Tuesday, 29 September 2009

fistful of links

Facebook: the massively multiplayer online role-playing game via Canabula, via Swiss-miss, via Some Grey Bloke.

Some weeks are better than others: some news.

Gordon Brown has vowed to fight the election on the side of the "squeezed middle classes" – are we heading for a Millennium People-like situation? If we are to believe what we hear about the rising price of ink, and link it with historical context (the 1905 Russian Revolution was in part sparked by outraged printers) could we be heading for bourgeois revolts? Admittedly, the printers failed. Related, the 'city is a battlesuit for surviving in' (via Future Metro). Less related, a Mad Max fan from Yorkshire moves to Outback to imitate his hero, family follows behind. Not really related, but still interesting, the art of Chris Foss at Sci-fi-o-rama. More related, a page on Alsop from McGill and a cool project called Sea City.

I spent years looking at outside of a 64 controller, find more game console x-rays here.

I just found out where the Gates of Hell are (Uzbekistan, someone tell Borat) via English Russia. Related, a Moscow seaman sings "let it be". Vaguely related, 7 bunker homes. Those folks at Berkeley have worked out how to create 3d models from photographs - really quickly too. Related, a man takes a very long time to build his house out of Lego. Can you tell the difference between Helvetica and Arial? The day after you die, a weblog. How many horror films use the "I've got no signal" trick to isolate their vicitms? Over 60, apparently.

Who are the most over- and under-rated architects? Archininja asked, the People spoke: Zumthor and Ito are under-dogs, Zaha is just the regular kind. Not related, teens are "coming out" practically as children these days, according to the NY Times. Related, child nude of Brooke Shields causes a stir. The future is coming, but a Kraft Vegemite lunchbox treat called "iSnack 2.0" will not be part of it. Mexican air rights. Not related, Adam Rice et al do a round up of racially-based sites: Black People Love Us (a middle class white couple that are loved by all their african-american neighbours); Stuff White People Like (Moleskines, funny or ironic tattoos); Stuff Asian People Like (Hello Kitty, role playing games) and Racialicious.

Finally, (a short one this week, hopefully it doesn't show) automotive creativity in advertising, the Pirate Party comes to Oz, and NZ's Simpsons donut gets "buggered".

So, until we meet again at the same place, at the same time, next week:

Monday, 28 September 2009

the seer of sheperton

Original cover for the serialised novella, now known as The Drowned World. 1962.

BALLARDIAN: (adj) 1. of James Graham Ballard (J.G. Ballard; born 1930), the British novelist, or his works. (2) resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels & stories, esp. dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes & the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.

Ballard was one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, and yet he remains decidedly at the peripheries of mainstream media. I don't mean he is a cult figure, not at all – the man was so well recognised in his own lifetime that he had an adjective made of his name. He spawned his own genre of fiction. He influenced such diverse figures as Jean Baudrillard (whose commentary on Crash in Simulacra and Simulation was how I first heard of Ballard's name), Joy Division, the Klaxons, and Steven Spielberg. There are several websites dedicated to him and his works, the most famous is perhaps the Ballardian. Will Self, who was his friend for many years, recently recorded a production for Radio 4 (online here) in which he pays tribute to the 'seer of Sheperton'. Also worth a look are these images, inspired by his novel Drowned World.

Ballard died of prostate cancer several months ago.

The purpose of this post is not an attempt at summarising, or introducing, the work of Ballard. Its purpose is simply to identify one more reason that this blog is called Millennium People. Ballard's prose is rich, and over-saturated, at times heavy, even indigestible. His plots vary in subject, but rarely in theme – there is a coherent trajectory to his writing as he follows several ideas to their logical (or at times, their frighteningly realistic illogical) conclusions. His earlier works generally involve the transformation of people and societies as the world is subjected to some cataclysmic environmental change. These could be considered, perhaps, a type of science fiction set in the present day.

In The Drowned World "21st century fluctuations in solar radiation have cause the ice-caps to melt and the seas to rise. Global temperatures have climbed, and civilisation has retreated to the Arctic and Antarctic circles. London is a city now inundated by a primeval swamp, to which an expedition travels to record the flora and fauna of this new Triassic Age. " Wiki notes: "In contrast to much post-apocalyptic fiction, the novel features a central character who, rather than being disturbed by the end of the old world, is enraptured by the chaotic reality that has come to replace it."

This is a similarly prominent aspect of The Drought (as it sounds) and Hello America (due to the diversion in global air and water patterns caused by the damming of the Bering Strait the States are turned into a desert, and 100 years into the future a group of European explorers find themselves suddenly swept up by the remnants of American society, who have centred their new and violent civilization on Las Vegas).

'Enraptured by chaotic reality' is a good way to describe his middle and later works – High Rise, for example, is the story of a Corbusian-like ultra-modern tower block occupied by bored housewives and wealthy professionals that descends into a tribal warfare. Or Concrete Island, where an architect rolls his car off an overpass and finds himself trapped, marooned, between on-ramps, unable to be seen or to escape. Perhaps most famously Crash, "a story about car-crash sexual fetishism, its protagonists become sexually aroused by staging and participating in real car-crashes, often with real consequences..."

And so we come finally to Millennium People, written in 2003, and his second-last novel. Put simply, it is the tale of a middle-class revolt in a quiet suburban enclave of London called Chelsea Marina (Chelsea Harbour in reality). The protagonist is a psychiatrist searching for meaning in the death of his ex-wife, who was killed by a terrorist bomb at Heathrow Airport. By degrees he becomes involved with a bourgeois terrorist cell, who target the National Film Archives, libraries and cat shows. They are convinced that the financial obligations of the middle class (associated with consuming and possessing – homes, cars, designer clothes, etc) and the mind-numbing effects of "traditional values" on maintaining elitist social hierarchies amount to a type of present-day servitude. They equate themselves with the powerless proletariat of the Russian Revolution, and their goal is simple:
"'The travel agency you tried to attack, I assume there's a larger target... Chelsea Marina?'
'Far larger.' Relaxed again, Dexter raised his hands. 'One of the biggest of all. The 20th Century.'
'I thought it was over.'
'It lingers on. It shapes everything we do... the way we think. There's scarcely a good thing you can say for it. Genocidal wars, half the world destitute, the other half sleepwalking through its own brain-death. We bought its trashy dreams and now we can't wake up."

Friday, 25 September 2009

back to basics

The retrospective epochal terminator, an MP orginal (more or less).

Millennium People. It is as it sounds: a blog for the People of the New Millennium.

But I thought I would just recap, for those latecomers at the back, and reiterate what MP is really all about: the uncertainty of the current architectural (and epochal) situation. Zaha's on the out, Dubai is quickly becoming a sandblasted stillborn, and I can faintly hear Ballard's Chelsea housewives murmuring into their martinis "someone really ought to do something".

Its a bad situation. Architects and theorists everywhere, lets take a moment to prop ourselves up on our unemployed elbows and take stock of the situation: the sub-prime crisis has come, and the boom has gone. Like so many Rip Van Winkels we naively now awake to the fact that China, the Gulf, and the endless stream of dubious commercial constructions we merrily knocked up, were morally moribund white elephants (or ivory towers).

Worse, the favourite pastime of so many students and young professionals – I am referring to digital formalism – has been murdered in its bed. No longer is there any hope that it will one day dominate the world of architectural construction, it has been relegated to nothing more than a stylistic dead end, like those typical of the beginning of last century (art nouveau, etc). On the upside, at least now when I speak out against meaningless form-finding I don't sound like a Luddite.

How are we rallying ourselves? MP is seeing two general trends in architectural thought emerge: the retrospective and the reactionary (I am simplifying by presenting the extremes, but I think the spectrum generally holds true).

The former have decided to seamlessly splice 1968 (and the years directly after it) to the present day. Through the re-examining of groups like archigram and the infamous lessons from Las Vegas they aim to by-pass all of that post-modernist, post-post-modernist, bullshit and reconnect with their roots. Soggy with nostalgia, they lovingly recount tales of simpler times – utopias were only a few years away and for a young architect anything seemed possible. Glorified is the architect-citizen, who told the Man where he could stick it (there is of course no mention of the architect's subsequent punishment, doomed to a half century of quibbling over occupational health and safety).

Then there is the reactionary camp, who seem to be led by the unlikely figure of Kengo Kuma (though there are certainly many others). This camp is following Toyo Ito's Digital Tarzan theories (of the city as the interface between the digital and physical realms) to their logical conclusion: by treating architecture as both a membrane for the individual/virtual and individual/real. In other words, a thinking founded in Heidegger's forest clearing (see The End of Philosophy and The Task of Thinking) and Levinas' Other.

I find this the more attractive of the two, and the discussion revolves mostly around the 'architectural object' (see Rosin-Melser's and my own exchange) and the notion of 'specular/speculative architecture'. The only problem with this movement is that it is a reaction to the current conditions. As such, it limits itself to merely describing the present. Where are the architectural revolutionaries? Where are the forward thinkers and dreamers for tomorrow?

In closing, I make mention to MP's wordy manifesto (as soon as the blog gets a regular editor it will probably be rephrased).

Thursday, 24 September 2009

inch by inch i grow

David Shrigley's witticism is not strictly applicable; you may have tasks of your own that I am unaware of. Something else the he once pointed out was that, inch by inch, he was growing. Millennium People is in the same boat. MP still lacks a proper logo – all sugestions welcome. Normal posts to resume soon.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

fistful of links

Map of the deforestation of Bolivia, via Earth As Art (a NASA initiative).

My life's love, architecture, absorbed my week – seven days of preparing for the AA. Not posting frustrated me, and worse, I fear that in the future this love, love will tear us apart. Again.

By contrast, the links will bond us back together: some news.

"Maybe now I'll get the respect I so richly deserve", says Wayne White. He also recently told Esquire to "Run down the road to your mamma's house and tell her I'm back." In a swine-flu fuelled rage Cairo slaughtered all its pigs and is now paying the porcine price. Not related: Norman Foster is forced to work on space-architecture in a bid to find a low-gravity solution to the immense weight of his own ego. Related, How Many People Are In Space Right Now? Not related: the CNN/FOX debate heightens with a poorly acted piece of drivel: shame on both of you. Further distanced still: after all this time Carl Jung's Red Book is going to be published.

Iran was having some UFO problems earlier in the week, but they now confirm that fortunately they managed to shoot them down. The Telegraph asks whether it might not have been ET tourism? Talking of alien technology: Tomy's talking dog collars (via Designboom) allow you to have a conversation with your dog – puts me in mind of the new one from Pixar. Also techy (but in a geeky way) Microsoft have launched a tupperware party spin-off to introduce people to Windows 7. Why can't they just go back to copying mac like they used to?

A video thats doing the rounds: TED & Bjarke (another BIG ego, also apparently with a big.dk) Related: Nouvel gets his icon chopped off (hopefully soon I will stop including a Jean link in every bunch). Not related: apparently religious piety = teen pregnancies. Although I have suspected this for some time, ever since I found out that medieval pilgrimages were mostly excuses for crazy orgies – in Middle English the expression "Going to Jerasulem" meant getting pregnant while unmarried. In design news, Hermes have designed a yacht, but its really a floating building. Unrelated: National Geographic do a special on the Geoducks who look a lot like something out of Dune – the formers' wiki entry here.

Other blogs getting a nod this week: What We Do Is Secret (they went off for a bit, but they're now back on form with top archi-porn); Landezine, a landscape architecture weblog; old powerstations (part 1; part 2) over at beloved Dark Roasted Blend; some amazing Feral Houses (via Architecture My Ninja Please); Sweet Juniper! Worst themepark in the world!

The net is almost as awash with images as Sydney is with dust – the city is shrouded by a red cloud of desert particles. Drought and wind is thought to blame. Makes sense. Many are comparing the atmosphere to Mars, but I heard it wasn't always that way. The amazing way news travels to London: facebook updates only narrowly beat Dan Hill's tweet (City of Sound), both well in advance of the mainstream media (NY Times, BBC, New Scientist). The SMH had some pretty great pics, and there are some roundups on flickr. By chance, I spotted Godzilla making an appearance, over at the Japanese Scientists. Related, if somewhat less spectacular, one of my favourite artists Olafur Eliasson installs some Yellow Fog.


Via Vintage Ads.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

anti-object #3

Guest post by Max Rosin-Melser.

In the second post on the book ‘Anti-Object’ [#1 here] Jack asked the question – what is an architectural object? For this third and final ‘Anti-Object’ post I would like to build on Jack’s question and ask, what is actually wrong with the architectural object? Kuma makes the claim that moving away from a focus on the ‘object’ in architecture is not only useful, but a manifestation of new, important trends in contemporary society linking in with new media and technologies. I would like to question this idea – Why is this move away from an object-oriented architecture essential? Where does this need originate from? And is our current state of object-oriented architectural production really failing us as a people (as Kuma quite broadly claims)?

I can’t help wondering if what Kuma is proposing is more of a theoretical idea out of step with what people actually want and with what has proven to be popular with buildings of the past. Now, this is not to say that architectural theories cannot challenge the current wants of society (no one is saying people should go live in suburbs of McMansions), but, the way Kuma stresses this need to move away from the object you would think it was actually doing us and society harm. Within each section of the book there is mention of Kuma proposing some change merely based on a desire for his building to ‘not resemble an object’. This begs the question – do we really need to be saved from the architectural object? What of good architectural objects? Yes there is a lot of crap out there, a lot of bad architecture, but there are also a lot of successful object oriented buildings in the world - See Herzog and De Meuron and the almost universally loved bird’s nest for the most conspicuous object oriented architecture of contemporary times. This building, through its very object-like properties (the ‘birds nest’) has been used by the Chinese government to distill and outwardly represent notions of growth and prosperity for its country. Could a Kuma building elicit the same emotive response in its users and the society as a whole?

The architect Peter Zumthor is similar to Kuma in his focus on the subject and the experiential properties of his buildings, but rather than engineering some sort of anti-object stance, prefers to look at atmospheres . He does not try to make the claim that the object is inherently ‘bad’, but rather looks at how this type and form can be worked to evoke certain atmospheres and emotions in its users. Yes, when Zumthor puts you in a black room with only a small punched out window (as below) towards the outside he is distancing us from our environment through the use of the ‘window frame’ – But cant that be worth it sometimes? We Australians who grew up with Glenn Murcutt’s maxim drilled into our heads of ‘prospect and refuge ’ might wonder – where do you find refuge in a glass ‘optical lens’ surrounded by water? Where is there room for these very human feelings and requirements of retreat and withdrawal within Kuma’s architectural theory?

Fundamentally, Kuma sees the architectural object as separate and detached from man and society, however, this over-simplifies the role that these object-oriented buildings play in our psyche. In contrast to Kuma’s stance, Charles Jencks embraces the notion of an object-oriented architecture and highlights in his book The Iconic Building the ability of these buildings to operate as a latent signifier of divergent and ambiguous meanings. In other words, the Sydney Opera House can, to one person represent the sails of a boat, to another it could evoke an image of clouds floating and to yet another it could be interpreted as turtles... well you get the idea. And it is that inherent fluidity of meaning that brings life to the building and allows for a growing dialogue between the building and society. These objects are not detached and separate from us, but rather made and re-made in a continual conversation of use and media over successive generations. In the end I feel there is an irony present in Kuma’s work, in that he is not making anti-objects, he is just making a different type of object, and when his discussion moves on from there I think it will be rather fascinating.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

fistful of links

"Remember the old Simon and Garfunkel song 'slow down, you're moving to fast'? Well that says a lot about life, and about cat massage." Related, 'Glorious Scarves'.

An iron fistful of the weekist links: some news.

CNN asks if there's going to be a 9/11 sequel: I agree, there were just so many plot holes in the first one. Controversial: America the gift shop. Raunchy: Pixxxel (safe for work). Of course, CNN are not the only people who have been making up film titles (Seinfeld). Also film: Creation, a film about Darwin, is not released in the US – supposedly because only 30% of Americans believe in evolution and studios think it will flop. Comments are a laugh.

Pictures of Nouvel's bust... Air France stewardesses like lactating on the great man, but Aer Lingus prefer to simply tell the French they're about to die. Vaguely related, I met one of the guys working on this last year when he passed by Jean's in Paris. I'm not even sure how to respond, to be honest.

A paragraph about social change: watching this video influences public policy, easy as that. Laser graffiti is used to fake a gaol breakout (made funnier because its in Dutch). Homeless man tazered, catches fire– oily skin thought to blame. Man in home oiled, catches fire – portion of Nando's chicken to blame. In the same vein, so to speak: 'fat kid loves bacon.' Related, a man makes some averagely ok art with hamburger grease, but I quite like a plane of strawberries hit by a bird. Bust some space. Related, bust a move: why don't we dress like Grandmaster Flash anymore?

No links, shake a fist. Ramble: I cannot stand women that lecture me on child psychology (for a man with no children, it happens remarkably more frequently than you might think). I really don't care whether a child is incapable of understanding the concept of death before the age of 8 – I'm just going to flat out tell him: Jimmy. Your. Dog. Is. Dead.

Nick Sowers indulges my love for bunkers and all architecture military– to my intense delight (good luck finding the Arrested Development version). An ex-Jockey helps the cops out by running down criminals on horseback. Similar, the amazing Hawaii chair. There are over 50 things that are being killed by the internet, including:

A man recently went through a mid-life crisis, but through quiet negation his wife manages to delude him into accepting his own happiness. What? Effective: one crime solved per 1000 CCTV cameras. Londoners unite: Meta Loca London. Unrelated, Lovefoxxx sells out to Vice, and gets a blog.

Finally, NSFW: after doing a google search for "christian dildo america teenagers" (to settle an argument about statistics, you understand) it lead me to: Christian teens being encouraged to use "saddlebagging" ("unprotected anal sex") as a means to preserve their virginity. Related, I also discovered that Dildo is a bay in Newfoundland, (Canada) just beneath the Spread Eagle, between Chapel Arm and Norman's Cove (map).

Monday, 14 September 2009


"I mean demagoguery, I mean highly-charged oratory, persuasive whipping up, rhetoric. Listen to me, if Hitler had been British would we, under similar circumstances have been moved, charged up, fired up, by his inflammatory speeches, or would we simply have laughed? Er, is English too ironic a language to support Hitlerian styles, would his language simply have rung false in our ears?"
Stephen Fry
(not the one that sold out to

I'm laughing. But then I'm also thinking. Hmm. Ignoring for a moment the larger questions of whether a Hitler (rather than the Hitler) is a conceivably anglophonic creation, I want to follow up Fry and Laurie's discussion at a tangent.

Nietzsche. He suffered from an unknown and unusual disease: as his literary output increased, so his health degenerated. An introduction to Thus Spake Zarathustra (I forget which publisher, unfortunately) has Georges Batailles arguing that Neitzsche was afflicted with a maladie that caused him to be physically affected by thoughts. In other terms, words could bring him actual pain. Ideas could make him ill.

The argument follows that while he was developing his most radical thoughts he was in fact making himself very sick– for example his theories about the rise of Supermen (Übermensch); the Will to Power (cited as the inspiration for the title of Hitler's famous propaganda film 'Triumph of the Will') and the distinctions between a 'Slave Morality' and a 'Master Morality'. Fascism (or however close Nietzsche got to it) is therefore posed as a type of insanity. Hitler, the extreme fascist (in case you hadn't heard) would thus be the most extreme possible madman. Of course there are some obvious holes in the reasoning: Nietzsche was an outspoken anti-antisemite for one (he disowned his publisher, his mother, and his sister for their antisemitism).

All eyes back on Hitler. In this context, Adolf's madness (which was also his reason for success) was caused by thoughts, and not necesarily by language, so that would allow for a Hitler that was British. But in reality, I think Fry and Laurie are right: the sequential thought patterns and cultural undertones of English are too rigid and sceptical to sustain Hitlerian styles. I don't think we would have had the chance to laugh, he would have ended up as a mediocre part-time artist with a BA working as felt salesman in Dorset, content to spend his free-time painting sunsets.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

sunday. sun. day.

I was messing about with some HTML on this player. One click stops, two clicks re-starts...

Explanation: "A million miles from planet Earth, the STEREO B spacecraft found itself in the shadow of the Moon. Looking toward the Sun, extreme ultraviolet cameras on board STEREO B were able to record a stunning movie of a lunar transit (aka solar eclipse), as the Moon tracked across the solar disk.

Each frame of the movie is a false-color composite of images made through four different filters that highlight temperature regimes and structures in the upper solar atmosphere. In this frame, large bright active regions, seen as dark sunspots in visible light, flank the Moon's silhouetted disk. The Moon appears small, less than 1/4th the size seen from Earth, because the spacecraft-Moon separation is over four times the Earth-Moon distance."

Oh. Rad. Thanks NASA.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

transformed territories: messenes

"Gentlemen, we may not make history tomorrow, but we shall certainly change the geography."

And with that General Plumer ordered the 19 underground mines beneath the adjacent German trenches to be detonated – each explosive weighing between 18,000kg and 43,000kg. It was 3am June 7th, 1917, and the allies were attempting to capture the Messines Ridge (from which they were under constant German bombardment). The resulting explosions were so large they are said to have been heard as far away as Southern England. Soldiers were found in dugouts over half a mile away, dead, without a mark on them– killed by the shock waves. The craters from the blasts were up to a 100m in diameter and can still be seen today (though most have become unusually deep duck ponds). The resulting battle would be the greatest waste of lives ever seen in a single day of war – the allies alone lost 57,000 men before lunch time.

Mine crater at La Boiselle, shortly after the war. Note that the tunnel entrance seems to still be visible. Via.

It was a post over at Into the Loop, that first made me think of the craters at Messenes. Funny how an eternity of volcanic activity and a spat of violent humanity produce remarkable similar geographic results. The detonation of the mines represented the end of a year-long preparation by General Plumer, who had recruited ex-mine workers from the regular troops, and even searched out retired tunnel experts (some as old as 55) to engage in a subterranean combat zone: the construction of 8km of underground chambers leading under the German front. Firstworldwar.com notes "Occasionally the tunnellers would encounter German counterparts engaged in the same task: underground hand to hand fighting would ensue."

And yet this was all very covert, both sides attempting to out-manoeuvre each other without alerting the surface soldiers. I had heard, but never really understood, that the First World War was the first truly modern war not just because it was the first total war, but because it was also the first war to exist in three-dimensions of space. That is, not simply as a series of linear advances on a map, but as a complicated arena of underground, under-sea, surface, naval and aerial engagements that implicated all the advances of modernity: industry and technology, speed and transport.

Left: Lochnagar mine as it is today; Right: as it was in 1920.

I always assumed, when reading reports of how military architecture has altered landscape, that the agents of destruction were oblivious to the topographical and environmental impacts they made on the territories around them. But Plumer's quote shows otherwise, and that while his focus was undoubtedly on the immediate death of his fellow man, he was not incapable of conceiving of a future after the war – possibly even envisioning the chain of wooded depressions, ponds, open fields with unusual crop markings, and volcano-like craters that exist today.

Section via.

The revolutionary in me wants to revive this method as a means to achieving architectural and landscape results: its fairly clear that the legal and democratic processes are now only choking the development of these professions. Rival projects (or even empassioned citizens) should engage each other in subterranean terrorism (all unknown to the bankers and financiers on the city streets above) – each aiming to undermine the other's structures. Landscapers, denied desired inclines by ubiquitous wheelchair accessibility laws, should tunnel under their own sites and carefully detonate explosives to produce wild and beautiful territories.

Friday, 11 September 2009

september 11: pruitt-igoe

Possibly you've seen this ad by the World Wildlife Fund (who'd have guessed?) kicking around the net recently. Possibly you haven't, because you are not yet incapable of unplugging from the digital world and have been off having 'face time' somewhere with someone. Lucky you. In any case, the ad sent people tropo (here, here, and here – 'oh no you di-unt'). The WWF's message is simple: the Boxing Day Tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11. Fair point. Well made. But even 8 years later people are still not really sure whether we can say those sorts of things. Apparently it takes 12.

I am fascinated by the Twin Towers – I don’t mind admitting that.

September 11, by contrast, is not a subject I indulge in, and for that reason I have decided to not make this a post about the towers (opening image excluded).

Of course I have my own ideas about the meaning, the causes and the results of those terrorist attacks, but that’s not for here. Buy me a beer and we’ll talk it all over.

Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the Twins, is the real subject here. I'm going to start with his personal life: he is the only man I have ever heard of who married a woman, divorced her, married two more, and then re-married the first again. Weird. As far as his architectural skills go, he was clearly a man of great talent. However, his theories of urban planning were whack. To the question "why did you make two 110 storey buildings when you could have made one 220 tower?" he is quoted as reflecting a moment and responding (apparently sincerely) "I didn't want to lose the human scale".

The most extreme conspiracy theorists will tell you it was the government that destroyed the Twin Towers. If this is the case, then that makes 9/11 the second time the state has intervened to demolish Yamasaki's projects: the other famous one being the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex in St. Louis.

Infamous amongst public and architects alike, Pruitt and Igoe were segregated projects (named after Pruitt– a black WW2 pilot, and Igoe– a white congressman) built in '55. Essentially, all his theories about how people would use the blocks were wrong. Apartments were purposely built small in order to encourage tenants to use the large public corridors and rooms, found on every second floor. Needless to say, these spaces became occupied by muggers, and the buildings became renowned for their violence and vandalism. The architect's drawings of smiling children rolling down the halls on tricycles never materialised. Like a lot of Modernists, Yamasaki was extremely naive about how the people actually lived, he said "I never thought people could be that destructive." Jencks famoulsy gloated that the projects' destruction marked the end of Modernism. Their demolition, less than 20 years after their construction, was captured in the film Koyaanisqatsi (music by Philip Glass). If you can spare 8 minutes of your life, watch the video below, its truly amazing.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

keep an eye peeled

Image via (via).

Some retroactive posts on Marseille will be appearing below, so be sure to scroll down the page...

Here's a gratuitous coal mine explosion.

Update: here they all are - Calanques - Marseille[s] - Zaha's Towers - Bunker Archaeology

anti-object #2

Brett SteeleAA head honcho – writes in the introduction to Kuma’s text that he is against “self-centred architecture… deliberately distinct from its surroundings”.
He continues:
“‘My ultimate aim’, [Kuma] writes early on in his book, ‘is to “erase” architecture’. Such an ambition couldn’t be further removed from the majority of a younger generation of digital experiementalists today, pursuing a renewal of formalism not seen within architecture for decades.”
As founder of the AADRL, and therefore one of the driving forces behind the pursuit of neo-formalism, and the advance of digital experimentalism, this comment is not without a certain hypocrisy. The younger generation are largely that way because Steele made them so. I am not making a value judgement about the worth of digital experimentalism (which has obviously been a tremendously important force in the recent history of global architecture), I am simply noting my surprise that Steele would distance himself from a movement he helped create.

In the first part, Max mostly focussed on the division of subject and object as proposed by Kuma’s text: the possibility of relating the subject to the landscape through the power of the floor plane, and the ability to blur formal boundaries of architecture by the ‘particlisation’ of materials and elements.

Both of these main points relate to Kuma’s definition of an object as being something wilfully separate from the ground plane – a finite figure cut off from the earth (as opposed to the earth itself, which is continuous in all directions and thus infinite). However, this definition also excludes burying a building. The new millennium fad of concealing buildings in the landscape by submerging them, or employing other mechanical modes for hiding their structure, does not actually change the nature of the building's limits (a wall is not less definitive because it is underground).

Max discussed what it isn’t, but what is an architectural object?

“Kuma sees new digital and informational technologies as leading us to an aesthetics of disappearance, rather than image or form” Steele notes. Images and forms are the current architectural stock-in-trade, and Kuma makes the historical reason for this quite clear: communication. At a period in Modernism when only black and white images were being published in grainy magazines, the architects that succeeded in drawing attention (and subsequently more projects) were those who could capture the essential forms of their buildings and diffuse them through B+W photographs (Barcelona Pavilion, Villa Savoye, etc). The legacy of this period is the ubiquity of the ‘metalevel’ image: an imagined point of view that portrays the whole building. This manner of viewing architecture necessarily renders it an object for consideration.

Bruno Taut, according to Kuma, lost out to rival Modernists because he “failed to understand the twentieth-century paradox, that individuals as isolated subjects shunned groups in any form. They were sustained in their mediocrity through the possession of attractive products.” Modern architecture became an 'attractive product' by appealing first to the spirit of domestic rivalry – the Modernist home was an object that could be packaged, sold, and used as a means to escape the mediocrity that was the inevitable result of the era of machine reproduction.

I mention the escape from mediocrity because Kuma lets us know that the architectural object is not, whatever Corbusier might argue, for the people. It is the production of one-of-a-kind jewels, founded on capital. It is the Burj Dubai, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Phaeno Science Museum, the Gherkin, and a million other projects – today with no exclusion of function or program.

From the text, I can only conclude this: the architectural object is full of form, but empty of meaning; found in one location, but conceived independently of place; sexy without being in the least bit seductive.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

fistful of links

New Babylon: crazy utopian dreams.

Chain chain chain. Chain of fools: some news.

Banning porn may harm soldiers' morale, presumably because since 1917 soldiers have been discouraged from getting any from prostitutes ("for the sake of the girl back home chaps, don't take risks, the hospital is full of fellows that did"). Puts me in mind of this real-time WW1 blog. And while I'm on audacious public safety films, this has to be the worst ever made, via 30gms).

But I feel for the soldiers. Ask anyone, it's not easy being a young man (as the graph makes clear). Still on war, my cousin Ivan's stop motion lego videos (I particularly like the grenade effects). Related, Lego Escher. Not related, the photography of Terry Evans.

Friends recently compared my blog activity to this fathead, which I tried to laugh off. If only I could be as witty as the 60's answer to Oscar Wilde: Marshal McLuhan ("LSD may just be the lazy man's form of Finnigan's wake"). I diverted my negative thoughts by looking at a whole bunch of mining explosions and the top ten scenes from Twin Peaks.

Ah, Mother London! But what do they do? Unlikely to be related, current affairs from the Londonist. Although I tend to get more interested by the city's possible future than its present: 40 awesome futuristic cities; Sisto's tunnel of automotive love; underwater NY by Alex Lukas. Or equally, how it might have been: the Guggenheims that never were.

Word from home is that the Australian National University has found a way to de-salinate water using nanotubes. I love my Mac, and I love you Steve Jobs: Apple creates a micro-camera for the new Nano. But I don't love you Michael (you kiddie-fiddler): finalists for the memorial, over at Bustler.

Finally, all the world is in uproar about Ikea's font decisions (I first heard from Canabula, and last heard from Things) but at an emotional level, I am far more concerned by this, from Carrefour. Unlike Things I make no effort to put the web in context: the gingers are out in force, and blondes get their own keyboard (can they do that?).

Keith Loutit presents a moving maquette of Australia – this one reminds me of home... (similar)

Monday, 7 September 2009

retroactive: calanques

A retroactive post.

The landscape around Marseille is quite spectacular, as chalky as Greece but not as arid.
The city is bookended by dramatic mountain ranges, which thrust into the sea. Gorges and valleys cut into these soft limestone faces terminate in deep and narrow inlets called Calanques. According to Wiki, a Calanque is a kind of Mediterranean fjord. I have my doubts. In any case, they are staggeringly beautiful:

Sunday, 6 September 2009

retroactive: marseille[s]

Marseille: city of the 'bar'. Note the amazing building right at the back with a great hole in it.

A retroactive post.

Marseille houses the largest Playmobil city in Europe. That is the only thing you really need to know, which is why I put it first. The city's history is long and complicated: Caesar put it under his thumb, while Cesar gave it a big thumb's up; it's home to one of the oldest European places of Christian worship, a pimping cathedral, you know, all that kind of historical jazz. In modern times, the city was Corbu's Radiant City guinea pig (more on that later in the week) and his mass-housing project started a trend that continues to this day – almost every building in the city is a "bar" (a linear tower block ).

As the 'Premier Port of the Empire', the city received the millions of immigrants coming from North Africa and the Near East (resulting from France's colonial wars). The image I got from those I talked to (friends of friends and locals I met) is of a city struggling to integrate and accomodate its population. Poor public transport encourages excessive car usage, or possibly vice versa (the Marseillais' are obsessed with auto-tuning (super-charging their cars, custom body work/art, mag wheels, etc). While racial and socio-economic divisions are pronounced (Marseille is not a wealthy city), the people are friendly and community orientated. They are talkative, even by my own standards.

From the Old Port looking up to Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde.

The urban planning is what really flipped me out though: mass-residential blocks have been ruthlessly superposed over the old urban fabric, sometimes erasing it and sometimes sitting incongruently next to it. The prolongation of the city limits by suburbs of strip towers has resulted in a metropolis that is extremely spread out. It reminded me much more of the type of urban thinking I saw in Texan cities than those elsewhere in Europe.

Left: 'Modern Bakery'; Right: Luminy district school of architecture, just sat down in the middle of nowhere.

retroactive: the first tower

Responsible response to context.

Marseille is modernising rapidly. The idea is to develop the run-down part of the port into a type of starchitect theme park (join the queue). At the moment the only tower block under construction is by Millennium People's bete noir. I am always surprised, given her reputation, that her actual built work is always so corporate. All alone, that tower is an eyesore alright. I tried to be nice and capture a sunset shot from an apartment I found myself in, but it didn't change much. The next one to be built (assuming the recession lets up) is a building by Jean Nouvel (looking like this, or perhaps like this) Hopefully it wont look too bad when its all done (maybe like this).

The sunset of unbridled success over Zaha's ivory tower.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

retroactive: bunker archeology

Bunker complex on the island of Ratonneau, part of the Frioul archipeligo. Map.

A retroactive post.

There are an enormous amount of bunkers in and around Marseille, in varying states of decay and disrepair. Some have been re-purposed as houses, or restaurants, I even saw an ice-cream parlour where the wide-angle machine-gun slot was used as a countertop... others are abandoned, ruined or squatted.

Just off the coast is a chain of islands, the Frioul archipeligo, home to the Chateau d'If (of Monte Cristo fame).
On the western tip of Ratonneau, the most remote of the islands, is a large complex of bunker and trench systems, mostly abandoned. Those that still look to be in use (signs on their doors bearing the legend "No public access. Construction site.") are possibly used only for training. Confusingly, some of the structures seem to have been purposefully destroyed: shell holes blocking entries; re-bar split, bent and rusted; gun emplacements buried under rubble; while others seem to have been painstakingly repaired, maintained and even extended (and from the look of the concrete, quite recently too).

Friday, 4 September 2009

just a little bit fitter

In the Cretaceous Period, tens of millions of years after the laying down of the Devonian platform, but still at so remote a distance from the present day that the imagination boggles at it, the site of modern London lay below the surface of a clear, tranquil sea that stretched away northwards to the Pennines and westwards to the Welsh marches. In this sea, more than fifty million years ago, countless billions of minute creatures died every day for at least ten million years. Their hard shells sank into the chemically-deposited ooze at the bottom of the sea, and in the course of time the whole consolidated into the thick beds of chalk which form the cup of the London basin…
London's Natural History (out of print)
by R.S.R Fitter, 1945.

Still at so remote a distance from the present day that imagination boggles. I am boggled. Today was going to be a post on the V&A's most recent one, and in particular on the work of Studio Job – Robber Barron – but at the last minute I read this quote and thought better of it. I can see from the Google Analytics reports that my readers come from almost every country on the planet (none yet from middle Africa or central Asia), with a bias towards the States (mainly East Coast, West Coast and Texas), London and Australia. France, Norway and Switzerland are all pretty up there too. Hence my question: what are your cities founded on?

I am off to Marsailles (or Marsaille, as you like) for the weekend, to stay in the Unité d'Habitation – so expect a post on the subject sometime next week. This break will finally give regular readers a respite from the relentless onslaught of Millennium People posts.
I leave you with an amazing timelapse of the LA fires, and a link to a modern-day disco track that has got very stuck in my head (I didn't even know I liked disco).

Thursday, 3 September 2009

metabolism: icons that are not objects

One of Kenzo Tange's early Metabolist (not yet Structuralist) projects, 1961.

From the point of view of its visionaries, Metabolism was a failure. Only a handful of buildings identified with the style were built, and (like the Archigram movement that followed it) the vast majority of projects remain to this day just dreams – the stuff of student reviews and utopian retrospectives.

Ironically, the key to the failure lies in the very basis of the movement: ephemerality (the Structuralists, who employed more or less the same ideals but without this quality were equally unsuccessful, but for other reasons). The Metabolists were trying to use architecture as a means to physically describe conditions of the metropolis that until then had remained intangible– though nonetheless extremely real– the ever-changing and ephemeral association of people, buildings, infrastructure, goods and information. The sum of these activities might be referred to as the ‘metropolitan flux’.

They recognised that the success of a city, and in broader terms of any species, was tied to how fast and with how much ease it could adapt to the needs of the moment, how capable it was of dealing with the metropolitan flux. They consequently proposed buildings that were comprised of adaptable modules bolted to permanent frames – this year the building is a tower block, but next year it might be a school or a hospital or a factory.

And there’s the rub: psychologically, people don’t like the idea that next year their home might be a factory. They like to feel that the structure they reside in is permanent. The Metabolists made the mistake of interpreting the city as being an essentially empty field filled with urban nomads. But the metropolitan flux is far more rooted than one might think: people still have a very strong sense of ‘mine’ and ‘thine’. The absurdity of this mentality is evidenced by the fact people are willing to buy McMansions with 25 year life-spans; it is after all not real permanence that the people seek, but the semblance of permanence.

Residential fluidity is thus impossible; public fluidity is not particularly welcomed – we like our civic spaces even more permanent than our domestic ones. Statues. Monuments. Important landmarks. All these form the basis of an urban fabric, and inform our relationship to it. The conceptual eternity of public space is an important factor the citizen's perception of belonging to a city.

Somewhat behind the times, I recently discovered that Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower is slated for demolition. It is one of the few built examples of module/modular construction, and the building is an icon of its era. So what prevents it from being an ‘object’?

Its form, while wilful, it not arbitrary and has little in common with the form-finding exercises used to produce contemporary architecture (I am not only referring to the digital curves of Zaha, but quite equally the gracious profiles of Murcutt).

The form of a Metabolist structure is dictated largely by its module. And the way of thinking about the module is a product of an agenda about the future of society. Moreover, specular/speculative architecture is almost always positive, in that it describes a response to an existing social situation. In this respect the architectural object reinforces the social status quo, and belongs to the order of social commentary.

Conversely, the social arguments of a Metabolist building are normative – they describe how things ought to be, and in this respect Metabolist architecture proposes itself as a tool for change, and thus belongs to the order of social progress.

Capsule Tower: a powerful symbol of Japan's post-war cultural revival.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

anti-object #1

Guest post by Max Rosin-Melser.
This is the first of three posts Jack and I will be writing that focus on the book ‘Anti-Object: The dissolution and disintegration of Architecture’ by Kengo Kuma which is an AA publication that came out in late 2008. We feel it’s a pretty important read, posing some interesting questions about the current state and future direction of contemporary architecture. So, the first of these posts will take the form of a review of the material in the book – so all of you following along at home are in the know – and the next two posts will be responses to this content by Jack and myself.

Firstly, let me start by saying that this book has left me with many questions about just what exactly an ‘object’ in architecture really is, and if an architecture opposed to this concept is truly necessary and important for our times. Kuma most definitely thinks it is, saying:
“The individual is not an autonomous, solitary object but a thing of uncertain extent, with ambiguous boundaries. So too is matter, which loses much of its allure the moment it is reduced to an object, shorn of its viscosity, pressure and density. Both subject and matter resist their reduction into objects. Everything is interconnected and intertwined”
Kuma wants to create an architecture that breaks away from dividing subject and object, and bring about an architecture that works with the subject and operates almost as an open-ended, ambiguous filter to help connect them with the landscape of a given site. Kuma calls this filter a layered ‘feild’ or a ‘wilderness’ where the user engages with this landscape as a ‘body moving in time’. This is architecture as a temporal and vulnerable entity that becomes experiential in nature.

How, you might ask, does Kuma propose we go about making this inclusive field or ‘wilderness’? Well the answer lies in two interconnected directions – first, Kuma believes that it is not the framed window / wall, but rather the floor that mediates and creates positive relationships with the user and the outside environment, and second, by scrutinising material and building dimensions and their relation to the specifics of a given site - or as Kuma calls it ‘breaking down into particles’.

Kuma's own project "water / glass".

For the first point Kuma has this to add “All physical beings return to the floor form because they have to stand on a floor. Therefore, almost all possible relationships between the world and the subject are merely variations on the floor form”. The floor form is thus seen as more innate and also more flexible in how it allows people to engage with the landscape – it does not offer just one static and contained view of nature. Kuma explores this concept further in his work ‘water / glass’ through the use of a veranda ‘made of water’ that flows out into the sea and blurs the boundaries between the lower and upper planes of water, forming one continuous surface extending out into the landscape. The impacts of weather, time of day and wind all shift and modify this relationship so the architecture is seen as “responding to the changing moods of nature”.

"Detail of wall, the stone is cut into slices nearly as thin as wooden slats." The best way I can find to explain Kuma’s idea of ‘breaking down into particles’ is by relating an experience he cites in the book, one in which he experiments with extracting stones one by one from a masonry wall. What he found as he kept subtracting from this wall was that that the coherent mass of the ‘object’ / wall “wavered between being and representation, between its essential heaviness and its apparent lightness, between its opaque attribute and its actual transparency”. The wall is dissolved through "particlisation", with this being indicative of what Kuma hopes to achieve on the small scale of the material and also on the larger scale of the enclosure itself. It is within this dissolving that Kuma sees a rhythm, within the sparse subtraction of material / enclosure that a force tantamount to music is created and activated by its changing and multi-faceted relationship to the user and the landscape.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

a fistful of links

via Eric's Little Dark Star.

The daisy chain of links that groups us all together: some news.

Its was the Awaodori festival in Tokyo last Sunday – whose enchanting dances I first saw in Chris Marker's Sans Soleil (sorry I can't actually find the video). The results for the worst british architecture awards are in – funnily enough, partly judged by Bad British Architectecture. I'm still in love with the stop-motion architecture site of Flores Prats, (thanks to the Twitter source for the reminder). In the world of photography Nick Veasey has some dope x-rays, and Alex Prager tries to capture the 70's girl. Bit of a thinking one, Michael Tawa's design lexicon, a dense site of interesting etymology.

Saudi Arabia is pretending that the country has no history before The Prophet. Cause and effect: the Bush-Saudi connection / the last column from the Twins is back at square one. Possibly also related, Kevin Spacey and George Clooney star in a new film about psychic soldiers. Certainly related, MyNinjaPlease also goes back to NY, and visits Frank. ClickMuslim, a dating service. Another religious group trying to capitalise on the internet: Laser Monks (sadly, apparently not like an existential laser tag) – just "Real Savings. Real Monks." Mum, if you're reading, blessed toner for Christmas please.

Young, amazingly self-obsessed women seem to be getting louder (or maybe I'm just receiving a heavy dose at the moment) and they're asking the hard webcam questions: 'How do I do a neutral midde-school look?', 'How do I fake abs?' Still, it is amazing the difference a bit of make-up can make. Natalie Portman plays with some kittens, Arrested Development's George Michael (Michael Cera) is abused Between Two Ferns, and Charlie the sci-fi writer goes on tour of a nuclear facility.

A lonely housewife is driven to insanity by her boring husband and trains her cat to eat with fork. Why Hooters waitresses are the most coveted sexual partners. A video that did the rounds in Paris a while back, even though the song is of dubious quality: a naked woman walking down the street, sex sells I guess... Your New Reality, a blog. Volcanoes versus lightning, not as exciting as Mothera versus Godzilla. Segway: what does the phrase 'post-nature' mean, anyway?

Robot hookers of the future will recognise you and remember your preferences, but I can't work out if that will make it better or boring. Time Team's Mick Aston tells us about his work (Star Trek and Dungeons and Dragons have become acceptable as nerd activities, but I still get no respect for my 'archaeology, yes!' t-shirt). Some of those dead bodies in the Thames I mentioned are much older than you might think. Confusingly, there are spaces in space that are going no place, and we want to go to them; Nasa chews over the possibility of sending astronauts on a Venus flyby in a lunar lander (not exactly what I had in mind).

Copy or original? Larry David makes a show about making a show about a Seinfeld re-union that's about a Seinfeld re-union. The Call of Duty city, real versus digital: Hexkey on informatic dross. New type of photography? Time captured in some amazing animated gifs. Detroit is in ruins, while the tallest building in the world has some surpisingly normal interiors.

To wrap things up, a good old fashioned On This Day: 1902, humanity starts thinking seriously about going to the moon; 1939, Hitler invades Poland (don't mention the war); 1974, the Blackbird flies London to New York in a little over an hour; 1985, the Titanic is discovered (Conrad on its loss).