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Monday, April 28, 2008
Pitfalls in paradise: why Palm Jumeirah is struggling to live up to the hype: 'Low-paid workers and villa gripes cast a cloud over 'eighth wonder of the world' in Dubai'. There's a lot of schadenfreude swilling about this part of the world, a relentless and unquenchable fascination with the process, but also the unspoken expectation that this new fantasia will eventually all come crumbling down. Nice comment here on the Ballardian potential of these man-made spaces: 'It can only be a matter of time before the bridge to the mainland is blown and the orgy of sex and pet-eating begins.'

Much of the uneasiness comes from the slow realisation that starchitecture is not necessarily compatible with democracy. See this piece on the Saudi Construction boom, or this slideshow on Design for Despots (via archinect), both exploring how the glittering palaces of 'peace' and 'progress' are propped up by a combination of ill-gotten gains, population upheaval and, above all else, a desire to make a sizeable stamp on posterity using the increasingly dubious criteria of scale and ambition. It's also giving succour to some of the most vocal critics of modern architecture ('Krier attacks 'idiot' architects"'), people who have been effectively marginalised for two decades following the perceived failure of the first wave of (largely classically-inspired) opposition to modernism.


Semper Eadem, the slow pace of life in Leicester, via Lucy Mangan / yet more referrer trawling. The Spot / Content Flavoured Trousers / The Holy Bible / The Tube, a handy little phone application for Londoners / Triple Canopy, an online magazine / Unflatpack, sorting out your IKEA-sourced lifestyle / 'The vanishing personal site', Zeldman on the fashion for outsourcing personal content (links, photos, etc.), leaving homepages bare and unadorned.

Tech histories. A history of early digital cameras / a history of the VCR player / a history of the Walkman / history of the pocket calculator / all about the Game and Watch / all about Casio digital watches.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

General linkage. Military Acronyms, Initialisms, and Abbreviations, a mixture of the mind-numbingly prosaic and the inappropriately optimistic. We like the two variations of WYSIWYG, WYSBYGI ('what you see before you get it') and WYSIAYG ('what you see is all you get') / Illustrated Histories of Various Recording Technologies (via).


Artist Lilly McElroy (via Coudal) / Doug Lemoine's Journal, thanks for the link / Bed Tea, a weblog / BeatEd, a marvellous little drum machine application for S60 3rd edition mobile phones / Ren and Stimpy Production Music, courtesy of Secret Fun Blog / thick specs, an indie mp3 blog / Pinglewood, more mp3s.


Illustration at top from Peter Granser's 'Signs', a German take on modern Texas / more photography, the work of Rob Ball / Fawny, a weblog / Smart car meets NY, treated as more mechanical curio than sensible mode of transport / we've finally come round to the joys of muxtape / under construction / space if the place, a weblog / futures imagined and expired. A gallery of imaginary cities. Hochparterre's Dubai Blog.


Real world Simpsons House (via architecture blog). See also The Wrong House, which re-makes the fictional domestic spaces used in Hitchcock's thrillers. See also Mark Bennett's series of floorplans (e.g. the Addams Family mansion, the Jetsons, and more / installation art by Krijn de Koning / art by Michelle Allard / illustration and more at by so and so.


Exquisite Struggle, a weblog / Mirage.Studio.7, an architecture weblog / the Sputterly Utter, a weblog / Hello You!, a weblog from Belgium / more: Lumpen Orientalism / (what is this?) / Margate Architecture, tracking the ups and regular downs of a seaside town.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

The fantastic architecture of Mormonism. The recent scandal in Texas has had a relatively minimal impact on UK news, but we were struck by the genuine strangeness of the architecture. The Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, home of the now notorious Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, LDS Churches are a disciplined, uniform bunch. 'Throughout its history Mormon architecture has been more functional than experimental, more temperate than ornate, more restrained than innovative.' The use of standard plans turns the conventional idea of a religious structure on its head, with no need for superfluous architectural glorification. Instead, worship is conveyed through deeds, not things.


Waxy on Milliways, 'the unreleased sequel to Infocom's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' (play it here in the original DOS-style, or the BBC's rather jazzier version) (via). In the comments, Michael Bywater responds to the implication that he was largely responsible for the game's eventual abandonment.


World leaders channel Ken Adam / Clattery Machinery on Poetry, a weblog / a folding metal bed, at Canadian Military Heritage / combat reports filed by Mustang pilots in WW2 / Hierarchical flow charts from the 1940s 20th Century Fox at the Infomercantile. The full story of their origins (slightly dubious, as it turned out) at Collector's Quest (which is a thoroughly enjoyable website in its own right).


Rem Koolhaas's House in Bordeaux arrived too early for the kind of intense, web-led discussion and endless posting that turns other signature houses into instant online stars. However, that lack of early exposure is gradually being addressed. The new film 'Koolhass Houselife' (sic) is an intriguingly straight look at a very unconventional structure. Talked about in more detail at Gizmodo, the image of the cleaner is especially priceless. Related, all about lifts: Up and then Down. 'In most elevators, at least in any built or installed since the early nineties, the door-close button doesn't work. It is there mainly to make you think it works. (It does work if, say, a fireman needs to take control. But you need a key, and a fire, to do that.)'


Jump Scenes, for cinema goers with weak constitutions / beton + garten, a design weblog / great to be reminded of this again: Breaking Free (via) /, occasionally nsfw but usually interesting images of large engineering projects / freefoot crush, a weblog / flickranywhere, an app.


Yet more on the awful Eiffel saga, this time at the NYT (and original story) / house trucks / all about the first wind tunnels / all about space elevators / a nice post on Peake / The Pinocchio Theory, a weblog / hybrid cultures, a weblog / the LINE architecture weblog / bezembinder's illulstrated links, occasionally nsfw / The Malas Blog / shoehorning an engine from one car into another demonstrates an extreme commitment to craftsmanship / little slices of the Earth / a virtual exhibition of Railway history in London.


The cartographer Richard Newcourt chronicled seventeenth century London with a famous map. Following the Great Fire, Newcourt made a new map that set out the city as a monumental grid, each square containing a church at its centre, Corb before Corb. Newcourt's plan was rational and practical - creating countless fire breaks. But it was also a major inspiration for American grid-style town planning. See also the monumental Google Urbanism, 'the growth of London 1666 to 1799', a cartographic speculation at Medien Architektur.


Textism has crept back into existence, thank goodness. Was it really nearly four years? / Art Found Out, a weblog / all about San Serriffe / from houses of Mormon to houses of Mammon, the new birds-eye view feature in Microsoft's Live Maps is a perfect tool for architecture spotters.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A post-war taxonomy. The NATO Codification System is a means of classifying practical any object imaginable, with a view to easing the complex chain of military logistics between the member states of NATO, 'based on a "One Item of Supply, One NATO Stock Number" concept'. The artist Suzanne Treister has used NATO Supply Classification in her work: 'Within the codification system the NATO Supply Classification (NSC) uses a four-digit coding structure. The first two digits of the code number identify the Group, eg. Group 77 - Musical Instruments, Phonographs, and Home-Type Radios, whilst the last two digits of the code number identify the Classes within the Group, eg. 7710 - Musical Instruments (complete).' See samples above: (NSC) 8830 (Boogie Woogie shoes), (NSC) 9915 (St Edward's Crown), and (NSC) 7730 (Volga Russian Tube Electrophone, 1967)). Treister is soon to publish her work in a book from Black Dog Publishers.


Elsewhere, our fears eventually become our fetishes. See the forthcoming re-print of the 1963 Civil Defence Handbook number 10 by V and A Publications, which turns the potential horrors of post-nuclear Britain into a cosily retro object combining nostaglia with design fetishism. Handbook number 10, 'Advising the Householder on Protection Against Nuclear Attack', at least contained a few crumbs of comfort and optimism, a spirited, plucky response that evoked the Home Guard of WWII. Gradually, the concept of Civil Defence evaporated, and the leaflet that followed, the infamous 'Protect and Survive', in both leaflet and film form, painted a far bleaker picture, as evinced by the cultural reaction. More information at the excellent Protect and Survive Archive of UK Civil Defence Material. See too this essay at Subterranea Britannica, 'Struggle for Survival: Governing Britain after the Bomb, which charts the evolution of the official approach From Civil Defence to Emergency Planning. Survival was the name of the game. The Americans had a similar shift from the naive futility of early films like Duck and Cover to a more gung-ho, survivalist approach, spawning a whole genre which thrives on the internet (e.g. the Best Prices Storable Foods store).


Beatle Money, an economic history of the Beatles: 'Reliant Shirt Corporation paid $25,000 for the exclusive rights to make and produce Beatle T-shirts in 3 factories that they had purchased just for the purpose of making the shirts. In 3 days they sold 1 million shirts.' / Bon Ton, an mp3 blog / underground Greenwich at the Greenwich Phantom. See also the Greenwich Industrial Society. Related: 'A pensioner who created a labyrinth of tunnels under his house over 40 years has been forced to pay £300,000 for repairs carried out by a council.' We would love to see a survey of those tunnels / Warped Reality, an mp3 blog / Lost City in the Woods, a post at the Architect's Newspaper featuring the photography of Christopher Payne.

'Russia builds luxury Agalarov Estate', a concentrated district of architectural follies and residential extravagances: 'Scottish baronial mansions, grand Mediterranean-style villas and vast, neo-Gothic castles'. The developers are Crocus City, and it doesn't look good. Check the Crocus City Mall ('Shopping as an art form'), sporting as lumpen a pediment as it's possible to create. More at the Guardian. Such developments are handy for feature writers who want to decry the ongoing dominance of authoritarian kitsch, as well as containing the people who demand it within a gated and security-protected space. But little else.

Hauntology, or the confluence of the past with the present through the spectral and ephemeral image of the ghost, is a term coined by Derrida, an idea that 'suggests that the present exists only with respect to the past'. It seemed briefly fashionable, then was rapidly discarded (only 16,600 google hits) as the past ceased to be a phantom but a throbbing, living thing, thrust in our faces every day as 'inspiration'. The original concept probably underestimated visual culture's inexorable extension and ability to shape-shift and insinuate it across all other cultural forms. Influence is everything, and the past is no longer ghostly, but a living, breathing presence. (originally found via the promising but apparently abandoned dismantled king is off the throne).

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Saturday, April 12, 2008
Paradise Is A Lie: A History Of False Utopias. Speaking of which, we were amused to see that the Eiffel Tower extension story just won't die. It ran in the Guardian late last month (since corrected): apparently things was one of the first sources for a story that has since been discovered to have no foundation. The power of the computer to generate the architecturally extravagant and structurally near impossible is accepted without question. Iconic architecture - and computer presentation of unbuilt schemes - has reached such a level of sophistication that it lays bare our collective willingness to believe that anything is possible. After all, reality is scarcely more credible.

Modern technology to recreate the past, part 1: a virtual recording studio, via music thing. Their post on the Surprising and Wonderful History of Acme Whistles is good too. Part 2: recreating Alcock and Brown's historic trans-Atlantic flight on a computer requires patience: 'If the civilian flight simmer has a blood brother in the hobby world it's surely the angler.'

Copperplate run amok in this vintage ephemera flickr set / Lucy Cheung's weblog / Land Rover madness / Whole Note, a guitar archive / all about Diver Bill, the man who propped up Winchester Cathedral. We have a pamphlet about Bill somewhere. Will find and scan / the Hagerbach Test Gallery is a vast underground complex in Switzerland / Curio + Abyss, a weblog / Gi Myao, fashion-focused illustrator / Tightgrid, a weblog.

Gelatobaby, a design weblog / Context, a street fashion weblog / The Architecture of Desire, on the extraordinary interiors created by the 'Midwest's premiere fantasy hotel chain, FantaSuites (via blog like you give a damn) / Swing for a Crime, very hard to find now but most certainly worth it.

Future Perfect, design thoughts / Clouded Drab, a photoblog / Geoff is on the modern ruin trip once again, this time looking at the geometry of potential structural failures / RIP Owning Music, 1880-2008. Is the need for a physical repository for recorded sound really dead? Related, Jazz on Bones, using 'discarded X-ray film' as the basis for pirated 1950s western music 'in USSR and Eastern Europe underground night spots'. At Kevin Kelly's weblog.

Sunday, April 06, 2008
General links. Protecting Journalistic Integrity Algorithmically vs the ever-wonderful Photoshop disasters / Jonny Greenpeace's Worm Buffet, music mixes / a beautiful baby portrait / the Russian Utopia Depository, a 'museum of paper architecture' / Before and After in Church Hill, Virginia, via towards Spring, a local renovation blog / On Bunker Hill, 'a lost neighbourhood found' in Los Angeles.


Abandoned Library in Russia, via Coudal. See also the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository image set, and the famous images of the bombed library at Holland House, bombed in 1940 but clinging on until after the war before being mostly demolished.

The Maxalding Method of Muscle Control and Bodybuilding, and its founders Maxick (Max Sick and Monte Saldo ((A.M. Woollaston), which leads onto this extensive site on The Great Eugene Sandow, an 'Online Physical Culture Museum' / Brochure collection from the heyday of the British motor industry / Pentagram Papers 37: Forgotten Architects (via archinect) / 'email apnea' - remember to breathe more (via caterina).

How to install Quake on a Nokia N95. More info. Downloads / Top 21 Architectural Monsters - World's Tallest, Biggest Buildings / Print Fetish, on magazine culture. See also Designing Magazines / MS paint album covers.

London Cross, 'a straight line walk across London': 'If you walk across a great city such as London in two straight lines, south to north and east to west - a cross-section - what do you find?' / the East London and City Beer Guide / Wonderbound, beautiful books, via plep / The Popsicle Sting, a weblog / The Malas Blog / the Yellow Owl Workshop, a weblog / we love websites like this: Everything I Know about Hyam Victor.


The modernist houses pool. Little stabs of self-importance, dotted around the dreary ribbons that surround British cities. A lovely smattering of imagery of Robin Hood Gardens, modern crise-du-jour, at the, which rightly points out that the current debate about demolition is not about the building itself, but 'the profession's projection of architecture, its image, and the construction of its history.' (via Sit down man). The post also notes that the building was rarely published and was in fact 'RHG was something of a last stand for both British Brutalism and the Smithsons.'


Low Tech Magazine, stuffed with great posts like Download, print, fold, paste, on paper models, and speculations like 'A World without Trucks,' investigating pneumatic delivery systems, some of which were proposed to span entire countries: 'In the Dutch plan, the city hubs would also offer the possibility to send goods to other cities, which would effectively turn them into a democratized courier service. It might also become possible to send goods from one home to another: email for things.' Wonderful. Of course, we already have something like this, called 'the post'. Also, Fantastic Journal, a weblog by Charles Holland of FAT. See also Sam Jacobs' Strange Harvest / Continuity in Architecture, a weblog.

An old song creeps out of the vaults. Something that belongs to the distant past, and feels almost impossible to duplicate or replicate today. Thought: is music with high levels of reverb more evocative - and therefore more nostalgic and memorable - than music without reverb?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

From tea shops to the Olympic Games. Joseph Lyons, perhaps the biggest name in British catering (a company with some 700 subsidiaries, as well as being computing pioneers, but that's another story), organised the catering for the 1891 'Venice in London' exhibition, stage-managed by the master showman Imre Kiralfy (even his mausoleum is impressive). Thanks to Heraclitean Fire for digging out the original programme and flyer for the Venice event from the British Library's collection.

Kiralfy was the man who made Earl's Court the capital's exhibition centre, along with nearby Olympia, before moving to White City in 1907 and creating a purpose-buit showground that formed the backdrop of the 1908 Olympics.

Kiralfy, together with his brothers Arnold and Bolossy, were a cross between David Copperfield, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Frank Gehry and Steve Wynn, a genuinely trans-Atlantic business of spectacle making. Their works included: Gorgeous Durbar at Delhi, Nero, or The Destruction of Rome, Fall of Babylon, Venice, the Bride of the Sea, and The Orient (the accompanying publication for which was subtitled 'A mammoth and original terpsichorian and lyric spectacle and water pageant'). Kiralfy also collaborated with the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893. This was to be a formative influence on Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked with Louis Sullivan from 1888 to 1893 (when he was sacked). Sullivan was the creator of the mighty Transportation Building with its 'Golden Doorway', a piece of work that could serve as a symbolic gateway to early American modern architecture in the USA.

Often two productions ran at the same time, incredible given the sheer scale of each event. On 18 May 1895, the New York Times' 'England and Continent' diarist was reporting that 'Imre Kiralfy's stupendous "Empire of India" show, at Earl's Court, to be opened next week by the Duke of Cambridge, bids fair to be the most successful thing of the kind yet attempted here. His brother Bolossy's enterprise of "The Orient" at the Olympia has, meanwhile, been experiencing steady hard luck and threatens to come to grief altogether.

(The same column also notes the veritable menagerie being assembled at the Crystal Palace, then in its final location in Sydenham: '... some seventy Somalis are giving an exhibition of savage life in East Africa. They have a village, with actual native huts, working men at trades, dromedaries, ostriches, and other animals tethered near by. Brigands come and try to steal these; the villagers resist them; European hunters intervene, for all the world like cowboys, and the thing ends in a grand caravan, the procession including a magnificent collection of wild beasts.')

(The 19th century 'Spectacle' is chronicled in Spec-ology of the Circus, Part One at the fantastic Circus Historical Society (check their photography and illustrations archive). The article recalls the contemporary advertising for Imre Kiralfy's London production of Nero: "A Titanic, Imperial, Historical Spectacle of Colossal Dramatic Realism Gladiatorial Combats and Olympian Displays. Indisputably, Immeasurably, Over-whelmingly the Most Majestic, Entrancing, and Surpassingly Splendid and Realistic Spectacle of Any Age.")

(These theatrical spectacles were precursors to the more serious and high-minded international exhibitions that characterised the first decades of the twentieth century, lingering throughout the century as a symbol of modernity and futurism and are increasingly well-documented online (Expo 67 especially so).)

(For a bit more on the kind of people who worked with Kiralfy, we recommend this fabulous piece of amateur historical investigation, 'Finding Our Grandfather in the Attic,' by Arlene Wright-Correll. It builds a vivid picture of the life of an animal tamer at Bostock Circus at the turn of the century, amongst characters like Clyde Beatty, whose name lives on today ('He used to walk into a cage filled with up to 40 wild animals, armed with nothing but a whip, a wooden chair and a gun loaded with blanks').)

Perhaps Kiralfy's greatest achievement was the The Franco-British Exhibition 1908, held at the same time as the 1908 Olympics at Kiralfy's new 'White City': ' One night I lay awake in bed and, as if by magic, I saw stretched out in my mindís eye, an imposing city of palaces, domes and towers, set in cool, green spaces and intersected by many bridged canals. But it had one characteristic which made it strangely beautiful. Hitherto I had dealt in colour in the shimmering hues of gold and silver. This city was spotlessly white. I saw it all in an instant, and the next day I had jotted down the scheme of what London was to know as the "White City".' (the exhibition was also the site of early photographic manipulation, as postcard sellers cut and pasted images of visitors to other shows in order to populate sparse images of exhibition grounds taken before they'd opened).

Not everyone was so taken by the plethora of wonders placed before them. Punch noted drily that "Venice in London" was bereft of the Italian city's plagues of mosquitoes ('Could I quiver concealed by yon mimic Rialto, Till I swooped with a warrior's music and swing, Were I only allowed, as I ought, and I shall, to, Be avenged on your barbarous hordes with my sting'). But there was no denying popular taste. The exhibitions shaped the perception of the modern age and its wonders, artist and engineering, as well as presented a largely stereotyped view of the world as seen from the peak of Empire. It's also significant as to how the modern map of London ended up being shaped by these exhibitions, with both 'White City' (named for the sparkling paint finish on the Indian-inspired pavilion buildings) and 'Crystal Palace' becoming London districts.


The Venice spectacle is especially interesting from a modern perspective. Canals have a troubled relationship with urbanism. In London, they were industrial conduits, now mostly filled in and covered over as the factories and workshops they served moved out. But the canal is also romance, and the floating city of the Adriatic was high in the popular imagination of the time, thanks largely to John Ruskin's Stones of Venice. As Kiralfy noted in his own Reminiscences: 'It was while I was staying at Barnumís place at Bridgeport, Connecticut, that the idea of "Venice" flashed across my mind, not a "Venice in Italy" but a Venice transported to London. I took out a scrap of paper, an envelope, from my pocket, and then and there schemed out my idea. My mind went back to my studies of Venice thirty years before, the whole thing as it should be rose up before me, and down it went, even the details, on the back of that envelope. When "Venice" attracted its thousands and hundreds of thousands to Olympia in 1892, it had all arisen naturally from my plans on the back of that envelope.'

These were not the chlorinated waterways of Las Vegas's Venetian, all muscled gondoliers and pocket Rialto bridges. Nor was it was the doomed romanticism evident in sources as varied as Thomas Mann, Nicolas Roeg and even David Chipperfield. In fact, it was something in between. The Victorians were not just big on theme parks, but themes in general, and entertainment, romance, death and industry were frequently brought together in comprehensive but rather graceless synergy in objects like the Albert Memorial.

The inversion is that the modern theme park now occupies the grand houses and parks that had their final fling in the Vicotrian era, employing the very people who would have flocked to the popular entertainments at Earl's Court, etc, etc. While there's not enough space in the UK for theme parks to become abandoned (I, II, III, IV), the architectural losses were the fading, crumbling country houses (see Lost Heritage, 'a memorial to the lost country houses of England'), which gives some indication of what was deemed important throughout the twentieth century.

The flooded, sunken city is a popular theme (taken from 'London 'flooded' in disaster film', July 2007) in popular culture and to a more death-centric culture Venice represents a half-way house between the cataclysm of fatal, irreversible immersion and damp, ongoing romantic gloom. The If London Were Like Venice article from 1899, with its marvellous illustrations of a sunken city, followed the Kiralfy show, fusing its imagery with a speculative view of a changed capital. This sort of thing still appeals very much to the meteorologically obsessed British, see Ballard's Drowned World (1962) or BLDG BLOG on British Hydrology, the use of Google Maps to illustrate global Sea Level Rise (via Inkycircus).

As we write, the Olympic torch is preparing to make its way through a freshly snow-covered city. It will probably look spectacular. Kiralfy would have been proud.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A few things. Sociological Images, a weblog / Exploring 20th Century London / buy Ladybird Prints / In search of the town car, Design magazine explores the options in 1966 / the Postcodes Project at the Museum of London / On Shadow, a weblog / Cryptome's Eyeball Series, satellite images of secret places / 2 million photographs at the Philadelphia City Archive / Sweetness and Light, Rosemary Hill on Richard Norman Shaw, the unwitting architect of suburbia: 'It was said he wore his shirt cuffs long in case he found himself next to a potential client at dinner, so he could sketch something for them on his sleeve.'