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Reporting on the ready-made and its mass of contradictions

The contrast of fantastic speed and dubious delay experienced in mass transit systems eliminates memories of all but the most leisurely journeys. Arrival, however, is uplifting, as is discovering alternative attitudes and imagining the transposition of their architecture to another place, where they magically become new;

think 'ready-made'. The upside of a recent excess of travel is that I have acquired new architectural 'ready-mades' that I can 'import' to London The Macintosh School, Glasgow, confirmed the irrelevance of reviewing images of buildings as an architectural conclusion. This is not an academic problem; the profession is obsessed with brand and image, rather than people and use. This observation, however, was contradicted a few days later in Victorian Manchester. Very little of the urban infrastructure is used for its original purpose, yet the coherent fabric demands reinvention rather than removal.

Next, at a disused quarry in north Wales, I was surprised at how much the success of the wedding relied on the weather - which was predictably beyond the architect's control (and unpredictably splendid). Similarly, the builders of the original workers'cottages had no idea they were constructing a future architectural heritage 'industry': the EUfunded institutionalised conversion into a Welsh Language Centre (what irony - centralisation sponsoring localisation).

On to Wolfsburg, Germany, where engineer Adams Kara Taylor introduced us to the delights of what will become Zaha Hadid's competition-winning Science Centre. I don't know what will be housed, nor probably do the architects since they are not designing the exhibition. This is an intelligent response to the requirements for exhibition space and urban connection. The result is a plasticised pavilion:

Miesian universal space, with podium replaced by overblown conical piloti (housing the stairs, ramps and lifts) that will connect the new sculpted park with exhibits above. It is architecture as we know it; a brilliant, yet simultaneously faithful, reinvention. By then I was no longer interested in what was to go on inside, occupation mattered little and I was questioning the relevance of purpose over product. It was clear that the future is self-compacting concrete.

Wolfsburg the place was a Nazi invention; or, as our architect/guide delicately put it, 'a town called into being during an inter-war era with a very different political agenda to that which we share today'. It is a non-place best summarised by the grandiose and empty VW theme park - this confirms that brands are marketing tools that shift cars; for VW is also Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, Seat and a few more.

Prague was wet, noisy, magnificent and full of ideas: the magnificence of St Nicholas suggests the relationship of Baroque to Renaissance is not unlike Zaha's Wolfsburg to Mies'National Museum;

that Le Corbusier took more from his visits than he ever acknowledged; that Loos''raumplan'at Villa Muller has yet to be bettered; and that mass tourism demands a stockpile of junk trinkets that in waste and consequent damage to the environment match the burning of aviation fuel that has called them into being.

In all this confusion, the ideas to be taken on board are specific and contrasting: tall doors are a pleasure not an expense;

aggressive acoustics of emergency services damage the ear and, by prompting reactions to non-existent hazards, generate gridlock; self-compacting concrete will get cheaper and become the norm; the old and the new have always sat uncomfortably together until they are both deemed old and therefore invisible; 'conservation areas'are a dangerous, historically unfounded, invention; architectural branding is a straitjacket designed for the benefit of architects not architecture; good lift controls are crucial; and use is both vital and irrelevant. In summary, architecture is the management of a delightful mass of contradictions.

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