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Monday, January 25, 2010

The age of cross-pollination. Curation Culture, for want of a better term, thrives on cross-pollination. Everything is interesting, and what's more, we've developed the tools and the aesthetics with which to create the deep levels of analysis that would overwhelm a masters thesis from the 80s or 90s. Take this, the Samizdat Drafting Company's One Book, Many Readings loving, obsessive examination of the 'choose your own adventure' books of the 1980s, complete with a remarkable set of animations and the ability to 'play' a book.

It's beautiful and fascinating. Yet content is practically overwhelmed by presentation. The contemporary digital toolset rips the books into their constituent pieces, making kinetic art out of what would once have been created with a set of index cards and an eraser. The site cross-pollinates modern obsessions - retro style and gaming and infographics - to create a dataset that is ultimately more than the sum of its parts, reflecting not so much our interest in the original books but in their role as a source of data.

(There are plenty of places online to find out about CYOA, Fighting Fantasy, etc., including the original company. The Samizdat project's conclusions were that the CYOA books gradually decreased in complexity over time (perversely going against Steven Johnson's contentions in Everything Bad Is Good for You that pop culture is increasingly multi-threaded and dense).)

As part of the analysis, Samizdat draws parallels with the typographic chaos of early web pages gradually giving way to restraint, concluding: 'When a world of new possibilities has just opened, it's hard to find the will for restraint. But, in time, people scale back the more gratuitous uses of this sort of glitz, moving from what's possible to what best suits the material.' In typography, perhaps this rings true, but in all other aspects of online culture, scaling back is not the dominant trend. Instead, information density and manipulation are pushed to the fore, their complexity a virtue and the brave new worlds created by statistic-saturated infographics form yet another spoke in the cut-and-paste culture celebrated by the visual weblog.

Sites like information aesthetics and cool infographics focus on contemporary graph fetishism; the data is almost a secondary consideration to the presentation. Nicholas Felton's 'Annual Reports' are a classic case in point, not only the ur-form of the personal infographic, but a clear precursor to the proliferation of Apps for tracking every aspect of your life.

Up until a few years ago, the information-saturated environment was a visual cue for extreme, dystopian futurism - Blade Runner's looming airship/billboards, or Minority Report's highly targeted augmented reality advertising. The logical conclusion of such a future is rendered in the speculative 'augmented hyper reality' video by Keiichi Matsuda, currently doing the rounds ('Augmented reality may recontextualise the functions of consumerism and architecture, and change in the way in which we operate within it.'). For fans of data density, augmented reality is truly a blessing, a means of overlaying the modern world with the many layers of extraneous data that would otherwise continue to go unseen.


Other things. Error Gorilla, a tumblr / The Brown Car Blog, pretty self-explanatory / Daniel Simon's work is unashamedly romantic, almost old-fashion in its shiny, fetishistic futurism / Cloudberry Cake Proselytism, cheerleading for old school indie pop / BooBooGBs photostream, old school Hollywood glamour / Burning World, an mp3 blog / make tracks on train tracks. Reminiscent of the great Fisher Price Music Box Record Player (not to be confused with the Fisher Price Phonograph, which could play actual records. More info).


England's most hated building to be demolished. Surprisingly this is the 'IMAX' in Bournemouth, a piece of waterfront regeneration tat that has long since lost the cinema that gave it its name and currently houses only a KFC. Here's hoping Plymouth's Drake Circus isn't too far behind / related, Confessions of a Conservation Officer / it's nice when ephemera is dovetailed with contemporary practice. Delicious Industries' Reference Box is a good case in point.


A collection of trade secrets / Photos of 24 abandoned and decayed hotels from around the world / The Soviet Heritage and European Modernism / squatting culture in Barcelona: Squat Barcelona and Usurpa / paintings by Gigi Scaria / Guitars for OK Go by Moritz Waldemeyer.


British high tech architecture as evidence of 'a na•ve dream of an America which never existed', and now the epitome of contemporary cultural banality, at entschwindet und vergeht. Response at NB and S, mostly on the same page / more commentary: melancholy, sadness and Zaha: 'And this futility just deepensÉ the building is an example of 'Google Earth Urbanism'. That is to say; all this complexity can only really be seen from directly above.'

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Millennium People has posted a long response to our earlier post about data cities and the future, 'Data City + Jules Verne, with a postscript on the rediscovered Verne novel 'Paris in the Twentieth Century' (see also 'In the Year 2889' by Verne and his son Michel Verne, published in the late 1880s).

Sacred facts, a weblog / Bakgard, a weblog with a design and architecture focus / read and listen to Kerri's Diary (via Rumblings, a tumblr), a project by Kerri Sohn / David Archer on David Hockney's iPhone drawings, which seem to be finding their niche in Second Life, a 'place' that we had largely forgotten about. Even Second Life Cartography has a faded, archaic feel.

Well linked, but deservedly so: My Parents Were Awesome / more on Michael Heizer's City / MetroShip, a modern houseboat, splicing the fab pre-fab aesthetic with the Bouroullecs' Maison Flottante / Uppercase Journal, looks interesting / Strange Undisciplined Dreams of Great Things is rather steam-punky, but has musings on retro-futurism, slow technology, etc.

Life on Mars #duststorm, City of Sound on Sydney's freak dust storm last month / cosmopolitan scum, architecture and more / fun children's furniture / Joie de Vivre, a piece of deco-era animation (1934) at the Animation Archive (via Buck Macabre). The AA has a great post on Tibor Gergely's early children's books, including the fabulous '"Watch Me" said the Jeep', surely a US companion to Blossom the Brave Balloon. More on Joie de Vivre here.

The work of David Blamey / the work of Sam Messenger / Still-unsurpassed box store architecture: SITE at Ouno Design (via Pop Vernacular) / The Silver Lining, a visual weblog / The Age of the Marvellous, a new exhibition at All Visual Arts, 'inspired by the Wunderkammer or Cabinet of Curiosities, popular in the late Renaissance through the Baroque period.... the sum of all of man's knowledge could be represented in rooms filled with natural wonders, artificial exotica and relics or art works concerned with the supernatural.'

Apothecary's Drawer on the truth behind fossil squid ink / For Sale/TVs From Craigslist, a project by Penelope Umbrico (via anArchitecture) / also via aA, Dagmar Schmidt's Plattenbau sculpture / related, Social Housing after the Soviets, 'a comparative study of the oppurtunities and the urgencies of public and private use of the Microrayon, the large-scale social housing projects developed throughout the entire former Soviet Union.'

Adam Curtis is compiling an epic 'history of the West's relationship to Afghanistan over the past 200 years', Kabul: City Number One (continued), featuring his usual collage of timeline, fact, events and key players.

House of Travel, travelling, via Architecture in Berlin, a weblog / architectural arteries, Anti-Mega on making maps with CloudMade. See also the Typography Map by James Bridle at Short Term Memory Loss (reminiscent of NB Studio's London's Kerning). Bridle also blogs at, a site exploring the evolution of the book into handheld devices.

A collection of graffiti in Tenerife / Pieces of Me, Pink Iguana's musings on objects and memory / a long, lyrical look at the early days of the American auto industry (via kottke) / a collection of local spooky legends / Historic Pages, Phil Barber's historic newspaper collecting page / Sarah France's weblog / Together in Disharmony, a tumblr.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Our jackdaw tendency is not getting any better. Swooping in and pulling out links, vainly trying to contextualise them, but usually failing. Perhaps each link needs a little more exposition? A lesson in how to do things: Kottke conveniently cuts and pastes the new Gladwell book / how to celebrate a strange life: Live Forever, 'The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition', organised by Archinect. Our illustration down below shows Michael Takko's '50 steps'.


We've been wondering about the ongoing relevance of issuu, a site that compiles magazines in a format that mimics archived paper copies but all too often seems to be mostly stocked with purely digital productions. The outlaw days of people bootlegging magazines seems to have vanished (although sites like fashion scans, The Black Pit and Pink Pistol will sort you out). Instead, there's a strange array of zines, catalogues, brochures and specialist press, all wedded to a delivery mechanism that's slick but utterly unsuited to the physicality of magazines. Of course, there's always the odd gem, like the Urban Sketchers' car magazine.

What the site actually does is contort things that might not otherwise be suited to print into a magazine-inspired format, forcing their reappraisal on a series of predetermined aesthetic grounds. Have a new clothing label? Create something that implies a history, a backstory, a continuity. This can only work for so long. Ten, maybe twenty years from now, when flat panel readers will finally kill the tropes and habits of traditional print design, the only emotion associated with the Issuu shopfront will be nostalgia. Perversely, it will be only the sketchbook, the last immediate link between hand, eye and page, that will endure. The lavish, ad-fat newsstand behemoth will cease to be a model to imitate.


Related (and rather implying that day is not here yet), What are you reading on the subway? (via daily discoveries) / on Eichlers / PLSJ, a tumblr / Honey is Funny is a fine weblog / Miniature Brides / nineteenpoint, a designer's weblog / design and music come together at Beautiful Sounds (both last links via diskant).

Michael Jantzen is the ultimate virtual architect, something he is well aware of: 'You know, I design these things, and get them out on the Internet and hope someone will come back to me wanting to build. So far, all I seem to get is more press. [Laughs.] Which just leads to more press.' We've often featured his work on things, and his self-awareness is relatively rare within the industry. Here is the contemporary design dilemma in a nutshell; virtual architecture begets more virtual architecture, a spiral of imaginary forms.

Circa, an art magazine from Ireland / thirty-four parking lots, a 'remake of Ed Ruscha's project using Google Maps' (via we will become / Polis, 'a collaborative blog on urbanism with a global focus' / 1194km, a weblog / A design a day / hooray, we qualify as being slow web / Freddie Robins is a curator.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

We've only just caught up with the IKEA font controversy (via the New York Times and also referenced in this expansive question 'What do the Makers like?', giving examples of art forms that are abhorred by the masses by held in high esteem by the (self-described?) elite). Back to IKEA - it seems the adoption of Verdana is a delayed, mass-market version of 'the new ugly,' epitomised by relatively low circulation, high concept magazines like 032c, where an apparently casual and spontaneous approach appears - to the uninitiated - to be deliberately anti-design.

Nothing is ever as simple as that. IKEA's adoption of a font designed for screen reading has been predictably savaged by designers ('This is a disastrous move by a company that's supposed to be design-led! The use of Verdana has the unfortunate effect of making any design look as if it's been quickly knocked out on a home computer with no thought or effort, just because it's (usually) the default typeface on any Windows machine. Pages from IKEA's catalogue now look like rubbish flyers for a backyard sale.').

Ultimately, the company's claim to be purveyors - nay, torch-holders - of modernism no longer stands up to scrutiny. Ignore the type issue, what's most interesting about the IKEA 2010 catalog(ue) is the lack of stylistic cohesion of the catalogue as a whole, no longer a definition of 'modern design' but rather a visual shorthand for the contemporary understanding of what 'good taste' means, as filtered through a thousand style magazines, put through the wringer of consumer choice and then scattered with the visual pluralism of modern times. It's chaotic.

Related, IKEA 1965, and the company's own history pages.


VW is mooting mini domestic scale power plants (we think). See also Honda's Home Energy Station. It's not too much of a stretch to see more car manufacturers muscle in to this sector of the market in the next decade: micro-generation that doubles up as fuel source for their products. Without an industry standard to work to, the idea of locking in consumers to several decades of vehicle 'upgrades' that are compatible with the (presumably hefty) capital outlay of a piece of domestic-scaled energy-generating plant is a very attractive one.

Other things. The animated gif continues to haunt the internet, the closest the medium will ever come to the stilted movement of the silent slapstick movie: Three Frames (via Regular VIPs (both occasionally nsfw)) / Ugly House Photos, including the World's Largest Louis Vuitton Purse / Plan 59. Retro illustrations that seem to have been polished. We're always losing this link so here to remind us. Also links to Shorpy / What We Do is Secret, architecture and design / Colonize the Borderland, a tumblr / Raspera, 'Super Real Animal's Paper Craft. Rasterized Peramodel from Japan.'

Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons / as yet unfamiliar with The Awl / The London Review of Breakfasts / FWA, favourite website awards. This is where all the intense flash sites went / Etherpad, an online collaborative word processor / 9000's photostream is filled with interesting things.

Inevitably, Poundbury, Spillway weighs in on the design blog subject of the week, Dorset's most famous model village and the debate about its merits, 'psychedelic urban experience' or otherwise / a fine weblog, Nutty, Dry and a Hint of Vanilla (thanks for the Pelican link) / A collection of sounds from the sea, including the mysterious Bloop (more info) / Aeron chairs for seats / Could the UK drive on the right? Why?


Tuesday, August 04, 2009
'Frank Lloyd Wright said "...anyone over six feet tall is a weed." My uncle called Frank Lloyd Wright " unwashed midget."' / revisiting The Millennium Dome: A Collection / Should we love or hate fascist buildings? / all about the Beckton Gas Works, Victorian industrial sprawl that ended up as a stand-in for late twentieth century urban combat zones.

Nicely done: Nokia in Trouble? How Fast Can a Mobile Device Giant React?: '2014: First products that are roughly comparable with iPhone version 1 begin shipping. The required software redesign started in 2010 is coupled with the integration efforts. Nokia's response to the iPhone has begun.' (via haddock) / The Newspaper Club wants to 'help people make their own newspapers', buoyed by the print resurgence and the interest in making the transition from digital content to analogue form.

Dreamers Rise, a weblog (or 'open notebook') / photos by roryrory / Design Observer has had a major overhaul. Very impressive / Interface Nostalgia, on how you can flick between old and new versions of Monkey Island with a swipe of the finger: 'You're faced with how brittle your recollection must actually be, and how susceptible to persuasion and malleable memory is. It's become a meta-game for me, trying to recall whatŐs different before flicking over for the reveal.'

German speed was a subject of considerable fascination, both before and after the war (with intellectual property taken as reparations forming the basis of the BRM racing car project, and several other immediate post-war engineering projects, including cars by Bristol / Speed and its Limits, at the Canadian Center for Architecture.

Fantasy architecture/objects by David Trautrimas / Shinichiro Matsuda's Inspirations / sample documents from the Archive of Americana at Readex (via The Hope Chest) / historic Nissans. more / 385, a blog of art, design and architecture / Quad Space: Building a Thesis Project, amnp on the radical reinvention of an existing house. See also the Quad Space blog.

Dreamboat, if everybody made magazines for a living, then the good ones would probably be a bit like this. Chaotic but fun / LIFT Living Archive, posters and imagery from the London International Festival of Theatre / RB's Digital Ramble is about as blog-like as the mainstream online media gets - and is no less brilliant for it. This week the topic is Summer Aviation (more of a US concern than a UK one).

Archived Music Press, 'scans from the Melody Maker and N.M.E. circa 1987-1996'. Excellent nostalgia fest / see also Because Midway Still Aren't Coming Back, an mp3 blog / blaargh, a tumblr / design tumble log / Into the Loop, a weblog / UFOs: The Space-Age Mythology / largely unknown Paul Rudolph House.

How to ensure you're an absolute shoo-in for the Carbuncle Cup: simply mimic a key feature of one of the most unpopular buildings in recent memory. Check the roof arrangement on Woodlands Manor, Belfast, by Coogan and Co, and compare with Broadway Malyan's hapless St George Wharf (large image here, if you can stomach it).

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009
We might have been a bit cynical about twitter yesterday, but this is great: Space Shuttle take off - Photos by Twitter users / the architectural abstractions of Felice Varini / Culturehall presents artists' portfolios. We especially like the documentary series by Martin Miller / 'cruel neorealistic every day object' photography by Jochen Braun.

Google phone tracker is fast track to divorce, says writer / From Porch to Patio, a (pdf) essay on the architectural transition from front to rear of house, public to private, a shift exemplified by the design of the American tract house, evolving from open structures to 'snout-first' designs that placed their outdoor social spaces at the rear / via kottke, who also posts this excellent guide to Growing Sentences with David Foster Wallace.

A full list of words banned by the Local Government Association. There is a certain rough concrete poetry to the selection:

Fast-Track Actioned Ambassador
Bottom-Up Holistic Improvement levers
Scaled-back Scoping
Provider vehicles Top-down Transparency
Quick hit
Quick win
Lever Iteration
Cascading Flex

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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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Friday, January 25, 2008

Book covers are a burgeoning cult online, in flickr groups (books with nice covers, Old-Timey Paperback book covers, repetitive graphic paperback book covers, etc., etc.) and dedicated websites. The obvious is perhaps not being said often enough: these are just covers, a scan of a piece of thick paper that usually says nothing about what the book contains. If the internet persisted and all printed matter eventually decayed, these colourful little mementoes would create a complex jigsaw for any future anthropologist eager to discover why some things were more important than others.

Simplistic Art. The post on the art of Madelon Vriesendorp doesn't mention that her post-coital skyscraper painting, 'Flagrant Delit, graced the cover of her then-husband Rem Koolhaas's first (major) book, Delirious New York. In fact, as the linked ArtReview article, 'Misconceptual art: The World of Madelon Vriesendorp', makes clear, she was a co-founder of OMA and sales of her paintings kept the practice afloat in its early years (a studio that now sits astride the globe, expertly attuning its output to the myriad market conditions and cultural expectations, from the 'dramatically sombre' northern European market (thanks, Dan) to the harsh shadows and ultra-light structure of renders aimed at the Middle East). Ultimately, the artist eschewed painting in favour of assemblage, bringing together landscapes of pop cultural artefacts - souvenirs, mementoes, and trinkets. As James Westcott notes in his piece, 'Vriesendorp has said that she's only interested in failed objects, and that in her global city she feels like a tourist who has been given the wrong directions, misheard them and ended up in the right place anyway'.

We don't hear much about 'failed objects' these days, especially in the rabidly circular online culture of aesthetic appreciation, where objects are there to stimulate and enthrall, but little else. The idea of an online representation of any 'thing' being said to fail is almost an oxymoron - by the very act of being photographed/scanned/digitised and uploaded, anything that is represented online has successfully ensured its survival. In the Darwinian struggle for cultural memory, it is only those poor, neglected and reviled objects that never have their own flickr set, eBay watchlist, ardent newsgroup or me-fi post that can truly be said to have failed. Pity the future anthropologist, for they will be entirely in the dark about this subculture of the unknown.

Ironically, simply by collecting and cataloging her own definition of 'failure', Vriesendorp is helping this barrage of kitsch to keep itself skimming along the surface along with all the other cultural flotsam. Currently on show at the Architectural Association, it seems like this exhibition is one of those pivotal events that tie up loose ends and associations, bringing lesser known connections into the mainstream and forging new connections with the strata of international cultural society that seem to know everyone and everything. The catalogue includes Beatriz Colomina, Douglas Coupland, Zaha Hadid, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Rem Koolhaas.


Other things. World's Best Urban Spaces, initiated by City of Sound and Russell Davies / the rather confusing Web Trend Map 2008, hampered by those infuriating snap preview pop-ups / the odious, ironic parallels are ladled on but ultimately left unsaid in this Harper's piece on GWB's favourite painting, "Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught." (via tmn).

We have a new career: roller coaster advisor / The Afterlife of Cellphones / car parks, a flickr set, and the Parking Garage and Car Parks pools / despite the existence of this, we'd never noticed this, a small example of ongoing consistency in the Pelican design language / Experiment 33, slathering over design and visual culture from decades gone by.

Graphicology, a design weblog / a weblog by Mark Boulton / 2 and fro, a photojournal of a daily commute / go on, produce a 'Ballardian home movie' and submit it to We'd have thought that most of YouTube had some kind of Ballardian dimension / Apophenia, visual things / Eightface, visual things / ID please, a flickr group / not sure how we feel about this.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Penguin aesthetic has undergone something of a self-guided, if self-conscious, revival in recent years. As the Pelican Project linked above makes abundantly clear, there is an undeniable visual unity when you're presented with a decade's worth of covers. The Penguin design story is straightforward, but much mythologised. As Robin Kinross notes in the Hyphen Press's excellent Journal, the company ultimately appears to have lost the plot, indulging in too much 'visual imitation and self-reference'. The Penguins and Pelicans themselves also tend to be much fetishised by contemporary designers - you just have to scour ffffound to see occasional appearances by 'classic' examples of the familiar dark blue cover art (I, II, III, IV, V, VI) jumbled up with the soup of spirited yet ultimately refined modernist taste that drives modern visual practice. We offer up the Pelican Project as more grist for the mill.


Other things. Moderato, a literary weblog coming out of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina / poignant but fascinating question, what have we lost forever? (especially this response, related to the previous link, on the 'Sarajevo Haggadah (related New Yorker article)) / Silver Poetics, a photography weblog.

Phayung, an architecture weblog, hoovering up the cascade of built environment imagery / Commando Blog, fashion and things from Norway / SoCal Modern Residential, a flickr set / The Show So Far, a weblog / movie recommendations for toddlers / How to be useful, a blog (and book) by Megan Hustad.

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