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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Expect a few days of radio silence as we take a short break.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Concept Safety want to ensure you get out of a burning building. So they developed the e-vest, see video (wmv) for more details. The personal safety and security industry is a curious paradox - by its very nature about discretion and sneaking around, yet also highly visible and craving publicity. When Dave Eggers wanted to simultaneously draw attention to his 826CHI program in Chicago ('a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills') and provide inspiration to the very people it was helping, the result was The Boring Store. This snappily dressed up vision of what a spy store might look like if it was created by Kuntzel and Deygas or Chris Ware appeals to fantasies both young and old. (K and D have some of their beautiful title sequences up at right now).

At one point in the early 90s, outlets like Mayfair's Counter Spy Shop and The Spy Shop were springing up to cater for a general increase in consumer paranoia. The available technology has mushroomed since those early, pre-wireless and webcam days, when all one could buy were a few discrete listening devices and video cameras. Today, as well as media-friendly objects like the NannyCam, you can also buy fiendishly complex items like the Interception Suite, which allows you to get information on all calls, texts, etc., made and received by a specific mobile phone. Meanwhile, blogs like Spy Review continue chronicle the state of the market. So who is listening to who? The utterly terrifying CheckMate Marital Infidelity Testing Kit probably tells you all you need to know ('CheckMate is intended to be used to identify a suspicious stain once you find the stain').

The sheer volume of digital data that surrounds and presumably facilitates the making of the stain, allowing it to be examined in detail. We only have ourselves to blame for the ease with which this digital soup can be sifted and strained for clues. Back in the 80s, pervasive computing was a Utopian pipe dream. The Roy Mason-designed, all-singing, computer-controlled Xanadu Houses in Florida, as featured in the film Visions of Future Living. (there are many intriguing things at The Roland Collection, but we can't help feeling that $1.99 per film is just too much to pay to stream some content). However, far more information can be gleaned from Computers in the Home, a 1982 article on Mason's plastic foam magnum opus. Xanadu was, in many respects, very ahead of its time, created in an era when the digital camera was still a prototype (the Sony Mavica wasn't yet launched) and 'digital' music was mere months away from market. The experts polled in the article set out a future that looks remarkably like today. For example, Ford's electronics planning manager was quoted as saying: 'By 1985-1990, virtually every car in the would will have at least one microprocessor... In a few years, dashboards may incorporate CRTs (cathode-ray tubes) or flat-panel LCD (liquid crystal display) screens for readouts. Tomorrow's road maps might even be in the form of computer graphics stored on floppy disks and displayed on the screen.'

Some of the suggested ideas sound even more sensible and desirable: 'A central microcomputer monitors all energy consumption and eventually will be programmable as a watchdog. "You could program the house, 'I'm only going to spend $300 this month for utilities and that's that.' So you'd program that on the keyboard and the house would only use $300 worth of utilities.' See also Glowlab's post on the house, now mildewed and abandoned. The idea that machines do our every bidding never translated into an aesthetic, but did shape a mindset.


Other things. British psychedelic history at Marmalade Skies / The Cartoonist is making moves into podcasting - the second episode of The Cartoonist Talks is a chat with the husband and wife team of Colin Newman and Malka Spigel, the former of Wire and both now in Githead / depressing news of the day: Hummer is (are?) coming to the UK. Who invited them? Happily, the new Bauer Millett dealership (the UK's first), in the same week the Chancellor ups fuel tax on 'gas-guzzlers' / the 'Madonna of the Toast' is a new book about simulacra. Naturally it also has a weblog.

Urban Accessories make modern street furniture, including rather intricate manhole covers (via Jackson Fish). We thought that particular art form had long since died out. Naturally, there's a flickr pool. And a link to the obligatory urban exploration group, this time Australia's Cave Clan, which links onwards to Sleepy City / The City, the Regional Planning Association of America and the desire for new cities and new communities. Written by Lewis Mumford / the Wanas Foundation, a sculpture park to the north-east of Malmo. Many images / is this really broken design, or is just bad detailing?

'Space-Age Living On-The-Go' in a Glastron Motorhome / a dummy text generator. Or just use the Postmodern Essay Generator / beautifully-detailed castellated house in Japan / h2olland, 'architecture with wet feet in holland' / Shorpy, the '100-year-old photo blog' (via me-fi) / a slideshow of the building of New York's bridges, photographs by Eugene de Salignac, at the new-style New Yorker website.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The internet is awash with corpses. One of the earliest uses of the website seems to have been as a memorial, whether for people or pets. There are numerous online memorials, from eGraves to do-it-yourself concepts like My Last Email. Even if we suppose that a small percentage of these sites continue to be maintained (just like graves in the real world), the internet will slowly and inexorably become a vast digital mausoleum, littered with husks of memory. Sites like YouTube and MySpace will be awash with dead users. Related, physical responses to the need for enduring memorials; the impressive Igualada Cemetery, near Barcelona. David Chipperfield's extension to the San Michele Cemetery in Venice. Also related, internet history links. An internet history weblog by Ian Peter. See also this huge map of Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, courtesy of the eclectic and rambling Audium

Maraid Design's blog is full of wonders, like this Bellhaven Flickr set, which sums up the British seaside. Contrast with architecture paperbacks. We've also posted a few more cover scans here. Vaguely related, small town life, Pakenham, Ontario. There's a fine line between having rusting hulks of old cars lying around to add romance, local colour and intrigue and having wrecked, burnt out vehicles as symbols of urban decline. Related, exceptionally detailed models of old cars by Martin Otto Lambert Heukeshoven. This 1954 Facel Vega and half-ruined Citroen DS are particularly fine.

The Dawn of the Hamptons House, Paul Goldberger on the steroidal architecture of the Hamptons, still straining at the leash thanks to ever-rising land prices: '"The new Shingle Style pretends to relate to the architectural traditions of the area, but it's completely disingenuous. Completely fake. They are big, plunked down one after another with an absence of absolutely any kind of decent landscaping. [Goldberger] paused, then added, "Levittown-by-the-Sea."' / a sad end for some early Georgian bits of Dalston (via) / the London Thames Gateway Housing Sites Database, all ready and waiting for developers.

Velorbis make beautiful bicycles / Richard May, illustrator / surrealist suburbia in the art of Martin Grover / Threads, a film that left psychological damage that still scars the 1970s generation / Sci-fi I like, an illustrated talk by Matt Ward / the Making of the Doctor Who Theme, a trip into the technological delights of the Radiophonic Workshop, sometime in the 1980s. Amazing / form follows behaviour.

Many, many good things at Martin Klasch's website, including the Tatra (Czech automotive heaven), Square America (found photography), Malls of America ('Vintage photos of lost Shopping Malls of the '50s, '60s and '70s') and the Palm Springs Modern Committee. Also, another visit to The Best Word Book Ever,1963 and 1991, in which Richard Scarry gets dragged kicking and screaming into the 90s.

Thursday, March 15, 2007
Sensations into Symbols, an article by Simon Ings on the visualisation of colour: 'Wolfgang Kohler's delightfully simple 1929 experiment asked volunteers to match a pair of abstract figures to one of two nonsense words, "maluma" and "takete". Immediately, and virtually without exception, people matched maluma to the soft round figure and takete to the sharply angular one. Some sort of shared symbolism related the sounds to the shapes.' Does 'soft and round' make you think of a Bison sausage? At least purports to 'celebrate the angular shape in whatever way we may seem fit'. The subject continues to fascinate.

There really isn't much to recommend about Rafael Vinoly's 'Walkie Talkie' tower, an unwieldy top-heavy structure that looms, rather than soars, over the skyline. Perhaps because of its much-vaunted sky garden - a space that will allegedly be open to all and sundry, CABE appear to be backing it to the hilt / New Mecca, Pruned on the Las Vegasisation of one of the world's holiest places. The site will be dominated by the Abraj al Bait mall and hotel.

Tomorrow's technology today section. A timeline of hybrid vehicles / very clever stuff, interface design by Perceptive Pixel. You need a large area of wall / Helvetica, 'a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture' / 75 years of unusual car names / the Pong Picture Page / music and photos and graphics are promised at Shift_4ward / Kazakh Portraits by Stefan Ruiz at

Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Will Self on the antipathy, opprobrium and sheer revulsion generated by South London: 'To this day, it's quite common to hear some blinkered twerp at a Primrose Hill drinks party, proclaim: "Oh, I never go south of the River ..." as if the Thames were the edge of the map, and they feared falling into Aeolus' mouth.'

From yesterday's comment(s), a suggestion by Michael Daines: check out the patterns created by Ray Fenwick: 'Who doesn't like patterns? I'll tell you who: bad people with foul hate in their hearts' /, linked via Ephemera. The site is run by the fantastically named couple Eddie Edwards and Peter Peckham.

Linked everywhere, but still worth noting, The Big Brother State, an animation by Hues for Alice / a quasi-ironic link to a small personal device that includes GPS and the ability to slave away at Office documents wherever you, whenever; Great Pockets, a slick piece of web PR for the Nokia N95

Subtraction, a weblog by Khoi Vinh. Beautiful little sketches of Parisians and musings on urban usability, amongst other thing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Occasionally a new building concept comes along that threatens to undermine satire and social comment, and moves the bar further up for architectural commentators, urban theorists, novelists and satirists. The Pentominium is the unashamedly Ballardian name for a new residential tower in Dubai Marina. The enthusiasm for building tall places to live ebbs and flows, and even in the UK the skyscraper is on an upward curve. But the self-contained mega-city has, for various reasons, never really caught on, even amongst the very rich.

Pentominium obviously promises to be different. For a start, it's enormous; at a proposed height of 510m the tower would be the world's tallest, if it wasn't for the nearby Burj Dubai, currently racing up towards an unspecified height. One will be able to live in the Burj, of course (giving you the perfect opportunity to 'Photograph the breathtaking migration of peregrine falcons'), but the Pentominium has a more menacing name, more absurdly extravagant extras (deals have been signed with the likes of Rolls-Royce, Bang & Olufsen, Tiffany & Co, Quintessentially and several other purveyors of 'essential' services to the excessively wealthy) and a general, inevitable, air of hubris. What else can one say about a building where 'all public areas will be crystallized by Swarovski'?

The inevitable comparison to make is with Ballard's novel High Rise, 'an isolation tank for 2,000 people' that eventually boils over. Ballard's 1,000-apartment complex is presided over by its architect, Anthony Royal, swanning about in his top floor penthouse, with the inhabitants arranged below him in cascading tiers of social mobility and education. Lawlessness, when it comes, isn't from the ground up, but springs up in pockets of psychopathy, chaotic corridors that suggest the middle classes will be amongst the first to go feral when society's structures break down.

The building's concept (penthouse + condominium, you see) means that each apartment spans an entire floor, meaning that chance meetings with the other occupants, save in the blinding lobby areas, are out of the question. What does 6,450 square feet of living space look like? Plenty of space to swing a cat, and at 941 square feet the master suite is only marginally smaller than our house. And yet the potential for small events slowly spirally into enormous chaos are immense. Imagine an air-conditioning failure in the Pentominium. Or a political crisis that isolates its wealthy residents from the rest of the world. Or perhaps it's simply a case of a structure doubly isolated, once by the marina and once by its exceptional height. The spectre of a layered city - the rich in their light-filled penthouses, the poor in the dark, festering, sunless alleys formed between the megastructures, creeps ever closer. See this gallery of Mega City One architecture, taken from the disappointing 1995 Judge Dredd film (and obtained with great difficulty for a book which didn't actually include them).


Other things. An animated analysis of the old and new Audi TT / Quipsologies, which 'corrals the most relevant on- and off-line bits that pertain to the design community', such as Swiss Graphic Design History flickr set and The Essential DADA.

come in, go away, at the designboom weblog / the farce that is the British railways system / San Francisco in Insurance Maps / Modern Mechanix, yesterday's tomorrow, today / like this Saab Aero X concept microsite - drag the slider / are we heading towards a cashless society?

Edward Burtynsky's Oxford Tire Pile #8, 1999, hosted by Aeroplastics, found at Candyland. Related, Idea of making reef from tires backfires / Toby Litt interviews J.G.Ballard / The Perpetual Three-Dot Column / the website of Chris Nakashima-Brown.

Friday, March 09, 2007

What is the New Decoration? Imagine a post post-modern world where pattern has long since lost its modernist-derived association with guilt and lack of progress. Bookshops heave with titles that chronicle a new explosion in decorated surfaces, pattern-making for pattern-making's sake. Patterns in Design, Art and Architecture (more images) is but the tip of an iceberg, delicately covered in elaborate tracery.

Now that pattern is no longer anathema to technology or progress - witness Nokia's Cath Kidston range, or the experimental work produced by Swarovski in partnership with name designers, for example - we can start to decode what it actually means in the context of modern visual culture. New pattern is intended to cloak technology with a veneer of humanism, swathing modernity with an ironic anachronism to symbolise how we have assimilated the most complex technology. The digital realm is one giant pattern book, an unending repository of source material that results in fresh appraisals of outdated forms; witness the fascination with the weight, texture and forms created by the letterpress, yet combine them with modern typography, colours and attitude.

The explicitly technological processes of someone like Tord Boontje, who has worked for Target and Habitat, has driven pattern into the mainstream, associating decoration with design, a state of affairs that would have been heresy to the early modernists.

So is the Exploded Rococo of contemporary design here to say? Will a relatively traditional fabrics company like Osborne and Little (founded in 1968) continue to experience waves of interest? Weblogs like Oh Joy! trace the way the emerging New Decoration has crossed over into craft production. At the same time, computer code continues to spill over into aesthetics, generating patterns and textures once unimaginable.

Digital pattern isn't merely about cloaking or concealing technology, it's about expressing technology. This is especially visible in architecture, where the boundary between pattern and structure is blurring. Traditional applied pattern, like that used in Klein Dytham's Leaf Chapel in Japan, is being usurped by intense, computer-driven work such as that being created by Marc Fornes, whose The Very Many site demonstrates experiments in progress from his ongoing work at Zaha Hadid Architects on the Mediatheque de Pau in France. Ultimately, New Decoration is simply just an evolutionary stage of late modernism.


Other things. My basement Mac collection, a flickr set (via 2 modern / o povo e bom tipo, a visual weblog / Local Life, a weblog with photos / String Can Phone, an elegant but very occasional weblog / This is Bad Art by David Bradbury / Inkleaf Studio, art by Jesse R. Ewing / Split Screen, 'weblog dedicated to the art of the split screen and multi-layered visuals' (via me-fi projects) / Beerzie Boy, a weblog / artworks made with coloured paper / Lehmans make 'products for simple, self-sufficient living'.

The Kodak Coloramas, widescreen depictions of American values that once hung in Grand Central Station(via Beerzie Boy / Abandonia, old DOS games / this is a bit complex, so bear with us. Ignore the links on our September 30 2005 page about Dioramas in London and Paris and instead go to the Midley History of Photography for information on the Dioramas and Daguerreotypes and more.

Making comparisons between Google Earth and Windows Live Mapping: which one builds better cities? Google might have been first, but Microsoft is pouring resources into its product: Denver is a highly modelled city, but 'I estimated around 300 textured buildings for Google Earth, compared with 6,657 in Virtual Earth'. London is still a barren desert in Microsoft's world, though / love this: google map icons in the real world / along similar lines, make someone warm and fuzzy with a global collaborative art projects that's very easy to take part in / one city that has a bulked-up Google Earth presence is Berlin. Click to enter 3D Berlin.

The Complete Works of Charles Darwin, which now includes Emma Darwin's Diaries, 1824-1896 / fastacting, a weblog / when Jedis go bad, via aptbroadcast / big collection of packaging design at the Cool Hunter / The Museum of Kitschy Knits, via hemmungen, a weblog / the Rare Book Room, via do. Example, Zoology of the Beagle.

Images of Porto / re:act / reallyarchitecture, 'a visionary youth group investigating Architecture in Singapore, Asia and beyond.' Includes this link to the epic and threatened Pearlbank apartment complex / George Barber's Automotive Action Painting at Single Shot / work/space, a weblog.

Thursday, March 08, 2007
Other things. Soups for Invalids, some of the recipes in Le Menagier de Paris, a cookbook compiled in around 1393 (1846 facsimile online). Originally found via The History of Food. Linked sites include Feeding America, 'The Historic American Cookbook Project', and the Mass Historia blog, which focuses on 'living history'. See also the Gentleman's Page, 'a resource for those who wish to look and act like; or perhaps better understand, the 19th Century American man'. From Feeding America, the 1896 Manual for Army Cooks. 'Men should never eat heartily just before a great undertaking, because the nervous power is irresistibly drawn to the stomach to manage the food eaten, thus draining off that supply which the brain and muscles so much need.'

Russian Climbing, some more of that acrobatic urban exploration type stuff, at Shamash Says, via Sherry Chandler / Fitacola, visual culture blog / neat animation of urban/suburban conditions at City Comforts / beautiful collages by Julien Pacaud / Bibliophile Bullpen, a book blog, which includes a link to flickr's Secondhand bookshop pool.

Re-live that Apollo splash-down moment in the Capsule Hotel, The Hague (via Archispass, thanks Paul). Archispass also links to this Wooster Collective piece on New York's stranded biplane (previously mentioned), with some rather excellent pictures by Phil Hollenback. The plane was the work of Rudolph de Harak.

A small commercial break: Nokia Presents: The Architectural Office of Tomorrow, at Life Without Buildings / many topics to browse through at Flat Rock / Mike.Whybark.Com, long time no visit / the same goes for the irrepressible Cyber Heritage / an absurd number of 4x4 links / photo-gallery of the Rolls-Royce factory / Made in China, a quilt made entirely of clothing labels.

Comics analysed for their medical accuracy: 'Continuing my series of medical annotations of Naoki Urasawa’s excellent manga Monster', at Polite Dissent / From the comments, a contender in the tasteless stakes; a site devoted to the Quinceañera portrait, 'a young woman's celebration of her fifteenth birthday' / airline meals from the olden days.

'FEMA has 8,420 brand new, fully furnished, never-used mobile homes in a cow pasture in Hope, Arkansas' (via tmn). They were there eight months ago too / something else to ponder: 'The UN expects the amount of e-waste generated worldwide every year to soon reach 40 million tons'.

Fulminate is a weblog concerned with charting the 'architectures of control', products that are 'designed with features that intentionally restrict the way the user can behave, or enforce certain modes of behaviour'. Lots of interesting links and posts, including a piece on Anti-user seating in Oxford, with a link to Japanese examples of Anti-homeless benches in Tokyo /

Fecal Face, music, illustration, photography, etc. / Vintage Projects, which aims 'to preserve the inspired DIY spirit of the past'. The small cars and go-kart sections are especially enticing. How many people made their own Merrymaker Snowmobile (pdf)? / the architectural history of Amsterdam.

James M Harrison is a sculptor, whose work includes an 'exploded wonder cabinet' on display at The Hospital in London, 'The Hands of Cantor' / Phantasmaphile, art, illustration, music and more, including a post charting a visit to Europe's more eclectic museums and locations.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

My eyes, my eyes. The Freedom of the Seas, the world's largest passenger ship and quite possibly the world's largest and most tasteless object. The temptation to re-read is A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (ten years old this year) is overwhelming (it's also a good excuse to link to Kevin Hulsey's demonstration of how to create a 640mb cruise ship illustration).

Floating architecture divides into two camps; the camp, and the strictly functional. There's an inordinate amount of overspill from the former into the latter, in the same way that a Hummer is a camp take on 'strictly functional'; hence the kind of Osgood Fielding III nautical aesthetic favoured by moneyed classes when they stray within a few metres of salt water.

Will the Freedom of the Seas ever get its own monograph? And if so, will it be quite as lavish as this? Superyacht is aimed squarely at a very tight niche; the walnut coffee tables of the world's biggest private boats: 'The whole unit comes housed is a specially-designed clam-shell Lucite case, fully-protected from water. The edition is limited to 1,000 numbered units globally'.

The publishers (previously responsible for a similarly epic book on the footballer Pele, Number 10 Shirt) are hoping for instant collectable status, the type of object that turns up at Simon Finch or R.A.Gekosi. In 'Catalogue of Concerns', James Fenton writes about ultra-rare books, and the tendency of the industry for cataloguing every scrap and minutae therein: 'A condolence letter from Virginia Woolf to Philip Morrell, on the death of Lady Ottoline ("I'm so glad you think I understood her - but she was a complex subject"), an excellent letter but "somewhat foxed", costs £2,750. What you would do with it I don't know. Donate it to the Museum of Tact, perhaps.'

My Abu Dhabi Adventure, by Frank Gehry, age 78 / the biro, a classic of everyday design / Leadholder, 'the online drafting pencil museum', complete with advertising archive / Dave's Mechanical Pencils / Roger Russell, a loudspeaker inventor, amongst other things, with a large collection of links about various makes of mystery clock and projection clock.

Play Infocom Adventures Online, found via haddock. 'There is a flathead screwdriver here', and other comforting words / 1981er, an 'art' magazine / Pixelives, a weblog and YouTube repository / the guardian arts blog / kottke on hypermiling, inspired by a recent article at Mother Jones.

Meanwhile, beneath the waves... (via Pink Tentacle) / an interview with Robert Klanten of Die Gestalten Verlag / time for a Robotic Ethical Charter? / tsunami notes, a weblog, via which we find this short history of maze games at Game Set Watch / welcome to Radio Peckham.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

After Benedict Radcliffe, linked a fortnight or so ago, some more wireframe art, this time the work of Thomas Raschke. (via La Petite Claudine) / designer Tom Carden (Random, etc.), is now at Stamen Design, which is still churning out incredible visualisations (like Trace, which illustrates the various wireless networks encountered on a series of walks around the city). Carden's post, The Curious Voyeur in all of us, includes images from the NYPD's blimp.

Melnikov Mania, via BLDG BLOG, which brings us to the Architectural Record's Project Blogs section, which contains all the usual suspects / a selection of images of Saturn, looking impossibly crisp.

'Marooned on a Mega Yacht', the story of the litigious boat owner Peter Halmos, a freak storm, pirates, insurance claims and $30m of boat sitting in shallow water, without any masts. (via Terryorisms).

A collection of FATE magazine covers (via Coudal) / the photography of Laura Noble, posted up at Clive James's website, reminded us to revisit Marshall Sokoloff's series 'Salt' at the TMN galleries.

Vintage Aeronautical Ephemera, amongst many other things, e.g. friend or foe? / Photographing Squirrels. Really. More / Books of the Russian Avant Garde.

Friday, March 02, 2007
Images of a Phnom Penh Garbage Pile, and the people who live on the Steung Meanchey Dump, sifting through the debris in search of a living. At primitivenerd's flickr site. The favela cluster is an instructive glimpse into a reality that this screen-based existence tends to deny.

More archival posts. As Phil Gyford notes, 'Anything pre-1990s, like Ted's photos, look twice as old when displayed on the web where everything is new': Old Photos 1968 - a photoset on Flickr / big collection of the USSR in Construction / peruse The Leisure Hour, 'An Illustrated Magazine for Home Reading', at Liam's Pictures from Old Books.

Design Observer recalls The Other Monocle / Ugliest Buildings in New York. Needs more pictures / Ballard cover art, a veritable avalanche of apocalyptical imagery. These two are our favourites.

Writings about Technology ca. 1400-ca. 1600 A.D. and their Cultural Implications, by Bert Hall. Related, if you have Windows Vista, that giant technological leap forward, you can access Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Arundel and Codex Leicester. There's a Shockwave Version for the rest of us.

Over at Slate, Witold Rybczynski revisits Seaside, A model town, 25 years later / the F Blog invites Peter de Ru to show his pictures from the port of Rotterdam / the website of the British Pyrotechnists Association / art by Isamu Noguchi.

A selection of images of those ageing construction workers, Einstürzende Neubaten, revisiting the stage at London's ICA. You can listen too (ram). This morning's Today programme was chock-full of things. Hitchens vs Amis (listen). Russian Sky Maps (listen). More information over at the Landmark Information Group, and see the maps at Envirocheck. See also Soviet Military Maps of Britain.