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Monday, October 12, 2009


The hidden world of MOUT and FIBUA cityscapes (MOUT = military operations on urban terrain and FIBUA = fighting in built-up areas). Although the Nato Urban Operations Working Group site is rather scant, there's plenty of information at Secret Bases (which also has a hefty amount of information on Project Lennox, the new US Embassy in London), including this map of the Mock Township in Sennybridge, once the small village of Mynydd Epynt (last link at Abandoned Communities). From SB: 'A rather more politically correct term is OBUA Operations in Built-up Areas although army wags have been known to refer to it all as FISH & CHIPS Fighting in Someone's House and Causing Havoc in People's Streets!'

See also our gallery of Imber on Salisbury Plain, home to the above FIBUA village at Copehill Down (great big image at Barnard Micro Systems' website in reference to the 2008 MoD Grand Challenge, a UK version of the DARPA events. Copehill Down - which even has a 'slum/shanty town' section - was the venue for invited suppliers to 'produce an autonomous or semi autonomous system designed to detect, identify, monitor and report the position of a wide range of threats within a complex military urban environment, including within individual buildings'.

The work of photographer Spencer Murphy captures many of these places (see image below). Murphy's 'Architects of War' series illustrates the blank, empty facades and murderous cul-de-sacs of these masochistic villages. His work is featured in 'Cities Gone Wild', Geoff Manaugh's contribution to Architectures of the Near Future, the new issue of Architectural Design.

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Other things. The Decibel Tolls, an mp3 blog / Eye Magazine is now available on issuu (via magCulture). Well, bits of it / The Impostume, a weblog / The Can and String, a weblog / aerial photography by Alex MacLean / and it all comes full circle, as Jones returns to battlesuits and cityscapes, stressing the city's role in how we 'survive the future' aspect of the initial post, rather than any inadvertent military-industrial overtones. More later, we're sure.

The West Riding: Two-thousand and Nine, Owen Hatherley on the 'bleaker version of normality' of Wakefield, Halifax, etc. etc. 'Quite honestly, anyone who knows and/or comes from the industrial towns of the south - say, Southampton, Portsmouth, Colchester, Reading, Slough, Swindon, Luton - can't help being jealous of the sheer strangeness of their Northern equivalents, their hills, their scale, the closeness of open country, the amount of extraordinarily serious, world-class architecture, the lack of '80s-90s tat...' And yet, 'There's no sense here that city air is free air, but instead an almost all-pervasive air of latent violence that could explode at any moment'.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Analagous Spaces, a conference looking at the parallels between architectural space and theoretical space - the structuring of knowledge, if you like. Presentations included 'From Civic Space to Virtual Space: The Past and Future of Early Public Library Buildings in Britain' (pdf). There's also Koos Bosma's 'In Search of DataSpace' (warning, 13mb pdf), which posits that the relationship between the physical world and the world of data is no longer clear cut: 'The analogous space is denoted as a city of bits and bytes, an analogous urban, wireless space that communicates via satellites. Generally this space is visualised by means of metaphors. The best known is the Electronic Highway, with a junction to another metaphor, the Digital City, which is situated under a dark DataCloud. But metaphors are not very helpful, they are soon worn out.' Rather than the linear grid of the city, the interlinked relationship between data encourages a new, random DataSpace, a digital city of nodes and links.

Sonja Hnilica gave a presentation on memory and planning, describing how the remnants of cities past left imprinted on the urban landscape. In History or Fairytale? (pdf), she invokes the work of Camillo Sitte, the Austrian architect whose 'City Planning According to Artistic Principles', published first in 1889 eschewed the formalism of the block plan - by then finding favour in the New World - and also the relatively sterile grand designs of the City Beautiful Movement. Instead, Sitte favoured the dense and the layered, the adhoc appearance of 'urban rooms' in the medieval city as it swallowed up what went before, although he noted that inevitably there was an 'innate conflict between the picturesque and the practical'. In this sense, the 'metaphor of urban space [is] as a memory' of what went before, an idea that displeased the modernists no end, in particular Le Corbusier - an architect who, as others have noted, 'hated streets.'

See also Naoya Hatakeyama's Untitled/Osaka Diptych. The ultimate solution for Osaka Stadium was Namba Parks, designed by Jerde, reinventing the space left over by the stadium as a 'green oasis'. Below, Piazza del Anfiteatro, Lucca (left) versus Namba Parks, Osaka (right) - both links go to respective Google map pages.



Vaguely related to the shape of data, cities and lives lived: does a surfeit of personal data mean the end of privacy? Anecdotally, it seems the younger generation - those for whom the internet is as natural as breathing - are less concerned with their inevitable digital trail, seeing it as part of their lives, as impossible to erase as footprints and also the means by which people engage and commune / another set of mental images: "I think most men carry around a secret library full of films they've shot of every woman they ever met. Crude little sequences strung together that help us imagine what life might be like with a particular person - buying a car, going to Disneyland, standing around in Sears while she checks the price on bath towels. Despite popular belief, guys don't mentally undress every woman they meet; they simply thread them up and run them through the imaginary film projector in their heads to see what comes of it." (Neil LaBute, from "Look at Her" in Seconds of Pleasure).

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Other things. Pica + Pixel, a design blog / Eightfish, photography by Justin Guariglia / all about Distill magazine at via magCulture, a new publication which seems to be doing what a weblog does, except in print - collate, curate and re-present. Via the comments, Permanent Food magazine, an Italian equivalent: 'Every issue is an amusing, sometimes shocking and ironic selection of images, literally ripped out of other periodicals from around the world. The instant before an airplane crashes on a pic-nic field, a stolen frame of a skinhead rally, a girl throwing up with a finger stuck in her throat or a Raymond Pettibon drawing are just a small selection of the images you could probably stumble into while skimming one of the latest issues'.

Osteria L'Intrepido di Milano, a nice little place in Milan (via Fooled Again via tmn). The response / Buck Macabre, a weblog / another concept caravan, by Niels Caris (via Muuuz ) / Tiina Itkonen's photography series Ultima Thule at the Michael Hoppen Gallery / Songsterr, an 'online tab player' (via largehearted boy).

Jimmy Stamp has a comprehensive post about New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, Three Years Later. Vaguely related, Kosmograd on the largely bungled Eco-town saga, the struggle for bucolia ??? and the complex shadings of brown- versus green-field that tend to overshadow the debate about the need for more houses TKTKT / to accompany the new exhibition 'Modern Times: untold story of modernism in Australia', City of Sound presents a collaborative map of Modernism in Australia, 180 'buildings and structures, located pretty exactly, and many with links and images'. More to come apparently (check the CoS link for details of the collaborators).

a short history of anatomical maps / a brief history of female robots, both at design boom / Build Blog, design and architecture / photographs of Wiltshire / Matrixsynth, everything to do with synthesizers. See also the peerless Music Thing / a handy shopping list of military aircraft prices / drive big (and very big) diggers with Bagger Simulator 2008 (via rps) / Juxtaposed Tatlin, the endearing aesthetic legacy of the unbuilt.

The world's tallest finished building has just opened, albeit 142m shorter than the world's tallest incomplete building / Architectural Styles of Contemporary Universities / The Archdruid Report, 'Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society'. Turns out that in this context 'Druidry' really does refer to the 'traditional British Druid practice that explores the Sun Path of seasonal celebration, the Moon Path of meditation, and the Earth Path of living in harmony with nature as tools for crafting an earth-honoring life here and now'. Perhaps it's unsurprising that Druidry should pay a keen interest in the Coming of Deindustrial Society.

On the left above, a new apartment complex by Sou Fujimoto, currently nearing completion in Tokyo. On the right, Herzog + de Meuron's forthcoming VitraHaus at the Vitra campus in Germany.

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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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