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Sunday, December 30, 2007
Project Outrage, railing against the suburban condition. See also these much-linked aerial photos of Mexico City, with their toy-like rows of houses / some photography: Massimo Vitali, Frank Van Der Salm, Jan Kempenaers / 'Box', a short film by Nakd, like a Superstudio rendered in cardboard / more utopias at this new exhibition, Diggers and Dreamers - Intentional Communities in the new age

The Next Net, a weblog / Move Your Mind, architecture / Emerging Tampa, architecture in Florida / coffee stirrer central / a flickr set of the renderings of Hugh Ferris, via The Errant Aesthete, arranged by Kosmograd / Pasa la Vida, illustration and more / sinsign[dot]com / Untitled Self, an architect's weblog / Archived Architectures, rps on architecture and video games / a classic early 419. See also here / Mystery container found on beach. Probably solved by now, somewhere.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007
'Once you've established the principle that something works, you can be absolutely sure that the technology of it is going to improve steadily', once quoted by Aldous Huxley (whose wife, Laura Huxley died recently) in Techniques of Persuasion: From Propoganda to Brainwashing, by J.A.C Brown (Penguin/Pelican, 1963) / remembering the 1940s, including an Introduction to Utility Clothing. See also the Kevin Morrison Collection and CC41: The Home Front.

The 1971-1972 Graphis Annual / generative artworks by Michael Lascarides / ffffinding out, on the popularity of ffffound, which 'is to graphic design what Napster was to music', according to scintillating bullshit. The point being, perhaps, that the dawn of Napster and its ilk meant that suddenly people were overwhelmed with music that they had no time to listen to. Now we are overwhelmed with visual imagery we don't really have any time to look at.

More of that visual stuff at Malfunc[tion] / Resoulution, a collection of more visual things / Pockets of Space, a weblog / Otro, a weblog / the vintage Ladybird books pool / The Deptford Dame, a SE-London weblog / Cabinet of Wonders, a weblog in the grand tradition / Apothecary's Drawer on the Bessemer Experimental Ship, an articulated device. See also Bessemer's House, once one of the grandest mansions in South London, with its own observatory and suffragette ducking pond.

The Brains Behind Billionaire Homes, an article on the trials and tribulations of blank slate architecture. See also this 1997 article, The House that Bill Gates Built, half-underground and reportedly stuffed with electronics (although how many of these are still functioning as originally intended is an interesting point). Related. The 'demolition rate' in and around St George's Hill in Surrey ran at 12% in 2007, according to this Telegraph article on Superbia. Not sure what that actually means - that 12% of all houses sold (by agents like Savills, who also have the UK's most expensive house on their books, gathering dust) have been demolition and upgraded?

CCTV finally meets, a flickr set via Archinect / things that have happened since Duke Nukem Forever was announced, way back in 1997. The game is still not finished (via rps) / need more sleigh bell?

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007
A general feeling that everything is winding down. Some links to wind down to. 'Plannerrhoids: a Colchester disease', the fashion for ersatz clock towers, cupolas and turrets in bog-standard developer-led architecture, as noted by Colchester Places and Spaces / Socks Studio on the architecture of Second Life (in Italian) - still struggling to get out of its self-consciously cyberpunk/iconic mode / a post about the design integrity of Abbatt Toys, over at Shelf Appeal / Balnibarbi nel mondo, a tumble of things.

Comparing and contrasting the street furniture of Paris and London at All This Chittah Chattah / Polis, a NY weblog / More regrettable incidents in a life filled with bitter remorse, a flickr set / Madame Arcati, UK media gossip / 101 Dumbest Moments in Business 2007. We liked this one best, the old story about extortionate charges to the government/military for ultra-cheap parts.

Mapping the Obsolescence Space, ponderings on the urge to catalogue consumption and personal technology's rapid descent into incompatible, unusable rubbish. If only doorstop recycling schemes had a slot for WEEE items. Obviously, thanks to the Internet there's always someone doing all this chronicling for you, however obscure or fleeting your memory of a product / also via Bowblog, the Global Shopfront Library. See also 'Still Open', another flickr set (via i like) / the Buildings of 2007.

Stories of Houses, case studies of contemporary dwellings / the detritus of modernism, architecture mnp captures the clutter removed from a dwelling in order to create the archetypal vision of sparse, minimal decor. In the trade, this is called 'styling'. It might as well be called 'lying', for it helps promote the universal untruth of architectural photography, a world without clutter, people or any kind of visual idiosyncracy / a few more pictures posted from Colin Ward's The Child in the City.


Saturday, December 15, 2007


Above, the Breguet-Richet Gyroplane 1 of 1907, an Emmett-like contraption of dubious aerodynamics / Sketches of Optimism From Detroit’s Glory Days, car design from a bygone era / collecting old American Road Maps / the Dynamic City Foundation, charting the speed of Chinese urbanism, and the state's intention to 'have built four hundred new cities by the year 2020, at a rate of twenty new cities annually' / a tragic set of empty Paul Rudolph Houses taken by Chris Mottalini. So much waste / rare books at Simon Finch. Related, the Bookscans database of cover art and MoMA's collection of illustrated books.

Visual round-up. 40 fakes / Ordigami / butterflynet / Public Image, a project at the General Public Agency / Jahsonic / Pony Express (almost entirely nsfw) / Vintage Photographs / The Research Cars of Mercedes Benz / stills from John Carpenter's 1988 film They Live / PartIV on Magic Highways USA, a display of boundless optimism, featuring 'sun-powered electro-suspension car which needs no wheels', etc. etc. / illustrations by Siggi Eggertsson.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007


The superjail concept is back: enter the Titan. But what should prisons look like?. In fiction, the prison is an excuse for architectural extravagance, such as The Rotating Prison in the Mountain, a structure on the world of Heliconia in a short story by Brian Aldiss. This vision could be seen as an update of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon of 1791, itself proposed just a few years after Piranesi's Carceri. Although Bentham's prime intention was one of observation, the general idea through history has been that prisons should be an aesthetic representation of punishment or atonement. However, there is a wide spectrum of expectations, from the unlikely glass-walled 'post-modern' prison in Austria, the Leoben Justice Centre, which attracted some blog attention a couple of months ago (but passed us by) to the terrifying American Supermax to the so-called Alcatraz of the Rockies. The latter looks a little Michael Mann-esque in that particular shot (don't forget that Mann used Richard Meier's High Museum of Art in Atlanta as a psychiatric hospital), the unsaid implication being that criminals need starkly dramatic surroundings.

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Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold at Strange Harvest (via archinect). It's clear this little exhibition has had a huge impact on the current generation of architects, struggling to make their way in a multi-layered environment of hitherto unprecedented complexity. Although the C/S/F generation were undoubtedly trail-blazers (Sam points out that '[i]f you keep following this thread it will lead you to today's architectural mainstream']), the sense is that self-publishing, in all its pre-digital forms, was a way of creating your own culture. 'It was both the place that you could glimpse the exotic world of consumerist America and where you could manufacture new exotic worlds.'

The message seems to be that in the past, you made your own hyper-density, building up accretions of media, imagery and theory in order to bolster your position, shore up your ideology or simply accompany the visionary schemes that were, inevitably, unbuilt.

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Why are there so many notebooks for sale? The revival/creation of the Moleskine brand in the late 1990s neatly tapped into emerging themes of portable creativity, analogue obsessiveness and artistic associations, kicking off weblogs, flickr sets, dedicated websites like The Moleskine Project (via) and a burgeoning product line. It is, of course, all founded on a myth (explored in this IHT piece, 'Does a Moleskine notebook tell the truth?') / the image above comes from the G-Econ research project, which is 'developing a geophysically based data set on economic activity for the world' (flickr set).

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Great set of jaw-dropping errors made by media outlets throughout the year at Regret the Error / The Auction Rebel, make that eBay auction work / the ten rarest gems on earth / Untitled by Bolg, a tumble log / lots of stuff at Participo / Ruins Safaris / linked before? Possibly. My Dad's Architecture Photos, a flickr set by Maraid / Relics of the Franklin Expedition (from where the above buttons come from) / links at Blue Vertical Studio / more links at le club club / typography, a flickr set.


Saturday, December 08, 2007


Jessica Francis Kane's The Rules is a very contemporary evocation of the uncertainty and uneasiness we have about the relationship between the city and the child. The unease of the modern parent is made all the more bitter by our half-remembered nostalgia of our own childhoods, which are naturally empty of parental anxiety, coupled with the even more idyllic pasts referenced in popular culture, where freedom to wander, play and observe the adult world without any interference or questions is apparently a universal right.

The flipside, then and now, is the spectre of roaming, near-feral children undermining the sense of community and public decency. In Britain, the evolution of ASBO culture has helped define a hapless generation. The nebulous - often wholly justified, often not - definition of 'anti-social behaviour' means that huge swathes of classic children's literature read like treatises for truancy and paeans to parental neglect; the roaming Outlaws in Just William, the scruffy, fatherless family in Five Children and It, the train-baiting teens in The Railway Children, the child-alone-in-the-city subtext of Catherine Storr's Polly and the Wolf.

These fictional spaces act a powerful mental utopia, creating the impression that the world was a playground for children, with adults largely absent. Colin Ward's 1978 The Child in the City (from where the above image was taken) was a celebration of children's life on the street, their games, interactions and relationships with the fast-changing city. There are more images at this Japanese page on traditional children's street games, which includes the work of Iona and Peter Opie (see also things 9). Many of the images and scenes appear not just archaic, but threatening, as our feel for what it means to be free in the context of the city changes with age.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Graham Greene's haunting short story The Destructors (1954) captures anxiety about youth run amok in the post-war landscape, as a gang of children resolve to destroy the house of their nemesis. "'Wren built that house, father says.' 'Who's Wren?' 'The man who built St Paul's.' 'Who cares?' Blackie said. 'It's only Old Misery's.'" And later:

"The kitchen was a shambles of broken glass and china. The dining-room was stripped of parquet, the skirting was up, the door had been taken off its hinges, and the destroyers had moved up a floor. Streaks of light came in through the closed shutters where they worked with the seriousness of creators - and destruction after all is a form of creation. A kind of imagination had seen this house as it had now become."

Now the spaces of play are highly designed, neat little self-contained worlds of structured complexity and elaborate colours and forms. The reason? We want proscribed spaces for children now, rather than allow them free reign of public space where they are both threatened (or become the threat itself). These firewalled zones are being joined by branded virtual spaces (recently lambasted by Lord Puttnam), where adventure and discovery is carefully controlled and closely linked to consumption. Adult nostalgia blinds us to these new realities, allowing us to indulge in fond remembrance of our past while keeping a tight grip on the present day.

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Related to the above, an incredible flickr set of life at Riverside School in Thamesmead, circa 1976 to 1978. One of the largest post-war housing complexes in the UK, Thamesmead was a sprawling complex of concrete walkways. Not notorious enough to be reviled, the estate had a rare cameo as a sun-kissed urban utopia in the 1996 film Beautiful Thing, and is now seen as one of the jumping off points for the Thames Gateway development. Another image from the same set: playground. Risk management has changed.

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Spacing Toronto / PrarieMod and Pacific Northwest Regional Architecture, two region-specific architecture weblogs, both via ecAr, a tumble log / the sordid saga of the Clissold Leisure Centre in Hackney; finally, the architect's point of view (which is absolutely not good enough for the community activists) / the DeLorean Bus concept, an 'Americanized' design that might have changed our perception of the DeLorean name for ever more.


A set of defensive architectures, all notable for the absence of physically enclosed space. The Lost Border, Photographs of the Iron Curtain by Brian Rose / the DMZ between North and South Korea / all about the Maginot Line / peaks fortified by the Alpini / CCTV could track branded subjects, an ironic flipside to the cult of 'individuality' promoted by consumer culture. Related, Designing Britain 1945-1975 ('the visual experience of post-war society').

The Wishbook Web is a undeniably attractive exercise in nostalgia, a multiple button-pusher / the Vanishing Point, exploring underground / the wonderful world of early photography, a vintage neotarama post / the Muppet Wiki / Democracy for the Cartoons, art on books.

Future by Design, an ambitious attempt to re-shape everything / Labtop ('architectural-rendering at work'), very contemporary architectural presentations (see also the work of Luxigon) / Thomas H.Hahn's photos of Chinese urbanisation / 'Rotten Pavilions', over at anarchitecture, tracking the cracked and fading remnants of least season's expo showcases.


Monday, December 03, 2007


Gavin Stamp's new book, Britain's Lost Cities, is one of the most depressing architectural monographs ever published. Page after page of monochrome photography charts the combined destructive effects of Blitz and town-planning, as medieval, Georgian and Victorian structures were ripped apart in the name of war or progress (or a combination of both, as planners used German bombs to help facilitate the grand visions dreamt up in the 1930s). Stamp's book recalls Hermione Hobhouse's classic Lost London, a heart-rending compilation of architectural violence against the city, from the loss of Sir John Soane's original Bank of England (its ruination foreseen by Joseph Gandy) to the absurdly petty-minded destruction of the Euston Arch (still a grand symbol of the importance of having a strong conservation movement). More at London Destruction. Related, unbuilt London, an occasional collection of schemes that fell by the wayside.

The picture at the top shows the south side of Brunswick Square, before the arrival of the Brunswick Centre and the architectural excesses of London University. The Centre has now been refurbished and scrubbed up and is rather schizophrenically celebrated as both Brunswick (!), a glossy street of boutiques and big-name brands, and the gritty, modernist megastructure that was originally envisioned. City of Sound captured the place mid-gentrification, and it's safe to say that Patrick Hodgkinson's scheme has now largely overcome the antipathy it received for being responsible for so much demolition.

But like the terrace in Abingdon Street illustrated below, these records mark the loss of not just houses or architecture, but place. Abingdon Street was a distinguished line of Georgian houses along the edge of Old Palace Yard, just north of the Houses of Parliament. Damaged during the war, they were removed in 1943 for the erection of the George V memorial - and now form the spot where TV crews do their piece to camera. These are heartfelt losses, clumps of cityscape and memory that can never be replaced, only replicated, without patina or proportion. So much of the city has been bludgeoned into open space, or lost forever beneath squat blocks whose meandering footprints have no time for ancient street patterns. The other day we watched a pavement being laid, with the surface cut deep to expose pipes and cables, roots and raw earth. Amongst them all was the unmistakable curve of a barrel vault, the last remnants of a long lost streetscape, soon to be covered over once more.



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Other things. The Futurists would have loved YouTube, with its swift delivery of pornographic violence, cut, spliced and soundtracked, served up in little two minute chunks of mechanised, balletic carnage. It's a sign of the times that we'd think of YouTube while reading Ghost in the Machine, a dissertation by Michael Heumann on 'Sound and Technology in Twentieth Century Literature', which covers the Futurists' splenetic, frezied sound experiments. Related, Halvorsen's Blogariddims 31, 'one hour of straightforward avant-garde electronic goodies, treated and non-treated voices, some phonography, computer code noise and the old pause signal from the Norwegian radio'.

Also related, a question: Would current technology allow someone to make an audio recording of their life?. According to Heumann, Thomas Edison spent time exploring the sonic landscape of life after death, talking to the New York Times about 'his interest in building a hyper-sensitive microphone which would be able to capture and store these "life units" as they leave a dying body–thereby extending the notion of recording beyond material sound and into the registers of spirits and energy'.

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A chaotic collection of books, links nicely to BLDG BLOG's musings on the new British library archive centre, and this recent piece on The Space of the Book, focusing on a theatrical, Umberto Eco-like space in a church in Maastricht. By placing the book at the heart of the house, you get interesting architectural oddities like the late Simon Ungers' T-House in New York State, or OMA's Maison a Bordeaux (1998), with its central core of knowledge accessed via an industrial paternoster platform.

A flickr set of serious colours / small drawings, a weblog / Honey Pot, a blog of baking and fine recipes / Kids on Roof, complex play structures / the Government Art Collection / the Yenidze building in Dresden, a former cigarette factory and a bold architectural statement. More at flickr and skyscraper city / Curiously Incongruous, London everyday (via Coudal) / little modernist birdboxes by Raumhochrosen / the Tate extension takes another step towards commencement / all about the Lewisham Train Disaster of 1957. See also the official report (link to pdf).



Disassembling Old Magazines To Sell On eBay - A Mini Case Study, one of the origins of our ephemera overload / a gallery of work by Vladimir Ossipoff, Hawaiian architect extraordinaire / a one-off Buckminster Fuller Chandelier / the Amazon filler item finder, scour for bargains / tales of Old China / Historical Maps of Europe / a flickr set of Penguin books / the future is increasingly being shaped by our memories of the past (see Collective Perception, and its homepage of dazzling but strangely familiar imagery) / and what a past: Ken: the man behind the doll / a short (textual) history of CGI in film / The Schimmel Piano, the latest project from Daniel Libeskind.

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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.

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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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