 Landslide Labour culture which denied everything except a brutally direct physicality - like a (cheap-as-possible) bullet through your brain. TOTAL DESIGN is nothing to do with how a thing is produced, or how a thing is used. What matters in TotalDisegno is the Total Grip of the Genius. With Zaha it had to thin at both ends and grow fat in the middle. The long axis had to turn back on itself as if it hesitated before flinging itself forward, like a striking snake, with redoubled energy towards its goal. Or maybe there was no goal and the energy just "hung-out". Where was the "Flexi-Wriggle" going? What was in the Designer's Mind?


Now that Zaha is gone we know what was in Patrick Schumacher's mind: words words, words. It does not matter that they are nonsensical and politically infantile. Words will not replace the "Grip". Every one of the millions that Schumacher spouts is a nail in the coffin of the late Zaha's money-spinning Bureau. Without her furious "je suis contre" adversaliaty, her 400-strong office will soon be in meltdown. "Total Disegno" was what Zaha had, even her clothes were Totalised as they worked over her amiable body. Her big eyes and her big mouth, as Total Design must, "Gripped" the pretensions and amour propre of her Clients until they submitted Totally to her Super Design Genius.


The Grip of Genius is the ontic squalor into which we have now fallen. In the 1940s everything was jettisoned to lighten the ship as it lifted towards the Positivist Heaven of Welfare. No 'istoria', no 'mythos' and no 'ontic map' remained to guide it either one way or the other. The 'Ship of State' ('Fools' might be better), came to rely on the Pilot who flew "by the seat of his pants".


Now with Brexit we must go one way or the other. The temptation will be to retreat to the Raw British Engineering of 1945 - the cult of Utility Furniture - sawn plank floors and facings - galvanised steel fittings - the Bratby Cowshed Cult. The Brits do it as if born to its ontic brutality. But it really will not do, neither for the Islanders, as presently constituted, nor for the Supersized Globe of which they are now a very small part (and getting smaller). What about all the Humanities BAs graduated from the precast concrete Unis of the 1960s? Is cheeky-cheapo Kitchen-Sink the most to which they can aspire?


Yet, whatever they may desire, or imagine, these young and middle-aged 'Graduates' have one big obstacle to eliminate: the Post Imperial contempt for "soft power" to which the Island Establishment still clings after 70 years of governing Britons as if they were the last of their "subject peoples". This attitude to the political uses of metaphysics should have been decently interred at the time Britain lost its Empire and became a mere island detached, by that previously-useful but now destructive sea-water moat, from the globe's emerging power-base in the vast land-mass of Eurasia. Now that our entire lifespace has been dis-urbanised into a home for Consumerist Cretins (aka. Saturday Evening Post hayseeds), it is almost certainly too late to envisage anything except accelerating decline. But the Future being inscrutable, one may still live in hope and make a try.


In any case, whatever happens in London's island hinterland need not influence London. London's constituency is, as it has always been: Global and not just British. Here we need to progress beyond the cult of Genius and beyond the puerile fun of making buildings into dumb shapes. "Oh that's really dumb" is how Frank Gehry approves the final design model knocked up by his tribe of Architecturally subliterate interns. Brexit Britain needs to SELL the ability to inscribe a lifespace with a particular culture - whatever Culture the Client Body desires. Needless to say Brexit Britain needs this skill as much as any other state trying to resist being erased by Global Trash. Eurotrash is just our local variant.


Needless to say that these skills already exist, in proven form, within the genius of these islands. That it has been absent from our culture should be no surprise. Not only did we never need this skill during our 300 years of Empire, but we positively employed what we know of it to disrupt the cultures of those the Empire ruled. The reason therefore that these skills have been developed, in Britain more than any other state, is that when we lost our Empire, it became obvious that the ability to inscribe a local culture was now needed TO GOVERN OURSELVES.


The tragedy is that these skills were not widely pursued. That too is easily understood when one knows that their most useful medium, the City, or the media of 'Urbanity' were deliberately prohibited and dismantled in 1947 - the very year that saw the departure of the India the "Jewel in the Imperial Crown". It was the beginning of Britain's sad, post-imperial suicide.


But here, surely is a chance for the Victoria and Albert Museum, the biggest Museum of the Decorative Arts in the world, to flex its muscles and show its capabilities - even to fulfil its critical role in a modern liberal democracy.


Here, even, is the chance of a Brexit-worthy opening for the Total Digital Design culture to save its super-shiny skin. It can, along with its various institutions learn how to, as my title flags, "BUILD A GLOBAL POWER". The V&A has a newish Department, born of those Blairite days when a scale was sought to "measure Beauty on a scale of one to ten". I quote verbatim. It began as a mere Department of Architecture. Then, under the go-with-the-flow Martin Roth it had added to it the magical terms "Digital" and "Design". Its leader was elevated to a Keeper, with as it stands today, three full-time Assistants. In the fractured and fractious territory of Museum-Politics this is a tribe of some force. Moreover the Keeper, being of the 'Architectural' aspect, has some responsibilities for the new building being constructed, as a V&A outposts, in Dundee and recently proposed for Stratford's Olympicopolis.


Nothing much can be done for Dundee. The building qualified as "Totally Digitally Designed" when unveiled sixteen years ago. That is to say its up-side-down pyramids all striped like the Egyptian ones stripped of their polished skins, qualified as wholly beyond the nameable semantic of inhabitable forms. This earned them top marks for "Disegno"! Sadly for those Unemployables who pursue the Utterly Unutterable, the half-built hulks of Kengo Kuma will end-up a pair of ruined grey concrete 'Arks' washed up by some much mourned tsunami of Blairite cash onto Dundee's seafront. The hunt for the Utterly Unutterable is always undone when it finds itself pitched, as Heidegger proposed, into the "dasein". This "Mummy and Daddy of all Arks" may kill any local interest in the V&A for ever.


I suggested elsewhere, in "Brexit Architecture", that Brexit should dramatise itself with a few quick demolitions of Eurotrash. Something like the famous destruction of Pruitt-Igoe would serve. This would show the Public, and not just on these islands but everywhere (including Continental Europe), that Brexit means what it says. This should be followed with a policy of changing the the Public face of all the "Trash" left standing. I gave examples of how this has already been achieved thirty years back with the usual response from my enthusiastically trashophiliac Profession.


Demolitions of the already built are always distressful for some. This is why the transformation, for the better, of the already built is to be preferred. The 'demolition' of the yet unbuilt and unoccupiied is, in comparison, almost painless. So my most urgent proposal concerns the recently unveiled sketchs for the V&A's new home in Olympicopolis. I think we'll just call it "Stratford" - a perfectly respectable place before the Olympics.

All of the buildings proposed for this 1.3 billion pound "New Cultural Quarter" might be said to qualify as "Totally Digitised" but without the magic of "Design". Indeed their dull, boxy, brick-wallpaper blocks appear, without exception, to have been untouched by the human hand. Perhaps it is because they will stand next to the Hadid Olympic Swimming Pool which was "squeezed" so hard it popped right out of its Budget.


This is the Disney Concert Hall formula for buildings pursuing some Public Cultural Advantage: stack a huge pile of residential apartments as high as you can and pay for the Museums and Ballet Theatres with the profits. This was the plan for the 2012 Olympics. Sadly the 2008 property crash dumped the Shenzen-style (not my epithet), Olympic Village into the arms of the Public Purse. The result was the compromised "wells of darkness" in which the Continental formula of the "cortile" city block grew its surrounding apartment walls so high that the Winter sun never reached the grass of their courtyard floors. A Roman Cortile is not a London Square. Today the designers of 'city apartments' have abandoned any pretence to urbanity and go for the 'Shenzen Solution' wherever they build. London's recent Mayor suprised everyone by allowing planning permissions for several hundred (400 is the figure in some press reports), residential towers of this sort. London will soon have collapsed to the ontic level of dumps like Shanghai if this continues. 'Brexit" should mean 'lionisation' for the swine that do this as well.


It will be argued, as it has been for the last seventy years, that 'Architecture' is too expensive - even for buildings of cultural ambition - like Sadler's Wells, the V&A or the Smithsonian Institution. Everything, today, must accustom itself to being a 'box'.

This is an evil lie. JOA's earliest building (1978) had an amiably vaulted facade. It cost £110/sq.m. JOA's next three all had pediments and columns to support them, even though one, the closest to London's centre had only one - a monostyle portico (unusual, but not unacceptable). It won no end of prizes. JOA have gone on to build vast and decorated columns supporting entablatures and hugely decorated vaulted ceilings for very modest budgets, in Britain, the USA and even Holland - whose Architects hate Classicism of any sort. The 'taste' is political. The Dutch associate the Architecture of the Ancient Greeks with the imperialisms of Spain, France and Germany. It shows a peculiar ignorance of Architectural history. It is a sad but true fact that one is hired to work abroad by Clients who do not like their local Architects.


No, the reason for the terrible designs of this "cultural Quarter" is the reason given to me by David Warner when he confided:

"John, if you want to get a design voted through a Committee use only three colours".

"Oh, I replied. "What are they?"

I was keen to receive advice of this intimate sort from the Senior Partner in the firm (Fitzroy Robinson), who were currently (in 1966), building more office buildings in the City of London than any other Architectural bureau.

"Dark grey, Mid grey and Pale Grey", were his replies.

This brown brick wallpapered boxes are the Architectural Equivalent of Warner's Committee-lubricating "three shades of gray". The Utterly Unutterable allows the utterly indigestible fact that no-one today has the faintest idea of the world that they are all busy building for the future.


Old people often develop a strange patch in the middle of their backs which always feels cold, always needs scratching, yet seems to have lost some of its nerves. Something like this happens to Committees who have to approve billion pound projects. Their backsides get nervy and itchy. They can even become strangely tender. They feel that these newly vulnerable portions of the anatomy need more protection than before. The Pension, another delicate area, also needs protection. A Design of the most Utterly Unutterable banality feels good wrapped around these portions of the Committee anatomy. No one ever got hurt passing a brick box!


Well, now we have a new Director of the V&A. His C.V. indicates that he not only understands 'urbanity' but also the emergence of a ruined Britain from the mid-20c Imperial Traincrash. It seems a marvellous appointment - one perfectly suited to the island's self-imposed Freedom to "Take Control". But can it do so?

It will not be easy. We need some Blood on the Floor. HEADS HAVE TO ROLL. The gusher of Total Digital Drivel has to be "capped-off". The V&A seems a good place to build (especially in Theory), its antidote.