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Wednesday, March 26, 2008


The seductive myth of a domestic utopia. Architectural media has a habit of creaming off the most interesting work, a tiny percentage of a percentage, casting an almost wholly skewed and inaccurate portrait of any contemporary scene. The internet has only exacerbated this situation, and there's an almost Pravda-like project underway to position modernism - usually a LEED-led, SoCal inspired, prefab friendly, Case Study-infused aesthetic (via) - as the dominant style of residential building around the world, with tract housing, McMansions and little brick boxes as the new class enemy. Online, architects can revel in an imaginary domestic utopia, a global yet entirely virtual exurb of endless, picture perfect modernism.

Periodically, the design media indulges in rants against the moribund aesthetic of the status quo, yet the 'average style' that makes up the majority of houses built around the world remains almost entirely invisible in media terms. As a result, the 'average home' has taken on an abstract quality, a universal design bogeyman of indeterminate form - although it is always ugly, invariably oversized, and inevitably representing a lapse in taste on behalf of planners, the public (and, whisper it, other architects). There's currently a certain amount of soul-searching going on within the Australian design media. While the long-standing international success of architects like Glen Murcutt and the late Harry Seidler (as well as the increasingly important work of studios like John Wardle and Bates Smart and the younger generation represented by media and web-savvy architects like Andrew Maynard) portray a country forging forwards with a highly evolved form of vernacular modernism, critics still feel that the majority taste represents the Triumph of Ugliness. Philistinism is rife, and it is harming the country's image. '"We haven't engaged with this country and its limitations," [Philip Drew] says. "And we haven't engaged with it visually, in terms of creating an architecture which is sympathetic, which builds on the visual qualities of both the flora, the weather and the land itself.'

It's not enough for architecture to be simply modern and tasteful, but it has to engage on a physical, environmental and spiritual level with its surroundings. Reading 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache: The Great Australian Dream and its architecture, CoS's extended riff on the role of the private Australian house as a laboratory and place of experimentation, the comments by the likes of Drew seem to be a misguided attempt to sustain the pessimistic but high profile arguments first fostered by Robin Boyd ('The Australian Ugliness'). So is Australia a nation completely hamstrung by a relentless and insatiable suburbanism? It's frustrating how easily - and willingly - discourse about modern architecture slips into us-and-them dualisms. But without a fundamental antagonism, modern architecture loses its radical thrust and threatens to become just plain old architecture, and that would never do. The argument at the core of the Australian debate - that building should accommodate landscape, rather than the other way around - seems to be about modernism as a means of assuaging environmental, even post-colonial, guilt about interaction with the land.

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Other things. The oceanic migration of plastic objects. See also Stuart Haygarth's ' chandelier (which seemed to reference 'Cold Dark Matter' (i.e. the exploding shed) of Cornelia Parker), or the more likely source, The Real Toy Story, the photographic series by Michael Wolf / things we have downloaded, which pointed us towards the excellent Launchy / you will need many grey bricks: a Lego model of the Discovery, via tecnologia obsoleta / all about Switzerland's 2000-watt society plan, a long-term goal to reduce individual energy consumption.

Alden B.Dow was an American architect working in the organic modern style made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright. He was also the son of Herbert H.Dow, founder of the Dow Chemical Company, and after studying at Frank Lloyd Wright's quasi-mystical Taliesin, he returned to the 23 acre family estate to build his organic masterpiece. Dow's fortune came from the commercial scale production of bleach. In later years, Dow became known for making napalm, invented by Dr Louis Fieser, silicone breast implants and Agent Orange (which it was 'compelled to produce' by the US Government), all perversely at odds with the organic, adhoc, nature-loving visions created by Dow Jr.

The end of Christiana and architectural idealism / The Pointless Museum, revisited / delving into the AA Diploma Unit 9 for a bit of pure architecture form-making for form's sake. Eleftherios Ambatzis's work is a case in point. 'My aim is to displace the ecclesiastical reality into a new field condition where imagination is the guiding principle structuring everyday life.' This is a new form of sacred architecture based on generational form: '"The Church of the infinite paths" takes Christianity as a starting point to an erratic journey into the future.' Rather than create a structure based on the straight liturgical and theological paths of the faith, Ambatzis offers the worshipper multiple ways of reaching wherever it is they want to go.

Frinton Park Estate, Essex / 5 of these and 3 of those, etc., etc., at the weburbanist / more concrete in peril: an enormous, epic and completist post on the history and future of Robin Hood Gardens over at City of Sound (where the 'architecture' tag is getting out of control, unsurprisingly) / YouTube - Bristol In The 1920s, via Phil Gyford / a feature about the emperiled VDL House by Richard Neutra, at archinect / it's not quite Ian Martin, but this tale of the Bilbao-12 ('The case was made for using architecture to revitalize the economies of postindustrial cities by establishing a brotherhood of "superstar" architects who would generate spectacles bolstered by our reviews, creating "archi­tourism," or what has become known today as the "Bilbao Effect."') made us laugh nonetheless.

Wallpaper has a gallery from the Adventures with Objects show currently on in Turin / our collective recent history, online, kottke puts together a useful round-up of the steady stream of free archives opening up content from major publications, including Time, Harpers and the New York Times, plus an article on the logic behind public access / The Stray Voltage, a weblog by artist Roy van der Ende, who makes fabulous sculptures out of reclaimed timbers / when architectural renders go wrong / a bit more on the unsolicited Eiffel submission, a story that might work either way for its architect (presumably Nakheel have already called).

The Norwegian Collection of Potential Architecture is a promising project, an attempt to create an 'online collection of the half-baked, the promising, the raw and the invisible architecture; Projects that miscarried, went over the top, were turned down by clients or for other reasons never became realised.' A sort of flipside to the fast-expanding MIMOA database. In other news, enter We Heart It, 'visual bookmarking' gets moved on another step. Not wholly convinced by this one yet / ORDOS 100, new architecture in China.

The Gateshead Carpark Demolition Project (via i like). Accompanying flickr pool. Related, a set of images of Luder's late, lamented Tricorn Centre. Taken by us in late 1998 / 'how does Outside actually rate?' / Stashpocket, a weblog / We Are The Lambeth Boys. Have a ferret around Channel 4's documentary archive as well / needs a bit more design clarity, but the automotive family tree is a revealing bit of corporate history / The Dome is Home - South Pole history 1975-90.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Just casting around. The new shelton wet/dry, a weblog / Vintage Logos, a photoset / Vintage Science, a photoset / the Peckham pool / The Worst of Perth, a blog chronicling the excesses of Australian town planning and civic design / last chance to see: Wonderland: The Curious World of Frinton-on-Sea / see also England: The Land Of Subtle Idiosyncracies, a photoset.

The best and worst of architect's websites, which barely even scratches the surface. We'd recommend Sutherland Lyall's Webwatch column in the AJ instead / new magazines tracked by the Colophon Symposium / a healthy dose of media schadenfreude courtesy of the entertaining Private Frazer's Doomed Magazines, looking at the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the UK media scene.

Painted cars by Patrician van Lubeck. DIY dazzle patterns / Efimera, a Spanish weblog / images from Belgrade / 2 or 3 things I know, architecture weblog / The Office as Architectural Touchstone, NY Times on the fading glories of mid-century modern office design. Slideshow. / Car Blue Prints, exactly what it says / The Bioscope, 'Reporting on the world of early and silent cinema' / Press here if you think that the cake is a lie.

Material World, a material culture blog, especially 'Commodity Branding Far Predates Modern Capitalism', which traces the origins of branding goods back to ancient Egypt and Iraq, linking branding with mass production and consumption (thanks to Sarah for both of those).

China's Forgotten Parks, photos by Kurt Tong / more Pawley / 1974 Citroen Brochure / Four Minutes to Midnight / Russian Mobster tombs. Heavy symbolism / Made in England by Gentlemen / Tessellar, a weblog / the Mini de Ville website / Earth Architecture / a gallery of London's Commonwealth Institute, soon to be refurbished by OMA.

Retro-fitted architecture taken to the extreme: Serero Architects' winning idea to erect a temporary cantilevered carbon fibre platform on the summit of one of the world's best-known structures. The viewing platform certainly creates some spectacular imagery, more reminiscent of a unlikely film set than a project with genuine potential. The addition inevitably makes the tapering structure top-heavy, and the actual function - bringing more people up to what is a pretty cramped and functional space - seems less important than the structural gymnastics.

Update: It seems the whole concept of a new platform is not only unofficial but possibly even a hoax on the architects themselves. Reminiscent of the rumour that the Americans thought they were buying Tower Bridge. There aren't many architectural hoaxes out there (although the wartime masquerades of Jasper Maskelyne come close, as do the perpetual drip feed of improbable works purpoted to be built in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union).

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Monday, March 10, 2008
Music criticism can now lie down and die, thanks to Paul Ford's epic but essential undertaking, Six-Word Reviews of 763 SXSW Mp3s / whatever happened to holders of black and white television licenses? Apparently there are '34,700 people in the UK with a licence for black and white television,' compared to 25 million colour licence holders / "You can't move in London without someone giving you the news" / black and white photographs from the Festival of Britain / HI, a weblog (great URL).

PartIV on the necessary difference between building, architecture and [what he calls] st.architecture. Is architecture simply "published building", or is it even more mediated than that? And are published buildings presented simply as 'good architecture', without any hope of true critical analysis? And what happens to a building that hasn't been published? Is it architecture?

An amazing collection of aviation ephemera for sale / the Bernard Herrmann Society, devoted to the American composer / art and music at Canta Piriquito Canta / love this keyboard organiser / a guide to Avengerland, location spotting from British TV of the 60s and 70s. We love this kind of website / flowchart yourself. If many of these items mean a great deal to you, you might also enjoy this paper, Atari Graphics and Arcade Game Design / more coding and computer related hot links.

If you've ever worked in an architect's office, the The Honeywood File (lovingly placed online by Part IV) will seem desperately familiar / a History of the Home Pregnancy Test. See also the things piece on the Persona, which segues nicely into 'Pregnant Pause'.




The end of architecture, part 4. Compare these renders of future structures in Dubai to this set of post-apocalyptic concept art. Reality will be somewhere in between. But as Life Without Buildings points out, What's Up With All The Death Stars? Today, the role of modern architecture seems to begin and end with a statement of intent, in this case a terrifyingly literal imposition of science fiction values into the real world. Increasingly, whenever renders are used to whip up a social, cultural or political idyll, detail is subsumed beneath a rosy glow of reflected sunlight on shimmering water and glassy facades, more an indication of advanced rendering techniques than architectural innovation. The easiest way to modulate this light is to focus on experimental, 'innovative' forms. Gulf architecture, with its hard sunlight, flat landscape, seaside plots and apparently insatiable desire novelty, is a renderer's paradise. It is not, as yet, a truly real place.

"Das ist das Haus des Nikolaus". What is the House of Santa Claus?. There are 44 ways to draw the house, as demonstrated by this animation (taken from the German wikipedia page) / the Universal Scale, a flashy piece of animation built for Nikon cameras / works in paper by Holly Ormrod (via Green Chair Press) / Villatype, urban lettering / One Man and His Blog.

Devo - E-Z Listening Muzak Cassettes, Volumes One and Two, at I'm Learning to Share / Apothecary's Drawer sets out a useful number of links and information about Photographic Rights / Entropy, a photographic series about Romania (via grafic). As well as the expected industrial ruins, there are also galleries of cars and houses, the latter being a combination of shabby rural dwellings and Post-Soviet McMansions / the demolition of Pimlico School is underway. A gallery / a set of photoshop disasters / farewell Martin Pawley.

America's new line of division: Wal-Mart versus Starbucks / Gregor Graf's visually purified cityscapes are like the empty worlds from a post-apocalyptic computer game. Not a new idea (even in the real world) but nicely executed / the Roger Vaughan Personal Collection of Victorian and Edwardian Photographs / the Filter, a cultural weblog / flickr places, something we haven't played with yet / Brick City, a celebration of St Louis / rusting Russian hulks / playing with pocket battleships (both via Mr Boat).

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008


One of those wonderfully leftfield ideas: training crows to recover small change. A potential fortune awaits (via me-fi) / A personal history of electronic writing. Moving on from Word, which 'still uses the metaphor of the page, the computer screen that imitates a blank, bounded sheet of physical paper. For me, this is outdated and unimaginative. It has become a barrier rather than a window' / No Pictures Reviews, music and links. And pictures too / the Library of Mu. Has potential / OK, so it's a Daily Mail article, with analysis in Swedish by Erik Sandblom, but we like the infographic.

Sometimes one comes across a brilliant idea for a weblog that's been hastily abandoned, a perfectly preserved ghost town with all the intent and structure intact, but no posts to fill it. Aerugo Airship ('a lighter-than-air blog') is one such example. The internet needs a place to 'explore the subject of lighter-than-air transport, or airships if you will. Anything goes, be it fictional, historical, contemporary or future designs.'

An Accepted Gambit, a weblog. We like their use of the Pelicans, currently flapping their stumpy wings as they spread themselves around the internet (also amused to see that the aesthetic is even getting a contemporary update). AAG's post on The Validity of Dunbar’s Number (Even Online) is interesting, examing the apparent maximum number of 'so-called stable relationships' that any one person can sustain in the age of endless connections. 'The online world, thanks to social networking sites, has coyly substituted the term 'friend' for 'link' in order to make the web more 'personal' and less obtuse.'

Suggested Donation, a weblog / Sustainable Rotterdam, a resource / A Comparison of the US-Mexico Border in 1898 and 2008, at think or thwim / MCM Houseplans / photography by Alex MacLean. Series include 'American Culture and Climate Change' / Ytlig, a design blog / Dungeons and Dragons aficionados reminisce / a series of photographic essays on Modern Ruins by Shaun O'Boyle / What now for the Forth metaphor? / Below the Clouds, architecture and more / Kofi's Hat, mp3s and more / Design Kitten.

The Hermitage, a weblog with a fascination with puppetry and mechanical theatre / design, contemporary crafts at another shade of grey. We must have reached the point where there are more makers than consumers in this particular scene / Modernisma, fading roadside Sweden / tickets, please, a flickr set / Books Pertaining to Commodore Perry's Expedition to Japan and Okinawa. See also Hand Colored Meiji Era Photographs. The Meiji Era.

The Infomercantile assembles all sorts of unusual information, like this lovingly compiled collection of information about the entirely fictional Northrop-Loral F-19A Specter / Laura Davina, a weblog / totally obsessive American page about the Mercedes 190D, a car that is usually an ailing taxicab over in Europe / Fractal Ontology has lofty but fascinating ambitions, to map out 'connections between psychoanalysis and philosophy to other fields and disciplines, including theoretical biology, cultural studies and artificial intelligence'.


Sunday, March 02, 2008


Duga-3, a monumental Soviet antenna, also known as the Russian Woodpecker thanks to the steady clicking noise it put out across the short-wave band. More information here. Back in the 80s, no-one knew where this inteference was coming from. A little bit more about mystery signals.

Collected Visuals, Design Milk, Beaden, Off the Hoof, Right-Handed, Cosas Visuales, all visual weblogs / the many personas of Joe Nickell / Curio+Abyss, an image blog. Some of said images may not be safe for work / Houze.net, a photo focused weblog.

Armour for mice and cats, by artist Jeff de Boer, via Equivocal / the best of ItalDesign Giugiaro / the Italians develop a robotic hawk to keep airport runways clear of birds. Bird Raptor's Falco Robot is a robotic hawk that acts as a 'gregarious bird removal system (GBRS)'. The company states that the robot 'does not eat, does not dirty, does not fall ill, and most of all, is ...effective.'

Eric Gill got it wrong; a re-evaluation of Gill Sans at Typotheque: '...rather than refuse commissions for Extra Bold and Ultra Bold (well beyond the weight of what was considered normal), he continued to draw up and deliver designs that [Gill] knew to be aesthetically unjustifiable.' / Comparison, an excellent flickr set. The above image comes from a set of computer generated panoramas from the summit of Suilven in Scotland.

The film festival to end all film festivals: Ballardian Home Movies / Jeannie Rusten, photographer / art by Thomas Doyle / Pop-Up Cities: China Builds a Bright Green Metropolis, just like that, Dongtan emerges from the marshes / see also A Slice of Self in RMB City, a post about a 'cyber art island' created within Second Life by artist Cao Fei. Essentially a fanciful but entirely unrealistic 'recreation of China’s social landscape in all its paradoxical glory.' Found at Visions of Modernity, via psfk.

The Mediamatic blog / Abandoned and Little Known Airfields in California / A House in Spain, a photo essay by Alban Kakulya / Architecture Lab, a weblog / Chilton Computing Photographs: 1961-1989, over 3,000 images of the early days including this 1975 unboxing ceremony.

Recommended watching, Jonathan Meades / imitation is the sincerest form, the 2008 Plagiarius Awards lays bare the extent of straightforward copying in the design industry. Unsurprisingly, the worst perpetrators are the Chinese manufacturers.