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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Anthony Clayton's books include Decadent London and Subterranean City. His site has some excellent links, including Strange Attractor (which now has a weblog, Further) and The Hastings Trawler, the first edition of which is available for download. We were most taken with Magonia, a publication devoted to 'interpreting contemporary vision and belief'. Amongst other things, the publication debunks UFOs, via The Pelican column: 'In an Internet discussion forum in 2000, British researcher James Easton suggested that the objects seen by Kenneth Arnold in his famous 1947 sighting might have been a flock of American White Pelicans. This suggestion was angrily rejected by American researchers. UFO writer and historian Jerome Clark coined the term 'pelicanist' which became used to dismiss anyone who offered a mundane explanation for a UFO sighting report'. The above image is taken from the Merseyside UFO Research Group Investigates Hindley UFO Sighting in 1967.

A giant knife / Hillbilly, Please, a weblog with an eye for the more absurd excesses of consumer culture, e.g., human-powered LED nose ring (which we suspect is a very speculative idea that couldn't possibly work) / Information Bursts, and an associated weblog, Running Amok, from Analogue Books, a design book store in Edinburgh / Apple ][ emulation. Other old games live on at remain in play.

The Nozomi, Japan's best-looking Bullet Train. Could high speed rail reduce our dependence on rail? Apparently Gordon Brown thinks so, as he was recently heard extolling the virtues of Maglev in the Far East (and the need for private money to pay for it). A Scottish-Chinese dream: Maglev made easy, 'A bullet-train link between Scotland’s two major cities is a realistic ambition for an old nation seeking a new place in the world'.

'A true story of how a gentleman of a certain age and of respectable
appearance was swallowed alive by the crocodile in the Arcade, and of the
consequences that followed.' Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Crocodile / how many cats is too many cats? / Esthet has moved over to flickr, with rich sets on Tokyo Modern and street fashion in Haranjuku.

Dwelling in an age of aeromodernism, BLDG BLG illustrates the rise of the aerotropolis and the instant city, riffing off the once quaint notion that runways would sit happily atop the modern city. That way of thinking, satirised by W.Heath Robinson, who had a thing for wayward applications of the aeroplane), has never quite been abandoned (e.g. the contstant emphasis on flying cars, see things passim). City-centre aircraft like the Fairey Rotodyne have been superseded by concepts like Avcen's VQSTOL Jetpod (Very Quiet Short Take Off and Landing) and the still-in-testing Agusta/Bell 609, are designed to hop up and down either vertically or in short spaces without the need for a runway (simulations of the Jetpod show it skittering around an environment not unlike Microsoft's Flight Simulator, strangely barren, as if everyone has vanished due to some unfortunate catastrophe. The rendering, of a Jetpod cruising up from Potsdamer Platz, is more in line with conventional utopian, rather than dystopian, imagery).

Penspotters, Pendemonium, the Pen Museum, a short history of the Biro / there's so much red in the BBC's new-style news page that every time I log on it looks like a huge catastrophe is in progress / will copyright restrictions mean the end of TAB? / placed to ride design skateparks around the world / cars that park themselves have been mooted for ages, but until now only Japan has really embraced the idea - see Lexus's self-parking system. The new Mercedes CL has a system that will size up the space and gently guide you into it, although it stops short of taking over completely, as the Lexus does.

Salto Sobrius notes the disturbing trend that is Happy Meal Pop, little bite-sized morsels of pop music served up in a sealed plastic unit, designed to titillate and horrify depending on your age. For some strange reason, we've ended up with three of the damn things. Noise pollution? Go and listen.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Mark Z.Danielewski's new novel Only Revolutions is the author's most significant book since House of Leaves. The latter was a cult hit, a deconstructed multi-narrative novel that - in early, prized, editions - used fonts, typography and colour to weave an intriguing fiction about what is essentially a haunted house. Danielewski, who also designs his books, created a set of intertwined narratives and an extended musing on architectural impossibility. The idea of a house that was a little like a combination of the Winchester Mystery House (official site) and the Tardis was rendered in such a way as to make it convincingly realistic (remember that splendid web fiction about the cavers? Ted's Caving Page)

The new book jumps right off the deep end. The fonts and colours are all there, but the tale - a road trip undertaken by two 16 year olds, Hailey and Sam, is divided in two, each occupying one half of the book. The book's forums are already alive, populated by those who don't feel the deliberately antagonising typography (irregular indents, bolds, colours, caps) and split format (each page is divided in half, printed inversely to each other: 'The publisher suggests alternating between Hailey & Sam, reading eight pages at a time') is any kind of object. For those of us who got slightly lost in House of Leaves (it ate our bookmark about two years ago and we daren't venture back to find it), Only Revolutions is little more than an elegant object, a publishing anomaly that makes our inner proof-reader shudder.

More interesting, perhaps, are the themes the author touched upon in his earlier book, that of house without end and secret, unknown space. On an architectural level, the work of Escher, Eisenmann, M.R.James and more is all referenced on one level or another, as the protagonists struggle with dimensionally-challenged spaces and a lingering sense of the uncanny (and worse). It reminded us a bit of Toby Litt's Ghost Story in that respect. While much analysis of the book equates this uncanny with Freud's unheimlich , 'or the estranged familiar' (nsfw image on that last page), architectural considerations are secondary to psychological ones.

Architecture inherits psychological perception. Buildings are not born evil, or uncanny, but have uncanniness thrust upon them. There's a celebrated tale, related in Ernest Rhys's 1921 book, The Haunters and the Haunted, about Glamis Castle in Scotland, long supposed to have a secret chamber: 'Where walls are fifteen feet thick, it is not impossible to have a chamber so concealed, that none but the initiated can guess its position. It was once attempted by a madcap party of guests to discover the locality of the secret chamber, by hanging their towels out of the window, and thus deciding in favour of any window from which no spotless banner waved; but this escapade, which is said to have been ill-received by the owners, ended in nothing but a vague conclusion that the old square tower must be the spot sought.'

We recently had someone recount a similar tale about a friend of a friend, who allegedly bought a house so large that they didn't one of the rooms until long after buying it. The idea of a space so close and yet unknown cuts us to the core in our age of real-estate obsession; imagine discovering more floorspace... the flipside, one reiterated in countless films and television shows, is that the more unknown and uncanny a space, however close, the more malicious it is likely to be. MR James' Mezzotint, a short story we've referenced before, neatly subverts the expected order of the domestic, transforming an everyday object into a conduit for the unknown.


Other things. The sinking of the Andrea Doria / an online exhibition of the work of Marcel Breuer / images of Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan. It would be impossible for modern architecture to have the mystical allure favoured by Danielewski or even James / BBC stats, track popular stories / Vladimir Tretchikoff has died. A semi-official site. His most famous work.

My Father's Hand, a life in line drawings / 'these letters spell out the first seven lines of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. They were photographed in order, west to east, as I walked the Pilgrims' Way from Winchester to Canterbury, 28 July-6 August 2006' / Heavy Metal Concert Flyers, from the late 80s and early 90s, all three via me-fi projects, as is Nothing But Green Lights, an mp3 blog, and the enclosure project / Cenoxo makes great, link-filled posts to metafilter.

Sad but fascinating: children of hoarders / Paul Saffo's journal, musings on forecasting and other things / an interesting question about mapping and projections / Respectful Insolence, a splendidly sceptical science weblog along the lines of Bad Science / Quin Parker's website / Dan Dixon's Digital Dust / Tool-assisted Console Game Movies / Trans-Formers, 'pirated spaces' and 'spaces of uncertainty' / Iain Sinclair: When in Doubt Quote Ballard, an interview at Ballardian.

Apologies for delays with orders lately - we've had email problems.

Armchair travelling. An enormous gallery of well-labelled photography, from Russia, the Middle East and more / Rosavtodor, the Federal Highway Agency of the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation, has lots of pictures of new (and empty) highways in Russia.

The Temple of Love, Peace and Music named after John Lennon celebrates many high holidays. Check their list follows / Black Sun in Denmark, a flock of one million starlings / an amazing image of Blackpool at Chromasia.

How to make Russian tea / Gerald M.Panter is doggedly following Eugene Atget's footsteps in order to rephotograph Paris (via Kottke) / a great headline: Ivana Trump to Design $150 Million Beirut Luxury Skyscraper / Long Sunday, a weblog with a philosophical bent.

In defence of Aperture, why the venerable photo magazine isn't that bad / work by Alexis Robie / new type at Acme Fonts / the White Noise Revisited, a new mp3 weblog / the Evolution of Speechballoons, via tmn.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Books, books and books. The flickr Bookshelves pool. The Penguin Paperback Spotters' Guild / Books, etc., a flickr set. See also Black, etc., by the same photographer. Some beautiful bookshelves - I, II and III, all owing an acknowledged debt to Chris Cobb's installation There is Nothing Wrong in This Whole Wide World, which defies Dewey by arranging 20,000 books according to their spine colour. Me-fi post.

The Mystery of Professor Lemstrom, a research project by Oliver Kochta, delves into early theories about the northern lights: 'The numerous research expeditions, which were unable to get photographs of the aurora often used their unexposed plates to photograph the natural surrounding of the observation-stations. This brought them the (unwanted) reward of being pioneers of landscape photography.'

Michael Bierut on Helmut Krone at Design Observer / Iceland 2005: The Holga Collection / beautiful Russian Leica copies / Love the Festival Hall has gone live / those world subway maps, again / we don't really understand all those diodes and circuits, but Matrix links to page after page of complex music-making kit / Good Decorating, a flickr set. It was truly a golden era of design.

Monday, August 21, 2006
Sound Portraits, oral histories / interesting theories about changing standards of living / Sudjic's swansong / 20 Million Miles To Earth, reviewed by Exclamation Mark / seen a long time ago; nudes, a project by the artist Reynald Drouhin / the artwork of Kevin H.Jones / Phosphor is a browser-based first person shooter / the Floating Logos project / rare records at Eil / the Squeezebox; a wonderful thing / Squeezytunes, a weblog covering 'electromechanical and mechanical keyboard instruments', with many vintage photos.

H.L. Mencken's The Libido for the Ugly (from Prejudices: Sixth Series, 1927) / For Guy Deb ord, the Centre Pompidou was off-limits: 'First, it bore the hated name of Pompidou, the accursed foe of 68, and, second, it was the poisoned fruit of the destruction of the previous huddle of street and café life'. More at Peter Wollen's essay, 'Situationists and Architecture' / creative home recordings at Birdsong / new folk from Geed Up / Poltur, a 'Political Tourism' agency, an ironic analysis of the Romania political scene and of its reflection in the media', created by Daniel Gontz (weblog) / Phyllis Pearsall created the London A-Z / related, a photographic A-Z of South London.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The new Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart, designed by UN Studio, is a winding journey through the company's history, a loop stacked up by the autobahn and unfurling internally along the history of the car, with everything from Popemobiles onwards (this feature on 75 years of Mercedes' Popemobiles reveals that the pontiff used to have a rather lovely limousine, rather than the white SUV he currently tools about in). In a similar vein is this project for a '10 Mile Spiral' in Las Vegas, (via BLDG BLOG). A twin monument to motoring and gambling, and the perceived need for more roads to suck up the excess congestion. BLDG BLOG calls it, quasi-ironically, 'an internally buttressed Futuro-Suprematist cathedral to cars', and it's clear that this is fantasy architecture in the extreme, a non-solution to an intractable problem and, ultimately, the chance for some rather elegant graphics and musing on random generation in design. It's a holding pattern for cars, a comment notes. A thought; as the technology for automated cars becomes more and more widespread, imagine these infinite loops stacked up around the city, filled with cars gliding by driverlessly, bumper to bumper, at a speed deemed the most efficient. With traffic in the city nose-to-tail, you will be forced to wait in this mobile holding pattern until a space becomes available.

Things: finding things that find things. With that in mind, the A. and L. Tirocchi Dressmakers Project, the fabrics, dresses and clients of Rhode Island's Tirocchi sisters. In 1947 the two shut up shop, leaving their workplace as a time capsule of pre-war style. An enormous amount of social data is here, including the measurement records of their clients (via, of course, metafilter). See also flickr's fashionpast pool.

Kottke has colour corrected a few images from the Library of Congresss exhibition Bound for Glory: America in Color, 1939-1943 / 'look into another world' with the Hyperscope and Pseudoscope, two devices which alter the distance between your eyes, or the view from each eye (via bad science). New perspectives guaranteed / what's in your bag?, another flickr set for the inquisitive / Great Cars of the 70s, yet another flickr set. This one's all about the colours: browns, oranges, and greens.

The Melnikov House in Moscow is still under threat from developers (although not necessarily demolition). See a flickr set or read the original NYT article at Archinet, lest access rights suddenly vanish (some beautiful photos at the NYT, though) / Why doesn't America believe in evolution? Only the Turks as less enamoured with the idea than the US.

Monday, August 14, 2006
The BBC's new interiors show, Home, has turned out to be hugely disappointing. Trailed by an intriguing series of clips, it promised a Martin Parr-esque insight into what people felt about their homes, presented in a straightforward, calm way (check the Signs of the Times gallery on Parr's flash website for an idea of how this might work; the TV series that accompanied these images, directed by Nicholas Barker, was fabulous and has never been equalled) / The Measures Taken ponders The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic: is true Modernism nothing more than a fevered, half-remembered dream?

Crashing back down to earth with a wail: the Gina Ford debate will never die / the clock museum is extensive. Related, Clock Watching in Prague / we first visited Endangered Machinery about 2 years ago. It's still there, and still wonderful, a (vast) collection of original Industrial and Industrial Heritage Photography / Astronautix is a space weblog, very opinionated: 'If government regulators had insisted that air travel be as safe in 1930 as safe as it is today, ocean liners would still be the only form of intercontinental transportation. And it is government's insistence, on behalf of potential passengers who will never get any say in the matter, that spaceflight be so safe that it will never be implemented.'

The Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur is reputed to contain the remains of a hapless man, walled up alive during construction in the thirteenth century; a means of protecting the structure for ever more. I remember as a child reading with horror the tale of a riveter accidentally sealed into the The Great Eastern, a great ship with a troubled history. According to that lengthy account, no skeletons were ever found once the ship was broken up, but the legend persists, as they do with many major projects that are felt to be 'cursed' in any way. An under construction photograph and painting of the ship being built on the banks of the Thames.

Yale's Manuscripts and Archives collection has a useful image database / fine Moomin-filled post / first went here in 2003: an illustrated speculative timeline of future technology and social change. Admirably enthusiastic. Tomorrow's World did a similar thing back in the 70s / a lovely description of P.G.Wodehouse's working methods / a large video illustrating a CGI unmanned Mars mission / more CGI: see yourself slimmer, a terrible, terrible idea.

Ryan Terry's Portrait machine / George Hardie's Rules, an exhibition at Vitsoe (who also produce mouth-watering image selections of their famous Dieter Rams' designed shelving system) / that giant scale map in China attracts some press interest. Everyone is still clueless, though / the fabulous Alfa 90 had a briefcase integrated in the dashboard / worth revisiting: the Graphical User Interface gallery.

Walking the Circle Line, a London journey / the same river, a weblog / Andy Piper's weblog / depressing; why you shouldn't walk in America / a history of wrecking trucks / there's a blogger upgrade on the way: try the beta / remember all that leaked AOL search data? Someone has mined it for 'amusement purposes'. A lot of this is terribly nsfw, and not at all PC, but it seems that many people communicate with search engines as if they're having a one-sided conversation with some unseen deity. To be honest, the pages after this one get a bit grim.

Bands' on-stage setups / The Cramps - Live at Napa State Mental Hospital. They're actually playing London right this second, so there's synchronicity for you / The classic Rendezvous, now with Google Maps guidance, via Autoblog / 60s and 70s Eyecandy, kids books from days gone by (via PCL Linkdump) / Imagining the 10th dimension, via Sachs.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Be a Taxidermist. Profit and FUN. A small small selection of adverts from Popular Science, July 1949. Other people have done this in far more detail than this; check all of Popular Science's covers, or visit Modern Mechanix, a weblog with copious scans of ads and articles from the golden age of speculative magazines. A small selection of articles, 'These are the planes you'll fly after the war' (from 1945), 'Detroit's Latest Plastic Fantasies' (March 1954), the Smithsons' House of the Future (1956), 'Comfort in Cubes', a speculative home design by George Nelson and, finally, 'Tunnel-digging as a hobby', the subterranean world of one Dr H.G.Dyar. Sadly, google mostly throws up links to this page, so it's tricky to establish where this network actually was and whether it still survives.

The spirit of small scale entrepreneurship and optimism shines through in so many of these adverts, a world awash with surplus equipment and labour, returning to a changed world and awaiting the economic miracle of the 1950s to manifest itself. The sheer amount of equipment that was available reminds us of Million Dollar Point (previously posted).

The exhortation to Raise Hamsters has a curious history. According to this page, the Gulf Hamstery was founded by one Albert Marsh. Marsh won his first syrian hamster (then used mainly for research, having been first imported into the USA in 1938) in a bet, before becoming so intrigued that he wrote the first major book on the subject. But can this really be true? 'There were subsequent live captures of syrian hamsters but almost all of the domesticated hamsters in the world today are descendents of the three hamsters captured in the 1930s.'

Tuesday, August 08, 2006
The E-Type, image from

Can a bad advertising campaign really kill a brand? Or is a creative misfire simply the final straw for a struggling company? Jaguar is in trouble. Regardless of its long, illustrious history, with products that have practically been canonised for their cultural impact, Jaguar's financial nightmare is ongoing. Latest reports suggest that the marque is being eyed up either by the Koreans or the Russians (although the latter is now less certain), as owners Ford look to offset their rather poor investment.

All of this is par for the course in the cut and thrust world of the modern motor industry, where alliances, mergers and outright takeovers have re-shaped the landscape of car manufacturers, rendering ideas about national characteristics in design all but irrelevant. But hang on. Every product has a story, a back story of imagery and perceptions collated from histories real and imagined. When trying to sell a car, you need to build on this myth, if necessary embellishing it and enhancing it for a new generation.

So why did the company decide to use the absurd 'Gorgeous' campaign? This hotch-potch of cliches and dated imagery, devised by Euro RSCG (more credits here) showed such a fundamental misunderstanding of how a brand might want to conduct itself that it was almost a parody (you can watch one of the spots here). A rasping male voice intones hollow words ('Gorgeous gets in everywhere') over absurd fashion-shoot aesthetics of predominantly older men with younger women in an embarrassment of mid-life fantasy scenarios. 'Gorgeous' succeeded in translating Jaguar's feline qualities (not exactly a stretch to maintain) into a blizzard of feral, Older guys gone wild imagery.

Unsurprisingly, industry criticism was vociferous and widespread, with the ads even falling into the dread 'so bad they're good' category (or, 'hideous, not gorgeous'). True, a few people loved the campaign, but the overall impression was that of a company hopelessly out of touch, not just with itself, but with how such images might play in a post-ironic culture. The company is now reduced to staking it all on this car (which will hopefully look rather different - perhaps more akin to the RD-6 concept from 2003). Gorgeous went down like a stone in the water. Here's hoping the company doesn't too.


Other things. The dawn of the knitted dead at cakeyvoice (via scorzonera) / do we have emergency food and water suppliers like this here in the UK? Perhaps if enough 'influential' people read this kind of post, then maybe there'll be a demand for them / music links and downloads at Indiepoprock / make your own flipbooks from movies at flipclip / nice new set of crop circles / The Unconscious Art Of Demolition, a flickr pool / one self-portrait every day since 1 November 2001, the movie / 13a Copleston Road, art and installation in SE15.

Versailles in the Pacific, a true flight of fancy, combining the news that Japanese researchers can now shape water with the Advanced Multiple Organized Experimental Basin (AMOEBA). Pruned concludes this might have negative consequences: 'It'll be a new kind of maritime warfare. New York comes under attack with an endless barrage of Italianate gardens propagated with Atlantic waters' / buy an island, with one not very careful owner (via memepool) / Soviet Gadgets / here comes the Creationist Museum. Take a walkthrough / who said video games aren't a spectator sport? A rather specialised one, granted.

On becoming immersed in another world at Plasticbag. Tom has also compiled an epic post On the design of American State Flags / Hyperkit visit Orfordness and see some boats in Suffolk. See also the Subterranea Britannica for more information on Orfordness / Palaces of Dreams, prints by Burghers, just one of many, many things at The Culture Archive (via me-fi) / A Walk in the Park, our latest piece over at tmn / 'Failed Icons: Why it's so hard to make unforgettable architecture', Witold Rybczynski on big architectural statements.

Art Crimes Against Humanity, taste and lack of identified at Jesse Walker's New City Movement, a Salt Lake City-based weblog / found via the comments, My Part of Nairobi, musings and observations from a missionary in the field. We like the way consumer products have a second life in the developing world (this 1968 Nissan pick-up, for example), or an old, yet modern, petrol station / using SNOT techniques to fashion Escher from Lego (via). As opposed to this Esher, which would probably be easier to make in Lego.

The Cartoonist's link to the Ward Lock Illustrated Guide Books shows the Gaiety Theatre on the Strand, just before it was demolished in 1957 and replaced with the sleek new HQ of the then English Electric Company Ltd. This building eventually became Citibank and last year it also came down and is gradually being replaced by Foster and Partner's Silken Hotel. Initial information via Arthur, an extensive site about the music hall pioneer, with huge amounts of information about entertainment in pre-war London. The English Electric Company itself was subsumed into Marconi. Their late 50s building was the work of Charles Holden and Adams, Holden and Pearson; their many projects include Senate House and the National Library of Wales, home to the Women's Archive of Wales and a large map collection.

How a myth is born, circulates and enters common currency. Is the NHS the world's third largest employer, after the mighty People's Liberation Army of China and the extensive Indian railway network? Some people even say it's the second largest and a cursory googling would suggest that this amazing fact is indeed true.

Dig further and even reputable sources quote the factoid, including the Times and the Guardian. But it's not actually true at all. The 'fact' was a throw-away remark by a high level member of the NHS fraud squad team, trying to make a point at a briefing some time in the early 21st century. Picked up by soundbite-hungry journalists, it rapidly entered popular currency and has now become accepted wisdom. Granted, the NHS is a huge employer, although even official figures (1.3m employees) are now coloured by the knowledge the comparison was just for effect.

The world's largest employer, most sources agree, is actually Wal-Mart (although admittedly this type of information is often liberally sprinkled with myth as well), with 1.7m employees. Although no-one doubts the size of China's army, size estimates vary, from 2.8m in 1999 (CNN) to 2.5m in 2006 (Newsweek). It's also not really an 'employer' in the traditional sense.

The Indian Railways aren't small - see wikipedia's history of rail transport in India and the Indian railways fan club - with its extensive trivia page but there are no easy to find figures for employee numbers. The CIA World Factbook notes there are 63,230km of railways in the country. Couple this with the heavily bureaucratic grading system of workers (see the IRFCA's operations page), which catalogues grades of drivers thus: 'Driver, Passenger Driver, Senior Passenger Driver, Goods Driver, Senior Goods Driver, Shunter, Senior Shunter, Fireman, Senior Fireman, Diesel Assistant, Senior Diesel Assistant, Electric Assistant, Senior Electric Assistant, Second Fireman, Senior Second Fireman,' and you can see how the total might stack up.


Other things. Few things are more controversial than children's illnesses and our perception and response to their needs. Jon Ronson took a look at so-called psychic children, 'The Chosen Ones' in the Observer last Sunday, keeping as straight a face as he could manage (the piece is actually very sympathetic). The feature preceded a documentary, My Kid's Psychic, which was shown on Monday 7 August. It was predictably depressing viewing, a blend of existing New Age belief and contemporary myth (that of the Indigo Child) tapping into our fear of both the unknown and shifts in how different kinds of behaviour are diagnosed. The Bad Science forums discuss the programme here. There's a huge range of opinions and information collected at Neuro Diversity (weblog), cataloguing the dizzying amount of contemporary research and speculation surrounding autism and how it is viewed in the media, including plenty of information about the Indigo phenomenon. Their link to the Skepdic's definition is perhaps the most succinct, concluding: 'Given the choice, who wouldn't rather believe their children are special and chosen for some high mission rather than that they have a brain disorder?'

The Golden Age of the Great Passenger Airships, the collection of Harold G.Dick, via this excellent and evocative post/ photographers: Martin Dybdal, Vincent Laforet / a guide to Twin Peaks (via The Horse's Neck, who also links to Espacios publicitarios from the 60s and 70s / Spoilt Victorian Child confesses its penchant for big beat music / 'The mismeasure of woman: Men and women think differently. But not that differently', a piece at the Economist / Jacket magazine, a free internet literary publication.

Plan 9 studios supply virtual cities (the other Plan 9) / Zanpo Virtual Cities, build Sim City-style environments / nasty, brutalist and short, an architecture-focused weblog / something we missed in our earlier post on imaginary islands: the promotional island / Women With Icons, 'An ongoing series depicting women with icons of their patron saints', created by saucylittleone / a set of Arthur Rackham illustrations (via).

Monday, August 07, 2006
Cities in Games, London rendered digitally and considered by Digitally Distributed Environments. How our perception of cities is being shaped by increasingly accurate virtual recreations of them. A while back, there was talk of architects immersing themselves in the technology of games as a means of providing better and more interactive visualisations. Strangely, the two paths have since diverged and gaming technology is seen as little more than a distraction (see, for example, Arch-life), not as a tool. Yet it's a hugely sophisticated distraction / vaguely related (and someone who does seem to be aware of the way the virtual world can interact with the real one), the Brighton Memory Palace concept by Axis Design Collective and posted their very own no 2, self.

'Emerald in the Rough', a fine piece of pragmatic architecture in Ireland featured on the freshly re-designed Dwell magazine website / photography projects at file magazine / even the latest incarnations of our civilisation crumble quickly: explore the Ruins of Southern California (via me-fi). We especially like Thaddeus S.C.Lowe's Echo Mountain resort / view the crashes and accidents experienced by the USAAF Fifth Air Force.

Trusting Photos, on the altered images of Beirut. It's interesting to see how quickly such transgressions get pounced upon by the online community, regardless of their political motives for scrutinising everything. More at the me-fi thread, with good links to both sides of the debate / need an old, unbloated application? Try Old Version (via FosFor Gadgets) / all about Unimogs /

Sunday, August 06, 2006
The man-made island is perhaps the last remaining bastion of megastructural thought, be it Dubai's absurd yet very real ventures into land-shaping - Palm Jumeirah, The World, and many others erupting out of the country's coastline under the direction of the Nakheel development company - or the smaller scale of the Maunsell Towers off the Kent Coast (sea forts that although militaristic were no less inspirational to visionary architects).

Since 2003, Terry Farrell has been working on an epic plan to create a new National Park in the Thames Estuary, north-east of London. Farrell writes of creating a 'truly sustainable eco-region,' noting that London is 'significantly further away from a National Park than any other major conurbation' (the nearest is apparently the Norfolk Broads, 120 miles away). So what would the The Thames Gateway Plan comprise of?

Here we have three imaginary islands, albeit on a smaller scale to the Palm, attached to a causeway linking Kent and Essex (or, to be precise, Southend-on-Sea and Sheerness). Each two mile spur would serve as parkland and recreation space, a piece of wedge-shaped reclaimed land adrift in the estuary.

If all megastructural isolationists get their way, this area could get busy. Ongoing plans to site the Thames Estuary Airport a bit further out in the North Sea (plan (pdf)) haven't been completely abandoned, although a rival scheme for a land-based Thames Reach Airport nearby has probably been scuppered by the proximity of protected birds. But the area is rich in local history (and smuggler's tunnels), and the marshes are bleak and remote, so it's hard to really get excited about thousands of tons of concrete and steel obliterating it all.

The most likely upshot of all this projected civil engineering is nothing at all, but the imagery has been a good distraction. For islands occupy precious space in our imaginations, even though our mental images tend to be divided. Countries like Dubai and Japan have the money to make artifical islands as reflections and exaggerations of our wildest dreams (although why not go the whole hog and make islands shaped like a bear or more?). See the island-like isolation of the Ocean Dome and Recreation at Seagaia, the world's largest artificial beach at Miyazaki in Japan, for example.

In contrast, the British island mentality has tended to see floating chunks of land as places of escape or imposed isolation. Islomania, a appropriately long-abandoned website, presents a timeline of island exploration and fantasising, from Shakespeare's Tempest onwards. Since 2001 (when the site was last updated), islands have also become a staple element in popular culture, through cinema, computer games, TV drama and, in particular, reality TV. 'Lost', the prime example, is set on an island that is a place of confusion and mystery, rich with dense narratives and using emerging sophistication with new technology to supplement the on-screen story with on-line extensions.

The small channel island of Brecqhou, home to David and Frederick Barclay"

In this culture, islands generate fascination but ultimately antipathy. They are places of exile and failure (hence, perhaps, the schadenfreude at the alleged slow sinking of Kansai Airport). In fiction, as in life, the island is a place for fortgetting and transgressing - a laboratory for Dr Moreau, a place to house lost children, forgery operations, reclusive billionaires, or slave workers (Gunkanjima Island, the subject of an excellent post at BLDG BLOG).


Other things. Lukira presents some fabulous images of Nike Savvas' new installation ''Atomix - Full of Love, Full of Wonder' at Sydney's New South Wales Art Gallery. We also like the Moscow Panorama, a '16m wide model of the city centre'. Many more images over at, which found them at the frequently nsfw (that said, this is a great picture).

Islomania found via Laputan Logic, which presents occasional but image-heavy posts, such as this one, Monstrous impostures of the Indian seas / Michiel Angelo's Projective Iconography weblog, architecture as visual metaphor / flash experiments by Hartmut Bohnacker / flash games by Tony Pa / Chris Summerlin's flickr page is filled with entertaining rock and roll debris.

Charlantantric is an excellent mp3 blog, with the emphasis on epic instrumentals / Loop - Collision / been before, will go again, Architechnophilia, plenty of interesting practices highlighted, including the Sustain Design Studio and Alchemy Architects / Ethical Reputations, on corporate ethics.

Friday, August 04, 2006
Escape, a post at Posthegemony about the Punta Carretas prison in Montevideo, Uruguay, now a large shopping centre / images of the Hotel Puerta America on flickr. Official website. We can't decide if this place is a good thing or a bad thing; perhaps it helps to have design hotels kicking around so that architects can get ultimately doomed ideas out of their system.

Spamobituaries, the invented lives of dead imaginary spammers / The Monkey's Toybox, gadgets and more / The Little Professor is a wordy weblog concerned with 'things Victorian and academic' / The Bedsit Journal finds itself in print occasionally, as do we / Harlequin Knights, a weblog.

The Institute for Figuring. Something to revisit in more detail / The Philosophical Marshmallow, a weblog / the daily goings on at Tesla Motors / more photorealistic images by John Baeder / a beautiful Chilean house by Mathias Klotz.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006
After a few days letting them settle, the initial images of Herzog + de Meuron's Tate Modern extension seem little more than abstraction without substance. Architecture's association with deconstructivism is, by now, pretty old hat, although there are still few people who could convincingly explain the academic reasoning behind the most high profile deconstructivist projects (e.g. Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin, or Bates Smart's Federation Square in Melbourne, for example). What we have left, after a decade or two of this wilful disorder, is visual chaos purely for the sake of juxtaposition and confrontation.

Here is the problem with the new bit of Tate Modern; that it exists, fully-formed, in our imaginations, with no solid, underlying form with which to contrast it. It simply is, and our responses are, from the outset, inadequate. In essence, Giles Gilbert Scott's power station is reduced to a mere foil for the eccentric cascade, a curatorial confusion that shares its aesthetic with a far earlier artistic movement.

Left: Georges Braque, leo sobre lienzo, 1910 (link), Right: Herzog + de Meuron, Proposed Tate Modern extension (link)

If any image could be said to lie, this one does. The glassy, bubbly surface, a bit like the texture of an Orangina bottle, is a triumph of computer rendering. The apparent absence of servicing, circulation or complex structure are countered with a lighting scheme that emphasises the cavernous overhangs, with its deep, Cubist shadows. Braque intended to convey all elements of a scene simultaneously. Is this the architectural equivalent?


Other things. The Domesday Book goes online (via BBC news) / Gallery Hopper, fine art photography weblog / The Ladies' Paradise is a shopping weblog named after Emile Zola's epic novel of commercialisation, culture and obsession / Happy Places, a photographic competition organised by Architecture Week.

Flat Rock, a linklog / Who Killed the Electric Car has opened in the UK (Guardian review and metacritic). We haven't seen it, but like this reported quote: ' In a telling moment in the film, journalist Paul Roberts says the typical American consumer fears being made to drive "small cars and live in houses that are cold - they basically fear they are going to have to live like Europeans".'

Twin new worlds discovered / The Aesthetics of Decay, a fascinating new book by one Dylan Trigg / only three wheels? Zaha's Car. See also Zaha's Car Factory (and our pictures) / talk about nostalgia: the rather wonderful Honda Vamos (via autoblog) / Panopticons, iconic pieces of architecture that are, at least, honest about their uselessness.