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Friday, November 30, 2007


Airbus's A380 is rolling out, slowly, with a projected sales total of about 750 units around the world over the next 20 years or so (down from 1,138 in 1,138 in 2003). Just 10 are in the air right now; Airbus needs to sell at least 420 to break even. A lucrative variant of the airframe is the A380 Flying Palace, specifically pitched at the few billionaires who want the ultimate in airborn residences.

Part of the fun of such a vast aeroplane has been to imagine how best to use all that extra space. Earlier this year BMW's DesignworksUSA studio created a speculative interior for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, part modernist villa, part Spectre-like lair. For the A380, Airbus have shown concept ideas for boardrooms, bedrooms, bars, lounges and even, help us, shops. Rumours that Virgin Atlantic were investigating the possibility of a pool are, most likely, pure public relations chaff. And those were just for the commercial version.

The A380 certainly offers plenty of scope for fantasy aerial architecture. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's purchase of the first 'Flying Palace' made for great publicity, but it also comes with an interesting logistical problem; there are few, if any, places large enough to fit the plane out. Airbus says that the Flying Palace 'has nearly 900 square metres of cabin area on two main decks allowing the principal and accompanying guests to be accommodated on one level in unmatched luxury; while lounges, dining areas, entourage seating and associated support facilities are located on the other.'

This is a rarefied market. Since 1969, only around 25 Boeing 747s have gone to private buyers, mostly in the Middle East. There are just a handful of companies able to do this kind of work - an 18 month to 2-year fit-out of a vast plane, with every last hand-turned walnut handle and gilt inlay requiring some kind of certification. Lufthansa Technik in Germany, Jet Aviation, in Switzerland and Gore Design Completions in the USA are three of the biggest players. Galleries: Lufthansa and Jet Aviation. Gore were the firm originally commissioned to create the Google 'Party Plane', but that didn't end too well.

The creation of a private plane/aerial megastructure requires a huge investment in manpower and materials, a technological object so big and complex that it exceeds most construction projects. And yet the net result is a paradox, something that remains out of sight, existing more in the imagination than in reality: a 'flying palace' sounds like something out of modern folklore. Ultimately, the occupiers of these flying castles will rarely leave them, simply landing for fuel and supplies, and remaining sequestered in their avionic-stuffed towers.



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There are lots of disgruntled architects out there: Quiet Observations from Archi-hell, Alice the Architecture, bollocks to architecture, Notes on Becoming a Famous Architect (which has a set of useful life lessons for those hell-bent on becoming a starchitect) / mirage.studio.7, an architecture weblog. Check their Model T as mobile home post / Shrinking Cities, an exhibition that goes against traditional urban-centric orthodoxy / Hong Kong city maps, via chrisdodo.

Blog.thoughtwax.com, an occasional, and therefore rather thoughtful, weblog / Scintillating Bullshit, a weblog / rare books of the Russian Avant-Garde / Sevensixfive recalls Six days on the Eimskip container ship Dettifoss. We'd very much like to see more of their sketch book / Spheres of Chaos, a trippy computer game / Centripal Notion, art, images and more / VitraP, architectural things.

Apologies for the outage first thing this morning. We bumped up against our bandwidth limit. A little more anchor chain has been let out which should see us through the next few months.

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