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Sunday, June 22, 2008

On the importance of bungalows. What started off as a vaguely modernist-inspired house-building programme (see The Daily Mail book of Bungalow Plans) gradually evolved into a populist building movement that was less about architecture and more about personal freedom and dreams of a place of one's own. The bungalow is a point where popular taste diverges sharply from architectural taste. 'In Ireland, one of the bestsellers of the 70s was a self-build manual called Bungalow Bliss. Following its publication, a rash of owner-built bungalows began to spread across the rural Irish landscape.' There was an exhibition not so long ago called Bungalow Blitz, which attempted to show artistic reactions to what was loudly decried by architects as a plague of 'inappropriate' structures, disfiguring the landscape and 'betraying' architecture.

The rather sneering tone overlooked the reality; that people were engaging with the idea of the home as a commodity that could be tailored to their personal needs, searching through pattern books for the floor plan that would fit their circumstances. The Irish Bungalow Book epitomises the era, displaying page after page of generously sized schemes with subtle variations. It presents a level of choice and engagement that simply doesn't exist in today's housing market, despite the supposed flexibility of the digital era and the many suggestions that the 'off-the-shelf' house was on the horizon. Instead, mass housing inspires increasingly quirky solutions: there's a video here by MacGabhann Architects, a field of disappearing holiday bungalows that slide out of view when not in use.


From small to large. The death of formalism: the revolving tower in Dubai was all over the world's media in a manner that was more than slightly reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower extension that never was. Hoax or not (there's a book about similar, mostly speculative, structures, Revolving Architecture: A History of Buildings that Rotate, Swivel, and Pivot) the rotating tower ticks all sorts of boxes in the debate about contemporary architecture. International, comprehensive, yet relatively unprobing, media coverage? Check. Weblogs flooded with imagery, simply because it looks neat and makes a nice visual splash? Check. Developer without much of a track record creating similar structures? Check. Untested technology? Etc.etc. Allegedly the tower will happen, and, we're told, be totally sustainable to boot. '"This building never looks the same, not once in a lifetime," added David Fisher, the tower's architect.'

The practice of architecture and megalomaniac tendencies are never too far apart. Technology seems to bring the two even closer together. There no longer appears to be any distinction between so-called 'serious' architecture - established names, big sites, developer-supported - and the diaphanous, rendered implausibilities that exist primarily to generate interest and column inches. For examples, the similarities between the rotating tower and the new Vinoly scheme for Battersea Power Station (via archinect) are plain to see; it's hard to tell which is more realistic. Perhaps CG flights of fancy are inuring us to the reality of what can actually be achieved in architecture. Admittedly, new buildings can be remarkable (via), but the presentation of largely speculative schemes like the one for Battersea carry with them a crushing weight of expectation, giving sites layer upon layer of virtual archaeology that one has to dig through.

It used to be that Brutalism was the preferred mode of expression for closeted architectural megalomaniacs, apparently hellbent on re-shaping the city as a collection of raw, hard edges, the abstraction of the avant-garde poured into physical form. The styles detractors were legion, but there's a vocal minority asking that we stop knocking Brutalism, spurred on the senseless losses of buildings like Portsmouth's Tricorn Centre (now a car park) and the Gateshead Car Park, levelled for a shopping centre. The revival of interest in Brutalism seems to coincide with the fashion for buildings that are the very opposite of concrete - lightweight, transparent, not there at all. It's about a desire for substance and impermeability, counter-balancing the relentlessly superficial facadism that coats everything with a thin, pixellated layer of artifically grown reality.


Other things. Think Faest!, design inspiration / The Deptford Project, an alternative cafe / rightly acclaimed everywhere, The Big Picture / the Fine Art File, a collection of large scans of famous pictures / gallery: Topologies by Edgar Martins / the mighty fine back catalogue of the Playmobil company (via) / 'Accelerating modernity: Time-space compression in the wake of the aeroplane' / musings on the immediate prospects for the electric car / Present and Correct, a slickly presented design shop / Unusual Times, the pastiche weblog as marketing tool. An interesting development. Related, one post wonder / on MBV and noise / culture as rubbish, The Age of Uncertainty on what people throw away / Gehry under construction in Hyde Park.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hidden megastructures. The other day, someone was complaining about the prevalence of cell phones at rock concerts the other day, and how live performances are often experienced through the hundreds of tiny screens people hold in front of their face as they attempt to capture blurry pictures of the band on stage. It's a fair point, although most agree to disagree as to whether the general experience is ruined or it's just another technological fetish we will swiftly subsume. A natural evolution of this behaviour is manifested in Citysense, a mobile nightlife guide that purports to not only show you where to go, but which venue is the most buzzing: 'What Citysense does is simple, yet profound. It gathers real-time positional fixes from mobile devices (so far, naturally, for San Francisco only), aggregates them and plots them on a map that is itself then pushed back to the mobile device.' Is this the future of urban life? It's certainly part of the roadmap (back to Street as Platform again).

Could these new clouds of data be considered as buildings in their own right? Just as we're now (mostly) used to the idea of using handheld GPS to help us determine the immediate environment, so products like Citysense will provide customised town plans according to our needs and desires, effectively shaping our environment; a city of shops, of clubs, or green spaces.

These virtual megastructures will eventually become commonplace. A few years ago there was an apparent rush to buy space in Second Life, dutifully reported by the business press, as corporations believed that a foothold in that particular branch of cyberspace was essential to their survival. In the event, the shift to pixels didn't really materialise. Now a different approach is emerging. Disney has arrived in Google Earth, transposing their entire real world property online. It's initially a disappointing experience (fly to 'Disney World' and make sure 3D buildings are turned on: instructions). At first, we couldn't get the whole park to ping up in 3D, just the castle, marooned in a sea of YouTube clips and information boxes, a kind of etiolated landscape of desire and expectation, stripped back to the digital scraps of memory and little else.

But once you're in the 3D model proper, you're presented with a quite absurdly detailed landscape (especially for Google Earth), including individual trees and rides and huts and the occasional hillock, all modelled in a quasi-transparent, hazy sort of way, as if a giant 3D scanner had simply made a few passes over the general locality. Here is a megastructure of the mind, a modern day Neuschwanstein that will now lurk forever over digitised Florida. Sightseeing through GE is a popular pursuit, with little individual blobs of specific data dumped on the map - as opposed to an entire digitised city - serving corporate agendas rather than the grand plans of the architect.

The real megastructures are rather banal, leaving trickery and ostentation to the virtual world. The new Thanet Earth development, currently under construction in these Kent fields. Walking a fine line between vast eyesore, job-creating godsend and conscience-assuaging purveyor of all-year-round truckable (i.e. zero air mile) salad crops, Thanet Earth has a lot to live up to. Developed by the Fresca Group (a name carefully focused grouped to convey just the right combination of fruity freshness and crisp, modernity, a juxtaposition neatly consolidated by their earthy, biodegradable logo), Thanet Earth has also been christened with an eye to making the news. After all, its publicity suggests, the structure 'is predicted to produce an additional 15% to current UK-grown salad volumes [sic]'. Even with its 'seven glass houses, each the size of 10 football pitches', the 91 hectare site won't be even close to the scale of operations in Spain. That said, the local population isn't exactly rushing to embrace this quiet megastructure, despite relatively postive articles in The Guardian (and not-so-positive ones in the Daily Mail).

At least the intention behind Thanet Earth is to localise food production. The DIRFT (Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal) centre is located smack bang in the middle of the UK's transport infrastructure, a series of monumental warehouses that are strung out across the landscape in a wholly unironic mirror of Superstudio's studied exercise in architectural banality. Here is where some of the country's key corporations have their transport hubs - Stobart, Malcolm Logistics, Exel, Royal Mail - issuing a steady stream of HGVs to form miniature megastructural strands right across the country. The new megastructures aren't buildings, they're data and logistics, stealthy, silent and unnoticeable.


Related, Christopher Stocks, things contributor, and his new book, Forgotten Fruits: A Guide to Britain's Traditional Fruit and Vegetables, from Orange Jelly Turnips to Dan's Mistake Gooseberries. Not a lot of road freight involved there. See also the Big Fruit Little Fruit site.

Other things. ATP goes goth and fancy dress / neat little personal flying boat from Icon Aircraft / Kueleborn's World, a weblog / Spore brings out the inner pornographer in everyone (at rps) / Megastructure Reloaded, worth visiting again / On Spitalfields, the hard, shiny, generic reality of gentrification / Dumb Angel serves up another tranche of West Coast pop culture / k on tracking a virulent meme: 'I only heard it for the first time an hour ago and I'm already sick of it.' / Louis Tussaud's House of Wax, Great Yarmouth / a day in brands: Jane's Brand-timeline Portrait at Dear Jane Sample.

Photoshop Disasters is always entertaining, but this was better than the usual fare of airbrush casualties (although the site's popularity means that the comments are descending into YouTube-esque banality) / Dyckhoff on An Olympic nightmare in Beijing, one of the first critics to really lay into the Games's thus-far barb-proof architecture / all about Pulteney Bridge, at Bath Daily Photo / hey Caterina, maybe you've got time to write that piece for us now? / the city of blogs, an architecture weblog aggregator / more abandoned hotels.

Glancey on the DC-3, soon to be banished from the skies by EU legislation (apparently, although don't necessarily trust anything that says EU legislation is to blame). We saw Classic Flight's DC-3 over South London last week. They also run the fabulous de Havilland Dragon Rapide, one of the most elegant planes ever made. The DC-3 first flew in 1935, giving the design a respectable 73-year life span, easily eclipsing the tortoise-like Routemaster (1954-2005, although some are still kicking around). The probable winner of the 20th century technology longevity test will be the B-52 Stratofortress, which is projected to fly until 2044, giving a total of 84 years in service. Equivalent to the cutting edge of 1924 only just shuffling off the runaway, something like the Fokker F.VII. More F.VII, especially cutaway of the later Fokker F-XVII.


The New Modernist, a guided tour around some of the monumental modernism going up around the world, a blog by Edward Lifson / related: locating China's new Olympic infrastructure, via tidskriften arkitektur / Eye Candy, a weblog / Renata Barros, a weblog / a set of tetris tactics / Goosh, for command line fans.

19th Century Children's Literature, via Retrolounge / create your own zeitgeisty illustration at Cubespace (me-fi) / The Die-Line, a packaging blog / they don't make car brochures like this any more, and more's the pity / a collection of car door handles at Cartype (both via Coudal). See also our Wing Mirror Project

Free Soil, 'an international hybrid collaboration of artists, activists, researchers and gardeners who take a participatory role in the transformation of our environment.' / MBV revisted and reviewed, via blissblog. There's also a thesis on Loveless, courtesy of an American academic (via Wired).

Of note after the earlier post, Abandonments, over at Weburbanist / writing by Ben Fry / Fageta do good designs / (via), neatly summing up what much of the internet is actually about (many photographs of the same thing) / the banana, the 'atheist's nightmare' / Industrial Facility, a review / The BoxTank, on planning and urbanism at the city fringes.

Horror vacui: 'nature fears empty space'. There's a school of contemporary design could be said to adhere to this principle: I, II, III, IV, V (all ffffound), a 'less is a bore' movement for the digital era, fear of the blank page coupled with cutting and pasting, quoting and riffing / Spiritualized Harmonies, videos / tumblr is my sock drawer / Curious Expeditions, flickr sets of museums and more, including the incredible Mercer Museum, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (official site), founded by Henry Chapman Mercer / pages from The Engineer, posted by Mearso.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

English Buildings, the weblog of the book by Philip Wilkinson / The Holy Bible, a weblog / one good bumblebee, a weblog / Johann Hari does a supposedly fun thing he'll never do again / Chris Burden's skyscraper / a map set of military bases / examples of autotune abuse, via me-fi and this Sasha F-J piece / wikio collates the 'top-ranking' UK weblogs. Surprising that technology and politics dominate the 'UK blogosphere' / Coudal's biannual(ish) Field Tested Books goes live for 2008. We contributed a review.


The AJ's recent 'Tribeca Infobox' competition can be seen as something of a high watermark for iconic design. Asked to create a short-term building with a specific function - provide information about the large scale 'Tribeca' development in Liverpool by Urban Splash (a firm that likes Americanised names for its projects) - the 100-plus entries roam all over the stylistic shop, exhibiting far more sympathy for the Venturian Duck (or even a nickelplated python) of po-mo lore than for any rational approach. Ironic, consider the pavilion is perhaps the ur-form of modernist design, but now represents the aesthetic counterpoint, entirely free of structural and logistical constraints (see also Serpentine pavs passim).


In another universe, this is the popular definition of 'modern design' / 212box, the aforementioned 'mystery architects' of New York / antiformat, 'thoughts on stuff' / Nostalgia for the future, a weblog by Justin Pickard / Is Google Making Us Stupid? / Picture Shop, abstract urban views / a punk rock flyer archive, 1982-1984, via dreams less sweet / a gallery of Toyota Land Cruiser images, old and new. The in print section is particularly good, as is the Japanese section.


Revisited, The Timeline Problem in Ferris Bueller's Day Off: 'In the issue of fairness, let us go over the chain of events, first starting with what Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron do in Chicago' / Survival Tips for the Middle Ages. Or you could always pretend you're a deer. Another hypothetical, 'How long could you survive in the vacuum of space' (via). More at Slate.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Recommended: Sounding Rooms, on the implausible notion of unfolding familiar space, with new rooms gradually unravelling around you. The comments mention Danielewski's House of Leaves, unsurprisingly, plus Geoff's earlier post about the undiscovered bedrooms of Manhattan, but there are other precedents, like the Winchester Mystery House (for which no floorplan seems to exist, at least not online), or even the weblog, a potentially infinite unfolding space, always linking onwards, opening new rooms and new exhibits, and new thoughts. At least, that's the idea.

For unbounded spatial experiences you could do a lot worse than consider the traditional asylum, a sprawling combination of isolation wards, careful segregation and starkly titled structures ('acute block', 'chronic block', etc.). The Index of English and Welsh Lunatic Asylums and Mental Hospitals appears to be a bible of information about these structures, although many readers will be very familiar with the asylum form through the urban exploration movement. For some reason, they are among the most visited and documented of all abandoned building types (Danvers State Insane Asylum, Hellingly Asylum, Byberry Asylum (complete with Patient Information Handbook), New York State Asylum for the Insane, County Asylums in the UK and and more). This monumental plan of Menston County Asylum in Ilkley gives you some idea of their scale, a terrifyingly large edifice, in the characteristic 'broad arrow layout', divided into male and female sections, poised on the edge of the moors (although the original plan is somewhat diluted by the incursion of the new Royds Park development on the site).

So why are these structures so fascinating? We'd hazard that they represent a convenient synthesis of several elements missing from modern life, and that their survival - even if it is only in virtual form - as ruined carcasses allows our memories and imaginations to hold on to a strong narrative from the past. There's not a lot of mystery in architecture anymore (apart from the occasional Fifth Avenue blip, thanks k). Frankly, there's not a lot of corridors in architecture anymore, certainly not on the grand institutional scale demonstrated by some of these Victorian British, Canadian and American asylums, with rows of doors stretching into the distance. Both empty buildings and blogs present themselves as vessels for exploration, neatly compartamentalised, reducing life into a series of boxes. Whereas one is the ultimate wunderkammer of curious afflictions, aspirations, delusions and illusions - phantoms of the mind - the other uses the physical object (or at least its pictorial representation) as the landscape to traverse. These giant, empty brick labyrinths function as useful places to keep the dark parts of our mind.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008
A visual history of the TV detector van, via autoblog. Oobject is similar in spirit to Deputy Dog, collating visual lists that present just the right combination of retro stylings and visual eccentricity - Formula 1 user interfaces (or 'steering wheels'), Soviet technology rip-offs, 'unboring' ferris wheels, survival kits, classic Nakamichi cassette decks, etc., etc. These represent a triumph of digital curatorship, but also a new taxonomy of ephemera, one that dovetails contemporary obsessions with the cherry-pickings of history and in the process skews our modern perspective in such a way that whole tranches of visual culture are sidelined for not having enough collective visual punch.

How We Drive is the weblog accompanying Traffic, the new book by Tom Vanderbilt, author of the excellent Survival City / Picture Maps, via Sachs Report, which has crept back online / Navy Ships in Razzle Dazzle Costume / curious objects on display at the Device Gallery, showing Fritz Lang-esque art by the likes of Gregory Brotherton / an interview with Chris Bangle at wallpaper about BMW's latest concept design / a gallery of portraits of Phone Sex Operators at tmn, part of photographer Phillip Toledano's meditation on 'the things in society that are in plain sight, but still remain hidden.' There's also a book, Phone Sex / a clever new '3D in your browser' application from Alterniva Platform.

This is good (news), but also rather depressing / We Will Become, a weblog / the Byrdhouse, 'self-indulgent talk about architecture, design and photography' / Schaukasten, 'A blog dedicated to the aesthetic values of movie art beyond the screen' / Apparatus of Capture - Architecture in Israel-Palestine, 60 Years On', a very comprehensive piece by Owen Hatherley on the connections between colonialism, white-walled architecture, modernity and nation building.

Guerilla Gardening, making small but significant interventions in the urban realm / what are McMansions made of? Not a lot, really / Hatherley again, this time on Derelict London, the book of the website / yet more on Robin Hood Gardens / Mr H, again, on Heritage against History, 'Manufacturing a Past in London's 'Regeneration'', a spirited rant against the developer-led practice of branding new living space with a curious mix of carefully selected history drawing upon artful interpretations of terms like 'modernism' and 'constructivism', blank canvasses that shovel the true life stories of their history under the carpet in their effort to appeal to the most profitable demographic. Hard to explain in a more succinct way than he does, so read the article.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Collections and compilations. People Who Buy Glass Houses, a Slate piece on the ongoing fascination with the icons of modernism as some kind of monetary, rather than cultural, investment. At the turn of the century, Peter Palumbo sold the Farnsworth House for a sizeable profit, largely on the strength of the house's iconic status. This set a precedent that other structures from the era have ultimately failed to follow. See Architecture for Sale if you're feeling brave.

I love my life the way it is. What if you didn't scratch the scratch cards? A project (deliberately) full of unfulfilled potential / a set of magazine covers, old and new. See also Magtastic Blogsplosion, a new weblog devoted to print design by Andrew Losowsky. See also Losowsky's Ling Magazine / related, read magazines online at Issuu. There are lots and lots of magazines in the world (see montage above) / is sweatshop-style Chinese art resold through websites like this?

10 ways to make an iPhone killer, by Lorbus. See also his tumblr / Yes and Not Yes / Kiddie Records, a treasure trove of old school children's music (via me-fi) / a list of London's Michelin starred restaurants / Lunch with Front Studio. When architects also cook / French Book Covers, a weblog / seen everywhere, but worthwhile: Hugh Crawford's life in Polaroids, via Coudal / You Suffer. Genius.

The New Illustrated Library of Science and Invention, a book cover series / all about the PillCam internal video camera system / Low-tech magazine, 'doubts about technology', or simply another way into the retro fetish / Chrome, new art at tmn. A final flowering for automotive erotica, now that the four-wheel-drive American dream seems to be in the process of driving off a cliff. Lashings of schadenfreude all round.

Toronto Tower Renewal, a Canadian respose to the type of fiasco Britain has with Robin Hood Gardens / images from the New York Historical Society, as well as a bucketful of images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (official site) / Fareed Suheimat paints copies in oils / Left Coast Classics sells old cars (including the wonderful Jerrari) and catalogues them comprehensively on flickr.

All about the early years of Dungeons and Dragons, plus a riposte arguing we should take it more seriously / photos of TV (thanks Brian for both) / Colour Lovers, picking up palettes from popular culture / The Samba, huge VW fansite, including an archive of press imagery from the 50s and 60s / many flickr sets, mostly automotive / via kottke, London's Lost Rivers at Strange Maps.

Monday, June 02, 2008

RIP Bo Diddley / Items I didn't win, an eBay set / 44, a tumble log / feeding the 5000 aggregates feeds from various sources / Channel 4 at 25 / the new proletariat, an architecture weblog / the great sale of Margate. 'asset management consultations' never end well /, a weblog / some books set in underground locations / forthcoming BMWs promise the apotheosis of in-car electronics, at least for now / all about a Prefabricated Building System developed by artist George Maciunas in the 50s and 60s. Rendered in the modern style, the designs look - unsurprisingly - incredibly contemporary.


Revisiting an old favourite, 'Blast', by Naoya Hatakeyama. Found via Hippolyte Bayard, an excellent photography blog. Also found via HB, Infinite palaces and buildings, a manipulated set by photographer Fabiano Busdraghi. His Antarctic portfolio is also worth a look. See also, more photography, with an emphasis on portraiture.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008
Extracted from some random spam,, one of the countless 'art factories' in Dafen, a southern Chinese town that produces vast numbers of oil paintings, copied slavishly - and expertly - from Old Masters, Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Abstract Impressionists, etc. etc. The work is true mass production: "We divide up the colors among us," said [18-year-old Zeng Xiangying], "By dividing up the work, contrasting colors stay clearest." How do they work? eBay is awash in Chinese galleries: avantoil, chengxiangzhubao521, Paintings-888 and templeofart all pulled from a very quick search. That last store has over 3,000 items for sale. Everything is 24 x 20 inches (must be something to do with standarised shipping rates), although you can supersize your order (everything is painted to order, naturally). The likes of Mark Kostabi and Thomas Kincade must be incandescent with rage that someone else is muscling in on their game. We're seriously tempted to buy a painting and see what the quality is like (although the medium is occasionally over-extended - such as the reproductions of Matisse's Blue Nudes, cut out pieces of coloured paper that might be interesting rendered in oils).

More. Michael Wolf has an excellent set of images of Chinese copy artists, posing proudly with their work, while Shenzhen-based flickr user lila75 has a complete set on the Dafen Artist's Village, a sort of hyper-steroidal version of the Place du Tertre or even the Hyde Park Railings. We like this picture, which seems to illustrate the collision between high culture and commerce quite succinctly. This piece, Workshop of the world, fine arts division, by James Fallows also gives a flavour of the place.


Other things. Paris in the 50s. See also general sets and scenes from the 60s and 70s, including views of the Olivetti factory, the inner workings of a typewriter workshop. Most of these images appear to pre-date the introduction of Sottsass's Valentine. There are plenty of typewriter museums online, including Chuck and Rich's and Lady Typewriter.

Some publications. Reconstruction, 'studies in contemporary culture'. Here you'll find articles like '"Thank Goodness He-Man Showed Up": Hypermasculine Cultural Posturing and the Token Women of 80s Animated Action Teams', discussing the 'strange sexualized overtones' in cartoons like G.I.Joe. Other issues include a piece on 'The Playing Card's Progress: A Brief History of Cards and Card Games'.

Urbanomic, 'philosophical research and development'. Their new publication, 'Collapse IV, Concept Horror', looks interested. Ordered / Tanks and Tablecloths, 'an ongoing collaborative research project between artists Elizabeth Haven and Lizzie Ridout, identifying common themes between the military and the domestic.' / the work of photographer Bas Princen, via candyland.

Digital Urban on MapTube, a suite of Free Google Map Creating Software developed by University College London's CASA laboratory (Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis). A way of importing data into Google Maps, it works a treat for things like the London Underground Map and Post Office locations (compare and contrast with the closures map). We wish there was a way to strip out all the map information entirely, leaving just the data behind. Also, the data contained within maps like London Building Volumes begs to imported into Google Earth so it can be tilted and flown through.

Apocalyptic game rendering crops up on terrorist mood board, apparently. Gamers unamused / the first digital camera, invented by Steve Sasson / Japanese motorway interchanges, the kind of thing that crops up at Follow Found / Aesthetechtonik, a weblog and portfolio by architect Mike Suriano / Vintage Posters / stumbled across this on a bookshelf the other day: The Google Book, by V.C.Vickers, published in 1913. Unsurprisingly it now exists on the Google-devoted Google Blogoscoped.

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