How to build a library

City-Settlements by Olalekan Jeyifous

At times, walking the narrow bookstacks of a venerable library, inhaling the aroma of millions of pages of accumulated information, seeing the foxed and faded but still intellectually valid, it it hard to imagine how such a gravity of knowledge can ever be translated onto a digital device. For all the thrills generated by stumbling across a fresh set of scans, a treasure trove of ephemera or a cache of back issues of the Weekly World News, the context provided by the internet never feels especially not conducive to anything more than browsing with a singular focus, utterly detached from external stimulus or the visual ‘links’ created by scanning the eye across a bookshelf.

In a sense, the internet is already the celebration of banality, because everything from old masters to scratched out newspaper puzzles is reduced to the same deadening aesthetic of a group of pixels, bereft of texture, depth and light. The series ‘Beautifully Banal (via Kottke) would appear to bear this out; digital beauty is a modern construct we have all become easily tuned into, because it slips down nice and quickly, easy on the eye. The soft, smooth animation of the modern UI turns kinetic intervention with material into a heightened sensory experience: simply pushing a (real) photograph around a (real) desktop is not especially entertaining, so why is it that doing the same thing in the virtual realm should be so compelling? Not to mention distracting.

Digital devices will have to walk a fine line between acting as catalogues and acting as collections. Swiss Cheese and Bullets recently speculated on the possibility of a move towards ArchiveApps, where digital back issues of publications become the key motivation for luring readers onto devices like the iPad. If nothing else, the realisation that all forms of content are, within reason, worthy of monetising could be the key legacy of the pad device. In order to be desirable, these archives depend on the creation and maintenance of a collective social collectomania: we must all become obsessives to sustain an economy founded on pushing digitised media.

Our extensive digital photo libraries, music collections and film folders are a start, if issues of DRM can be overcome or ignored, but how will all elements of material culture be subsumed into these vast new personal archives? The time will eventually arrive when those who purvey a newspaper from the date of your birth will have nothing left to offer but digital files; requiring a dramatic reinvigoration of the price people put on scraps of ephemera. Wait until the iTunes library starts offering reproductions of vintage newspapers.


Seen above, City-Settlements by Olalekan Jeyifous, via Space Invading / the Windsock in Dunstable, a bizarre but shortlived modernist pub that escaped being chronicled by the digital era / 20th century design at Pink Flamingos / domestic role-play in Japan in Ryoko Uyama’s photographic series of the Maido phenomenon.


In the USA, MINI has launched a special edition ‘Camden‘ model with a toe-curling ‘Mission Control’ system; imagine sharing a car with Dick Van Dyke, Pauline Quirke and Joanna Lumley, all falling over themselves with faux bonhomie. From the press release: ‘Mission Control underlines the status of the MINI as a genuine personality in the world of motoring and intensifies the driver’s feeling and impression of interacting directly with the car, the signals coming from the car itself being used to generate new, situation-based dialogues time and again.’ A late April Fool?


Foster backs campaign to save Moscow radio tower. The Shabolovka Radio Tower is rusting away. Richard Pare’s recent imagery simply screams deconstructivism. More on the structure here / more remnants. What will happen to the Austrian bunkers?. See also Bunker mentality: the ultimate underground shelter, all about the American company Vivos, provider of ‘the ultimate underground shelter solution for surviving these uncertain times.’ Less specific nuclear talk these days, more vague catastrophising. Of course, this might all be a monumental scam – luring the well-funded into easily-sealable subterranean tubes and then shutting the door / the rather more prosaic move to bunkerise the built environment, with bomb-stopping benches and public art.


Glancey on The Land that Pevsner Forgot: ‘And yet, it does seem odd that while there are books in abundance, and a plethora of media, celebrating the latest whizzy architecture and design, there is virtually nowhere to turn when it comes to getting a grip on, or informing the public about, developments like Ely’s Cathedral View, an enormous tail of banal new houses that wags the dog of a small and special, and now swamped, city that had once given Pevsner plenty to write about.’ As others have mentioned, the obvious heir to Nairn et al is Owen Hatherley, someone admirably outside the highly interlinked and incestuous architectural media system. This recent epic post on Russia is a case in point, exploring how the Stalinist is finding fresh favour, while old school Constructivism is finding itself increasingly exiled.


Julian Weyer’s Tour of Mid-Century Modern Brazil / the power of the four chords / The professor, his wife, and the secret, savage book reviews on Amazon / Sleeping in Airports. Handy guide / Electoral Aesthetics. The strict aesthete would frankly struggle to elect any of this lot / Fake is the New Real, a flickr stream / the blog of illustrator Josh Cochran.

The first plane in six days just flew over.

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3 Responses to How to build a library

  1. vanderleun says:

    “In a sense, the internet is already the celebration of banality, because everything from old masters to scratched out newspaper puzzles is reduced to the same deadening aesthetic of a group of pixels, bereft of texture, depth and light. ”

    Oh cheer up and keep buggering on.

  2. Your post is really impressive. It’s full of emotions and passion and yet still elegant. Keep it up. Can’t wait to read another of your wonderful essays.

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