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Monday, January 31, 2005
Span Kent is a wonderful site cataloguing the slightly experimental 'SPAN' homes overseen by architect Eric Lyons in the 1960s. There are pockets of well-designed 1960s-era housing all over the UK, but the good is mostly outnumbered by the bad and indifferent. However, as with all things that are a little bit unusual, a cult following is assured. I wasn't previously aware of author Michael Frayn's involvement in the North Several development in Blackheath, designed by Royston Summers (via the rat and mouse, a UK-centric weblog obsessing about house prices and the up and down market - our own version of curbed?).

The SPAN link was originally via Homespun Vintage, who will sell you elegantly worn but still chic furniture, at a price. A great-looking site with the Hyperkit stamp of quality. Elsewhere. If it's been in or near an aeroplane, chances are someone somewhere will collect it. But NapkinAir surprised even us. The owner of this comprehensive collection admits that 'airline napkins are an overlooked area of collecting.' Link via evenings on the lake, who also link to auto logos at Cartype, a site devoted to the interface of automobiles and design. It also lists dealer tags.

'Giving up the ghost' delves further into the saga of Jennie Erdal's Ghosting by giving the other side of the story. Link courtesy of the Literary Saloon (which collates reviews of the book here) / re-drawing the map for a 38-state nation, a proposal from 1975 / security robots, scampering around like metal cockroaches / secrets, guilty or otherwise / trucks in iceland, via incoming signals / Tokyo in 100,000 images. Including historic Japan / Jean Snow is in Tokyo, with an eye for contemporary architecture and design / Sublime Magazine, 'the first international ethical lifestyle magazine' / Near Near Future is dragging up links to all sorts: guerilla knitters.

The Information Machine, a short film directed by Charles and Ray Eames, commissioned by IBM in 1958 for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. The animation was by John Whitney and music by Elmer Bernstein. Expo 58 is best known for the fabulous Atomium (at this excellent Expo site, which is a treasure trove of old photos). See also these Soviet match box labels from the exhibition. The Atomium is being restored and the original aluminium panels are for sale, 1000 panels at 1000 euros each. Order yours now.

Thanks to Nick at Blanketfort for font help. Thanks for the link to Hieronymus Bosch action figures. More Bosch on this page of medieval art, with decent-sized scans.


Friday, January 28, 2005
Momus writes about Vice Magazine at Design Observer, asking whether hipster irreverence and nihilism function as constructive criticism, or are simply part of the consumerist cycle they seek to parody. The comments link this excellent spoof, The New York Hipster Exodus ('The 32-year-old heir to the Tallulah Flour fortune has been in New York for only six months, most of which he's spent inside a 5,000-square-foot loft on Washington Street in the meatpacking district.'). I suppose the closest the UK has to the hipster is the urban media type, making this a good opportunity to link the upcoming upcoming Nathan Barley TV show, born screaming out of Charlie Brooker's (sleeping) TV Go Home site and the mind of Chris Morris. Teaser posters have already started to appear on the underground (with an URL I can't remember right now).

One got the feeling that the original Nathan Barley item (he was the focal point of a documentary in TVGoHome's fictive listings, which I'll coyly call 'C***') was satire with a real distaste for its subject matter, and no pretensions to any ironic subtext. Vice's screeds are different; informed by the fact that it's a publication by and about the cutting edge/counterculture/cool/whatever, which demands a certain level of understanding and interpretation from its readers, or else it becomes meaningless. Hence we have the defining features of our age, cyncism and irony, and never really meaning what you say. As another commenter puts it, '[this] calculated apathy is just a way for people to protect their "coolness," and to not let it be distilled by the super-fast spread of ideas we witness everyday'. This thread is also an interesting read, with the overall feeling that if you strike the right attitude, whatever you do is above criticism.

Which brings us to the rather ghastly concept of the Brand Hijack, a whole 'new way of marketing'. Basically, hijacking advocates claim that companies who relax and let their consumers run wild with the sacred tenets of their brand are actually doing themselves a favour. Because, what do you know, the consumer is king. Their hacks will take your brand into new markets and open new doors. The inevitable book is subtitled 'marketing without marketing,' but quickly seeks to reassure its target audience - marketers - that they're by no means out of a job. Instead, in this brave new world of marketing, they 'will become cultural anthropologist[s]', decoding consumer 'passion' and ensuring that it is re-directed back into the brand.

The book has an interesting case study of Red Bull, a drink that scores very low on taste tests yet is priced 'about eight times higher than Coke'. Red Bull's management exploited the time it took to approve the drink in various global markets (the unusual ingredients needed qualifying) and the subsequent rumours about its legality and chemical content (see this 2001 Salon article, Liquid Cocaine). Rather than vouch for their product's wholesome nature, they let the rumours spread, even turning a blind eye to Red Bull 'bootlegging', and introducing it into new markets by word of mouth. 'The company's marketers encouraged the [drug use] association by sending subtle cues, like tossing empty Red Bull cans onto the floors of club bathrooms.' What has this got to do with Vice? Perhaps it's the realisation that however edgy, ironic and out there you think you're being, there's always someone ready to recycle your authentic angst into just another sales pitch. The resulting pitch just makes other people madder and even edgier, and thus the cycle begins all over again...

Elsewhere. Hacked objects are enhanced items in the Sims world, with whole sites devoted to them, like Sim Slice. Hacked objects are in-game items that have had their properties enhanced - an easy thing to do. Apparently, it's a widespread problem in the Sims. As virtual worlds proliferate, there have been teething problems as the huge popularity of entering into whole new realms of interaction prove surprisingly popular, and easy to abuse.

Strange and enigmatic maps, ancient and modern. From the unusual, like the premise that the ancient world was comprehensively mapped by extra-terrestrials, to the in-depth, like the Pop vs Soda distribution map (thanks Will) / vintage watches at Watchismo / many links for Philip Johnson at Arch News Now / freaky instruments and effects at Eowave / scanned sketchbook, via this ask me-fi thread.


Thursday, January 27, 2005
Wikipedia's heavy metal umlaut page, the movie. An incredible look at the evolution of a Wikipedia page, and the way information and knowledge snowballs, and how vandalism is dealt with swiftly. At Jon Udell's World (thanks Brian). Related, a delightful cavalcade of things at Wikipedia's endlessly browsable Unusual Articles section (via tmn). Everything from Nazi UFOs to the tale of John Titor and Pruitt-Igoe, modernism's whipping boy.

Speaking of modernist whipping boys, take a few moments of silence to mourn the passing of Philip Johnson, irrepressible advocate of modernism. Perhaps the last link to the heroic modern period of architecture, Johnson worked with the greats while never really completing his own true masterwork. When he was good he was great, but when he was bad he was awful, yet somehow he seemed to know this, unlike many architects.

Johnson's lengthy career spanned numerous controversies, most notably his ill-advised flirtation with fascism, and also accusations of plagiarising Mies van der Rohe, a man he collaborated with and, by all accounts, idolised (and who was probably 'too dependent on Johnson's promotional efforts to raise much of a fuss about the younger man's stealing his thunder'). Johnson entertaingly recalled the 'old days' at the start of Nathaniel Kahn's excellent My Architect, and only announced his proper retirement last year, at the age of 98, leaving John Burgee to continue the practice they established together in 1967.

Their most notable works include the Crystal Cathedral in California and the Sony Plaza in New York, originally created for AT&T, and the Lipstick Building, also in NY. This BBC article fails to mention Mies' involvement in the Seagram Building, an omission the old rogue would probably have chuckled about. Related, some film stills from Logan's Run, which used one of Johnson's projects as a backdrop. And this is the map address for Johnson's own New Canaan complex, site of his famous Glass House (plan).

Other things. Hello Kitty mp3 player / in-car viruses / Russell Reviews and runs Freedom Road Records - currently putting out Oxford's finest unsigned bands / can removing road signs help road safety? ITV's Made for the Masses pop-design history documentary covered the road sign this week. And the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England recently took planners to task for the escalating amount of roadside clutter / lots to read at the 2005 Bloggies, e.g. hicks design and Going Underground's Blog / more on safe-cracking.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005
A generation lost in its personal space, or how the iPod, and the Walkman before it, appears to be undermining social cohesion (bet you can't use your iPod to watch birds though). If you aren't listening to mp3s, the article reasons, being out and about 'meant paying attention to what was going on around you, and acknowledging the existence of others.' It's also an easy way of linking to the current TV series The Lost World of Mitchell & Kenyon (images), when hat-doffing was all the rage and the irritating 'crsssss' and tinny thump of someone else's techno megamix was blissfully absent.

Rogue Semiotics has moved, and points us to Robert Elms' Queries, an absolutely fascinating trawl through hidden London. Images would be welcome - we passed the ribbon-bedecked gate of the Crossbones Graveyard just the other day and devoted a short post to it back in September 2003. That URL is still non-functional, but there's a post at Onan talking about the Southwark Mysteries walk, which points to Goose and Crow, the website of a 2000 performance based on the history of the area.

Anything goes. Colors Magazine (free registration required) on modern day piracy, dumping and even industry on the high seas: 'Jackie Chan's recent movie The Tuxedo [was] reproduced on ships running the busy Malacca Straits between Malaysia and Indonesia.' The Straits are a global hotspot for piracy of the more traditional kind, although it seems that the tsunami has dramatically slowed the problem, as the devasted province of Aceh was also the base for many pirates. There's an interesting post about post-tsunami piracy over at Myrick.

A spoonful of sugar is a food weblog / London Underground photos, hand-coloured / Ludwig at 0lll reminds us of the 365 Project, now completed and archived. Check the horror of The Groupies, 'the scare record of the year', complete with a glossary designed to strike fear into the hearts of parents.

Rob from No, 2 self (now also in rss form) emails to share his take on urban agriculture, Pigs in Space, a student project re-imagining Birmingham's (then-blighted) Bull Ring. It even has VRML! / the best book in the world at Speak Up considers the importance of childhood books / historical maps of Africa, via Plep. This vast map (3.4mb) dates from 1829.

A creepy boot-mounted escape device? / how to run a 24 hour Le Mans race in Gran Turismo 4 - in real time / The Country House and its role in the work of Jane Austen / Stormy Weather, a set of prints, drawings and paintings at Art and Architecture / Lab magazine is still going, but they seem to have lost interest in their website.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Moving mountains. The unusual pavilion designed by MVRDV as the Serpentine Gallery's traditional summer exhibition space has been postponed. The Dutch architects proposed encasing the gallery within a giant man-made mountain, transforming the landscape of Hyde Park and providing a new viewpoint. Perhaps next year. MVRDV's best-known 'man-made mountain' was their Netherlands Pavilion at Hanover Expo 2000, a vertical landscape that was an aesthetic response to their national topography - if in doubt, build up. Density has always been at the heart of the practice's work, a statistical weapon that can also be wielded ironically - the Pig City project of 2001 asks us to consider the logical consequences of mass factory farming, as well as the role of the high-rise in (human) society.

So will the Serpentine's 'mound' pass into history as a great unbuilt project, along with all those chin-stroking classics like Zaha Hadid's Cardiff Bay Opera House, forever lamented in architectural circles? Arguably, MVRDV's scheme has other historical precedents, from the prehistoric earthworks at Silbury Hill and Marlborough (see Jonathan Key's Stoned Again?, a review of Julian Cope's The Modern Antiquarian in things 10).

Britain continued this grand tradition of landscaping schemes into the feudal period; the aristocracy were known for their ability to move whole villages so as not to spoil their carefully contrived view. Landscapes were scattered with artificial islands, temples and lakes - such as that devised by Henry Hoare II at Stourhead (more) in Wiltshire - all of which had to be painstakingly gouged, dredged and hauled out of the 'real' earth. The picturesque tradition is ultimately highly inauthentic, a nature enhanced by human labour (although it would be crass to suggest that all human intervention in the landscape produces beauty; observe the post-industrial environments shown in the work of Sebastian Salgado for a start).

But the modern world seems intent on defining all landscape as natural, rather than just another 'thing' that can be sculpted and created. Contemporary landscape design, which arguably has a better understanding of the historical context, frequently takes opposition with the picturesque, re-asserting its artificiality and as a result is not always well-received. Perhaps Kathryn Gustafson's much-publicised travails with the Diana Memorial Fountain are largely to do with our modern misinterpretations of the picturesque, the artificial and the real? Why shouldn't we be able to paddle in a pool? Why should grass not be able to resist thousands of pairs of feet a day? What was it all about?

Admittedly memorialising is a tricky business. The JFK Memorial at Runnymede, standing in its one acre of designated American soil seems dignified and calm, as does Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial. The WTC Memorial is a hugely complex and politicised task, scrutinised right down to the typeface. Most importantly, the Diana Memorial suffers from being apparently out of context, a modern, unyielding 'ring of stone' amongst Hyde Park's picturesque vistas. It is accused of crass simplicity, inappropriateness and, worst of all, a lack of understanding of the demands of landscape.

Our sense of the natural has been shocked into rigid defintions by a surfeit of artificiality. History is something that could be dusted down, shifted about and dropped into the urban context. The latest Twentieth Century Society journal, devoted to The Heroic Period of Conservation, contains fascinating descriptions of the way in which historic buildings were once shuffled around, re-located and re-organised to allow for development elsewhere and to better preserve a sense of what once was. Coventry, for example, was knocked about in this way (see this excellent history of Post-war Coventry, complete with maps, for details).

Admittedly instant streetscapes and arcadian landscapes don't seed at the same pace, yet they are both populist responses to the 'problem' of the built environment's rather tiresome insistence on weathering at a stately pace. Nonetheless, we still try to accelerate this proces - see the story of the 'Temple Bar', the 1672 monument (perhaps the work of Christopher Wren) shunted rudely out of its urban context by the Victorians, who felt it got in the way of their thrusting metropolis. For over a century it acted as the entrance to Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire, looky forlorn and rather spooky. Today, it 'shines whiter-than-white, [and] appears devoid of history', according to Jonathan Glancey's article, the Temple of Doom. You can't please everyone.

If townscape and landscape can be instant, then that places everywhere at risk. The bodies and organisations that are fighting for greater clarifications of the insatiable need for new housing are prepared to fight tooth and claw. But for what? As Wayne Hemingway recently noted ('green belt needs shades of brown'), 'I think we should zone the green belt from one to 10, where 10 is very green and one almost brown'. Yet if anything we have become more rigid in our understanding of once flexibly defined spaces like 'green belt.' If the future really does lie in pickling every old railway embankment and scrappy meadow, while we ramp up the truly artificial and spectacular, will 'authentic' spaces like Hyde Park be left just as they are? Neither fountain nor mountain would be allowed to intrude.

*


Elsewhere. Some on-line publications. The Symptom is the online publication of Lacan.com. It's predictably heavy-going (Homer Simpson, Kant and St Paul, together at last), but those who are still up to their necks in cultural theory should get something out of it. We've been spoiled by nine years out of college, countless pop culture websites and a wandering attention span excerbated by excessive Zen Micro usage / Milk Magazine / Private, an 'international review of photography and writing' / ReVue and Blind Spot, on photography / Stockholm New, the epicentre of Swedish style.

Two nostalgia-filled sites: the Sixties and the Seaside / a huge collection of design links and resources at Webmaster Republic / The Degree Confluence Project continues on its mission to sample the world, one point of confluence (the intersection of latitude and longitude) at a time. Japan is now done, but there are still 12,460 to go elsewhere in the world.

Finally, many thanks to Dan for thoughtfully compiling a 'best of' of our recent posts.


Monday, January 24, 2005
More on the SuperCity exhibition at Urbis. We're slightly obsessed with this concept, although we don't know why. Deyan Sudjic summed it up nicely in yesterday's Observer, 'The shape of things to come - if you live in Manchester' (surely a nod to those infamous 80s Bacardi adverts?) by describing the proposal as a 'landscape dotted by vast monuments to Will's whimsical genius.' However, he imagines that 'out there in the badlands of the M62 it would look even less convincing.' Related, motorway histories. Staying with the public profile of avant-garde architecture, the recent Master-Disaster Architects Duel in New York saw Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Smith-Miller+Hawkinson duke it out in a model-making challenge. Some more images.

We finally got to see Super Size Me. Related: Ten reasons... to go to McDonald's 10 reasons to eat at McD's (via Kottke). The movie would seem to contradict number one on the list. See also the rather obscure rebuttal movie, Bowling for Morgan and the The Princess Series, the flash animated tale of a fortune-less princess as she attempts to understand the modern world.

Go back to the future with this DeLorean auction / the visual history of Rotterdam / the last 12 Pixies shows, each beautifully packaged / UK internet history at the haddock family tree / My Three Favorite Computer Games of 2004. By Paul Ford. Of course.

Some common errors and misconceptions about the work of Christo and Jeanne Claude (via Curbed). Related, Five Films about Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Also via Curbed, Cornershots, architecture in New York / London Topography, the city in old prints / books in the hallway / Betsy Goes to China / Paradise Circus, a weblog / Sleeve Notes, a weblog.

Panopticist, a new weblog (via collision detection) / the crime in your coffee, a pulpy German-language website / Complexification, computer-generated imagery, via Douglas / my favourite part of this story: 'SpongeBob, who lives in a pineapple under the sea, was "outed" by the U.S. media in 2002 after reports that the TV show and its merchandise are popular with gays' / Freshness magazine.

Two 'facts' culled from recent me-fi posts - are they true? Ford only afford to keep Volvo factories open because of the Swedish healthcare system. And, when seem from the sea, the Burj Al-Arab hotel resembles a giant crucifix / The Polar Express: A Virtual Train Wreck (via kottke), a very detailed look at that film's apparently stilted animation ('Somehow they spent millions of dollars to literally take the soul out of an Oscar-winning actor's performance.)


Thursday, January 20, 2005
Christine Berrie draws light switches, beautifully / Bookworks publish artists' books / a gallery of industrial art / the Drawing Room, a gallery / Ricky Swallow is a sculptor / the art of the First World War, including painter's responses to the horror of artillery, e.g. Felix Vallotton and George Grosz / Hari Kunzru on the work of Francis Upritchard, who uses recovered materials to create modern totems that embed the things we have lost or forgotten, blurring the divide between familiar objects and the darker things that lurk in our attics and our unconscious.

Is this the future? A provocative short film on what might happen if Google gets too big for its boots / the deserted farms of Iceland, via Coudal). See also Abandoned buildings in the Netherlands and the ruins of the Hudson Valley. It's little consolation that so many of these places only live on through the internet.

Blog, Blog, Blog, Blog, Photoblog: How Photographers Are Making The Internet Work For Them, with plenty of interesting links, like the remarkable Chromasia (check the thumbnails) / the weblog and photography of Geoff Badner / butter paper, a 'greaseproof architecture resource'.

Make your own polyhedra models and computer-generated floral ornament (pdf) / London Bridge Museum / intensely detail table-top gaming miniatures / is bigger better? An interesting debate on the merits of the new A380. Superjumbo doesn't sound right for this plane - it's too derivative of the 747. Related. Unreal Aircraft / Meg and Mog fansite.


Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Random findings today. Old, but good: the petals around the rose game / neat tube map subversions / Fort Thunder, a commune of art and music (via me-fi). Apparently once the home of Lightning Bolt, who have truly ascended from cult listen to fashionista favourites in the past few months. Another LB site / opinions sought: is Picasa any good?

Mark Lawson on our fascination with codes / Gamestudies, the international journal of computer game research, which includes essays like Alexander Galloway's Social Realism in Gaming / Lunky, a 12,000 mile bike trip around Australia, with copious photos.

A huge image collection from the archives of the Bibliotheque Nationale Quebec / the Fueled by Coffee weblog / Eastern European architecture / Rome, in the footsteps of an XVIIIth century traveller / bizarre and offbeat things at RRR (via the cartoonist).

Mappr or the geographical application of Flickr. Related, I like the look of Pop vs Soda (via stamen) / fun with Google searches (via Elky Cooks, which also links to the annotated Sgt. Pepper and Tape Findings) / the sorry sight of the Ghosts of Christmas Just Past.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Bits and pieces today.

A post over at diskant alerted us to the tales of The Bear, Witold Riedel's entertaining tales of ursine travel over at tmn / The Francis Bacon image gallery is pretty comprehensive, and probably not very copyright friendly / the urban art of Edward Beale, who has a very painterly view of London, slightly reminiscent of David Bomberg or Frank Auerbach, neither of which is a bad thing. More art at the Zeno-X gallery.

After yesterday's post on safes and storage, we heard a snippet on Radio 4's You and Yours about the history of valuables storage. You can listen again at that link / Purse Lip Square Jaw on Dan Hill's essay about the iPod Shuffle / as the A380 is unveiled, just what is the world's largest plane?

The Stamford Historical Society has numerous illustrations from the great era of American mansion building, when industrialists and entrepreneurs created vast piles for themselves / The Frank Furness Collection at the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania / Strange Signage and Urban Miscellanea, including this fake Poem on the Underground (an archive of the original poems).

Moleskinerie, a place we should visit more often / Filboid Sludge, cartoons from 1944 / the Futuro Home revisited / compare and contrast, the Ferrari 575 that once belonged to the late Uday Hussein, a true wrecked exotic / more autos, the Tucker48 is a replica of the great Tucker Torpedo.

An in-depth paper on the impossible Biology of B-movie monsters (via Exclamation Mark) / Soviet Art and other poster sites, some links over at Halvorsen / retro station, via PCL Linkdump / Philadelphia looks cold and romantic / fine furniture by Henry Built.

It's the last chance for collect-o-maniac North American females to get in touch regarding a possible feature in a glossy magazine. We would just be forwarding names, so let us know if you're interested.


Monday, January 17, 2005
'Illegal Engineering', author and illustrator Tim Hunkin on the art of safe-cracking (via Yoz). We'd love to see this illustrated and annotated lecture performed, because the history of locks, safes, chests and security boxes is one of fiendish and devious objects (shown in this Hunkin cartoon), and the accompanying history of lock-picking is equally fascinating. Many of the names referenced in the text are still familiar today, like the locksmith Joseph Bramah, inventor of the allegedly 'unpickable' Bramah Lock. This was an incredibly complex device, as demonstrated by these illustrations, whose success is evinced by the continued existence of the Bramah Company. Bramah's lock was eventually picked by Hobbs, who was subsequently defeated by the American locksmith Linus Yale. Yale's son, also Linus, created a front door lock so enduring that I've used one twice today already.

More information at Antique Locks, which links to such wonders as this collection of Bank Vault Time Locks (which 'keep the vault door locked until the timer runs down'), Dean's Antique Safe and Padlock Page, and the Chubb Archive. Charles and Jeremiah Chubb's locks used to be made in a huge factory on Glengall Road in South London, not far from things. Some more Chubbs history, showing a typical Chubb Safe Deposit installation (lock detail).

Hunkin's page coincided with our acquisition of this book by the delightfully-named Shifty Burke, Memoirs of a safe-breaker, published by Arthur Baker Ltd in 1966. (Safe-breakers get good nicknames, witness Hunkin's tales of 'Piano Charlie'). Burke's book is perfectly attuned with the underbelly of 60s London, the criminal world that got to rub up with glamour (e.g. the Kray Twins 'immortalised' by David Bailey) and create an enduring popular mythology.

For novices, the book begins with a glossary, explaining many terms which have passed into popular usage ('Throw the book: apply the full weight of the regulations, 'Butcher's: a look (butcher's book)') via the popularisation of Cockney rhyming slang. But there were plenty we hadn't heard:

Dead job: burglary carried out on empty premises
Flattie: policeman
Jam pot: gas meter
Nevis: 7-year sentence
'Loids': pieces of celluloid used to force back the latch of a Yale type lock
Pussies: furs


*

Elsewhere. Delightful and slightly obsessive: Francoise Hardy all over the world (via I Like, who also point to this elaborately wonderful speculation of one man's future, What if..., courtesy of Craig at Flip Flop Flyin) / aviation news. "Last year there was not a single death from large jets registered by the major airlines in North America, Europe or Australasia. Not a single one. Nor was there in 2003, nor in 2002."

Kiddie Records Weekly, a polychromatic celebration of 'classics from the golden age.' (via Irregular Orbit). At the opposite end of the audio spectrum, The Sound of Data at Acts of Volition (via kottke). See also the myriad white noise generators you can get to mimic various natural and unnatural sounds.

A nice set of Sci-fi book covers from Russell Davies, who also links to Jonathan Harris's Number 27. Harris is the creator of Understanding Vorn, 'an artwork in flux'. "Every five minutes it scours thousands of weblogs, searching for the four most recently posted pictures that begin with the letters 'V', 'O', 'R', 'N'. Every five minutes, UNDERSTANDING VORN changes, filled with fresh words and pictures from the blogosphere".

Ellie Harrison's travels around London / Stopped Clocks, via Boing Boing / architecture T-shirts / Malcolm Gladwell writes entertaingly on SUVs / an online portfolio at Variate.net ('a compendium of small pieces of me').


Friday, January 14, 2005
A jumble of bits and pieces today. "The iPod Shuffle is the latest entrant in a field of devices which are tending towards a beautiful simplicity, as culture seems to be careering towards a beautiful complexity," from City of Sound's lengthy exposition on the rise and rise of shuffle mode. So do we like our culture to be served up in random? Or is new technology all about refining choices? Or is it about the illusion of choice?

Perhaps, in a neat bit of synergy, the iPod, in all its various incarnations and imitations, is part of the phenomenon identified by the author Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink as 'thin-slicing', or "the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and people based on very narrow 'slices' of experience." (link originally via me-fi).

Not everyone thinks Gladwell's ideas - essentially that we live in a culture when snap judgements and face value are all we have time for, and that we can learn to identify and even change such impulses - are new or even helpful. But the fact remains that digital technology facilitates such 'slicing', enabling consumers to skip, or 'shuffle', through vast swathes of media at high speed. We are all learning to edit playlists in our head: how many times have you skipped past a track that began quietly when the ambient noise drowned it out? Or switched off something loud and punchy in favour of a more atmospheric personal soundtrack? The time it takes to make these decisions is miniscule - more time is spent wrestling with touch pads and volume controls.

Perhaps any association between Gladwell's book and the digital media phenomenon is a bit stretched. But from the reviews, Gladwell seems to be making a case for thin-slicing as an evolutionary advance, "rapid cognition" as a way of dealing with social and cultural complexity. The danger is that manufacturers, marketers and all those other nebulous professions that oversee cultural production will ensnare the secrets of rapid cognition and use it to sell stuff, an even more covert means of subliminal advertising (which seemed like a great idea at the time to some, but has proved to be more myth than reality in the long run).

To a certain extent, consumer culture has always worked on the thin-slice principle; the way supermarkets set out their freshest goods first, setting up an aroma and expectation that follows you into the packaged stuff, or the psychology of sales and discounting. The twenty-first century is beginning with a political and commercial battle for the consumer's subconscious impulses, and "beautiful complexity" will be increasingly distilled into simplicity.

Related, Turn your iPod into an iPod shuffle... (it won't exactly save you money if you don't already own the iPod). Other things. Shipshape, the nautical art of James Dodds / Tiger Tales,a collection of linocuts by Rew Hanks / weird-sounding site corner: fishbucket, a weblog, and Bogleech, (via me-fi) / Oyster Christ, the latest in a long line of religious simulacra / those amazing Tokyo drains, again.

Stalin Era Posters, when the fields were appeared to be brim full of wheat and Uncle Joe was everyone's friend (via Life in the Present). Related, The Commissar Vanishes, 'the falsification of photographs in Stalin's Russia' / was the Palace of Knossos an ancient megastructure? / the earthquake in action, via New Scientist / a short film about the celebrated Villa Floirac, Rem Koolhaas' iconic fin de siecle mansion (thanks Benoit).

Yet more retro futures at Yesterday's Tomorrows / Those Crazy 1980s, a site devoted to the excesses of that decade's car tuning and customisation / a plush Jawa / artist Toby Zeigler's exhibition at the Chisenhale Gallery / Sensory Impact, a weblog about objects.


Thursday, January 13, 2005
The Architecture of Density is a new photographic exhibition by Michael Wolf at the Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco. The hyper-dense architecture in question is in Hong Kong, where systems-building has been pushed to the extreme, and residential towers are seemingly just extruded from a single storey, cut and paste up to several hundred feet without deviation.

While some of Wolf's images look manipulated, that's not the case. Small individual touches - hanging washing, blinds, etc. - reveal these as real places, real homes. Some of these structures are so thrillingly banal that you almost wish they were imaginary, a grim warning of the architectural oblivion that unthinking modernism has created. So why are images like this so seductive? The large-format architectural view was arguably pioneered by Andreas Gursky, an artist whose blank, matter-of-fact images convey a sense of enormous scale, dwarfing their human subjects. Gursky also visited Hong Kong, as did the photographer Peter Bialobrzeski, whose exhibition Neon Tigers added a nighttime sheen to the same subject matter.

It's almost ironic that this late period, cookie-cutter modernism has earned so many glowing artistic tributes. The work of all three photographers emphasises the similarity, repetition and, ultimately, inhumanity, of these buildings, yet we're detached by distance; would they be so exciting and dynamic if we actually had to live there. These structures respond to Hong Kong's extraordinary property market, with its ups and downs caused by the limited availability of land and the former colony's uncertain politicial status: their style and collective impact is almost secondary.

The megastructure continues to fascinate architects and urbanists. While Hong Kong's cramped skyscraper clusters are perhaps the unacceptable face of the modern metropolis, the search goes on for an instant contemporary city. The jury is still out on Will Alsop's SuperCity proposal (more at City of Sound), the subject of a new exhibition at Urbis. 'What if the North became one city?', begins the blurb, and as with all these things, it's hard to tell if the questionner expects us to be happy or sad with the outcome.

Consider the renovation of the vast Park Hill Estate (1961) in Sheffield, one of Britain's first, and largest, housing estates, and one which had evolved specificially out of the then fashionable Corbusian doctrines. Park Hill is shortly to be renovated. It was once a 'SuperCity', I suppose, yet its form and typology has fallen far from favour. The contemporary Alsopian vision is a strange hybrid of linearity and verticality, a celebration of extreme mobility (more specifically, the 'romance' of the M62 corridor). Time will tell how well such ideas are received. Related, the Twentieth Century Society's already excellent website has had a new year re-vamp.

Update. Eastern scale. This architectural model (the world's largest planning model) at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall shows the entire city at 1:2000 scale.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005
The Burro Schmidt Mine, one man's private tunnel (at Lost Destinations, via me-fi). Inspired us to hunt around for underground exploration sites, especially structures and tunnels created by eccentrics. I seem to recall the story of a reclusive London man who constructed a tunnel work spreading out from the basement of his house, extending many yards below surrounding houses, roads, etc., but frustratingly can't find it. Instead, a few abandoned buildings: Truro City Hospital, roof-topping in Glasgow and sneaking around an abandoned warehouse belonging to British Car Auctions (part of this admirably minimal website). Finally, Sub-Urban, which delves below Britain's streets and empty places, including a rather sneaky trip into Battersea Power Station (when we visited it was due to an invitation, so we missed out on the eerie sight of the main hall at night), Tottenham Baths (more info) and Croydon's hidden River Wandle, which wends beneath the Purley Way (see this post).

Other things. Turn your website into an interior decorating scheme with Sidestepper (via collision detection) or make a Google montage / bad book covers, thanks to the keen-eyed people at Coudal / get organic vegetables delivered in London / notebook topography, via kottke / a model of Berlin / automobilia for sale.

Need a grid? Downdload some free online graph paper / Collision Detection considers the brain of a gamer. From the comments, "A whole lot of games give me the idea that I should smash open crates and barrels to get the health/power-ups/coins/treasure/etc. hidden inside." We agree; why don't real-world crates splinter into pieces after a couple of punches?

Marfa.org brings you a collection of links about Donald Judd's adopted home town (appears closely related to archibot) / Carlo Mollino's Casa del Sole (more), a 1947 apartment building in the Alpine resort of Cervinia, contained some gorgeous furniture. Mollino also took a mean polaroid (nsfw).

Way back in the mists of 2004, things put together a CD for the legendary me-fi swap. If we say so ourselves, our CDs were beautifully packaged. Off they went, into the mysteries of the global posting system, and vanished. These were the destinations: Prolific, Jurgen Fauth, Codding, Suite102. I wonder if they ever arrived?


Tuesday, January 11, 2005
A fascinating - and sceptical - Telegraph article about Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), on the back of the new (in the UK at least) Michael Keaton film, White Noise. The film's official site is stuffed full of hokum ('Do you believe?', 'The origins of EVP', etc.) and you can share your EVP experience on the official message board.

As the article explains, these noises exist, but interpretation of them is largely down to the individual. "EVP [is] sometimes referred to as "Rorschach audio", after the test in which subjects read their own interpretation of inkblot images – as just another example of the brain's penchant for making sense even of the patently senseless." As you'd expect, there's a bucketload of EVP stuff online, starting with the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena. Perhaps the reason EVP thrives on the internet is that it distills nicely into little itty sound-bites, easy to download and, generally speaking, the more fuzzy and realaudio-like the better.

Check yet another credulous page at The Anomalist, which advises not "not expect to hear anything the first time you tape, or perhaps the ten times after that. It seems to take about two weeks before most tapers get anything, or before their ear has been trained to distinguish a spirit voice.." But technology might also be the 'phenomenon's' undoing. Just as the global proliferation of visual recording media - cameras, digital cameras, cine cameras, handicams, phone cameras, etc., etc. - hasn't resulted in a corresponding increase in the number of UFO sightings, so the gradual increase in recording mp3 players and phones will reveal very little in the way of spirit voices (happily, the baby alarm that is softly breathing next to me, hasn't seen fit to speak out in an alarming way just yet).

The Telegraph piece quotes a Professor Imants Baruss (snappy name, practically zero Google hit rating) as saying that 'some EVP turns out to be genuinely anomalous'. It also quotes a spooky incident on a recent Radio 4 programme, when the presenter Sandi Toskvig broadcast from a 'haunted castle' in Ireland, and 'something else' turned up on the tape. Happily you can listen to the snippet in question right here. Related, spooky pictures by Simon Marsden.

And there's more. Buy The Ghost Orchid, a CD compilation of EVP material. Half-heard the other morning was this report on Radio 4's normally reputable Today about the subject, the kind of journalism that must have gladdened the hearts of the Keaton film's PR people.
(original link via Agenda Inc.). Also related, spooky websites.

Other things. Hyperkit in Norfolk / Hollywood Noir, via Coudal / Cast of Shadows, an excerpt from the new novel by Kevin Guilfoile / Sun's Project Looking Glass, a 3D desktop prototype / I like to judge blogs by their covers / we love Richard Avedon's bed / Look At Me, found photos collected by tmn's art director Frederic Bonn.

The Burke Family Grape-Nuts TV Commercial, 1968 - 70 (via the equally quirky via Sixties City), the story of a 1968 commercial that entered US pop culture history (were we ever able to buy grape-nuts in this country?). Related, cereal boxes. Hundreds of them. Staying with that retro vibe, visit Wes Clark's Avocado Memories, where you can tour his house, 1631 North Lincoln Street, Burbank, California 91506, and re-live the days of aluminum Christmas trees. Naturally, there's ATOM, the Aluminum Tree and Ornament Museum ('the world's only museum dedicated to vintage Aluminum Trees!'). And why the US vs UK spelling discrepancy? No-one really knows.

Thanks to Blake at Tweaks the Limbs for the rss tip.


Monday, January 10, 2005
Derelict London goes from strength to strength. It's amazing that so much of the capital lies crumbling and weed-strewn, given rampant property prices and the insatiable appetite of developers for fresh land. The site's longevity provides useful insights into the lengthy machinations of London's derelict sites. Gallion's Hotel, for example, shown here as a shabby ghost of its former life as P&O's hotel for 'first-class steamer passengers'.

Back in 1949, the Royal Albert Docks and Albert Basin looked far more active (image from the RoDMA page), with Gallions station (closed nine years earlier after the first air raid of the Blitz, according to this excellent page at the Subterranea Britannica - here's a picture of that fateful night) visible in the bottom right of the picture. Subbrit is also in it for the long-haul, displaying images from the 1960s onwards (many by Nick Catford), like this Get Carter-esque 1968 view south-east across the grimy Thames. At this point, the hotel was amazingly still open .

Today, the whole area looks slightly nomansland-ish on the map, but there are a host of developments under way. Just up the road is the bland-as-biscuits Gallions Reach shopping centre, near Gallion's Reach station at the easterly end of the Docklands Light Railway (located in a slightly different place (pdf) to the original station). Perhaps the biggest change is the creation of London City Airport, whose main runway replaces the warehouses at the centre of this picture (more information at the History of London Docklands site). Nearby is the University of East London, while the Gallions Housing Association (pdf) is working on new developments on the south side of the river. The best site we've found for Docklands history is this one, for the GCSE history student.

Elsewhere. Neat architecture cards. You used to be able to get a version of the Pompidou Centre in this series, but I haven't seen it for years / Book Ninja / did you miss out on Sub Pop's famous and ultra hip Singles Club first time round? Impress your friends with this helpful auction / Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay. They don't make them like they used to / A Family Christmas. Priceless.

Cities of Tomorrow, useful to reference / our favouite Shooting Brakes website has been overhauled / Magazine Art, a database of cover art (The Cartoonist, via BoingBoing) / old maps at the Bodleian.

We've reinstated our rss feed, even though we still don't understand rss.


Friday, January 07, 2005
Bits and pieces today. A giant step forward for punctuation? On introducing a 'sarcasm point'. Thanks oldtimey, who also reminds us of the Eurobad design pages - they could perhaps do with couple of sarcasm points there. You could always bid for a 70s-era Habitat Catalogue if you want to re-live the whole decade. Alternatively, Wallpaper from the 70s actually sells new wallpaper, we think (via Tofu Hut).

Games developer Blizzard moves to stamp out the nascent black economy in its new World of Warcraft online game. Commentary from Terra Nova, which specialises in the goings-on in these virtual worlds / Grow-a-Brain has assembled a nice collection of posts on the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

A densely illustrated (but Italian language) history of science fiction, featuring many scans from vintage-era publications. We like the Mars pages, the homage to Chesley Bonestell and Robert McCall and a huge collection of Retro Future images, featuring models, cars and megastructures (including Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City).

The deceptive art of Shigeo Fukuda (via Caterina) / music mixes at base58 / Polar Inertia looks at Parking Garages (via Kottke) / what is music production? Complete with sound samples / Edit magazine, from Getty Images / find famous graves with Find A Grave.

Pre-Shrunk is a t-shirt weblog, of all things (via A whole lotta nothing. Specialist consumer micro-sites are springing up all the time. For example, here's yet another Weblogs Inc product, Luxist, which casts a by-now-obligatory slightly snooty eye over its chosen subject, in this case luxury goods (which deserve a slightly snooty treatment more than most other things, I guess).

The history of Dayglo / picture gallery, including propaganda and antique advertisements / 2005 in colour by Adam Polselli / old electronics history: the Spectravideo company.


Thursday, January 06, 2005
Metropolis covers Superstudio, the Italian collective who espoused a world without architecture, a world of grids, automation, installation and subversion. One suspects Superstudio, who abhorred convention and sentimentality, would be all for the IKEA-sponsored demolition of a rather fetching group of buildings in Red Hook, South Brooklyn. No-one is happy. The world's ultimate big box retailer is notably unsympathetic to architectural history; there was uproar a couple of years ago when a store threatened Marcel Breuer's Pirelli Tire Company headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut. A compromise was reached, with commentators noting how ironic it was that a company which prided itself on its modern and progressive styling could be so relentlessly dull and backwards when it came to its own environments.

In 2003, IKEA also planned to demolish the iconic chimneys at its Purley Way store in Croydon, South London. The towers were costing the store money to maintain, yet were emblazoned with its corporate colours and therefore acted as a giant ad for the brand, as well as signposting the store from miles around. That anyone seriously contemplated removing them is bizarre. They were originally part of Croydon 'B' Power Station, a grand brick edifice in the British power generating architectural tradition.

Croydon 'B' was constructed in 1939 on the Purley Way, one of London's first bypasses and now home to one of the capital's biggest collections of US-style retail sheds - PC World, IKEA, TK Maxx, Mothercare, etc. - set back from the often congested highway. Back then, of course, it really was all fields, as the road was the location of Croydon Airport, the Gateway to Empire that had its handsome main terminal sited on the road in 1928. From here, the vast biplanes of Imperial Airways departed for all corners of the globe. The road gradually accumulated light industry, with many factories built in the popular deco style (though none as spectacular as those which which adorned the Great West Road, with its Firestone Factory, now demolished, as are many other examples. More deco info).

Back to Croydon 'B'. The power station shut down in 1984, just a year after Battersea Power Station shut off its boilers (more Battersea history). Industry gave way to retail, as the road became one of the earliest location for the new-style retail warehouses. The power station site lasted out until the 1990s, when it became Valley Park (complete with snappy names for the new roads: Volta Way, Ampere Way, Galvani Way, Franklin Way and Hesterman Way (the much snappier Merz Road was already taken)). Before the bulk of Croydon 'B' bit the dust, though, it was used as a set for Terry Gilliam's Brazil (more images).

Future architectural historians will no doubt be able to look back at numerous films from the 70s and 80s for a view of a lost London. Brazil also used London docklands locations, as did Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (which famously recreated war-torn South-East Asia at Beckton Gas Works. More locations). London's power station have frequently cameo'd as daunting Cathedrals of totalitarianism: Battersea in Richard III (image, from this Ian McKellen page), Bankside in Judge Dredd. These buildings have now all gone or are in the process of giving up their ruinous states. Will all tomorrow's cinematic dystopias be virtual? Ironically, contemporary cinema's visions are closer to Superstudio's imagery, all unbuildable global grids, cubic forests and 'Ideal Cities', Matrix-like in their vastness.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005
This weekend, Cork becomes the European Capital of Culture. This title is a bit of a poisoned chalice. Witness Liverpool's victory in the 2008 bid, a campaign supported in part by the commitment to build a new 'Fourth Grace' on the famous waterfront. The winner was Will Alsop and his 'cloud' scheme. It was a controversial choice right from the start ('...despite being the least formed and arguably most ugly of all the proposals'), and perhaps not surprisingly enthusiasm for the building rapidly petered out, amidst squabbles about what it would actually contain. The other bidding cities then cried foul.

Liverpool still has its Three Graces, the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard building and the Port of Liverpool Building. They're all elegant to be sure, but are actually just fine examples of competent commercial architecture, rather than true masterpieces. Here are some fine Liverpool images in commemoration of the city becoming a World Heritage Site (on account of its Maritime and Mercantile past).

Back in Cork, a couple of responses to the official nomination, in the form of Where's Me Culture?, which would like to make the most of the nomination and doesn't really expect this to be achieved (the site is named for a (briefly) anthemic song by the Sultans of Ping, Where's me jumper?, an indie disco fave from days gone by). Finally, there is Corkspace, images of the city. Thanks to Ray for inspiring this trawl (correction, not this Ray).

Elsewhere. Head Magazine is an online journal of photography and illustration (thanks, Marshall) / Ben Johnson makes elegant architectural paintings / Tom Armitage's Infovore.org / How Did Animals Escape Tsunami? Or did they? Via me-fi / Abebooks has a rare books room and a First Editions Gallery.

Is the forthcoming Freedom Tower an open source design? More at Curbed, who also point us to these images of a proposed Phillipe Starck condo in New York. How did we miss this? These are the very peak of the renderers art, the point at which architectural imagineering totally (and willingly?) departs from reality.

We come to Transfer (‘a critic of electronic music and sometimes architecture’) mid hiatus, but it will apparently be back / Collision Detection writes of the dangerous desktop things built by one Kaden Harris / diskant has some fine A-Zs of the year (can’t direct link to them, unfortunately), music and more / trawl the world's webcams.

The Da Vinci crock, or how a global bestseller draws from a wildly misleading book. 'Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln are the Moriartys of pseudohistory, and "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" is their great triumph.' Related, the French get irked by 'Code Tourists'.

Finally, a little bit of history.


Monday, January 03, 2005
Bits and pieces today: Notendo, the video game aesthetic broken down / streaming live shows by contemporary bands at Supersphere / oureyes, a photography site / The Mysterious Monsieur Bellocq, an exhibition at the International Center for Photography. Related, female mug shots from the 1940s at the excellent Swapatorium ('a journey through junkland, flea markets, thrift stores, antique shops, garage & estate sales, collecting, odd finds, swaps' - we'll be back here). Thanks to PCL Linkdump.

Abstract landscape photography by Scott Bonner / automata, mechanical sculptures, with tons of links to other automata sites, including the machines of Arthur Ganson / a very brief history of ITV, the UK's first commercial television channel / illustrations by Colin Thompson.

Indigoblur, a weblog / Jennifer and Barry are the first owners of the LV Home, bringing the pre-fab into the contemporary age. This is the story of the build / the erotic eye and its nude, 'an inquiry into the vicissitudes of the scopic and the phanic drive'. We're not entirely sure 'phanic' means anything. Related, a Guy Bourdin folio.


A 3D model of William Beckford's Fonthill Abbey (via this instructive me-fi post by Thomas J Wise, aka The Little Professor, whose weblog, appropriately enough, is about 'Things Victorian and academic'). The post also links the Follies and Monuments page, a testament to that bizarre, and usually British, spirit of architectural invention that died out in the Twentieth Century (perhaps with the advent of the Town and Country Planning Act, which entered the modern phase in 1947). Discover such gems as the Robber's Stone, which records a failed mugging in 1839, when a good gentleman of Imber was set upon yet managed to best his assailants (three of whom joined the 160,000 transported to Australia).

What do you want to do with your life?, asks 43 things, which applies a Flickr-style interface to dreams, ambitions and resolutions / the decorations of the Moscow Metro, via PCL Linkdump, at Bee Flowers' epic website (the Decommissioned Nation galleries feature wonderful imagery, 'past the ecstasy of Soviet sublime'. They remind me of the collages of architect Richard Meier. Related, see Meier's proposals for a new holiday village in Italy).

Other things. Creative Waves is holding an online student design contest in conjunction with Icograda (the International Council of Graphic Design Associations). The brief? ' What would it sound like if a hundred photographs were taken at the exact same moment all around the globe?'

Bruce Hershenson's vast archive of vintage movie posters / all hail to the Ephemera Society / John and Belle have a blog, and very good it is too / Space Weather, 'news and information about the Sun-Earth environment'. A panoramic photo of The Weather Project by Olafur Eliasson. There's an even bigger version of this fabulous image.