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Wednesday, September 29, 2004
For yesterday's post on retro-future airports, this is the kind of image I was looking for to accompany it / mapping historic cities / photos by Takaci Hirano. More Japanese photography at Aurora. Yet more photography: Daniel Mirer, especially his industrial photos, (via coincidences), Jan Staller, Erin Wigger, both via flux+mutability / 10,000 bands - what's their best track?

A gallery from London Open House weekend (via I like). Always wanted to see inside Pullman Court in Streatham, designed by Frederick Gibberd, and one of London's first, and finest, modern apartment buildings. There are many more images here.

Grist, environmental news and commentary / Universal Conscience / yet another conspiracy I was unaware of; the passengers of the ill-fated flight KAL007 are apparently still being held in North Korean labour camps.

Phillip Buehler's images of Modern Ruins / Dr Menlo, a weblog (some nudity) / James Dyson quits the Design Museum, apparently upset at the 'the museum's misguided pursuit of empty style over substance. Dyson's association with the museum goes back as far as I can remember.

Elastico (thanks for the link) links Trazas, more architecture and design, and the possibly NSFW Hot Seats / create your own virtual self. What's uncanny is how few options you are presented with, and yet how similar the final result is. This is probably the psychology behind the photofit (via that's how it happened).

A discussion about pubs in British films, which films were shot where? The role of the pub as nexus, hub or last stand might be a good project for some aspiring cinematic essayist / Ultra Lucid, a weblog / the Porsche 911 / Dan's right - there aren't many San Andreas faults so far.

Goan Style Chicken. This looks excellent. I dearly wish all cookery books could be like this. Thanks to Route 79. Some more cookery tips / surprise the one you love by signing them up to the Unfortunate Animal of the Month Club (via J-walk).

More subterannean Paris at pasta and vinegar. Visit the Cathedrales Englouties, vast concrete caverns created in the construction of the La Defense business district to the west of Paris. The tunnels are responsible for throwing the Grand Arche out of true alignment with the Arc de Triomphe. Related, La Defense Panoramas (QT).

Pulled from the comments, another transit system: Sky-Cycle-Ways, or elevated bike lanes (thanks to Tom). Also, Tokyo's Parco Museum has an exhibition of culty airline Braniff International (thanks to Joao). See also the page on Alexander Girard at The Modernist. There's a neat little movie here which sums up the Braniff aesthetic. A proto-Branson, with a bit more design sense.

Finally, the art of Don Davis, Space Artist and Animator, who created the toroidal colony mentioned yesterday (thanks to Jim of the very minimal Hegemony).


Airport designers are designing the kernel of a future city at Rodcorp, on former things contributor Hugh Pearman's new book on airports. Are airports really 'modern versions of the medieval fortified seaport'? This is a wonderfully romanticised notion, bringing to mind the fantasy urban airports of the pre-war era, when it was envisaged that huge runways might be mounted above the city streets. The reality is sadly different.

J.G.Ballard's Going Somewhere?, from 1997, seemed to predict the paradoxical nature of these non-places; destinations you want to leave, open spaces that are incredibly secure, shopping centres in all but name. Back then, Ballard was still inspired by the airport's inescapable futurism (citing Michael Manser's Hilton Hotel at Heathrow) and believing there to be 'no half-timbered terminal buildings or pebble-dashed control towers.'

If only. I remember seeing one of the most miserable examples of aesthetic muddle-headedness at Manser's Southampton Airport, a small but beautifully detailed little terminal for this modest little airport. At one end of the high-tech, lightweight structure was the most miserably ersatz British pub, complete with balsa-thin panelling, brass fixtures and knobbly barstools. I doubt it's still there (replaced by this branch of Aura?). But examples like this and the continuing bastardisation of Stansted's interior by the retail-fixated BAA have always hobbled any claims that airports might have to bear comparison with great urbanism.

At the end of his piece, Ballard notes presciently that he suspects 'that the airport will be the true city of the next century,' concluding that 'I look forward to .... the transformation of Britain into the ultimate departure lounge. After all, we have every reason to leave.'

Elsewhere, futures past and imperfect. A great gallery of images from the Swiss Cottage Library at the Margaret Howell shop in central London. Not so long ago you could buy original desks and tables from the library at the Howell shop. Now it seems they're only available from Retrouvius.

'Tomorrow's Transportation: New Systems for the Urban Future' features excerpts from a 1968 Congressional Report, part of the Innovative Transportation Technologies website at the University of Washington. The illustrations are lovely. Check the Personal Rapid Transit system, which is startlingly reminiscent of the ULTra Urban Light Transport system current under development.

The Staley Wise Gallery includes Drivers, automotive photography by Jesse Alexander and fashion shots by Melvin Sokolsky / mp3 search engines: mpee3 and espew / daft: Windows RG / diagrams / this is chancing it somewhat.

The Buran, or Russian space shuttle. The 1997 page reads 'The manufacturing plant is scheduled to be converted for production of buses, syringes, and diapers.' Much more here. I think this is a double post.

Music thing, music gadget weblog, from where we find JarreLook, the 'UK Jean Michel Jarre tribute band'. Related, the sounds of Monsieur Jarre rendered in MIDI format. Surprisingly authentic.

A good read: Andrew O'Hagan at the Republican Party Conference in New York, from the London Review of Books / Andy Goldsworthy installation on the roof of the Met.

Les Voitures des Presidents de la Republique, official cars in France. Related, images of old France, via Ramage / car models for the Mafia computer game / infinite cats.


Tuesday, September 28, 2004
You have to admire Richard Branson's public relations skill. The very day that two of his brand new 'tilting' trains stuttered inefficiently into service, he was busy strutting up and down in London with a brace of attractive stewardesses, waving branded models of Burt Rutan's SpaceShip One and pledging to blast the wealthy into space in three years or so. A case of 'look everyone! up there!', making sure all eyes were on something else. There's even a glossy new website, Virgin Galactic, to tempt the wealthy into parting with those six figure tickets. Related metafilter discussion.

The story of space tourism is a long one, a cultural memory built up through books, films and television shows, as well as the occasional high-profile case study by apparently reputable architects and designers. Driven partly by the idea - no, the certainty - that astronauts are having a whole lot more fun than they there are letting on, designing for space is one of pop culture's bastard offshoots, the conflation of the shadowy aims of the military-industrial complex with the sheer, unadulterated hedonism of the permissive society.

That space could be a location for heady, weightless joy is either the ultimate subversion of the militarism of space (no sooner had someone figured out how to get up into space than the military was banging on their door looking for ways to exploit this new territory) or blind submission to the increasing militaristation of society. After all, we are grateful, if not downright dependent, on technologies that has transferred from the military to civil realm (GPS, for example, not the Hummer) yet which depend to a large extent on military funding to keep them running. No longer can people jest that Teflon and Velcro are the best by-products of the space race.

All this disguises the perhaps unpalatable truth that there never will be any such thing as 'Leisure Space'. Speculative design for space colonies, a science fiction staple of the 60s and 70s, proposed vast cities in space, presumably utopian in outlook. Far easier, though, to believe that these tumbling cylinders would be dictatorships, benign or otherwise, rather than paradigms of democracy. No-one would be along for a free ride. There's no room in space for consumerist playgrounds or sun-drenched retirement communities (space as Flordia?). The potential space colonist would be a small cog in a big machine, expected to keep turning perfectly for as long as they lived.

The huge range of futuristic concepts for living, working and playing in space can be found in a new research monograph, Musings Towards a New Genre in Space Architecture (although the infamous Space Resort, such as that proposed by architects Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo, isn't cited). Musings is sponsored by the European Space Agency's Lunar Base Design Workshop as a means of making the design community more aware of the cultural and technical needs of design for space travel while it is still at a very hypothetical stage.

The fundamental premise of the publication is that early design for space travel was influenced largely by science fiction. Then engineering constraints and realities took over. These first two stages are labelled 'voyages d'esprit' and 'man-in-a-can' respectively, nicely summing up the trajectory from Jules Verne to Soyuz. Only now are we entering a new stage, 'trans-gravity', when the complex systems developed by earthbound architects and the ambitions of government agencies and scientists will all collide in a cloud of dazzling futurism. The book is stuffed full of concepts and links. Just a few: the Cosmic Dancer sculpture, exotic ideas, Hans-Jurgen Rombaut's Lunar Architecture, the Tate in Space, space settlements and more.


Monday, September 27, 2004
Monday miscellany. The BBC has put up a revised, snazzy version of the original Infocom Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game (via City of Sound). I returned to this, via emulation, a few years back after a lay-off of a decade or so. The babel fish was no problem, but I seem to recall getting stuck on a dais somewhere with a terrorist and never finishing it. Luckily, help is available. Related. All about Broadcasting House.

The story of HO-scale toy cars at Promotex, which carries a dizzying array of models. You can also visit 87thscale for exhaustive listings of model cars (e.g. the Hildebrandt Fulda) / buy David Koresh's Camaro, a car with serious provenance / Cooking with Google / you are here, an architecture gallery.

The Quad ESL was the world's first electrostatic loudspeaker, introduced in 1957. Their Family Album features lots of vintage audio goodness / Seven Inches of Joy, an mp3 weblog / Robo Garage, via Ashley B / above San Francisco / the illustration of Anne Kelly / sash weights from the White House / an incredibly evocative photo-essay (includes some nudity).

Peleliu 1944 and Now, a collection of images by James Fee in response to his war photographer father's work from 1944. The story is tragic, in every way. Also, the appropriately-named Michael Light's 100 Suns, both via Eye Imagine.


Friday, September 24, 2004
Ciabatta cities: there are some extremely good points here about the buzzword-centric planning system in the UK. We are constantly being hectored about the need for so-called 'sustainable communities,' a phrase that, like the best political rhetoric, is utterly unchallengable. Which party could stand up in the Commons and say, actually, no, what we need are communities which can't sustain themselves? It's like being in favour of wet rain, or breathable air, or edible food, a bland statement that challenges nothing and encourages no-one to do anything but nod in assent.

But as Glancey points out, the structures that should be underpinning these proposed model communities of the future are, in reality, being slowly and deliberately undermined. He cites the example of the Post Office, a once proud institution which formed the centre of hundreds of small communities up and down the country, with a network of employees who were uniformed, efficient and actually popular.

No more. Today's postal system is a shoddy excuse for a service, a truly depressed institution that feels burnt out and teetering on total system failure. things often works in central London, practically in the shadow of what was once the Post Office Tower. Yet since we've been there, two nearby offices have closed, trebling the queues in the remaining one. And this is slap bang in the centre of town. More importantly, the rural post office is slowly being snuffed out, fragmenting and dispersing small, self-sufficient communities.

It's not as if this is something that's just crept up on us. People have been pointing out how important such macro-level social structures are for years and years. Forget fox hunting as social glue (a rather dubious contention) - the real reason communities, whether rural or urban, will be alienated is when they wake up and realise that 'sustainability' was, sadly, one of the biggest smoke and mirrors concepts of the modern era.

Other things. The story of the phantom cosmonauts, 'never acknowledged by the Soviet Union. Most were said to have died in space. One allegedly was the first man in orbit and survived' at the Encyclopedia Astronautica. Among them is one Ivan Istochnikov, the subject of an art happening by Joan Fontcuberta that had many people fooled.

Lambretta diagrams / that old futurist chestnut, the flying car, gets wheeled (?) out once again / Compass, visual search the collections of the British Museum / jump into a Mini. Spread ad meme around the web / vast history of the Transformers (the robots in disguise).

Locard's Principle: "There is no such thing as a clean contact between two objects. When two bodies or objects come into contact, they mutually contaminate each other with minute fragments of material." The basis of forensic anthropology. Related, the history of fingerprints

The Religious Policeman, a weblog from Saudi Arabia / a useful piece on contemporary news values by Andrew Marr / Citroen of the Month is a fine name for a feature, at Usounds / The Witness Exchange, an mp3 weblog / mechanical Pong, as seen everywhere.

The Online Guide to Whistling Records, via Basic Hip, who also hosts the classic Vertigo Then and Now page / the Found Slide Foundation, re-uniting lost slides with their owners.

The Soviet Gulag Era in Pictures, 1927-1953 (via Plep) / Henry Bursill's 1859 book Hand Shadows To Be Thrown Upon The Wall (via Exclamation Mark, via wherethreadscomeloose) / now this is really creepy.


Thursday, September 23, 2004
Apologies - we've missed our deadlines for today. Normal posting will resume tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 22, 2004
'I generally don't care about stuff, but I fear the lack of stuff - by 'stuff' I mean, very broadly, the physical parts, the 'real-world' materiality - in a growing nonphysical, immaterial world. Legitimation of stuff in the digital realm. What will be the purpose of design?' Tokujin Yoshioka interviewed at Designboom.

We like this a lot: How the Underground would look if South London had won. Found at Colourcountrydotnet, which has much more stuff, including the shockingly threadbare disabled tube map. Via that's how it happened, as is gme.jp, a Japanese weblog with photos and obsessional Lego storage discussion: 'You realize you have piles of stuff that don't fit easily into the categorization system: RCX bricks, train track, those huge A-shaped pieces, monorial supports, and rubber bands. You get a different sized drawer system for stuff like that.'

Glamour: Fashion, Industrial Design, Architecture seems all over the place. It piles anything and everything into the mix / the Lovecraft Engine, generate random horror, via taxloss / the synth museum / the hypothetical wren, a weblog / thanks to Overmorgen for the mention. Fascinated by the concept of 'Life Caching'. Does this mean that we will develop increasingly lavishly-tooled storage devices, to compete with the cabinets of curiosities created by our eager forebears? Multi-screen, multi-brontobyte portable devices, inlaid with mahogany and brass....

Elsewhere. Sitani City Cart vs the almost universally derided International CXT pickup. We have one solitary person who drives a vehicle like this in the UK. He is called Chris Eubank and he is also universally derided, usually / original WWII Jeep Photos archive / random maths lesson: an Intuitive Explanation of Bayesian Reasoning.

Did we link this already? Make Magazine, 'technology on your time'. Presumably for those not afraid of the soldering iron. Linked, Sketch-a-Move, creating paths using touch-screens / photos by Sally Armstrong / domestic camouflage at the national room, this time applied to the humble plastic chair. Thanks to Jens at Minus Vision, who also links to these stunning photos of Greek Construction Sites by Sam Appleby. There's so much beauty in the raw concrete frame; it's little wonder that many architects try to capture that aesthetic and retain it in the finished building.


Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Cold War Hothouses (Princeton Architectural Press, Amazon) sets out the military and political framework of America's post-war economic reconstruction, the swords into ploughshares miracle of the 50s and 60s (that somehow involved the continued manufacture of swords, and lots of them).

Companies like Alcoa used aggressive marketing to direct what would have been massive post-war surplus production into the civilian marketplace. The company put together an advertising campaign, FORECAST, to promote 'tomorrow's product'. Alcoa commissioned what today's hipster crowd would consider a mouth-watering assembly of the post-war designers from every field: 'Charles Eames, Paul McCobb, Harley Earl, Eliot Noyes, Alexander Girard, Isamu Noguchi, Jean Desses, Marianne Strengell, Garrett Eckbo and Herbert Matter' created a series of speculative products to illustrate the potential future use of aluminium (ok, aluminum).

And the company didn't just use any old hack to shoot the lavish ads, either: Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Bert Stern and Leslie Gill. By making their product synonymous with a shiny new consumer future, Alcoa, under the aegis of chairman Frederick J. Close, placed itself at the forefront of the modern age. There's more on aluminium design in Jolyon Brewis's piece in things 13, which covered the catalogue for Aluminum by Design, an exhibition sponsored by the Alcoa Foundation.

The design, architecture, fashion and style of this period, loosely grouped as 'retro', is currently enjoying huge popularity. Yet the contemporary passion for retro strips it of all political context. The ground was prepared for programmes like FORECAST by the establishment of the RAND Corporation (dubbed the "Academy of Death and Destruction" by the Soviets), which blurred the line between military and commercial strategy, developing propoganda techniques for use in any kind of future 'scenarios'. Modernism's debt to the military-industrial complex is far greater than anyone cares to admit these days; the contemporary mind is content to be delighted by the potent combination of style and anachronism (and occasional historical irony) exhibited by these collaborations between art and industry.

Elsewhere. Why would you paint over this? Perplexing / the paintings of Justin Hibbs / a great auction: Hal 9000 / a brontobyte is million million petabytes. Some more big number words that our children will have to learn / Architonic, a design database.

BadJianZhu, 'An investigation of the not-so-subtle in Beijing architecture'. An on-the-ground taster of new Chinese style: it's not all Herzog and Koolhaas, you know (although to be fair, Mr K is well aware of the idiosyncracies and absurdities generated by such a hyper-steroidal economy (although a slowdown has been reported) / gravestmor, an irreverent architecture weblog.


Monday, September 20, 2004
Japan and America, Two “Cultures of Piracy: 'The solution to the music industry crisis, Ian Condry argues, 'is cultural not legal or economic and it involves changing the relations between music producers and consumers to emphasize shared interests rather than economic exploitation. Imagine that!'

CoolGov, interesting bits and pieces drawn from official US websites, e.g. Popular Baby Names / Aldo van Eyck's playgrounds / Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, & gradual decline.

Castle Falkenstein, an ersatz recreation of a ruin in Pfronten, Germany / So why should I like Sonic Youth? A conversation / I found some of your life (insert evil laughter here) / more eccentricity: Nice cup of tea and a sit down, a website making the near-inevitable leap into print (like this one, only with a bit more media attention).

A gallery of classic hood ornaments, via Tom McMahon. Lovely stuff - check Ken Steacy's book Brightwork for more. The days of these beautiful, but ultimately lethal, little spikes are now well and truly numbered / fold that paper.

I like provides another shot of online nostalgia with this collection of Old Hairdressers. Somewhere, once, I recall seeing a list of punning hairdresser names (e.g. 'Curl up and Dye'. This isn't it, but there's a (useful?) collection of names at H2G2). Staying with shopfronts and a thousand curses: we've been thinking about doing this for about ten years. Chicken, or dicing with corporate America. Many thanks to NYCLondon.

Also via I like, Up in the Bubble an online conversation that bills itself as a 'conversation on the future' from a creative agency called Thirty Seven Thousand Feet (who seem to be keen on the whole airline experience). Read Urban Jungle, then visit Hummerdinger.


Friday, September 17, 2004
How to become a famous architect: 'It's important to remember that design journalists are desperate for anything interesting. This is because architecture is mainly boring.' Taking a hefty dose of the KLF's seminal Manual (HOW TO HAVE A NUMBER ONE THE EASY WAY), which is online in its entirety and hugely recommended.

Other things. A history of the Teasmade, that quintessentially British bedside companion, with a huge gallery. The best known model is perhaps Goblin, with the D25 being particularly attractive. The Teasmade was a combined alarm clock and kettle, which would wake you up with an alarm, a bedside light and a hot cup of tea.

Architecture. Project Rebirth, the reconstruction of Ground Zero / Withering Heights, a coruscating view of Edward Durrell Stone's 'iconic' building at 2 Columbus Circle. It's surprising to see Tom Wolfe quoted as one of the building's supporters.

Blueprints magazine, from Washington's National Building Museum. There's a huge collection of online articles (for example, Architects and Outer Space / a visit to the Villa Savoye - excellent photos.

A history of car logos. See also Alfa Romeo badges / Universities Worldwide, links to nearly 7,000 seats of learning / Submit Response, a weblog.

A huge archive of Roger Ebert's film reviews / dad t-shirts. The horror / on innovation, scale and history, interesting ask me-fi discussion / who owns what?, tracking the conglomerate octopii / some fairly strange stuff going on at this site, not least the Rat Haus Mentality/


Wednesday, September 15, 2004
On architectural publishing, a must-read essay by Kester Rattenbury from icon magazine, which traces the market's current malaise back to Koolhaas's S, M, X, XL, a book more influential than most contemporary buildings (amazing how no-one's bothered to scan a copy and put it online - yet). 'Nobody knows who buys architectural books. The publishers simply don't do market research. Amazingly, given the sophistication of consumer profiling and the apparent ease with which this information could be compiled and analysed, they just don't bother.... If you like reading about buildings, there's lots of content. But it looks like a design-led book, so it appeals if you - like so many of architecture's book audience - never actually read it, but just look at (and copy) the pictures. And it's a cool, cultish object, with the names you need to know writ large on the cover, so it's a must-have household object for the design-conscious.' Related, the quest for Rem Koolhaas' "Maison a Bordeaux".

Staying architectural: 10 things your architect won't tell you and Seven Fallacies in Architectural Culture. Compelled to innovate and haunted by the image of the architect as solo pilot, tortured genius, the only way the contemporary practitioner can seemingly exceed the achievements of his (or her) peers is to build bigger, higher and longer ('The average American house in 1900 did not have an indoor toilet; by 2000 the average new house had fewer occupants than bathrooms!'). One of the seven points is that architecture believes it 'trumps Urbanism' - an obvious fallacy given that architecture 'doesn't scale', and abandoning mixed use urban structure destroys the chance of the random encounter, the energy-saving ability to walk everywhere and the greater feeling of society this engenders.

What has changed is the arrival of the very contemporary idea that the responsibility for changing cities is somehow within us all (see What's Seattle Missing?, not to mention the countless, endless consultations that architects undertake with residents before the commencement of the construction of so much as a bus shelter). Determinists would no doubt argue that technology has empowered us to make an impact on our environment, however small, so why can't bigger influences be more keenly felt? Town planning, for example, is routinely derided for its perceived failure at making sensible space.

But is town planning an art or a science? The jury is still out and shows no sign of returning. The scientific argument has shifted from a kind of social determinism that wanted to clear slums and rationalise to the era of Space Syntax, which looks at cities as an organic structure, composed of millions of organic systems, patterns and ever-evolving. But is this a self-organising system? Jane Jacobs seemed to think so.

Postindustrial architecture: Portraits of Emptiness / the London Noise Map / Eye Imagine, truths and fiction in photography / You Are Here: Los Angeles architecture (except we're not, we're here) / the folk at IDfuel interview Mike Mike, the stereo-named artist behind the Face of Tomorrow site.

Curbed looks hypothetically (and satirically) at how other NYC Skyscrapers Historically Rebranded in the light of the Freedom Tower's 1776 feet. This makes Canary Wharf Tower the King Charlemagne Tower / Vancouver streetscape.


Apologies for the scattergun approach of recent posts. Too much going on to focus hard on one subject for more than a few minutes at a time... The photorealistic paintings of Damien Loeb. We like 'Good Afternoon Mr Amer', a depiction of the epic sets built for Kubrick's 2001 (related, big 2001 flash movie).

The Godfather Horse Head Pillow, just one of many things for sale at Kropserkel ('props as modern art') / Archinect's School Blog project, a window into the world of architectural education / The Space in Between, a weblog, links Nicholas Nixon’s The Brown Sisters series.

Weird foods - apparently you can get frozen scrambled egg in America / some more on St Pancras Chambers, which will open its doors for this weekend's London Open House, before closing up for restoration / celebrity scientologists, depressing reading.

Nico Van Hoorn's Trashlog collects 'a piece of trash for the internet every day' / Advertising Ghosts traces the faded detritus of visual culture - the bits that haven't been painted, papered or plastered over / a very old school hard drive / ambulance models.

One of Jan van der Heyden's etchings from his 1690 publication, the 'Fire Brigade Book. van der Heyden apparently invented the fire hose, and was obsessed with fire and architecture.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004
A must-have for soap fans. In order to get in synch with the US networks, Australia's Channel 9 has condensed four years' worth of episodes from The Young and the Restless and Days of Our Lives into just two one-hour long specials. Obviously, fans are unhappy. But these two episodes sound like a dramatic gold mine.

The 'web drawings' of Valery Grancher, which you can buy here / wear it with pride - promoting badge wearing across the globe / Chuck Anderson's No Pattern, contemporary illustration / Submarine photo archives, via consumptive.

A new issue of This is a Magazine / Anish Kapoor's sculpture at Chicago's new Millennium Park / Cuban Autos / car name decoding / Insect design studio.

Photos by Matthew Perpetua / a great mp3 blog, An Idiot's Guide to Dreaming / London Blogging: Weblog Culture and Urban Lives (a draft) / Stuff. Moving house and objects at Open Brackets.

The Look of Love: The Rise and Fall of the Photo-Realistic Newspaper Strip, 1946-1970 (via The Cartoonist). Also, the French Science Fiction Comic / delighted to make it into Spa's Top 50.

Online Boggle. Kiss goodbye to your productivity (via tmn).


Sunday, September 12, 2004
The agenda behind Save Betamax isn't what it seems (via Tofu Hut). Essentially, enshrined in the Supreme Court decision in the Sony vs. Universal case. Essentially, this ruling made VCRs legal, even if they could be also be used for illegal purposes. The so-called 'Betamax Case' underpins every subsequent technological advancement in this field - recordable CDs, DVDs, etc., etc.

All this could be swept away by the forthcoming INDUCE Act (more details here, obsessively annotated here), which effectively criminalises 'whoever intentionally induces any [copyright] violation identified', namely manufacturers of recording equipment of any kind, even internet service providers.

No-one is happy about this. Check out Hatch's Hit List (the bill is sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch, the kind of bizarro larger-than-life politician the Americans do so well and who the British would openly laugh at) to see a list of over 40 handy technologies threatened by the bill, including innocent applications (like Flickr and Cellphones with Hard Drives (the first of which defiantly showed up anyway). Related, Stay Free Magazine

Elsewhere. The work of Czech designer Ladislav Sutnar, pioneer of modern information design, architect, and product designer. More information here at the ever-reliable Designboom. We are especially fond of his toy elephant and walrus (both c.1930). The 'build the town' construction set is a delight.

Real or fake, the battle for the Xth presidency of the United States turns typographical. Europeans stare, agog / recollections of 9/11. More on this typographical conundrum / daft: missile balloons / Parking simulator.


Friday, September 10, 2004
IDFuel write to express amazement at the phenomenon of 'celebrity brand presence,' which they believe is outstripping 'the importance of content or functionality in product after product.' Their recent post, Content or Brand?, tackles the thorny subject of Habitat's new VIP range - Very Important Products - and wonders whether 'the actual production of products [is] be becoming almost automatic'. In other words, all we are left with is base products over which pure branding is slathered, according to taste.

The celebrity product is a separate evolutionary strand for the brand. Traditional 'brand evolution' has always held a certain fascination, and not just for consumers. Brands themselves seem to derive narcissistic pleasure from dreaming up their future incarnations, whether for movies (see Audi's RSQ, heavily featured in I, Robot, or the myriad products that squeeze into frame in films like Back to the Future II and Minority Report, tweaked to represent their future incarnations). Certain designers, like Ora-Ito, have built lucrative careers re-inventing products on an unofficial basis, and there's a whole subculture of renderers pumping out future iPods and iMacs.

Celebrity products are different. Making your name into the brand that embodies the product is hardly new: IDFuel also cites the range of clothing designed (?) by Missy Elliott for Adidas, while more recently we've also had (not literally) knickers from Kylie. There must be many, many more, dating all the way back to Gloria Vanderbilt's 'designer jeans' and beyond.

But we're still not quite sure what we think about Habitat's selection of products, which includes a coffee table by the French band Daft Punk, a director's chair by Ewan McGregor, and a bookshelf by Louis de Bernieres. In truth, there's no real 'branding' in evidence - no logos, signature shapes or colours. Habitat's normal furniture isn't branded as such, and these objects are no exception. Instead, the consumer is buying into the imagined lifestyle of the celebrity designers, part of a wider social trend that trades famous people - celebrities - as commodities, dematerialising their physical presence into objects whose use-value is entirely imaginary.

Ultimately, the purpose of each strand of brand evolution is the same. Like traditional branding, the signature 'celebrity object' is about the creation of a thing with a back story, a ready-made history and association that leaves no blanks for you to fill in. You are the blank, an accessory to the product, rather than the other way around. Is this a good thing? Probably not. What's encouraging is the danger that it might all somehow backfire. What if Habitat's VIP range encouraged people to think, 'hell, if Sharleen Spiteri could do that, why can't I?', thus challenging the whole concept of design itself. Why should a shelf be more expensive through its association with something inherently value-less - a celebrity aura? Would it be cheaper without the attached name? Would it exist at all? Admittedly, it's a perverse, risky way of democratising design, and probably not one that the 'real' designers are entirely happy with. Might the 'Very Important Products' trigger a move towards a new modesty in design?

Elsewhere. Are you lucky? The Luck Factor book and project look like pure hokum. Anyone know any more? / in transitu at Consumptive: 'the camera is so easy to use that I'm not always sure where these photographs come from.' / the future of mapping / Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen has an extensive guitar collection / coming soon: JPG magazine.

Goodbye Romania is a disintegrating website - each visit steals a pixel from the images within. Go now, before it's too late (via Cheesedip) / beautiful close-ups of ENIAC (via Boing Boing) / prototype aeroplanes / Greysteele's Rare Kits (via exclamation mark) / the Health Physics Instrumentation Museum (via Eye of the Goof).

The Citroen DS decapotable / misadventures in VWs / an unofficial Austin Rover resource for fans of the Maestro, the UK's first talking car (featuring the voice of an actress called Nicolette Mackenzie, apparently).

Toasty Kingdom offers letters, via Torrez. Related, Lonely Words in Search of Chums / the photography of Jay Cox / heartening to see that Slower's Eliot Shepard is being championed as the new king of the snapshot / beautiful Life cover by Margaret Bourke-White / the Robert Frank Coloring book. I don't understand half the stuff I link to (via the inestimable Catfunt).


Thursday, September 09, 2004
We're feeling slightly itinerant today, so the links are just bits and pieces / paper prototyping UI elements, or how to create another version of Wordperhect / scientists try to catch falling star dust, poetically, they fail / following on from the sinking of that car carrier, see this rare Ghia convertible. Of 52 made, 11 were lost at sea when they were new (presumably while being exported).

A robot that lives on flies - the new universal power supply. Only problem is, to attract the flies, the robot must be olfactorily challenged / how would the world vote? Not sure where these stats are coming from, or how they're generated / Reflections in D minor.

The photography of Jason Wall / the changing shape of knowledge / hail in Sydney
more weird weather / sound experiments at looptracks / the earliest offices.


Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Secret cities: an underground cinema is discovered beneath the streets of Paris. Enter the world of the Cataphiles to find out more. There is a rather grumpy piece in the current issue of Blueprint magazine (not available on line, sadly), that decries the contemporary penchant for fetishising London's murky and mysterious past; the axis represented by Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd, et al. The article's gist is that by glamorising the likes of John Dee and Nicholas Hawksmoor, we condemn ourselves to living in a theme park of the imagination, forever obsessed with arcane symbolism, encoded architecture and secret societies. All the while, London is engaged in relentless self-improvement, scrubbing hard at these grubby traces. In other words, the 'arcanologist' is on a flight from reality that actually disengages them from real-world concerns.

I have great sympathy with the antiquarian fascination with the hidden city. Ironically, it seems to humanise the metropolis through the most inhumane aspects of city life ('Both Ackroyd and Sinclair see Hawksmoor's churches as centres of malevolent energies which are connected with the Ratcliffe Highway and Whitechapel murders', from Barbelith). It's all very far from the new city of refurbished wharves and warehouses, buffed up basins and goods yards, none of which seems especially concerned with the history of place or the meaning of memory, save for that entirely ersatz historicist confection that sugars the pill of modern London. Related: art underground. Also related, Past Masters, Jane Stevenson on the antiquarian instinct from things 12.

Memory is adrift in the traditionally commercially motivated city, and more often than not, architects end up being custodians for both camps. A pertinent example: watch architects grumble about other architects, revealing the flaw at the heart of the WTC redevelopment plans: that no-one can actually agree on anything. The recent documentary about the redevelopment of the site, Sacred Ground (also shown in the US on PBS) didn't portray anyone in a terribly good light, least of all the SOM/David Childs camp. Viewer comments are overwhelmingly hostile to both, with the Team Twin Towers proposal getting strong support.

Elsewhere (a seamless slip into more flippant concerns). Looking to move? Then buy Richard Meier's Shamberg House, a snip at $4.9m. We'll hold out for the Douglas House, thanks. For smaller budgets, convert your bus into a home / Renzo Piano's new pilgrimage church of Padre Pio / the Everaert House, designed by Louis Everaert in 1964. All links via the wonderful RIBA email newsletter, which really should become a public weblog.

An interactive map of the University of Las Vegas. One of these for Oxford, Cambridge, etc., would be nice. We've mentioned the Cambridge 2000 website before, but it's a useful resource, especially when researching the town's contemporary architecture.

Survival of the Fittest Mailbox, as BoingBoing surveys reinforced postal receptacles to counter random mailbox vandals / overheard at a south London train station: 'since he been up for murder he thinks he's such a Kray he don't talk to me no more.' Thanks A.

The future of 3D printing, / Minnim - everything has gone small / Czech design at Czech Mania / like smells? This is Scentstories, a very horrid idea, which only gets worse / Strange Little Girl writes about - and makes - book binding.

Health Physics Posters, for example, 'Always wear your badge at work, no matter who you are' (via i like) / hurricane reveals hidden cache of rare Ferraris / Best of Show at the Pebble Beach Concours, one of the world's most prestigious auto shows / the original Fiat Multipla.

A Visual History of Computer Gaming / as digital storage space multiplies ever more, is it time to welcome the God Box? (via Sachs Report) / 1930s Modernist architecture in Tel Aviv the architect Marcel Breuer interviewed / old school watches.

Our love and congratulations to Cathy, Tim and the new C-C, born yesterday.


Tuesday, September 07, 2004
It's the Shed of the Year competition (via halvorsen). A slightly strange selection, ranging from architect-designed structures to ad-hoc creations. Try Shed Heaven for the more traditional romantic ruin. At the other end of the scale are the vast Airship Sheds at Cardington in England, detailed at the Airship Heritage Trust.

The test track of the Imperia motorcar factory in Nessonvaux, near Liege, Belgium (via Inflight Correction). A rooftop test track (albeit a very scary-looking one) a full decade before Giacomo Matté-Trucco's Lingotto Fiat Factory in Turin (subsequently refurbished by Renzo Piano).

Circular cities, Earth from the air / aerial photos / a huge page of album cover scans - the music is available as well / a seat for Arnold. 'Drive girlish furniture out of the room' with the phAT chair. We think they're joking.

The Last Sound of Summer, an mp3 log mining the very best of indie's golden years. Check this post on Shellac / the linksquare project (via sugar'n'spicy) / the moom re-hangs / London's tube map for real (via Phil Gyford) / cute robots.

Curbed, a real estate weblog / game videos in the public domain / lego guitar (via tmn) / ugly dresses (see also tight skirts, rarely ugly). Related, women in deep-sea diving suits.

Trend-watching in the Far East with Travelling Bambi. It's all in Chinese (thanks...), save for the brand names. The page of news clips is fun / the Hello Kitty guitar / the Book of Joe, a weblog.


Monday, September 06, 2004
Our ability to communicate instantly with anyone around the globe, source and consume obscure products and hoover up news and opinions from the four corners, has also left us wide open to myth and rumour. Most likely, the internet merely mirrors humankind's insatiable appetite for tall tales. Yet all too often these stories swiftly fall off the radar, leaving us longing for resolution. Remember the man who claimed to be a time traveller? Or the alleged discovery of 'space ship' debris in Tunguska? These stories splashed down, whizzed around the world and become cemented into the popular imagination before disappearing once again.

Here's a column debunking the Siberian space ship theory, citing its origins in a 1946 story by the Russian science fiction author Alexander Kazantsev. And the time travelling trader? That the story originated with the Weekly World News is enough to dismiss it. But credit to the 'journalist' who dreamt it up - it's a brilliant conceit, and the use of a name with no (prior) Google history was inspired.

Plenty more meat for conspiracy theorists at Textfiles, which hosts thousands and thousands of words on everything from music to UFOs. Related, Jason Kottke is confused as to why Space.com is suddenly obsessed with the arcane 'science' of 'flying triangles'.

Elsewhere. Just like those cats with genetically stumpified legs, this is an (automotive) freak / the raising of the Tricolor, a gallery of the recovery of the stricken motor transporter which sank in December 2002. It was filled with expensive European cars for the UK market. See lots of crumpled-up Volvo XC90s, destined never to clog up the narrow roads of South London.

Being There magazine / Skirts for Environmental Awareness / Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends / Should I rip this? Music's new moral maze laid bare / Asking for Trouble is asking for things / mathematical illusion / Life in the Triangle, a photo-essay that alternates between bleakness and joy.

Journey's End / House of Mirrors, the long-demolished residence of one Clarence Schmidt in Woodstock, NY. An extraordinary structure that recalls the Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval, another architectural labour of love (further information and more images).

It makes me very happy you can buy toy Barbapapas. Also at ilike, North Korean Mass Games. Totalitarian insanity / Cutexdoom, a 'game mod installation that explores modern culture's addiction to cuteness and fabricated entities' / Carnesky's Ghost Train has been and gone. Search instead for the St Louis Ghost Train, one of many 'real' railroad hauntings.

A Gehry building in use (i.e. leaking) (link via plasticbag). Frank Lloyd Wright famously retorted to a client complaining of leaks, 'but that's how you know it's a roof' (I don't think it was Le Corbusier). Meanwhile, over in Seattle, the EMP also has its critics. It's very popular to bash Gehry.

A selection of weblogs: The Null Device, News of the dead, Xradiograph, Venusberg / more images of the epic Viaduct de Milau. Speaking of epic... / Colorflage - live inside an optical illusion.

Candybar doll maker, via Caterina / space hijackers, subverting London / also at Caterina, The Arts of Oneself, 'twenty six short tales on personal memoralia' / download some vintage camera manuals (via the cartoonist).


Friday, September 03, 2004
Random Friday things today. 'This is a plot of the path that autonomous vehicles in the DARPA Grand Challenge field test were to follow through the desert between California and Nevada. The entire course is around 200 miles long.' via lemonodor.

The work of Herzog and de Meuron / Frank Lloyd Wright merchandise / forgotten New York (via Archinect) / The Museum of Estonian Architecture / unusual petrol stations via the Cartoonist.

Russian Tank Museum, via Paperholic. See also, The Lost Border, Photographs of the Iron Curtain, Brian Rose's images of the remnants of the former border with the Eastern Bloc, and the new city that emerged after reunification (when Potsdamer Platz was Europe's biggest building site). Paperholic also brings this fabulous collection of Citroen press photos (including these early 'art car' 2CV models: I, II, III, IV - and a Meccano 2CV! Is this Francoise Hardy? (astride the incredible DS Decapotable, no less). The many cartoons bring to mind Jean-Jacques Sempé

Bloomsbury: books, art and design, via plep / fine covers (e.g. Quack Quack!, by Leonard Woolf (described as a very spirited attack upon human nature as it is at present by his wife, Virginia). Some hand-printed books by the Hogarth Press.

George Bush's medal collection / gloomy bear / The Sound of 7, music mixes, delivered in mp3 format / Arcades in Japan (via Said the Gramophone) / children's books from Japan / Clear Cut Press / Double Fold, the album of the book, by Scanner at Anglepoised / Broken Type, a weblog / smack the head of Borgstrom / Futura in the Royal Tenenbaums.

Sam Buxton's laser-cut metal sculptures are beautiful things. We haven't even tried to assemble ours yet - it looks way too complicated and besides, it's rather attractive in its flat state / Sonic Gear, the guitarology of Sonic Youth / Washington, isometric style (via plasticbag) / Snapshots of History, a sad tale of archiving gone awry.

Two great galleries of Chicago architecture, old and new / designer stamps (via scrubbles) / while we were away, Consumptive also decided to take a break - albeit a slightly longer one than we did. We shall miss this site. Visit Spitting Image instead.

Cute bent ply toy car at Mocoloco. See also offerings from BMW, Saab (more) and Mercedes. Start them young. Modernist 'toys' can get a little out of control. Check the Villa Sibi, a Barcelona pavilion style dolls house for the design-conscious parent desperate to imprint good taste on their child.

Trade Tricks, this one could run and run. Some of them have more than a hint of Viz magazine's Top Tips / The Edmund Fitzgerald, a truly great band.

Our stock is down!. Someone explain this to us, please.


Thursday, September 02, 2004
The Rendering and the Reality at Design Observer. Michael Bierut ponders on the role of computer-generated rendering in architecture. 'Architects have a real challenge. They have to make people believe in – and accept, and support, and pay for – a reality that lies far in the future.'

Bierut goes on to comment that 'In my experience, architects themselves often prefer much more esoteric means of presentation -- sketches, diagrams, collages -- to the literalness and hyperbole of flashy "realistic" renderings. It's clients who prefer the surefire drama of the latter -- especially when the work has to be put before the mass public, who are thought to have little tolerance for ambiguity.'

(Another comment from the discussion that got me thinking: '[Commercial radio stations] play their songs just a bit faster to squeeze a few more in an hour... the end result is, in addition to more ads, a more hyper sound.' Is this true?]

More architecture thoughts leading on from this. The great British public talks about the country's most hated buildings, in the wake of RIBA president George Ferguson's call for a new listing category - Grade X - for the nation's most prominent eyesores. Supposedly hated buildings cited on the forum include: the Lloyd's Building, 30 St Mary Axe (the 'Gherkin'), the Scottish Parliament Building, the National Theatre (history, and more on Denys Lasdun),Centre Point, the GLA building, Birmingham Selfridges, the Hayward Gallery, the Shell Centre, the Brunswick Centre, Gateshead Car Park and Poundbury, not to mention the town centres of, variously, Milton Keynes, Reading, Slough, Coventry and Basildon.

What is ugly? Why do some people find a building hideous and oppressive, while others think the same structure is wonderful? This is the great divide at the heart of not just the architectural conservation movement, but with all other aspects of architectural culture.

The old school modernist (as was) would say that education is the key, and that people can be 'educated' to like things they might not otherwise appreciate - once they have a better understanding perhaps of the social, theoretical and technical ambitions behind a project they will suddenly appreciate it more. This is typical modernist determinism, old school socialist-style 'we know what's best for you'.

This isn't a terribly fashionable approach, but like all things unfashionable, it contains a grain of truth. My own appreciation of modern architecture was changed immeasurably by a teacher who was passionate about contemporary design and took the trouble - in the face of apathetic and unappreciative pupils - to show image after image of the great works of twentieth century architecture, explaining each, setting it in context and showing why it was so important and why, in his opinion, it was attractive.

Ultimately, to assume that each individual human being perceives 'beauty' in exactly the same way is clearly wrong, and the same must be true of ugliness. Art, music, literature, all have works or movements that are perceived as 'difficult', yet are simultaneously described as sublime. Are we reaching a cultural impasse? I've learnt to not be upset, for example, when someone says that they find the National Theatre utterly repellent, when I think it's one of the most beautiful buildings in London. But how can such conflicting views co-exits? Surely the building can't embody great beauty and unspeakable ugliness at the same time?

*


Other things. Viceland's do's and don'ts of photography is predictably caustic. A don't: Vacation Photography 'Of all the sterling silver that is dug up in the world by underpaid, zombified miners, the largest percentage goes to making film (true). So, even though the swimming pool at the Chateau Shamrock was in the shape of a shamrock, no one needs to see the whole roll of film you went through on it. You just wasted what some poor Mexican lost three fingers digging up.'

Modern or Vintage? Dansk Mobel Kunst doesn't seem to know. Neither, apparently, do we / biscuits by designers, a project at the University of Bolzano/Bozen (via Re:design news). The historical toys document is fun as well (.pdf) / Shrinking Cities, studies of urban decay, running contrary to the idea of the city as a rampant organism, running out of control. Instead, you get huge tracts of desolation.

Lovely / Utopian Surgery, 'Early arguments against anaesthesia in surgery, dentistry and childbirth.' Shudder / everybody needs a little extra oomph / portable Commodore 64 / Microsoft's diplomatic faux pas / Projekt30, an online gallery.

Banner Report / Julia Set, a weblog / cardboard play houses by capelabranca / Photo mags, via danklife / Freddie Mercury cross-stitch / the Interface Hall of Shame, via Near near future.