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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Weblogs are creating unprecedented interest in architectural history, in particularly the ephemeral imagery that has - until now - not survived as well as the words, terms, genres and neologisms. Both The Sequipedalist and no2self brings us some AD covers from the 1970s. It always strikes us as perverse that the people who created these covers in the first place never bother to put them into the public domain, preferring instead to leave it up to the enthusiasts. A happy exception is the incredible Concrete Quarterly archive, a full set of scans dating back to just after WWII (related, C+A, the modern Australian equivalent). The above image is of Riccardo Morandi's Great Hall in Turin, from page 13 of issue 47, Winter 1960.

A (Not-comprehensive) List of Books That Changed The World at The Rumpus / the end of music thing (for now) / if there was a Victorian-era Ffffound, these paintings would surely be getting many clicks (via (what is this?)). See also the work of Mira Ruido (via Netdiver) / the Draupner Wave, first scientific evidence of a rogue wave. Something that looks very like a rogue wave appears at around 2m35s of this excerpt from Deadliest Catch, a documentary about fishing in the Bering Sea.

AbeBooks' Most Expensive Sales in 2008 / Asian Movie Posters, a collection of mostly fantastically overblow imagery / They Were Collaborators, a series at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats / 30 ways to die of electrocution at Puppies and Flowers, which also links to the London shopfronts tumblr.

We can't let this one pass. Dorling Kindersley's new book 'All this makes life work living' is, according to the all-important blurb, 'a phenomenal book of wonders that will feature a vast array of astonishing items that add something to the world we live in. Whether it's the thing itself such as the first football or what the item represents like Monet's paint palette, everything featured in the book will astound and impress you.' And yet this content is being solicited through the internet. Weblogs have been bombarded with earnest emails asking for contributions, presumably a swift (and cheap) way of getting content without having tiresome things like writers or editors on the payroll. Compare and contrast with TOFHWOTI.

A great piece of urban and literary archaeology: The Real Concrete Island, tracing the real inspirations for Ballard's book. Linked within, the Notting Hill Timeline and a flickr set, Ballardians in Notting Hill / Nihilsentimentalgia, a photography blog (occasionally nsfw) / the Tomorrow Museum, a weblog / 'Swiss Made is a label used to indicate that a product was made in Switzerland'.

Beware of the Imp of the Perverse / From Light To Sound, sound a bit like Year of No Light / Earth Invaders, a weblog / enter the world of prog rock with Hal's Progressive Rock Blog. This might be a rich seam to mine: there are other blogs out there, some shortlived (The Progtologist Studies), others more comprehensive (Sakalli) / kottke redesigns: 'I like that is one of the few weblogs out there that can reach back almost ten years for a past design element; the site has history'.

Children under Stress, by Sula Wolff, published in 1973. This is apparently one of the great classics of child psychiatry, the work that established the field. Wolff (b.1925) has made her life's work the study of difference, and the origins of that difference (as shown in her recent book Loners: Life Path of Unusual Children). Much of her work looked at the impact of autism and Aspergers. On page 191 she writes 'in a recent survey, it was estimated that between four and five out of every 10,000 children are autistic.' According to the National Autistic Society, recent research suggests that there was a prevalence rate of 0.9% for autism spectrum disorders or 90 in 10,000. The rise in autism is an accepted phenomenon: here's a graph.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

We've been playing around with TinEye, the 'reverse image search' (registration required). As of this evening, the site claims to have crawled 1,013,140,121 images, assembling a giant database that can be used for near-instant comparison. From the FAQ: 'TinEye finds exact and altered copies of the images that you submit, including those that have been cropped, colour adjusted, resized, heavily edited or slightly rotated. TinEye does not commonly return similar matches, and it cannot recognize the contents of any image. This means that TinEye cannot find different images with the same people or things in them.'

The site does a good job of pulling up a set of differently sized, coloured and scaled versions of the same painting. Maurice de Vlaminck's Landscape with Red Trees (1906) gives the above set of thumbnails a ripple of difference - admittedly mostly very slight - but noticeable in terms of hue and crop. But what about paintings by the same artist? Or different versions of the same landscape? (Paul Cezanne painting Mont St Victoire, for example). Or even different views painted using the exact same combination of colours? Imagine if it could be set to find works by the same artist working in a similar way? TinEye could not only help research artistic movements, it could uncover potentially hidden works. It could create new movements.

Above, a TinEyed selection of thumbnails of one Cezanne painting. Below, several thumbnail images of paintings of the same view, all by Cezanne.


But what about brands? Could TinEye be trained to identify a Nike trainer, regardless of model, a BMW, or even a building by Frank Gehry? Repetition breeds familiarity in the world of branding, but the idea that an object's inherent brand values might be digitally quantifiable opens up huge cans of worms for product designers. All things seem possible. Imagine the launch of truly recognition engine, a new business tool that is seen as the litmus test for brand recognition. Simply upload the design, adjust the sliders, and you can whether or not your design has _enough_ BMW in it through it's ability to 'attract' and be associated with existing products.

If you run a search, pick 'closest match last' to see how images - usually stock or press shots - are clipped, chopped and pasted. These tiny deviations from the original are examples of the emerging digital patina, the inadvertent introduction of imperfections through the encroachment of jpg degradation, crops and colour recalibration. The inability of digital art to replicate itself precisely is referenced in recent work by Thomas Ruff (sometimes v.nsfw). Ironically, the very tool that reveals this hitherto visual richness in digital design might ultimately lead to the push-button blandification of the material world.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Growing stocks of unsold cars around the world. There's nothing like seeing a supposedly desirable object, one that is intended to represent your taste and character, stacked up and racked up to reveal their total lack of distinguishing marks. The above image is of Corby, Northamptonshire, where Gefco keeps unsold new cars before distributing them to dealers. The Guardian's photographs have a snatched, paparazzi-style feeling - as if they were stolen glimpses of something you're not really supposed to be seeing / a series of models by architecture students at Kingston University, deliberately emulating the work of Thomas Demand / a work of Daniel Eatock's, the Prismacolor Pen Print / Jan Kaplicky of Future Systems, 1937-2009.

Picdit suggests a collaborative project of imagery of objects thrown in the air, referencing the beginning of 2001, a Space Odyssey (the flying bone cut into the space station or objects being dropped (Martin Klimas's ceramic sculptures , or Naoya Hatakeyama's Blast Series, or even high speed photography or this set of 25 photographs taken at exactly the right moment (the type of post that gets sneakily 'syndicated' by numerous weblogs, so apologies if that wasn't the original source).

Related. Simon Hoegsberg's vast photograph 'We're All Gonna Die - 100 meters of existence' is cinematic in scale, but defiantly low-key in terms of subject and composition. Shot in Berlin in Summer 2007, the finished piece is 100m long. The (usually) detached subjects float in horizontal space, occasionally engaging with each other across the frame or lost in their own thoughts. Hoegsberg's other work is worth a look as well: Professional Fury, life on the road with Denmark's premier heavy metal band, and The Tower of Babel, an abandoned project on New York.

The Skira Yearbook seems to be a fairly accurate summation of the current state of architecture / another page of links: architexture centrifuge / one to watch, New Architects in Latin America / now voyager, a weblog / Always Looking, a weblog / welcome reddit people. The project page you might be looking for is here: Survival in the City, 1974.

Where can I live?, houses for sale arranged according to commuting distance / photographs by Eric Tabuchi. We, naturally, like the ruins series / photographs by John Wycherley / always looking, a weblog / sunbathing on a crane (via Building magazine).

Also capturing the moment, but in another way.Things Our Friends Have Written on the Internet 2008 captures the passing ephemera and text of the weblog world and translates it, effortlessly, into a desirable package (although thanks to its tabloid paper format it's still arguably more ephemeral than an object like tmn's Manual). magCulture has an excellent post on the publication (which is sadly all gone).

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Sunday, January 18, 2009
When did the technological menace that stalks popular culture shift from being carbon-based to entirely silicon? When did we evolve the perception that fictional computers could receive human-type personalities? When we reviewed Ray Kurzweil's Age of Spiritual Machines, eight and half years ago, we felt that artificial intelligence would be the foundations of a new era of virtual worlds, their actual function and purpose as yet unclear. It was a somewhat misguided idea. Instead, we have learnt to become ever more emotionally attached to our machines, a development that Kurzweil perhaps didn't bargain for in his original analysis.

Stephen Fry made an excellent point late last year, writing about how this state of affairs was essentially kick-started by Apple. At the heart of the iPhone, Fry wrote, is 'the fundamental understanding that is Steve Jobs and Jony Ive’s (Apple's Chief Designer) great contribution to digital (and therefore cultural) life in our time – that human beings, willy-nilly, forge relationships even with inanimate objects and that those relationships, being human, take on all the colours of emotion: it is in our DNA for this to be the case.'

How could this be overlooked for so long? Proponents of 'true' artificial intelligence were once rigorously focused on eking out logic and clarity in human-computer interaction (the foundations of the Turing Test - see the halting conversation with Eliza, recorded in things 6). As a result, we fill in the blanks for ourselves, assigning personality traits to the inanimate and dumb, extrapolating a relationship from the tiny flashes of coincidence that define and extend our bonding with an object - the files apparently withheld out of spite, for example, or blaming a slow connection on some inherent machine stupidity.

Supporting this imposition of a hidden agenda has been half a century or so of fictional computer personalities, running in tandem with computer history. However, there has always been a dark side to this anthropomorphic feast, as the supercomputer turned psychopath and monster. In early science fiction, the 'alien' element had been robotic, from The Day the Earth Stood Still to Forbidden Planet, where the character of Robby the Robot comes to epitomise the mid-50s view of what a robot would look like and what it would be able to do. This was the era of rampant futurism, when a robot in every home seemed a very real possibility. Ultimately, such optimism evaporated in the face of insurmountable technical obstacles, to be replaced by robots as a science fiction trope and a hobbyist's preserve, two spheres that have been forever kept apart by practicality and cost.

As computing power increased, the idea that a villain - or at least a malevolent force - need not be a living entity started to propagate in speculative fiction. What was the first evil computer, that transitional cultural fossil? The list of computers in fiction shows that by the mid-1950s, it was the data-sorting and management ability of computers that led to their eventual demonisation. As a character says in Isaac Asimov's The Evitable Conflict (1950): 'The Machines are not super-brains in Sunday supplement sense,—although they are so pictured in the Sunday supplements. It is merely that in their own particular province of collecting and analyzing a nearly infinite number of data and relationships thereof, in nearly infinitesimal time, they have progressed beyond the possibility of detailed human control'.

The same year, Kurt Vonnegut wrote EPIPAC, the tale of a computer becoming sentient, emotionally attached and ultimately suicidal, while Colossus, a 1966 novel, featured computers hell-bent on world security at the expense of human life. Evil machines were extrapolations of evil government, systems that sought efficiency at the expense of freedom and personal expression. The book also became a film, Colossus: The Forbin Project (video, arriving at around the same time as the screen treatment of Arthur C.Clarke's 2001 (expanded from his story The Sentinel through the addition, we think, of the Hal plot element).

Clark retained the theme of misapplied self-preservation through HAL's murderous activities, focusing on a relatively small scale - a space mission - rather than an entire city or planet. This is a fairly arbitrary dating, but sometime during the 1970s the term 'supercomputer' came into usage, apparently coined by Seymour Cray, the founder of Cray Research. Cray's products were a public relations triumph; giant, almost architectonic devices that used moody lighting, shiny materials and faceted forms reminiscent of post-modernist/metabolist architecture or ancient Mayan temples - they were mysterious objects to be worshipped. Dubbed 'supercomputers', Cray's products immediately caught the public attention, thanks to high profile, media-friendly applications like the creation of effects for The Last Starfighter by Digital Productions.

Being 'super' humanised the computer, ascribing it powers that many were quick to anthropomorphosise, even deify. Cray founded his company in 1972. Kubrick's 2001 dates from a few years before, with the character of HAL evolving from NASA's use of computers for spaceship control, developed since the Gemini Program (video). From there it became de rigeur to have a computer 'character' aboard a space ship, from HAL 9000 in 2001 (voiced by Douglas Rain with all the quiet precision of the sociopath), Mother in Alien, through to Icarus in Sunshine, even Slave in Blake's 7 and Bomb 20 in Dark Star. The computer had stopped being an inanimate 'thing' and become a sentient being, to be romanticised, feared and mistrusted.


Other things and related links. Visit the HP Museum, or Vintage Computer, or the IBM Archives. There's also the Pioneers of Soviet Computing and the frankly amazing DigiBarn Computer Museum, with its vast collection of machinery and associated print and ephemera. These 1995 screenshots of AlphaWord show you around an early 3D world, a virtual place that is now as lost as any of the real lost civilisations or cities around the world.

A vast pulp gallery / Hal's Legacy: 2001's computer as dream and reality, a 1997 book by David Stork that has its own, lovingly preserved, _enhanced_ web site / a collection of speculative fiction tropes / the B9 Robot Builders' Club / A New Zero, free online war game crammed into less than half a megabyte (via RPS).

The Repository of Records, a weblog / secret messages, an idea via stephanie's weblog / slow muse, a weblog / postcards for sale, amongst other things / photographs by John Davies of Rachel Whiteread's House, a now iconic emblem of lost Britain / on the virtual proliferation of watermelons.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Some things seem too good to be true. 'Whatever happened to the Dongtan Eco City? asks Ethical Corporation magazine, which dubs the Arup-led project as an 'eco-potemkin village'. Treehugger goes further, branding the Arup-led design for a truly zero-emission community totally dead: 'Rather, as a mythical Shangri-La, the [Dongtan] plan would serve China as the ultimate greenwashing tool, greening the country's image while in practice its cities could continue to develop along the same unsustainable path at breakneck speed.' Even the Telegraph noted rather cynically that 'The plans for Dongtan have helped to raise Arup's profile considerably in China, allowing it to bid for other prestigious projects'.

The idea of an eco-city remains mythical. Abu Dhabi's Masdar project, which includes Masdar City 'the most ambitious sustainable development in the world today ... the world’s first zero carbon, zero waste city powered entirely by renewable energy sources', masterplanned by Foster and Partners is current front runner for the project most likely to be completed, and equally likely to evaporate. OMA's very pragmatic failure, the Ras al Khaimah eco city (the 'City in the Desert', overseen by Reinier de Graaf) fizzled out, after the firm attempted to buck the 'monotony of the exceptional' by creating something deliberately austere - and ultimately unwanted by the client in actual physical form.

The UK's much-vaunted then swiftly back-pedalled Eco-towns have nothing on these megaplans, which have strung enormous political and media capital out of pie-in-the-sky proposals, something people have been saying for quite some time. In the end, Dongtan provided little more than some spectacular CGI (compare and contrast: this with that), making it the ultimate example of the render-centric architecture that dominates contemporary discourse.

The imaginary image not only sates our desire for fantastical forms but also acts as a salve for the conscience. The shift from iconic, hypertechnical images of a steely utopia - all soaring chimneys and glowing blast furnaces - was a characteristic of all developing countries, be they communist or capitalist. Now, our fantasies are represented by ageless, glossy buildings, bathed in golden sunshine and smog free air, a future of perpetual freedom. Dongtan exists as a theoretical utopia, a way of mentally counterbalancing the X million tons of 'recycling' shipped to China (where it is buried or burned).


There's something up in blog-ville, a Seussian way of saying that the conversation has changed and the debate is all-too-often neatly manufactured or pushing a not-so-hidden agenda / another JB post: guitars and graphics / mining the referrers. Bundestrendscout Phillip Roth Koln, a weblog / yatzer, a design blog / Creative Voyage, more imagery / Give Them Rope, a blog from Boston / White Noise of Everyday Life, photography, etc. / Betsy McCall Paper Dolls. Dressing up on a budget.

Closer Than We Think!, a late 50s comic anticipating the push-button future (via Treehugger) / a bit late with this: Kottke's best of 2008. Recommended / CoS has a fine piece on historical ephemera: Cables / a lot of work went into these: My day yesterday / stuff journalists like, apparently.

Abu Dhabi: building in a vacuum: 'There is no currently no art to hang in the Louvre Abu Dhabi and no orchestra to play in the [Zaha Hadid] Performing Arts Centre' / Mister Jalopy in Japanese Tool Magazine, that excellent combination of interior design and automotive nostalgia that appears unique to a very few specialist magazines / food sculpture (thanks Mike). See also the tiny broccoli people.

On modern levels of volume: both Come on, feel the noise and ensuing letters lament the technology-driven increase in noise at gigs: 'Describing [My Bloody Valentine's] noise section as like a jet engine is more than
fanciful journalese, as 119db(A) is, indeed, the sound pressure level
of a jumbo jet taking off experienced at a distance of six metres.' 119db(A) was the limit allegedly imposed on the band by the venue. Anecdotally, the soundman on the main desk refused to tell us what the true reading was, presumably for legal reasons.

Not quite empty rooms: an abandoned school in Harlem (via kottke) / a map of V2 attacks on London during WWII (via metafilter). Utterly fascinating / the Prado mapped by Google / The Water Systems of Manhattan / a fine collection of automobile cutaways at Cartype (via ffffound). These could all benefit from being considerably larger / a neat piece of Vintage Travel brochure illustration at swissmiss.

Architecture writing by Eva Hagberg / art by Cliff Holden / Jenny Wicks' project 'Root Ginger' is very striking / 50 beautiful examples of Tilt-shift photography. Self-explanatory. The emergence of Tilt-shift photography has been driven almost entirely by the internet. The tableaus and vistas that it creates

Simon Henley's The Architecture of Parking celebrates the unadulterated function of the (mostly concrete) car park. Thomas Hine on the automobile's influence on avant-garde architecture: Ramps give a slant on design, archived on Quondam for your reading pleasure: 'The Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, whose work with his Rotterdam-based Office for Metropolitan Architecture is the subject of a current exhibition at the Museum of Modem Art in New York, would probably have trouble with the Americans With Disabilities Act if he tried to build in this country. The buildings he proposes have entire steeply slanting floors, with slopes long enough to propel an unwary wheelchair user right through the plate-glass window.'

The magnificent but doomed Saunders-Roe Princess Flying Boats (via hemaworstje, which is occasionally nsfw). This mighty plane was the last gasp of the Flying Boat, at least in the UK, and was constructed on the Isle of Wight, once the heart of the British flying boat industry thanks to it being the home of Saunders-Roe (later bit players in the UK Space Program). Another Saunders-Roe history, and an image of the vast Columbine Shed in Cowes

We had to sabotage the Pelican Project for a short time yesterday, after a whole chunk of images were leeched. With a bit of luck it's all been sorted and they're back to normal now.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Mostly random links today. 0lll's Blue Plaque map of London is beautifully done / Geoff on the reissue of Bunker Archaeology. In more depth at BLDG BLOG. Virilio on Google books / Please Don't Touch (via Art is Everywhere) / floating podium architecture news / The Young Machine, a tumblr / the trend for titillating pixels goes 3D. See also the work of Adam Connelly / Alvin's Vintage Board games.

Archival images of Switzerland Our German isn't up to much, but these have a nice found image quality / Oil Import Map (via Autoblog) / at about the same time as the oil crisis was hotting up, Nasa's finest minds were holding a seminar about living offworld, one happy consequence of which was this collection of Space Colony Art from the 1970s.

Dave and Jenny, Bollywood style, in which the protagonists of Our Delhi Struggle get themselves immortalised in the distinctive style of the Indian film poster. For a more in-depth analysis of the modes of display and art, see David Blamey and Robert D'Souza's Living Pictures: Perspectives on the Film Poster in India. See also the Indian Cinema and Indian Graphics flickr groups.

And the winner isn't / Top Spinner, a cricket game / the Studio Progetti Espresso museum / go on holiday with Hawkwind / how Porsche bought into VW, explained clearly and concisely / ghost signs set / illustration by Eric Hanson, the author of A Book of Ages, on the 'totemic quality of things' / you'll need several guitars to make the most of these Sonic Youth tabs.

2008: A Year in 15 Photos at Curious Expeditions / photography by Thomas Haywood / Robert Myers, a flickr set at Leifpeng's site, via Today's Inspiration / 'Untitled Landscapes', photography by Sebastian Lemm / photographer David Paul Bayles is 'exploring the tree-human connection' through his projects 'Falling Trees' and 'Urban Forests' (via Analekta) / beehive, a tumblr.


The Empty Room is a ghostly presence in contemporary culture. For, despite our aspirations to minimalism and reductivism, these are simply not natural states of being. Rooms are rarely empty; the architectural photographer a master of furniture moving in order to simplify the vision. Even abandoned spaces aren't empty; urban explorers find spaces filled with rubbish and remnants, not scrubbed corridors and spotless spaces.

The empty room still has a grip on our minds, a symbol of both loss ("Whisper your name in an empty room") and release from material constraints. Martin Creed's Turner Prize installation in 2001 defined empty space with a blinking light, an installation that perplexed and infuriated in equal measure, the implication being that absence of content implied absence of ideas.

This is one of the great hang-ups about modernism, which tends towards the minimal, as opposed to the overstuffed. This was theoretically a reaction to the excesses of Victoriana (I, II, III, and IV, V). In the modern era, the empty room came to symbolise both poverty and wealth. These diametrically opposed conditions come together in John Pawson's design for a monastery in Novy Dvur, Bohemia, an ideologically confused project where a visual shorthand for sybaritic emptiness is reappropriated as spiritual simplicity.

Novy Dvur is beautiful, sure, but it raises the question as to whether or not the idealised, reductivist object actually exists. Simplicity, the building implies, is hard won and only a few deserve it. According to Deyan Sudjic, 'it is also true that the monks asked Calvin Klein to design their robes. He agreed, but they changed their minds when they realised that it might not be a good idea to be quite so stylishly turned out and to attract quite so much publicity for it'.

While minimalism represents the logical extension of the International Style aesthetic, less has long since ceased to be more. In an ironic rerun of the overstuffed Victorian interior, to be modern today is no longer about presenting an absence of things, but a presence of things. True, they're usually entirely different things to the ones the design reformers got so worked up about (although ironically it's taken 100 years or so for the purveyors of trinkets and other ornamental baubles to finally expire. See Ian Jack on 'how the display cabinet killed Wedgwood), but it's stuff nonetheless. Now, modernism is conveyed not through empty space but through objects, leading to the creation of what we'll call the modernist treasure house, tracking the rise (in both appreciation and value) of modernist ephemera, a semi-ironic accumulation of space age optimism, mid-century objects and corporate identities and atomic era futurology, etc. etc. Functionalism has become funky.

So out of clinical modernism has emerged a new eclecticism. Arguably minimalism peaked too soon, before the desire for perfectionism in interior design and presentation could imitate the glossy perfection of the computer-generated image. Other genres of design haven't been so lucky - check the automotive hyper detailing community if you want to see how the 'original object' can be transcended and elevated towards a Platonic ideal with the judicious and lavish application of specialist cleaning fluids: this Lamborghini cleaning in particular. Without the means or technology to generate CGI-generated perfection in the late 80s and early 90s, the minimalists had to go ahead and create it from scratch, with predictably less than perfect results (save in the photographs).

Perhaps there's a parallel with the environment of the computer game. The first virtual rooms were necessarily bare (as World Builder attests), leaving their furnishing to the player's mind, extrapolated from minimal description. The opening scene of The Hobbit ('You are in a comfortable tunnel like hall'), as seen above, distilled several hundred pages of Tolkien into a few hundred pixels. The first games were about emptiness; with imagination overlaid on top. Today, the gaming environment is as baroque and OTT as the most overbearing Victorian drawing room, lilies gilded with clock cycles rather than the craftsman. We remember emptiness, even aspire to it. But what it actually looks like is fast fading into the past.


A post about empty spaces - or lack of - feels like a suitable place to put Quondam, Stephen Lauf's epically impenetrable 'online collage', a real labyrinth of a website. Here, for example, you'll find information on the First Virtual House of the 20th Century, Robert Venturi's Franklin Court. Not just an empty room, but an empty house.


Thursday, January 08, 2009
Church removes 'scary crucifix' / Quasimodo, sonneur de cloches, a tour of the bells and chimes of Switzerland, complete with videos / old postcards of Switzerland / the pandas are moshing, a tumblr from Beijing, which sends us back to Amy Bennett's miniature worlds (previously seen at tmn) / linked before, but we like keeping the Emettophilia going: biographical information about Rowland Emett. Hopefully more Festival of Britain stuff to come in the next month or so.

What's the story with the car jump stunt? The full tale, taken from the documentary 'The Devil at Your Heels', is epic in scope / Visual Dyslexia, 'Collection of visuals and experience from all areas of live that visually explain feeling, thinking, seeing, hearing and understanding of a dyslexic mind to a non-dyslexic and vice versa' / Dear Architects, the weblog as conversation.

Could your car survive a nuclear blast?, Wired on 'Four Wheels to Survival', official guidance on how your car can help you keep the hell away from any impending nuclear blasts ('Tests under an actual atomic explosion in Nevada proved that modern cars, especially those with turret top construction, give a degree of protection against blast, heat and radiation.')

Travel time to major cities: A global map of Accessibility (via haddock) / TV Tropes (also via haddock), 'a catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction'. Most informative / speculative modeling, model trains for the future-obsessed online community. Actually a Russell Davies driven project (how the man has time for all this, we'll never know): Lyddle End 2050, or how to use Hornby to create an (appeallingly imperfect) view of tomorrow.

Things 1.0 is a things to do list manager that appears massively over-specified. Nicely named, though (although it has killed our google ranking). Found via Caterina. In a nicely circular irony, the things to do list she uses to illustrate the post has just one item uncrossed on the right hand page. It reads: 'Review of Prisoner's Inventions for Things Magazine'. Sadly it stays uncrossed.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Yet another piece on the Burj, this time at the BBC - expect a lot of these in 2009. Not much new here, save this quote about the building's as-yet-unrevealed final height: '"If you put the Empire State Building on top of the Sears Tower then it's reasonable to say you'll be in the neighbourhood," Mr [William] Baker says.'

Dolores on the dotted line, a tumblr / Things I Like Today, another tumblr / Shape and Colour on Advanced Beauty, collection of animations by people who are using computer graphics for pure, unadulterated aesthetic purposes, with no function in mind whatsoever: 'a lush, beautiful, sensory-engrossing work of experimental art... just because'. Gratifying in a way to find this kind of thing still exists - a bit like an extension of the original demo scene.

From our earlier post that touched on Penguin design team, was the Ruthie Rogers featured back in 1972 the very same as the doyenne of new food and New Labour? (whose influence is mentioned briefly but memorably at the start of this Tricia Guild profile by Jason Cowley).

This looks interesting: Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond / Exit Magazine finally has a website / The Flavor, visual source weblog / Paul Goldberger's 10 best buildings of 2008 simply underscores how relatively dry the year was for interesting architecture.

Core77 posts a preview of the Berlin Museum of Letters / Wandering sickness and the gas of peace, a visual essay by Derek Horton on geodesic domes and other futurist architectural devices at the online magazine /seconds / Robin Camille, a weblog / AMC and Rambler stuff.

The very worst special effects of all time, actually a bottomless pit of possibilities which are barely descended into here / proper outsider art: I am the butterfly man / oh this is very good: Let's look back on the year to come, David Mitchell on the ups and mostly downs of 2009.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A small selection of general links. Right now, haddock is the place to go to catch up on all the holiday media splurges, like the BBC Today programme guest editors (who included Zaha Hadid) / 'An animation showing edits to the project during 2008' / six-month pinhole camera exposure / R Cubed is an astonishingly bitter newsletter, now defunct, that excoriates the critical community.

The Rat and Mouse has a go at predicting the next shift in the UK property market / Strange Maps on cartocacoethes, 'the compulsion to see maps everywhere' / on the possibility that hauntings exist but ghosts do not / on 60 years of the 7" single. See the flickr 45rpm Group for several thousands fine examples of the art / is the latest Libeskind design little more than 'a crude and unavoidable reminder of the horrors of 9/11'? More images at Curbed; are those 'gashes' or simply openings?

Ben Fry's All Streets project creates a skeletal map of the USA from its tarmac infrastructure (via SuperSpatial). See also James Medcraft's Anatomy of the UK series / Swapatorium moved to flickr / would Curbed's Floorplan porn section work in the UK? The real estate market here isn't as spatially aware as the Americans (or even the French).


Pelican of the Week: Digging up the Past. While the back covers of these books rarely match up to the fronts, there are plenty of nuggets to be gleaned from the jackets. Sir Leonard Woolley's classic introduction to the archaeologist's work was an attempt at confirming the profession as a science, not the preserve of treasure hunting gallivants, the fedora-toting hard-men battling through lost civilisations on the covers of countless pulp novels (and later burnished into mass culture through the composite character of Indiana Jones.

Woolley was best known for his 1922 excavations at Ur, the ancient Sumerian city that sits slap bang in the middle of modern Iraq. He was also a close acquaintance of Agatha Christie, who was fascinated with the Middle East and its potential for myth and mystery. Twenties Iraq was quite the hotbed of activity for the bright young, and not so young, things, including Gertrude Bell, founder not just of the lately much beleaguered Baghdad Archaeological Museum but also the very make-up of modern Iraq, soon to become a very strategic location indeed.

Hackney-born, Woolley led an often unconventional life, immersed in his work and ruled by his women. From the Christie link at the fascinating (though highly partisan) Winscan site: 'A man who goes to bed in one room with a length of string leading from his big toe to his hypochondriac wife's wrist in another room, so that she can tug on it at the onset of a headache, might be said to deserve his fate, or perhaps a sainthood'. Such were the preoccupations of the people who created modern archaeology, the modern mystery thriller and the modern mixed-up nation state, each entirely unrelated save for the close proximity of their creators.

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Friday, January 02, 2009
Epic images from NASA's Cassini Probe / be careful what you wish for. Back in August 2007, icon magazine included a feature called Why design needs a recession / paintings by Dane Lovett / Have you ever thrown a book across a room? And which books? / Radio La, a weblog / Grevytrain, a weblog / Schematic Map of UK Postcode areas and the United States.

Thanks to Fantastic Journal for the recognition. It's pretty rare for architects to maintain weblogs, and it must be even rarer for two out of three key partners in a major practice to run sites that neatly cross boundaries between architecture and culture and totally dispel the myth that architects are closeted in ivory towers, utterly unaware of things like instant decorative snow (strange harvest) - an undeniably architectural object - and submerged buildings (fantastic journal)

The Language of Things, a rather scathing review of the new Deyan Sudjic book, which laments the abscence of a 'theoretical agenda', stating that the 'design community' needs to be 'as comfortable as the art world with the idea of questioning itself'. What theoretical tools are there to be unpacked? It seems to us that the role of design spectator has become the defining position of the age; we consume design not through use, but through observation. Sudjic's book would seem to confirm this, with its focus on the emerging (and receding?) luxury industry, characterised by Selfridge's Wonder Room and countless hideous objects.

Abandoned London, photos by Ianvisits. See also the Derelict London group, inspired by the website of the same name / Saskatchewan Ghost Towns. You have to dig about a bit to get to the photographs / Squashed writers / thanks to Slaw for the mention / Ruffly, a weblog / Life at HOK, an example of the new breed of corporate blog. The Whole Buffalo one is also a 'corporate' blog, in that it's run by members of the St Luke's agency in London / The Endsheet, a weblog devoted to book design.

Jonathan Beller's project 'Fans' is a collection of obsessives. See also James Mollison's gallery of disciples / we have a new project, 'Touring', 'the famous automobile card game' published by George, Charles and Edward Parker in 1926.


Pelican of the Week, an occasional series. Learning to Philosophize, by E.R.Emmet, with a cover by Robert Hollingsworth. Not a lot to find out about the designer, apart from this Design article from October 1972, when the publisher's design department was overseen by David Pelham. Pelham was given carte blanche to revitalise the aesthetic approach of the series - the visual mish-mash of the mid to late 1960s is very evident. Learning to Philosophize isn't perhaps the greatest thing to come out of the era, with its self-conscious 'computer-style' typeface and awkward patterns.

We're indebted to the transcript of Pelham's 2007 talk at the V and A on the Creative Review blog, which reveals how he drew on work by artists like Eduardo Paolozzi and Allen Jones, who would not only provide original works but also their magpie-like eyes for the ephemera of the late Pop era: 'Every now and again [Paolozzi would] give me a rather fat file of visually interesting little cuttings that he habitually clipped out of magazines: technological magazines such as Scientific American and wonderful science-fiction magazines and so forth'. From Design: 'Other writers are simply dogmatic: Nabokov insists on his own design [although the Design article contradicts this], which means that nearly every cover looks different; Salinger insists on the same plain silver backs being written into every contract; Gunter Grass does the covers, like everything else, himself.' Many other insights on that page.

There are also some contemporary covers reproduced at this Designer Daily post on Pelican/Penguin cover art. Also related, Scientific American Cover Art, with particular emphasis on the artwork of the 1950s and 1960s. The Penguin Collectors Society.

As for the book itself, Learning to Philosophize was described as a ''think-it-yourself' handbook for the application of logic and philosophy in daily life', a sort of proto-de Bono or de Botton, with the 'digital' design tapping into then contemporary thoughts on the emergence of artifical intelligence and the relationship between the brain and the computer. Next time we do this we'll try and include an actual extract from the book in question. Promise.

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