September 12, 2007

City of Sound: A Birth, In 13 Places, On One New Dad's Architecture Blog

One of my favorite architecture and urban space bloggers, Dan Hill, of City of Sound, is a new dad [mazeltov, Celia & Dan, hi Ollie!]. [Which means he helped put on the awesome NYC symposium/happening Postopolis! in May just weeks before the kid arrived? It's the archibloggercon-organizing version of doing all the same dance moves, only backwards and in high heels.]

Anyway, the always-hyper-perceptive Hill has put together a series of wonderful posts about the changes in a new parent's sense of city and space. It's titled, "A birth, in 13 places," and like most everything of literary import in London these days, it begins with D.H. Lawrence:

And yet, as Dyer later suggests in his study of D.H. Lawrence, all writing - particularly note-based writing, which this is - is about yourself as much as a subject. And this is a good thing, at its best generating lightning flashes of insight on subject as well as self that the false objectivity of academia cannot approach. He relates Rebecca West's notes on Lawrence's penchant for writing about a place as soon as he got there, without even experiencing it:
"Fresh off the train: "tapping out an article on the state of Florence at that moment without knowing enough about it to make his views of real value'. Later she realised that 'he was writing about the state of his own soul at that moment, which ... he could render only in symbolic terms; and the city of Florence was as good a symbol as any other."
I can't promise any searing insights into "state of my soul", and I'm clearly no Lawrence, but these pieces, roaming around aspects of architecture, history, service design, loose definitions of London, contemporary prams, hospital wards and nurses uniforms, music and such-like, are certainly in response to Oliver's birth.

So this is the story of his birth, our birth, across the 13 or so places that define it for me. But it's a story of those places too, the buildings that shape them and the things that shape those buildings. As I began to see the familiar in new ways, I jotted down these notes.

Appropriately, there are quite a few hospital spaces on the list, and among many other things, the posts offer an American [well, me] a great, if oblique, view of the history and cultures of Britain's National Health Service and its private medical industry.

A favorite contrast is between an Active Birthing seminar in yuppified North London and the NHS' antenatal class:


In stark and healthy comparison to the Active Birth Centre, the antenatal classes are raw London. It's a cross-section through Camden in particular, with Chinese, Italian, African-Caribbean, Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Eastern European, East African Asian, Irish, American, white Anglo-Saxon, and, well, who knows. And across several income groups, societal classifications, married couples and single parents, wives with massively disinterested boorish partners who read the paper while ventouse extractions are being discussed, as well as doting dads who run in late from work, apologising profusely. Basically everything, all at once. And it feels incredibly vibrant and alive as a result.
And in Delivery Room 1, after taking note of the incredibly adjustable bed, Hill's gaze wanders out the window:
The room looks out onto an internal light well in the building, the base of which is covered with air conditioning units, which combine to create a ghostly low-volume shriek when the wind blows back through them. It occurs to me that Stockhausen would enjoy the effect; a bit like his 'Helicopter Quartet', as it too is rotor-driven, but with an aleatoric element derived from the chaotic patterns of the wind. It also occurs to me that if this isn't the very last thing a woman in labour would want to hear about, it must be pretty bloody close. So I keep quiet about it.

I won't go into the details of the labour, but Oliver Kornel Hill is born in this room at 22.47, which is a moment as wonderful and astonishing as everyone says it is.

Don't worry, I had to look it up, too. Also, Daddy Types gets a shoutout [!], and we learn that in some London neighborhoods, Bugaboos are stolen to order. How much does that run you, I wonder? Anyone?

A Birth, In 13 Places [cityofsound.com]

1 Comment

Hey thank you Greg! Much appreciated.

I don't know how much the Bugaboos go for 'on the street' - I could get my contacts in Islington to lodge an enquiry if you're interested in picking one up - but I think it was after a few Celebrity Mums in the UK were seen with them in tow.

Ours was bought from a shop, proper-like. Honest.

[used ones bring about $US500-600 on eBay, I expect it'd be a little less than that -ed.]

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