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Friday, October 09, 2009


Cryonics, what's it all about? Dubious practices, if this recent story is to be believed: Former Alcor Employee Makes Harsh Allegations Against Cryonics Foundation (via me-fi). From the piece: 'When a body is brought into Alcor's facility, the patient's blood is pumped out and replaced with a chemical concoction to minimize freezing damage. In many cases, the head is separated from the body with the member's prior consent. Johnson said he began to grow uneasy about his new employer once he saw what went on in Alcor's operating room, where he witnessed three suspensions. "It was barbaric ... the third suspension that I witnessed, they actually used a hammer and a chisel," he said. "I actually witnessed them remove her head with a chisel and a hammer."'

Such strangeness is to be expected. A few years ago we had the pleasure of visiting Alcor, where we found a friendly workplace utterly devoted to what they were doing but also, how to put this, somewhat deluded about how they were going about it. This must have been about the same time the disillusioned employee was able to witness chiselling operations at first hand. When we were there, nothing was happening at all, save for a bit of clearing up. The big metal tanks hummed away to themselves, filled with dismembered sports personalities and immortality enthusiasts.

For the staff, their major problem in life was the inevitability and finality of death, an injustice that had to be conquered. Staff member Dr Mike Perry had written a hefty book, Forever for All (which we still have, somewhere), considering 'the problems of death and the hereafter and how these ages-old problems ought to be addressed in light of our continuing progress.... The immortalization of humans and other life-forms is seen as a great moral project and labor of love that will unite us in a common cause and provide a meaningful destiny.' It's a goal that is eccentric at least, a trait shared by many of the staff (some of whom wear their futurism proudly, like Regina M. Pancake, Alcor's 'Readiness Coordinator', former 'Nuclear Pharmacy Technician' and sci-fi prop handler).

The scope of ambition is illustrated by the Timeship concept, 'the "Fort Knox" of biological materials. DNA, tissue samples and cryopreserved patients will be housed in Timeship, and their safety and security against all threats, both natural and human-made, will have to be maintained for hundreds of years.' Designed by Stephen Valentine, this piece of epic Neo-Classicism is architecture for the long game (see the recent Design Observer link as well), its location secret, defended against intruders, bulky enough to withstand rain, disaster and the threat of ruin.

While the actual science of cryonics remains elusive beyond the relatively simple act of freezing something - resuscitation is still an entirely speculative process - the culture of cryonics is underpinned by the desire for immortality and the fear of death. The American Cryonics Society stresses there is no political or social undercurrent to their activities ('The American Cryonics Society is not a "utopian" organization.... We are a cryonics society: PERIOD. Our program is simple: freeze-wait-reanimate.). Indeed, a large amount of the debate surrounding cryonics is fiscal, looking at ways to sustain large, power-consuming organisations that require total financial and physical stability for a totally unknown amount of time. Nonetheless, the sense of impending apocalypse hangs over the entire movement, the conflation of disaster, survivalism, futurism and utopianism that has grown out of pop science, the same alternate reality that sustains other pseudo-scientific ventures, all of which are sadly gaining traction in our distracted world.

But we're repeating ourselves - Alcor is a thing of eternal fascination, as they (presumably) intended. There's more information in these earlier posts from December 10, 2003 and August 15, 2008.

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Other, more transient, things. Photographs taken within a theme park at the Heterotopia. The location is Blackgang Chine, allegedly the oldest theme park in the UK, perched on the crumbling chalk cliffs on the south coast of the Isle of Wight / Data Liberation, striving to make it easy to extract everything you own from Google at your own convenience, not theirs / Meanwhile in Stoke, what would Cedric do?

His Old Haunts, an interview with writer (and one-time things contributor) Tobias Seamon / Mouette7, a tumblr / the Bloomframe is a neat piece of design, a window that doubles up as a balcony. Formerly just a concept, the design, by Hofman Dujardin Architects, has now entered production / One year after Hurricaine Ike.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009


Fifteen images of not so secret secret service buildings, a light-hearted round-up of the architecture of information. Related, "Everyone is becoming like a Stasi agent", Moolies on information technology and privacy: '.... anything out of the norm is ripe for being filmed, photo'd and commented upon. Each little cluster of social activity surrounding a slightly unusual event is somewhat akin to far too many people dialling 999 around the scene of an accident.'

This segues nicely into the introduction to Douglas Rushkoff's new book Life Inc. ('How the World Became A Corporation and How To Take It Back'). 'It's as if the world itself were tilted, pushing us toward self-interested, short-term decisions, made more in the manner of corporate share-holders than members of a society.' There's a link between this slow infusion of corporatism into every day life and way of thinking and the 'clusters of social activity' described above. One facilitates the other, providing the technological backbone that enables social technology, as well as the structures that shape our response to this information. On a global scale, the patterns that emerge through Zeitgeist or even the email logs of a multi-national corporation illustrate how easily the global unconscious is expressed through information. As a result, it's increasingly easy to audit cultural responses.

Also related (and much linked, for good reason), Adam Curtis's new BBC-hosted weblog, The Medium and the Message. The filmmaker has created some of the most powerful documentaries of recent years, with a breathtaking visual style that takes what at base level appears to be MTV-like cuts and reappropriations and flows them seamlessly into narrative and music so that pictures act as a narrative all of their own. It's very powerful stuff, and undeniably manipulative for it (although probably self-consciously so). You can see almost his entire back catalogue at Archive.org (scroll down for links).

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Random link round up. Mags McGinnis, formerly of Laika, makes candles, practices law and plays guitar in Wire / Being Tyler Brule, the man made weblog / M.Inc, a design weblog / Sam Haskins' photoblog (some nudity) / Don't be a coconut, a music weblog / Ryan's Neat Stuff Blog, mostly old comics and things / the Victorinox edition Airstream (via autoblog) / seier + seier + seier's flickr stream is notable not just for the beautiful architectural imagery, but for the extended and highly informative captions.

Owen Luder is now getting his Rubble Club deluxe membership fleshed out: Southgate Shopping Centre, Bath and the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth / designing the friendly skies, an old aviation nostalgia-fest / the best 'boring postcard' ever? / Le Corbusier - Chapelle Ronchamp, Notre-Dame du Haut 1950-1955 / thank goodness for people with large, well-organised flickr streams, like Steve Cadman and Sandro Maggi.

If Famous Architecture Were Priced Like Paintings, a Le Corbusier Would Cost the Same as the Entire American GDP / go on, Fix Outlook / Heavy Metal of a different kind, photographer Anthony Oliver on tractor badges in Eye / more on Polaroid and a possible antecedent to the classic SX-70 camera uncovered by Mrs Deane.

Disappointingly small gallery of historic roller coasters (via, where there are better links) / Coast Modern is a new documentary about the modern house on America's West Coast. Should be interesting to see moving images of dwellings that have long been canonised through epic photography (Shulman in particular).

'Ghost village to be demolished', the story of Pollphail at Portavadie. Check the photography of this never-inhabited village, taken by Philippa Elliot. There's more about Pollphail at Secret Scotland / hive mind ADD. On 25 June 4 of the 10 top search terms were directly Michael Jackson related. By 27 June, Jackson had dropped to only two mentions in the top 50, the first at number 25.

We're looking forward to the BLDGBLOG book / Werner Aisslinger's Loftcube, a media celebrity project from a few years back, gets several more minutes of fame at PhotoshopDisasters / it's a shame that bad British Architecture isn't reeling off the vitriol on a daily (hourly?) basis - there's too much material there for it to stay idle.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Victory City, Orville Simpson's epic attempt at creating a private utopia (via me-fi). This example of amateur urban planning is defiantly high rise (in exceptional detail), a rarity, as the fantasy conurbations of fiction and the imagination are rarely vertical. In the real world, going up remains the definitive statement of modernity (although the passion for tall buildings may well wane considerably). Related, a gallery of the Burj Dubai at IconEye featuring photographs by David Hobcote (who has contributed to BurjDubaiSkyscraper.com, a site that appears perpetually astounded by the relentlessly upwards progression of this building).

However, unveil an unlimited landscape of infinite possibility, and what is the architectural response? Nostalgic homages to a lost modernism. In Original Sim ('For the architects of Second Life, reality bites') a tour around the virtual spaces created by real world designers, the real and the surreal abut each other. For architects, the attractions of 'building' in Second Life are obvious: 'There are no planners, no building regulations, no thermal loss calculations, no value engineering by developers.' Yet this is a quote from a designer who 'also maintains [Second Life's recreation of the] Farnsworth House', surely the most iconic example of architectural arrogance ever created. When left completely to their own devices, architects either create chromatically extravagant, structurally improbable buildings or attempt to develop and finesse the more rigorous aspects of modernism.

Perhaps amateurism should be given free reign. The traditionalists are attempting to strike back, with limited success. 'I'll show you a real carbuncle, Charles,' Poundbury takes a pounding (excellent photographs by Paul Russell, demonstrating that so-called 'bad' architecture often makes a far more interesting subject than 'good' architecture, perhaps due to the accommodation of context). Two more things that relate to adhocism and individuality: all about The Story of High Street, a new book from the Mainstone Press about the retail variety of 1938. I want to get on with my life but the market won't let me, a photo-essay at infinite thought, a journey along the Piccadilly Line to the wretched Westfield ('the new home of luxury', the Gherkin looming out of the website in a deliberate perversion of the city's geography to lure the unwary) and on to the miserable (and doomed) Trocadero.

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What are some great lost albums? / Slow Painting, a weblog / architecture photos by flickr user rucativava / the Gibson Dark Fire, a 'robot guitar' that looks intriguingly stuffed with all manner of sound-tweaking technology. Something for a future edition of music thing to obsess over.

Farewell to Oliver Postgate / at the other end of the creative spectrum (although linked, perhaps, via the Clangers, 'Sci-fi 'creator' Forrest Ackerman dies' / Strawberry and Cream, craft and art / 25 times a second, a tumblelog / The brilliance of creative chaos / Istanbul (Not Constantinople, a weblog.

Atelier Malkovich, a collection of half scale idealised artist's ateliers / revisiting the Taos Hum, 'a low-pitched sound heard in numerous places worldwide ... usually heard only in quiet environments, and often described as sounding like a distant diesel engine' / the demons of Building 280 / Iain's C64 homepage / paintings by Laura Moreton-Griffiths / buy stuff off the police with Bumblebee Auctions.

'The New Examined Life: Why more people are spilling the statistics of their lives on the Web' / thanks to David for the following digging at the New York Public Library's portal, including a selection of NYC Atlases, a huge image library, including the work of Bernice Abbott. Related, an Austeresque venture: a photo of every single street corner in Manhattan, by Richard Howe (via kottke).

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Thursday, November 20, 2008
The end of the world is nigh, perhaps. The temples of doom, a recent Guardian piece by Rory Carroll draws parallels between the 'population explosion, ecological disaster and weak leadership' that did for Mayan civilisation and the apparent limits being approached by today's global culture, six centuries after the Renaissance.

The piece isn't especially alarmist; there's plenty of hand-wringing online and elsewhere. It wasn't so long ago that merchants of doomsday saw the enemies of progress as those most likely to send global culture backwards. Unsurprisingly, the writings of Ayn Rand, particularly those that date to the heady, corrosive, pick-your-corner period of American environmental history, kick-started by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (given an 'honorable mention' in Human Events' list of the 'Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries').

Why so harmful? As Rand pointed out gleefully, the environmentalists were hell-bent on returning America to the Dark Ages:

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'Your wife gets up at six A.M - you have insisted that she sleep until the coal furnace, which you lighted, has warmed the house a little. She has to cook breakfast for your son, aged five; there are no breakfast cereals to give him, they have been prohibited as not sufficiently nutritious; there is no canned orange juice - cans pollute the countryside. There are no electric refrigerators.

She has to breast-feed your infant daughter, aged six months; there are no plastic bottles, no baby formulas. There are no products such as "Pampers"; your wife washes diapers for hours each day, by hand, as she washes all the family landury, as she washes the dishes - there are no self-indulgent luxuries such as washing machines or automatic dishwashers or electric irons. There are no vacuum cleaners; she cleans the house by means of a broom.

There are no shopping centers - they despoil the beauty of the countryside. She walks two miles to the nearest grocery store and stands in line for an hour or two. The purchases she lugs home are a little heavy; but she does not copmlain - the lady columnist in the newspaper has said it is good for her figure'
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This lengthy fantasy about an enforced return to a life of pre-push button drudgery, dimly lit and bereft of the benefits of planned obsolescence and consumer desire was a central element of Rand's rant against the apparently Luddite tendencies of the emerging American left. It's a perverse combination of Threads and the River Cottage.

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Other things. Stills from the Fountainhead at the LIFE Archive / Show me your wardrobe, a sort of in-your-face Sartorialist / a fashion blogs, Miss at la Playa / Make Mine Shoebox, a neat retro styled animation by Chris Harding. Some stills / English translations of Asterix / the guitar toolkit seems like a very good reason to have an iPhone.

Why mailmen give up / playing Mirror's Edge apparently makes you sick / paintings by Stuart Shils / paintings by Michael Tompkins, represented by the Paul Thiebaud Gallery. Fine art websites are stuck in a world of frustratingly tiny thumbnails / the Objectivist dating site, currently getting a lot of online attention.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008


There is a long tradition of concealing spaces - even whole worlds - within existing structures. From CS Lewis's Wardrobe to the expedience-driven space and time shifting properties of the Tardis, through to the pragmatic continuation of the streetscape through structures like 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens, a famous false facade in London (and surely in need of being given a fitting fictional character as its occupant). Wikimapia shows what's behind the facade. Another picture at Geograph and another at flickr, part of an abandoned buildings set.

China Mieville's short story "Reports of Certain Events in London", which appeared in McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories (it's also collected in his book Looking for Jake), examines the sudden and chaotic appearance of ghost streets within London's fabric, spaces that open and close leaving little evidence of their existence - a roof tile, some broken glass. Mieville is another author with an established alternative world, in this case New Crobuzon. See also the Fictional Cities and Towns page on wikipedia.

More architecture of concealment (portals concealing practicality). The 'Transformer Houses' photographed by Robin Collyer and covered in a typically thorough BLDG BLOG post, the comments to which revealed a rich thread of false architecture, concealing structures and dummy houses. Related, the Swiss Bunkers series by photographer Leo Fabrizio. More of Fabrizio's Bunkers, all concealed so as not to denigrate from the spectacular landscape. Also of interest, Fabrizio's ongoing series about the Sonnenberg Tunnel (wikipedia).

Also related, The Pet Architecture Guide Book, Atelier Bow-Wow's monographic guide to 'the buildings that have been squeezed into left over urban spaces'. More about Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima of AB-W at Archinect. See also the work of Joel Tettamanti. Above image of the Inversion House, a 2005 installation in Houston. Archinect gallery. The project was subsequently tagged then demolished, although it lives on virtually on thousands of weblogs. The site is now a Coffee House.

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Other things. 'Entdeckung der Korridore/Discovery of Corridors', an artwork by PRINZGAU/podgorschek, via anArchitecture, a 'buried autobahn' set into the landscape as a piece of found archaelogy, the remnant of a lost civilisation. Yes, that does sound rather Ballardian. Should you so desire, there's even a track called 'Abandoned Motorway' on Ballard Landscapes 2, an album by Cousin Silas.

Chris Morris visits the Large Hadron Collidor, via cook'd and bomb'd / Picdit, yes, a link blog / Wolfenflickr (via Wonderland) / extremely large tanks, a top ten. More pictures here of the heaviest and biggest tanks / My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance, Sam Jacobs on sonic holocausts and growing old / Top Architecture News, an aggregated list / Emu Graphic Design, a steady stream of links / the Greene and Greene Architectural Records and Papers Collection.

O Meu Outro Eu Esta A Dancar, a weblog / phantom plate, evade speed cameras / Grow your own home / some more anti-whimsy, albeit in extended rant form / Best Practices for Time Travelers, a 2003 post at Idle Words that can be used as reference for kottke's Survival Tips for the Middle Ages / related, Empirical Evidence of Time Travel, a post at Wide Scope. Check the wikipedia time travel page for more discussion.

Wannes Deprez's content rich flickr stream (via continuity in architecture, which has also linked to Britischer Architekt, the classic Rover commercial from the late 80s. It seems it was actually called 'Schnell'). See also this fine suite of beach houses at the California Coastal Records Project, including Craig Ellwood's Hunt House of 1955. Also, the Rose Studio Pavilion, better known from its role in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and designed by David Haid of Cowell and Neuhaus. Also, New York, 1978, all that theoretical potential. The construction of Claude Bell's Cabazon Dinosaurs.

Recent British architecture, some photography / thanks for inclusion in the east coast Architecture review's favourite 20 design blogs / contribute to Capsule's Home of Metal, an 'online digital archive that actively engages its audience in the creation and shape of....online digital archive of memories, images and pictures to tell the story of this unique moment of Midlands' musical heritage' (via diskant) / thanks for the link at Beyond the Beyond.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008
We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how to define the contemporary aesthetic. Past posts have speculated that the type of work favoured by ffffound and its ilk is the dominant mode of modern design, featuring - but not limited to - the intersection of rough-edged printmaking derived textures, wandering lines and smudgy forms drawn from traditional illustration, the hard-edged glistening sheen of computer generated imagery and the patterns, lines and inherent beauty of raw geometry.

This is a multi-disciplinary world where art direction, amateur photography, architecture, illustration, craft, cartoons and technology all fuse into one another, creating - dare we say it - a homogenous pop culture aimed at the attention deficient more than anything else. It's also a global culture (see 360 magazine from China, for example), having evolved from the enthusiastic sub-cultural adoption of Japanese Manga in the West into an ability to absorb specific local influences to generate an all-pervasive yet ultimately placeless sense of the 'exotic'.

So where does the profusion of imagery leave actual, concrete, physical design? We'd speculate that architecture has been fairly comprehensively damaged by the attraction and dominance of the ephemeral - what might rather unkindly be called the triumph of whimsy. Consider Ruum, a new architecture and design magazine (found via Creative Boys Club, which is a mecca for the New Eclectic). With layouts and type that draw on a variety of sources, fashion shoots that have a kitchen-sink inclusiveness and a collage-friendly emphasis on the collation and presentation of imagery, Ruum demonstrates the influence of 21st publishing successes like MARK magazine and, to a lesser extent, A10.

In these publications, architecture is reduced to being little more than the generator of the layouts, not a series of three dimensional spaces but a 2D form that inspires print design, rather than spatial interaction. MARK and A10 differ from late C20 eclectics like Nest through their fatal attraction to novelty, a fascination with the sheen of what is apparently innovation, but is more usually the blurred hinterland between render and photograph, the point at which the computer-generated becomes indistinguishable from reality. Ladel on the increasingly clip art-like imagery found on art, architecture and illustration aggregators, and you end up with design that is simultaneously timeless and utterly of its time.

But is the modern aesthetic genuinely modern? We'd suggest it was simply a hacked about histogram of the past century, with the troughs edited out in favour of the peaks. Many have noticed Late Modernism's peaky attention grabbing of late, lamenting how the 'icon' has supplanted contextual design in an attempt to snap our synapses to attention through novelty, impact and verve. Sit down man, you're a bloody tragedy has a splendid post that declares We are all Googie now, noting that the spiky commercial gimcracks of West Coast America not only transcended the rather dull and acquiescent output of the ruling International Modernists ('In fact, with their deliberate defiance of the rules of gravity and geometry, their brashness and lack of precedent, googie buildings were more true to the Modernist event'), but is arguably the aesthetic mode that underpins contemporary architecture.

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Technology thoughts. 3D appears to be making a comeback, through a series of just-launched/in-the-pipeline applications that are tringing to bring science-fiction style interface control to the desktop (although the exciting-sounding Liveplace technology that everyone was talking about last week is this week's Yeti hoax). For a start, we've been playing around with Photosynth a little bit (good discussion at me-fi), and it does seem to do what it promises, although the research uses are few and far between right now / photoshop style enhancement for video. See also 10 futuristic user interfaces. The sheer complexity of modern data management is starting to manifest in unusual little ways, like the creation of 'fake following' applications that allow you to mimic real life behaviour - nodding, saying 'uh-huh' a lot, not paying attention - in the hitherto unrelentingly demanding digital realm.

Other things. A panorama of the Watercube / Re-Title, an online art directory / once and for all, WebUrbanist puts together 42 Essential Flickr Abandonment Groups (via tmn), illustrating the sheer scale of not just our ongoing fascination with modern ruins, but the amount of ruins out their to chronicle / Midpoint Meander, an architect-driven weblog.

The Lego minifigure turns 30 / the Olympics in Lego / Stimpy in Lego / after Other Simulated Worlds, revisiting Hiroshi Sugimoto's Dioramas series / Tigerluxe, a weblog by an illustrator / Postcrossing, 'a project that allows anyone to exchange postcards (paper ones, not electronic) from random places in the world' / a blog by the artist Gaston Caba / entschwindet und vergeht, a weblog touching on architecture, sound and more, including a piece on the Caretaker.

Michael Jantzen has a new website. While his largely computer-generated oeuvre isn't quite in synch with what passes for fantasy architecture these days, it's certainly prescient - consider the recently released renders of Zaha Hadid's Capital Hill Residence in Barvikha, Russia. A computer-generated fantasy made real (potentially), its form suggestive not just of architectural innovation, but of massive shifts in economic power and patronage. Mildly reminiscent of Mendelsohn's Einstein Tower in Potsdam / moving the Maxwell House, an icon gets relocated. Oh for the demountable lightness of an earlier generation of architectural masterpieces.

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We were pipped to the post by the release of myLighter, a flickering flame you can install on your iPhone and presumably hold aloft while swaying to the music. There needs to be a word for technological ennui, the state we exist anything where anything is technically possible and the only thing that holds us back is our imagination. No sooner can you imagine a new application of an existing technology than someone has actually does it, posting details of their hack around the world.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008


A post-war taxonomy. The NATO Codification System is a means of classifying practical any object imaginable, with a view to easing the complex chain of military logistics between the member states of NATO, 'based on a "One Item of Supply, One NATO Stock Number" concept'. The artist Suzanne Treister has used NATO Supply Classification in her work: 'Within the codification system the NATO Supply Classification (NSC) uses a four-digit coding structure. The first two digits of the code number identify the Group, eg. Group 77 - Musical Instruments, Phonographs, and Home-Type Radios, whilst the last two digits of the code number identify the Classes within the Group, eg. 7710 - Musical Instruments (complete).' See samples above: (NSC) 8830 (Boogie Woogie shoes), (NSC) 9915 (St Edward's Crown), and (NSC) 7730 (Volga Russian Tube Electrophone, 1967)). Treister is soon to publish her work in a book from Black Dog Publishers.

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Elsewhere, our fears eventually become our fetishes. See the forthcoming re-print of the 1963 Civil Defence Handbook number 10 by V and A Publications, which turns the potential horrors of post-nuclear Britain into a cosily retro object combining nostaglia with design fetishism. Handbook number 10, 'Advising the Householder on Protection Against Nuclear Attack', at least contained a few crumbs of comfort and optimism, a spirited, plucky response that evoked the Home Guard of WWII. Gradually, the concept of Civil Defence evaporated, and the leaflet that followed, the infamous 'Protect and Survive', in both leaflet and film form, painted a far bleaker picture, as evinced by the cultural reaction. More information at the excellent Protect and Survive Archive of UK Civil Defence Material. See too this essay at Subterranea Britannica, 'Struggle for Survival: Governing Britain after the Bomb, which charts the evolution of the official approach From Civil Defence to Emergency Planning. Survival was the name of the game. The Americans had a similar shift from the naive futility of early films like Duck and Cover to a more gung-ho, survivalist approach, spawning a whole genre which thrives on the internet (e.g. the Best Prices Storable Foods store).

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Beatle Money, an economic history of the Beatles: 'Reliant Shirt Corporation paid $25,000 for the exclusive rights to make and produce Beatle T-shirts in 3 factories that they had purchased just for the purpose of making the shirts. In 3 days they sold 1 million shirts.' / Bon Ton, an mp3 blog / underground Greenwich at the Greenwich Phantom. See also the Greenwich Industrial Society. Related: 'A pensioner who created a labyrinth of tunnels under his house over 40 years has been forced to pay 300,000 for repairs carried out by a council.' We would love to see a survey of those tunnels / Warped Reality, an mp3 blog / Lost City in the Woods, a post at the Architect's Newspaper featuring the photography of Christopher Payne.

'Russia builds luxury Agalarov Estate', a concentrated district of architectural follies and residential extravagances: 'Scottish baronial mansions, grand Mediterranean-style villas and vast, neo-Gothic castles'. The developers are Crocus City, and it doesn't look good. Check the Crocus City Mall ('Shopping as an art form'), sporting as lumpen a pediment as it's possible to create. More at the Guardian. Such developments are handy for feature writers who want to decry the ongoing dominance of authoritarian kitsch, as well as containing the people who demand it within a gated and security-protected space. But little else.

Hauntology, or the confluence of the past with the present through the spectral and ephemeral image of the ghost, is a term coined by Derrida, an idea that 'suggests that the present exists only with respect to the past'. It seemed briefly fashionable, then was rapidly discarded (only 16,600 google hits) as the past ceased to be a phantom but a throbbing, living thing, thrust in our faces every day as 'inspiration'. The original concept probably underestimated visual culture's inexorable extension and ability to shape-shift and insinuate it across all other cultural forms. Influence is everything, and the past is no longer ghostly, but a living, breathing presence. (originally found via the promising but apparently abandoned dismantled king is off the throne).

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Monday, December 03, 2007


The above is an example of architecture driven by the needs of the computer, as opposed to architecture that exploits the abilities of the computer. Toyota's new driving simulator neatly depicts the slow colonisation of real space by virtual space. Just as server farms take up huge quantities of shelf space, whole chilled warehouses or blank brick boxes of humming racks, our need for cyberspace, in all its forms, to acknowledge our carefully honed sense of space and movement means that architecture is having to accommodate the 'real' navigation of 'unreal space'. On a very simple level, this can be illustrated by the Nintendo Wii, which encroaches on real space by required players to move around to interact with the virtual spaces on screen. You can see the Toyota Simulator in action on YouTube (imagine Grand Theft Auto fans salivating at the prospect of a tweaked version). The set-up is remarkable, essentially a giant robot that uses subtle physical movement to mimic real-world forces, all the while ensuring total immersion in a computer-generated world.

Architecture doesn't have the budgets of the motor industry, so the visualisations that increasingly define and shape our expectations of tomorrow's buildings are usually limited to screens, not immersive physical spaces. But has the ultra realism of the modern animated render ruined the experience of architecture? Or has it encouraged a return to a rawer, less streamlined aesthetic? One thing the anaemic line of early CAD packages encouraged (MiniCad/Vectorworks, Autocad, Microstation, etc. etc - see this History of CAD for more) was a bit of imagination. The lack of photorealism and the unreal veneer of early computer graphics lent the earliest architectural renderings a sheen of impossibility, much like the architectural fantasies of a Constructivist like Iakov Chernikhov used modern print techniques yet stayed deliberately detached from the photographic representations of the time. Chernikhov's work was explicitly unreal, all the better to transcend the existing city.

Consider the lithe organic wetness of the modern rendering, seamlessly blended with existing structures, roads and pedestrians. This is all very well when the project in question is so ambitious as to fail to suspend disbelief (although the way things are going in the Middle East, there will no longer be any need to be doubtful), but all too often, the built reality can only fall lamently short of the vision. It will only be when we get our own personal life simulators that we can escape the ennui and simply live in permanently augmented reality.

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Pixelsurgeon has passed on / lots of New York subway maps / cars favoured by designers / a short visual history of supercars / aeroplane photography by Jeffrey Milstein / the Penguin Collectors' Society / Russia obliterates its architectural heritage / tmn has a fine gallery of Taryn Simon's inquisitive photography / what will happen to the Waxahachie Superconducting Supercollider? 30km of abandoned and unwanted tunnels beneath a small Texan town. Via The God of Small Things, a profile of Peter 'God Particle' Higgs.

Illustrations by Julia Rothman / Yeti prints resurface after a few years off the cultural radar / Flickr Friends of the Twentieth Century Society, via i like / Flickr World's Worst Urban Spaces and Places / Meso, digital media designers / Sir Hiram Maxim and his magnificent steam-powered flying machines / the Lost Novels of Nineteenth-Century New Zealand, via projects / the Charlotte Mew Chronology, an enormously dense site that mixes biography, mental illness, architecture and literature in an attempt to find out more about a complex life.

Something we haven't really touched on, the new Eurostar Terminal at St Pancras. Generally well received, even at the price, but still a bit of a slight to south Londoners who have had their little international terminal at Waterloo taken away from them. Transport Blog and Brian Micklethwaite. For posterity's sake, here is a set of scans of a preview of Waterloo International, then a few years from completion (as was the Channel Tunnel itself), with the eventual move to St Pancras not even getting a mention (was it even on the cards?).

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Hyper-dense urbanism versus wide open spaces. Roadless Space Uneven Across U.S.: 'In the continental United States, roads are never more than a reassuring 22 miles away.' The National Roadless Map, shown above, uses blue to represent counties with low per-capita 'RV' (roadless volume). Road maps are like artery diagrams, a two-dimensional depiction of flow. This original 1957 map of the Interstate and Defense Highways system (at Steve Alpert's Roads page, which includes his interchange drawings) shows the main arteries; the tens of thousands of smaller routes are almost impossible to depict all at once.

But what if roads were in three dimensions, not two? The highway interchange is the closest we get to layering transportation, and although these can get pretty complex, they're usually clustered at key nodes. In dense cities, stacking transport interchanges isn't really an option. Future city projections have traditionally taken transportation into three dimensions. Eugene Henard's Cities of the Future, a paper given in 1910 (and reproduced on John W.Reps' Urban Planning 1794-1918 site), suggested layering cityscapes, using elaborate cross-sections to show how space could be increased if transport and services were stacked. According to Henard, 'all the evil [of today's city] arises from the old traditional idea that "the bottom of the road must be on a level with the ground in its original condition." But there is nothing to justify such an erroneous view'.

Central to Henard's vision was the widespread adoption of the cement flat roof (a good decade before it became a key feature of the emerging Modernism): 'With all the varied advantages which the employment of armoured cement offers, the covering-in of our houses with a level platform has become a simple matter, and this platform could be planted with small flower gardens or adorned with verdure clad trellises.' This would, he felt, be a perfect stepping stone to an inevitable technical development: 'But a still more important function to be performed by these terraces is that in the near future they will be used as landing stages for aeroplanes. We have not as yet arrived at that point because up to the present the aviator has not gained sufficient mastery over his machine: but as man has at length succeeded in imitating the flight of the bird it is by no means improbable that he will eventually succeed in imitating the flight of the insect.'

It was a fantasy ahead of its time (influenced, in part, by H.G.Wells' The War in the Air, with its airships and bird-like contraptions. Wells much of the distinction between European machines and their Eastern equivalents, described as 'strange steeds [that] the engineering of Europe had begotten upon the artistic inspiration of Japan, came a long string of Asiatic swordsman. The wings flapped jerkily, click, block, clitter clock...'). Henard's vision encompassed architecture, too, as he imaged how cities would have to erect towers, up to 500m tall, for navigation purposes (he cited the importance of church spires to the early aerial navigators).

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Suffice to say that the dream of the three-dimensional city is still very much alive. In their new book, Skycar City, Dutch architecture firm MVRDV, together with students from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning, propose a 'pre-emptive history,' an attempt to define how the metropolis of tomorrow would appear if, and it's a big if, the technological dream of the flying car was finally mastered. Splicing a timeline of emerging (if perpetually stalling) technologies like the Moller Skycar, with the science fiction visions of Syd Mead, George Lucas, Fritz Lang, etc. etc., the team behind the book posit a future of vertical construction around the giant tubes formed by the aerial routes, along which semi-automated craft zip relentlessly, from tiny sky bikes and sky Vespas, up to larger vehicles. Envisioning new typologies for everything from parking garages (below) to stadiums, the team's work is an experiment to see how far transportation can go towards shaping architecture.



MVRDV are adept at mixing theory with practice. Without compromising the quality of their built work, the firm has published several monographs and stand-alone projects (like Container City, 2002) that explore the role of density in modern life, and potential - often highly politically charged or deadpan ironic - methods of abating the crisis of space, like the vertical Pig City, or the cantilevered WOZOCO housing, or even the stacked landscape of their EXPO 2000 pavilion, a 'mini-ecosystem' that 'saves space, energy, time, water and infrastructure.'

On one level, Skycar City is a supreme piece of informed science fiction, an extrapolation of what we would do to embrace a seductive piece of imagined technology. On the other hand, it's also a way of trying to arrive at a place that already exists in our imaginations; the sci-fi metropolis with its swarming skies and three-dimensional, roller-coaster streets. These are cities familiar from Metropolis, Blade Runner, and The Fifth Element, by artists like Eric Hanson, carefully built up using models and now digital models, with the future literally pasted over the past. Skycar City envisions a world that will be shaped by modernity's accretions, leaving the original architecture beneath a 'city of canyons and a look of coral'. In this vision, there is no chance of being located away from the road, for within access to the transport network, you are stuck in one place, embedded in perpetual transportation. That which does not move, dies:

'Year 2210: The parts of the city that atrophy in darkness and isolation eventually fall into ruin; this includes most of the ancient 20th century structures holding onto addresses at ground level. Quality of life still dominates the city's organization: what was dark or decaying is discarded, and space not served directly by skycars is abandoned.'



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Some other things. Stephen Zacks has an extensive story on Dubai in the current issue of Metropolis, entitled 'Beyond the Spectacle', in which he implies that New York will be considered an antique city in a century's time, 'a place to visit for the sake of nostalgia... .somehow like how we think of Paris.' Its place will be taken by Dubai, where some 310 billion dollars has been spent on construction in ten years. A place of social, political and architectural hybridity, where Western firms can indulge their computer-generated fantasies and a veneer of liberalism cloaks an oppressive state.

Curbed snoops around the Richard Meier-designed penthouse at 176 Perry Street, 40 million dollars of real estate. Little more than an urban version of Meier's earlier Douglas House, with pine trees replaced by the urban landscape / the village of Sipson, inconveniently placed in the pathway of Heathrow's proposed third runway / more 'heat maps,' (or rather, Death Maps) this time showing 'choke points' in Half Life 2 levels where the most players meet their doom (via kottke).

Chinese Star Wars, a 'web site for global Chinese fans of Star Wars' / that's one giant printer, via k / flickleech, via Rasmus Broennum's architecture weblog / The Classic Rock Realm of Ferro-Cement, the link between organic architecture and prog rock, with plenty of pictures / 'The Firm', a series by photographer Jocelyn Bain Hogg / yesterday was No Music Day. Can we get a bit more warning next year?

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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 lifes 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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Thursday, November 08, 2007


If we were in charge of administering black budgets and ultra-secret projects, the current state of the world would offer enormous comfort. Rumour and speculation are rife in the 30 billion dollar world of covert technology, the likes and capacity of which we can only begin to imagine. But our imagination is the problem. Click past the respectable windows into the dark world of covertly funded projects, like the insight offered by the Federation of American Scientists, for example, and it's easy to lose track of what's real, what's imagined, what's proposed, projected or merely the paranoid ramblings of people who believe they're being kept in the dark. The whole black helicopter phenomenon is little more than a manifestation of collective uncertainty, a useful, if nebulous, thing to point the trembling finger at.

So when stories titled 'Are We Being Watched by Flying Robot Insects? enter the public realm (even in the Washington Post), they are received with a tone of scepticism, tinged with a bit of gee-whiz speculation (via Never mind the Black Helicopters, look out for the Dragonflies, where the mood is appalled, unsurprised and generally disdainful). Sure, the technology and the theory exists, but it's the applications that unsettle. A recent issue of Professional Engineering (Vol:20 Issue:16, subscription required) carried the story 'Spy copter debut passes over heads of festival-goers', quietly noting how police trialled the Hicam Microdrone at the V Festival, after earlier trials ('Police force tests airborne spy camera', (Guardian, Tuesday May 22, 2007). It was widely reported at the time, and the coverage has veered from admiring to alarmist. This Wired Gallery neatly summarises the current state and scale of (visible) technology, which ranges from military vehicles down to small(ish) companies like Schiebel and their Camcopter (and their rather elegant factory).

Miniature UAV's (or just MAVs) are high on the agenda at DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), as well as places like the University of Florida. It's not hard to imagine why such a thing might be needed, or why governments around the world are champing at the bit to get hold of MAVs, but by the same token one should assume that even if the quasi-legendary robot dragonflies don't exist, then something incredibly similar already exists. The Economist has run a couple of stories - 'Rise of the Machines' and 'The Fly's a Spy' - that posit believable near-future scenarios. 'The bigger worries are to do with privacy: some of these flying machines will be so small that they will be able to fly inside buildings, filming everything they see; heaven knows what paparazzi will do with them.'

Imagine a swarm of quasi-autonomous paparazzibots, programmed to relentlessly home in on Paris Hilton's iPhone or electronically paired with the Bluetooth transmitter in Prince Harry's Range Rover. Tomorrow's celebrities will be permanently accompanied by an unwelcome micro-cloud of buzzing devices, miniature versions of the news choppers that blight the LA skies, mimicking the fly-strewn perimeter of Pigpen from Peanuts. So disposable that they're released in their hundreds, all busy feeding streams of high resolution imagery back to their masters. If cell phones had to have an artificial shutter sound piped in to their cameras to sate privacy concerns, what noise will be regulated on the flying camera fleet?

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Sunday, October 07, 2007


Ffffound!, sign up and point to pictures you like, and other members will do the same. At least, we think that's what's going on. Straight off the bat, our welcome screen was splashed with eerily familiar imagery, whether it be wireframed objects, old catalogue scans, speculative futures, strange architecture, design ephemera, the nocturnal aerial photography of Jason Hawkes, etc. etc. Worth tracking. Thanks to Rob for the invite. A good description at plasticbag: 'like del.icio.us divided by Flickr only with no tags and more designers'. In a similar vein, there's something undefinably contemporary about arhiva7, the aesthetic, the contents, the layout. All familiar, yet all strangely new.

Ironically, the same day our ffffound invite arrived, so did an advance copy of the BibliOdyssey book, the slickest website-to-book concept we've yet seen. Published by Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell's FUEL, BibliOdyssey is a handsome but inevitably old-fashioned tome, a physical encapsulation of all that the internet obsesses over and emphasises. With the BLDGBLOG book on its way, and even a new issue of things arriving some time this decade, the slow but inexorable transfer of information out of the digital and back to the physical realm is starting to gather pace.

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Future London from the past, a top ten circa 1999. Numbers 3, 4, 8 and 10 never came to pass, but the rest has been (and some of it already gone) / a Funeral Coach Brochure, at Sharpeworld's flickr set / Martin L'Allier's weblog / Emak Mafu, a weblog by web designers / Walking the Berkshires, a 'traditional' weblog, if there is such a thing / 'The Mystery of Love, Courtship and Marriage Explained', written in 1890 (via projects). It describes a highly complex but ultimately rather miserable world.

Absurd object of the day: Swami Conversational Robot, for sale at Neiman Marcus (whose Christmas catalogue is a sight to behold, for all the wrong reasons). According to the blurb, 'the OMG factor on this dude is off the charts.' / the Guardian's architecture in detail series / Foxtons! No! Bang goes the neighbourhood, a piece about gentrification, inheritance tax, free coffee and inverse snobbery / 'Krugel... claims that his technique is able to locate a missing person anywhere in the world using only a single strand of hair': we thought the claim was somewhat suspicious as well - good to see that it's been given a thorough going-over by Bad Science.

What happened next? / Show (Off) and Tell, a flickr set of the visually intriguing / Citygraphy on urban photography in the 19th century. Exhibitions include 'Changes on a Focal Point' / the Jan Van Eyck Academie / Realfakewatches, the wristwatch as pure adornment (via thinglink, track objects online) / Margate Architecture. A place that was desperately short of lovability when we visited over the summer, and that's before the buildings at risk have been bulldozed.

Flickr's Le Corbusier pool / a good Jonathan Meades post at me-fi, including this YouTube Meades Shrine. The official site. We think we know who posted this / fact of the day: in Switzerland, if you sell a jigsaw second hand or donate one to a thrift store, you have to complete a sworn affadavit stating that no pieces are missing. You can face prosecution if the puzzle is found to be incomplete.

Ben Hanbury, a weblog / interactive architecture, a weblog / Thinking Games, on game culture, art and development / they'll need a lot of grout for that / Endless Forms Most Beautiful, some nice ffffinds / Future House Now (now!) / Toni Child's weblog.

All images in this post lifted from the wonderful Le Corbusier Polychromie Architecturale: the Salubra Colours from 1931 and 1959, an 'exquisite three-volume boxed set [which] contains chromatically perfect samples of the wallpapers, colour illustrations, sketches, and slide bands, all produced by a high-quality printing process, and then assembled and bound by hand.'

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