Spring is over!

Spring is done, summer is beginning. We’re actually starting to get some sun. I think it’s been the coldest spring I can remember in California.

My last major design studio is now complete: here’s a picture of my project. It’s an experiential art center: art studios, residential and office space, and a theater that seats 1,000 people.

The next step is my thesis: an opera house for the 21st century. In this project I’ll be trying to understand how best to create a new audience for opera, in an environment where fewer and fewer young people are attending. The output will not only be a building design, but also a theory as to how architecture can contribute to the long-term success of opera.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Rock, Paper, Scissors

I wrote a play some years ago, exploring the relationships and perspectives of three very different people, caught in wartime Afghanistan. At an early stage, my friend Michael Sanie expressed interest in writing an opera based on the play, and after several years of delays and struggles, here it is.

The opera is in three acts, each providing a platform for one of the characters. There is also a fourth character: an Afghan boy. It seems to me that we rarely hear the perspective of the people over whose lands we fight.

You can get your copy here.

Ollie’s New Beginning

Cover Picture

Finally, the book is published! You can get a copy by clicking here, or on the cover image.

It’s published at lulu.com, which offers print-on-demand services.

You can also get an electronic copy here.

The next step is to get the book into Barnes and Noble and the Amazon bookstore: hopefully you’ll soon be able to order it from there as well.

If you haven’t read it yet, Ollie’s New Beginning is the story of a young boy and his dragon. It explores the challenges of separation and independence in a story that makes great bedtime reading for a young child.

I wrote it with Jeremy’s help: he and I roughed out the story together, and he took a deep interest in the development of the story as it came together.

Now if you  buy a copy,  I can share the royalties with Jeremy!

Marketing with Integrity

Having spent a long time in marketing and strategy, I’ve been often frustrated by the emphasis on “spin”—making things look better than they are. It’s a temporary way to make people feel better, but it doesn’t work as a sustainable strategy for marketing and sales.

This site on Squidoo is dedicated to thinking about this issue—it also links to other business-related resources:


Squidoo is interesting: it’s like a huge forest of bulletin boards, in which anyone can create a topic and host a discussion.

Some of my architectural studies…

Digital morphology is the study of form using computer tools. We did a project last semester to explore the creation of new forms that might have architectural uses, with Autodesk’s 3dsMax software as the basic tool.

My exploration started with the way sails move in a wind field as boats tack into the wind. The movement of the sails was the starting point, and then we looked at ways of perturbing the surface, based on the characteristics of parts of the surface. I think this is still an early exploration, but I learned enough that with a suitable project I think I could use these tools to create something interesting and relevant.

Architecture and me

After many, many years away from architecture, I’ve enrolled at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco for a M.Arch degree, with the intention of practicing architecture in a couple of years. It’s a tough schedule, with classes three days a week and work two days a week, but it seems to be sustainable.

The school is a bit unusual in that all the academic staff are practicing professionals. This give the school a very down-to-earth flavour, although there is still room for theory. It’s interesting and fairly challenging from a time perspective. So far it’s a lot of fun.

I’m taking three classes: a design studio, a theory class looking at what architecture is and how architects work, and a class called “Computer Generated Morphology” that looks at using examples from nature, coded in a 3-D modelling environment, to generate architectural forms. These kinds of ideas are behind some of the things we’ve seen recently, for example the Beijing athletic stadium (the bird’s nest) and the Beijing Aquatic Center (the water cube). Both of these buildings used computer models to generate the actual structure of the buildings. 

As time goes by, I’m hoping to post a bit about the classes and what I’m learning, but time is short with this schedule!

Music for everyone

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design—it’s a community and a conference, held in Monterey each year. Their tag line is “ideas worth spreading”, and they publish videos of many of the short (under 20 minute) talks from the conference each year. This one is about music, and shows some work from MIT’s Media Lab that makes music much more accessible to everyone.

Music is more than…

I came across this (thanks, Stephanie!) this afternoon: it’s a group of people who get together to explore home-made musical instruments, many of them combinations of mechanical and electrical or electronic components. Some of them are played in conventional ways, some make music under computer control, and some combine multiple techniques. 

What’s nice about this is that it describes a group of people who get together to share their ideas, and to have a good time together. It’s a long way from a conventional concert, but just as rewarding, and perhaps more so.

There’s a lot going on in electronic music—tonight the Stanford Laptop Orchestra (that’s right) is playing and I’m hoping to go. There’s also a group in the Bay Area that get together regularly to learn about electronics, computing and music. A week ago I went to a talk at UC Santa Cruz that presented some algorithmic music—I’ll try to post separately about that.

Ana Nuevo and the Elephant Seals

A big, lazy maleBetween San Francisco and Santa Cruz, on the Pacific coast, lies the Ana Nuevo State Natural Reserve. It’s home to a big colony of elephant seals—in fact the largest colony in the world. Every few years we go out there to see them—it’s different at each season of the year, and this year we went out to see them in early February. The weather was cold and grey, but it didn’t rain (except for a few moments, perhaps), and we were able to have a great view of the different parts of the colony. It’s important to book, because you can only go near the animals as part of a guided tour, which keeps everyone safe, and limits the disruption to the seals.

Lighthouse keeper's ruinThey are really big—especially the males, which seem mountain-like. The males compete for rank in the colony, and develop deep scarring around their chests, and in some cases all around to their backs. The dominant male in a colony is kept busy chasing off all the other males.

There’s a lighthouse, with a now derelict keeper’s cottage on a low island facing out to sea. It must have been very inconvenient, with no direct access by land, and now it’s automated and the cottage is no longer used.

The gallery is here.

A few new pictures

Volvo Ocean Race: PortsmouthWhen we were living in England, I followed the Volvo circumnavigation race – big powerful boats doing up to 500 miles in 24 hours under sail. They visited Portsmouth, and we went down to see them and take some pictures. This boat is the Brazilian entry, who came third in the Portsmouth race, but I was supporting ABN Amro One – a European entry, but skippered by New Zealander Mike Sanderson, the ultimate winner of the race. I have infinite respect for these sailors – this is extreme sport taken to the ultimate, with a months-long race in the hottest, coldest, toughest conditions anywhere.

Ducklings in the sunI’ve also put up a few pictures from the UK – Horseshoe Lake. This is one of the many gravel pits in England that have been flooded and are now used for sailing, fishing etc. We used to go to Horseshoe Lake to sail, but on this occasion I think we just pottered around and enjoyed the very tame birds that were hopping around on the bank.

De Young Museum, San FranciscoFinally some pictures from San Francisco: the De Young museum in Golden Gate Park, designed by the Swiss firm of architects Herzog and de Meuron. I learned about them from an exhibition at the New Tate museum in London, where there was an extensive display that described their process, including a lot of the work they did in designing the De Young museum.