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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The skyscraper in the landscape still presents an undeniably seductive image. The above view, by the French firm K-Architectures, is simply a modern version of imagery that was first hawked about by Le Corbusier some eighty or so years ago and was subsequently adopted by an enormous number of architects around the world, a totem of progress that was usually destined to multiply inexorably, finding its ultimate expression in Manhattan (see the Skyscraper Museum's Visual Index to the Virtual Archives project). Alternatively, the tower could be treated as iconic, stand-alone object, an approach that is making a comeback, in the UK especially.

The iconic tower also serves to accentuate certain aspects of urbanity, reducing the existing low-rise city fabric to a quasi-urban state. To be tall is to be modern, a means of conveying sensation and power that has existed ever since the Eiffel Tower imposed a new viewpoint on the landscape (see Louis-Ernest Lheureux's Monument to the Glory of the French Revolution, Bird's Eye View, for example), although admittedly the Montgolfiers got there first.

The city can be subverted in other ways. Just as the tall building implies modernity stalking over the landscape of the old, the accretions of time and layer upon layer of fabric and infrastructure imply hidden worlds below. The recent death of science fiction writer Nigel Kneale (via), reminded us of his best-known creation, Dr Bernard Quatermass, scourge of alien entities who had somehow made it to Earth to terrorise early television viewers in the 1950s. A later film re-make, 1967's Quatermass and the Pit, tells the story of a strange object unearthed deep beneath London, as construction workers on a new tube line uncover what appears to be an alien spacecraft.

Kneale was a master at evoking unknown and unseen horrors, infusing a form of science then in its infancy with what must have seemed a very plausible terror. The original Quatermass plays were transmitted live from Alexandra Palace, a technique that was revisited last year on the 50th anniversary of the originals. Towards the end of the Hammer version of Quatermass and the Pit, an alien presence looms over the London roofscapes, looking for all the world like a contemporary architectural experiment - a blob-stroke-blur out to impose itself on the urban psyche.


Triangular Sun, a weblog / you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Alternatively, you get given lots of money by monkeys, and you only spend peanuts. Or something / Quartz City, a weblog. Many interesting links, including this Microsimulation of road traffic (java), which is just fabulous / projects by the artist Bik van der Pol / Lights in the Dark, a photo-essay at tmn by Dan Witz / Noisy Decent Graphics, a weblog with a thing about visual insensitivity.

All change in museology. To Timbuktu, and beyond, Jonathan Jones comes out fighting for Nouvel's much-derided Musťe du Quai Branly, arguing that the lack of explication makes for a more powerful experience than its equivalent at, say, the British Museum. Elsewhere, Roberta Smith in the NYT applauds Tate Modern and boos loudly at the new MoMA: Tate Modernís Rightness Versus MoMAís Wrongs. Apparently, '...all food purchased at MoMA still involves waiters'.

Monday, October 30, 2006
The Broken Angel is an extraordinary New York house, an architectural fantasy that evokes Gaudi, Simon Rodia's Watts Towers, the 'ideal palace' of Ferdinand Cheval, postman and Outsider Art. Check the flickr set by Christopher Woods, son of the owners (now facing eviction as the building conforms to no known regulations). Like the Sagrada Familia, the final plans are unattainably over-ambitious.

On compression, music critic Alex Ross on the modern fashion for limiting dynamic range in favour of loud, loud, loud (via Russell Davies) / artist Martin Le Chevallier's neat little pixellated game Vigilance 1.0 puts you in charge of a surveillance society; can you spot the transgressions? / the Vanishing Date, tmn writers finish off a classic story today's slice of retro imagery, The American Look, a 1958 film about the glories of the mid-century.

Julie Bargmann's D.I.R.T Studio, a profile at Archinect, re-using wasted land across America. D.I.R.T (Dump It Right There) website. See also Alan Berger's recent book, Drosscape / a precedent for Carsten Holler's Tate installation? See here at socks (in the sky), which has also scanned this advert for woollen carpets: What puts the life in the World Trade Center?

Tomorrowland, links, etc. / To drown a rose, an Italian linklog / The Treehouse and the Cave, a weblog / Counterfeit Chic, tracking fakes (and appreciating them) / Offshore, the epic scale and drama of the modern drilling platform, a collection of images at BLDGBLOG / A Computer Analysis of Boggle (pdf), via comfortable disorientation. Related, a Slate article on the recent world record Scrabble high score.

Second Life is fast becoming a cheap destination for newspapers to report from; a minimum outlay, very few expenses and limitless potential for cultural insight and pop anthropology. Tim Adams is the latest journalist to enter the virtual fray, 'Goodbye, cruel world...' (in yesterday's Observer - see the wikipedia entry for more media stories). Adams, perhaps predictably, focuses on the economic and social aspects, marvelling at the myriad ways to spend money and shape your avatar. 'The simple genius of Second Life is that it combines elements of Big Brother culture with the spirit of eBay.' One wonders how many journalists there are in this new world, wandering around in search of a story. One final thing: is there really a Finnish multiplayer game called 'Habbo Hotel' that's 'favoured by children and centres around the exchange of furniture'? Apparently so, although that makes it sound like some kind of agrarian craft guild.

Another story that caught our eye, the tale of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, President of the Republic of Kalmykia. Sacha Baron-Cohen should have chosen this place, because it's even more obscure than Kazakhstan - how many other countries can boast a leader who claims to have been abducted by a UFO (ok, so admittedly Jimmy Carter got a glimpse, not a ride, and most of the UK's top brass seemed to take an obsessive interest in aerial phenomena). Anyhow, President Ilyumzhinov is obsessed with chess, having been a champion in his youth, and believes the game has mystical significance. Read his book, The President's Crown of Thorns, for an insight into his life as a junior chess prodigy and how chess helps his presidential role.


Other things. A collection of films and animations at Zumbakamera. We especially like 'Bendito Machine' / Luckner's sells some fine stuff / a bit about Hart Island (via) / Old photos of Iranians / Apophenia, a weblog / robot suits are are on the way / snow, a vector graphics set / the inevitable has happened; a company has launched simultaneously in the real world and in Second Life. And it's a marketing company, Crayon, hoping to 'participate in community-driven conversations' and find new ways of selling things in every conceivable medium / new music and more at Shotgun, Bastard and Dribble / recent Cherynobyl photos.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The NASA-commissioned Space Colony Art from the 1970s imagery has been seen everywhere on the web since the inception of the linklog, archilog and ephemeralog, as we all fall for the sheer bravado of these cylindrical utopias. This time it was Pruned that got the bug ('Wher earth is sky is earth'). I suppose at some point in the last 30 years these might have seemed remotely feasible, but today the emotions they stir are not of tomorrow's new frontiers, but of past engineering glories, nostalgia for unfettered enthusiasm and self-belief. A circular version of California, a hyper suburb in Space.

Paul captures Chris Burden's hovering steam roller / a spot of geological simulacra (via bb. more) / a useful beginner's guide to freelancing / sample the original chipmunks / Vinyl Oddities, via projects / artist Erwin Wurm and his work 'House Attack / a set of images of Foster and Partners' extraordinary Kazakhstan Pyramid / a flickr set by tienshan / Ben Ledbetter's Blue Winged House.

The American Photocrom Archive, via bouphonia / WoW immersive, crack-like, via Whole Lotta Nothing / Monocle, the latest venture by Mr Brule, head of Winkreative / selected works by Peter Callesen / Eating Bark, a weblog.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Zoom in to this enormous image of the fresco of the Life of Christ at Santa Maria delle Grazie's church in Varallo Sesia, Italy, painted by Gaudenzio Ferrari in 1513 (via) / 'The Happy New House, A Client Perspective', a feature at Archinect on the construction of a Neil Denari-designed house in LA. A sort of West Coast Grand Designs.

KLOV is the Killer List of Video Games / some amazing Panoramic photos of London / 'William Utermohlenís self-portraits reveal his descent into dememtia over the span of nearly four decades. Left, a self-portrait from 1967.' Accompanying BBC News story, more at the Telegraph / antique medical instrument exhibition / The Chair, another one of those things we're not sure what it means, and don't have the patience to find out / tmn scoops a gallery from Harry Skrdla's new book from PAP, Ghostly Ruins / good tips about firefox extensions / a beautiful parking garage concept by Alfred Hardy / The First Post, a daily web publication based in the UK.

This morning's In Our Time looked at the creation of the Encyclopedie, the 28-volume set that embodied the Enlightment quest for knowledge. Link to mp3 . See also Jonathon Green's Chasing The Sun: Dictionary Makers and the Dictionaries They Made, which is a pretty epic work in itself / Earthfiles reports on strange goings on. Just what is the deal with cattle mutilations? / 'Garrett County Press asked 56 international artists and designers to "color in" The Pat Robertson & Friends Coloring Book.' / Pastelogram, the blog that keeps you updated with what's new at Plan 59, the vintage advertising art archive.

Anti-mega gets to the bottom of Second Life: 'Second Life is depressingly close to reality Ė itís about buying things. Buying land, buying houses, buying things' / the ruins of the Bosnian National Library / the Youtube revolution is creating a new cinema verite, by the Guardian's film critic, Peter Bradshaw. He's right, this is remarkable.

Hippoblog has a new URL / aircraft recycling in France (via i like). Not quite on the scale of the American boneyards / South London's biggest mail order company, Freemans, is redeveloping its large Stockwell HQ. The developers have created a slick website that doesn't say very much.

Monday, October 23, 2006

IKEA vs Marcel Breuer. The latter comes off rather badly. Ironic, really. Staying with threatened mid-century, the campaign to save Paul Rudolph's Riverview High School gathers pace. It would make some sense to have a striking image or two on the home page of their weblog, though. The plan is to replace the school in Sarasota with a parking lot. Is painting concrete the answer? Steve Rose on the Brunswick Centre, which apparently 'Scrubs up beautifully'.

More virtual objects from virtual worlds: Music Gear for sale in Second Life at Music Thing, which links to the weblog of a virtual instrument maker. Also via mf, a beautiful but simple sequencer / more economy. Six Word Stories, at Caterina.

Our attention is drawn to this new Boy Scout Merit badge: the Respect Copyrights Activity Patch. Some more information on merit badge requirements, and here are a few more merit badges, some of which we doubt (consumer buying? dentistry?). And here are the UK scouts Activity Badges. We like the Public Relations badge best. Thanks to Brian (and also seen at me-fi).

I loved Rimini, but that doesn't really come across very well here. More photos / Printed Matter is the start of something, but seemingly unresolved (via) / reflections on the architecture at the University of Cincinnati / what should Wikipedia buy and make public for all eternity? / Autosoviet, all about vehicles from the former Eastern Bloc.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Falconcity is the latest architectural catastrophe to emerge from the sands and shores of Dubai. Featuring reproductions of the Grand Pyramid, the Great Wall ('Imagine your self jogging on top of one of the greatest walls ever built'), the Town of Venice (sic), which 'brings to you a unique Italian dreamy experience', and Central Park West, completion with a recreation of Central Park. It's nice that the 'Dubai Eiffel Tower' should be given it's own design rationale, but one really wonders why they bothered (although it is sufficiently different to avoid copyright problems with the real tower - a new monograph from Taschen reproduces Gustav Eiffel's original plans).

Ersatz doesn't begin to describe it, and yet the Falconcity ('the most astonishing place on earth') will be built, and it probably will be a success. There was a piece in the paper today about the 'ultimate package holiday', a 32,000 mile 23-day tour of 10 countries. In terms of the experience, taking this trip probably equates closely to visiting the Falconcity in full flow, with desert heat and extreme travel fatigue serving as a hazy mask to dull the senses. Both are, of course, extremely depressing but, it has to be said, not new. Dan Hill posts about Evelyn Waugh's comments on Monte Carlo, and how they could easily be used to describe modern day Dubai.


The Best Surprise is No Surprise (pdf), a paper by Andrew Wood on 'Architecture, Imagery and Omnitopia among American Mom-and-Pop motels'. Wood defines 'Omnitopia' as 'an intersection of architectural design and human practice through which distinct 'places' become nodes of a perpetual continuum,' a nice shorthand for the visual and environmental 'everyplace' that has been ceaslessly spewed out by modernism since its inception. Created instead are the icons of Americana, the 'roadside simulacra [that] enable a mobile population to make sense of its surroundings, often through the mutation of the locale to construct a peculiar notion of order.' Hence you get 'wig-wam motels' and neon cactii. Published last year in Space and Culture.

Related. A post about Thomas Midgley, Jr., inventor of leaded petrol and CFCs. Right from the start, the former caused problems, as one poster notes: 'In 1924, 80% of the workers at the Standard Oil Research labs working on lead additives either died or went insane from lead poisoning,' the main problem apparently being tetra ethyl. Midgeley was also a bit of a Heath Robinson, and his inventiveness brought about his demise. See also this linked article, The Secret History of Lead.

Things that are true, a weblog / no, 2 self makes the link that everyone else missed / a collection of collections at (what is this?) / the Google hacking database / superior trance from OOOD / Spanish-language architecture weblog, El Campito / tiny food / giant food / a big collection of Mid-Century Architecture / a big collection of works by Marcel Breuer / hipercroquis, architectural weblog / Formless, an architectural weblog / the Tate as giant ball pit / New South Wales is hunting the original entries into the Sydney Opera House competition, back in 1956.

Underwater photography by David Doubilet, via ion's blog / arcade flyers brings together a collection of arcade flyers. There were a lot of games. Discs of Tron / the photographs of Kerry Skarbakka's, via conscientious / Artists are Making Cars, a post at Art Fag City / the Thomas the Tank Engine blog / Scar stuff, spooky sounds and songs (via the daily jive).

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Thursday, October 12, 2006
Apologies for the long silence; illness, deadlines, etc., all conspiring against us. We've been thinking about industrialisation today. A pictorial history of Russian Crawlers and Tractors (amongst other sets). The Fordson tractor, developed by Henry Ford in order to turn 'Ploughing [into] a matter of motoring across a field'. Ford was very, very wrong about a lot of things, but his own history of the early Fordson's concludes in an empassioned plea for a return to local production in food: 'Why a steer raised in Texas should be brought to Chicago and then served in Boston is a question that cannot be answered as long as all the steers the city needs could be raised near Boston. The centralization of food manufacturing industries, entailing enormous costs for transportation and organization, is too wasteful long to continue in a developed community.'

'Soviet Tractor Planning', a made-up economics term used to slate Gordon Brown. The First tractor of the soviet Russia (sic). The Volgograd Tractor Factory. Consult TractorData, 'your online source for information about all makes and models of farm tractors'. Related, some exceptional Soviet-era modernism at Pingmag, via Simon Perry. From the comments, The Beauty of Evil, a post at anarchitecture about the strange yet undeniable attraction of bunkers. More industry, this time a wartime look at Soviet industry: Magnitogorsk, from John Scott's essay 'Magnetic City,' Core of Valiant Russia's Industrial Might, from the National Geographic back in 1943.

860-880 Lake Shore Drive, 'a website dedicated to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's "Glass House" apartment buildings in Chicago' / The Zeppelin's 6,300 miles in 111 hours, the 1928 trans-Atlantic crossing / Grain Elevators those leviathans of the plains that got Le Corbusier and his ilk all excited. At Pruned, via kottke. See also the Silophone project / a gallery of odd watches / pedestria, watching people in the street (via projects).

An Earth without humans. Don't expect to see 'herds of poodles roaming the plains' apparently / Tetris fridge magnets / Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie, 'Random thoughts from a passionate bookplate collector', chock full of absolutely beautiful things / Unique Property for Sale / a bit about the Valley of the Squinting Windows, how an all-too accurate portrayal of a nosy village got a book burnt / massive, a weblog on web fiction, multiplayer games and more.

8 bit, a documentary about art and video games / America ditches handwriting? / Wendy Carlos created the epic electronic soundtrack for Tron / Projectionist, a tumble log / the International Networks Archive at Princeton University: interactive maps, infographics and data, data, data / a bit about satellites.

American Cities, photographs by Catherine Opie at tmn / we're really not sure what flea market to the gods is all about /Lance Arthur's Conspicuous Consumption. See also Kate Bingaman's Obsessive Consumption. Or Paul Lukas's Inconspicuous Consumption / the art source offers some interesting works, like these paintings by John Burke.

A bit about air conditioning. Some more on A/C, a two-part story on the energy hog that is being chilled to perfection: 'The electricity used annually to air-condition America's homes, stores, offices, factories, schools, churches, libraries, domed stadiums, hospitals, warehouses, prisons and other buildings (not including what's used to cool manufacturing processes and military facilities) exceeds the entire electricity consumption of the world's second and fourth most populous nations -- India and Indonesia -- combined.' Neat connection, Magnetic City, is a sound piece 'built out of panoramic audio scans recorded from the rooftops of Barcelona. The main soundsource is [a] huge airconditioning system'. Some other sound pieces by Justin Bennett.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

All over the place today. The Chicago Tribune has a go at the McMansions starting to clog up the area around the city's Lincoln Park. 'So what? says Lynn Becker, at least we can point and stare at the aesthetic failings of the rich / at the other end of the scale, winners in a competition to Re-Imagine the beach hut, at bathing beauties. ultimately, what was wrong with the original beach huts?

The Map of Early Modern London, via 1+1=3, which also links to Data Animations from Open Street Map at O'Reilly Radar, as the mapping project works with a GSM-tagged courier company to create little explosions of important documents scurrying across London courier activity, and Breathing Earth, a simulation that 'displays the carbon dioxide emission levels of every country in the world, as well as their birth and death rates - all in real time.' Oh yes, don't forget that for certain people, CO2 equals life

Posh Vintage is branching out into homewares / Freud at work, a slideshow / 'Tail Fins Rising', via me-fi. From the comments, 'I strongly believe the decline of tailfins and the decline of America are strongly correlated.' There may actually be something in that / making a living in Second Life, a good primer for people like us who've never actually experienced the game for real / The Brilliance, a weblog.

lullabub, a 'Remote Controlled, Automatic Cot/Crib Rocker' / at first glimpse, Bitflicks looks like it must have consumed a terrifying amount of time. Look closely, and their Lego animations are revealed as computer-generated (via me-fi) / the history and paintings of the Brotherhood of Ruralists / more art at Sixspace / Hussein Chalayan's transformable clothes / Toyadz, vintage ads from days gone by.

'North Korea is a perfect reproduction of the year 1950'. A visit to North Korea (via Joanne McNeil / Nikon's Small World / Self-erasing Bolivia, deforestation visuals at Pruned / Beauty and the Beast, the conflict between classical and contemporary / Simon Crerar's amazing photos of Carsten Holler's Tate Installation / 'Why is the standard paper size in the U.S. 8 1/2" x 11"?' / incredible work produced using a 'scanner camera/ (via coudal, which also links to the Dead Media project) / Changes in the American Commute / the Recumbent Bicyclist, a weblog.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Watch out for imminent movement of the Doomsday Clock, a device operated by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. A bit more about the BAS - we wish they'd put their lovely magazine covers online somewhere, which is a slightly superficial response, perhaps. This also looks fun: everybody dies.

Edit Magazine, from Getty Images / The Long Zoom (via), writer Steven Johnson uses Will Wright's upcoming Spore, which is, broadly speaking, a universe simulator, to muse on how easily we've evolved into taking a broad, overall view (the 'long zoom' in question) of aspects of our culture. Our powers of analysis are perhaps struggling to catch up with this overwhelming torrent of information. '[My wife] says it's important for kids to do boring things too. Because if you can find excitement in something boring, then youíre set up for life.'

Ephemera, 'exploring the world of old paper', recommended / Maps of War, a post at atlas(t), linking to a website called Maps of War / 12 versions of 12XU at Strange Reaction (via) / Datassette, electronic music revisited, via diskant, which also links ot Sumlin's trip to the Touch & Go festival in Chicago. Jealous, us? / Calling all Nations, City of Sound on the BBC's self-promotional activities during WWII (more).

An architectural alphabet created by artist Antonio Basoli, at the Giornale Nuovo / is this for real? / the state of starchitecture: are the major players slowly shifting their aesthetic? / new London imagery in Google Maps and Earth (via haddock), dating the photos to early February of this year / the London Eye as seen in Oblivion / the Glass Books of the Dream Eaters looks beautiful / imagery at the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, via Design Observer, which also pointed us to 'the dashed line in use' at nearfield, reminiscent of the imagery collating in Open Here.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Drake Circus, a new shopping mall in Plymouth, Devon, is, in the words of local architects, 'inexcusable'. Check the gallery and see for yourself; I guess this sort of thing is what they're talking about. The local debate seems to agree. Judging from the photos, the whole ensemble appears to be 'deconstruction-lite', a kind of toned down version of Melbourne's Federation Square designed to appeal to British sensibilities. Are those 'terracotta' sails meant to reference Sir Francis? Britain's coastal towns are still struggling to recover from wartime bombardment and post-war planning decisions. Drake Circus and the Tricorn debacle show there's still a long way to go (as an aside, these are exactly the kind of thing one would want on Youtube. Instead, here are a couple of Tricorn movies: I, II).

A small selection of the work of Robert Gibbings, one of the stalwarts of the Golden Cockerel Press, responsible for the resurgence in wood engraving during the mid part of the twentieth century. Check these beautiful plates from the Press's version of Sir Gawain, published in 1952. Other engravers whose work was published include David Jones and, of course, Eric Gill. There is a large Gill collection at the Harry Ransom Research Center at the University of Texas. A recent piece by Gill's biographer, Fiona McCarthy, on attitudes to the man today. Related, dealer Gillian Jason sells some wonderful books and ephemera.

Rich folks are adding secret rooms to their houses, a piece (found via kottke) that name-checks companies like Creative Home Engineering, Niche Doors, the Hidden Door Company, Decora Doors, Hide a Door and Secret Doorways, all of whom can turn your McMansion into a miniature Gormenghast of corridors, turrets and passageways. The new secret rooms have little in common with the priest holes of the past. See also the book Secret Chambers and Hiding Places by Allan Fea (a free download at Project Gutenburg, or click here). Perhaps the inspiration for the modern secret passage comes from video games (gaming legend Peter Molyneux allegedly had a secret passage built into his house) / more video games as subsitutes for real life: the story of Gizmondo, a failed console that sucked in money, spat out wrecked Ferraris and all sorts of other intrigue.

Typographic Beasties and Altered Books, just two of many projects at Logolalia (the latter is strongly reminiscent of Tom Phillips' Humument project) / Penguin Books, a huge flickr photoset by Joe Kral, linked via feuilleton. Kral's books and magazines collection is a sight to behold as well. We'd not heard of Delicious Monster's Delicious Library software before - it uses barcodes to retrieve information about your music/book/film collection and build a database.

Fifax has a bande-dessine style / 'Mongolia has moved to register the name of its legendary conquerorGenghis Khan as a commercial brand' / particle accelerator stroke satellite launcher, speculated upon at BLDG BLOG. Think of a space elevator crossed with a funfair ride / another Bravia parody, as upmarket knickers label Myla transposes the action to the leafy streets of Notting Hill to flog its new spherical 'vibrating toy' / Zulkey, a weblog / 52 Projects.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What to make of the Thomas the Tank Engine phenomenon? These anthropomorphic steam engines are over 60 years old, and now command an empire of merchandising and events, with a tightly controlled image that is widely licensed (although we like the pixellated engine representations on this unofficial page). It's not just Tomy, who have cornered the market - they might offer almost every conceivable shape and size of Thomas product, but there are many, many more manufacturers, and the profits are huge.

But there are rumblings of discontent. Recently, a Radio Times poll earlier this year on the 10 worst British TV shows ever described Thomas and Friends as portraying 'a workplace riven by class envy where bitching, brown-nosing and backstabbing are the norm' (via the Guardian). Satirist Armando Iannucci has also listed Thomas as a personal hate, summarising the stories with the typically pithy 'insufferably arrogant steam trains laughing at diesels'.

Perhaps it goes further. In Tunnel Vision, Ian Jack writes intriguingly about a recent academic study that purports to lay bare the inherent classism and sexism in the Thomas series. Admittedly Jack is ultimate rather dubious, especially of claims that little Toby's tale has a subtext of immigration and integration. In truth, Jack was also being a little economic with the book's angle for dramatic purposes, as this letter from the authors attests. The Thomas material took up a tiny fraction of their book, Train Tracks: Work, Play And Politics On The Railways (you can listen to one of the authors talking about it here), which essentially looks at railway culture as a specific physical place, not just a transport network. The social subtexts of a widespread phenomenon like Thomas were just a side debate, but they certainly ring true.

Class conflict aside, it's sad that steam railway enthusiasts should have to debase their hobby with stick-on plastic faces and swallow the Thomas mythos whole in order to maintain their hobby. The Reverend Wilbert Awdry was a bit of a stickler for technological accuracy (allegedly dismissing the series' most enduring illustrator, C Reginald Dalby, for his lack of commitment. Read biogs of all the railway series illustrators). These days, it doesn't seem to matter if Thomas has two axles or three, thanks to the focus on multiple variations of the same characters, all relentlessly branded thanks to the savvy activities of Gullane Limited, the company that now has the rights to Awdry's creation. In short, the train obsession that Thomas inspires doesn't seem to be about trains in the technical sense. Instead, as any parent will tell you - see The preschool capitalist and media awareness at Phantom Scribbler - Thomas has an almost mystical hold on the pre-school imagination.


Thirty-two 32 international art galleries have come together to form Year 06 / What's New Media?, a self-explanatory weblog / running out of rambling first-person shooters to dramatize, Hollywood turns to the text adventure. Admittedly it's only a documentary, evocatively titled Get Lamp (the same naming strategy as the UK band Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. No-one has yet called anything 'Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold' though).

Some beautiful play spaces for children collated by the Cool Hunter. This kind of environment stands head and shoulders above the frankly rather fetid soft play centres in the UK / unusually, it's Japan, a country not known for its nostalgic view of railways, that hosts the world's first Thomas Land / the final part of 146 miles without a map, a journey from Winchester to Canterbury along the Pilgrim's Way / self indulgent ramblings, a weblog.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

SpaceShipTwo has been developed from Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne, winner of the X-Prize in 2004. Commissioned by Richard Branson's venture Virgin Galactic, it seems that space is finally on the verge of becoming a commercial concern, with the first paying flights kicking off in around 2008. As a result perhaps those industrial designers who have longed dreamed of fulfilling their futuristic visions will finally get to see their ideas built.

It's unlikely. When the mock-up of the sub-orbital spaceplane was unveiled we were not entirely surprised to see that Philippe Starck was responsible for the concept interiors and logo. Starck has the high-end of gentle corporate Neo-expressionism pretty much sewn up, but his work has never had an explicit sci-fi edge. When one considers the architects and designers who have theorised extensively on the shape of the future (ever since Raymond Loewy's work on Skylab), it seems strange not to reward those for whom space has long held an aesthetic fascination.

Flick through the portfolios of Luigi Colani or Future Systems, and you'll see firms who have not only both consulted, but who embrace the relationship between new form and function unlike any other. Even Marc Newson (who likes to strut around in Soviet-era cosmonaut suits) or Softroom have an edge over Starck - the latter have Virgin Upper Class lounge at Heathrow (plus plane interiors) under their belt already. All of the above arguably already laid the groundwork for what we think a space ship interior should look like.

However, like all ventures that lag significantly behind their fictionalised counterparts, space design will inevitably suffer from terrible deja vu - there's nothing that a thousand airbrush illustrators or special effects supervisors haven't already conjured up. The reality can't possibly hope to live up to what's come before, with all those generation ships and the fertile minds of everyone from Chesley Bonestell to Chris Foss (first link to the huge Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy, and Spaceflight). True, other ideas come around every once in a while, like the Orbital Hotel concept lives on in various forms (and once associated, as in 2001, with Hilton). Space Tourism used to be a sure-fire bet for the realisation of outlandish visions, but on Starck's showing, we're no longer so sure.


We have an enormous amount of respect (and professional jealousy) for Cabinet Magazine, which has managed to breeze to 23 issues of never-less-than fascinating, deeply researched content. Did you know, for example, that razor magnate King Gillette once dreamed of a Metropolis? / one from the office of dubious statistics: can it really be true that '8% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school'? (via digg)

The Happy New House; watch as a Neil Denari-designed contemporary house emerges from the ground (via archinect) / all about Astana, 'a post-Soviet City' in Kazakhstan, home of Norman Foster's Pyramid of Peace (a structure so bizarre that the more you think about it, the less rational it becomes) / more and more people are surviving plane crashes (although luck still seems to have a lot to do with it).

Google Mars (via Plasticbag) / photos by Jonah Jones / Oboylephoto, which links to Exposed Photography and Tim Edensor's British Industrial Ruins, both worth exploring / Falling Houses by Peter Garfield (via Coudal), which does exactly what it says on the tin (wikipedia's etymology for that loathsome phrase).

All about interactive eight track cartridges. Possibly, no definitely, a hoax. But a pleasing concept nonetheless / Mr Libeskind's new extension for the Denver Art Museum: good outside, yet bad inside / Airstream's 75th Anniversary Travel Trailer, thanks to David at Vintage Trailering. See also Vintage Vacations, tucked away on the Isle of Wight.

Little People are everywhere (thanks, Ludwig). The leading maker of tiny figures is the German company Preiser - some of their sets are works of art - even their catalogue looks like a monograph/ Thames Traffic, at Bottom Drawer. There's a similar image showing flights over the city, but it's not yielding to our google skills. See these flights into Heathrow (at Stephen Boyle's page) / we haven't said it yet, but we feel the need to point out that The Morning News' redesign is wonderful (especially like this feature).

Monday, October 02, 2006

Apologies for the week-long disappearance; we were sampling the airs of the Isle of Wight (although not the new-fangled, updated Festival malarkey). A muddle of things today. Check the relaunched version of JPG Magazine, which always seems to have something bold and pleasing on the cover (of the site - we've not seen the print edition) / a modern dilemma, or how to deal with a lovestruck World of Warcraft addict / Sublime Magazine has finally launched / many visual delights and unusual objects catalogued at Shepherd's Pie / a list of modern broadcast hoaxes, of which Alternative3 looks the most intriguing. Read more here on a paranoid site which, heavens, seems to believe the hoax was 'classic disinformation' (and watch it).

Sleep Cartography, 'A Visual Representation of a Human Infant's Sleep Cycle', part of the enormous quantity of data at The Trixie Update (via ask me-fi) / the Literature Map, which looks like it works a bit like the various music association sites, absolutely none of which I can recall right now / terrifying clip from Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen over at Cheesedip / walk on water at Bridge, an artwork by Michael Cross (via kottke). There's also a new installation of Chris Burden's 1996 work The Flying Steamroller opposite Tate Britain. Burden is also exhibiting 14 Magnolia Double Lamps at the South London Gallery. We have fond memories of Burden's When Robots Rule: The Two-Minute Airplane Factory, which sadly promised more than it could deliver.

Safeman, a concise history of safe-breaking (via me-fi). Someday we will find some extracts from Shifty Burke's Memoirs of a safe-breaker. As previously noted, the great Tim Hunkin wrote extensively on safe-cracking in his essay illegal engineering, noting that it is a declining art: 'Another factor contributing to the decline in safebreaking is that the rewards are relatively modest. The average haul from bank raids in 1993 for example, was only £3,743, in contrast to the average haul from security vans of £378,479.' See a set of safe-breaker's tools at Lateral Science (full of other gems, e.g. mechanical television and a Young Man's Book of Amusement).

Wilson's Almanac, with an endearing flash intro and the vast Book of Days, and Pip Wilson's weblog, revealing a fascination with world history, real and unreal, political shenanigans and nuclear near misses / enter The Big Draw (more information) / Cardhouse, a weblog / Spurgeonworld, a weblog / Steel Yards, actually a large scale radar facility, at Arkiblog / Michael Bierut on the life and legacy of the late Alan Fletcher /, a weblog / Morrow Planet, a weblog.

George Monbiot's new website, Turn up the heat, which 'exposes the false environmental claims made by corporations and celebrities', i.e the private jet habits of certain singers. See also this review of the writer's new book, Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning / Carrying the Torch for Jane Jacobs, revisiting the planner's life and legacy in a radio show / 20 of the best indie record shops in the UK.