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

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

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

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

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Thursday, July 17, 2008


A New Bus for London, the official call for entries that will apparently kick-start Boris Johnson's campaign to oust the allegedly hated Citaros. The thrust is 'Could you create a new iconic bus for London? (our emphasis), with an ideas competition pitched at schoolchildren ('It must be red!') as well as a serious call for entries. The problem will probably lie with that word 'iconic'. No-one sets out to create an icon of mass transit. If there's one thing that the rapidity of contemporary design and media practice has taught us it's that deliberate iconism is short termist thinking.

When Autocar commissioned a modern Routemaster from Capoco the compromises were plain to see; vaguely retro styling (check the Quicktime movie) that says very little about looking forward but everything about our fetish for the past. There are more bus websites than you can possibly imagine (e.g. the London Bus Page in Exile and its predecessor), implying there's a strong collective cultural memory about what a bus is and what it should be. That's all very well, but to imply that any continuation of this tradition must be instantly iconic is to ignore the way affection for inanimate objects ebbs and flows over time

Closely related: the Skylon must be stopped,NBS on the latest attempt at re-writing architectural and social history, reclaiming a lost statement of optimism as an utterly de-contextualised little piece of iconism, a placemaker for a memory. There's even a kitschy little piece of retro-futuristic nonsense from Squint/Opera to accompany a quasi-official Vote for Skylon campaign (from the comments, 'classic baby boomer angst-drivel'). The thrusting form endures in the recently opened Aspire, Ken Shuttleworth's steel lattice sculpture that 'reaches for the sky', naturally. Maybe related, should Piano build at Ronchamp? Choose carefully where you want to place your architectural aspic.



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The Totoro Forest Project, helping preserve a slice of Tokyo's urban forest, inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki's 'My Neighbor Totoro'. Are there any historical examples of cities planned around existing woodland, or is urban forestry purely about re-populating areas with trees after the event? Urban forests always remind us of the Asterix book, Mansion of the Gods / Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction and The Morality of Detail, Sam on those much-circulated images of 'bad' architecture, commenting not just on their 'wrongness', but on the way these ham-fisted details tell us more about a building's ongoing changes of use and aesthetics of necessity.

Frank Gehry gets prickly with Pearman: 'The shapes left on the smoking page could be dancing figures, snowcapped mountains, a line of trees, blossoming flowerbuds, leaping salmon, marching elephants - you know how it is with Frank Gehry buildings. You see in them whatever you want to see. I'm left with no real idea what Bono's stores - profits from which go to provide AIDS-tackling drugs to Africa - are going to look like, but I'm wondering what the squiggles might fetch on eBay, if auctioned for the cause.'

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Other things / Douglas Adams' typewriter (via). Related, typewriters of the literary elite / Flight illustration forums / Glancey on Zaha-bashing / art by David Ostrowski / a history of Mercedes-Benz buses / a papercraft Catbus / Frames Per Second, an animation blog / Infinite Thought, a weblog / art by Pascual Sisto / more fish than man, a weblog / North Sea Airport proposal. More islands / minutae, a weblog / Glimpses of John Chinaman, the lot of the migrant worker in 1870s California / Shao Kelake, a weblog / some suggested cultural and functional reasons for the perpetuation of outdated technology: why do so many lawyers use WordPerfect?.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008
New Movement in Cities, by the late Brian Richards, was intended as a book for 'cities that want to plan and design for new underground and elevated systems, minirails, buses, automated roads, people movers and pavements, escalators and heliports.' A key document of 60s-era aspirations, it included the work of Archigram, the Japanese Metabolists, Victoria futurists and American industrialists, all striving to make sense of role of traffic in towns.

Amongst other things, New Movement in Cities contains a history of the many attempts at shifting large volumes of pedestrians, either via moving pavements, travelators or ultra-light transit systems. Enthusiasm for such concepts was high throughout the 1960s, from the 'carveyor' proposed for the Atlanta Transit System, an 'elevated air conditioned tube' that snaked above the existing streets, to the so-called 'dual mode' systems that retro-fitted conventional cars so that it could latch onto a guidance rail when needed..

Another serious suggestion of the era was to engineer cars so that they could be set up to follow each other, thus cramming more vehicles onto each highway with a correspondingly higher average speed. Back in the 1960s this required some serious number crunching (pdf), as in this piece of GM-sponsored research into 'car-following theory' ('the study of stimulus-response type interactions in a single lane of traffic caused by various acceleration and deceleration patterns induced in vehicles').

Others thought it better to concentrate on autonomous Personal Rapid Transportation systems that were slotted into existing urban situations without complex equations for human interaction, using a combination of new bus systems and small 'Personalised capsules' for just two people. PRT had its origins in the 'never-stop' trains originally suggested for London Underground - one simply stepped on or off, a bit like a paternoster lift (althouth there was a successful never-stop railway at the 1924 Empire Exhibition in Wembley). The city of tomorrow was envisioned as being awash in moving pavements and stairs, a place of perpetual, trundling mechanical movement.

It didn't quite sit well with the autonomy of automobile, and as well as the 'dual-mode' system suggested above, the car companies kept up a steady stream of concepts that stressed individual freedom and the ability to consume - GM's 1965 runabout, with its integral shopping basket, for example. There was even the much-vaunted electronic highway, developed by the Russian TV pioneer Vladimir Zworykin (more history here). Zworykin also created a television-guided bomb, used at the end of WWII. The perils of automated highways still ring true. From 'Driving Without Drivers,' Time, 3 August 1953: 'The drivers will have nothing to do; they can sleep or play cards or stare at the flowing road. Then some irregularity—an electronic failure or a blown front tire—pokes a mischievous finger into the smooth system. The dreaming drivers awake only when their cars are already piling in great, mangled heaps.'

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Other things. Building the world's new eco-cities: enough theory, time for action, Pearman on sustainable urbanism / incredible set of images taken in the Roosevelt Warehouse, the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository. Via me-fi, via making light. More information courtesy of Sweet Juniper / new website for photographer Andreas Gehrke / huge repository of articles on World's Fairs and Expos.

SpaceCollective, 'living the lives of science fiction today' / a smattering of flickr pools: Atomic Ranch, Midcentury Neighbourhoods, 1960s interior design, mid-century illustrated, Retro Kid / more stepping back into the past, the Intercut wood typeface project / Print Club London, reviving the art of screen printing. A Weblog / 120 years of electronic music at obsolete.com / online guitar tuner / architecture photos by aqui-ali / the NASA Thesaurus, every acronym under the sun.

Virtual London in Crysis; video game engines take another leap forward in sophistication, allowing them to take huge chunks of complex real-world data and render them in real time. Via Rock Paper Shotgun / we remember reading Patrick Lynch in a recent issue of the AJ (not the linked article) sounding off about the quality of architectural education in the UK. One of the schools he rated was Bath. Browse Tand's Photos on flickr to see samples of work. We especially like the Monochord. A bit more about Monochords: I, II, III.

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Friday, October 05, 2007


Finally, victory for Crossrail, given the go-ahead, with the first trains set to leave in about a decade (give or take a year or two). The campaign for Crossrail dates back to the late 80s but cost has always been an issue - an issue that never went away. Back in 1993, figures of £2bn scared the (then Tory) government off. By May 2001, the TfL was costing the scheme at £3.8bn. Today's announcement gave a figure of £16bn. Crossrail has its opponents, not least those for whom the disruption, especially in Central London, will be costly and devastating. Whether or not the Astoria, a striking but rather grimy music venue will survive or be demolished. That was 2004; in 2005 Westminster Council produced a draft planning brief for the Astoria site (large pdf), stating fairly unequivocally that the theatre, on the site of a former Crosse and Blackwell jam factory (and not a converted pickle factory - although it sounds better - is doomed. Ironically, the 20s building began life as a cinema, and was converted to a theatre in 1976, just as theatres all round the UK were going the other direction. More on the Astoria at the excellent Arthur Lloyd Music Hall and Theatre site.

The new Crossrail station extends deep beneath this part of Oxford Street, with platforms running below the heart of Soho - the square's layout just visible in the centre of this image. There are those who believe a bigger, more ambitious project should have been considered - Superlink, or even the long-mooted Chelsea-Hackney Line, also known as Crossrail 2 (map (pdf) - you can also see the outline of the Crossrail 2 station on the Tottenham Court Road station plans). Nonetheless, Crossrail is much needed. If nothing else, the 2025 Transport Network map (pdf) is an exciting prospect, especially for South London, although some of those station links are a bit disingenuous (it's also not nearly as satisfying as the tube for South London map, a fantasy hosted by Colourcountry). What it will do is create a new psychological world of genuine subterranean travel, a sense of being deep below the city that the tubes don't really convey, now that we're all so used to them.



Also far too long in the offing (check the name, for example, is Thameslink 2000, a north-south consolidation and expansion of existing track. Thameslink 2000 is very much a giveth and taketh away kind of scheme, weaving - bludgeoning - its way across existing arches, bridges and tunnels. Sadly, T2000 will have a major impact on Borough Market. The Save the Borough Market Area Campain illustrates how great swathes of the freshly-rejuvenated market will be swallowed up by the rather dreary piece of railway engineering that is designed to increase capacity out of London Bridge station. This is a messy part of London, where infrastructure and history collide unhappily. Throw in the proposed construction of the Shard at London Bridge (the capital's first 'vertical city'?), and the area will be echoing with jackhammers and bulldozers for the best part of a decade.

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Teachers 'fear evolution lessons' / Paris pictures from Hyperkit / Plus Six, interaction design and more / finally side-barred: Rossignol and diamond geezer (their Crossrail post, which notes that 'the Central, Bakerloo, Northern and Piccadilly lines were all constructed within a single decade, using private finance') / Content Aware Image Resizing: the 'graceful re-sizing' of images is not only alarming in a 'Commissar Vanishes' type of way, but is further indication of the modern world's utter disregard for proportion - something TV and cinema aspect ratios have also degraded. More about this another time.

Two links to digital urban: To Teleport or Not to Teleport: Travelling in Virtual Worlds, or how the teleport became ubiquitous, despite its ability to 'break the metaphor'. Also, SimCity Societies - What Kinds of Cities Would You Build? / the Downfall meme, in which a certain dictator's rage at the failure of Armeeabteilung Steiner is translated into frustration with 21st technology. Sounds glib, usually quite amusing: iSketch, Flight Simulator X, Xbox Live, car theft. And it goes on (via kottke).

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