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Friday, May 30, 2008

Rage Against the Machines, a thoughtful piece on the ongoing problems we seem to have with categorising video games, deducing exactly what it is they do us when we play them, and working out what this means for society. The statistics are certainly arresting: "The video games industry, meanwhile, continues to grow at a dizzying pace. Print has been around for a good 500 years; cinema and recorded music for around 100; radio broadcasts for 75; television for 50. Video games have barely three serious decades on the clock, yet already they are in the overtaking lane. In Britain, according to the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association, 2007 was a record-breaking year, with sales of "interactive entertainment software" totalling £1.7bn - 26 per cent more than in 2006. In contrast, British box office takings for the entire film industry were just £904m in 2007 - an increase of 8 per cent on 2006 - while DVD and video sales stood at £2.2bn (just 0.5 per cent up on 2006), and physical music sales fell from £1.8bn to £1.4bn. At this rate, games software, currently our second most valuable retail entertainment market, will become Britain's most valuable by 2011. Even books - the British consumer book market was worth £2.4bn in 2006 - may not stay ahead for ever." The surprise is that books are the most valuable 'retail entertainment market' in the UK.


Other things. Trixie Tracker, apply obsessional Web 2.0 information overload to the life of your baby. We wonder how many second children get this level of attention? Related,, track your cycle online / giant insect models by Julia Stoess. See also the work of Guido Mocafico, currently on show at the Hamiltons Gallery.

John Madin: Architect, a period piece from the days when modernists strode about the world, remaking it to their own vision. Thanks to no2self. We also like this post on the compact family home, comparing the economic and rhetorical gulf between modular architecture and plain old common or garden caravanning. Related, the architecture Vodpod page / the architecture of authority / the architecture of stealth and secrecy.

Weblog round-up. Ample Sanity / On Shadow / O'Connors O'Pinions / retro things at Susi.a / Fractal Ontology / London Smog / architecture things at Fantastic Journal / Birmingham: it's not shit, self explanatory / trabalhosujo / good links at Carnet d'addresses / CHEN's blog, architecture, etc. / the iaakuza chronicles / random knowledge / morbid anatomy, 'surveying the interstices of art and medicine, death and culture', a kind of Wellcome weblog, if you like.

Vanishing Point: 'how to disappear in America without a trace'. Probably somewhat outdated now / a history of the Reading Festival / the Paris Exposition of 1900, a flickr set (via haddock). A truly remarkable panorama / mildly entertaining: Read at Work (via) / Today we learn about Canada / The Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection, 1607-1677 / a new project, before and after shots from the modernist golden age of anti-Victoriana.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008
London and its airports, an ongoing struggle. Ted Heath planned for a new 3rd airport at Foulness Island back in the 1970s - it was dubbed Heathograd by a cynical press. Permission was sought and granted, and at first it seemed like the airport would be up and running by 1980. The M12 motorway was planned, ploughing through Essex on its way to the sea and the 25,000 acres of alluvial marshland. One of the other sites considered alongside Foulness was Cublington in Buckinghamshire, which managed to parry a glamorous Stop Cublington movement.

Ultimately, however, the idea of an all-new airport was killed of by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Tony Crosland and the M12 was abandoned. Instead, the decision was taken to expand Stansted, resulting in a long draw-out public enquiry (see timeline at Stop Stansted Expansion). It took a decade for Foster and Partners to complete their terminal, opened in 1991 (an experience mirrored by the slow trudge of RSH's Terminal 5).

The debate about a Thames Estuary has never gone away. Rumours of plans for a new airport resurfaced in the late 80s. More recently, Boris Johnson muttered something about it during his successful mayoral campaign (“What we don’t want to do is entrench a planning error of the 1960s by further expansion at Heathrow. We should look at whether there’s a solution to the east, in the Thames estuary."). Unsurprisingly, this stance was greeted with horror by the locals and pressure groups like Plane Stupid. The idea also runs counter to Terry Farrell's intriguing Thames Estuary National Park, a concept that has slender chance of becoming reality. Even if Foulness's time has finally come, don't expect anything to actually happen much before 2021.


Other things. The Creative Generalist, a weblog / a nice collection of 18th century Swedish tiled stoves / in other news, what raises two fingers to sneering middle-class utopianists? The new town of Ebbsfleet, apparently a bold triumph for its visionary planning alliance with the Bluewater shopping centre / regrets about de-cluttering? / spotted, swinging from under Blackfriars Bridge. A nod to Roberto Calvi?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

We've missed the anniversary slightly: Mideast Oil Discovered - There Will Be Blood, a brief note of a momentous day. In Adventure in Oil: The Story of British Petroleum (1959), Henry Longhurst writes 'The day was the 26th of May, 1908, and, though we may be sure that not a single schoolboy will find it in his history books, it was in fact one of the most significant dates in world history. George Reynolds, the explorer who struck the first well at Masjid-i-Suleiman, was accompanied by one Lt.Wilson, who cryptically cabled the news as follows: 'See Psalm 104 verse 15 third sentence, and Psalm 114 verse 8 second sentence'. Which brings us nicely to Anderson's title, extracted from the depths of Exodus 7:19.

Barely sixty years later and BP was a national institution, along with its commercial rivals, getting down with the swinging Sixties and producing books like this (we'll have to write more about it some other time). Fast forward 100 years and the emphasis has shifted once again: Dubai, Doha: End of the world? Or the beginning of a new one? In which Karrie Jacobs indulges in some very generous speculation: 'Maybe a part of the world that has grown fabulously wealthy on petroleum will learn to flex its muscles, not by manipulating the market to jack oil prices further up but by making petroleum obsolete.'


Other things. How to hack a traffic jam / audio nostalgia (via Ben Hammersley) / The Sky Factory think they've nailed the problem of dull suspended ceilings / related, Bankrupt Office Interiors, via tmn / what is New York's ugliest skyscraper? / Pentangle, an mp3 blog / Palmaire, a weblog / brand battle: Car firms clash over Bond credentials / Vlad Nanca's weblog.

Friday, May 23, 2008
Two economic indicators. Do 1.3 million people really earn their living from eBay? Probably not, but we can certainly expect the number of people trying to rise in the next few years. We don't imagine that eBay has much of a presence in Monaco. Perched on the hotter edge of Europe, it seems the Principality now represents the start of Dubaisisation's creeping spread. The news that Cramped Monaco is planning a new district represents the first evidence of a pure architecture of economics in Europe. The project - for which the usual names have been mooted - is an interesting evolution of the Tokyo Bay megastructures proposed by the late Kenzo Tange.

The more curious parallel to draw is with the isolated, ocean-going communities that have attempted to declare themselves independent states, kick-started by Sealand, which occupies the former HM Fort Roughs, one of the set of forts designed by Guy Maunsell (and hugely inspirational to architects ever since). The idea was taken to its logical conclusion by the endearingly absurd Freedom Ship concept (downscaled by Wally Yachts in a rare lapse of taste) and has recently surfaced in the Seasteading Institute, described in this Wired piece ((via archinect). The socialist utopianism of the megastructure is translated into a bid for political freedom, or rather, freedom from politics. One has to wonder where today's proponents of megastructural utopias stand politically, and whether they feel their designs are better suited to one or other approach.

More musings on the pitfalls in paradise. Just as the Sultan of Brunei and his brother's automotive ostentatiousness effectively subsidised the global luxury car industry throughout the 80s and early 90s, with endlessly expensive and labour-intensive requests for custom cars, so the rendered worlds of hypermodernism are financing modern architecture. The super-rich are buying off-plan architecture that is essentially unlivable in the environment in which it has been placed - glass, sun decks, no services, no culture. The rejoinder is that the buyers will never see the finished property, never use them. No one will. The computer generated render remains the mental image of the building, furnished in the slick modern idiom of the international developer. The physical architecture itself is non-existant. There was a rather unreadable architectural novelette a few years back called The Ephemeral of Real. A great title, which summarises this phenomenon.


Tinselman, a weblog / Counterfeit Chic, a weblog (via) / this is brilliant. The Celica driver at around 0.20s needs to put a call in to Michael Bay. And the winner's speech is pretty good too / a fuel prices graph. Another article on energy, consumption and the apparent lack of progress in cutting fuel consumption. See also this view from the other side of the Atlantic, Gasoline is cheap / ghost cars of the world at dark roasted blend, which has also collated a page of designs by Luigi Colani. It was about time someone did.

The Encyclopedia of Business Cliches / bad tempered and simplistic piece in The Providence Journal on mayoral opposition to modernism around the world / Dawdlr, RD is on a mission to engage the analogue side of our increasingly digital brains, hopped up on 1s and 0s and near incapable of having any original thought / ultra-quick T-shirt folding explained / Inside the Scandal That Rocked the Formula One Racing World (' sleepy Surrey County') / more to follow.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008
'Astonishingly, Britain used to lead the world in the production of mechanical elephants.' Eastcliffe Richard on the self-propelled pachyderms of old English coastal resorts (which are now spawning endlessly fascinating waves of weblogs, railing against corrupt councils, half-baked plans, and crumbling infrastructure, all from a position of, what one must assume, is deep love for their immediate environment).

One leg leads to another, a classic visual cliche revisited and collated. At Print Magazine, via kottke / gallery of conceptual Nissans / the Millman Fireball Archive, via this question: do you have memories of a fireball? / recommended, A Continuous Lean.

Are Australians running London's planning system? / Getting Flak, a weblog / Toponymy, a weblog / the work of Yoshitake Amano, creator of the fabulous G-Force amongst many other things / flight simulator history, a YouTube compilation / lovely set of posters.


Monday, May 19, 2008
Can a Dead Brand Live Again? New Consumer Archaeology (via tmn). See also Brand Tags, a project designed to eke out the 'meaning' in brands by asking visitors to speak their brains (via autoblog) / 'Disney Launching "Interactive" Environment in Google Earth One Day Before Closing VMK'. The Virtual Magic Kingdom is curious internet dinosaur, a gated, highly branded online world that has somehow been buried beneath the hype surrounding the _other_ major online world. Does this mean that such individual presences are being consolidated into one online zone? Disney's choice of Google Earth implies that certain standards are already being set in place, new delivery platforms that will only extend their ubiquity.


'Shops track customers via mobile phone', a Times story on how IMEI-sniffing technology is being used to gauge customer movement patterns, brand loyalty and even country of origin. This sort of thing is on the cusp of the mainstream, not necessarily understood or even of any interest to the majority of people, waiting perhaps for the killer personal application that will turn them on to the potential advantages and disadvantages of location specific data. Dan Hill wrote extensively about the near near future in his essay The Street as Platform, predicting a kind of synergy between Facebook and GPS that not only tells you what your friends are up but where they are in relation to you. We think that the moral panics will arrive not courtesy of privacy advocates (and they're busy enough already), but thanks to emerging moral panics about 'mobs' and 'swarms' of social undesirables brought together by location tracking.


Ad blanking on the London Underground, a project by Space Hijackers / Transpontine, a South-East London weblog with a focus on music and local history. Recommended. Also, a mystery solved. According to this archived KLF digest, the location of the legendary Trancentral is 55 Jeffrys Road in Stockwell.


BlackBoardPro, the ultimate combination of analogue and digital / If London were like Venice, over at Strange Harvest / Becoming Domestic, a downshifting weblog / related, British Insects, a glorious collection of imagery and information / art and photography by James Medcraft, including a couple of map-based pieces: UK Aircraft Codes and the wonderful Anatomy of the UK.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

In the Realm of Jet Lag, a Pico Iyer piece from 2004 that includes the story of Sarah Krasnoff, a woman who abducted her grandson in a custody dispute, then fled to the only place she thought would be free from the law, the international flight: 'They took about 160 flights in all, one after the other, according to the stage piece ''Jet Lag.'' They saw 22 movies an average of seven times each. They ate lunch again and again and turned their watches six hours forward, then six hours back. The whole fugitive enterprise ended when Krasnoff, 74, finally collapsed and died, the victim, doctors could only suppose, of terminal jet lag.'


The London Nobody Knows (part two and three). James Mason narrated gem. See also the earlier Colour on the Thames, part of the BFI's YouTube presence / Abandonia, urban exploration / the Noise Mapping England website / Mr and Mrs Wheatley, a weblog / Chislehurst Caves, underground in SE London.

Wonderful installation by Jonathan Schipper, 'Slow Inevitable Death of American Muscle', a slow-motion car-crash. Very Burden-esque. YouTube commenters are predictably unhappy / Langlands and Bell's digital installation at wallpaper / Michel Gondry Entertained For Days By New Cardboard Box / the Soviet passion for reverse engineered Sinclair computers.

72 views of the Tower of Babel (via me-fi). See also 'Two-mile high termite nest proposed to counter the population challenge' / a rather pithy summary of the end of the era for the desert Guggenheim: Architect Rem Koolhaas saw what Vegas didn't have, not what it needed. Perhaps this will be the same fate of the Gulf cultural building boom?


The life of a Lebanese taxicab, including this striking image of downtown Beirut in 1969 / Nick Cave Fixes, an unofficial site / Newly Released UFO files from the UK government (via the BBC). See also the book E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outerspaces / art by Josh Keyes.

This isn't happiness, a tumblelog / has potential: potential architecture, unbuilt projects with a focus on Norway / farewell to the The faculty of Architecture of the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands, destroyed by fire, along with a large chunk of modernist architectural history (news via archinect). For the faculty, it's a new start, and doubtless some form of architectural opportunity.

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Monday, May 12, 2008
My Kingdom for a horse, in which Jonathan Jones lauds Mark Wallinger's overgrown equine submission to the Ebbsfleet Landmark invited competition (BBC story, plus a gallery of all entries at wallpaper). Is this a return to a new era of literalism, or simply a gleeful satire of our era's addiction to straightforward, uncomplex gestures. Probably a mix of both, a way of giving the 'masses' (notoriously forthright about sculpture, perhaps more so than any other art form) exactly what they want by tapping into a primal association with a landscape long bereft of any 'natural' features, and soon to be transformed once more. See also Project Mars in Poland by Jaroslaw Kozakiewicz.

More sculptural shenanigans. The proposed Martin Luther King National Memorial in Washington, its centrepiece a sculpture by Chinese artist Lei Yixin, is proving hugely controversial, perhaps because of the socialist-style gigantism of the figure itself. From the boards at, 'My problem with Lei Yixin doing the job is not that he's memorialized Mao -- but that he's made MLK look like 'just another semi-divine communist hero' (Centrepiece of King memorial sent back to drawing board). There is a tradition of superscale in American sculpture - Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, etc. - but it tends to go hand in hand with epic landscapes. In comparison, the land around Wallinger's proposal is distinctively uncinematic, cultivated not captivating.


Stryder Looking Glass is one of those chaotically composed pages that links to everything and everyone, like walking into a promising-looking second hand bookshop. It's a style of site design that seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years / one of our favourite weblogs, The Strange Attractor is seeking authors / Arch / Diaries seems sadly defunct, but some decent projects linger there.

Supersmoker is an electronic cigarette. It seems to come with all the packaging and paraphernalia of a normal cigarette, though. See also the E-Z Quit. A little bit more about the battery-powered 'E-cigarette. There's also a wonderful sales pitch/weblog all about the Ruyan E-cigarette (and cigar) / graphs of camera usage on flickr (via preoccupations / Pockets of Space, a sporadic weblog.

Six Martinis and the Seventh Art, a noir weblog / art by Alex Dodge, via Moon River / the work of Togo Murano / Mentasms, a weblog / stuff I can't remember, a video weblog / Tales of the Decongested, short stories in London / car owners, then and now, photographs by Matteo Ferrari, via kottke.

Simplicissimus magazine, 1896-1944 (via me-fi). Are there any more historic magazines out there? From the Wikipedia page, some more graphics from the magazine / photographs by Lillian Bassman / photography by Michael Itkoff, in particular the series Demolition Derby and Overgrowth.

Faber Books' photostream, via i like. Book design is consumed like never before / 70K beach huts. Something for subscribers of 'Rich Guy' magazine / Born to be Nervous, a weblog with mp3s / baby car logos / Coast is Clear, der Indie-Pop-Blog.

Games like On Mirror's Edge (hi-res trailer) demand that virtual cities be increasingly closer approximations of real ones, with all the detritus and accretions and technological add-ons that cluster on top of real buildings, usually out of sight, out of mind. Compare the plethora of plant with the atmospheric yet rather plastic cityscapes of GTA IV. See also Sightseeing in Liberty City, a comparison between game and real life architecture.

Architectures de Cartes Postales, via Nasty, Brutalist and Short. The art of celebrating buildings using postcards has died out rather. Also a worthwhile musing on London's mayoral upsets / wouldn't we rather have bunkers instead of security-driven abominations? / Eastern Ley Lines, the cartographic traces of 60 demolished East London tower blocks at The Heterotopia.


Bizarre exchange with call centre:
'David': I'm here to offer a great deal on a mobile phone.
us: I don't have a mobile phone [this is a new tactic]
'David': but we have very good offers on Three mobile phones.
us: but I don't know how to use a mobile phone [maintaining the pretence]
'David': pause. sound of a deep sigh.
'David': Oh my god, I've got dandruff on my shirt
us: [genuinely surprised] Dandruff on your shirt?
'David': Yes. But I shampoo regularly.
us: er, maybe you should wear a lighter coloured shirt?
'David': can you please recommend me any anti-dandruff shampoos?
us: apparently Head and Shoulders is very good.
'David': what about medicated?
us: no, I think it smells a bit too clinical.
'David': OK, Head & Shoulders, I'll try that. Thank you.
us: OK. Bye.
He hangs up.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Fantasy and reality. Architectural detective work. Does the Kingsford Venue look familiar? This 'uniquely designed' concert hall in the Cornish theme park Flambards is actually the 'radical reinvention the accepted idea of a tent or a marquee', courtesy of one Zaha Hadid. ZH's structure (one, two) was the first of the gallery's series of 'mini-icon' commissions, and perhaps the most pavilion-like. The series has become steadily more diaphanous and permeable, culminating in Frank Gehry's deliberately obtuse ode to deconstruction, a building that both harks back to his own earlier work (think woody, exploded fragments, rather than rolling metallic waves) and acknowledges how the Serpentine commissions have strong parallels with the trajectory of contemporary architecture on its journey from shelter to spectacle. Along the way, the avant-garde has been co-opted into becoming an ally of commercial forces, a vessel for sponsorship and branding. More past pavilions, not including MVRDV's entertainingly daffy 'steel mountain'.

Modernism has always walked a fine line between avant-garde swiping and the thrilling reinvention of mass culture. Compare and contrast two recent reviews, 'Modernism and the 'lure of heresy'', versus 'Sufferin' satellites! We've built the future!'. On the one hand, it fits the modernist narrative to describe the emergence of a new cultural force that was dependent on 'the dissolution of a ... 'living relationship to the real life of the people'' in favour of the lure of the heretical (to quote the Peter Gay book reviewed at Sp!ked). But, as Peter Ackroyd's review in the Guardian notes sagely, 'High culture may have excoriated the money-grubbing middle class, but it needed 'conservative consumers'.'

On the other hand, it's also convenient to believe that modernist artists, writers, architects, etc., were infused by the spirit of the populist imagination, in thrall to the more outlandish vectors of the newly minted American pop culture, a rich stew of space age imagery and futuristic Empire building. The Dan Dare exhibition is a case in point: '[Frank Hampson's] imaginings were eagerly lapped up by some of the youngsters who would go on to create Britain's highly regarded school of hi-tech, space-age influenced architecture'.


Finally, Core77 rounds up the 'awful truth about la tour', trying to establish who believed exactly what in the curious case of the rendered proposal that never was, as well as nail the lid shut on the deluge of increasingly ludicrous concept renders that entered the public realm, largely as a result of design and image-led blogs. The shift to image-driven reportage has created entire careers, perhaps even genres, no doubt about it: 'I was completely, 100% convinced that there was no way in hell that wobbly table came out of what looked like a vat of lard fitted with a laser pointer. But why wouldn't I post it? What did I have to lose?' Thanks, Alissa Walker.

Demolition is one area of visual culture that hasn't been consumed by rendered imagery, yet. Mathieu Pernot's series Implosions takes the classic shot of Pruit Igoe (via High-rise Hell) by contextualising the demolition into the wider surroundings, the trees, roads and low-rise structures that are briefly engulfed by pulverised masonry before settling down to a dustier post-Utopian existence.


Other things. Infiltrating a pet psychic / 'more than one hundred years of film sizes', especially the '8.75mm film used in the seventies in The People's Republic of China for educational, propagandistic and other purposes' / photography by Jeannie Rusten. We especially like the Automobiles series / portraits by Thorsten Overgaard / On the Horizon, photography by Sze Tsung Leong at tmn / amazing bridge / Dulwich on View, local interviews and information.

Art by Dan Fern / Primitive Machine, a weblog / no words, a picture blog / Details, a French architecture weblog / Stashpocket, an architecture weblog / download and use British motorway fonts / English Buildings, 'meetings with remarkable buildings', a travel around the pleasingly prosaic vernacular of the English roadside structure.


Friday, May 02, 2008
Empty gestures both: No new habitable floors will be added beyond the completed 160 floors of the Burj Dubai... the remaining work on the steel-framed spire will be mostly ornamental to push the building's height higher.' 'Rome mayor aims to tear down Richard Meier museum'. In related news, students rebel against starchitecture.


Boris Johnson Facts. All true / New York subway maps / the opening scene of Robert Redford's 'Quiz Show' referenced this cartoon / perhaps the weirdest thing about this is that serial killers get to have personalised stationery. How does that work?

Beautiful: All Streets (via kottke). But also an indication of how indelible our stamp on the land is. Combine the physical image created by 26 million 'individual road segments' with the apocalyptic earth without people speculation that was so popular a year or so back.


Tower Blocks and Architecture of the 1960s and 1970s, Goldfinger, two flickr pools / projects and art by Andy Cropy / a set of wrecked exotics, on their way for recycling / the Old Bailey Online site has been decidedly patchy since it was launched last week / Books at Home, all about bookcases, via System of Operation / Google Panoramio, part of the ongoing efforts to mesh all data together, everywhere / MySong: 'Is it more than good enough to make a cute birthday song for Mom or a Valentine's Day song for your significant other, even if you don't play an instrument? Absolutely.'


People and image. Penguin 007 marks the promotional splurge and branding opportunity surrounding Sebastian Faulk's g'n't-infused take on the Ian Fleming prose style, Devil May Care / speaking of resurrections, CMG Worldwide have a macabre roster of dead celebrities available to 'hire out' for any marketing opportunity.

Zeppelin imagery / photography by Filip du Jardin / Photocase, a picture agency / cult books, via an uncult newspaper / long exposure imagery by Chris McCaw / fact of the day: 'half of Australian houses sit within 8 miles of a beach'.