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Thursday, January 07, 2010


It says a lot for our disconnection with the world around us that walking can be considered a creative, even subversive act. For the men of the post-impressionist era, the flaneurs for whom ready income and social status acted as an access-all-areas pass for the rapidly modernising metropolis, the idea of promenading without intent or purpose was, in some senses, radical behaviour. The modern city had never been explored in this way before.

Now there's Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways, a guide book that accompanies the rediscovery of slowly traversed space. From the blurb: 'In a city, for example, walkers become aware of their urban home as a site, a forum, a playground and a stage: all there to enjoy, understand and provoke on multiple levels'.

The walking history has been reclaimed from its earlier rural focus (see Nicholas Crane's Two Degrees West) through the suburban, post-industrial psychogeographical meanderings of Iain Sinclair (predated by the work of the London Psychogeographical Association), to concentrate explicitly on the city, a fulfilment of the Situationist playground, the home of drift. In a sense, even a click and drag around Google Streetmap is a form of drifting, but who are we really kidding; without the smells, sounds and textures of a real city, the fruitless zoom, enhance, pan and scroll of such virtual exploration will always be a poor second place.

Phil Smith's Mythogeography decribes the role of walking thus: 'as performance, as exploration, as urban resistance, as activism, as an ambulatory practice of geography, as meditation, as post-tourism, as dissident mapping, as subversion of and rejoicing in the everyday.' It's not strictly urban, of course - see Drift, for some rural wandering, or explore Smith's own starter kit for drifting, a way for 'opening up the world, clearing eyes and peeling away the layers of spectacle, deception and that strange “hiddeness in plain sight” that coats the everyday.'

There was a flurry of activity in GPS-created art a few years ago. GPS Traces on OpenStreetMap, or GPS drawing, or Waag's Amsterdam RealTime project, collated on this Me-fi post, where the antecedent of forms created from urbanism in Paul Auster's New York Trilogy is noted. This was walking as exhibitionism, the inevitable dovetail of technology and showmanship, venturing forth because we could.

It's a relatively bloody-minded pursuit, mythogeography, an attempt to absorb esoteric information from every conceivable source and to invest ulterior meaning in the transient and everyday. This obsession with static drift is, it has to be said, very much contrary to the screen-filtered world that has spilled out of the home and office and onto the tube, bus or pavement.

Mythogeography doesn't have much truck with technology. Like Nicholas Crane and his carefully hand-assembled strips of meridian, it is a discipline that demands paper maps, missteps, dead ends and an overall sense of not knowing exactly where you are. Nowadays, we're all concerned with our time to first fix, a suitably drug-laced term for a craving for instant location identity. It seems sad that we have to be instructed in such mythogeographical practices, that our default settings aren't to 'follow instincts not maps', but to plug in.

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Another pertinent set of links: iconic architecture destroyed in movies / a shape book at Miller Goodman's flickr stream / more shapes: contemporary Portuguese architecture at Ultimas Reportagens / fine Penguin Book Cover wallpaper.

We're really struggling to work out where the whole 'ninja' thing came from in relation to architecture blogging, e.g. Archi Ninja, Architecture My Ninja Please / MIMOA's review of the year.

Sign off and out forever with the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine: 'This machine lets you delete all your energy sucking social-networking profiles, kill your fake virtual friends, and completely do away with your Web 2.0 alterego.'

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Thursday, October 08, 2009
DSLR Shooter illustrates the revolution in image gathering using next generation digital cameras (via me-fi). Particularly taken by site editor Dan Chung's short film of China’s 60th anniversary parade (Vimeo link). We suddenly seem on the cusp of a period when data creation threatens to outstrip storage. From the me-fi comments: 'One observation I made the other day when I bought 2 TB of spinning disks to store the video coming out of my camera is that every second it records more data than I created in my first five years of computing (50 mbps!), and a good day's film shoot will generate a few hundred GB. That's more than my first twenty years! To top it all off, two 1 TB drives cost less than my first 5 MB drive.'

Jason Kottke clearly has a container fetish. Commenting recently on
America's Quiet Ports
he noted how the gridlocked, stacked dockside is a literal reminder of static world trade: 'The strengthening of the dollar abroad means that American made goods aren't selling and the ships hauling them are unable to leave the port. Nothing is selling anywhere so everything sits in the now-constipated port.' A more recent post, Stacked Cans, illustrates this new landscape of unwanted consumer products. The BBC are currently running a project called The Box, 'following a container around world for a year to tell stories of globalisation and the world economy'. You can track the container's current location, although in recent weeks this has proved tricky. More fields of unsold Mercedes and tracts of Toyotas.

Food Stories, a weblog by Helen Graves / on the need for an Architecture of Necessity / Mail Me Art, via Daily Dose Pick / Magazine Legends, did 'Time magazine intentionally place "devil horns" on Billy Graham and/or Bill Clinton as some sort of commentary'? / Deconstructivism in Lego / a short history of petrol stations (via haddock).

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More battle suit musing at varnelis.net, taking issue, amongst other things, with the idea that Archigram's futurology was quite so prophetic and influential. Also, the idea of a 'battle suit' is all too militarist and gung-ho. The ongoing emergence of urbanism - our reactions, responses and interactions with the contemporary city - as a key part of the discussion on the impact of new technology is also apparent in Ben Hammersley's idea-shaped meanderings around the new issue of Wired (UK edition 17-11) and its focus on cities, out of which he extrapolates the idea that it is layers that form the foundations of the contemporary city, endless stratas of meaning: 'You don’t need to be Umberto Eco to riff off it for hours: it's turtlenecks all the way down.' Ultimately, he concludes that it's the 'cushioning effect of history upon reference upon metaphor upon inter-mixed system is the thing that makes it the most human place to live in.... Instead our cities are made of, and our lives build up, layers and layers of soft actions.'

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Robert Propst Tries To Set Office Workers Free: 'Propst invented Action Office 2, a modular office system introduced in 1968. Its main innovation was the partition panel, a screen between 4ft and 6ft high, covered in padded fabric. For Propst, it was a way of giving workers control over "exposure overload" and the "continuous idiot salutations" necessary in bullpen offices where workers had to "invest in a recognition act every time someone goes by".' Related, Playtime.

Spoon and Tomago, a design and culture weblog / The Best Part, a daily art and design blog. Sample link, the paintings of Ian Carpenter / 'A Perfect Storm for Modernism', a rather bad-tempered rant about the longed-for implosion of 'modern architecture' thanks to the credit crunch. Related, Prince Charles' Poundbury Fire Station. Comparisons to Trumpton are cliched but inevitable and unavoidable (via).

World-viewing city walking at click opera: 'I want the internet to get ambient, to get dull', and a celebration of the subtle flaneurism facilitated by Google Streetview, bringing the daily mundanity that exists outside every window onto your desktop. The weblog has seemingly evolved from diary to scrapbook, with every pasted entry a little stab of attention deficiency designed to hook you in. Posted relentlessly one after the other, the weblog becomes little more than a box of digital truffles; good for a dip, but not all at once. Twitter is more of the same, a steady drip feed of information that is usually fascinatingly Pooterish but which crushes the ability to soak up text in larger doses.

Things that may or may not be related. Less Is More Again - A Manifesto by Gabrielle Esperdy, in which she suggests the modern refrain is 'Design Less! We must subject ourselves to a period of privation in which we refrain from designing and suspend the very practice of design itself'. On the other hand, another take on post-crunch econaesthetics comes in Bruce Sterling's Product Panic: 2009: 'The standard virtues of fine industrial design—safety, convenience, serviceability, utility, solid construction... well, when you're heading for the lifeboats, you can overlook those pesky little details'.

Hunch! is here, a decision-tree based site that sifts through preferences to help you make informed choices. The consensus seems to be that this will evolve into a kind of a uber-Kelkoo, whereby tastes and preferences are bolstered by consumer reviews to steer people towards buying things they actually need. How long before the phantom marketers sneak into the Hunch! arenas and try to skew things towards a particular product?

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Monday, January 28, 2008


The Virtual Cable concept has steadily been building 'buzz', online and in the papers. This idealised satellite navigation system is a development of the head-up displays already used in some Citroens, Corvettes and BMW, but instead of using symbols, it strings out a virtual red line to mark your route ahead. The line is a projection that appears like a personal trolley wire, curving round corners and junctions to illustrate the way. It's an inverse of the ball of thread Daedalus gave Ariadne to help Theseus find his way out of the Labyrinth.

Wayfinding is a central theme of so many myths and fairytales it's not surprising that technology should seek to make the act of following a route so elemental and straightforward. 'And when the full moon had risen, Hansel took his little sister by the hand, and followed the pebbles which shone like newly-coined silver pieces, and showed them the way.' (we've often wondered whether the shining stones laid by Hansel and Gretel had any influence on the beautifully title missile defence system Brilliant Pebbles, 'a 4,000-satellite constellation in low-Earth orbit that would fire high-velocity, watermelon-sized projectiles at long-range ballistic missiles launched from anywhere in the world.')

Apart from the fact that such a system could be even more distracting than regular satnav systems, as drivers become bewitched by the floating red line at the expense of all other activity around them, the possibilities are endless. For a start, the system could be hacked to share its output, leading to all sorts of potential scenarios. Police could use the 'trails' left behind by the system to apprehend stolen cars. After market glasses - perhaps even contact lenses - could be sold to enthusiastic amateurs who want to see 'live' trails stream past them - red for destinations yet to be reached, blue for the paths already travelled, perhaps slowly dissipitating and unravelling as time passes, like vapour trails or the paths of incoming aeroplanes descending on American airports in Google Earth.

The tangle of 'wires' that criss-cross above our heads will recall the lines of fighting kites, or the adhoc arrangement of telegraph wires and gas pipes that have lasted decades unmolested. Only these will be dynamic and constantly shifting, an inverted version of the immersive environment created by Toyota, for example, with everyone's digital aura made clear and visible.

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Other things. We Love Mags / gorgeous slice of late period modernism / a long time since we've looked at lost in E minor / AA Log, the Architectural Assocation in 'realtime' / Reaction, a weblog / G.x 2.0 Workblog, the literal cutting edge of manufacturing / car adverts seem to imply that cars leave behind an indelible impression of our choices as consumers, a lingering glow to bask in. Saab's 'Born from Jets' commercial is a case in point, a representation of a vapour trail which unfortunately looks a bit like clouds of smog.

DayGlo Rococo - Reyner Banham would have had a field day - the interior design of German brothels, or 'Frauenzimmer' (sfw). Photographs by Patric Fouad. Says Caitlin Moran, 'it almost made me wish I was a middle-manager in petrochemicals on a three-day business trip to Dusseldorf, aiming to waste a bit of time and protein'. Compare and contrast with Tim Hursley's Brothels in Nevada.

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