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Tuesday, May 29, 2007


A small slice of social history. The Peckham Experiment was one of the grandest of the interwar collaborations between art and science. 'George Scott Williamson and Innes Pearse were a husband and wife team who believed that an individual's social and physical environment could decisively affect his or her long-term state of health.' The couple commissioned a building by Sir Owen Williams, the Pioneer Health Centre, a sleek glass, steel and concrete structure that would today be given a grandiose title like 'community health hub'. The diving board is a masterpiece of concrete design.

The Peckham Experiment set out to correlate the effects of environment on health, and the initial medical examination of the 3411 participating men and women was unsettling; only 14% of the men were without some form of health 'disorder', and just 4% of the women. The centre provided all forms of entertainment, education and recreational facilities, the likes of which most people, regardless of class background, had never seen. Williamson and Pearse were working within a tradition of hands-on healthcare that had begun with John Snow and his observations of the choleric properties of the Broad Street water pump (the subject of Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map).

This article at the Wellcome Trust (which holds the Health Centre's archives) reveals just how genuinely pioneering the project was. The belief that the availability of facilities would encourage people to take their health into their own hands. The building itself was designed to 'encourage informal contact, thus facilitating spontaneous development of social interaction and activities in an organic community setting as a major contribution to wellbeing'. There was even an organic farm in Kent to supply produce to members, run by Mary Langman, an early member of the Soil Association.

Ultimately, the arrival of the NHS, and the principle of free healthcare for all, did for the Experiment, and its volunteer-run ethos stumbled in the early 1950s years (after a wartime spell as a bomber parts factory). Williams' building was converted into housing in the 90s, with the addition of a couple of terraces of ersatz 'modern' houses on each side of the main facade.

*

Other things. Screw Asylum, a weblog about screws. Great stuff. via Boing Boing and now sucked up into the general ether of buzz and conversation, so also seen everywhere else. Also via BB, a gallery of Secret Rooms of the STASI, by photographers Daniel & Geo Fuchs / desktop background images of Antique Cameras / the Bibliophile Bullpen, a weblog / 17 Seconds, an mp3 blog.

Finnish artist Jan-Erik Andersson is creating the Life on a Leaf house, a rather folksy take on neo-organic architecture, a genre which occasionally sparks into life but usually remains on the fringes of residential design. See Laurie Chetwood's Butterly House, Ian Ritchie's Eagle Rock House and Niall McLaughlin's Shack (it's not really in the same vein, but the expansive Wikipedia entry on the Xanadu House in Florida is fascinating). A million miles away from all this comes an early architectural solution to genuine organic living - tropical heat, insects, humidity, etc.: Jean Prouve's Tropical House. One of three, which have since toured the world - a good advert for its flexibility of manufacture - it is being auctioned off on Monday. James Fenton wrote approvingly about the metal bungalow, and the Christie's sale, last week.

Microsoft's Surface computer looks pretty interesting. More at BBC news and a demo video on YouTube / a gallery of Chrysler concept cars, as the firm itself heads for the trashcan / Product of your Environment, neat twists on conventional objects / editorial minutae, a blog from the Guardian Reader's editor. 'Room mit ein view', a sub-editor's flash of inspiration. 'Your verdict: not funny.'

Postopolis has been going all this week at NY's Storefront for Art and Architecture. BLDGBLOG has the running orders: Day One, Day Two, Day Three (flickr pool) and Dan at City of Sound is doing his darndest to chronicle the whole thing in real time. Masses here to think about / a nice Archinect piece on Atelier Bow-Wow / the one-storey skyscraper (via Kottke). Comments reveal spiral buildings in Chile, 'The buildings in question are known as "caracoles" or "snails". They’re typically 5-7 stories high. They were built to serve as something like malls, before malls made it into the country.'

Last week the Times carried a piece about the upper middle classes (that slender social zone that's near-impossible to spot (or care about) unless you occupy one its extensive outer fringes): We used to have it all..., a stirring lament for a lost world of upper middle class comfort and security. Or a case of bitter fraternal jealousy? Either way, the comments are especially merciless / a charming story of an internet connection at Spoilt Victorian Child / 'how many trees are felled to produce the average suburban McMansion?'. Idle speculation at Where / like big crescendos? A bunch of music for you to download and trial.

Trulia Hindsight, 'maps of properties through time'. A US-only service that lets you view how urban centres have grown over time. Reminiscent of the slightly more flashy animation used by the Manhattan Timeformations at The Skyscraper Museum. Related, all over the internet today, the arrival of Google's Street View (me-fi comment). Clever stuff, which doesn't look entirely real most of the time, but then neither does much of America. Apparently this is the team behind the software, a little in-joke.

Two takes on the soon-to-reopen RFH: 'Gloriously, madly English: Festival Hall revamp and Pomp and circumstance, both broadly supportive of the anti-iconic, behind-the-scenes quality of the work (which came in at around £111m). Related, Love the Festival Hall / like everyone else, we're excited about the prospect of the BLDGBLOG Book / Labelmag, an Italian online style magazine.

The Guardian gets in on the paper plane racket, some eight years late / we love nature, says Kapitza / Swarm Sketch, 'Collective sketching of the collective consciousness'. View previous efforts / the Brickfactory (via me-fi), a plethora of brightly coloured Lego instruction sets.

Back when machines used to be big, the Stand of the Oerlikon Works at the Paris Exhibition of 1889 from Scientific American, August 17, 1889. The Eiffel Tower was built for the Exposition; 'There is no doubt that those who prophesied that the Eiffel Tower would be an abortion from an artistic point of view have been utterly put to rout.' The Scotsman, 25 April, 1889 / Printed Pages, an abundance of printed pages and advertisements, specialising in Asbestos catalogues and advertisements (it's from where today's title image comes from) / asdas

The Avion Travelcade Club, a treasure trove of information about 1960s caravans, including owner's manuals. See also the Tin Can Tourist website / early, beautiful slot cars, the AFX Super II, one of many, many things at the Toy Baron / re-making a classic: Interstate Outlaws / Game Set Watch, a game blog / amplifiers by Traynor / a sketchbook by actor Dirk Bogarde, who has a burgeoning posthumous web presence / the 1943 Disney Employees Handbook.

Music as Therapy's annual Secret Postcard Sale / Blow de la Barra blog, international art scene / photographs by Elger Esser hosted at Kulturflash. More Esser / oh yes, blogger users beware. The new auto-saving function is _not_ to be trusted at all - large posts just vanish regularly. Any way of turning it off?