Welsh poetry has a system of rhymes, alliterations and counter-stresses called cynghanedd (being 1000 years older than English, there are strong roots beneath that rubble strewn ground). Despite being a bit of a mathematical formula, and fairly easy to follow, it is very difficult for the newbie to write any poetry within its strict discipline. Developed as a way of tautening the pleasure of hearing poetry declaimed – especially in early times when writing things down wasn’t practicable – its enduring benefit is the exalted and sublime works that those who have mastered it produce.

This relationship between richness and discipline struck me on my first visit to New York earlier this year – as I wended my way up and across the Streets and Avenues. It was dramatically brought home to me how a grid, that you might expect would reduce and make uniform, actually stresses variety and brings out the richness of the city. This was cynghanedd I thought.

Eisenman’s Memorial for The Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin has the same relationship with a grid. What at first appears simple to read and uneventful quickly becomes complex and a much richer experience as you encounter a range of levels, heights and horizons. Quite a bit more involved than purely visual allusion and text.

When we set out to enrich the encounter with place, the observer registers a system (and it needn’t be a rectangular grid, it can be literal, conceptual, or technical) and is drawn into it when there is a realisation that the Moment of discernment has been deepened. A step towards the idea of the thing.

My job is to make poetry of that Moment.


(This is what I wrote, originally, as my introductory blurb … but it was too long, so I’ve shunted it here, with a few amendments).

Architecture tends to draw its practitioners into a narrowly focussed view of the world based on construction, assembly, procedures, regulations and processes, to become a box-ticking functionary, responsible for delivering a constructed environment that meets the client’s brief, on time and within budget. Keeps the rain out, the heat in and the people in their place.

The opposite of that – and my interest – is to focus on the essential process of architecure – placemaking. Rich. Humane. Generous. Aware. Engaging with people. Engaging in civil society. The most public art.

Years ago, I followed a course called ‘Art in Architecture’ that seemed to promise a discourse on much of the ground that interests me. A course for artists wanting to work with architects, nonetheless, it showed me how artists wanted to be seen in placemaking, and what their primary pursuits were. I began to think more like an artist.

I met a group of people that made a great impression on me. I’d been engaged with different arts organisations and ventures for years but it was only then that I really started thinking. One of those people was Pandora Vaughan – a ‘proper’ artist – with whom I have had a very stimulating interdisciplinary collaboration for the past 14 years.

I’ve given up on questions such as ‘can architects be an artist?’, because that is largely about definition and perception. The essence of the ‘making of place’ is about people, engagement, values, community, action and conviction. The tools for achieving ‘place’ of lasting worth are mostly to be found in the hands of artists. Pigeonholes are uncomfortable places, and a bit like Groucho, we’re not happy in any that you might put us into.

Aspects of art that relate to ‘place’ are now a medium sized industry all of its own, but I’d be very glad to hear from you – yn arbennig i bawb sy’n medru’r Cymraeg.




Ah, well, you see… its like this. Did one, then another and then … well.. time, sort of, just … went.

I’m still in a sort of Bermuda Triangle, between art, architecture and real life. There are ideas “in development” – dabbling with video as a catalyst for placemaking, and exploring the qualities of plywood (including homemade, and drawing and printing on it). I also want to explore casting as a sort of 3D printing – with all the lovely wavy anomalies that that would bring.

I’m delving deeper, and letting go a bit more of architectural design (not designing buildings, as such, but still the legacy of ‘proper’ architectural practice), so that I can use my architectural skills even more, without the tiresome hurdle jumps and the endless justifications of living without a label in a world of categories.

The other type of triangle that I’ve been exploring of late is that space between creative action, place and the spiritual dimension of life. I gave a presentation last year on the idea of ‘place’ and the reaction I got was very wide and inspired me to venture a bit further.

It raises questions of formality vs. plainness, intent vs. exploration and experience vs. analysis. Joseph Rykwert’s analysis of ‘The Primitive Hut’ is very illuminating. The qualities we ascribe to any created ‘place’ is ascribed after the event (i.e. all history is subjective). Can we create a ‘place’ or do we just discover it? There we are, that’s your homework!!

Collaboration, you ask? Not so much at the moment … unless you’re interested? Oh, and remind me tell you about my ‘Vale of Verse’.



I have collaborated with many people over the years – some more successfuly than others. Some on my side of the table and some on the other. The experience has ranged from the perfunctory, task oriented pooling of knowledge and thought, to a sparky fusion of creative inspiration.

Those that have worked best have been a balance between mutual esteem and creative criticism – “why do you do it like that?”

The context of the collaboration makes a difference though; a short term relationship gives much greater focus, becuase the goal is always near at hand. Longer term, there is always a greater emphasis on relationship. Gender has some bearing – male competitivity; female territoriality – but much less than it might have been. More relevant is baggage carried over from previous experience and its tendency to close the mind to options that might be obvious to others; we’re all guilty of that.

At its best working collaboratively is a way of seeing a creative situation beyond the self, so that the factors that bring that situation into being  – the artwork or ‘place’ made – are more likely to become the formative  factors rather than a more wilful personal preference.

Collaboration of this kind also embodies the interface between art and architecture – architects bound by the programme for a building, allowing function and structure to dictate the nature of the ‘situation’ and artists seeing everything in terms of their god-given vision. These different approaches have, though, given rise to a false dichotomy artist vs. architect. Ultimately, though, the ‘situation’ being considered is created by the intention of the idividuals involved and not by what they call themsleves.

I have had a long term (12 years) collaboration with Pandora Vaughan where these fine balances have seen ebbs and flows, a surge in confidence at one stage, but at another the little prickles of indignation of perceived insensitivities. It is, though, all enveloped in the confidence of a long term relationship where there is a ‘greater good’ – undefined but nevertheless real – that acts as a ‘gold standard’ for our creative endeavours – which is priceless.


I’ve been sweating out a new version of my artist’s statement, which, of course, needs to be simply expressed and concise. It’s not easy is it? If you’re trying to avoid using technical or specialised terms, then using plain language raises a whole lot of muddle.

Do you label your work? Is what other people think of your label important to you? Is it important to them? If you’re working in a public context, whether with a community group, or in a public location, how you’re perceived makes quite a difference. ‘He’s an artist you know, but actually he’s alright!’ or ‘He seems quite nice, but, I’m not sure what he does’.

‘Complex’ – not to be confused with ‘complicated’ – is how we’re made, and how we think, so do we need to reduce the rich truth to simplistic labels? People are quite familiar with making conceptual connections, and especially since we pursue complexity in our work why should we shy away from expressing that ‘mix’?

But that’s where the difficulty arises – ‘what does that MEAN?’ Is a label a definition? It depends whether you define things by their centre or their edge? The edge is interesting, because it intermingles with other things and you get complexity and colour, but the centre is what gives you direction – what you’ll keep coming back to. If I make a general statement about myself and my work, it calls for a balance but I’m not the final arbiter of its perception. Have they seen part of one of my ‘edges’ or do they perceive the constant ‘centre’?

I know exactly what I’m trying to do and where my centre is found, but I can easily be seen as either hopelessly vague, or narrowly formulaic, depending which label I use. The work, of course, speaks for itself, but that doesn’t help you in the short term.

Its a balance – of pain and pleasure perhaps? It’s not black and white, though, is it?