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Wednesday, January 06, 2010


A short history of the amateur amusement park. Backyard roller coasters have become a staple of internet round-ups, as private ingenuity has created increasingly elaborate tracks - see Jeremy Reid's Oklahoma Land Run or John Iver's Blue Two, for example. Yet the genre is relatively old; this homemade coaster seems to date from the early C20, while in the late 60s, occasional gems like this private cable car (one of 'The Most Exciting Outdoor Toys You've Ever Seen') were built to delight. Traditionally, the domestic thrill ride was limited to train tracks: Busplunge has a nostalgic post on back yard train ride, which clued us into the existence of the Miniature Train and Railroad Company of Rensselaer, Indiana. More at the MTC Trains Owner's Web Site.

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The small scale print revival continues apace. PWR PAPER is a freesheet including collaborations with numerous artists and writers (Max Ronnersjo, Inka Lindergard and Niclas Holmstrom, Matthew Feyld, Thobias Faldt, Natalie Rognsoy, etc. While zero profit, info-dense, creativity-driven publications like PWR PAPER are thriving, the commercial flipside is presented by Newspaper Death Watch.

Monster Practice, on architecture and creativity in general / Slack-a-gogo, a music blog / homage? things and things. Cleverly venturing into the world of the retail portal / Poetix, a weblog / Veronique, a tumblr / n+1 magazine / glass pope, a tumblr / all about the Victorian Turkish Bath.

Secret Projects, unbuilt projects and aviation technology / thetimbrown has created a graphic entitled Namco's Visual Arcade History, 1978-2009. A shame it's not larger / online Rollercoaster Creator / roller coaster image above from a selection of coaster patent drawings at the wheeled vehicles section of the Jitterbuzz page / My mouth still looks asleep, a weblog about 'mental ill-health and its possibilities' / moominsean, a weblog all about old cameras.

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in search of the Swiss Cheese building: 'Oh my God! In Chicago, we get bent out of joint because two supertall towers - the Chicago Spire and the Waterview Tower - are unfinished because of the real estate crash. But this section of Dubai, which is called Business Bay, is the crash on a whole different order of magnitude. I counted at least 20 unfinished towers, and they came in every different shape and size--some with V-shaped, folded facades, others with belly-like fronts, still others that splayed outward on both sides. This is an entire district of unfnished buildings--a ghost city, with just a smattering of construction workers on the job.'

Perhaps modern ruins will become an integral part of the contemporary cityscape, just as parts of rural Spain and Greece are dotted with half-finished quasi-agricultural structures, filling time as storehouses and sheds until their concrete frames can be finished (see the work of Sam Appleby, for example). To think of ruins in advance is to have a suspiciously vainglorious eye on posterity. For example, the epic historical essay Losing the War (via Me-fi) has a section on Hitler and Albert Speer's concept of 'ruin value': 'Maybe it was possible to factor a certain decay mode into their designs, to ensure that some picturesque element of each structure would survive. Arches or pediments or rows of pillars could be reinforced far beyond the requirements of the load they would carry, so that they would still be standing after the rest of the structure was dust - ensuring that even the wreckage of the Reich would inspire awe.'

Awe is not the dominant emotion associated with ruins. Nostalgia, perhaps. Right now, the embedded potential of a half-finished, abandoned or decaying building isn't the first thing that comes to mind. This might be changing. A few years ago Domus magazine ran an ideas competition around Pyongyang's Ryugyong Hotel, now finally nearing completion, transformed from a concrete shell of limitless potential into a gaudy po-mo spike. And according to this Bloomberg report, it was the first fevered splurges of jagged creativity at Ground Zero that inspired the even larger splurge of jagged creativity that is Las Vegas's CityCenter ('The Capital of the New World'), larger, swifter and with far more avant-garde angles than the smoothed off GZ will ever have.

Perhaps the emergence of the modern ruin - whole cities of ruins - will come to represent a shift in cultural production, a more contemplative, romanticised notion of progress whereby things take time and the relentless boom is forever banished. Already, abandoned technology and stifled progress holds a place in popular culture, be it Noah Sheldon's atmospheric images of Biosphere 2 (via me-fi) or Adam Bartos's 'Kosmos: A Portrait of the Russian Space Age' or the post-Chernobyl landscape of Pripyat. All are powerfully emotive spaces.

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Friday, November 13, 2009


Tim Abrahams on Tempelhof in Blueprint. The airport is now mothballed: 'The Mayor seems determined to build on Berlin’s reputation as a playground. It is ironic that he is closing airports given how vital he clearly thinks weekend trips are to Berlin’s future. It is hard not to visit Tempelhof and think what a great airport it would make.' Alternatively, how about The Berg, a frankly silly use for the large amount of empty urban space (via archinect). Shades of MVRDV's Serpentine Mountain, ultimately dismissed as unbuildable. More Berg at ArchDaily. Terraforming technology needs to speed up.

Equally unbelievable, perhaps, the world's second tallest building (and largest building by floorspace), the Abraj Al Bait Tower complex is nearing completion in Saudi Arabia. As it's not a classic spike-like tower (unlike Burj Dubai), the overall effect of height is minimised. Whereas Burj Dubai has topped out at an impressive 818m, the Al Bait Towers are projected to top 595m, making the gap between 1st and 2nd an impressive 223 metres, a shade taller than the Hoover Dam. It's a sprawling complex, built atop the site of the Ajyad Fortress, an 18th century Ottoman Fort (cue understandable outcry from Turkey) . From wikipedia: 'To accommodate worshipers who visit the Kaaba, the Abraj Al-Bait Towers will have a large prayer room capable of holding nearly ten thousand people. The tallest tower in the complex will also contain a seven-star hotel to help provide lodging for the over five million pilgrims who travel to Mecca annually to participate in hajj.

In addition, the Abraj Al-Bait Towers will have a four-story shopping mall and a parking garage capable of holding over a thousand vehicles. Residential towers will house permanent residents while two heliports and a conference center are to accommodate business travelers. In total, up to 100,000 people would be housed inside the towers. The project will use clock faces for each side of the Hotel tower. The clocks will be 80 meters high 80 meters wide. They will be located 530 meters high, which would make it the world's highest and largest clock.'

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Other things. Dugpa, a 'David Lynch electrical resource' / mythologie des lucioles, a photography blog / Hippolyte Bayard, a weblog / Arctic Visions, a journal on photography / The Witch Fire, a weblog / a fine John Portman Retrospective / illustration by Tymek Jezierski / art and sculptural installations by Miquel Navarro / Thomas Hirschhorn builds things and environments out of cardboard.

Enter The Cloud, a scalable monument to technology. This one has Dan Hill all over it, and so it proved. The idea of a floating, hovering thing that looms over the city, providing an injection of technology, information and visible futurism runs all the way from El Lissitzky's Cloud-Irons through to the quasi-inhabited airships of Blade Runner to recent works by Alsop and even contemporary speculative proposals (e.g. The Cloud by Atelier Hapsitus).

Notes on Brian Dillon's Unearthing the Ruin talk at the Barbican. Sad to miss this, particularly the hints at the 'Psychological links between ruin lust and nostalgia' / on the Edge, mass game re-naming / 3D art and games on the Ogre Forums / turning the Farnsworth House into a fetish object / the USA takes Halloween very seriously indeed / house-swaps and short-term rentals at Roomorama, pitched at the transient, youthful, responsibility free demographic (we say huffily), but interesting nonetheless / Voyeur Project / the London Screen Archive.

Mimoa is now on Layar / @issue, a journal of business and design / the Center for the Recycling and Reuse of Buildings / Plan 59, linked here for the nth time in order to help us find its blend of retro art, advertising and illustration / Bell Labs in the 1960s (via Plep). Every workplace should be documented like this. Related, the story of Jan Hendrik Schön, a researcher at Bell Laboratories with an apparent Midas touch.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008
The Caravan Gallery's new book, 'Welcome to Britain: a celebration of real life (amazon) is a fusion of Martin Parr and Derelict London, a charming sneer (if such a combination is possible) that manages to show its bedraggled subject matter with a genuine affection, while still retaining a large slice of ironic detachment. Obviously not all of Britain looks like this, but there's a certain joy in the desolation. Gems like the abandoned husk of Liverpool's International Garden Festival are modern ruins that should present a salutary warning to developers and proponents of festivals and exhibitions as a means of urban regeneration. In its derelict state, the Liverpool gardens are far from Heligan-style Neo-classical romanticism - it's probably the shopping trolleys - and closer to the post-apocalyptic Romantic aesthetic that has gained great popular currency in recent years. Now being restored and redeveloped - as Festival Gardens - the site is one of the subjects of the film and website The Model City (via Art in Liverpool). The site seems to have evolved into an overview of all model cities, past and present, and the optimism and utopianism they present at their peak, and the way abandoned and broken small scale constructions mirror and presage genuine decay.

This new ruin romanticism is especially evident in the Flooded London imagery, rendered up by Squint/Opera (the firm behind the visualisations for the 2012 Olympic Stadium, via Archinect - what could be the emotional motivation behind their fascination with rendered ruins?). The imagined ruin has always existed - they have been a staple artistic subject for centuries. Only the focus used to be on abandoned civilizations, the perceived hubris of the ancients. In contrast, the virtual ruination of the modern era is self-imposed schadenfreude, with all the damage and joy turned inwards. It is a feeling made universal by the internet, where planning catastrophes and architectural missteps are all lovingly chronicled and catalogued. When Al Qaeda 'borrowed' a CGI image of a smoking, post-apocalyptic Washington DC, commentators seized on the idea that the image was meant to indicate an imminent atrocity, designed to cause panic. Yet the realisation that this very image was created for entertainment purposes not only negates the terrorist's motivations (if that's the right word) but also the media interpretation of their strategy. The contemporary fantasy of the world without humans is not so much about a return to a religious and cultural year zero, but a collective dream of detachment, a desire to see accelerated decay. Just because we can.

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A wikimapia overview of Tractorul, a 123-hectare tractor factory in Transylvania. Once of the economic engines of the Soviet Bloc - over a million tractors were built there - the vast factory is now empty and awaiting redevelopment. The factory makes up an eighth of the city of Brasov and forms its own suburb. Now being masterplanned by YRM, it is being touted as a centrally located business and leisure district, the ultimate evaporation of industrialised, socialised agricultural production / yet more pdf magazines. Little doses of intense design and imagery without the guilt of dead trees / the cutting edge in Virtual Worlds, including the relentless focus on spaces for kids / artworks by Sancho Silva.

Oldspeed Mouse Motor, a weblog about an engine rebuild, part of the vast online subculture / a 3D Casa Malaparte / Swiss Car Sightings, 5GB of images of four wheeled transportation on the relatively rarefied roads of Switzerland / Pattern Foundry is another small sign of a sea-change in design culture over the past decade, the gradual reclamation of pattern and decoration as a valid response to culture and context / a pretty peerless piece of industrial design, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing / An Accepted Gambit, a weblog / the Hardcore Street Photography Pool.

Scale and size in MMORPGs / paintings for sale / the work of Ladislav Sutnar / Brake Burns as Mechanized Folk Art / a piece of astute but unusually rare commentary: the rotating tower block in Dubai is dreadful / the ghostly gaze / garden bunker, the kind of backyard archaelogy we can only dream of (via). See also Unseen Jersey / bring IKEA to your Sims / the art of Bodys Isek Kingelez / foil face-scanning cigarette machines in Japan by holding up a magazine portrait of a middle-aged man / BLDG BLOG links Absence of Water, a photo essay at the Polar Inertia journal on the absurd number of abandoned swimming pools in the UK, an ongoing scandal.

This week's Bad Science is especially good, managing to skewer phone mast gremlins, Aids deniers, teen suicide clusters, bioscience pills, magnetising coasters and the Daily Mirror, all in one column / London life in the 1970s / the The London Shopfront Archive / stunning photographs by Simon Norfolk / Hard Rock Park, a brand moves into theme parks complete with Led Zeppelin branded rollercoaster (seen here being tested) that is apparently synchronised to 'Whole Lotta Love'.

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