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The Social Life of the Novel Idea May 16, 2013

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The Idea So Far….

I recently presented my current research project at an architectural research seminar at the School of Built & Natural Environment, UCLan.  The research project aims to link social behaviour to design outcomes, deriving a social model of the design process.

You can view the Prezi slides here….



The Architectural Roman Nose May 25, 2012

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The next few blog posts will be snippets of a study I did a few years ago looking at the evolution of ideas……

1  The Architectural Roman Nose………

The use of Darwin’s theory to describe apparent patterns of replication, variation and selection is a perennial theme in design, especially in the fields of architecture and the applied arts.  The analogy has been applied to the evolution of artefacts and more specifically to traditional craftsmanship where generations of learning has inevitably incurred some random variation by nature of accidental misrepresentation or the trial and error involved in replicating a technique employed for long periods of time without the requirement for inventiveness.

However, in modern societies which adopt a more self-concious design process, a process of ‘heredity with copying’ is at work as new buildings and solutions are copied from preceding ones (see Philip Steadman’s book – The Evolution of Designs).  This process is recorded not only in the more purposeful development of craft-based artefacts, as shown in this labour of love documenting the historical evolution of helmet designs……..

……but also in engineering solutions such as the motor car (c/o Le Corbusier).


We can look at building form in the same way.  A particularly fecund idea (“I know, let’s stick it on pilottis!!”) breeds a whole family of buildings which transcend architectural ‘isms’ but fundamentally retain the genetically powerful characteristics.  Hence, the pilotti becomes the architectural Roman nose.



(Source:  Archidialog)



Viral Crochet May 18, 2012

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So what is this meme business?

I’m not trying to patronise, just attempting to kick start my brain out of it’s maternity leave mush. Consider this post as a bit of revision.  So, we get the basic definition of a meme……why, thank you, Mr. Dawkins (The Selfish Gene)………building on William S. Burroughs “language is a virus“………as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices.  Memes behave in a similar way to genetic material, through processes of replication, variation and selection in reponse to pressures exerted by the cultural environment.

However, consider architecture as a whole frenzy of memetic material vying for supremacy.

We might even consider the city as a giant memeplex (meme complex – groups of memes).  Apparently, it’s where ideas have sex……really?!? (See thisbigcity.net).

Ask a child to draw a house.

Inevitably, they will draw a square, topped with a triangle. Maybe a rectangle chimney with spiralling smoke, even if they have a gas fire.  3 square windows and a rectangle door completes the image.  We bring these to our creation of and understanding of architecture.  Our minds are fuelled by more memes as we grow and are exposed to music, social networks, conversation, imagery and the grandaddy of all meme conduits – the tv.  Oh and I forgot books – do people even still, like, read them?

The building and the city embodies these memes that flow, grow and become extinct without us even being aware of them. Perhaps, if we were aware of them, they’d be called ideas.  Perhaps, if they changed the world, they’d be called culture.

The building is the physical manifestation of the Meme Cloud.

So, our revision complete, we can reiterate the focus of the Meme Cloud blog.  I want to conciously express the unconcious memes and ideas, that may not traditionally be thought of as relevant to architectural or urban theory, but nevertheless shape or thoughts on how architecture should be created or appreciated.  We will not be discussing the relative merits of the Doric vs. Ionic column, but perhaps there will be some mention of viruses and crochet.

Comment and offer memetic material

Episode 1/many July 22, 2009

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Hello. Finally got round to setting up a decent blog. Tried it on google but found their set up extremely user unfriendly at a basic level i.e. struggled to add information to it – visual information that is and it would be a daft blog about design if I stuck to words.

And there’s the crumby link…..when we design something, whether it be our new kitchen or a city quarter, we frequently stick to words, either through tedious reports in Times New Roman or by general verboseness. Words are dangerous though. Words are not ideas. Words are the tools we use to communicate them and can easily be used as a weapon to wield power (therefore putting up barriers to otherwise good ideas) or as a smokescreen (to hide our lack of confidence or knowledge).

But don’t get me wrong – words are hugely important to me. To use them well is an artform. They can give ideas the momentum they need to fly and the detail they need to run.

And so on with the show………Hope you enjoy the blog. All comments more than welcome