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.