Friday, 17 March 2017

Patrick O'Brien (1944-2017)

Just to let everyone know that my father Patrick O'Brien died of a heart attack in France this morning.

Will write more later.

Catherine O'Brien in Cambridge, UK.


Tuesday 21 March 2017

"... there [is] really no way to overcome the real dilemma of existence, the one of the mortal animal who at the same time is conscious of his mortality. A person spends years coming into his own, developing his talent, his unique gifts, perfecting his discriminations about the world, broadening and sharpening his appetite, learning to bear the disappointments of life, becoming mature, seasoned – finally a unique creature in nature, standing with some dignity and nobility and transcending the animal condition; no longer driven, no longer a complex reflex, not stamped out of any mold. And then the real tragedy [...]: that it takes sixty years of incredible suffering and effort to make such an individual, and then he is good only for dying."
~ Ernest Becker (1973). The denial of death. New York: The Free Press, p. 268.

Thank you for all the comments here and tributes to Patrick on the PlanetF1 forum.

From the ‘Sad news’ thread of the Planet F1 forum

Hello everyone, my name is Brendan O’Brien – I’m Patrick’s son.

Our family’s grief since he died on Friday morning has been almost unbearable. I wanted to take the time to post though because, although my dad had many and varied interests and a wide group of friends across the world, F1 was his passion and this forum – and his many virtual friends on it - was an important part of that.

My dad took me to a number of Grands Prix in our native South Africa when I was a kid, showing me around the pits and once - in the early years, must’ve been around the late-70s - putting his hands over my ears when the noise of the cars going by on the straight startled me and made me cry. Despite thoroughly enjoying the experiences, though, I never really picked up his passion for F1 to the same extent. Rather, we had a shared passion for sports cars – his knowledge about their design and history was almost as vast as his knowledge about F1. Some of my happiest memories are of weekends spent with him in the garage at home in Johannesburg helping him to restore his two beloved Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Speciales.

This is difficult to write. I keep cracking up.

He reminded me just a few weeks ago about how I had dragged him, ‘kicking and screaming’ (his words), onto the Planet F1 Forum back in 2011. Being of an earlier generation, and never a man with much patience for computers, it was an initial challenge to get him comfortable with the technicalities of posting and forum usage. I was determined that he should do this though - living in rural France, he needed an outlet for his F1 passion and you, the members of the PF1 Forum, provided that.

Most of you will be aware of the Rating System that he had developed. He achieved so much in life, but the Rating System was really his life’s major work and the culmination of everything he knew about F1. My sister, Catherine, spent countless hours with him over the past 3 or 4 years to help him formalize the work into book form. He really valued the input and knowledge of so many forum members in discussing his work and testing his conclusions. I also know that he regarded and valued a number of forum members as genuine friends, although he never met any of you.

I am struggling to rationalize his death. He was active and fit, and living life as fully and with as much passion as ever. He was only 72, and had so much more to give. The best I can do is that his family and friends were lucky to have had him in their lives for the period that they did. He was the most thoroughly decent and kind man, and his empathy for all living things – whether human, animal or plant – was on an otherworldly level. Everything that is good in me, I learnt from him.

I moved out of home to go to university when I was 18. This was followed by various moves to countries overseas over the years, which meant that we typically only saw each other annually. In May 2016, however, I was able to fly him over from France to my home in Canada for a dream road trip for both of us. I fulfilled a long-held wish a few years ago of becoming a Porsche 911 owner, and my dad came over for a 4-day road trip with 10 Porsche friends of mine through the forested and winding roads of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia. The driving pace was at times spirited, and my dad said he could still hear the wonderful sound of flat 6s echoing in his mind for months after the trip. He seat-hopped from car-to-car through the trip, getting to know the others and sampling different flavours of Porsche. As was Dad’s way, in the short time he knew the others on the trip, he made an impact with his kindness, his humour, and his genuine interest in others’ lives. On the last day of the trip, which fell on his 72nd birthday, he and I peeled off from the group and made a special journey to Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater, in southern Pennsylvania. One of his other passions (and, in fact, his profession) was architecture, and Fallingwater had been an icon to him since his student days. The in-depth house tour was a spiritual experience for him, and I am grateful we got to do the trip together.

He travelled over to Canada again in September 2016 with my mother to meet his first grandchild, my son, who was born in August. That was the last time I saw him. I had booked for him to come over for another Porsche road trip in May 2017. He was so excited about this and about meeting all of his Porsche friends from last year again.

I’ve written more than intended, and it’s all been done in the midst of a grief I’ve never before experienced and which feels as though it will never end. However, I do want to thank you, his PF1 forum friends, for your engagement with him and for the knowledgeable outlet that you provided. It was important to him and he really appreciated it.


He probably pushed F1 metrics forward further than anybody else has ever done and his contribution will not be forgotten.
~ mikeyg123, Fri Mar 17, 2017 3:44 pm,

His rating system was very interesting, it brought some kind of consistent view of F1 throughout the decades and offered me a lot of insight.
~ mds, Posted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 7:16 am ,

The guy was a statistics machine, very interesting posts.
~ kimilandia, Fri Mar 17, 2017 7:26 pm,

...a most knowledgeable and charming man. I always thought he must be quite mad to be attempting to rate so many era's, drivers etc. something my brain could not even contemplate, definitely a touch of genius in him.
~ bauble, Tues Mar 21, 2017,

He [...] had one of the greatest wealths of Motorsport history of anyone on earth. 
~ F1 MERCENARY  Fri Mar 17, 2017,

He was a great guy who provided both great analysis and historical insight to this forum and i recommend all new readers to review​ his body of posts here* for their high signal to noise content.
~ mas, Mar 27, 2017 12:15 pm,

He was a mine of accurate information and his book is a respected and valued part of my racing library.  Over the years, I have referred to it an awful lot.
~ Stirling Moss, OBE, personal communication, 24 April 2017.

Fantastic information as ever Patrick, and always appreciative of all attempts to look at the facts objectively; I love F1 and several other sports as 'the stopwatch does not lie', but when it's as complicated as F1 it's wonderful your info and breakdown helps analyse what that stopwatch is telling us! Brilliant ;-0)
~ lalaeuro12 July 2012 at 15:29,


Thursday 30 March 2017

"You are likely to be attracted to beautiful philosophies as well as beautiful people, and need to believe in an ultimate order as well as in the potential for improvement. If you are an artist, you will be dissatisfied with everything you produce, always striving for some flawless reflection of your immaculate inner vision; and even if you are not preoccupied with creative pursuits, but deal in numbers or technology or research (which become creative pursuits in your hands), you bring an artist's eye to everything you see, automatically measuring life against the picture held in your heart of what it could and should be if only someone could get rid of that 5%."

"A rich imagination adds life to a clear intellect
Your considerable mental abilities combine with the gift of a rich imagination to produce a symbolic thinker, a philosopher, and a talented speculator. With this fruitful blend of talents, your clear and well-ordered assessments of life are supported by good hunches and a gift of being able to relate diverse concepts and ideas in a coherent and meaningful design. Your thinking is not arid or cold, but full of richness, colour, and a sense of possibilities. You have a good eye for peering into the future, and may use this ability in commercially rewarding ways to assess which trends will be popular in the market-place long before they actually concretise. Or you may link your strong communicative abilities with a sense of the mythic and the magical, and find expression through such work as writing, journalism or media. You have a strong intuitive appreciation of symbols and their meaning, and could develop deep understanding in fields such as psychology or astrology, where ordered thinking and objectivity need to be combined with a "sixth sense" about people and their potential patterns of development."

"You are always a little ahead of society, and the things in which you believe will no doubt become generally socially acceptable in twenty years' time"

~ Liz Greene


From 'Franco Scaglione: Forgotten Genius', by Patrick O’Brien. Automobile Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 3, 1994, p. 97:

Analysis of his works - the surest window to a designer's soul - reveals his motivational qualities. A vivid imagination coupled with deep artistic talent, strong individuality and a scientific bent ensured his uniqueness. Scaglione had a natural impulsiveness and an ability to allow his feelings full expression in his work. This trait was contained and rendered realistic and practical because he combined intuition with reason in decision-making. Vibrant enthusiasm for things of personal interest, tremendous energy and a great capacity for getting things done are obvious from his copious output. Scaglione's impatience with unimportant details enabled him to produce clearly defined, individualistic works. His interest in and ability with mathematics made him one of the few stylists able to calculate aerodynamic problems.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Commerical architectural projects

Commuter railway station design project, Soweto, South Africa, 1996.

Dental polyclinic project, Johannesburg General Hospital, South Africa, 1998.

Betting tote agency, Alberton, Transvaal, built in 1996.

Administrative office building for Tiger Oats, Randfontein, 1971.

Administrative office building for Tiger Oats, Randfontein, 1971, 3D view and plans.

Eden Mall shopping centre renovations, Edenvale, Transvaal, October 1990.

Sandown shopping centre renovation, c.1991.

Entrance renovations, Mutual Square shopping centre, Rosebank, Johannesburg,  April 1992.

Aston Bay holiday/retirement houses, Eastern Cape, South Africa, 1972.

'The Star' Homes Festival, Lone Hill, Sandton, c. 1980.

Travelling exhibition for Middleburg Steel and alloys, 1979, layout and graphics.

Reggies toy store, Sandton City, South Africa, c. 1978.

New entrance for Benmore Gardens shopping centre, entrance project, c 1980.

Wispeco alterations and additions, Alberton, South Africa, c.1981.

Plant nursery design project, Kyalami, c. 1984.

Office block design project, Sandown, c. 1983.

Sandown Centre renovations, Sandton, South Africa, 1991.

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Commonalities between different design fields

Similarities in the work of two Master Designers: 
Frank Lloyd Wright (architect) & Franco Scaglione (aerodynamicist and car designer)

In this post, I argue that the philosophy behind the various fields of design is similar; I believe they originate from the same artistic, intuitive part of the brain.

Kentucky Knob House (aka Hagar House) designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Pennsylvania, USA, 1956: 

Wright combines a sense of repose and tranquility by his the integration of the house within the landscape, and expresses the exciting sense of flowing spaces under the sheltering elegant roof.

Alfa Romeo Sprint Speciale, 1957, designed by Franco Scaglione:

Scaglione creates a sense of speed, motion and obvious aerodynamic efficiency and achieves exceptionally smooth, sculptural integration of the roof and glass forms with the lower body. The whole form is reminiscent of a shark, one of natures most aeronautically efficient creatures.

The above car photographs were taken in 1986 at Sandton City by myself and my 14-year-old son. He has a good eye for photography!

I studied industrial design as well as architecture, and so have become interested in many design fields: furniture, interior, product. Landscaping I studied informally. Car design has also interested me  helped by lifelong interest in cars and Grand Prix racing. 

I have always been intrigued by the design and creative areas of the human brain, and enjoy cross-pollination of fields. Two of the postwar Grand Prix Formula One drivers have also been concert pianists (de Angelis and Sutil). When asked, they reckoned it was equally difficult to play through a Beethoven piano concerto or sonata well and without error, as it was to drive a single, fast qualifying lap at Monte Carlo! They said the practice and concentration required were the same, and that small errors would only be known to themselves, not the audience! Our neighbours are professional musicians with the Amsterdam Concertgebou and other internationally famous orchestras. What they describe in the classical music field sounds as if the same part of the human brain/spirit is used by designers, painters, architects, writers, etc. Surprisingly a very experienced, retired Formula One driver Dave Charlton once described to me his driving of a particularly difficult corner in much the same manner, words and feeling as our musician friends used.

Talking of cars and music, it is quite extraordinary that wind instrument designers/ manufacturers (flutes, saxophones, trumpets,etc) use and apply the same science as racing car exhaust pipe designers! Both deal with pressure waves, back-pressure, gas volumes, tube diameters, etc, yet the two never meet. In the history of grand prix car design, 
the mechanical engineers (engine men) designed the chassis structure too, usually badly, until at last some pure structural engineers from the aircraft industry became involved in the late Fifties.

As I've always been involved in gardens, plants and then landscape design, in 1982 I wrote piece for a magazine which explained my philosophy: that it was not the plants that formed one's major impression/feeling about a landscape, but it was the spaces. Like the village plaza/place/piazza, it was the proportions and not the buildings that had greatest effect on us, but this was registered in the subconscious. Our western education has brainwashed us into 'seeing' only solid, material objects. When I was a student a talented sculptor told us what was most important in chair design, was the spaces around it. Took me years to discover what he meant. Imo it applies to all design fields and to music: the silences between the notes are as important as the notes, in creating the whole, major impression.

1968 residential landscape, Highlands North Johannesburg

This was my first landscape design. Done for our family home, design and development was from 1958 to 1968. My parents, brother and I did the physical reshaping work, my father kept the lawns mowed, my mother was the main planter and gardener. It was a typical Johannesburg suburban 1/4 acre property with the house placed in the middle, the garden of original 1936 geometric planting and pathways.

This view was from the entrance driveway looking past the front of the house. I tried make the house appear lower and belong to the landscape and to create a secluded and tranquil landscape. An appearance of greater space was by means of the soft, flowing shapes of the lawn-plantings, generating longer vistas and a sense of enticement to walk around and explore hidden spaces beyond planting areas.

Residential landscape, Highlands North, Johannesburg 1968: I learnt from Simond's erudite landscape book that an important element of a landscape is providing secluded plantings from which one could see but not be seen. The informal lawn-planting shapes extend the vista in this small garden and encourage one to wander and discover what lies around the next planting.

Residential landscape , Benmore Gardens, Sandton, 2000

This landscape was created from scratch for our third new-built house 'Highveld',on a 1/4 acre property, and developed from 1983 to 2000. My wife Florence was responsible for most of the work, planting and maintenance. This view through the archway was to separate the garden into smaller spaces and create an impression of longer vistas, the differing spatial experiences making one feel the landscape was bigger than the actual, physical area.

Residential landscape, Benmore Gardens, Sandton, 1983-2000: the principal plant elements that formed the spaces were the 45 trees indigenous to the area. As the trees grew larger, lawn areas were replaced with brick paving.  This enabled smaller spaces to lead one through the garden, providing an experience greater than the physical area. Since 1968 it has been my policy to specify and plant only trees indignenous to the area. In this case the original tree types attracted nearly 50 bird species and within five years families of bush babies/nagapies took up residence. They too had been indigenous to this area.

Aluminium-framed Easy Chair with green upholstery, 1978.

This chair was designed as a knock-down item for easy home assembly. My intention was  to incorporate a sense of inviting comfort, ergonomic correctness and stability. 

Residential interior, Benmore Gardens, Sandton, 1983. 

My intention was to create a light, airy, restful and tranquil room. There are no harsh contrasts that cause pupils to dilate and contract, causing tiredness.

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Portraits: Grand Prix drivers

Alberto Ascari, grand prix driver 1940-1955

Bernd Rosemeyer, grand prix driver 1935-1937

Carlos Reutemann, grand prix driver 1972-1982

Christian Lautenschlager: grand prix driver 1908-1922

Felice Nazzaro, grand prix driver 1905-1923

Georges Boillot, grand prix driver 1909-1914

Juan Fangio, grand prix driver 1948-1958

David Bruce-Brown, grand prix driver 1910-1912
© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.