Last week I spent two days in Darwin to attend the opera I was involved with at the Darwin Festival. It was one of the most incomprehensible things I’ve ever seen! Never mind. It was enjoyable all the same.
William Boyd/Hopalong Cassidy visited Darwin in 1954. However, if he came back to life and visited the town again today, he wouldn’t recognize the place. About the only building that might look familiar to him is the Star Theatre, although it isn’t a cinema any more, but some shops. Every Wednesday evening was “ranch night” when cowboy films, including Hoppy’s, which were the favourites of Darwin’s Aboriginal community, were shown at the Star Theatre. Hoppy’s glory days are commemorated in the shopping centre’s courtyard by a poster. I managed to track down one person who met Hoppy when he visited the Bagot Road Aboriginal Community school in 1954, a delightful man named Don White. He remembered Hoppy’s school visit like it was yesterday.
I drove to Adelaide River, about 100 kilometres south of Darwin, just for the hell of it. It was just a name on a map to me. But I was unexpectedly moved by the immaculately-kept, World War II military cemetery there. So many young men in their twenties killed. The inscription on “craftsman” R.W. Thomas’s Army headstone really got to me: “Ever loved by this Dad …” The youngest person buried in the cemetery appears to be 16-year old R.H. Stobo, a Merchant Navy “deck cadet”, while the oldest appears to be 66-year old G. Dew, a “donkeyman”, also with the Merchant Navy (I guess he looked after the Merchant Navy’s donkeys. How many donkeys were killed in the bombing of Darwin I wonder?). [I stand corrected by Mike Scully. A “donkeyman” looked after the boilers on a ship. I guess it comes from the term, “donkey engine”. Nevertheless, how many donkeys were killed in the bombing of Darwin?] It seems that the Darwin Post Office received a direct hit, because about a dozen post office workers were buried side-by-side. As I say, I was unexpectedly moved by the stories of the people buried in this beautiful, but out-of-the-way place.
Termite mounds by the side of the road between Darwin and Adelaide River.
The Jay Pritzker Pavilion by Frank Gehry, a Pritzker Prize-winning architect. No conflict of interest there.
S.R. Crown Hall (the Architecture Department building) by Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).
The McCormick Tribune Campus Center at IIT by Rem Koolhaas with Mies van der Rohe watching the comings and goings.
Unity Temple by Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park.
The Arthur Heurtley House by Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park. Beautiful brickwork.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s house and office in Oak Park.
Marina City by Bertrand Goldberg. Car parking at the bottom, apartments at the top.
Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa in Millennium Park.
Derham at the Autry Center in Griffith Park.
Hopalong Cassidy’s former headquarters at 8907 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverley Hills. It is now a medical centre. All that is left is Hoppy’s ghost.
The Eames House by Charles and Ray Eames in Santa Monica.
The Chemosphere or Marlin House by John Lautner in Torreyson Drive, off Mulholland Drive. The house was subsequently bought by Troy McClure of The Simpsons.
The Getty Villa by Langdon, Wilson, Garrett and Neuerburg in Malibu.
Revisited the Pavilion of Japanese Art by Bruce Goff at LACMA on Wilshire Boulevard.
“Levitated Mass” by Michael Heizer at LACMA.
Walt Disney’s barn in Griffith Park.
Two rides at Walt Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim.
The abandoned Johnies Coffee Cafe and Restaurant in Wilshire Boulevard. It has appeared in a number of films, including The Big Lebowski.
Revisited the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City.
In January 2014, Ping (hereafter known as “Daisy Bates”, the Australian adventurer/explorer) and I visited Central Australia on one of those 3-day camping trips. Day one: Uluru. Day two: the Olgas. Day three: Kings Canyon. Very good. Very interesting. Can now cross that one off my list. Glad I did it when I did though, because it was a lot more strenuous than I thought it would be. Twisting my knee didn’t help.
Camels don’t floss. An ornery camel and a thorny devil.
Daisy Bates (wearing hat, headscarf and fly-net) at Uluru.
Uluru taken with my new Olympus point-and-shoot camera. It was almost nighttime when I took this photo, which is why the rock looks purple.
Australian pop culture #1: Australian Aboriginal rock paintings at Uluru.
Australian pop culture #2: Miniature golf course near Uluru.
The Olgas. The day we were there, it was raining (note the waterfall).
Daisy Bates at Kings Canyon.
Daisy Bates at Stanley Chasm.
The “real” Daisy Bates.
Flying doctor John Flynn’s grave. Judging by his headstone, the guy had balls.
Albert Namatjira memorial on the way to Hermannsburg. Australia treated him badly. Too late to make amends now unfortunately.
Hermannsburg Church. Dignified.
Los Angeles, California
The star of William Boyd/Hopalong Cassidy on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The grave of Topper, Hoppy’s beautiful white horse, in the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery.
The grave of Andy Clyde, Hoppy’s loveable sidekick, California Carlson, at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
The Colburn School designed by architects Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (opposite the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by architect Frank Gehry; makes a nice contrast).
The Getty Museum designed by architect Richard Meier.
The Marriott Hotel near Los Angeles airport — who designed this building? It looks quite John Portman-ish to me, but I don’t think he designed it.
The quirky Museum of Jurassic Technology at Culver City — a modern-day cabinet of curiosities. David Wilson is a genius.
The Gothic, mountain-like, American Heritage Center designed by architect Antoine Predock.
Playing cowboy with Hoppy’s pearl-handle six-shooters at the American Heritage Center.
The McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota — a giant carbuncle on a big brown box — designed by architect Antoine Predock.
The Regis Art Center, University of Minnesota, designed by local architects MSR — a very impressive example of corbelling.
The Weisman Museum of Art, University of Minnesota, designed by architect Frank Gehry. (Did he forget that it snows in Minneapolis when he designed that canopy?)
The surprising rear of the Weisman Art Center — not just a brick box.
Stripped noticeboard, University of Minnesota — accidental collage.
Newspaper cartoon showing the actor William Gillette in the play, Sherlock Holmes, from Gillette’s own scrapbook, which is part of the Sherlock Holmes collection at the University of Minnesota.
The Guthrie Theater designed by architect Jean Nouvel. It’s all about the views.
The fabulous Metrodome Transit Station designed by local artist (and old buddy) Andrew Leicester.
Andrew’s cute French bulldog, Buster.
The quirky gas station in Cloquet, Minnesota, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Driving down to Stockholm, Wisconsin, to sample pie with buddy Craig Hinrichs.
Delicious cherry and berry pie from the Stockholm Pie Company.
The Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, designed by architect Peter Eisenman.
With Laura Bates, Hoppy’s number one fan, at the Hopalong Cassidy Museum, Cambridge, Ohio. It was a cold day!
Hopalong Cassidy mural (detail), Cambridge, Ohio, painted by local artist Sue Dodd.
The Summerhouse (a.k.a. the Grotto) designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
Bricks from the brick collection at the National Building Museum.
National Gallery of Art designed by architect I.M. Pei. Impressive spaces, but a “user-unfriendly” building.
An escalator in the Washington D.C. Metro — like a scene from 1984.
Rochester, New York
The First Unitarian Church of Rochester designed by architect Louis Kahn. I think these Unitarians may be onto something!
Anna May Wong’s ashes and also her sister Mary’s ashes were buried with their mother, Lee Toy Wong, at Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.
It’s a Small World, Disneyland, Anaheim.
Toon Town in Disneyland, Anaheim.
More Disneyland, Anaheim.
Clifton’s Cafeteria has closed for renovation. Thank goodness it hasn’t closed for good!
Gene Autrey statue (top) and costume at the Autrey Museum, Los Angeles.
Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles. I had a great seat behind the orchestra for only $24!
Walt Disney’s workshop, now in Griffith Park, Los Angeles
Model of Walt Disney’s workshop at Disneyland, Anaheim.
Train at Disneyland based on Walt Disney’s own model train.
Max Payne billboard, Los Angeles.
Bruce Goff’s typically brilliant and quirky Pavilion for Japanese Art (1988) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). I’m sure that the “temple roofed” cabinets don’t resemble erect penises by accident!
Barbie’s Dream House (1962) made of cardboard by Mattel on display at the LACMA.
“Metropolis II” (2011) by Chris Burden at the LACMA.
Is this Mother Goose’s grave?
Another “shocker” by John Andrews — the Harvard Graduate School of Design (1972).
Architectural design work at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Frank Gehry’s Stata Center (2004) at MIT, which later sued the architect because the building leaked.
The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (2006) designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. A cantilever and a half!
The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (2004) by Rafael Viñoly. A porte-cochere and a half!
The Old State House, Hartford.
Centre Church, Hartford.
William Gillette Castle, East Haddam
Tyke and Teddie Niver.
After testing the tarpaulin’s strength, Wally needed a jar of “Pileless — Wonder Relief for Piles” …
Joseph Stalin — Still a hero in Kerala!
In 2010 I visited Iran, courtesy of a travel grant from the Iran Heritage Foundation, to look at Iranian brickwork. What marvellous brickwork I discovered there! But that is another story.
Travelling around Iran (which I found to be quite different to that usually depicted on the six o’clock news, by the way), photographing some spectacular brick walls, naturally I stopped to eat from time to time, and as a result I found myself unexpectedly examining something else besides the country’s brickwork—Iran’s ubiquitous kebab shops.
The differences between say Melbourne, where I live, and Tehran, the capital of Iran, are in the main truly vast, but here was one tiny thing that both cities have in common.
This got me thinking after I returned home: if I found the kebab shops in Iran so interesting then perhaps I should look more closely at the kebab shops in Melbourne.
So I asked the Master of Architecture students who took my Popular Architecture and Design course in 2011 at the University of Melbourne, where I teach, to pair off; to each select a kebab shop in Melbourne; and to record the following basic information about them:
• The kebab shop’s name and address
• A plan of the kebab shop, including its fittings and furniture
• A photograph of the front façade of the kebab shop
• A photograph of the kebab shop next to the other shops in the street
• A photograph of the kebab shop at night
• A photograph of the other side and rear facades of the kebab shop (where they were accessible)
• Photographs of the interior of the kebab shop
• Photographs of the kebab shop’s advertising/signage
• A copy of the kebab shop’s menu
• A brief description of the kebab shop
• A brief interview with the shopkeeper and perhaps some customers
Kebab Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey, a new book published by the Custom Book Centre at the University of Melbourne, contains all of this data exactly as collected by the architecture students and given to me.
The idea of compiling an eclectic-style, uncritical and unedited “encyclopaedia” like this was suggested by the 800-page The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping (2002) by the Dutch “starchitect” Rem Koolhaas et al.
Several people have looked at and written about everyday places that are usually taken for granted and not given a second thought. One of the most interesting is the late French author, Georges Perec (1936 – 1982), whose work I introduced to the Master of Architecture students-cum-“kebab shop detectives.” His little book, An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris (first translated into English in 2010), is a quirky masterpiece in my view.
Another source/sauce of inspiration was Reyner Banham’s brief but amusing and surprisingly insightful assessment of hamburgers and hamburger shops contained in his classic study of Los Angeles, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971).
In light of some of the recent scary exchanges between America and Iran, it is oddly comforting to realize that fast food is fast food no matter whether it comes from Los Angeles or Tehran.
I hope that Kebab Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey will encourage further and more detailed research into the humble kebab shop, which is an interesting and ubiquitous—nevertheless almost “invisible”—part of the urban built environment not only in Australia and Iran, but also elsewhere (for example, on a recent trip to Auckland, New Zealand, I spotted many kebab shops there too).
To sum up then, Kebab Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey describes over 40 kebab shops in various Melbourne suburbs by means of descriptive prose, line drawings, black and white photographs, and interviews with shopkeepers and customers. This data was collected by Master of Architecture students at the University of Melbourne and compiled, warts and all, by Derham Groves. This quirky 500-plus-page book is perhaps best described as The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping meets Georges Perec.
The cover of Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes designed by Huey Groves
The book is published by the Culicidae Press and is available via Amazon.com or Culicidaepress.com
A review of the book by Zoe Nikakis in Voice in The Age, 10 October 2011
ANNA MAY WONG’S LUCKY SHOES: 1939 AUSTRALIA THROUGH THE EYES OF AN ART DECO DIVA, DERHAM GROVES (2011)
Ames, IA: Culicidae Press, pp. 103,
ISBN: 978-1-257-71315-8, Paperback, AUD $39.95
Reviewed by Andrew Chrystall, Massey University, New Zealand.
Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes interfaces a chronological biography (cum-histography) of the Chinese-American film star, Anna May Wong’s 107-day visit to Australia in 1939 with the documentation of 52 design-as-biography projects by students at the University of Melbourne. The effect(s) is uncanny. Groves demonstrates a different approach to writing biography that is as challenging to the historian as his approach to design-as-biography is to the designer and architect and his mode of pedagogy to the teacher. While operating just outside the realm of the readily classifiable, due in large measure to the work’s hybridity and Groves’ multidisciplinary transgressions, Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes makes a contribution not only to our understanding of the popular and material cultural history of pre-World War II Australia. Arguably, Groves can also be read here as having created something of an anti-manifesto for dialogic, sustainable design that is of immediate relevance.
At the level of surfaces, Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes appears simple and unpretentious, if not parochial and banal. However, when read in light of the interplay between the two sections—biography and the documentation of design-as-biography projects —it becomes apparent that the materials have been organised to give the work a circuit-like quality. Surface simplicity gives way to a subtle complexity. Groves’ biography nurses the reader into an encounter with the design-as-biography projects and the projects draw the reader back to rediscover the biography of Wong—text begets image(s) and the image(s) beget a re-energized and re-configured text.
The first section of Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes documents the movements of the now little-known Wong to, around and from Australia just prior to World War II. Groves briefly establishes his personal appreciation of the enigmatic, Lady Gaga-esque Wong in the first person. But he quickly abandons a point of view and his writing takes on some of the characteristics of American novelist, Thomas Pynchon. Like Pynchon, Groves has the meticulous eye of the sleuth or the roving tactile-eye of the virtual camera for detail. Anna May Wong’s Lucky Shoes if full of detailed lists: passenger lists, guest lists, menus, and filmography. Around the movements of Wong Groves builds an inventory of Australian material and popular culture just prior to the war. His camera eye, panning and zooming incessantly, is quick to focus on concrete, individual particulars of the material culture of the day: time, date, places, street names and numbers, transactions, costs, makes, models, colours, patterns and textures. In addition to offering insight into Australian architecture, entertainment, fashion, food and politics, Groves provides a lens through which to view of racism in Australia and the racial politics of film production, homophobia, the rising cult of celebrity, (beautiful-) freak aesthetics, and the milieu of Australia’s social aristocracy. In short, Groves’ inspection captures everything that is going on—by means of a close inspection of the most common, everyday and banal—not merely what some people think should be going on. In this respect Groves’ operation is something of a prose equivalent for what his fellow Australian artist Reg Mombassa achieves in paint. And it is for this reason that the long-dead Marshall McLuhan might have said that Groves succeeds where F. R. Leavis failed. “The trouble with Leavis,” noted McLuhan (1987), was that his “passion for important work forbids him to look for the sun in the egg-tarnished spoons of the daily table […] [this] cuts him off from the relevant pabulum” (166).
In the second section, Groves, with the help of photography by Lee McRae, documents and offers a brief reflection on 52 pairs of shoes designed by his students enrolled in the Popular Architecture and Design paper. Groves set his students the task of designing a pair of (lucky?) shoes for Wong by altering an old pair of shoes purchased from an opportunity shop. Groves’ reflections here, however, do not interfere with documentation of the shoes on display. Rather his mode, tradition or sensible orientation towards art and art history appears to have some affinity with the humanism of Burkhardt, carried on in the 20th century by figures such as Wölfflin, Giedion and Moholy-Nagy. While Groves might disown the connection to these figures it is worth mentioning here as it may open up a way of reading Groves and help illuminate why he has sought to showcase the work of these young Australian designers.
The crux of the matter is that Groves does not turn away from objects or art nor does he use either as a platform to illustrate or argue a set of ideas (in the mode, say, of the social-engineer who sets design the task of changing people). Rather, for Groves, it is art that matters and he extracts himself to make a space for “objects” and the “art” to speak for themselves on their own terms. Subsequently, and this may be another reason why Groves eludes convenient categorisation, if he has anything to say beyond showcasing a motivational and fun pedagogical activity it is said at the level of demonstration. Design, as Groves presents it, can be a deeply dialogic activity with and in service of unique human individuals (with a history and somewhat messy relationship to material artefacts that can be, simultaneously, practical, emotional, irrational, calculated, and ever-changing). His mode of demonstration that eschews linear, logical and hypothesis-drive rational argument is entirely consistent with his goal(s). If we allow, then, Groves to demonstrate what design is, can and should be we find design (inclusive of architecture) can be a form of biography. It emerges from story—rich and concrete encounters between peoples, places and material culture. Design maximizes diversity and, therefore, minimizes competition (which is predicated on a large degree of sameness). Design is also transmutative and realised in and through a dialogue with pre-existing materials that are as historically conditioned as the client. Subsequently, design, neither has to result in the creation of more stuff, which is what Andrew Milner argues needs to be avoided for the realisation of a sustainable future, nor has to set itself the task of promoting a bloodless, or perhaps glamour-less, austerity ill befitting an art deco diva.
McLuhan, Marshall. (1987), ‘Letter to Walter Ong and Clement J. McNaspy, December 23, 1944.’ in M. Molinaro, C. McLuhan, & W. Toye (eds.), The Letters of Marshall McLuhan. Toronto, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press,
Clifton’s—One of my favourite places in Los Angeles
A step back into the 1930s
Westwood Cemetery—Another favourite place in Los Angeles
No caption required
Eddie Albert & Eva Gabor, the stars of Green Acres
Loretta King & Thor Johnson in Bride of the Monster (1955)
A new plaque for Don Knotts since I was there last year. (I liked the simpler, older one though.)
Jim Backus—Mr. Magoo & Thurston Howl III
John Cassavetes, a rebel with a cause
The El Royale Motel in Ventura Boulevard—A classic!
As seen in Boogie Nights (1997)
More classics …
I’ve started looking at motels
Anna May Wong’s star on the Walk of Fame
Zanja Madre (1992)—as seen in Batman Forever (1995)—designed by my buddy, Andrew Leicester
Not so classic …
Frank Gehrey’s bad detailing, Walt Disney Concert Hall
San Antonio, Texas
The Alamo. I just don’t get it.
The Riverwalk. “Would you like a large beer, sir?” “Yes thanks,” I said.
Another great neon
The march of time
Kingsville, the town where the city fringe killed the city centre