(james benedict brown) on the road

It’s still your fault

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 30 July, 2010

Earlier this week I caught a flight from Stansted Airport back to Northern Ireland. I first visited Stansted shortly after it opened in the early nineteen-nineties, when the vast £100,000,000 terminal was home to just a handful of airlines. Back then it was a delightful experience; a crystal clear navigational experience, with clean signage and spacious circulation spaces.

The plan was for Stansted to become London’s premier gateway, a true alternative to Heathrow and Gatwick, which could tempt the long haul airlines and passengers out into the Essex countryside. Then the ground beneath the aviation industry shifted, and it became instead a low-cost hub for budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet. Designed with the intention of making your passage through the airport as smooth as possible, Stansted was rapidly reconfigured to make your passage through the airport as expensive as possible. The airside lounge is a grotty and crowded retail hellhole, designed around the meandering line principle that if you expose passengers to the maximum possible surface area of shop frontages, they will eventually succomb and buy something.

Despite having three satellites (and a fourth under construction) departing passengers are bottle necked inside this cramped area in the main terminal until the hour or half hour before their departure. This is again to maximise their exposure to retail enlightenment rather than the relative tranquility of the satellite buildings.

Of particular amusement to me, spotted while waiting for my gate to be called, was this notice, applied in vinyl beneath the departure screens:

Stansted Airport does not verify the accuracy or completeness of this flight information which is supplied direct from your airline. The airport accepts no liability for any loss or damages suffered as a result of the reliance on such information which may later prove to be inaccurate or incomplete.

Departure information? Nah, this is just the departure information screen. Not our responsibility, mate…



Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 28 February, 2009

My first built project is emerging from the mud of the Queen’s Park allotments. It could well also be my first application to the Macallan Club, but its significance is no less important to me.

There’s an apartment complex in Northern Ireland to which I made some modest design contributions as a part one architect some years ago. It’s going to be completed later this year, and I caught an unexpected glimpse of it from a moving train a couple of months ago. That was probably the first time that I – as a young semi-legal architect – had come face to face with something I had had my hand in, albeit from a distance and not actually showing much of my work.

This is different, however, and building it has been an education. There have been some arguments (with nails, luckily, not my long suffering co-constructor) and there are some notable problems (notably that it is six inches too close to the adjacent path). We’re a couple more days away from finishing it; at the moment only three sides are approaching what you might call a state of functional enclosure. With the exception of the nuts, bolts, screws and nails, all of the material is reclaimed, some from Glasgow Wood Recycling, other bits and pieces from Freecycle and the heavily littered streets of Glasgow. The material cost has, in fact, been minimal; the small budget has mostly been spent on those small pieces of ironmongery and transportation.

My dream car used to be a modest second hand Saab or Capri; something unreliable and extravagant. Now I have a hankering for a Vivaro or Transit panel van. Much more useful.

As Britain continues its apparently unstoppable plunge into a recession, my advice to unemployed graduates like myself has been to keep busy and to keep physically active. In other words, get an allotment. The hours up there just fly by. For unemployed architects (especially young ‘uns like myself with no built credits to there name) consider an allotment without a shed. It’s been an unexpected opportunity to call upon the plentiful resources of free material in this city, and has produced something that I’m already beginning to identify as having direct (if not conscious) influences from buildings and design I’ve seen and absorbed over the last few years.

Now we just have to finish the damned thing…

Auntie ditches another design classic

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 31 January, 2009

Back home, we are very mean to the most senior member of the Brown household, and it’s quite unfair. Just like me, he likes to watch the weather forecast, and does so religiously after the evening news bulletin every night. But he’s a victim of BBC modernisation, since the graphical presentation of the BBC weather forecast is so terrible, he can never remember what the forecast was predicting once it’s finished.

Coming up to four years ago, the BBC abandoned it’s meteorological department’s greatest asset – the ageless design classic that was the set of symbols used to adorn the television weather map. The symbols weren’t modern enough for the Beeb. and they were promptly replaced by a weather map that had no symbols, but instead a graphical simulation of what the weather might actually look like from space. The idea seemed to have been to placate young children who might have been afraid of giant black cloud symbols hovering over entire counties. At the expense of anyone with a black and white television. And while denigrating the status, size and shape of Scotland.

On Monday, the BBC will make the next bold step in insulting it’s audience. This time, there really is no hope for the classic symbols of the old BBC weather map, because the BBC Online Weather pages are being modernised royally screwed over.

Here is an example of the current, and soon to be defunct online weather forecast.


And here is the equivalent part of the new one, currently available online in beta, and live as the default for all weather forecasting from Monday 2 February.


I’ll put the next statement in a paragraph of it’s own, so that the “designer” (self-edit) who came up with the “improved” weather symbols can find it more easily than one can find Aberdeen on the distorted UK weather map.

The weather map icons have been used for more than thirty years because they worked. They are clear. They are simple. They are universal. They can be read in a millisecond. They cannot easily be confused. They can be adapted to reflect many different meterological situations with a single change, and yet retain their legibility. There is nothing wrong with a black cloud, half a sun shining out from behind it, a raindrop and a snowflake beneath it: it describes a typical Glaswegian winter’s day perfectly.


We already tolerate this (above) on our television screens, but with the courteous addition of temperature and wind speed icons. I cannot for the life of me understand this map. It may be technologically impressive, but its usefulness is one minute fraction of the old system.

Will this late night complaint be heard? Maybe. Will anyone who has the power to stop bad visual design at the BBC do anything about it?

No. Not unless a few other mouthy bloggers go on about it, of course :)

Glasgow Film Festival: web me not

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 22 January, 2009

In the academic year 2007/2008, I saw an awful lot of films. I’ve given up trying to count how many, but suspect I may have been into three figures by the time I left Sheffield and moved out of seductive reach of the Showroom Cinema. A diligently archived stack of ticket stubs has become a jumbled non-chronological pile which I will probably avoid sorting until I have real work to procrastinate from.

Since the summer, however, I think I’ve seen about two films. The credit crunch (that which I blame everything on) has curtailed my consumption of films and put me on a meagre cinematic diet. I don’t know whether that diet would be so frugal if I were still in Sheffield, and still being tempted by the Showroom’s member ticket prices and brilliant programme.

But, now that I’ve been in Glasgow for almost six months, and perhaps that things are starting to look up in terms of the old money-in-money-out, I hope to get back into shape. Next month the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT) hosts the 2009 Glasgow Film Festival, with a handful of other screenings and events on at cinemas and venues around the city. Christmas (or rather a certain Minnesotan) brought me a Festival Gift Pass, which can be redeemed for ten tickets to any of the shows.

The GFT has been excitedly building up to the launch of the festival programme at midnight on 21 January, and the opening of booking.

So, first thing this morning, I hit the web and checked out glasgowfilmfestival.org.uk to find the programme and the shows. A note on screen apologised for online booking difficulties, but frankly, that shouldn’t be the biggest of their concerns. Desperately hunting around for a list of shows to browse, it seems that all the film information has been uploaded to a scrolling time plan, tabbed by day and arranged in rows by film.


Top marks to the web designer who came up with this relatively smooth device. But nul points for the eeejit who thought that this could suffice for any kind of list of shows. Because while this is a great tool for finding out which shows run when, and for how long (facilitating multiple venues in an evening) it’s absolutely mind numbing if you don’t know what films are on. Without a printed programme or title summary, it takes three clicks to get into the day, film and then blurb just to discover what the film is about and who it’s by.


As you can see above, clicking on an event or film title reveals virtually no information that you couldn’t already get from just looking at the programme screen. It takes another click to get the film’s details. And since there isn’t a single page or section of the site that just tells me film title, date & time, director and summary, I’ve wasted a whole hunk of this morning trying to find out what I’m going to cash my tickets in for. A whole hunk of cash seems to have been spent on a whole hunk of redundant web design (a personal beef, as you can tell).


The colour coding for the strands is also pretty useless, since with 15 subtle shades the key is difficult to follow and it’s located at the very bottom of the screen. Unless you have a mahoosive monitor (and I’ll accept that many festival-attending hipsters who work in the arts may have a bigger screen than I do) it’s an arse to scroll the events out of view to find the key.

The solution? I’m going to hop on a train into the city, search out a printed programme and buy a coffee. It will be much more enjoyable and much more helpful for me to plan my festival. I’m very excited, and I’m not going to let some A-level web design spoil my fun…

An alternative Chevy Cruze

Posted in Uncategorized by James Benedict Brown on 21 August, 2008

General Motors realised details and three pictures today of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze (I know, I don’t understand why model years are being announced so far in advance, since it only serves to undermine sales of the crap they’re replacing). In the same way that Ford in America recently launched itself into applying a three bar chrome grille to the front of every new model, Chevrolet is attempting to re-design the face of their passenger cars with a frankly tenuous horizontal body colour bar across the grill. You can see it already on the 2008 Malibu.

A somewhat inconsistent proportion has been applied to these two cars, and in the case of the Cruze it just suggests that a bite has been taking out of the (otherwise rather attractively) sculpted bonnet.

Since it seems to me a rather mis-proportioned gesture, I couldn’t resist the urge to photochop an alternative.

In my humble opinion, it may make the car less striking, but it’s certainly cleaner. The bonnet reclaims a three dimensional sense of shape as well. Just a thought. Since we’re two and a half years away from 2011, maybe someone in Chevy could consider it?