Gordon MacLaren

Course Leader RIBA 3.

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Gordon MacLaren

Gordon MacLaren has been a builder/architect since he started a degree at the Bartlett in the in 1970. So much so that they didn't want him back in the Diploma where he eventually won the second prize in 1980. Gordon expects architecture to speak for itself.  In the last 40 years on the mo-mo-pomo-deco-conto roundabout, he has become non-plussed by any 'architecture' that is preached and not practiced. Indeed he'd like to see all architectural production judged without the benefit of an illustrated narrative by its 'designer' or critic or tutor or historian.  Gordon MacLaren is fascinated by nature (aka natural history) and science (aka knowledge) as they are more or less the same thing from his ardently atheistic but nevertheless metaphysical perspective. At 62, he sees the intelligent deployment of ever more elaborate technologies to produce ever more primitive outcomes, such as autonomy in shelter, food and transport, as the core value in C.21 architecture. Fortunately he is also a none too reluctant consumer of architecture as advertising and/or style which is pretty much all that is taught in schools of architecture or fashioned on our streets. So he illustrates an C.19 industrial shed converted by his daughter into a 800 m.3 three-bed £ 1/4 M hall-house near Holyrood Palace with an island IKEA kitchen altar that can all be kept comfortably warm on a £ 600 p.a. gas bill - so effective is the modern insulation and triple glazing.

Gordon got into teaching RIBA3 in 1990 at the The Polytechnic of North London because he was a lot more interested than his colleagues in the social / political / ethical and financial relationships between an architect and client and the genuinely 'essential' involvement of builders; who mostly do it with expensive materials and for a decent wage. The job interviewer, the soon to be president Frank Duffy, even liked the concept for the Plan of Work.

Through 2013 , Gordon was a part-time site agent on their own house and the absolute priority of having the necessary material on site for the equally necessary 'labour' to transform it into what-the-client-wants had been made startlingly apparent to them once again. Most of the craftsmen he was working with could not read drawings - which was fortunate because they only did drawings in order to meet the Building Regulations or to provide schedules and cutting lists.

Currently, Gordon is using field-stones to make drystone walls around the Cornish smallholding and farmyard that their wife, another architect, and Gordon bought in 2012. They live on and off in the 270 m.3 three-bed granite cow shed that was remodelled by local surfer-craftsmen who laid the new 'wet' roof of tiny second-hand Delabole slates and who lime-pointed the granite walls and who lined it all out internally with painted timber matchboarding on Cellotex on softwood frame that brings it all up to Building Regs Part L standards so that it can be heated by a single biomass stove fed with waste timber from demolition and construction. 

Ultimately 'Chun Yard' should become quasi-autonomous as they invest the obscene profit they can make by selling their Regency house in Hackney in solar panels, photovoltaics and a BMW i3 to give them a big lithium ion battery-on-wheels and 'free' energy for the local transport that is now necessary as one of my their hip joints needs to be replaced with a metal one.

Gordon MacLaren's personal interests and research interests are one and the same since he is so distrustful of preaching and not practicing architecture. As Anthony Gormley puts it, there is an English tradition of thinking through making and Gordon hopes to be part of it. Epistemologically, Gordon is a Popperian falsificationist and therefore more energetic in proving theories wrong through the Aristotelian logic of RAA or 'contradiction' than in trying to invent a false inductive 'logic' in order to foist a newly fashionable theory on an unsuspecting public. Sadly it is this second type of so called 'logic' that seems to be dominant in modern architecture which like modern art is largely a means of social manipulation though advertising and deceit, much as it was in the Renaissance and Baroque.

Of course it might be that the fear of global warming and sea level rise is just a new religion / shopping opportunity and Gordon's efforts to placate the Gods of disaster just another form of supplication to an angry Poseidon. Conveniently, since he have to 'profess' to be a teacher and a professional, Gordon's socially-conditioned 'duty of care' tells him otherwise and he sincerely believes that unless we discontinue our manic poisoning of the biosphere then spaceship earth has a very Martian future ahead of it.

But Gordon accepts that the issue is complicated by the Darwinian concept of 'natural' selection and that we have every right as a species to de-select ourselves either via atomic warfare or climate change.  So just as the NHS is the new religion of eternal life so it seems to Gordon that social housing is becoming a new religion of eternal comfort. Autonomous housing holds for Gordon the promise of eternal climate stagnation.  How lovely would that be? Well it would be fine for him as one, like Ruskin, who finds nature almost universally exquisite and the artificial mostly crass. Or as Yeats put it....

We must laugh and we must sing, We are blessed by everything: Everything we look upon is blessed. Or as Wittgenstein puts it: The world is everything that is the case.


  • Examination in Professional Practice - RIBA Part 3


Gordon does not think it is easy to live a serious life in the C.21. The attractions of frivolities like cyberspace, drugs like alcohol, fast cars and horses are all too beguiling and he suspects that architecture, like life, is really just a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. After all, building is what some flashy animals do to attract a mate and thus increase their chances of reproducing their genes. Gordon doubts the human animal is any different in type or ultimate ambition. Could sustainability just be a learnable adaptation to a more hostile world? And un-sustainability a genuine commitment to the socialist causes of liberty, equality and fraternity. People will make their own choices. Gordon thinks the power of architecture to influence those choices is slight - but it's a very good way of bringing them into focus. The whales are probably the only decent conceptual architects on the spaceship as they manage to straddle the wet and airy parts of the biosphere without using buildings for comfort or show. What a pity some of us like to eat them raw and not so long ago we even used their oil to see in the dark.

Research portfolio

Gordon MacLaren Portfolio