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Friday, November 30, 2007


Airbus's A380 is rolling out, slowly, with a projected sales total of about 750 units around the world over the next 20 years or so (down from 1,138 in 1,138 in 2003). Just 10 are in the air right now; Airbus needs to sell at least 420 to break even. A lucrative variant of the airframe is the A380 Flying Palace, specifically pitched at the few billionaires who want the ultimate in airborn residences.

Part of the fun of such a vast aeroplane has been to imagine how best to use all that extra space. Earlier this year BMW's DesignworksUSA studio created a speculative interior for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, part modernist villa, part Spectre-like lair. For the A380, Airbus have shown concept ideas for boardrooms, bedrooms, bars, lounges and even, help us, shops. Rumours that Virgin Atlantic were investigating the possibility of a pool are, most likely, pure public relations chaff. And those were just for the commercial version.

The A380 certainly offers plenty of scope for fantasy aerial architecture. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's purchase of the first 'Flying Palace' made for great publicity, but it also comes with an interesting logistical problem; there are few, if any, places large enough to fit the plane out. Airbus says that the Flying Palace 'has nearly 900 square metres of cabin area on two main decks – allowing the principal and accompanying guests to be accommodated on one level in unmatched luxury; while lounges, dining areas, entourage seating and associated support facilities are located on the other.'

This is a rarefied market. Since 1969, only around 25 Boeing 747s have gone to private buyers, mostly in the Middle East. There are just a handful of companies able to do this kind of work - an 18 month to 2-year fit-out of a vast plane, with every last hand-turned walnut handle and gilt inlay requiring some kind of certification. Lufthansa Technik in Germany, Jet Aviation, in Switzerland and Gore Design Completions in the USA are three of the biggest players. Galleries: Lufthansa and Jet Aviation. Gore were the firm originally commissioned to create the Google 'Party Plane', but that didn't end too well.

The creation of a private plane/aerial megastructure requires a huge investment in manpower and materials, a technological object so big and complex that it exceeds most construction projects. And yet the net result is a paradox, something that remains out of sight, existing more in the imagination than in reality: a 'flying palace' sounds like something out of modern folklore. Ultimately, the occupiers of these flying castles will rarely leave them, simply landing for fuel and supplies, and remaining sequestered in their avionic-stuffed towers.



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There are lots of disgruntled architects out there: Quiet Observations from Archi-hell, Alice the Architecture, bollocks to architecture, Notes on Becoming a Famous Architect (which has a set of useful life lessons for those hell-bent on becoming a starchitect) / mirage.studio.7, an architecture weblog. Check their Model T as mobile home post / Shrinking Cities, an exhibition that goes against traditional urban-centric orthodoxy / Hong Kong city maps, via chrisdodo.

Blog.thoughtwax.com, an occasional, and therefore rather thoughtful, weblog / Scintillating Bullshit, a weblog / rare books of the Russian Avant-Garde / Sevensixfive recalls Six days on the Eimskip container ship Dettifoss. We'd very much like to see more of their sketch book / Spheres of Chaos, a trippy computer game / Centripal Notion, art, images and more / VitraP, architectural things.

Apologies for the outage first thing this morning. We bumped up against our bandwidth limit. A little more anchor chain has been let out which should see us through the next few months.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007


The Stir-Lec 1 was an Electric car that makes its own electricity. A General Motors concept study, this Opel Kadett had an early hybrid drive: electrically-driven wheels with batteries charged by a Stirling Engine (model versions here. Even Dean Kamen is getting into the technology). A short history of hybrids. According to commentators, the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is far more of a solution than a plain old 'mild' hybrid, or even fancy dalliances with biofuels or hydrogen. We still miss the Ford Nucleon, the world's first (and only) nuclear-powered concept car. From Ford's site: 'The model featured a power capsule suspended between twin booms at the rear. The capsule, which would contain a radioactive core for motive power, would be easily interchangeable at the driver's option, according to performance needs and the distance to be traveled.'

If that sounded optimistic, consider the dream of Atomic powered flight that was tinkered with back in the mid 1940s, including 'the "sky-train" design, in which conventional airplanes used their engines only during takeoff and landing and were towed like gliders most of the way by immense nuclear planes that stayed aloft for weeks at a time, cruising the major air routes.' What was termed the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion Programme (13.5mb PDF, hosted by the Federation of American Scientists) was hugely ambitious, and mind-bendingly expensive. Total cost of the 'Manned ANP program', which ran from 1946 through to 1961 were 1,040,355,000 dollars (page 110 of the pdf). Equivalent to 5.6 billion dollars today (related, names of large numbers at wikipedia / convert numbers into words). This page at Radiationworks puts the total cost at 7 billion dollars, noting that 'no aircraft ever flew under nuclear power.' However, the testbed, a converted B-36 bomber, bore a three mega-watt reactor. The plane had 'a 12 ton lead and rubber shielded crew compartment with 10-12 inch thick leaded-glass windows. Water pockets in the fuselage and behind the crew compartment also absorbed radiation.'

We might scoff at the apparent futility of these ventures, but at the time the potential of the atom lent itself to these globe-shrinking conceptual ideas, a world of floating cities, airborne colonies and perpetual, pollution-free travel. The popular steampunk genre (which we don't profess to know anything about) might conceivably be supplanted by something called atomicpunk, or such like. The fictional scope of a 50s or 60s-era world of perpetual, limitless energy evokes the relentless honing of planned obsolescence, the push-buttonisation of practically everything and the development of a listless class of atomic-powered global leisure-seekers. In short, you have something approaching the fantasies of a very real sector of self-alienated, ultra-wealthy consumer.

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The nascent vintage industry pool, via scrubbles, which also has the Syd Mead Project / Paris Changing, with Christopher Rauschenberg re-visiting the images of Eugene Atget (at tmn) / the museum drawing project, daily experiences of Pittsburgh museums. A project by Elizabeth Perry. See also her daily sketch site woolgathering.

Croydon gets the Alsop treatment. More images. Meanwhile, in Ian Martin's alternate reality, '[Alsop's] portfolio demonstrates how powerful a force Conservative Fabianism can be. Nearly every Tuscan hill town has been retrofitted to look like Doncaster, and the Alsop philosophy — life’s too short for anything fancier than two-up, two-down with a pitched roof — informs policymakers across Europe.'

BuzzImage is an FX house. A few making of showreels / Mr Magazine, on periodicals / Brand New, on corporate identity / a map of New Brainland, for the cover of Neuron magazine (via mymarkup) / Indy and Ink, 'the international society of independent publishers'. And there's a blog / The Canadian Design Resource, including an Expo 67 category (via ffffound).

Geoff in the Los Angeles Times, BLDG BLOG makes another stride forward into the big time. Check the current post on Bannerman's Island to see why / Zetetic Scholars, 'a fabulous time capsule of rejected knowledge' created by the late Marcello Truzzi in the 60s and 70s, focusing on the realities behind the paranormal phenomena that seemed to infuse those decades (via Strange Attractor).

Dreams of Flying, a photo series by the occasionally nsfw Jan von Holleben / inside Nissan's archive / the paper art of Helen Musselwhite / the Animated Gif Appreciation Society. Soon a preservation society will be needed for these disappearing objects / Voyages Extraordinaires, for those attracted to 'Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances and Retro-Futurism, Victoriana and Neo-Victorianism, Voyages Extraordinaires and Imperialist Adventure' and more.

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