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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Architecture Bulletin is a beautiful publication from the Netherlands Architecture Institute (which also has an excellent online tour of the Sonneveld House, designed by Brinkman and Van der Vlugt and finished in 1933). Among the articles in issue 02 is '5 Million: Senseo Crema Fans Can't Be Wrong'. in which Timo de Rijk deals with the omission of the Philips Senseo Crema coffee maker from Aaron Betsky's recent book False Flat (subtitled, 'Why Dutch design is so good'). So why omit the Crema? Could it be because it was a product that did 'not embody a technical advance, but aspired to a change in user behaviour, 'usage innovations')? Could it be that product design is out of step with a visual culture that sees an 'essentially nostalgic trait' in modernism? It may have sold 5 million units (and it was in the Netherlands that this project first took off), but in terms of visual interest, it has very little to offer (beyond a 'gentle hint... of the coffee-waiter's servile bow').

Learn to play at the Riff-O-Matic (via). See also Frets on Fire / 15 years ago last night, Ride played a fan club gig at London's ULU, selling this 7" single at the door. Just 1000 were made. Watch the video for Vapour Trail / Google's new patent search makes it ridiculously easy to turn up bizarre things and objects: we'll return to this / Lago di Vagli, an abandoned village in Tuscany, lying at the bottom of a man-made lake: when the lake runs dry, the village re-emerges / Chrysler ad execs get it wrong / Darren Naish's Tetrapod Zoology, a zoological weblog. All fascinating stuff (especially the post on the sasquatch) / Remember the Milk, a useful application.

'Robots could demand legal rights', the most attention-grabbing findings from the Sigma Scan and the Delta Scan, which deals with issues like The Extended Self. One of the indicators for the acceptance of our increased loading of artificial enhancements is 'The licence for Modafinil recently extended to include the condition of "excessive daytime sleepiness"'. That same drug, used to treat narcolepsy and, surprise, surprise, popular with the military, crops up in this New Scientist piece, 'Get ready for 24-hour living', which describes it as delivering 'natural-feeling alertness and wakefulness without the powerful physical and mental jolt that earlier stimulants delivered.' This all makes us very sleepy, and combined with a recent laptop meltdown (the Vaio is taking an extended Christmas vacation in Alsace, of all places, to get better) means that this will in all likelihood be the last post of 2006. Thank you for reading and look forward to more things in 2007, including the elusive, unicorn-like things number 19/20. Happy Christmas.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas is coming so posting is becoming even more intermittent. The discouraging discovery that we are ranked 470,540th in the world hasn't helped either. The Most Dangerous Roads in the World, with some stunning, stomach-churning photography: 'There are also rumors of a quite normal 30 km stretch of Russian country road, which gets an unexplained amount of car accidents; the locals suspect underground gas seepage which causes motorists to fall asleep...'. Related, the The Rise and Fall of the "Bus Plunge" Story (first link via).

Still online and worth visiting, Medicine Man, The Forgotten Museum of Henry Wellcome, at the Wellcome Trust's website, which also contains an excellent Malaria website / some vintage coffee paraphernalia / a tribute to Leslie Harpold at tmn / a visual demonstration of the Moire effect / our favourite gifts / classic rock reinterpreted as lullabies. Generally this means liberal use of the glockenspiel, that most soporific of instruments.

Above image, a disembodied foot on the streets of Boston at xRez, which offers 'Extreme Resolution' images. At the other extreme, view some stars and planets in scale... (we learnedall our astronomy from Elite) / amautalab, a portfolio site. Try not to click on the rabbits / type/lettering samples at PJ Chmiel / Hyperkit visits Burgh Island and Dartington Hall. Everything these people do seems to take place in a world of modernist perfection.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Poor old Asimo. We have a soft spot for Honda's little robot / red sea tea room, a weblog / Living Wall, an 'ambient installation collecting, recomposing and playing sonic memories' / birdPod, 'All the bird songs of North America at your fingertips! Here at birdPod we can typically find a specific bird song in 15 seconds or less.' / advertising aimed at women: Her Secret Past, a flickr pool (via) / an extremely whizzy interface for (the amazingly still extant) Worldwide.Designers.2007.

'World's tallest man saves dolphins by using his long arms to reach into their stomachs and pull out dangerous plastic shards' / design consultancy Pentagram has a weblog / on Cecil Balmond's new bridge in Coimbra, Portugal / Mr Smith goes to Venus, in which the genius of Chesly Bonestell is directed towards imagining the future of space tourism: 'In smart Planetary Shops, Mrs Smith was delighted to find sports clothes made of material as light as gossamer, yet stronger than heavy tweed'. At Keith Graham's Wanderings, one of those wunderkammerblogs, via me-fi. See also The Long Tomorrow, via Gravestmor, via City of Sound / speaking of Wunderkammer / the art of the watch back.

A couple more projects are now up: things we've sold on eBay and extracts from the 1932 Handicrafts Annual. The latter is interesting chiefly for the sheer variety of decorative tat available to the keen amateur carpenter and hobbyist. While contemporary histories have pegged the 1930s as an era in which modernism and deco flowered and spread out across the domestic landscape, the reality was little different from today.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

More Astana eccentricity; this time it's a giant tented city. To the casual observer, the Kazakhstan capital resembles an architectural zoo, explicitly evoking the most crazed elements of Western built culture in an attempt to create a memorable identity. But as previously noted, Nursultan Nazarbayev's architectural court jester is none other than Norman Foster. Not content with creating a pyramid, Foster has stepped (pardon the pun) up to the bar once again to produce another over-scaled piece of laboured symbolism, a techno-yurt that makes a clumsy link between Kazakh nomadism and the shiny accoutrements of a modern state. Nonetheless, courting prestigious international architects is a tactic that comes straight from the world's financial centres, and a far cry from the first wave of Astana construction. 'Disneyland and Las Vegas come together in Astana' reads a headline from 2003 on the official site, describing an earlier project, the Duman ('The steppe groundhog named Dumanya is to become the symbol of the new center'. This is a steppe marmot, which we guess is the same thing). Astana architecture (and under construction), a fairly sorry collection of shallow-facaded neo-post-modernism, one click above the dial-in corporate monumentalism of Ceausescu-era Romania. Things can only get better, and/or weirder. (The above image from The Kazak Yurt, available for download at the ArchNet Digital Library).

A cartography of working, a post at with hidden noise, a weblog, which also has an admirable obsession with Wichita Linemen / the art of Ladislav Sutnar, Czech designer, who also had a house on the Baba Werkbund estate in Prague / 'two unpublished sketchbooks drawn while spotting [during the Blitz] by Austin Osman Spare,' 1943-1945 / amazing capstan table movie / Michael Jantzen's intriguing architecture straddles seventies techno-optimism and noughties techno ubiquity; a shame it all remains theoretical for now.

Everything you'd rather not have known about Brian Eno, a 1974 NME article by Chrissie Hynde, via Ian Betteridge. Eno occupies 'a large white room which consists entirely of a lit candle, two pillows, tape recorder and beige carpet. "Carpeting gives you a whole new outlook on life, you don't need furniture."' / my ninja please, a weblog, including this link to images of Chernobyl using high dynamic range / an American roadtrip, lightningfield-style / Laura Piasta's Stretches (part of the Highway Star exhibition at no longer look very far-fetched. Happily, these absurd vehicles may be on the way out / a honey of an anklet, a weblog.

History of the Button, 'Tracing the history of interaction design through the history of the button, from flashlights to websites and beyond'. If you're going to set yourself a project, aim high. Your task is made especially harder by the people who design bad buttons. See also elevator hacking / Vintage Christmas: 1945-1970, a flickr pool / project sanguine, a weblog / Stephanie's Pillowbook, a weblog by an 'elegant transgenderist, pessimist philosopher, music-lover [and] idler' / Steve's Weird House, via the Kirscher Society

Friday, December 08, 2006

Space and dislocation. Is it right that the architecture of deconstruction should cause actual physical disorientation? DAM: It's dizzying, a piece in the Denver Post on how Studio Libeskind's new Denver Art Museum is making visitors 'dizzy and uncomfortable'. It's a non-story, of course, the kind of low-grade shock-of-the-new style scandal that accompanies almost any new commission ('"There were these sloping walls, bright lights that draw your attention other than where you're supposed to be walking, angles that were worse near the top,"' one visitor said, while Carol Foster, an 'ear specialist and balance expert at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center' (and clearly no budding Oliver Sachs) stated that "My patients are not going to the art museum, you could bus a bunch of them over there and they'd be flopping around on the floor".

The writer misses the point that Libeskind has, on occasion, striven to design spaces that induce uncomfortable emotions, most notably the 'memory area .. [of] nakedness and emptiness .. [to] represent the many victims' of the Holocaust in the Holocaust Tower within the Jewish Museum Berlin. This is an exception. For the most part, architecture comes without pre-determined emotional response; you are invited to bring your own. In the commercial realm, you have projects like , say, Federation Square (Melbourne) and Drake Circus (Plymouth), two favourite 'things' spaces for their self-conscious attempts at inserting deliberate discord and 'dynamism' into the public realm. Neither are memorials, but both attempt to memorialise, evoking past glory and celebrity (Plymouth) or ultra-contemporary theory and aesthetics (Melbourne), eking out some kind of reaction from their visitors.

The shapes of things to come. What form will the phones of the future take? If they take any form at all / we make money not art on how the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden (itself rather anti-organic) is evolving a logotype, 'Different logos are being "bred" and then picked by fitness in relation to the parameters or voted for by the employees. Thus, everytime the logo is displayed on a website as an animated icon or printed out on a letter, it reflects the current state of the lab as a living organism.' It wasn't so long ago that people were suggesting objects like cars and characters could be evolved in a similar way.

Atrocity or Masterpiece?, asks the Guardian of Foster and Partners' latest tower. 'Mr Rosen is trying to parlay star power into an inappropriate proposal." Asked about Ms Wintour's support for it, he replied : "That's nice. That's great, Anna."' / best book covers of 2006, via kottke / some audio snippets by Bill Bailey / short architecture videoes at Hauz 29 / want to be overwhelmed by the blogoverse? From comments at Unfogged / a neatly prepared home page / new music, Comanechi / Pigeon Sniping, a response: who would have thought that the readers of the Surrey Comet could mine such a rich stream of Lee and Herring-type comedy? (via) / Bomb Magazine.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Urban Ruins in Japan (via me-fi). I'm sure we've been to this site before (this decaying resort in particular looks familiar), but the unclear, almost sinister function of many of the featured structures makes the collection all the more interesting. And who doesn't love abandoned funfairs? Also via me-fi, Romanesque Churches of the Bourbonnais, an extensive database. See also the Xingfu Funfair, Then and Now.

Less Common, an 'intellectual fashion magazine' / DJs and their living rooms, via (i think) he was a journalist / Anders Jacob's Blog, touching on all manner of contemporary miscellany, including the presence of grey market Coca-Cola in London. Related, La Moda Americana, via french kissin, which also posted Ray Charles knows sound / The Groovy Age of Horror, a weblog. Probably the kind of weblog that makes its way into print / stumbled over this mention of Carchitecture while testing out the new Live search / images of Los Angeles by Adam Bartos at tmn. Bartos's Kosmos is one of our favourite series.

The LA Times picks up on the extraordinary rise in value of the Case Study Houses, Priced to Preserve: 'If there was still any connection, however thin, between the Case Study houses and middle-class life, Wright's gavel on Sunday afternoon effectively severed it for good' / music and imagery at TheSerendipitous Cacophonies' website / the definitive analysis of the Patterson-Gimlin film (via Monkeyfilter) / socks (in the sky), a weblog / photo-realism in Microsoft Flight Simulator / Will Self walks into America, causes mild sensation.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Pierre Koenig's Case Study House 21 recently went under the hammer for just over $3m. So much for John Entenza's original ambitions to 'design and build inexpensive and efficient model homes' / Peter Cook, architect of the Graz Kunsthaus, is the new head of design for the London Olympics (we liked the recent story about ousted ODA Chairman Jack Lemley reportedly buying '40 electronic rabbits from the Conran Shop at a cost of thousands of pounds'. We guess they meant these Nabaztag wi-fi bunnies, which isn't quite as interesting as, say, one of these, created by Paul Granjon). Here's hoping it doesn't end up like Stephen Bayley at the Millennium Dome, an experience recounted in his bitter book Labour Camp.

Motor racing circuits collected together on Google Earth / some more wing mirror shots / Patrick Ness on the design, or lack of, in modern publishing / a nice quote from Ben Goldacre's always readable Bad Science column (this week looking at political graphology, but unconnected): 'The Daily Mail does have an ongoing ontological programme to divide all inanimate objects into ones that will either cause or cure cancer.' / Russell Davies on other aesthetics for cars, and some hypothetical car colour-schemes pulled from the comments.

Thermal baths at Tschuggen, designed by Mario Botta. The spa is the modern architectural wonder, the only building type that can truly descend into unfettered aesthetics, design as a service to experience first and foremost. Spas are the new cathedrals (forget cars), as Zumthor and Gehry would surely agree / Living on the Moon, a review of the previous options as yet another date is set for a moonbase / thanks to fimoculous for picking us up in their round-up of the Best Blogs of 2006 that You (Maybe) Aren't Reading. We're in very good company.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Great White Bear is currently on display at South London's Horniman Museum: 'artists Bryndis Snaebjornsdottir and Mark Wilson tracked down every taxidermied polar bear in a UK collection, from stately homes to museum stores'. The artists' work Nanoq: flat out and bluesome is 'a survey of British taxidermic polar bears 2001-04'. The Horniman Museum website is rather reticent on the exhibit (apart for the forlorn appeal for details of its own stuffed polar bear, 'part of the original 1901 display (aquired at the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in South Kensington)... [and] sold in 1948 to a Mr T Allen, a dealer in New Cross.' That exhibition also spawned the Jaipur Gate, now restored in Hove). Nanoq culminated in this impressive exhibition on Spike Island, bringing ten of the bears together in one industrial space. It is a devastatingly sad installation, 'the title references the melancholy that these majestic creatures, taken from their natural habitats, evoke in the viewer'. One of the bears sits in a room belonging to Lord Puttnam (enlarge).

(Not related at all to Simon Patterson's The Great Bear (1992), arguably the first tube line 'mash-up', the kind of thing TFL now gets rather glumly legalistic about. Luckily there's a mirror site of the silly tube maps right here. We like the Motorway Map of England, Scotland and Wales. The same cartographer has also created the Monopoly Map, a 'geographically accurate map of the elements of standard London Monopoly').

Strike one for architect's rights; that tearing noise is the sound of contracts with expensive prima donna architects being ripped up across Germany / Purge/glut, a weblog / Ifelse, a weblog / Leisure and the City (Part 2) at Art & Architecture) / taxidermy on flickr / Dining habits around the globe, photographs.