Hidden in the Heath: The Hill Garden and Pergola of Hampstead

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Resuming my documentation of London adventures! Tucked away in a corner near to Hampstead Heath is the strangely picturesque Hill Garden and Pergola. I have visited Hampstead Heath on many an occasion but honestly this isn’t likely to be a part that one is likely to stumble over on a walk on the heath, as it is completely separated from the main grassy verge (that everyone gravitates to) by two roads. Technically speaking it is adjacent to Golders Hill Park and its easiest approach is via a pedestrian footpath on Inverforth Close (via N End Way) [Buses 210, 268, and N5 also ply N End Way]

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The Pergola is a Grade II listed Edwardian structure built by Lord Leverhulme, together with his dream of having a hill garden. At the time in 1905 as it was being constructed, the nearby Hampstead extension to the Northern Line was also being constructed, so Leverhulme was able to acquire the soil dug up from those tunnels at a nominal cost and used that to build the rolling hills you see in the Hill Garden today.

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You have to walk towards the houses and take the right turn into the Hill Garden.

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It leads onto a beautiful garden with a pond, with the Pergola beyond…

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It can be a real trek but it is definitely worth the effort to walk from Hampstead Heath to see the Pergola. Whilst I was there I didn’t see a single soul except at the front, where there was a lady who seemed to be part of the garden staff and she came up to me to ask “are you the girl who is coming down to do the shoot?” (No…) and that was it. How strange it is on a summer’s day when all the parks are teeming with people intent on baking themselves in the sun – yet this hidden corner of the heath with all of its structures remained completely devoid of people – which I suppose must also deviate from Leverhulme’s original vision of summer garden parties on the Pergola. Perhaps it is just a bit hard to get to, as compared to the other part of Hampstead Heath.

(Now that I’ve told you about the secret of the garden, I will have to kill you…) (KIDDING!)

Neue Kreuzberger Zentrum

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In 1974, some 40 years ago, the Neue Kreuzberger Zentrum (NKZ) was built. A staggering mammoth of a mixed-use tower block, it stands at the centre of the chaotic and noisy Kottbusser Tor traffic junction. Its construction required the complete demolition and rebuilding of the area, and the word “neue” was surely in its name to suggest that it was imagined to be the starting point for a new urban direction in Kreuzberg. Its arch design was meant to compliment the development of the future ring road whilst allowing the building to serve as a wall for the traffic sounds.

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If you go down to the FHXB Museum near the NKZ, they have a permanent exhibit of how the building and area was redeveloped, including a photo of the site upon which the NKZ has been built, in which the outside of the demolished site has huge posters from the Social Democratic Party stating “Wir sichern die Zukunft Berlin” (We ensure/secure the future of Berlin). A dream for the future, to build more social housing in the area which sorely needed it in the post-war era, but blighted by different demands and interests pulling it in all directions and pushing it forward against the will of the people living in the area. The NKZ was criticised for having been built without sufficient public consultation or participation and having used brutal forced evictions to clear the land.

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When I was in Berlin for the summer, I frequented a printer on Dresdener Straße in Kottbusser Tor which was directly behind this mammoth of a building. On exiting the dead-end of Dresdener Straße, I saw a stair leading upwards, which took me to an fantastic upper level that crossed over to the other side. I was instantly attracted to it, although it was hard to explain why.

The main issue was that I couldn’t even recall why it looked familiar to me – did I see this on my last trip to Berlin in 2011? Or was it ‘familiar’ because I had seen a similar building in the Genting Highlands, or Singapore? Was it a falsely displaced nostalgia for this sort of dated architecture; or was it the pleasure of discovering something that seemed like a fantastic urban playground to me, with its numerous stairs and corners and vantage points?

Today the word “neue” has been removed from its name, and it is simply known as the Kreuzberg Zentrum. But in some ways, the NKZ reminded me of Golden Mile in Singapore, one of my favourite buildings in Singapore. Both the Golden Mile and NKZ were planned as buildings which would be at the centre of a glittering, golden era of modern urban development, although in both cases it did not materialise as such in those locations. Golden Mile has been later described as a vertical slum, but it remains as one of my favourites because of the diversity of spaces within it, and how well used it appeared to be. I suppose I was fascinated that the thai people in the Golden Mile Complex would sit on the stairs and use them as picnic areas. To some it might seem like a unorthodox use of the spaces within the building but in my opinion they had done it all right! The food was tasty, the spaces were welcoming, the music went on and on – in my opinion the building was a success!

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Tucked away in one part of the NKZ is this beautiful covered corridor which has been painted with murals of a futuristic Berlin city. This area in which the murals are located seems less than perfectly maintained and is a well-trafficked public thoroughfare which is littered with rubbish and strongly reeks of urine in one corner. I adore the strange juxtaposition of these odd future visions, placed right smack in a rather grim urban setting.

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Whilst its not to say that I like any old sort of place which is rundown and poorly maintained, I realised that I do like places for the very same reasons which turn it into such an anti-social space: littered throughout the complex are these tiny pockets of empty space – sometimes disused and uncared for, covered in broken glass and graffiti, but on other occasions you may find a hidden dead-end public corner filled with plants and small comforts, places where one can find privacy for a moment within a very public space. They are spaces to be experienced, but which have no real purpose except perhaps to be a walkway between places; a temporary halfway house. And in a huge building like the NKZ there are so many of them.

One may debate that it is these hidden spaces within the building which engender antisocial behaviours because no one can see or police the activities that go on within it, yet perhaps naively I think they are also alternative spaces for dreaming. Strange isolated spaces from which the outside city is not visible for a moment, just as the city cannot see inside it. It is really just… an empty space, and I am attracted to that.

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Second Life Adventures: A Lonely Dinosaur on the Dancefloor, Deconstructed Architecture in the Metaverse, and Hopper’s Diner in Space

I’ve been having internet issues the last few weeks – being in a flat in Venice with no internet and no mobile data, having intermittently poor internet here in Berlin. Once every few months I recall that I have a Second Life account. Last few nights I found that – shock! surprise! – I could actually clamber online after hours late at night, and what do I do online? The really important work I need to do online?… No, instead, I found myself wasting time on Second Life once again.

People unfamiliar with Second Life often ask me, “What can you do in Second Life?”, “Aren’t all these virtual worlds dead already?”. So here is a list of things you can do right now in SL – or rather some of things I’ve done this week:

1. Walk through some abstract wastelands

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Lots of half-built places with strange lighting that look like a cross between a glitchy p-model music video from the 80s, a seapunk animated gif, and someone’s incomplete rhino 3d project. But don’t get me wrong, most of them are less interesting than what I’ve just described. A lot of them are very mundane as well, like reproductions of grassy hills and boring houses with boring normal furniture inside them.

2. Walk around in the prehistoric world of dinosaurs

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Went to Prehistorica, the Dawn Kingdoms, where they also have a collection of very convincing dinosaur avatars for sale!

3. Become a dinosaur

I decided to become an apatosaurus (also known as brontosaurus), largely because it was just about the BIGGEST.

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4. Become a Dinosaur and and walk around “London City”

“London City” is a sim which looks like London but is set by the seaside, merging some of the elements from London with a seaside town. I tried walking around making loud roaring noises and growls and stamping sounds but no one seemed to take notice. Some other avatars skittered around underfoot, trying to figure out how to operate the free go-karts in this parcel…

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Sadly, as I was still a gigantic Dinosaur, I was too big to go inside the Tesco and Tube equivalents in “London City Pier”. Its hard being a dinosaur.

5. Become a Dinosaur and walk around a beach – almost

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I also wanted to go to the beach in Jamaica but they had a compulsory swimsuit policy. That meant that I couldn’t go to the beach because I didn’t have any dinosaur-sized swimsuits to wear there. Again, its hard being a dinosaur.

6. Go to a party as a Dinosaur

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It’s lonely up there, being a big dinosaur, and dinosaurs can’t dance because all the other people are too tiny and its impolite to step on them…

7. Become an Android and do taiji in a japanese pavilion by the seaside

I was bored of being a dinosaur by this point, so I switched to being an anime style android. Utilizator makes really excellent full mesh avatars. This is the Rikugou A; Utilizator also makes the popular Kemono avatar, of which there are endless mods it seems, all very professionally constructed (except that I don’t really want to be a furry…)

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8. Fly through outer space

I visited Ars Simulacra: NMC’s SL Artist Showcase Island, which can always be counted on for a good experience. All of the following images are from Ars Simulacra’s MediaMorphosis.

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9. Wander around immersive landscapes

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I should like to rent a large plot to build something on this scale one day just so I can experiment with it slowly! How much of these effects are “accidental” or intentional designs? I believe that a lot of what looks impressive is sometimes very simple in its underlying construction. And looking back, I’m surprised to realise so much time has passed since I first saw these kind of spaces. I’ve already been on SL as nothing more than a casual user for over 7 years now. It has almost been 3 years since I stepped into Kuru Kuru World. This type of floating, deconstructed space has been in the metaverse for so long; its nothing new but I still wonder if we can learn anything from it and apply it back to architecture in the real world.

These sort of spaces still remain as some of my favourite kinds of spaces in SL to walk around in. I realised the image I had in my head for a proposal I had written recently (to be built in real life) comes a lot from my fondness for such spaces in SL.

What’s interesting for me is the use of video on the 2d planes which are used to create structures. In such a world, “light” or more correctly “colour” also operates completely differently. A media “texture” with glowing white elements appears as a bright light that reflects off the faces of the avatars, and the shifting transparency in these moving image layers also produces unexpected diaphanous and complex-looking waves, especially when you cam around them. Much of these are housed inside huge megaprim domes with “infinite” seamless interior textures, which only reveal their underlying structure when you fly about and cam out as far as you can.

10. Visit a replica of Hopper’s Diner

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An obvious landmark to reconstruct in a virtual world, and famous for having been used as a visual reference for the “future noir” style of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Where Blade Runner faithfully reproduces the colour tones of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”, here the lonely diner itself is faithfully reproduced as a physical 3D space to wander in and around. I feel a bit strange walking around it, standing outside looking in, sitting inside looking out – I wonder, by spending more time in the virtual Hopper diner, will the diner eventually appear in the maps of my dreams…?

Architectural Fictions and Technical Utopias: Paul Scheerbart – The Gray Cloth and Ten Percent White (1914)

After the meal, they went by automobile to the Orchid Hotel. It was situated close to the sea and had beautiful terraces.
“Don’t you have a wish?” asked Edgar.
“Yes,” responded Clara, “I would like to eat oysters.”
“Of course we could do that,” replied the architect, “but I thought you would express architectural desires.”

Paul Scheerbart, The Gray Cloth and Ten Percent White, pg 96.

I think I’ve found my new favorite writer for the time being – the amazingly prolific and frustratingly much-untranslated Paul Scheerbart! Yesterday I eagerly received my copy of The Gray Cloth in the mail (so much that after carrying all our mail upstairs I seized upon the wrong package and excitedly opened one of George’s similarly-sized packages instead).

Whilst researching about building facades last month, I got interested in finding out what would be considered the first fully double-skin facade building in the world. It was obvious there had to be some break in history, some turning point – the entire idea of additional glazed glass facades must have been a kind of design feature that people had to get to grips with. Even when Peter Ellis designed Oriel Chambers in 1864 in Liverpool, one of the first few buildings to make extensive use of glazed curtain wall construction.

Oriel Chambers (Source: Flickr)


With huge, bright iron framed oriel windows – it only received morbidly scathing reviews in its time – The Builder described of it: “The plainest brick warehouse in the town is infinitely superior as a building to that large agglomeration of protruding plate-glass bubbles in Water Street known as Oriel Chambers;” and even Charles Reilly, Professor of Architecture at Liverpool University described it in his book (Some Liverpool Streets and Buildings in 1921) as the “oddest building in Liverpool, at once so logical and so disagreeable…as a cellular habitation for the human insect.” It seems people just did not like the looks of it. Poor Peter Ellis designed another similar building on 16 Cook Street to even more withering reviews and was never to design another building ever again, decidedly only working on civil engineering projects thereafter. Yet today Oriel Chambers and 16 Cook St are regarded as having laid the groundwork for modern architecture.

So far it seems as if the honour of the first ever fully double-skin facade building goes to a certain Steiff Factory built in 1903. Designed by Richard Steiff, a teddybear designer, it was one of those architectural outliers before its time – “a pioneer work of industrial building without any immediate succession” (Fissabre & Niethammer, 2009) – designed to be bright for functional reasons, and not even signed off by an architect.

The Steiff toy factory in the illustrated catalogue of the Eisenwerk München AG in 1905 (Source: The Invention of Glazed Curtain Wall in 1903 – The Steiff Toy Factory / Anke Fissabre, Bernhard Niethammer / RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany / Proceedings of the Third International Congress on Construction History, Cottbus, May 2009)


A useful post on facadesconfidential notes that it could not have signed off by an architect because no architect at the time would have considered it “a respectable facade solution”. It was from this that I was intrigued by the mention of Paul Scheerbart; another speculation cited by facadesconfidential for why the double skin facade did not take off with the Steiff Building in 1903 was that: “The glass guru of the time, the poet Paul Scheerbart, would not write his very influential “Glasarchitektur” until 1914.”

Turns out, Scheerbart did not only write an actual theoretical book on coloured glass and Glass architecture, but even wrote a novel on Glass Architecture. A NOVEL! AN ENTIRE NOVEL! And exactly one hundred years ago! Its German title is “Das graue Tuch zehn Prozent Weiß: Ein Damen Roman” or The Gray Cloth with Ten Percent White: A Ladies’ Novel.

A photo of Paul Scheerbarts by Wilhelm Fechner, 1897.
Even the photograph of the man seems so curious. Why is his head off-centre? Was the space above his head left intentionally empty? What manner of a pose was he even trying to strike, and what was cropped off! All the questions that may never be answered!


Around midday, when the sun became visible outside, there was some commotion in the exhibition hall. The splendor of the colored-glass ornament was so enhanced by the sun that one was at a loss for words to praise this wonder of color. Many visitors shouted repeatedly, “Delightful!” Wonderful! Great! Incomparable!”
While the exclamations were repeated over and over, better-educated visitors found these and similar words quite distasteful. Fortunately, the exclamations stopped as soon as the sun crept back and there remained nothing left of it to see.

Paul Scheerbart, The Gray Cloth and Ten Percent White, pg 3.

My impressions of it from a quick first read are that it is most delightfully shouty and full of moments of passionate, idiosyncratic glass/architecture/engineering/archaeology-related rhetoric, along with perfectly timed comedic moments of dumbfounded silence. I should not have imagined it possible to write such a thing before I read this. The novel is about a Herr Krug, a famous Swiss architect who impetuously marries a beautiful pianist, Clara Weber, on condition that she sign a marriage contract – agreeing that she will always wear gray with ten percent white, out of respect for his magnificent glass architecture. Clara agrees, but this is not to say she is a wallflower and a mere foil for Edgar Krug’s desire for power and the realisation of his ultimate architectural fancies; she can pull her own creative weight as well – the vibrations of her music is what makes people sit up and admire the delicate glass structures around them. The two cruise around the world in an airship, as Herr Krug constructs more and more fantastical glass architectures in exotic locales, warring with clients’ tastes and budgets, and architectural context (flatly refusing to construct glass obelisks on top of the pyramids out of his respect for ancient architectural monuments). They dine on the finest cuisine, visit the most astounding natural sights, and socialize in high society, with their wedding even becoming parodied in a movie made as a spectacle for “European audiences” (producing a hilarious scene in which Herr Krug stands up and informs them he was actually born in Europe). I quite enjoy the dialogues between the figure of the hero-architect and others who question his architectural fictions, all of which is delicately presented within the novel as fictions within fictions. Commenting on an incident where Herr Krug blows up after a female artist from an artist colony convinces Clara to wear ten percent plaid instead of ten percent white, Clara says:

“My husband has such an inconsiderate, progressive nature that one must forgive his stubbornness. He is really consistent like a true hero in a novel. The name Edgar sounds too fitting for a novel.”
“Oh!” shouted her husband, “precisely because it sounds so much like a novel do I go to a lot of trouble to veil what is like a novel in me!”
“Oh yes,” then shouted Miss Amanda, “with your wife’s gray cloth, isn’t that true?”

Paul Scheerbart, The Gray Cloth and Ten Percent White, pg 102-103.

Ah! I should only hope that one day I should be able to write an equally engrossing architectural novel.

The Architecture of Tiny Prayer Houses

I have to admit that the world of Chinese is mostly a mystery to me. Tradition, culture, or language? – around here, we use google to find out about those things. One thing that really surprised me about my recent trip to Malaysia to visit my grandma for the first time, was that my grandma helps facilitate people’s prayers to a certain Ma Xian Niang, which had been explained to me to be the sister of Mazu. It was the first time I heard of the name. Personally, I am not religious myself and honestly know nothing of the cultural or religious practices of Chinese people in general. Sorry, yeah I know I’m a big fat potato.

Most people in Singapore will be familiar with Mazu, the goddess of the sea, but her sister? There is no english language information on the name, and it seems I will need to look to more Chinese sources for the answer. The only page that I’ve found on the matter also involves a person accounting his search for the origins of Ma Xian Niang, and finding that even seemingly wise priests who gave muddled or contradictory accounts of the origins of Ma Xian Niang. The post on the internet suggests she was not the sister of Mazu but simply another girl with the family name Ma, with a prescience for knowing when it was safe to sail. But how reliable could this information be? And is this simply something that is not documented in the English-speaking world?

The point of all this was that I had never expected a strongly religious element to emerge, based on what little I knew of the area’s history. So, my “ancestors” had been brought over from Foochow (China) to Sitiawan (Malaysia) by Methodist missionaries. But where had this worship of Ma Xian Niang come from? When did it emerge? Who brought it over? Who was building and maintaining all these beautifully painted accoutrements of…. the temple? Was there some complex and thriving world of temple industry that we knew nothing of?

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Another thing that I noticed was that nearly all the houses in the area of Sitiawan had these little prayer houses. My father mentioned having seen them when he was a child, but did not know what they were for, or how they were to be used. I had not expected this – from the descriptions that I had received of the town having been a settlement of Chinese who had been brought over by missionaries, that initially suggested to me that many might have been Christians or would have had been related to the Methodist Church in Gutian, Foochow. The children of the new settlement would have had the opportunity to have an English education (my father attended a methodist english school), meaning they were potentially anglicized and exposed to Christianity. Yet here were entire neighborhoods with chinese prayer altars in EVERY SINGLE HOUSE. These little red houses were also dotting the roads as we drove along! THEY WERE EVERYWHERE!

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They look exactly like a tiny traditional Chinese house. This is one very lovely example, perched on a raised foundation, replete with a TINY STAIR leading up! WHY A TINY STAIR? Is it for some sort of tiny earth god to access this tiny temple? I love the tiny stair detail, because it makes it even more house-like! Who is the architect of these tiny prayer houses? What a clever addition of the tiny stair. Hey, you can’t be expecting the god to be climb up on his own, all arms and legs, that seems a little undignified. Although, hang on, how big is the earth god? And although the one above doesn’t have it, a lot of these tiny houses have got ornate roof details like carvings of dragons, making it almost like a miniature model of a temple or a traditional chinese house. Inside there is usually a pot of incense and a tablet and other offerings. I feel like the construction and design of these “prayer houses” constitutes an artisanal craft in itself!

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Lots and lots of them in Ayer Tawar…

Finally, I found a shop that sold these tiny prayer houses! Forgive me for not knowing what they are actually called, for the purpose of this post I have just called them tiny prayer houses because they look just like little houses to me and I think they’re used for prayers. Anyway, I was very excited to see this shop/factory, with lots of bright little prayer houses scattered on the roadside, on a main street completely lined with chinese temples, mosques, churches, and hindu temples – the big prayer houses!

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The shop from afar!

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The front of the tiny house factory
Its crazy! From the approach you can even see a sign indicating that there is a mosque very close to it. I mean, my reading of this whole “tiny prayer house” tradition is that people here are not only praying at public places of worship (the big prayer houses), but even going one step further by “building” their own personal places of worship at home!

We stopped there so I could ask the proprietor a few silly questions. A lady inside came out and was very patient to answer my queries. She told me that the red houses situated closer to the ground were for 天宫 (Heaven god) and the raised houses on the pedestals were for 嗱督公. Googling for the latter reveals that it refers to Na Tuk Kong, a guardian spirit specific to Malaysia.

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Detail of 天宫 prayer house

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Detail of 嗱督公 prayer house
From Wikipedia:

It is not clear why the Chinese, having their own Earth deity can easily accept the Dato into their religious pantheon. May be they need a local deity to gain more spiritual protection (…) To most Malaysian Chinese, the Na Tuk Kong (Hokkien: Da Tok Kong) is a local guardian spirit that resides in trees, ant hills, caves, riversides and in strange stone formations

This information seems to be have been derived from a Chinese source, so you can feel the awkward translation in it. I wish I could read Chinese more fluently. I should attempt to translate the entire article when I have more time. And boy oh boy, I am so very tickled by the idea of the local “Dato” guardian being thought to reside in this list of natural elements including “strange stone formations”! And this still does not explain who was the one who first started building tiny prayer houses???

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When did people start building tiny prayer houses? Was it when the first wave of chinese migrants came over in 1905? The lady at the factory told me that this is definitely not something brought over from China, and that it was mainly only a practice of Chinese people living in Ipoh/Perak. She did conjecture that Singaporeans did not have it because of space constraints, and that some malaysian chinese opted for these prayer houses because they could be situated outside of their houses and thus not be a source of dust in the house. I wondered, was the use of normal house floor tiles intentional on the base of these tiny prayer houses? Or did people build this because they wanted to have a relic of what houses in China were like, because the houses in Malaysia are sure very different from the houses that one might have had in China! So many unanswered questions!

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Not to be left out of the action, Indian Hindus can also get their own yellow prayer houses. The lady at the factory told me these yellow ones were indeed made for Hindus. She could not explain when exactly the Indian Hindus started getting prayer houses made, or how the malays, chinese and indians managed to influence one another in their religious worship. So this is basically all a mystery to me. Also, DO NOTE THE BRAND NEW TINY STAIR LEANING ON ONE OF THEM. Right now I am imagining people’s possible conception of God…. in a tiny tun of dust, or a grain of sand! Being blown up the tiny stair into the tiny prayer house so the earth god can feast on the offerings. Why is this tiny prayer house made in this very particular size anyway? How big are the Chinese earth gods and Malaysian Na Tuk Kong thought to be? Does he really come in the form of small rocks and structures?

Would anyone more knowledgeable about all this care to enlighten me on this practice of keeping tiny prayer houses?…

Grand Designs: Houses of Fun

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I just took a series of planes from London to Singapore, during which I ended up watching far too many episodes of a show called Grand Designs, a fascinatingly endearing programme about self-build projects in the UK. Apparently this is a show that has gone on for over ten years now, and the programme itself is a home-builders wet dream, or should i say, one big fat architectural wank fest. I’m surprised I haven’t seen this earlier but OH!!! Its fantastic!

What really fascinates me is the characters who are the homeowners/builders, who are often delightfully grating, anal-retentively stubborn, and pigheadedly ambitious. I am not sure how or in which order the episodes had been curated or selected for my viewing pleasure on the plane, but it seemed to me that many of the episodes were featuring people who had been specifically seized by the desire to build HOUSES OF FUN (notably, to be spelt in CAPITAL LETTERS) — this was just something that they all seemed to say: “HOW CAN ANYONE NOT HAVE FUN IN A HOUSE LIKE THIS HOUSE!”. No matter how expensive or impractical or annoying (to others) it would be for them to do so, no expenses were to be spared! £20,000 dance floor in your basement? Yes! Fantasy volcanic sauna spa just for yourself?? Yes! Gratuitously curvy looking house just because you like curvy houses?? YES! 2-tons of minimalist artisanal latvian glass surrounding the exterior facade of your delicately cantilevered house??? YES! Reality TV style camera swoop onto the house? YES! YES! YES! NOW THIS IS WHAT I CALL TELEVISION!

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Planning permissions battles? Water table considerations and flooded worksites? Theft of all your precious work tools while you’re away for a weekend? Mortgaging yourself up to the eyeballs and doing some refinancing gymnastics? Moving the whole family into a boathouse temporarily because you had to sell your original house to pay for the construction? Resorting to completely un-ecofriendly cement fills to prevent leakages? Investing in eco-friendly but expensive energy panels that will charge your electric car and maybe hopefully pay back for itself after about what, 7 years, or was it 25 years? Totally self-cleaning houses? Excessive use of astroturf? Exploring stone finishes which feel like leather? Behold, the host, Kevin McCloud, enthusing that ARCHITECTURE CAN HAPPEN ANYWHERE!

As you can tell, I have been won over by its winning combination of reckless ambition, ridiculously minimalist cuboidial architectures, and sheer boring construction site mundanity. I mean, if you’ve ever been unreasonably excited by a trip to the B&Q, then you might conceivably feel drawn towards these lofty spires of epic DIY housebuilding! Whenever my housing conditions are correct, I do turn into the sort who might be obsessing over joint fillers and materials, getting all excited by the thought of customizing my own drainage system for my hypothetical one-day-to-be-built-from-scratch-with-my-own-two-bare-hands future house. This show has admittedly reinvigorated my housebuilding aspirations. I love building things! I mean, WHY DON’T I RANDOMLY OWN SOME LAND ALREADY? Why can’t I build myself a funny house to live in?

My favorite was this episode with a woman who wanted to build a minimal modernist box of a boathouse on the River Thames in the middle of a long row of pristinely conserved Tudor houses. AND SO SHE DID.

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“My next project is to demolish the other houses next to mind and BAM! Turn them all into awesomely NEW and FRESH and SHARP houses and turn this part of the river into a frozen snapshot of the new and fantastic modern 21st century forever instead of the 16th century. That’ll show them up, all of them them stuck-in-the-mud Tudor houseowners…”

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Okay the lady did not quite say all that in quite those words, but she did say everything until the BAM (addition mine), and she also did say it, gleefully, whilst sitting in a little wooden pleasureboat as the host Kevin McCloud interviewed her and they floated sanguinely down the Thames…

McCloud then tiptoed over to the neighbors to ask them if their views might ever soften after seeing the no-expenses-spared construction work and extremely thoughtful delicate care that was taken to produce what the homeowners wanted to be the best ever modern contemporary house on the Thames riverfront in Oxford. NO!!! NEVER!!! hissed the lady neighbour, and god almighty what was that sound we heard echoing in the background? Was that the sounds of pearls exploding as they were being tightly clutched all up and down the riverfront, or was that just the sound of 21st-century-style house-demolition-and-construction whether-or-not-you-like-it-or-not? The housebuilding lady was totally trollin’ man. She totally worked them all up and I love it.

You know, if I could build any house in the world, I think I might want to build a ridiculous house as well. I wouldn’t want to build a traditional house in a traditional style in a traditional area. I’d maybe like an upside-down house. One that got bigger at the top instead of being bottom heavy. I’d want to build a house that would look like NO OTHER HOUSE IN THE WORLD…