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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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Tuesday, November 27, 2007


There has been an explosion in visual weblogs. Does this indicate that there is a corresponding increase in the amount of creative work, or is it just that more and more of this work is making it onto the internet, being collated and offered up for perusal? The common thread that binds these weblogs together is the single arresting image, be it a film still, flickr pic, piece of scanned ephemera or fragment of corporate identity or brochure. These are the new cultural hooks, one shot slices of instant visual gratification that get lodged in the brain, ultimately persuading you that somehow you have seen everything before and yet it all remains strangely new.

Some examples. Viewers Like You, which links to Jonathan Keller's Sign Language Matchbooks / The Errant Aesthete, branding, interiors, that sort of thing / Smogr, a tumbling, image log type of thing / Bruno Bergher's design and code-centric weblog / Bobby Sattler's visual weblog / Today and Tomorrow, a weblog / Lullabulle, French fashion weblog / Andy Bosselman's design-centric weblog / Notcot, page after page of creative projects, distilled down into a single, arresting image / Publication Design, a weblog / Bloesem, craft and art / old school car navigation system by Honda / Made by Blog / Pan-Dan, more stuff stuff stuff. The 'modernist project' seems to have evolved into a generator of enormous quantities of elegant, but largely superfluous, objects.

These modern compendiums are catalogues of contemporary culture, just as the Great Exhibition was a snapshot of mid-C19 century manufacturing excess. The Great Exhibition saw a deluge of things, many of which were just as flippant and superfluous as the flotsam of today's consumer overload. The Exhibition celebrated the taste of the era, capturing the point at which high Victorian style boiled over completely into orgiastic whimsy. If you don't believe us, check out Artserve, a site at the Australian National University, which has pages and pages and pages of GE exhibits, hastily scanned but retaining all their ornate complexity, displayed by exhibitor, medium, and type.

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The idea of a building as logotyope is something that occasionally comes up here, whether it's Detani Colain's font Utopia (inspired by the graphic silhouettes of the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer) or the sheer ubiquity of images of 30 St Mary Axe as visual shorthand for the City of London. Brand New delves into the neat self-generating identity created by Stefan Sagmeister for the Casa da Musica in Porto. Sagmeister uses OMA's faceted yet graphic architectural elevations as a means of spawning a set of icons that can be applied to just about any situation. Will the Beijing CCTV building be used in a similar way? Somehow, we doubt it.

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Developer ordered to rebuild flattened Goldfinger cottage / IZO, all about the Russian art scene / Lumas, art photography / Some Paintings, the website of artists Alex Kanevsky and Hollis Heichemer. The pages chronicling the progress of his paintings are especially interesting / illustrations by Mattias Inks. His cities are especially intriguing / Explore Laboratory, architecture students, tech and trends from the University of Delft.

Created in Birmingham, tracking creativity in the city / prints for sale at Bellagraphica / refined and atmospheric photography by scotchpenicillin / The Self Divider, a thoughtful weblog about life and literature / Arts Blog, a collection of Italian projects / Dan Hill on wind power, and the visual and aural impact of installing turbines in the urban environment / search through old UK phone books on line / a set of battery hacks (the first one is a hoax).


Monday, November 26, 2007
It's satisfying to learn that cities still harbour secrets. The internet has proved a veritable treasure trove of information about underground spaces, be they drains, nuclear installations, submarine bases, seed vaults, underground cities, or subterranea britannica. The cataphile's city is one of perpetual shade, never happier than when skulking around in the shadows, effecting their plan without anyone really realising they're there.

This is a romantic notion, one enhanced by the existence of catacombs, tunnels and mysterious long-lost spaces beneath our feet. In a city like Paris, with its well-known subterranean world, it should perhaps come as no surprise to learn of the existence of a secret society dedicated to 'good' deeds, as opposed to an organisation devoted to underground evil. The story of the Untergunther is a curious one. Owners of a smart-looking website, their story appears to have leaked out over a number of years (here in The Times, then yesterday in the Guardian), when a court ruled that their latest achievement was not a crime.

On the contrary, it was a reverse crime. For the Untergunther, a sub-group of the larger UX, are secret restorers, sneaking in to fix up the abandoned and bureaucratically smothered structures that just need a little care and attention. From the Guardian: 'Undercover restorers fix Paris landmark's clock'. From the story: 'Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s.' We're too slow to beat me-fi to the story.

Les UX were also responsible for the strange underground cinema discovered last year: 'In a secret Paris cavern, the real underground cinema' (via this me-fi post). The Pantheon project is on a different level altogether, a precision slice through one of the city's most famous - and architecturally dense - landmarks. Increasingly, the mysterious spaces of the future will be up in the sky, the penthouses and terraces that are off-limits to everyone but the urban elite. Navigating these without discovery will be altogether more difficult.

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JoyceImages, 'dedicated to illustrating Ulysses using period documents' / the Print is dead blog / Midcentury Modernist / IKEAfans, when you need to resurrect that flatpack, via haddock / the concert ticket generator / ABD ('all but the dissertation'), a weblog / Robosexual, an excellent mp3 blog, via this 'ultimat e stoner playlist' question / my reading diary, a weblog / Half Life 2 in Toronto, via RPS / Online merchants worth ordering from.

Catching up with BLDGBLOG, Mobile Minimalism ('Let me say right away, though, that I know a lot of people are tired of shipping container architecture...', although Geoff's not) and Climate Change Escapism, rendering the drowned/scorched earth of two decades hence / a note on the sale of QinetiQ, the privatised arm of the former UK government research agency DERA. It worked out well for some: 'The top ten executives in the business made £200 for every £1 of their own cash they invested in the business. Sir John Chisholm, Qinetiq’s chairman, turned £130,000 into £26m; Graham Love, the chief executive, scooped £21m from £110,000.'

Chrome Waves on The Brit Box, Rhino Records' patchy, over-packaged set of discs covering the most memorable tunes from late twentieth century British music. See also this Village Voice article and more (with video links) at Popmatters / scary monsters / the crumbling villas of Prague / fashion ad campaigns collated at Calikartel magazine / Oorei!, a design blog / vocational fancy dress for children at The Toy Factory, including, horrors, suffragette, barrister and architect.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Hyper-dense urbanism versus wide open spaces. Roadless Space Uneven Across U.S.: 'In the continental United States, roads are never more than a reassuring 22 miles away.' The National Roadless Map, shown above, uses blue to represent counties with low per-capita 'RV' (roadless volume). Road maps are like artery diagrams, a two-dimensional depiction of flow. This original 1957 map of the Interstate and Defense Highways system (at Steve Alpert's Roads page, which includes his interchange drawings) shows the main arteries; the tens of thousands of smaller routes are almost impossible to depict all at once.

But what if roads were in three dimensions, not two? The highway interchange is the closest we get to layering transportation, and although these can get pretty complex, they're usually clustered at key nodes. In dense cities, stacking transport interchanges isn't really an option. Future city projections have traditionally taken transportation into three dimensions. Eugene Henard's Cities of the Future, a paper given in 1910 (and reproduced on John W.Reps' Urban Planning 1794-1918 site), suggested layering cityscapes, using elaborate cross-sections to show how space could be increased if transport and services were stacked. According to Henard, 'all the evil [of today's city] arises from the old traditional idea that "the bottom of the road must be on a level with the ground in its original condition." But there is nothing to justify such an erroneous view'.

Central to Henard's vision was the widespread adoption of the cement flat roof (a good decade before it became a key feature of the emerging Modernism): 'With all the varied advantages which the employment of armoured cement offers, the covering-in of our houses with a level platform has become a simple matter, and this platform could be planted with small flower gardens or adorned with verdure clad trellises.' This would, he felt, be a perfect stepping stone to an inevitable technical development: 'But a still more important function to be performed by these terraces is that in the near future they will be used as landing stages for aeroplanes. We have not as yet arrived at that point because up to the present the aviator has not gained sufficient mastery over his machine: but as man has at length succeeded in imitating the flight of the bird it is by no means improbable that he will eventually succeed in imitating the flight of the insect.'

It was a fantasy ahead of its time (influenced, in part, by H.G.Wells' The War in the Air, with its airships and bird-like contraptions. Wells much of the distinction between European machines and their Eastern equivalents, described as 'strange steeds [that] the engineering of Europe had begotten upon the artistic inspiration of Japan, came a long string of Asiatic swordsman. The wings flapped jerkily, click, block, clitter clock...'). Henard's vision encompassed architecture, too, as he imaged how cities would have to erect towers, up to 500m tall, for navigation purposes (he cited the importance of church spires to the early aerial navigators).

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Suffice to say that the dream of the three-dimensional city is still very much alive. In their new book, Skycar City, Dutch architecture firm MVRDV, together with students from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning, propose a 'pre-emptive history,' an attempt to define how the metropolis of tomorrow would appear if, and it's a big if, the technological dream of the flying car was finally mastered. Splicing a timeline of emerging (if perpetually stalling) technologies like the Moller Skycar, with the science fiction visions of Syd Mead, George Lucas, Fritz Lang, etc. etc., the team behind the book posit a future of vertical construction around the giant tubes formed by the aerial routes, along which semi-automated craft zip relentlessly, from tiny sky bikes and sky Vespas, up to larger vehicles. Envisioning new typologies for everything from parking garages (below) to stadiums, the team's work is an experiment to see how far transportation can go towards shaping architecture.



MVRDV are adept at mixing theory with practice. Without compromising the quality of their built work, the firm has published several monographs and stand-alone projects (like Container City, 2002) that explore the role of density in modern life, and potential - often highly politically charged or deadpan ironic - methods of abating the crisis of space, like the vertical Pig City, or the cantilevered WOZOCO housing, or even the stacked landscape of their EXPO 2000 pavilion, a 'mini-ecosystem' that 'saves space, energy, time, water and infrastructure.'

On one level, Skycar City is a supreme piece of informed science fiction, an extrapolation of what we would do to embrace a seductive piece of imagined technology. On the other hand, it's also a way of trying to arrive at a place that already exists in our imaginations; the sci-fi metropolis with its swarming skies and three-dimensional, roller-coaster streets. These are cities familiar from Metropolis, Blade Runner, and The Fifth Element, by artists like Eric Hanson, carefully built up using models and now digital models, with the future literally pasted over the past. Skycar City envisions a world that will be shaped by modernity's accretions, leaving the original architecture beneath a 'city of canyons and a look of coral'. In this vision, there is no chance of being located away from the road, for within access to the transport network, you are stuck in one place, embedded in perpetual transportation. That which does not move, dies:

'Year 2210: The parts of the city that atrophy in darkness and isolation eventually fall into ruin; this includes most of the ancient 20th century structures holding onto addresses at ground level. Quality of life still dominates the city's organization: what was dark or decaying is discarded, and space not served directly by skycars is abandoned.'



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Some other things. Stephen Zacks has an extensive story on Dubai in the current issue of Metropolis, entitled 'Beyond the Spectacle', in which he implies that New York will be considered an antique city in a century's time, 'a place to visit for the sake of nostalgia... .somehow like how we think of Paris.' Its place will be taken by Dubai, where some 310 billion dollars has been spent on construction in ten years. A place of social, political and architectural hybridity, where Western firms can indulge their computer-generated fantasies and a veneer of liberalism cloaks an oppressive state.

Curbed snoops around the Richard Meier-designed penthouse at 176 Perry Street, 40 million dollars of real estate. Little more than an urban version of Meier's earlier Douglas House, with pine trees replaced by the urban landscape / the village of Sipson, inconveniently placed in the pathway of Heathrow's proposed third runway / more 'heat maps,' (or rather, Death Maps) this time showing 'choke points' in Half Life 2 levels where the most players meet their doom (via kottke).

Chinese Star Wars, a 'web site for global Chinese fans of Star Wars' / that's one giant printer, via k / flickleech, via Rasmus Broennum's architecture weblog / The Classic Rock Realm of Ferro-Cement, the link between organic architecture and prog rock, with plenty of pictures / 'The Firm', a series by photographer Jocelyn Bain Hogg / yesterday was No Music Day. Can we get a bit more warning next year?

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007
James Bond is My Neighbour: Suburban Imagery as Industry, Strange Harvest on plans to expand Pinewood Studios into an hybrid inhabited workspace, Project Pinewood. The green-belt development includes 'an estimated 2000 residential units' which will 'range in style and economic character to compliment the showcase of the 18 to 20 film zones.' (Amsterdam, Venice, Lake Como, Medieval Castle, Roman Amphitheatre, Vienna/Prague (so interchangeable in real life), Chinatown, Boston (one area for both), Chicago suburb, Downtown New York and, bizarrely, 'British Suburb'. Sam describes suburbs as 'synthesised environments', and these ready-made sets are the ultimate example of the fantasy inherent in suburbia. Perhaps the TV sitcom is ultimate aspirational community, peopled by minor celebs, endless comic incidents and your very own theme tune.

There's also the combination of decidedly non-suburban imagery with genuine exoticism. Most of these locations are clearly designed to be strongly reminiscent of Bond movie backdrops; simply consult the two James Bond flowcharts we linked to earlier, drop in your cityscape and you're off. The explicit link with film - and history - allies the scheme with the many Far Eastern 'heritage theme parks', like Thames Town in China, or Japan's Shakespeare Country Park. Authenticity is for losers. What better way to celebrate the inherently ersatz quality of modern life than to live in a film studio?

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A Brief History of Outsourcing. Not very illuminating. Outsourcing was once a largely political concept (as outlined in this SocietyGuardian article, A History of Outsourcing, which explains how Conservative policies in the 1980s set the scene for offloading public survice provision onto private companies, an idea taken up with enthusiasm by the subsequent Labour government). But as the disparity between labour markets yawned wider and wider, and the communications networks were in place to exploit these discrepancies, it is now considerably cheaper to off-load tasks on the other side of the planet to take advantage of low cost and time-zone shifting.

Call centres are now key places of employment in developing countries ('why go offshore?'), with their own culture and social structures. See this account of Working life, interviews and leaflets in Delhi's call centre cluster, 2006, which notes that 'In many cases a nineteen year old call centre worker, e.g. daughter of a university professor or hospital doctor would earn more than her father.' The so-called 'Gurgaon Call Centre Cluster' (or 'Special Exploitation Zone', according to the Gurgaon Workers News) is where up to 200,00 people work for numerous international companies. 'The experiences of the new proletarianised middle class generation are characterised by a call centre job straight after school or university, the night shifts, the technological control and general pressure, the shared flats, the purchasing power, the expensive food in the neighbouring shopping malls, the long hours in cabs, the frequent job changes, the more open gender relations at work, the burn out, the difficulty to keep the perspective of an academic career or to find jobs as academics.'

Perhaps buoyed by the success of these out-of-sight, out-of-mind armies of disembodied voices, their time zones and small talk shifted so as not to arouse suspicions, the movers and shakers of the developed world are busy trying to find new things to off-load. These days there are few labour-intensive processes that can't be fobbed off to low wage nations - CAD, transcriptions, web coding, general admin, etc (even, allegedly, torture). The personal assistant is the latest role to be taken 'off site.' Back in the early online days (September 1998), outsourcing domestic help was a distinctly personal experience - tasks were handled by someone you actually saw ('Companies Are Busy Helping Those Who Are Busier', September 1998). Today, the 'Personal Assistants [are] on Call, Just Not in the Next Office' (November 2007), a new type of call centre is arriving, with people at your beck and call at the end of a phoneline.

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Walmart, spreading like a virus, an animation / The Human Calendar, reminds us of the The Industorious Clock (sic) / The Laptop Club. Back in our day, our fantasy card and paper constructions were robots, not word processors / Dear Rockers, send five bucks to a musician you've wronged through file sharing, etc. (via projects) / Beef Cut Chart (via David Thompson).

Build a Sikorsky R-4 from card / a gallery of the TSR2, one of the great technological white elephants of British industrial culture (full story here), along with Blue Streak (tested on the Isle of Wight) and the Advanced Passenger Train / recreate the work of the Wright Brothers / Aerial Russia: The Romance of the Giant Aeroplane / Flight thru Instruments, a beautifully presented pilot training manual from 1945, scanned and posted by Telstar Logistics.

In honour of Amazon's clunky Kindle, read about the Center for the Book at the University of Iowa, an education centre that has a store where you can buy limited edition, hand bound books. See also the Center for Book Arts for limited editions / a dress a day / the world's highest fountain, evaporating into the hot desert air in Jeddah.


Sunday, November 18, 2007
We like this Simplified Map of London / in a minute ago, a weblog (thanks for the link) / Navigating in the 1980s, an Autocar article from 28 June 1980 on a prototype car navigation system from Blaupunkt (the basic principles of which live on in the idea of the Intelligent Transport Systems still being mooted by various authorities).

great image / aurgasm, mp3s and more / pardon my freedom, mp3s French style / magpie and cake, a craft blog / BB Log, links and things / (there's a slight case of the same things going round and round and round on all these sites, present company included, but never mind) / photobooths in pop, thanks to Master Mixup. Related flickr pools: PhotoBooth and Photobooth Friday.

A set of connections, via kottke, 'Taking pictures of taking pictures', Sippey on the use of flickr as a means of decoding the cultural zeitgeist, i.e. whose shooting what, a concept sometimes described as folksonomy. Flickr recently hit 2 billion mark. That took about 3 and half years. At this rate, there'll be a photo for every person on the planet some time in 2010.

Also via k, which is on a bit of a roll right now, a selection of 2007's best book covers at the Book Design Review / snow flakes + tea leaves, a weblog / art by Sarah Blayblock / the engineering of emotion, at Interactive Architecture.

Walking the Tightrope of Workspace Decor, quoting Sam Gosling's 'Snoop: The Secret Language of Stuff.' / i like helps you sort out Christmas / a new project by Mark Luthringer (previously), 40 Monuments to Progress (via Art is Everywhere) / we like delugan meissl's alphabet.

Sometimes the simplest ideas fail to make much headway. The United Bottle concept, developed by Instant Architects, builds on the idea of the Heineken WOBO, or 'World Bottle'; a glass container that, once its contents were finished, could be used as a form of building brick, with an interlocking design that allowed it to form structural walls. Victor Papanek praised the WOBO back in the 70s, as did the great Martin Pawley in his book 'Garbage Housing' (the contents of which are explored at Let's Remake in this pdf, 'The Library of Radiant Optimism'). See also this inhabitat piece, WOBO, the brick that holds beer.

Digital Tampering in the Media, Politics and Law. We like the rare tiger best / Trademarking History, who owns the rights to WWII aeroplane models? (via rock, paper, shotgun) / Photo-Eye, explore galleries by format and much more / Henry Sotheran sells beautiful books / dcolores.net, a photography magazine.


Thursday, November 15, 2007


The work of Karl Hans Janke, troubled visionary: 'Even in the psychiatric department in the romantic Hubertusburg near Leipzig a man is thinking in such a way : Karl Hans Janke, a patient with unquestionable technical talent, sees himself as an artist and a technical designer. From 1948 until his death in 1988 he created about 4.000 works – for instance paintings and models of strange spaceships,' part Stanford Torus, part Dan Dare. An entire book on Janke's work (in German) is available here (pdf).

These were the imagined aerial behemoths of the future, atomic power in the air (at Fabio Femino's expansive website) / a selection of skinny Japanese houses at eye candy / amazing urban landscapes used as background art in the film Tekkon Kinkreet / Rudy Burckhardt's Maine, photographs / a selection of Braun electronics / a new way of cook ing the books / a set of abandoned swimming pools / art by Gigi Scaria.

London Smog, a weblog / Slack-a-Gogo, a weblog / fallslikesnow, a weblog (thanks) / the Librarians' Internet Index / doombot, a weblog / Japanese kids learn about Corb, at Atelier A+D / the iPhone-optimized Japanese-English Dictionary at U.S.Knitting. Thoughts on the iPhone? (only lately arrived on these shores) It's beautiful, tactile and utterly seductive, and makes the Nokia N95 feel like a galumphing clod of earth. And yet. It's really not there yet.



Live mp3s available at The Ultimate Bootleg Experience / work in progress at Archikubik, including today's cover image but larger. See also the Window Seat Europe book and how to take pictures from your window seat / Polaroid Transfers and Emulsion Lifts by photographer Hilary Hitchcock, via Bouphonia / automatism, a weblog / CubeMe, a weblog tracking the deluge of proto-modern design, flooding across the networks / a bit more on Mark Power's photo essay 26 Different Endings, at the geographical limits of London's A-Z.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007


The Stir-Lec 1 was an Electric car that makes its own electricity. A General Motors concept study, this Opel Kadett had an early hybrid drive: electrically-driven wheels with batteries charged by a Stirling Engine (model versions here. Even Dean Kamen is getting into the technology). A short history of hybrids. According to commentators, the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is far more of a solution than a plain old 'mild' hybrid, or even fancy dalliances with biofuels or hydrogen. We still miss the Ford Nucleon, the world's first (and only) nuclear-powered concept car. From Ford's site: 'The model featured a power capsule suspended between twin booms at the rear. The capsule, which would contain a radioactive core for motive power, would be easily interchangeable at the driver's option, according to performance needs and the distance to be traveled.'

If that sounded optimistic, consider the dream of Atomic powered flight that was tinkered with back in the mid 1940s, including 'the "sky-train" design, in which conventional airplanes used their engines only during takeoff and landing and were towed like gliders most of the way by immense nuclear planes that stayed aloft for weeks at a time, cruising the major air routes.' What was termed the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion Programme (13.5mb PDF, hosted by the Federation of American Scientists) was hugely ambitious, and mind-bendingly expensive. Total cost of the 'Manned ANP program', which ran from 1946 through to 1961 were 1,040,355,000 dollars (page 110 of the pdf). Equivalent to 5.6 billion dollars today (related, names of large numbers at wikipedia / convert numbers into words). This page at Radiationworks puts the total cost at 7 billion dollars, noting that 'no aircraft ever flew under nuclear power.' However, the testbed, a converted B-36 bomber, bore a three mega-watt reactor. The plane had 'a 12 ton lead and rubber shielded crew compartment with 10-12 inch thick leaded-glass windows. Water pockets in the fuselage and behind the crew compartment also absorbed radiation.'

We might scoff at the apparent futility of these ventures, but at the time the potential of the atom lent itself to these globe-shrinking conceptual ideas, a world of floating cities, airborne colonies and perpetual, pollution-free travel. The popular steampunk genre (which we don't profess to know anything about) might conceivably be supplanted by something called atomicpunk, or such like. The fictional scope of a 50s or 60s-era world of perpetual, limitless energy evokes the relentless honing of planned obsolescence, the push-buttonisation of practically everything and the development of a listless class of atomic-powered global leisure-seekers. In short, you have something approaching the fantasies of a very real sector of self-alienated, ultra-wealthy consumer.

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The nascent vintage industry pool, via scrubbles, which also has the Syd Mead Project / Paris Changing, with Christopher Rauschenberg re-visiting the images of Eugene Atget (at tmn) / the museum drawing project, daily experiences of Pittsburgh museums. A project by Elizabeth Perry. See also her daily sketch site woolgathering.

Croydon gets the Alsop treatment. More images. Meanwhile, in Ian Martin's alternate reality, '[Alsop's] portfolio demonstrates how powerful a force Conservative Fabianism can be. Nearly every Tuscan hill town has been retrofitted to look like Doncaster, and the Alsop philosophy — life’s too short for anything fancier than two-up, two-down with a pitched roof — informs policymakers across Europe.'

BuzzImage is an FX house. A few making of showreels / Mr Magazine, on periodicals / Brand New, on corporate identity / a map of New Brainland, for the cover of Neuron magazine (via mymarkup) / Indy and Ink, 'the international society of independent publishers'. And there's a blog / The Canadian Design Resource, including an Expo 67 category (via ffffound).

Geoff in the Los Angeles Times, BLDG BLOG makes another stride forward into the big time. Check the current post on Bannerman's Island to see why / Zetetic Scholars, 'a fabulous time capsule of rejected knowledge' created by the late Marcello Truzzi in the 60s and 70s, focusing on the realities behind the paranormal phenomena that seemed to infuse those decades (via Strange Attractor).

Dreams of Flying, a photo series by the occasionally nsfw Jan von Holleben / inside Nissan's archive / the paper art of Helen Musselwhite / the Animated Gif Appreciation Society. Soon a preservation society will be needed for these disappearing objects / Voyages Extraordinaires, for those attracted to 'Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances and Retro-Futurism, Victoriana and Neo-Victorianism, Voyages Extraordinaires and Imperialist Adventure' and more.

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Monday, November 12, 2007


Have we lost all sense of proportion? There is no shortage of visual inspiration out there online. Search flickr with a few favourite keywords or search an emerging site like ffffound and you're presented with a cascade of visuals, neatly sifted and sorted, refined electronically to one's own once-esoteric taste. But while these little 800x600 (max) parcels of pixels offer an accurate, if low resolution, portrayal of people, places and things, conventional media is engaging in a slow process of distortion.

Aspect ratios have been established for over a century, but the arrival of widescreen and digital TV has done away with the default application of standards. Television images are crushed and stretched, faces flattened, cars stretched, every object subjected to a level of catastrophic visual distortion in order to maximise the picture to the available screen size. For most people this is not immediately noticeable (although some find it annoying) and so it is accepted. Slowly but surely, we are losing our ability to discern between 'good' and 'bad' proportions.

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Strange Harvest on In the Night Garden: 'Just as Alison Smithson could see nascent Arts and Crafts and proto-Modernism in Mrs Tigglewinkle's house, or Paolozzi could see the collapse of armature in Mickey's hollow frame, perhaps In the Night Garden reveals nostalgia as the prime subject of contemporary culture.' Parse that. Actually, ITNG plays heavily on the concept of scale and place, just as the Teletubbies did, only now the computer animation is far more seamless. The use of vivid colours and differing scales mean you're never quite sure what is real and what is not, effectively transporting you into a similar state of confusion as your child ('... the last residue of the English Landscape tradition - Capability Brown made over by Shigeru Miyamoto').

Jacob notes the show's undeniably melancholic air, starting with the nearly tear inducing theme music, and through to its canny way of combining novelty with nostalgia, with a character-list that includes 'descendants of the entire gene pool of children's TV'. Ultimately, he posits, nostalgia could become our dominant state of mind, an addictive substitute for love that is fueled by new technology.

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Table of Malcontents, a Wired blog / the Trains of Turkey / Ruins in Japan (via) / Learning Space, the Open University's free online resource / design and illustration by Luke Knight / Morf, a magazine for design / the Steve Reich website / the highly stylised (and frequently nsfw) photography of Erwin Olaf / Tip of the Quill, a web journal by Geoffrey Long / panoramas by John Law.

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Friday, November 09, 2007


'The Bottom Line - It's all about Data', DDE on the ever-evolving Open Street Map. Thanks to a tireless comparison at RefNum, OSM is found to be far more accurate than Google Maps: 'examining the road network shows 89 "errors" in Google Maps'. As ever, it's the data gathered on the way that's the most fascinating: the flickr set is a treasure trove for lovers of English street sign typography.

After yesterday's post, let this be the 20th use of the word 'papbot' on the internet. Previously associated with this paper automaton / a history of the London Docklands Development Corporation / human tetris. In Japan, of course / Buzzword, meet word perhect.

The end of Electrelane. Sad / My Bloody Valentine restart? / the Halloween Horrors of architecture / On Her Majesty's Postal Service, i like on Bond stamps and Pan paperback covers / related, two James Bond flowcharts, via Isegoria: opening sequence and Overview.

Our Champion, Clay Risen on Herbert Muschamp, occasional lapses in judgement, reflecting badly on all of us and how media works in the late 20th and 21st centuries. 'But in elevating an underwear ad to the plane of great art, Muschamp seemed to be flattening everything cultural into the consumable - morality and society had no place in a worldview that judged everything by its ability to deliver instant, though momentary, gratification.'

Related, the end of Stylus Magazine - Noise into Music explains why sites like Last.fm 'promote mediocrity': 'Why read 600 words about why you might or might not adore a record when you can get given a list of records you almost certainly will quite like for nothing, everyday? And that's the thing about downloading, about free music; everything is worth a listen if it costs you nothing.'

We have similar feelings about the advent of new online technologies as well. things is powered by blogger but every page apart from the weblog is hand-coded in notepad. It takes ages. It's the modern equivalent of using hot lead type and it has its limitations. We got as far as setting up css, but that was a few years ago now. Any advice for how to make this site a little more, well, contemporary?

The internet feels a little overloaded today. First Blogger starting to crumble under its own weight (as noted here, here, here, here, and here), then Yahoo mail buckled and stopped.


Thursday, November 08, 2007


If we were in charge of administering black budgets and ultra-secret projects, the current state of the world would offer enormous comfort. Rumour and speculation are rife in the 30 billion dollar world of covert technology, the likes and capacity of which we can only begin to imagine. But our imagination is the problem. Click past the respectable windows into the dark world of covertly funded projects, like the insight offered by the Federation of American Scientists, for example, and it's easy to lose track of what's real, what's imagined, what's proposed, projected or merely the paranoid ramblings of people who believe they're being kept in the dark. The whole black helicopter phenomenon is little more than a manifestation of collective uncertainty, a useful, if nebulous, thing to point the trembling finger at.

So when stories titled 'Are We Being Watched by Flying Robot Insects? enter the public realm (even in the Washington Post), they are received with a tone of scepticism, tinged with a bit of gee-whiz speculation (via Never mind the Black Helicopters, look out for the Dragonflies, where the mood is appalled, unsurprised and generally disdainful). Sure, the technology and the theory exists, but it's the applications that unsettle. A recent issue of Professional Engineering (Vol:20 Issue:16, subscription required) carried the story 'Spy copter debut passes over heads of festival-goers', quietly noting how police trialled the Hicam Microdrone at the V Festival, after earlier trials ('Police force tests airborne spy camera', (Guardian, Tuesday May 22, 2007). It was widely reported at the time, and the coverage has veered from admiring to alarmist. This Wired Gallery neatly summarises the current state and scale of (visible) technology, which ranges from military vehicles down to small(ish) companies like Schiebel and their Camcopter (and their rather elegant factory).

Miniature UAV's (or just MAVs) are high on the agenda at DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), as well as places like the University of Florida. It's not hard to imagine why such a thing might be needed, or why governments around the world are champing at the bit to get hold of MAVs, but by the same token one should assume that even if the quasi-legendary robot dragonflies don't exist, then something incredibly similar already exists. The Economist has run a couple of stories - 'Rise of the Machines' and 'The Fly's a Spy' - that posit believable near-future scenarios. 'The bigger worries are to do with privacy: some of these flying machines will be so small that they will be able to fly inside buildings, filming everything they see; heaven knows what paparazzi will do with them.'

Imagine a swarm of quasi-autonomous paparazzibots, programmed to relentlessly home in on Paris Hilton's iPhone or electronically paired with the Bluetooth transmitter in Prince Harry's Range Rover. Tomorrow's celebrities will be permanently accompanied by an unwelcome micro-cloud of buzzing devices, miniature versions of the news choppers that blight the LA skies, mimicking the fly-strewn perimeter of Pigpen from Peanuts. So disposable that they're released in their hundreds, all busy feeding streams of high resolution imagery back to their masters. If cell phones had to have an artificial shutter sound piped in to their cameras to sate privacy concerns, what noise will be regulated on the flying camera fleet?

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007


At times, the weblog feels like a very transitory format. It is the VHS cassette of media delivery. There came a point where everyone had videos: they were the future, and huge sums were being invested in ensuring the technology was as efficient as possible. The fall-off from ubiquity to obsolescence was precipitous - and video was unceremoniously ejected. And the weblog? What use a steady stream of pointers to new corners of the digital realm when we are slowly but inexorably heading towards an ultimate goal: the digitisation of absolutely everything.

Last week, both The Guardian and its sister paper the Observer announced their digital archives, pay to view sites that 'will eventually contain reproductions of every page, article and advertisement published in The Observer since its birth in 1791 and in our sister paper The Guardian since it started in 1821.' It's not cheap; a monthly pass costs £49.95 (and one wonders how long this data will stay secure in this leaky world of 1s and 0s). But it is a start. Weblogs will lose their status as custodians of the leaky, poorly-catalogued and dusty library that is the internet. Instead, they will be the modern equivalent of Gilbert Bland, map thiefs and bookbreakers for a new era.

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Other things. Those crazy 80s. See also our gallery here / go on, build a Lego model of the Imperial Executor, the 19km long 'personal flagship of Darth Vader'. The instructions are a work of art, and the model only includes 1548 more pieces than Lego's own Imperial Star Destroyer model / Military Planes Collide over East Braintree / BackStory: Casa Da Musica, the Archinect series looks at OMA's faceted masterpiece in Porto.

Good to see that Gillespie, Kidd and Coia have their own website, many years after their demise. There's also an extensive flickr pool for explorers of the modernist ruins of St Peter's Seminary in Cardross, the firm's abandoned masterpiece. It has an extensive web presence: SubmitResponse, Risky Buildings, Glasgow Architecture, Hidden Glasgow, and the Twentieth Century Society. The fashion for building websites for the dead continues - see the Basil Spence Archive.

London's new Olympic stadium unveiled, fresh controversy follows close behind: Bland as a bowl of blancmange. Really? Few building types are more suited to being empty vessels than stadiums. Conversely, the superficiality of applied decoration or elaborate structural conceits also looks most obvious on a stadium, a building of raw functionality (and flexibility, far more so than any number of cultural or creative spaces).

House and Garden shuts up shop, citing excessive operating costs. A million subscribers left bereft / The Fourth Plinth, Thomas Schutte's imaginary Philippe Starck hotel for pigeons. Flickr sets of previous Fourth Plinth projects. The official Fourth Plinth site / Why VHS was better than Betamax.

More Hidden Glasgow, a gem of a site (see 'water towers') / The Piracy Paradox, James Surowiecki in The New Yorker on the role copying plays in progressing planned obsolescence. (via La Petite Claudine). Also via LPC, Bob Truby's Brand Name Pencils. A world of long and oversized ferrules. It is a thing of beauty.

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Strange Metal Orb found in Texas. We love mystery objects (via) / Walk the Willett Way (pdf). David Rooney on the south London locations associated with William Willett, creator of British Summer Time / a Bang and Olufsen fan page / Gaming Magazines of the Pre-Internet Era (via) / 'This page is dedicated to the history of all things Street Level. Street Level was a recording studio based in west London, it existed in the early 1980's.'

Malaysia is using high altitude M-55 planes to provide country-wide broadband. From Flight International: the aircraft 'would carry communications equipment at the stratospheric level - around 20km (12 miles) - providing broadband services including internet, mobile phone, and broadcast and television coverage throughout Malaysia'. Another variant on the High Altitude Platform concept.

Distorte on ffffound and things: ffffiddlesticks. They've got a point / Radiolarians for Jesus, making science fun / the Peckham Literary Festival, featuring appearances by the likes of Will Hodgkinson / some flickr picks. London Life in the 1970s / 1944 Greater London Plan / old photos of Camberwell / an incredible flickr set of London Pubs.

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Apologies for the time-shifting on the front page. Anyone else experiencing trouble with Blogger posting right now?

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007


We are sliding towards an irreversible obsession with totally visual communication. Text is struggling to keep up. Only dense, layered, information-rich text cuts it in the online world, preferably broken up with images and other information, which might explain why the blog form, in particular the visual blog, is currently so successful. FFFFOUND! makes this dominance explicit, doing away with everything but the barest caption and paring the internet's role down to a purveyor of visual interest and nothing else. Line, pattern and texture can be condensed into a parcel of pixels, creativity contained within 200,000 tiny squares, pasted and posted, as yet another passing comment ('It's Nice That').

The democratisation of creativity has the flip effect of vastly speeding up the amount of time we spend looking at things, appreciating the craft and the process. An image like this is gobbled up and spat out in seconds. A few years ago, there was an art project where every book in a library was arranged according to colour, not title or subject ('There is Nothing Wrong in the Whole Wide World', a piece by Chris Cobb). On reflection, it's a nice metaphor for the dominance of visual searching over content searching, our eyes skimming lightly over huge swathes of deep level content without ever really engaging in it.

So is the quality of digital imagery inversely related to the degradation of quality in the real world? Perhaps. The vast majority of weblogs act like sluice gates, simply helping the flow of culture along without adding to the volume of water in any way. Do we really need any of this stuff? Is it not the digital equivalent of Brooks Stevens' planned obsolesence, imagery for imagery's sake, simply helping visual culture to accelerate its churn rate?



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Virtual worlds threaten values, according to Lord Puttnam (read it in Second Life), sounding off about 'toy-themed virtual worlds'. The story mentions the following: BarbieGirls, UB Funkeys, Stardoll, Tygirlz, and Webkinz. All aimed at girls, strangely. Lego Universe is on its way / the other porn, tracking obsessional commodification and intensive marketing / Back to the Future in Vice City, at digital urban / a Q+A with Lego's CEO, courtesy of Monocle, as well as the Brickshelf, an enormous Lego resource / Trompe L'Oeil, a series by artist Remy Lidereau / Peeron is another amazing Lego resource.

Boyd Homes Group, the 'network for owners and friends of Robin Boyd's projects'. See also City of Sound's recent post touching on Boyd and his writings / dirty beloved, weblog of old imagery / a set of good simple recipes / London Connections delves in to the murk of the political and social processes behind keeping the capital's transport systems going / Undercity.org, goings on beneath Manhattan.

Deleted scenes, forgotten dreams, experimental music weblog (via ask me-fi) / 7 inch punk, more mp3s / even more noise at Strange Reaction / Ezeskankin, a collection of mix tapes from the 90s / 'robot folk tales' at bluebell.fm, a site by Emma Payne of fed by birds / Shake Your Fist, an mp3 blog / Song for Someone, up and running.

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The Pompidou Centre was often likened to an ocean liner adrift in an urban context, Piano's first real ocean liner, the Pacific Dawn, is relatively conventional, almost retro. Corbusier rattled on endlessly about the ocean liner, which he considered to be 'an architecture pure, neat, clear, clean and healthy,' adding, 'Contrast this with our carpets, cushions, canopies, wall-papers, carved and gilt furniture, faded or 'arty' colours: the dismalness of our Western bazaar.' In the decades that followed, designers like Norman Bel Geddes and Luigi Colani both had a crack at the ocean liner, morphing the clean lines so admired by Corb into bulbous expressions of streamlining and futurism. But no-one could decribe contemporary liner design as being even remotely innovative, with whatever heyday that once existed long vanished.



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Color me impressed, colour charts at parenthetically / the weburbanist collates photo-led stories from around the world, like this collection of 7 more underground wonders of the world / Urbanized, photos by Robert Stephens / hisamichi58, image bombardment / photographer Klaus Thymann (some images nsfw) / very small rain, a weblog with photography / AIM 25, archives in London and the M25 area.

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The story of the Ferrari 512 Modulo concept / Hobson Industries, a 'mini Land-Rover factory' with 25 million pounds worth of stock, able to keep old models, especially military ones, on the road almost indefinitely (via this BBC News story) / Stout Books has acquired the architectural library of the late G.E.Kidder Smith. Many gems inside / Phillips de Pury are holding an auction of the work of Guy Bourdin / Modern Movement Architecture in the UK, a small selection of noted buildings compiled by Tom Flynn / Mies Photo Auction Raises Questions, a tale of dubious provenance.


Monday, November 05, 2007


Wealth is like a bubble, a shrink-wrapped world of cliche and slavish imitation. At least, that's what one takes away from this story, The Hogarth of hedge funds offers a glimpse into a hidden world, in which 'Artist [Adam Dant] spent six months documenting the mysterious lives of the wizards of finance'. "Every office must have its spot painting," says Dant, "and perhaps a Cy Twombly and Warhol."

House of the Century, Kostis Velonis on a 70s classic / The London Consortium, worth investigating more closely / how that whizzy H+deM render of the new Tate came about, thanks to Hayes Davidson (via PartIV. See also, 'How to Work "I'm an Architect" into Casual Conversation' / Jonathan Freedland on The Peckham Experiment. See also.

The Early Birds of Aviation / the New World of Electronic Music / Phil Dodds played the synthesizer in Close Encounters of the Third Kind / 25 Photographs Taken at the Exact Right Time, via me-fi / work/space, a weblog / Philiform, a site dedicated to this obscure Lego/Fischer Technik derivative.

The Architecture of Parking, a gallery taken from Simon Henley's new book / the top five architectural pet hates / Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month / Russell Davies on Philippe Halsman's classic 'Jump' / via BLDGBLOG's musings on embedded Alpine architecture, the work of Leo Fabrizio (previously linked), pointed to by muse-ings.