this pussy bites back

A Charmed Life

I am pissed.
I am royally pissed that Helen Clarkwas not elected the new UN Secretary-General.
A lifetime of exemplary service for her country and now as head of the UN Development Programme rendered her the perfect candidate plus the UN is meant to remain neutral at all times, how more neutral can you be than a New Zealander. And yes as I have said before here I am completely bias – she is my fellow country woman and a twitter friend (I even taught her what the word ‘slay’ means in today’s young peoples’ speak) – but it wasn’t all pie in the sky on my part, I was duped and that is the real reason I am pissed.

When this race began one of the criteria laid out was that a woman ‘should’ take charge for the first time. This then was hyped up by the media…

View original post 460 more words

When will the Republican Party Leadership Grow a Pair?

We now have a Commander in Chief who, in my opinion is the Narcissist in Chief. His fragile ego won’t let him get past the fact the Democratic candidate had the majority of the popular vote.  Now he demands an investigation to find out how many Democratic votes were fraudulent, emphasizing voters registered in multiple districts. What have we learned?; At least two members of his family are registered in multiple jurisdictions as is his Press Secretary and Treasury Secretary. There should be an investigation of voters for both candidates.

He is now proposing a $15 Billion dollar wall on the Mexican Border.  With bribes, cost overruns, and kickbacks normal in most big construction projects, the wall will likely cost in excess of $30 billion.  Then our president tells us he will make Mexico pay for the bridge using a 20% tariff.  Anyone having a most basic understanding of economics knows that the cost of a wall, which most people do not want, will be paid by American consumers buying goods from Mexico.  And why build a wall and create hard feelings with one of our largest trade partners.  Moreover, current statistics show that illegals from Mexico have been declining for years. It is in our economic and state interest to help Mexico grow its economy.  Our President lacks common courtesy and decency with respect to the President of Mexico.  Mexico’s President’s demeanor has been elegant especially in view of the Donald’s treatment of him and his populace. I also worry that a wall might be used by a future despot to keep people in as the Russians did in East Berlin.

On to the subject of “Alternative Facts”. Kellyann Conway is becoming the Joseph Goebbels in the Donald’s white house. As a highly educated and intelligent person, she must really need the money and or enjoy the adrenaline rush of power to work for this President, who doesn’t know if or when he is saying things that are not true. Alternative Facts are lies. She knows it and is creating an environment where words become meaningless. I really feel for the Press Secretary who,in my opinion, must spin yarns that he must know are often untrue

I agree that we need careful vetting of all immigrants because the greatest threat to our nation is extremists and not just those from the Middle East.

Our voters (a minority of them) elected a person who, according to the Economist Magazine, answered when asked for two words to describe the then candidate replied, arrogant and blowhard.

So where is the so called Senior Republican leadership? They are mostly free traders and surely will regret ceding Asian Economic power to China now that our Fearless Leader has withdrawn our nation and peoples from that trade pact. Do they really want someone like the Donald having the nuclear launch codes and appointing generals who he believes will do his bidding? Are they prepared to have our people go into an economic and personal depression as a result of his uninformed economic policies. Will they finally step up and reign him in? Let’s hope they finally grow a pair and take appropriate action.


Cassini’s Rendezvous with Saturn

Cassini’s Grand Finale, Part 1: Ring-Grazing and Turbulence

Long-lived space mission starts a bold last-dance with gas giant Saturn

Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech and Space Science Institute

It’s hard to believe that the Cassini mission arrived at Saturn and its moons in July 2004. It’s even harder to imagine that this remarkably successful machine explorer now has less than a year of life ahead of it.

Around September 15th, 2017 the 2,000 kilogram orbiter will plunge into Saturn’s upper atmosphere – a destructive end that will yield new data, but also ensure that our visit to this system runs little risk of contaminating pristine environments like that of icy moon Enceladus.

But before that, Cassini is performing a magnificent last waltz with Saturn. Starting with a series of 20 pole-crossing orbits that also dive through the space just outside Saturn’s main rings (the so-called F-ring orbits) Cassini will later shift to a set of 22 orbits that bring its closest approach nearer and nearer to the gas giant – actually within the rings. This animation shows the two orbital families in green and blue respectively.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

At this time Cassini is in the midst of its 2nd ring-grazing orbit (green orbit). Already this trajectory has enabled the mission to capture some of the most detailed images of Saturn’s north pole that we’ve ever seen. These show the great hexagonal shape in the upper atmosphere – a possible consequence of turbulent flow between gas masses circulating at very different speeds.

Our understanding of this structure is still incomplete, but the hexagon has persisted since at least the time of the Voyager flyby in the early 1980s. Each side of the hexagon is about the size of the Earth.

Cassini image of Saturn’s northern polar region. Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech and Space Science Institute

These polar shots are also quite reminiscent of Juno’s recent imagery of Jupiter’s poles. The great bands of circulating atmosphere that many of us associate with gas giant planets, devolve into a peppering of small structures that look cyclonic in nature.

Different wavebands of light reveal just how strong a feature the polar hexagon is. In the images below (left to right) are Cassini data in violet (420 nanometers), red, near infrared (728 nanometers), and the infrared. These probe different depths and compounds in the atmosphere.

Four wavebands, northern pole. Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech and Space Science Institute

It’s a great start to a grand finale. Expect to see much more over the coming months.



A Great Place to Visit in New Mexico

El Rancho de las Golondrinas “The Ranch of the Swallows” is located near I25 and is closer to Santa Fe than Albuquerque.  It dates from the early 1700s and was an important stopping place along the famous Camino Real, the Royal Road, that went from Mexico City, Mexico to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

This historic ranch, opened in 1972, serves as a living history museum which is dedicated to the history, heritage, and culture of 18th and 19th Century New Mexico.  The museum is part of the vision of the Curtin-Paloheimo family.  In 1932 the ranch was purchased by Leonora Curtin and her mother.  Ms Curtin is also known for founding the Santa Fe Native Market to save and reestablish traditional craft forms and techniques, and to provide a local artists a source of income during the Great Depression.  After marrying her Finnish husband Yrjo Alfred (YA) Paloheimo in 1946, they shared the vision for the outdoor living history museum.

Both Leonora and Y.A. devoted themselves to transforming the property into a place where visitors could physically engage with the rich culture of the region and become immersed in the history of New Mexico. Existing historic buildings were restored, period structures were erected and historic buildings were brought in from other sites around New Mexico. Today,the museum has grown into New Mexico’s premier living history museum. It promotes and preserves the Hispano heritage of Northern New Mexico, while at the same time building a better understanding of the lasting influence of Hispanos in the Southwest and the rest of the country.


A local weaver at the ranch –  photo by Richard Boysen

Each year, the ranch hosts festivals.  You can view the festival calendar on the ranch’s website (El Rancho de Las



Memory and Dogs

Dogs May Possess a Type of Memory Once Considered ‘Uniquely Human’

New research suggests that man’s best friend remembers more than we thought


iStock-170055421 (1) 2.jpg

“I will never forget that you did this to me.” (PeskyMonkey / iStock)
November 29, 2016 8:02AM

Dogs remember things, as any dog owner can tell you. Whether it’s knowing that the sound of food hitting the bowl means mealtime or recalling that the jingle of the leash means walk time, man’s best friend consistently illustrates his ability to recount the meaning of specific cues. Now, new research shows that canines could also have a more complex form of memory that few nonhuman animals have been shown to possess—one that could even point to a sense of self-awareness.

There are two forms of “explicit memory,” which is the kind of memory you use when intentionally recalling a piece of information. The first is semantic memory, which you use to recall information you’ve consciously learned or memorized. The second is episodic memory, which you use to remember everyday experiences and events that your mind encodes without conscious memorization. While you might use semantic memory to recount vocabulary words for a Spanish test, you’d use episodic memory when your friend asks you how your trip to the grocery store went yesterday.

Semantic memory is fairly common in the animal kingdom; chimpanzees can use it to memorize words and dogs can use it to associate commands with the actions they need to perform. But until recently, episodic memory has been considered “uniquely human.” Endel Tulving, the University of Toronto psychologist who first defined semantic and episodic memory in 1972, believed that episodic memory evolved only recently and only in humans. However, new research in the past few years has suggested that a few non-human animals such as chimpanzees, orangutans and bottlenose dolphins may also possess this form of memory.

Episodic memory has been associated with self-awareness: The theory is that, to recall these kinds of memories, you have to be able to imagine yourself in past events. “Many animals—mammals such as mice, squirrels, dogs, elephants, and chimpanzees, as well as most if not all birds—have excellent ‘semantic’ memory,” Tulving writes on his faculty webpage. “That is, they are capable of conscious learning of facts about the world. However, there exists no evidence that they can mentally travel in time in the same was as humans do, to remember the past and to plan for the future.”

When it comes to humans, testing for episodic memory is relatively straightforward; just ask them to recall something they didn’t expect to be asked about. For animals, a little more creativity is required, says Etövös Loránd University animal psychologist Claudia Fugazza. Fugazza is the lead author of the first study of its kind on episodic memory in dogs, published last week in the journal Current Biology, which suggests that our canine companions may have more advanced memories than we thought


Researcher Claudia Fugazza and her dog demonstrate the

Researcher Claudia Fugazza and her dog demonstrate the “Do As I Do” method; Fugazza’s dog was not involved in the study itself. (Mirko Lui)

To get around the fact that a dog can’t tell you about its memories, Fugazza and her team decided to use distraction as a way of forcing dogs to rely on their episodic memory by making them recall an unexpected command. For the study, the researchers guided 17 dog owners as they trained their dogs to imitate them while they performed six different actions involving three different objects: a bucket, umbrella and chair. These “Do As I Do” commands were designed to create an expectation for the dogs: After their owners demonstrated an action, they were expected to follow suit.

The owners then distracted the dogs from that expectation by training them instead to simply lie down on a blue carpet after their owners demonstrated any of the same actions involving the same objects. Now, the dogs wouldn’t need to remember which action their owners did; they just needed to lie down afterwards. Then came the key test of the dogs’ episodic memory: While the dogs stood on the blue carpet that had been used during the lie down training, their owners demonstrated an action and waited for their dogs to lie down as they expected. They then suddenly gave the command to imitate them.

Could the dogs remember the action to imitate even while they were expected to just lie down after doing it?

Immediately after the demonstration, researchers found, most of the dogs were able to correctly remember which action to imitate. Even after an hour delay from the demonstration, several dogs could still remember which action to imitate.

For Fugazza, these results showed the unexpected potential for dogs to have a more complex memory than previously thought. But the study also suggests that dogs might make good subjects for future studies in animal psychology, in addition to more traditional lab animals like apes, rats and birds, she says. “We think that dogs are a very good model for studying [animal cognition],” Fugazza says. She points to “their advantage of living and having evolved in a human environment,” which means they are easier to train and work with than other study subjects.

However, that familiarity could also cause problems, warns Victoria Templer, a neuroscientist at Providence College in Rhode Island who wasn’t involved in this study. Because dogs have evolved to respond so well to humans, she said, scientists would have to work hard to avoid the so-called “Clever Hans effect,” in which humans can unknowingly prompt animals for an answer in experiments. For this reason, Templer said she likely would never work with dogs.

Nevertheless, she says she considers the design and results of Fugazza’s study to be well-done, and she hopes to see more work like it in this field. “It’s one brick in the wall—we need other bricks in the wall to be able to say [for certain] that dogs have episodic memory,” says Templer. So maybe don’t ask Fido how his trip to the grocery store went just yet.

Read more:
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

My Views on the US presidential Election

I would feel this way regardless of who won.  If Donald Trump is serious about draining the swamp, he should let the people vote on a constitutional amendment placing term limits on senators and congressmen.

Courtesy of Bob Dylan:

Bob Dylan – Desolation Row Lyrics

They’re selling postcards of the hanging, they’re painting
the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in
Here comes the blind commissioner, they’ve got him in a
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker, the other is in
his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless, they need somewhere to
As Lady and I look out tonight, from Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy, “It takes one to know one,”
she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning. “You Belong to Me I
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place, my friend, you
Better leave”
And the only sound that’s left after the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up on Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden, the stars are beginning to
The fortune telling lady has even taken all her things
All except for Cain and Abel and the hunchback of Notre Dame

Everybody is making love or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing, he’s getting ready
for the show
He’s going to the carnival tonight on Desolation Row

Now Ophelia, she’s ‘neath the window for her I feel so
On her twenty-second birthday she already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic she wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion, her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon Noah’s great rainbow
She spends her time peeking into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood with his memories in a
Passed this way an hour ago with his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful as he bummed a cigarette

As he when off sniffing drainpipes and reciting the alphabet

Now you would not think to look at him, but he was famous
long ago
For playing the electric violin on Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients, they’re trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser, she’s in charge of the
cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read, “Have Mercy on His
They all play on the penny whistles, you can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough from Desolation Row

Across the street they’ve nailed the curtains, they’re
getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera a perfect image of a priest
They’re spoon feeding Casanova to get him to feel more
Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence after poisoning
him with words
And the Phantom’s shouting to skinny girls, “Get Outa Here
If You Don’t Know
Casanova is just being punished for going to Desolation Row”

Now at midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory where the heart-attack
Is strapped across their shoulders and then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles by insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping to Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune the Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting, “Which Side Are You On?”
And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s
While calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen hold
Between the windows of the sea where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much about Desolation row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday (About the time the
doorknob broke)
When you asked me how I was doing, was that some kind of
All these people that you mention, yes, I know them, they’re
quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces and give them all another
Right now, I can’t read too good, don’t send me no more
letters no
Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row

Songwriters: BOB DYLAN
Desolation Row lyrics © BOB DYLAN MUSIC CO

No Longer Just a Living Legend

Leonard Cohen died at age 82.  I was introduced to his work in the early 1970s by a friend and colleague named Perry Youngblood.  In his biography, and at other times, Cohen wrote that he was first and foremost a poet, but turned to song because he could not make a living just writing and publishing poetry.  His poetry became beautiful songs, sometimes dark and sultry and sometimes spiritual and sexy.

Before his muse Marianne Ihlen died in July, Leonard Cohen penned her a final letter: ‘Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon.”

Norwegian filmmaker Jan Christian Mollestad was a good friend of Marianne Ihlen — the woman who inspired Leonard Cohen’s “So long, Marianne.”
One of my favorite movies is McCabe and Mrs. Miller, starring Warren Beaty and Julie Christie.  Leonard Cohens songs are the sountrack for that movie which needed dark and sultry songs.
I must get his final album which was recently released.
I believe the closest to his like now living is Bob Dylan, the recent Nobel Prize winner.  I believe he and Leonard were great friends.

A Message for the Bigoted Donald Trump


Donald Trump claims to want to make America Great.  What has he done during his life to make America Great?  Wish he would tell us how bilking investors and students at Trump University has made America Great.

PHILADELPHIA ― The father of a Muslim American war hero addressed the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, delivering a brutal takedown of Donald Trump and his inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Khizr Khan spoke about the heroism of his son, Army Capt. Humayun S.M. Khan, who was killed in action in Iraq by an advancing vehicle loaded with hundreds of pounds of explosives. The 27-year-old soldier, who was born in the UAE, ordered his unit to halt while he walked toward the vehicle, saving the lives of his fellow soldiers.

With his wife standing beside him, Khan brought Democratic delegates to their feet by denouncing Trump and his proposed ban on Muslims.

“Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son the best of America. If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America,” he said. “Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, and even his own party leadership. Donald Trump loves to build walls and ban us from this country.”

Khan then addressed the Republican nominee directly.

“Let me ask you, have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy,” he said, pulling a copy of the document from his pocket.

“Look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.’ Have you ever been to Arlington National Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending this country,” he said.

“You have sacrificed nothing,” he said, to roars from the crowd. “We cannot solve our problems by building walls. We are stronger together. We will keep getting stronger when Hillary Clinton becomes our president.”

Khan’s speech even impressed some Republicans. John Noonan, a former national security adviser to Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, tweeted:
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims ― 1.6 billion members of an entire religion ― from entering the U.S.

Also on HuffPost

Plate Tectonics

Oliver Morton The Music of Science
What does the Pacific have that the Atlantic doesn’t? Earthquakes. Why? Plate tectonics

PETEplate tectonics



THERE IS NOTHING peaceable about the Atlantic, as my father, who went back and forth across it in wartime convoys, could attest. Its inexhaustible palette of moods includes all manner of awfulness. There is, though, something happily pacific, and distinctly un-Pacific, about the shores on to which its tempests blow. The edges of the Pacific are endlessly subject to earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. The edges of the Atlantic, by contrast, are startlingly stable.
Yes, there was the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which killed tens of thousands. But that is remembered precisely because it was so exceptional, and had profound effects. The levelling of Lisbon changed not just Portugal’s history but Europe’s ways of thinking about good and evil. In Japan you can expect such things in every lifetime. And until about 50 years ago, this global asymmetry was both inexplicable and more or less unquestioned.
In the 1960s, a few geologists from both sides of the Atlantic worked out how the ocean that separated them – and all the other ocean basins – had come to be. Their plate-tectonic revolution, like all scientific revolutions, did more than just answer outstanding questions. It realigned them, turning apparently separate questions into aspects of the same problem.

At the heart of plate tectonics was the idea that the Earth’s crust is forever being created and destroyed. It is created at the ridges that run through all of the oceans. It is destroyed in subduction zones at the edges of oceans, where it plunges back down into the depths. Both ridges and subduction zones, the revolutionaries told the world, were boundaries between things no one had previously imagined called tectonic plates, the former being where plates pull away from one another, the latter where they converge.
Plate tectonics thus explained a range of things which had seemed to have nothing in common. In the 1950s measurements of the magnetic fields in rocks had shown that the continents had once been at different latitudes; this was explained by the continental drift brought about by the plates. Half a century of seismology had shown that small earthquakes clustered along ocean ridges and big ones at some ocean margins; this was explained by the stresses the crust underwent as it was stretched and compressed.
The most ancient of the puzzles solved was the way the east coast of the Americas echoes the west coast of Europe and Africa. It had been the subject of speculation in the 18th century by the natural historian Alexander Humboldt, who saw the Atlantic as something like a winding river valley, and it had even been noted in the 16th by the philosopher Francis Bacon. Plate tectonics showed it to be the result of the sundering of an ancient supercontinent.
In 1964 the Cambridge geophysicist Teddy Bullard put these observations on a firmer footing. Using computers and spherical geometry, he showed exactly how the zigs of the east and the zags of the west could nestle against each other if the ocean were removed from the scene and the continents snuggled up together.

Since then the history of the break-up has been mapped with some precision. About 200m years ago, what is now Mauritania and what is now the eastern seaboard of the United States began to pull apart; as they did so, new crust formed at the nascent mid-Atlantic ridge between them. The process has continued, albeit with fits and starts, ever since, widening the Atlantic a few centimetres a year – roughly the pace at which fingernails grow. And because crust is being made at the ridge, not destroyed at the edges, the basin has little earthquakes at its heart but none on its rim.
This is not a sustainable arrangement. Even at fingernail speed, the Atlantic cannot grow for ever on a finite planet. There are, though, two different ways it could end. Either the Atlantic keeps on widening, the Pacific shrinking, until America pushes up against Asia, or the Atlantic starts to develop subduction zones of its own, which eat up old ocean floors faster than the central ridge can produce new ones; the ocean narrows and eventually collapses. The process may already have begun: the fault that produced the Lisbon quake could be the start of a subduction zone.
Like all the best scientific revolutions, plate tectonics did not only answer old questions, but posed new ones. It does not promise to resolve them – I doubt anyone will ever be able to say with certainty whether the Atlantic will keep opening or start closing. But whichever course it takes matters not a whit in human terms. Just as there are some questions that no one bothers to answer, so there are others which no one needs to answer.
Some questions fascinate because they can be answered, others because they can’t be. Knowing how the Atlantic arose falls into the first category; an origin that can, in principle, be unearthed or explained is exciting, one that is for some reason necessarily obscure or unobtainable is by and large not. Questions about where things are headed tend to fall into the second. Clear answers about future events may have practical value, but they have little else to recommend them. The undecidable future, though? That never palls, any more than a seascape can exhaust itself.
OLIVER MORTONis briefings editor at The Economist and the author of “Eating the Sun”


Architecture A Modest revival – from Intelligent Life
Once everyone wanted buildings of glass, steel and outrageous curves. But Robert Bevan sees the twilight of starchitecture falling

stacked house
THE 2015 STIRLING PRIZE, Britain’s biggest architectural award, was won by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) for six buildings it designed for the Burntwood School campus in south London. A modest exercise in neo-Brutalism in which the composition of concrete panels recalls the stately public architecture of the 1950s and 1960s, they fit tactfully within the school’s existing campus. In September, meanwhile, the Walkie-Talkie won the Carbuncle Cup, Building Design’s annual prize for the worst building in Britain. A 37-storey skyscraper in the centre of London, the tower is named for its bulbous, top-heavy profile – it’s an office that has steroidally bulked up its chest and shoulders but allowed its legs to wither. Prizes don’t make taste but they can point towards the direction in which it’s shifting, and the coincidence of these awards suggests a weariness among tastemakers with the exuberances of contemporary architecture.

walkie talkieOver and out: the bulbous “Walkie-Talkie” building in Fenchurch Street, London
This a far cry from the mania for instant icons, which first emerged with the opening of Frank Gehry’s 1997 Guggenheim Bilbao. The art gallery’s shimmering, titanium bulges were credited with putting a run-down town in northern Spain back on the tourist map. The “Bilbao effect” was born and a thousand outlandishly shaped buildings sprung up across the world. The face of London is now marked with thrusting figures. First came the Gherkin, then the Shard. The Can of Ham is on the horizon.
The capability to create novel, gravity-defying curves and cantilevers stems from the expansion in computing power in the early 1990s and the innovative digital design tools that developed alongside it. Unconventionally shaped buildings had always been imagined and even, on rare occasions, achieved – think of Erich Mendelsohn’s Einstein Tower in Potsdam, Gaudi’s still-unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona and Jørn Utzon’s nose-bleedingly expensive opera house for Sydney. But digital made complex forms, especially curves in multiple directions, easier to design, engineer and construct – and thus more affordable. Information coded into a digital drawing could be used to manufacture components of the buildings themselves – in the precise laser cutting of titanium sheets, for example.

Even more significantly, architects could now fix the limits of a virtual three-dimensional form, then manipulate shapes with these parameters. This technology, dubbed “parametric architecture”, made Zaha Hadid’s architectural vision, for example, more readily buildable. Previously Hadid had built physical models, sliced them into cross-sections, then scanned the slices onto a computer to render her ideas virtually. With computer-aided design (CAD), the limitations of working with paper were obliterated. Architects could now toy with surfaces. They folded and bent thin skins, so that buildings imitated rolling natural terrains, geological formations and biological structures. Architecturally speaking, the past, with its imprecise and unflexible bricks and mortar, had been left behind.
Cities, companies and institutions across the world suddenly demanded similar buildings as the centrepiece of a regeneration initiative, or for the new wing of a museum or a corporate HQ, hoping for their own Bilbao effect. In the commercial world, para­metric design, as Zaha Hadid’s sidekick Patrik Schumacher observed recently, perfectly responds to the demands of market-conscious developers, because computers can maximise the rentable floorspace on expensive but constrained sites, like those found in the City of London. The swollen Walkie-Talkie, its upper floors much wider than the plot on which it sits, is a shining example of this phenomenon. And while the curvaceous can waste space conspicuously – impractical extravagance has always been a measure of luxury – it does so with digital efficiency.

Going straight: plans for the V&A East development in east London by O’Donnell + Tuomey


Digital design tools also hastened the rise of the global designer, whose signature style could be airlifted in to brand a development as forward looking. The Guggenheim Foundation led the trend in the cultural world, commissioning leading architects in order to present itself as the outrider of the avant-garde. Hadid was joined by Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, Jean Nouvel and Peter Eisenman, among others. The global starchitect was born and won all the prizes.
Yet the past has persisted and now it is fighting back. All architects these days, bar the occasional crank, use digital drawing packages. But increasing numbers of designers are insisting that they should be the masters of technology, not its slaves. Colour-washed sketches to convey the mood of a place are again being produced after decades of demands for the sterile photorealism produced by CAD. Because creatives are no longer enthralled to its giddy novelty digital technology has become just another tool for those who can maturely blend different approaches – using lasers to cut traditional letterpress type, for instance, or software to extrude a brick arch. Brick is now in such demand for tall residential towers in Britain that there is currently a shortage.
Concerns are being raised about imposing buildings that ignore the urban contexts in which they are built, fail to make any concession to the human scale, and serve only as three-dimensional branding for their creators. These critiques echo an earlier generation’s displeasure with the anonymous global products of post-war Modernism. One response was Critical Regionalism, an approach that sought to humanise Modernism by making it more sensitive to place. The reaction this time around is more akin to the return to analogue that can be observed throughout contemporary culture – in the enthusiasm for vinyl records and handicrafts, for example. In an increasingly virtual world, there is a longing for human touch and a spirit of resistance to the invisible forces in which we find ourselves enmeshed.
There has also been a slow realisation that the beguiling, computer-generated images of glossy and curvaceous parametric buildings often work better on screen than in reality. Their construction still too often depends on a precision that is hard to achieve in practice. Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the architects of the recently opened Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles, promised a diaphanous, perforated veil as its sweeping cladding. Instead, it is far more static, regularly shaped and solid – a concession that had to be made in the course of building.
In Britain in particular, ostentatious architecture did not guarantee the public’s affections. Many ill-conceived National Lottery-backed projects relied on the presumption that an impressive building alone would entice people to flood through the doors. In the case of Will Alsop’s arts centre The Public and Sheffield’s drum-kit-shaped pop-music museum, they didn’t. New uses for the vacant icons had to be found.
THE VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM in west London is perched on the cusp of the two architectural philosophies. It is in the middle of building a new extension to its South Kensington home, a conspicuously folded form by Amanda Levete. But for its next large-scale project, the V&A East – part of the planned Olympicopolis cultural quarter in the East End – it has appointed Irish architects O’Donnell + Tuomey, who have been quietly crafting buildings on the edge of Europe for some decades now.

Rise of the red bricks: the Saw Swee Hock student centre for the London School of Economics, designed by O’Donnell + Tuomey

red bricks
Kieran Long is keeper of the design, architecture and digital department at the V&A and involved in the development of V&A East. He sees a deliberate move away from the formal excesses of parametric architecture’s high noon. “I am super happy that O’Donnell + Tuomey were appointed,” he says. “They don’t lapse into the abstraction that the big shape-makers fall into.” He admires the craft that the practice brings to a project. Their buildings, such as the Saw Swee Hock student centre for the London School of Economics, may be made of brick but they are far from conservative. Indeed, digital tools were employed to achieve the inflected brickwork walls of the LSE centre. Long contends that O’Donnell + Tuomey will provide a monumental character for the museum’s new building. It achieves this – in drawings at least – through a measured, rectilinear massing of materials, rather than by resorting to an architectural caprice which reveals all it’s got in a single glance. The V&A East will be a weightier affair: “A more permanent architecture”, says Long, “that contrasts with…the thin, powder-coated steel and glass of a lot of those shape-making buildings nearby.”
English practices such as Caruso St John, Eric Parry, Sergison Bates and Patrick Lynch are also devoted to the craft of construction, and willing to quote historical examples and to use ornament in their work – the antithesis of the slick futurism of the parametric. The same counter-tendency can be found elsewhere in Europe. The work of Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura’s work has been described as “slow architecture”, not because it takes an age to build but because it can only be appreciated slowly and through repeated viewing. And while this reaction is primarily European – North America lags noticeably behind European architectural practice – instances of this approach can be found as far afield as China and Vietnam, where architects are reinterpreting the vernacular.


Dissatisfaction with the hegemony of the blob – and with the profusion of architecture graduates who can make a nifty digital image but don’t actually know how to design a feasible building or even sketch an idea by hand – is rippling through the profession. One of the consequences has been the launch of the London School of Architecture in October, a collaboration between academics and architectural practices. It is the first new architecture school in the capital for more than a century. Did it, I asked the LSA’s founder Will Hunter, emerge out of desire for a richer, contextually informed design approach? “Definitely,” he says. “The building of icons to stand out, the fetishisation of the digital, is definitely out of fashion in favour of what’s good for the urban fabric.”
Hunter accepts that parametric design can be an important element of the architect’s toolbox, especially if devoted to more ecologically minded and culturally relevant buildings, but he wants his students to think through drawing, to analyse a site and respond with nuance. What once seemed daring now is obvious and gauche, a novelty act whose shine is losing its lustre. Hunter is blunt about the era of the big, simplistic architectural gesture: “It’s over.”
Grandiloquent, digitally driven architecture will doubtless continue to land in our cities. The tech sector in particular is still in thrall to the parametric. Its latest fashionable exponent, the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, has been commissioned by Google, alongside English designer Thomas Heatherwick to design its “Truman Show”-like HQ in California. In London, Google is reported to be thinking of ditching the current design for its King’s Cross building by this year’s Stirling prize-winner AHMM in favour of something by Heatherwick.

Stirling work: the collaged reworking of the ruined Astley Castle in north Warwickshire, by Witherford Watson Mann
But this style no longer represents the avant-garde. In recent years the Stirling prize has been anointing a quieter kind of architecture: the subtle rebuilding of the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool by Haworth Tompkins; and Astley Castle, the collaged reworking of a ruined castle by Witherford Watson Mann, who have layered the contemporary on top of the historical, creating a dialogue between the two. This year’s shortlist was especially notable for the absence of bloated buildings. Even the Guggenheim, the original sinner of parametric architecture, did not commission Gehry or one of his acolytes for its latest outpost in Helsinki; it chose instead the sober-sided Parisian architecture practice Moreau Kusunoki. Their design incorporates curves, but as gentle inflections to the walls and roofs of rectilinear pavilions – more Japanese temple than overinflated blobology. The bubble, it seems, may finally have burst.