Islands of the mind

Yet more libertarian utopia concepts with the news of Peter Thiel’s investment in a proposed archipelago of floating micro countries (via Inhabitat and Archinect). Apart from the uncomfortable idea that a small fraction of our online sales are apparently going towards funding this thing, what’s most galling is the infuriatingly banal and/or impractical architecture on display. In a maritime context, these steel and glass pavilions will last about a week. The tatty, near-ruinous state of Sealand is a rather more realistic vision of what a permanent floating community would look like, especially a ‘business dictatorship’ constantly obsessed with driving down the cost of window cleaning and barnacle removal.

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We dug out this story of a visit to Sealand from a decade or so ago and the realities of life on the ocean wave are pretty mundane, tough and relentless. Read more on the Principality of Sealand and the structure it’s built upon, HM Fort Roughs. As one of Guy Maunsell’s epic Sea Forts, Fort Roughs is utilitarian, bleak and essentially dystopian. These buildings are detailed in the classic book The Architecture of Aggression and have since become a visual trope, along with modern ruins, for a certain type of visually-driven website (see above).

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Along with bunkers, gun emplacements and other fascinating elements of defensive and aggressive architecture, such designs were influential amongst architectural thinkers, most notably Archigram. But the influence wasn’t aesthetic, it was functional. From that link, Warren Chalk’s essay ‘Hardware of a New World‘:

‘Symbolism and reality are in a sense interconnected, the bridge between them serves to support a new visionary understanding of what architecture might become. A view from this bridge provides a glimpse of a physical world of architecture subservient to the media it supports, and refocuses the work and doctrines of the Modern Movement in terms of the transient nature of life in this century. As in the instance of the Thames forts, where one medium gave place to another, where apparatus of war at one moment in time was later thrown out and replaced by pop-music transmitters – so, in the fabric of future cities, the ‘architecture’ can be conceived as an adaptable megasystem cradling a continually changing range of media.’

Chalk’s essay focused on the evolution of a ‘plug-in’ architecture, an infrastructure of infinite flexibility in which the demands of the content would outweigh the detrimental appearance of the frame (he references the pure architecture of industry created by the oil industry, describing it as a ‘a visual disaster area [along] the US coastline along the Gulf of Mexico‘). And yet all these years later, what tends to be remembered is the frame, the strange beauty of the rusting structure, the abandoned nodes, and the hollow spaces that remain when content and context has long since been abandoned.

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The architectural ambitions of the Seasteading Institute seem rather prosaic. The institute (‘our mission: to further the establishment and growth of permanent, autonomous ocean communities, enabling innovation with new political and social systems’) acknowledges the engineering challenges required for a permanent ‘seastead’, moored by necessity ‘Outside territorial waters but inside EEZ’ (map). The design of rigs and flotels is the obvious starting point. But all architecture carries ideological undertones. The big business/military-industrial underpinnings of these structural systems is a world away from their 60s re-imagining as neutral shells for bright, bold social activity. Just like Sealand before it, any potential Seastead community will instantly convey an image of battered, pugilistic isolationism. Hardly a fertile base upon which to build ‘new political and social systems’.

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Other things. Graphic design by Project Projects / the origins of Elite / very pleasant to be included in Creative Tourist’s updated list of the top 25 UK arts and culture blogs / what color was the sky millions or billions of years ago? / The Accidental Optimist, a weblog / JJ has lots of those hovering faux-3D gifs on his tumblr (the Victorians would have loved gifs). Meanwhile, over at his main site, James Jackman has a fine set of tiny trucks shot in Macau. His American Journal series is atmospheric, too / Stephen Shore in Abu Dhabi / How to Kill the Fatted Calf.

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Quite a Spectacle, a great tumblr with an emphasis on London’s architectural history. Sample post on Tiles of the Unexpected, a new ‘study of six miles of geometric tile patterns on the London Underground’ / photourbanist, another tumblr / a gallery of London shopfronts / photographs by Alexandre Guirkinger, including Save the Ligne Maginot / images by the master of neon urbanism Peter Bialobrzeski. His series on urban rainforests, Paradise Now, is also worth a look – the images have the quality of rich Rococo landscapes / re-finding Eliot Shepard’s site and blog makes us want to take photos again.

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Menu Design in America: A Visual History of Graphic Styles and Design – 1850 – 1985 / ARCA, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art / Anything Goes England: Vintage Photos, Postcards, Ephemera, etc., a chaotic but jolly photostream / mikeyashworth’s photostream has a huge collection of transport and design ephemera / Come On, Let’s Go, a pop culture blog / related to the above: a list of high profile island owners and The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame.

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Floating ‘utopias’ will most likely resemble a combination of rusting oil derrick, prison ship and misguided theme park. Boing Boing recently posted the story of the forthcoming Ark Encouter, ‘a replica of Noah’s Ark, built by Amish carpenters’, to be installed at the infamous Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Sadly we can’t find any technical specifications or plans relating to the ark’s construction, save that it will be ‘traditional’. There are a few other replica arks around, including one by Johan Huibers (de ark van Noach, of course) and the Kwok Brothers’ version in Hong Kong. We prefer this 1/350 version in balsa wood.

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In keeping with the Seasteading forum section on Dreaming/Crazy Ideas/Speculation, how about a network of lovingly hand-built Ark replicas moored many miles off the coast, housing private menageries, dodgy businesses and tax-avoiding corporations? Unfortunately wikipedia’s list of largest wooden ships contains a few caveats. ‘For example, some of these ships benefited from substantial iron or even steel components since the flexing of wood members can lead to significant leaking as the wood members become longer. Some of these ships were not very seaworthy, and a few sank either immediately after launch or soon thereafter.’

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