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Monday, December 03, 2007


The above is an example of architecture driven by the needs of the computer, as opposed to architecture that exploits the abilities of the computer. Toyota's new driving simulator neatly depicts the slow colonisation of real space by virtual space. Just as server farms take up huge quantities of shelf space, whole chilled warehouses or blank brick boxes of humming racks, our need for cyberspace, in all its forms, to acknowledge our carefully honed sense of space and movement means that architecture is having to accommodate the 'real' navigation of 'unreal space'. On a very simple level, this can be illustrated by the Nintendo Wii, which encroaches on real space by required players to move around to interact with the virtual spaces on screen. You can see the Toyota Simulator in action on YouTube (imagine Grand Theft Auto fans salivating at the prospect of a tweaked version). The set-up is remarkable, essentially a giant robot that uses subtle physical movement to mimic real-world forces, all the while ensuring total immersion in a computer-generated world.

Architecture doesn't have the budgets of the motor industry, so the visualisations that increasingly define and shape our expectations of tomorrow's buildings are usually limited to screens, not immersive physical spaces. But has the ultra realism of the modern animated render ruined the experience of architecture? Or has it encouraged a return to a rawer, less streamlined aesthetic? One thing the anaemic line of early CAD packages encouraged (MiniCad/Vectorworks, Autocad, Microstation, etc. etc - see this History of CAD for more) was a bit of imagination. The lack of photorealism and the unreal veneer of early computer graphics lent the earliest architectural renderings a sheen of impossibility, much like the architectural fantasies of a Constructivist like Iakov Chernikhov used modern print techniques yet stayed deliberately detached from the photographic representations of the time. Chernikhov's work was explicitly unreal, all the better to transcend the existing city.

Consider the lithe organic wetness of the modern rendering, seamlessly blended with existing structures, roads and pedestrians. This is all very well when the project in question is so ambitious as to fail to suspend disbelief (although the way things are going in the Middle East, there will no longer be any need to be doubtful), but all too often, the built reality can only fall lamently short of the vision. It will only be when we get our own personal life simulators that we can escape the ennui and simply live in permanently augmented reality.

*

Pixelsurgeon has passed on / lots of New York subway maps / cars favoured by designers / a short visual history of supercars / aeroplane photography by Jeffrey Milstein / the Penguin Collectors' Society / Russia obliterates its architectural heritage / tmn has a fine gallery of Taryn Simon's inquisitive photography / what will happen to the Waxahachie Superconducting Supercollider? 30km of abandoned and unwanted tunnels beneath a small Texan town. Via The God of Small Things, a profile of Peter 'God Particle' Higgs.

Illustrations by Julia Rothman / Yeti prints resurface after a few years off the cultural radar / Flickr Friends of the Twentieth Century Society, via i like / Flickr World's Worst Urban Spaces and Places / Meso, digital media designers / Sir Hiram Maxim and his magnificent steam-powered flying machines / the Lost Novels of Nineteenth-Century New Zealand, via projects / the Charlotte Mew Chronology, an enormously dense site that mixes biography, mental illness, architecture and literature in an attempt to find out more about a complex life.

Something we haven't really touched on, the new Eurostar Terminal at St Pancras. Generally well received, even at the price, but still a bit of a slight to south Londoners who have had their little international terminal at Waterloo taken away from them. Transport Blog and Brian Micklethwaite. For posterity's sake, here is a set of scans of a preview of Waterloo International, then a few years from completion (as was the Channel Tunnel itself), with the eventual move to St Pancras not even getting a mention (was it even on the cards?).

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