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Thursday, January 31, 2008
Gridskipper on The Ugliest Buildings in London (via the rat and mouse). No easy potshots here - there are some proper minds at work behind this list. Sam Jacobs of FAT and Strange Harvest on St George Wharf, one of our pet hates, 'Designed from the brochure outwards, [these apartments] bristle with balconies that rubber-neck the river.' Not to be missed either, SH on inflatable military decoys.

BMW's ConnectedDrive is the result of a link up with Google. Includes a 'Google Send-to-Car' option that allows you to output directions from Google Maps straight to your car, plus the slightly dubious ability to read RSS feeds from within the car.

Martin Parr's Bored Couples / Mostly This, a weblog / Northamptonist, region blogging / design discussions at the Spoonerist fazy luckers / punk rock archives at Carnaby Street, including a link to UK punk and post-punk fanzines 1980-1986, from where we were pointed to this repository of classical guitar tablature and the history of the Grovesnor Road Squat in Twickenham, 1972-1976.

The Most Competitive Man Alive, part two of Todd Levin's historical odyssey through the 'gaming systems that formed him' / Bag News Notes, blogging the media and its way with images / apologies for the outage earlier today. We bumped up against our bandwidth limit again.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008
General links today. Thick impasto from Daniel Mendel-Black / Cinema41, 'a pop-up movie theatre with just one seat'. Compare and contrast with 10 stunning ultra geeky home cinemas at deputy dog / an interview with Will Wright at iconeye / the letters of Samuel Johnson / links and linocuts by Bobby Sattler / the 3 year-old's internet / Towards Enthusiasm, a weblog / Kieran Long's occasional weblog / Ships with legs / how icons are made /, a weblog.

Grain Edit, more vintage inspiration which we're only too happy to fuel. See also their Paul Rand flickr set / we've been fans of conscientious for ever, but it took a visit to Mellart to point us in the direction of Jorg Colberg's own photography, especially 'Higher Education,' 'an effort to portray academic environments'

'Zaha in human rights row over Azerbaijan project'. 'Philosopher and Stirling Prize judge Alain de Botton said the ethics of the project should be considered carefully, but added that many architects had a "fondness for strongmen". He added: "They tend to do away with planning regs. There's long been a flirtation between architects and dictatorial types."' Related, 'what would Alain de Botton do?' (19m 26s).

Reform and Revolution, sifting through new graphics. It's interesting how the Pelican Project is slowly percolating around the web, and what people choose to clip and share., which has picked up on our fascination with book cover art, and how it appears to be more important than ever - more important even than the contents of the actual book. Just to add fuel to the fire, here's a set of nicely graphic covers for a late 60s series of architecture books. If we were to click on that link on another site it would drive us insane that there was nothing from inside the books themselves.

All about Silbury Hill / AisleOne, 'an inspirational resource focused on graphic design, typography, grid systems, minimalism and modernism.' / beaden, imagery, life, musings, clippings / a large collection of images of Hell by Jake and Dinos Chapman (part of which was lost in the Momart Fire).


Monday, January 28, 2008

The Virtual Cable concept has steadily been building 'buzz', online and in the papers. This idealised satellite navigation system is a development of the head-up displays already used in some Citroens, Corvettes and BMW, but instead of using symbols, it strings out a virtual red line to mark your route ahead. The line is a projection that appears like a personal trolley wire, curving round corners and junctions to illustrate the way. It's an inverse of the ball of thread Daedalus gave Ariadne to help Theseus find his way out of the Labyrinth.

Wayfinding is a central theme of so many myths and fairytales it's not surprising that technology should seek to make the act of following a route so elemental and straightforward. 'And when the full moon had risen, Hansel took his little sister by the hand, and followed the pebbles which shone like newly-coined silver pieces, and showed them the way.' (we've often wondered whether the shining stones laid by Hansel and Gretel had any influence on the beautifully title missile defence system Brilliant Pebbles, 'a 4,000-satellite constellation in low-Earth orbit that would fire high-velocity, watermelon-sized projectiles at long-range ballistic missiles launched from anywhere in the world.')

Apart from the fact that such a system could be even more distracting than regular satnav systems, as drivers become bewitched by the floating red line at the expense of all other activity around them, the possibilities are endless. For a start, the system could be hacked to share its output, leading to all sorts of potential scenarios. Police could use the 'trails' left behind by the system to apprehend stolen cars. After market glasses - perhaps even contact lenses - could be sold to enthusiastic amateurs who want to see 'live' trails stream past them - red for destinations yet to be reached, blue for the paths already travelled, perhaps slowly dissipitating and unravelling as time passes, like vapour trails or the paths of incoming aeroplanes descending on American airports in Google Earth.

The tangle of 'wires' that criss-cross above our heads will recall the lines of fighting kites, or the adhoc arrangement of telegraph wires and gas pipes that have lasted decades unmolested. Only these will be dynamic and constantly shifting, an inverted version of the immersive environment created by Toyota, for example, with everyone's digital aura made clear and visible.


Other things. We Love Mags / gorgeous slice of late period modernism / a long time since we've looked at lost in E minor / AA Log, the Architectural Assocation in 'realtime' / Reaction, a weblog / G.x 2.0 Workblog, the literal cutting edge of manufacturing / car adverts seem to imply that cars leave behind an indelible impression of our choices as consumers, a lingering glow to bask in. Saab's 'Born from Jets' commercial is a case in point, a representation of a vapour trail which unfortunately looks a bit like clouds of smog.

DayGlo Rococo - Reyner Banham would have had a field day - the interior design of German brothels, or 'Frauenzimmer' (sfw). Photographs by Patric Fouad. Says Caitlin Moran, 'it almost made me wish I was a middle-manager in petrochemicals on a three-day business trip to Dusseldorf, aiming to waste a bit of time and protein'. Compare and contrast with Tim Hursley's Brothels in Nevada.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Book covers are a burgeoning cult online, in flickr groups (books with nice covers, Old-Timey Paperback book covers, repetitive graphic paperback book covers, etc., etc.) and dedicated websites. The obvious is perhaps not being said often enough: these are just covers, a scan of a piece of thick paper that usually says nothing about what the book contains. If the internet persisted and all printed matter eventually decayed, these colourful little mementoes would create a complex jigsaw for any future anthropologist eager to discover why some things were more important than others.

Simplistic Art. The post on the art of Madelon Vriesendorp doesn't mention that her post-coital skyscraper painting, 'Flagrant Delit, graced the cover of her then-husband Rem Koolhaas's first (major) book, Delirious New York. In fact, as the linked ArtReview article, 'Misconceptual art: The World of Madelon Vriesendorp', makes clear, she was a co-founder of OMA and sales of her paintings kept the practice afloat in its early years (a studio that now sits astride the globe, expertly attuning its output to the myriad market conditions and cultural expectations, from the 'dramatically sombre' northern European market (thanks, Dan) to the harsh shadows and ultra-light structure of renders aimed at the Middle East). Ultimately, the artist eschewed painting in favour of assemblage, bringing together landscapes of pop cultural artefacts - souvenirs, mementoes, and trinkets. As James Westcott notes in his piece, 'Vriesendorp has said that she's only interested in failed objects, and that in her global city she feels like a tourist who has been given the wrong directions, misheard them and ended up in the right place anyway'.

We don't hear much about 'failed objects' these days, especially in the rabidly circular online culture of aesthetic appreciation, where objects are there to stimulate and enthrall, but little else. The idea of an online representation of any 'thing' being said to fail is almost an oxymoron - by the very act of being photographed/scanned/digitised and uploaded, anything that is represented online has successfully ensured its survival. In the Darwinian struggle for cultural memory, it is only those poor, neglected and reviled objects that never have their own flickr set, eBay watchlist, ardent newsgroup or me-fi post that can truly be said to have failed. Pity the future anthropologist, for they will be entirely in the dark about this subculture of the unknown.

Ironically, simply by collecting and cataloging her own definition of 'failure', Vriesendorp is helping this barrage of kitsch to keep itself skimming along the surface along with all the other cultural flotsam. Currently on show at the Architectural Association, it seems like this exhibition is one of those pivotal events that tie up loose ends and associations, bringing lesser known connections into the mainstream and forging new connections with the strata of international cultural society that seem to know everyone and everything. The catalogue includes Beatriz Colomina, Douglas Coupland, Zaha Hadid, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Rem Koolhaas.


Other things. World's Best Urban Spaces, initiated by City of Sound and Russell Davies / the rather confusing Web Trend Map 2008, hampered by those infuriating snap preview pop-ups / the odious, ironic parallels are ladled on but ultimately left unsaid in this Harper's piece on GWB's favourite painting, "Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught." (via tmn).

We have a new career: roller coaster advisor / The Afterlife of Cellphones / car parks, a flickr set, and the Parking Garage and Car Parks pools / despite the existence of this, we'd never noticed this, a small example of ongoing consistency in the Pelican design language / Experiment 33, slathering over design and visual culture from decades gone by.

Graphicology, a design weblog / a weblog by Mark Boulton / 2 and fro, a photojournal of a daily commute / go on, produce a 'Ballardian home movie' and submit it to We'd have thought that most of YouTube had some kind of Ballardian dimension / Apophenia, visual things / Eightface, visual things / ID please, a flickr group / not sure how we feel about this.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

The downside of a new people's car: Unsafe at any price, a Naderesque reference to the possible impact of the new Tata Nano (perhaps the most significant - and widely reported - car launch in history). "Today, the real task is not to create a "people's car" but a "people's transport system".' We're back to Brian Richards again. Perversely, the Nano's undeniably unsvelte and functional appearance might just be its best quality - this is not an object of desire designed to reflect the owner's taste or class. It is aspirational purely for its functional qualities. At a time when the Western motor industry favours the former over the latter (albeit frequently deciding to deliberately confuse the two), perhaps its abandonment of conventional car industry imagery will be the Nano's most important legacy. It's also a nice rejoinder to the industry's rather patronising attitude towards India as a market.

Wargames on a simulated battleship, with the 3/5 scale battleship mock-up melded into the architecture. 'The pier includes scenic elements that convert from Norfolk to Yorktown in a variety of sliding and elevating movements' / 'Doodles, Drafts and Designs, Industrial Drawings from the Smithsonian'. Many beautiful things / Ace Jet 170, found type and more (thanks for the link).

Very sorry to miss Mr Manaugh at the Bartlett last night / Dynamic Time-Travel Maps From MySociety and Stamen - combining data sets to work out what it costs to live where travel time is low / sculptures by Etienne Meneau / related to the top paragraph, One Last Journey, a very short documentary about the disposability of modern cars / a set of desk views / Ali Bosworth's images are hugely evocative / ''McCloud'. A forceful sigh, exhaled before conceding that something might just work.'


New Movement in Cities, by the late Brian Richards, was intended as a book for 'cities that want to plan and design for new underground and elevated systems, minirails, buses, automated roads, people movers and pavements, escalators and heliports.' A key document of 60s-era aspirations, it included the work of Archigram, the Japanese Metabolists, Victoria futurists and American industrialists, all striving to make sense of role of traffic in towns.

Amongst other things, New Movement in Cities contains a history of the many attempts at shifting large volumes of pedestrians, either via moving pavements, travelators or ultra-light transit systems. Enthusiasm for such concepts was high throughout the 1960s, from the 'carveyor' proposed for the Atlanta Transit System, an 'elevated air conditioned tube' that snaked above the existing streets, to the so-called 'dual mode' systems that retro-fitted conventional cars so that it could latch onto a guidance rail when needed..

Another serious suggestion of the era was to engineer cars so that they could be set up to follow each other, thus cramming more vehicles onto each highway with a correspondingly higher average speed. Back in the 1960s this required some serious number crunching (pdf), as in this piece of GM-sponsored research into 'car-following theory' ('the study of stimulus-response type interactions in a single lane of traffic caused by various acceleration and deceleration patterns induced in vehicles').

Others thought it better to concentrate on autonomous Personal Rapid Transportation systems that were slotted into existing urban situations without complex equations for human interaction, using a combination of new bus systems and small 'Personalised capsules' for just two people. PRT had its origins in the 'never-stop' trains originally suggested for London Underground - one simply stepped on or off, a bit like a paternoster lift (althouth there was a successful never-stop railway at the 1924 Empire Exhibition in Wembley). The city of tomorrow was envisioned as being awash in moving pavements and stairs, a place of perpetual, trundling mechanical movement.

It didn't quite sit well with the autonomy of automobile, and as well as the 'dual-mode' system suggested above, the car companies kept up a steady stream of concepts that stressed individual freedom and the ability to consume - GM's 1965 runabout, with its integral shopping basket, for example. There was even the much-vaunted electronic highway, developed by the Russian TV pioneer Vladimir Zworykin (more history here). Zworykin also created a television-guided bomb, used at the end of WWII. The perils of automated highways still ring true. From 'Driving Without Drivers,' Time, 3 August 1953: 'The drivers will have nothing to do; they can sleep or play cards or stare at the flowing road. Then some irregularity—an electronic failure or a blown front tire—pokes a mischievous finger into the smooth system. The dreaming drivers awake only when their cars are already piling in great, mangled heaps.'


Other things. Building the world's new eco-cities: enough theory, time for action, Pearman on sustainable urbanism / incredible set of images taken in the Roosevelt Warehouse, the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository. Via me-fi, via making light. More information courtesy of Sweet Juniper / new website for photographer Andreas Gehrke / huge repository of articles on World's Fairs and Expos.

SpaceCollective, 'living the lives of science fiction today' / a smattering of flickr pools: Atomic Ranch, Midcentury Neighbourhoods, 1960s interior design, mid-century illustrated, Retro Kid / more stepping back into the past, the Intercut wood typeface project / Print Club London, reviving the art of screen printing. A Weblog / 120 years of electronic music at / online guitar tuner / architecture photos by aqui-ali / the NASA Thesaurus, every acronym under the sun.

Virtual London in Crysis; video game engines take another leap forward in sophistication, allowing them to take huge chunks of complex real-world data and render them in real time. Via Rock Paper Shotgun / we remember reading Patrick Lynch in a recent issue of the AJ (not the linked article) sounding off about the quality of architectural education in the UK. One of the schools he rated was Bath. Browse Tand's Photos on flickr to see samples of work. We especially like the Monochord. A bit more about Monochords: I, II, III.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stacking the Decks: How Parking Garages Got Ugly', a rather bad-tempered appraisal of Shannon Sanders McDonald's book The Parking Garage: Design and Evolution of a Modern Urban Form, coming down in favour of mechanisation rather than garages based on ramps, which the author believes 'sever an age-old architectural connection between you, the building and the earth you drove in on'. Whatever, it pointed us towards Parking Magazine, reminded us of this Paul Rudolph flickr set and the images from Simon Henley's The Architecture of Parking.

One forgets how strong the impetuts was for wholescale demolition and reconstruction in the first decades of the twentieth century. Geoffrey Sainsbury, in his The Dictatorship of Things, apparently published in 1905 (although our first edition says 1933), called for the construction of a 'real Jerusalem of steel and concrete' in England. Sainsbury, a committed modernist who later translated Corbusier, also shared the architect's slash and burn vision. 'Within the ten-mile radius of Charing Cross lie 314 square miles of land. If we made our buildings 20 stories high, we could house the whole population of Greater London within that radius, and yet leave room within it for something like 200 square miles of parks and gardens.... Could really bring ourselves to raze [our historic capital] to the ground? If we want a little history there is room for it. In my very rough calculations I have allowed for the conservation of 14 square miles of central London. Besides this there are in many districts beautiful houses and groups of houses scattered about. The best could be kept, but in the parks. The old architecture will not mix in with the new. To have them adjoining would be unjust to both.'


Other things. Reference Library, a great weblog. Posts include Ebay Items I Didn't Win / 1000 thoughts or less / an enormous collection of railway history links / the living spaces of German DJs / superb, the Library of Congress flickr pages / go back to the award-winning websites of 1997, courtesy of

'Online golf game handicaps productivity'. Welcome to World Golf Tour. Interesting for its creative process: 'the World Golf team has been taking high-resolution pictures of every square inch of far-flung golf courses - from Pinehurst in North Carolina to the Bali Hai Golf Club in Las Vegas - using a small fleet of helicopters and radio-controlled drones' / the Cold War History Project / the work of Stuart Haygarth, via Happy Mundane.

Mi Magazine / bikes in Beijing and Shanghai, by Aleksandra Domanovic. See also Places I have lived at, arranged by size and amount of time spent there / dear ada, via a+r=t / Bell the Cat, an art and design blog / photography by Kathrin Kur / Dan Hill's The Well-Tempered Personal Environment (video and notes).


Friday, January 18, 2008
Our collective longing for lost technology is getting more and more vocal and heartfelt: Please Spool to End of Tape Before Playing Other Side, Giles Turnbull at tmn. 'The Top 40 show was our source of musical entertainment for the entire week. By taping it, we had a compilation of hits at our fingertips. This was our generation’s iPod, podcast, and torrent all rolled into a two-hour-long musical indulgence.'

More Chaff on 'ffffound and attribution' and the problems therein. A site geared up to visual quotes, a tumble of style over substance, isn't ideal for tracing the route of where an image actually came from (via haddock). Removed from its context, imagery becomes so self-important that context matters less and less. So when one considers this parade of undeniably interesting urban ffffinds, pulled from the site, their geographical detachment turns the (mostly) real world into a digital one, a series of spaces without centre or heart.

Ian Martin has defected from BD to the Architect's Journal. Happily he's still on about exactly the same kind of things but suffers from the AJ's infuriating habit of highlighting key words in a sentence. Why does it do this? A piece of satirical writing contains, by its very nature, no key phrases, so the highlights serve only to distract the eye and the mind. And in an effort not to unbalance the feel of the page, the designer has to ensure they're distributed evenly across the three column layout. Confusingly, BD replaces the Martin slot with a self-conscious parody by Jonathan Glancey.

Zaha's modern ruins, via Kosmograd / also linked and missed by us earlier, Daniel Libeskind is the Les Dawson of architecture, a master at 'crashing the high brow into the low brow' and all the entertaining emotional manipulation that ensues / an archive of covers of the Radio Times / Vwork has better methods of attribution.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The general consensus amongst architects and historians is that Cedric Price's Fun Palace of 1964 was a primary influence on Rogers and Piano's 1977 Centre Georges Pompidou. In a sense, it was the genesis of the utopian ideal of the cultural building as playground, one that is still beloved by architects, urbanists and city planners. The lineage between the two projects appears direct, as both use a lightweight high-tech aesthetic and free floorplan, a non-hierarchical interior for various community and artistic uses. The Pompidou, although completed in the 70s, is often referred to as the quintessential 60s building, in spirit if not in precise chronological time.

We don't deny that Price was influential, far more so, in fact, than his scant built oeuvre would ever suggest. Like many of the grand figures of twentieth century art history who are undergoing a small scale revival on weblogs, flickr sets and image accumulation sites (the modern equivalent of organising for the private publication of a folio of images), Price built very little but generated a huge amount of iconic imagery (in much the same vein as Archigram, with whom Price was loosely affiliated). We once saw him get caught in a set of automatic doors on Tottenham Court Road.

Price's most interesting - and apparently prescient - concepts include the Fun Palace (see also this collection of Fun Palace images at Quotesque), a shed of infinite possibilities, lightweight, ultimately disposable but always responsive to the changing needs of a leisure-orientated culture. The title of Stanley Mathews' piece at rather sums it up: From Agit-Prop to Free Space, and charts how Price's ideas for the conversion of abandoned industry into zones of education, leisure and technological innovation were about ten years ahead of their time. By the time the UK woke up to its large swathes of post-industrial wasteland in the early 80s, there was little enthusiasm for any utopian, architect-led solution, so the whole problem was simply shifted over to the private sector to sort out, with predictably mediocre results.

The visions of Price, Archigram, et al, have had more of an influence on children's soft play centres than on romantic, nomadic combinations of architecture and machinery - like the Manned Cloud proposed by designer Jean-Marie Massaud ('Manned Cloud is an alternative project around leisure and travelling in all its form, economic and experimental, still with the idea of lightness, human experience and life scenarios as the guiding principles. The spiral of Archimedes is the driving force of this airship in the form of a whale that glides through the air.')

This isn't just anti-technological humbug, it's simply the observation that the best laid plans and ambitions of the more technologically determinist architects and designers have a strange way of turning round and biting us. So it goes that rather than live in a society punctuated by vast structures aimed at enhancing social cohesion and the quality of our leisure time, we've ended up with malls and Wacky Warehousess, both of which bear not only an ideological link but a visual one to Price's InterAction Centre in Kentish Town (demolished 2003, Fun Barns still extant). Isn't a ball pit just a mass-market, plasticised version of the soft environments pushed by the likes of everyone from Panton to Conran (check the web exhibition 'Conversation Pits and Cul-de-sacs - Dutch architecture of the 1970s'.

Still, influence is everything in a world of quotes, verbal and visual. The O.C. Fun Palace Project (pdf) is a quasi-tongue in cheek call for the transposition of Price's 'temporal, multi-programmed, 24-hour entertainment centre' to the mall-swamped landscape of Orange County (at girlwonder). The recent spate of public art installations, follies, panopticons and sitooteries shows that surprise and delight is still supposed to have a place in the modern world. Sadly, although Price ultimately envisioned a wholly technologised modern world, his ideals have been enthusiastically taken up by advocates of privatised play spaces, for both adults and children.

The paradox of modernism is its innate seriousness, because any form of frivolity is inevitably co-opted as a means of selling something. Sometimes this is tacitly understood - the malls of Victor Gruen, an idealist who ultimately decided to just go with the flow, or the constantly evolving amusement park aesthetic. Even Price's much-vaunted 'Magnets', the project he was working on at the time of his death, predicted the private sector's unsubtle lunge towards co-opting public space for the means of stimulating advertising. Installations and events are sponsorship opportunities, first and foremost, while the spontaneity of street happenings and theatres has spawned the genre known as guerilla advertising. The modern city is almost entirely magnetised, but we've been polarised to be attracted to everything.


Other things. More Price online: a blog on the work of Gordon Pask, Cedric Price and John Frazer (the website of "Envisioning an evolving architecture: The encounters of Gordon Pask, Cedric Price and John Frazer", a PhD Dissertation by Goncalo Furtado Lopes at UCL) / Heresy Corner, a weblog worth a read / a gallery of images of Pimlico School, a risky building with just weeks left to live / build your own modernist pavilion / all about Trailing Spouse Syndrome / guitar notes by David Gedge at Something and Nothing / Five Unbelievably Cool Research Facilities. Mad scientists are alive and well.

Monday, January 14, 2008

'Behind the scenes at my museum,' a piece by Richard Fortey of the Natural History Museum which manages to convey an institution defiantly out of time, labyrinthine and dense, a place of copious collections, polished mahogany, romantic gloom and storerooms so remote and obscure they served only as places for romantic trysts. What's remarkable is what's unseen, both in terms of the extensive storerooms that fill over half the floorspace open to the public, all the way down to 'the molluscophiles ... still secreted in their old haunts in the basement,' and the collections themselves, so extensive that they will probably never be seen in their entirety. Fortey has just published a book, Dry Store Room No.1, subtitled 'The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum', which delves into this hidden catalogue of the world, from slowly rotting stuffed giraffes to 'a mineral called proustite, which can never be put on display – it is a compound of silver, arsenic and sulphur that forms as blood-red crystals that fade, poetically, when exposed to light.'

Seen everywhere and seized upon with a fair bit of schadenfreude: Ive v.Rams, and a bit more / Feltron's 2007 Annual Report is a combination of the utter self-absorption of modern times and the utter ease with which technology facilitates that self-absorption. Strangely fascinating / Today and Tomorrow, a weblog. We must have linked this just the other day / Paul Cornell's House of Awkwardness, a weblog / Lake Mead water levels, still falling / Link-Log, self explanatory.

Architecture yp, an occasionally very telling architecture weblog. On developer led architecture with reference to Foster's new Troika project, 'We need to fulfill the plot ratio requirement and make up something special as selling point.' / Strange Vehicles and Unreal Aircraft / My Garage, a set of spaces owned by supercar collectors / the lo-fi librarian, a weblog, which links the Librarian dress-up site, something for wandering minds / Pootee, image cascade.

Amazingly, mile and a half long UFOs are able to sweep over a small town in Texas without anyone managing to get a single photo. Not even from a camera phone / more large objects, the islands of Logopelago, by Erandi deSilva (first slide only), published in With/Without, a book by the makers of Middle East culture magazine Bidoun / The Storque, Etsy's magazine component.

With friends like these: 'Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all. It simply mediates in relationships that were happening anyway.' / Victoria Hely-Hutchinson's series English Boarding School, via Shane Lavalette / Millions Now Living Will Never Die, a collection of portraits (the origins of the phrase, better known in modern hipster circles as the title of a Tortoise album. The artwork bridges the two worlds) / Polaroids, a weblog / modern China through the eyes of Ou Ning's Blog.

Thursday, January 10, 2008
Round-up Friday. Giant Earth, via DRB / Subtopia on floating prisons / A Very Weird and Blocky Future, a life told through consoles, at tmn. See also this fine Letter from Paris / Synaesthete looks fun / a456, a tumblelog / Joe Goodness / where to go to get your ephemera fix.

Sometimes we think there are more design and visual culture blogs than there is design and visual culture. A vast feedback loop, driven by regular trawls through server logs / the art of Chris Flanagan / Digital Library Projects at the University of Texas, including the Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection.

Polaroid's Zink is one stop closer to the inevitable; a reproduction of the original Land Camera with a digital sensor and built in printer. We give it 18 months.

Will the Real Ernst Bettler Please Stand Up?, Design Observer on hoaxes, sources, and designers' aspirations for their work to have a profound social impact / not really related. Dated with a hint of megalomania: Tony Blair's stationery decoded.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Penguin aesthetic has undergone something of a self-guided, if self-conscious, revival in recent years. As the Pelican Project linked above makes abundantly clear, there is an undeniable visual unity when you're presented with a decade's worth of covers. The Penguin design story is straightforward, but much mythologised. As Robin Kinross notes in the Hyphen Press's excellent Journal, the company ultimately appears to have lost the plot, indulging in too much 'visual imitation and self-reference'. The Penguins and Pelicans themselves also tend to be much fetishised by contemporary designers - you just have to scour ffffound to see occasional appearances by 'classic' examples of the familiar dark blue cover art (I, II, III, IV, V, VI) jumbled up with the soup of spirited yet ultimately refined modernist taste that drives modern visual practice. We offer up the Pelican Project as more grist for the mill.


Other things. Moderato, a literary weblog coming out of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina / poignant but fascinating question, what have we lost forever? (especially this response, related to the previous link, on the 'Sarajevo Haggadah (related New Yorker article)) / Silver Poetics, a photography weblog.

Phayung, an architecture weblog, hoovering up the cascade of built environment imagery / Commando Blog, fashion and things from Norway / SoCal Modern Residential, a flickr set / The Show So Far, a weblog / movie recommendations for toddlers / How to be useful, a blog (and book) by Megan Hustad.

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Monday, January 07, 2008
Architectural fantasies have a habit of manifesting themselves as a rather humdrum reality. Noting that the utopian dream of the megastructure somehow evolved into the elitist, ultra-gated landscape or cultural quarter, it's also worth considering how another staple of the utopian movement - the garden city - has become synonymous with holidays, escapes and retreats, rather than the new form of everyday urbanism that would bring light, space and greenery to all.

Center Parcs are a Europe-wide chain of holiday villages, groupings of well-spaced bungalows set amongst verdant landscapes and advertised as a place for family outdoor activity. Founded by the Dutch Businessman Piet Derksen in the 1960s, the Parcs have their origins in that decade's newly-found environmental idealism, eventually including that all-important symbol of futuristic development, the dome, re-branded as the 'Subtropical Swimming Paradise'.

The original architect of Derksen's first village, De Lommerbergen, in 1968, was none other than Jaap Bakema, a central figure in Team 10, a designer who 'summarized his urban and architectural ideas under the notion of 'architecturbanism' and 'Total Space', an idealistic, almost cosmological outlook on the human habitat and existence.' Bakema died in 1981, but his legacy lives on in the firm of Architectenbureau Van den Broek en Bakema.

Along with Bakema, the core members of Team 10 were the architects Georges Candilis, Giancarlo De Carlo, Aldo van Eyck, Alison and Peter Smithson and Shadrach Woods. Their approach was deliberately incoherent, post-modernist in chronology, if not in terms of their actual approach. Existing in the relatively nebulous space after the great heyday of international modernism - the organisation was originally conceived out of CIAM (the Congres Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne - Team 10 attempted to splice the thrill of new materials and technologies with the random, drifting cityscape celebrated by the Situationists. CIAM imploded in 1956 after its strictly dogmatic approach was increasingly rejected by its members, although its legacy of zoned, industrially-manufactured cities lingered in the minds of less imaginative architects for another decade or so, even longer in the once creatively fertile lands of the Soviet Bloc.

The CIAMified city had little or no place for the ephemeral, whereas Team 10 placed the creation of place at the top of their agenda, acknowledging from the outset the importance of the everyday in space generation, activities that were inherently unplanned and, paradoxically, outside the remit of the architect. In this sense, Team 10 were doing themselves out of a job - 'risking failure and putting their own standpoints and convictions on the line', as the Team 10 Online site puts it.

The unplanned remains a contentious subject in design, and yet there's a long history of the carefully contrived in art and architecture, be it a romantic landscape or tousled, shabby chic interior, or even the fractured computer-driven architecture of deconstruction. Chances are that these examples of apparent spontaneity have to be carefully planned. But what Team 10 understood - to the extent that their built legacy is woefully small - is that one can't plan for genuine chance.

Today, the key spontaneous urban gesture is one of hostility, often provoked by the very art and objects that were intended to inspire. Yet affection for one's environment - something the Smithsons sought to embed within their schemes - be it urban or rural - is based on recognition, familiarity and lack of change. The novelty of chance only serves to undermine familiarity; Team 10's vision for the modern city is fatally undermined by optimism.

So where does that leave Bakema's Center Parcs? With their neo-vernacular log cabins, acres of 'unspoilt' woodland criss-crossed by mountain bike trails, and futuristic dome form, Center Parcs are a world apart from the stained, streaked and undeniably challenging concrete of monumental modernism. A futurist ideal has become a space of nostalgic longings for a bucolic past, Constable clad in Converse All-Stars.

The ideal of the perfect landscape remains strong in the collective memory, and Center Parcs strive to fuse modern concerns - loss of the green belt, sustainable design - with their creation of ersatz woodland villages. This colossal planning statement for a proposed new park at Warren Wood in Bedfordshire is stuffed with sustainable buzzwords in order to counter the inherent contradiction of the company's business model: it needs to build in woodland, which is often ancient and protected. Warren Wood is a somewhat controversial development, to say the least, and the report's plaintive breakdowns of the 2 1/2 hour drive isochrones around the UK's little pockets of ancient woodland is certainly poignant (see page 124). Spontaneity needs meticulous documentation, and even then there is no guarantee the vision will come to fruition.


Other things. The 1960 Pasadena Tournament of Roses / like an unfiltered ffffound, a stream of internet imagery at Herbert Groot's website. See also Typeish, which is more structured (and also frequently nsfw) / Instructables is a website of multiple how-tos, from baking to technology / Musgle, a music search engine / Release Odysseus, a weblog / demolishing Buckminster Fuller.

Ken Garland's website is a treasure trove of his austere, highly influential graphic style, dating back to the 1960s / Material Systems, an organic architecture studio. See also the work of The Very Many / Tatra literature. The company also branched into snowmobiles, with the V855, seen here amongst these Soviet Snowmobiles collected by Dark Roasted Blend. Check DRB's Snowmobiles flickr set for more.

The Death of High Fidelity? (via) It's not hard to disagree. An earlier IHT piece stated that The Web is awash in anti-MP3 audiophiles, dividing the world into those who relish the insanely technical details recounted at places like The Lossless Audio Blog, or obsess about insanely overpriced audio components, and those who feel happy with a 128kb mp3 tearing through the tiny, tinny speakers of a mobile phone.

Acres of metal links at / the ten best music videos of 2007 / Bara, a weblog / Strictly No Photography, sneaking imagery out of places it is expressly forbidden / Paleo-Future, a loving, heartfelt sigh at the future wonders of a once optimistic past / Uberkuul, a Finnish weblog / art by Allan Sekula / a textbook example of schadenfreude / The Great War in Colo(u)r.

Tony B's DJ machine, fun / Grassroads, image curating / Vorn Magazine, photography and fashion / i-eclectica, a weblog / Electroctuing an Elephant, a dubious anniversary in technology history / the Mapping Globalization Project, via me-fi / Barbican Living, extensive guide to London's concrete high-rises / Kate Spade, a designer / atomic weather report, via Further.

We have a new set of galleries, The Pelican Project. Please report any dead links.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Russell Davies on the role of 'widgets' in marketing, the intersection of new media with old media, our desires and aspirations and how information will be distributed to the right people at the right time to facilitate consumption. As usual, this is all fascinating stuff, a very human and well thought through examination of technology that has the power to be invasive, irritating and inescapable, yet could also be quietly and discretely helpful. For now, in this brave new world of dropped 'e' utility websites (kicked off by flickr, rolled on by tumblr, Dopplr, plundr, etc.), we are on the cusp of a world that is no longer ruled by things, but is ruled by processes.

Three percent, 'a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester' / trainstorming, design and visual culture / Blogtrotter, a travel weblog, with archives of journeys from the 1980s and the 1990s / From Way Away, a travel weblog / idealist, 'dreamed objects' / design corner, illustration and more / The Estrangement Gallery, especially the link to Jill Sylvia's ghostly ledger books.

The Sorted Books project by artist Nina Katchadourian: 'The process is the same in every case: culling through a collection of books, pulling particular titles, and eventually grouping the books into clusters so that the titles can be read in sequence, from top to bottom'. We also like Finland's Unnamed Islands.

Deridavow, a weblog / Untold London, 'discover the history of London's diverse communities'. Essays include The Chinese In Limehouse 1900-1940 / Tweaking your record player, a dispatch from an analogue past / tallest lift tower in Japan. The only one in the UK is the Express Lift Tower in Northampton.

Nascent Ideas, a weblog / a single trader 'paid $600 for the right to tell his grandchildren that he was the first in the world to buy $100 oil'. How much to tell your grandchildren you were the first to dig in a pristine wilderness? / Big Box Reuse / go back to analogue; the 36 Exposures Challenge (via Coudal).

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

There's something rather unsettling about the latest megastructure to come out of Foster and Partners, the Crystal Island, the 'world's largest ever building' sprawling across the Nagatino Peninsula on the Moscow River (Dezeen has the full release). Following on from similarly vast schemes in Kazakhstan (more), Bulgaria, Libya, Abu Dhabi and Siberia, perhaps Foster is now the only architect in the world with enough power to credibly suggest such a volume or scale of construction.

Back in the 60s and 70s, megastructuralism was seen as a brave, avant-garde stance, a way of addressing the failings of the mainstream through city-sized projects that meant either a blank slate for new social structures and organisations, or hyper-dense environments that responded to humankind's increasingly media-saturated lifestyles. Today's megastructure is therefore depressingly corporate. From the much-derided plan to create a Russia-shaped archipelago off the Black Sea Coast to the F+P projects quoted above, the modern megastructure swoops in under a cloak of sustainability to fulfill the modern agenda of the instant cultural quarter, i.e. wholescale redevelopment, a collision of high value retail and residential that forms its own geometrically pure aesthetic. There have always been strong hints of megastructural's ideological dominance and desire for visual purity, all the way from the late Kenzo Tange's ambitious scheme for Tokyo Bay through to Archigram's superficially chaotic visions.

Any such scheme would have required the full force of the military-industrial complex to come to fruition, which explains why only America really embraced the megastructural concept, with Victor Gruen's hermetic shopping cities spurred into life by the marketing visionaries of Detroit and the deep pockets and icy breath of the air conditioning industry. Gruen was a visionary, but not a persuasive one, and his grand ideas withered and died in favour of cut-and-paste sprawl. And all the while, the megastructuralists of Europe and Japan pitched increasingly absurd visions with little or no hope of getting built.


Other things. The Natural History of Selbourne, a historical weblog republishing the journals of the Reverend Gilbert White (1720-1793) / Old UK Photos, hand coloured visions of a verdant, vanished landscape / wonderful story in New York magazine about a set of artistic apartments located above Carnegie Hall, including architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien / Retracing the Berlin Wall / why is metal still ignored by the mainstream? / browse through a Basket of Websites / Ettore Sottsass, RIP.

Spatial awareness and gender, from The Child in the City: '...given a selection of wooden blocks, boys tend to build towers whereas girls build enclosed spaces. Girls produce furniture arrangements with people in a static situation inside buildings.'

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