On 16 September 2009 I departed London one-way to New Delhi. India was the natural starting point on an unknown, undecided and unplanned journey without agenda, especially having studied the Vedic temples of India over the previous years from my London studio whilst masterplanning a Vedic Temple and Monastery Complex.
I travelled with my passion, observing the landscapes and cultures I passed, with intermittent curiosity-driven pauses. I was free to do and see, and with purpose I decided to find, among others, BV Doshi to share in conversation.
In April 2010 I presented and shared my travel experiences thus far to Balkrishna Doshi and his staff at Sangath, Ahmedabad. We spent time in this studio, I was hosted for the finest thali in Gujarat, and explored ancient structures, temples, halls and space, venerated by Doshi, and more modern buildings of Doshi and Corbusier.
Everyone is human, and the spectrum of expression sits between love snd fear. Fear nothing, and see the light that shines in all. Then your world will open, as it did for me continuously and spectacularly on my journey. If you want something, the world will conspire with you and this only illustrates and reinforces great spiritual texts on energetic connectedness and love.
In my humble opinion, Richard Leplastrier is the architect’s architect. Trained in Japan, skilled in boat building material technique and practices, a master craftsman, Ric’s projects transcend taste, style and the new.
Lovett Bay is the home Ric built for his family. Delicately touching the ground exuding a Japanese familiarity, this one room plywood structure without defined use afforded appropriation for sitting, sleeping, living, and a multitude of memories and experiences.
In 2010 I found myself in the twilight hours immersed in the timber bath sharing congenial conversation with Ric and a handful of his likeminded contemporaries. This was a building, and indeed a heated bathing apparatus I had educated my students about for many years previously.
I would revisit RIc and family many times whilst living on the Hawksbury River throughout 2010. A great presence, Ric has inspired my teachings. A great thinker, his wisdom transcends his built constructs. A master craftsman, a genius.
John Simpson is the architect’s, architect’s master-craftsman. John has constructed a series of beautiful structures across New South Wales, principally for (in my opinion) the architect’s architect, Ric Leplastrier.
I spent much time with John through 2010 collaborating as I paused for a period in Sydney where we were serendipitously introduced and shared passion for building and making.
John and I shared a perspective of our conditioned world that needed to be reimagined, and whilst I speculated and sketched, John would construct tools and apparatus for more efficient and joyful living. If a technique was not available to craft an apparatus, John would design and make the tool to provide the technique.
Industrious, multi-skilled, incredibly gifted, and passionate, I visited John again in mountains of NSW in 2014. Exuding great fascination for the natural and manmade, we explored a building by Glen Murcutt where he proceeded to critique detail, workmanship and intent. While not a trained architect, John is a guru.
Kate Smith Jamison
Catherine Smith and I journeyed through the late 80’s and early 90’s school years in Belfast. Our paths energetically crossed and connected for a brief moment when we were 17, but we were on very different trajectories. A seed had been sown, but our togetherness was separated. Catherine was off to Cambridge, and I was struggling to understand much.
25 years later our paths would cross once again when I visited her Yoga & Ayurveda Clinic to learn more about my constitution basis the ancient Indian medical system of Ayurveda. This time we met as established practitioners and started travelling in unison. We are now married, and have a growing family.
Kate (Catherine) is a Ayurvedic Yogini, practitioner and teacher, guide and guru. An inspiration and symbol of elemental divinity. An amazing mother. A goddess.
I met Demetri on retreat in Santorini 2018. I was there in a supportive role, while his partner Shiva Rea was teacher training a select group of advanced yogis, my wife Kate among them. I found myself spending much time with Demetri, becoming versed in ‘Prana Danda’, a practice using a ‘danda’ or staff to support and assist in a choreographed asana practice- a movement meditation.
Demetri is an advanced Buddhist practitioner, and pioneer of ‘Prana Danda Yoga’. Realising his enlightened spiritual practice and generosity in listening, we would spend much time discussing spiritual wisdom as questions arising within would be challenged, dissected and liberated.
I have always had inner issues with social media, seeing Facebook and Instagram and indeed a practice website as egocentric and impeding a journey to contentment. This has been an personal issue as our contemporary culture and ability to promote a working practice requires the representation of philosophy and portfolio of works., and this became a subject of much discussion. Demetri illustrated the need to engage, but with integrity and accepting a vulnerability.
Soon after my return I created an Instagram account. Twitter I actively use as a method of gathering information from alternative sources, whilst Instagram a softer platform to stay connected and share thoughts with the world. However, it is Demetri that inspired this website. An offering of self, a representation of my studio practice, and practices.
This offering will hopefully generate a connection with those of a similar ilk, those interested in my studio practice and perhaps opening up collaboration for a shared journey.
Demetri’s Buddhist teachings encourages the student to “recognise your own primordially pure authentic mind.” There is nothing to be sought elsewhere.
Ways of Seeing
Growing up with my parents and 6 siblings in a three bedroom rented council house without central heating and only essential furnishings made me very curious about how others lived. I always wanted to peep beyond their front doors to the comforts I could only imagine beyond. I believe how I lived growing up made the built, inhabited environment a place of wonder in my mind, essentially creating a dreamscape of possibilities.
My first experience of domestic architecture aged 10 confirmed my ambition, and although I was not easily schooled my trajectory to the study of architecture would remain intact.
This joy in seeing the world, spectating on the idiosyncratic behaviour afforded by material and composition fuelled my search for a greater understanding towards perfection, all whilst accepting the dichotomy of perfection as ‘a state of mind’ and impossible to attain through architecture.
It was a personal ‘grand tour’ to corners far from western influence that would ultimately push my philosophical positioning to new places, forcing a complete rethink of all I believed to be acceptable, appropriate and responsible.
Fear and acceptance
I captured this image in southwest Pokhara, Nepal and loved the juxtaposition of the overturned truck and the village name. I travelled on an Enfield 350 circa 18,000km through the Indian continent and Nepal 2009/10. Most of my previous motorcycle experiences had been off road, this would be my first on a road and roads I had never travelled. I also decided that I needed to avoid the tourist circuit following weeks of illness. I confronted my fears and my journey truly began. I crashed on three occasions, was assaulted many times, but the knowledge and memories cemented by these experiences remain strong reminders of the potential for transformation through confronting our fears.
Yes….indeed…it turns out there really is nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear will deplete and destroy. In my experience we help combat fear by living in the moment, daring to live with ambition and reaching for our dreams.
A wise someone once said ‘we only learn through failing’. By having no fear of trying even if we fail, we recalibrate and with determination we succeed and grow. My personal experiences have included - and continue to include - taking risks and failing, but hopefully - if not instantly - learning from those failures and continuing on my path with greater clarity.
Unfortunately younger generations are increasingly enveloped in a world of debt that in order to advance their studies they find themselves with heavy financial burdens. Debt reduces risk, and the result is a potentially more prosaic and dull world.
I encourage my own tribe to take risks, however small. To manifest their dreams, to accept failure as a fundamental ongoing lesson through life in order to free themselves of fear.
A curious world
The world is full of the exotic, the strange, outrageous and beautiful. I believe happiness is more readily accessed when we journey without agenda, metaphorically and literally. When we spectate upon others without judgement, and look for the wonderment that resides within all, at the world as a divine multiplicity of perfection and chaos, seeing every moment as golden and every breath as life giving, then we truly can appreciate the mundane and difficult as necessary moments in the universal equilibrium.
“Never let schooling get in the way of your education.” Mark Twain.
I feel it is critical we challenge information from all sources. Particularly that which is spoon fed by mainstream media and in our schools. Information can be gathered from books and other sources, but it is only through experience does that knowledge become wisdom.
I watch colleagues on social media wasting precious energy and time passionately flaunting a narrative, upset at the people who think otherwise. It is embarrassing at times, but that’s the culture we live in - divided, kept busy bickering and fighting amongst ourselves. As my very wise mother used to say, '“Don’t get involved”.
So, I say to the younger generation, believe nothing. Take your mandatory schooling with a pinch of salt and when free, educate yourself through experience. Be fearless, travel, trust your sensations within and journey. Leave the misery and bullshit projected upon us, and enjoy the majesty and divinity this exotic world has to offer.
“Believe nothing that you hear and only half of what you see.” Edgar Allan Poe.
As a practitioner my interest is in the experimental. I feel privileged to have experienced place and people informing my view on the world, travelled, mastered and guided. However, it is the bleak early years of my existence that provided the ‘resilience’ of survival in a place that feels fundamentally fake, superficial, and concocted as a response to current demands which are unsupportive of our health and bio-mechanical well-being.
My response is to spectate. Let be. With my practices in place, I see my architectural studio practice as exploratory and experimental, finding processes, procedures, artefact and building to support and nurture. I realised my previous practice could not be commercially successful but with other platforms it is my intention to find way of progressing my works within collaborations of like-minded individuals and groups, as a constellation model of organisation working towards the creation of architecture and space to energetically heal and nurture the occupants and visitor. Resilience to pursue the abandonment of cultural conditioning merged with an understanding of the need for exploration of consciousness presents a renewed manifesto and approach in practice.
National Experimental Workshop Studio.
There is nothing more exciting than rethinking all that we understand as ‘built’ environment, and nothing more liberating than knowing that we can’t unknown certain truths.
Through the practice of outward observation and inward reflection we can begin to understand how we operate in time and space.
Feelings and sensations are an inner language we can read, translate and transmit. A language of reason and conjecture ‘feeling’ infinite expressions and impressions that our natural and manmade environments generate. We are all energetic beings, of the same essence, in the same materium.
Architecture will support and nourish the spirit, but it too can disrupt and destroy relationship and place.
We are all creators. We all have this ability to create, we do so each and every day by the seemingly mundane or mediocre decisions we make every moment of our lives.
Creating our lives is a profound personal responsibility as we chose how we will exist in the physical realities we experience. As architects, that responsibility is towards others experiencing our building and cities, a privileged position that requires great reverence and compassion.
Architecture is a creative endeavour, and creativity is a spiritual practice.
To practice in this place of pure creation, is to find inner peace, where time is still, and bliss is infinite. To gift this endeavour to others is to be in service to others, and to act in service is to manifest and sustain bliss. This is ancient wisdom. If ones dharma is creative practice, then one can find and understand bliss.
I acknowledge the metaphysical plane as the true source of inspiration - the guru and the guide.
Unconsciously I read my environment. I recognise this as a tool formed over multiple lifetimes of experience, compressed and delivered through sensations via sound, touch, sight, taste and smell. Experienced physically in this plane, one can let go of the frivolities of our reality, instead reading new pathways and searching new paradigms.
Recognising this as a tool elevates ones idea of inspiration to the ‘feeling’ plane, and the essence of spirit, separate from the conditioned self.
I find deep calm and truth in complexities of spatial and material problem solving, creating manifestations to lift the spirit and celebrate divinity.
We all have a ‘perspective’, a view of the paradigm we exist within. Depending how conscious and open we are to change and what framework we create to bring understanding and clarity to a deeply complex system of experiences we call living, this view of the materium is constantly influenced, updated and re-calibrated by our social standing, political landscape, status and culture.
We have our customs, traditions, desires, needs, interests, attachments and aversions. We are each supremely unique, arguably alone on our journey, where each new day requires the rhythm of our being to grow and evolve.
The concept of this unique-ness is a fascination. We make decisions, choices moment by moment to aid and support self. As adults we educate ourselves, forming opinions and positions that seem appropriate or otherwise. As individuals within groups, collectives, tribes or societies we have learned social norms to enable the ability to engage with others and navigate the joys and sorrows life brings.
There exists a conscious cultural mainstream, and many alternatives. Mainstream is structured and controlled. Social, economic and political frameworks dominate. Our activities are regulated and our environments created and designated.
If we are open to the flow of constant change that is ‘living’, then we are free to consider all and view everything with one’s own and another’s perspective. This can hinder or support our growth and our spiritual, biological evolution depending on our abilities and standing.
My perception changes daily, shifting from idea to judgement refraining from ‘belief’. Historically, and as a recurring theme my perspective almost completely transforms every few years, shifting to a more focused but grander place of refuge.
After closing my London studio in 2009 and embarking on a grand tour of indigenous peoples and architecture without architects, I returned to the edge of Europe and my homeland in 2014 with an aversion to all I had understood as ‘real’ and ‘true’. My journey afforded much time to contemplate my existence and cultural conditioning whilst observing others. Others I felt were more appropriate and responsible. Others beyond the constructed ‘western civilisation’.
In 2015 I established a new practice, the National Experimental Workshop Studio. Still in its infancy, this experimental studio rethinks all that we call ‘cult’ure, aspiring to consider an alternative within our climate and landscape.
In the past decade my perspective has shifted greatly. Here, I list subject matter I hold as a lens to the world I inhabit. These pages extend beyond my architecture studio practice, but rather offer an idea of self.
I AM THAT presents a series of ideas, buildings, aspirations, musings and offerings; it lists the practices that create the I AM.
To the younger generation(s) I would suggest sacrificing tertiary education for years of self guided exploration. Find who you want to be, discover those you aspire to become, offer your services and work hard to become expert in your field, all beyond your predestined culture. Do this both for its value to your “career” and for your happiness. Be fearless, believe the world will conspire with you and live every golden moment. Oh, and getting out to explore the world will force you to deal with others head on. That I would encourage. Do not hide your light under a bushel.
Indeed I am a graduate of architecture school, but my education was free, and living expenses subsidised. Staff were experts to be listened to and respected. Now, and in my opinion, attending a school of architecture for the majority is a waste of time and money. Unless you have wealth you will be tragically pushed into a world of debt. As a teacher for almost 15 years I have witnessed the paradigm shift from a ‘free’ model to a ‘business’ model. Furthermore a business model finds efficiency at the cost of expert teaching staff, so students are taught (for the most part) by the inexperienced and unskilled teaching body regurgitating textbook learning with very little experience.
In essence the student ‘cannot fail’, but must be guided. The ‘crit’ system that prepares the individual, encouraging them to take responsibility, be self critical and aware, and to simply ’grow up’ is slowly being replaced with a more caring, mothering and in my opinion damaging procedure, disabling students. The result is the unarmed and unprepared graduate confronted by the reality of independent adult life. Add debt and inability to compete with the global workforce and the result can be psychologically damaging. This is unfair and unjust.
There are many ‘architects’ building structures that impact on the health and wellbeing of the population. Cities vandalised and streets destroyed, to line a developers pocket and enable a commercial practice to meet costs. Unfortunately bad buildings are promoted as architecture, simply confusing the general public, and devaluing the practice profession.
I have a theory. Controversial and unrealistic but practical. Strip all ‘architects’ of title instead calling ourselves ‘Building Professionals’. Then through dedicated practice and output that serves society and environment, both built and natural, can an external international peer review award the title ‘Architect’. The purpose? To enable society to understand what ‘architecture’ is, the quality and value thereof, and demand more for the health of cities and joy of the people
Sadly, misinformed and perhaps illegitimate practitioners award accolades to colleagues, misrepresenting the value system of architecture with a spiralling demise into a self generated, self absorbed, blinkered, insular, parochial world of mediocre design and banal building construction. I only need to walk the streets of Belfast to be bombarded with visual shit, unfriendly streets and abysmal planning decisions. Of course this is excluding the pre-war urban fabric of yesteryear and todays great thinkers that imagined the Lyric Theatre and MAC amongst others, but merely a peppering.
What to do….?
My primary vibration is spatial adventure. This unseen subtle energy of ebb and flow I call ‘Spatial Prana’. Prana is vital life energy or life force. Space is the first element. Nothing else can manifest without it.
The practice of architecture brings spiritual growth. It is my dharma. My practices of asana, pranayama, meditation amongst others support my spirit self and support my spatial adventures.
When fully and completely engaged in creative practice, stillness emerges. Music, literature, architecture, meditation, stillness, can be your yoga. I find this stillness in the practice of architecture. My practice is my yoga. Architecture is my yoga. Centred and grounded in stillness. This requires dedication and sustained practice. The purpose is finding this stillness in daily living through creative practices. All practices become lifestyle and lifelong.