I was listening to an interesting podcast called 99 percent invisible. I got distracted at some point and lost the thread, but a few minutes later my mind was reeled in again when I heard the words “the distance a shout carries in the city“. The voice continued to read what seemed to be a list of unconnected things. And as I started listening again I found that several of the items (the distance of a whisper; how to design a corner; the difference between a ghetto and a neighbourhood; the meaninglessness of borders; the angle of the sun at the equinox; the smell of concrete after rain …) sparked the thought: “I’d really like to know about that”. When the list finished, my mind had been massaged out of a state of numbness into one wanting to go out and look at everything, read new books or listen to interesting people.
In the credits to the podcast I found that the items read out were from a list entitled “Two Hundred and Fifty Things an Architect Should Know” by Michael Sorkin and included in his book “What Goes Up”. In case you find it interesting as well I have reproduced the list below.
Listening to the list being read out was like standing in a strange rain, one drop falling at a time, each one from a totally unpredictable angle and each drop waking my mind a little more. If you want to reproduce my experience, I have recorded the whole list here. Sit down, try to remember the smell of rain on concrete and start:
TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY THINGS AN ARCHITECT SHOULD KNOW
1. The feel of cool marble under bare feet.
2. How to live in a small room with five strangers for six months.
3. With the same strangers in a lifeboat for one week.
4. The modulus of rupture.
5. The distance a shout carries in the city.
6. The distance of a whisper.
7. Everything possible about Hatshepsut’s temple (try not to see it as ‘modernist’ avant la lettre).
8. The number of people with rent subsidies in New York City.
9. In your town (include the rich).
10. The flowering season for azaleas.
11. The insulating properties of glass.
12. The history of its production and use.
13. And of its meaning.
14. How to lay bricks.
15. What Victor Hugo really meant by ‘this will kill that.’
16. The rate at which the seas are rising.
17. Building information modeling (BIM).
18. How to unclog a rapidograph.
19. The Gini coefficient.
20. A comfortable tread-to-riser ratio for a six-year-old. Read more…
Picture taken in May 2017 and processed with Prisma
I love Naples and the Neapolitan language. Walking around Naples in May 2017, I came across this street where nothing appeared to be at the same angle. It seemed to me to depict, not just physically, one of the characteristics of Naples which make it such an interesting place. So I took this photo, which I processed with Prisma, an app which turns photos into drawings, to try in order to emphasise all the loudly disparate angles.
on the Janiculum,
Garibaldi is riding
He isn’t getting very far,
but then he’s seated on a marble horse
and on his cap there rides
another rider. It is
in the city,
which he’ll never reach
more statues stand and sit,
some- angels – hover or
perch on ledges trying hard,
despite stiff joints, to have a
dangle with their feet.
But each one has upon
its pate, hair, hat or helmet
a bird of the same kind.
Cavour has one, so does
St. Peter on his helicopter halo;
and near the Forum
all the Caesars there are
even Augustus with his nasty curls;
and if there were a statue of Columbus,
Christopher Pigeon himself,
he also would be captained by a bird.
So why don’t they throw in a
sculpted pigeon as a package deal ?
That way you’d always have one
which would fit the bill.
Or else, to those who dream
of living on
among the changing traffic lights
and blinking neon signs,
in parks and squares
their feet steeped in the alarming
future forms of garbage we
shall certainly devise,
I would suggest you take to wearing
a Pickelhaube on your daily rounds,
that headgear Bismarck and the Prussians
used to sport, a fascinating spike
protruding from the top. No birds
on that, I’d think.
And also it would make those
chummy gatherings on the White House
lawn look much more like
the thing they really are.
Or perhaps not, let us
not play with spikes,
the point of the statue,
it is clear,
is the pigeon
at its tip,
for I have never seen
a person look so self-achieved
or sure of purpose as does
a pigeon when it –
like a sherpa in some
and shishkebabbish –
upon some great man’s head.
Phillip Hill 2007
(This poem is included in my book The Observation Car which is available from