Tuesday, 27 October 2009

fistful of links

Relics of the Cold War, photography by Martin Roemers.

A nice cup of tea and a sit down: some news.

What do you want in life? No joke, no link, its a legitimate question. Post Secret style. Related, what bloggers want (bunch of wanke... oh). Segway to London town. "shock as figures show Britain is still in recession" from the Times (via And Another Thing) – who the hell is in shock about that? More importantly, the freesheet newspaper wars could soon be over, as the London Lite hints at kicking it in. Derelict London, & London Skylines. In the same vein, a page doing the rounds at the moment: 33-part guide to abandoned places.

A Bill Bailey classic, just to put this blog in some context. Related, the profound depths of our universe. Meanwhile, Royal de Luxe are doing their thing (Giants, surprise, surprise) in Berlin, via Big Picture. The beautiful analogue images of Ren Rox, and the kaleidoscopic hulicination that is The Whole World is Peaceful.

If you're cheating on your partner: stop it. If you are, consider perhaps an alternative: Cockula, the vampire sex-toy (via the normally safe for work Warren Ellis). You remember Mork and Mindy? Well then. Old construction drawings. Topical data visualisations: I particularly like Left vs. Right and a Twitter breakdown. You mean 5% of Twitter users are producing 75% of the Tweets? I'm looking at you: Marcasaurus, Kosmograd, Fatcharlesh, Tragedyhatherle and BBC. I've never met any of these people (who really is the BBC?), but I know what they're thinking in real-time. As Will Wiles recently wrote: "We had one of those I-know-you-off-of-the-internets moments for which the etiquette is still kind of hazy."

See this film. Let me know if I should see this one. I quite liked this:
TVs From Craigslist, are images of the screens of TVs for sale I found on Craigslist. With hints of the seller’s interior space reflected in them, they offer inadvertent glimpses of intimacy and function as self-portraits of the sellers (the camera’s flash announcing the seller’s presence in the image). Landscapes of felt; related, Blizzards of Tweed. The end of the (digital) world, in style. Kiruna: the town that moved; architecture re-used (why are all the Battersea proposals so goddamn ugly? Remember this?)


Saturday, 24 October 2009


Last year I went to the Palais de Tokyo to see an exhibit. This is what I wrote.

“At a distance of 18,000km from the Earth," the guide notes "the elephant Würsa could balance on her trunk. It is on the basis of learned scientific calculations that Daniel Firman reached this conclusion, and came above all to produce this extraordinary work which confounds all our certainties regarding the gravitation of bodies.”

Wishful thinking at best, sophistry more likely. This phrase implies that the trick of the fibreglass cast on a pole is the logical end of a scientific investigation, it implies inevitability. The passage conjures the image of a diligent artist-scientist investigating gravity. Late into the night he pores over reams of calculations and suddenly, to his immense surprise, finds that the mass of an elephant… but this is a deception.

Fibreglass Würsa (herself not based on a real elephant, but the sum of images of elephants) surrounds a steel pole structure. The art is a trick, but the deception lies in the order of the art and the investigation. The passage implies that the art is inevitable, that it is nothing other than the logical outcome of scientific reasoning. In reality, it is the answer to an arbitrary question ‘how far from the Earth does an elephant have to be to balance on its trunk?’ In which case, why even ask the question? What is the difference between this and simply balancing the elephant on its trunk? Scientific validation to artistic whim. There is mystery and credibility to technology. I find this ‘technological’ approach to modern art flimsy, but ubiquitous. ‘I used technology as a tool to generate meaning and beauty’. This idea of the divinity of technology is false. It is controlled and predictable – the desired answer always dictates the technological question. In fact, this work is far more about ‘confounding all our certainties’ – not by presenting us with the unexpected, but the desired.

We live in an era in which the ease of technical generation (and extension by mechanical production) has rendered most art banal. The power of the virtual is such that we perceive homogenous space as virtual space. The ‘white cube’-style art gallery is the paramount example – it could be anywhere and anytime. The importance of the hidden structure in these places relates to their ability to suspend the laws of gravity, to generate the virtual manifest. Having conceptually idealised space in the virtual, a confusion or frustration results from the shortcomings of reality and our inability to arbitrarily control (consume) objects. The floating elephant, the semblance of a weight impossibly supported, is our desire, as it validates the virtual by manifesting it in the real. It is, of course, immediately recognisable as an illusion, and is therefore no longer such.

The moment of semblance lies only in the first fraction of exposure. Indeed, even this illusion does not whole satisfy our desires, this would involve the actual precession of the virtual, the actual suspension of gravity, the actual elephant actually floating. So we quickly lose interest in this ‘one-liner’. Semblance itself no longer interests us because the semblance of the virtual is perfect. In other words, the precession of the virtual means the real will always be catching up, the real will always be the virtual’s simulacrum.

To this extent, quite a lot of art and architecture concerns itself with ‘effects’. There is, however, one thing that remains meaningless in the virtual and meaningful in the real – violence. Hence the interest of Arcangelo Sassolino’s ‘Afasia 1’, “a sculpture that propels empty beer bottles [into a steel sheet] at more than 600km/h thanks to compressed nitrogen.” The mechanism is randomised, and a good deal of the spectacle lies in the anticipation of the loud bang and the instantaneous vaporisation of the bottle into a fine powder of green glass. But it is really a spectacle, a gratification of destructive desire. Not “physically compressed time… permanent memory, a dangerous equilibrium” but a gratification of the sole refuge of the real, violence, as it retreats from the primacy of the virtual.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

ballard and the near future

The giant shining face of Jim Ballard stared out at us, like some deity critically surveying his assembled congregation. Below this over-sized icon Nic Clear swayed back and forth on his feet, at times falling into a reverent chant as he picked up on some core Ballardian doctrine: the high priest behind his technological altar.

Nic, amongst other things, is the editor of a recent AD entitled “Architecture of the Near Future”, which began as an investigation into the influence of Ballard on contemporary architecture – and he began by answering the question: why “near” future? Conception necessarily precedes construction, so architecture is necessarily a profession founded in tomorrow’s work. It is, therefore, also necessarily utopian, in that it is always foreseeing the immediate future. The relevance of Ballard is his critique of ‘laissez-faire’ architecture; an architecture that avoids social engagement, searches only for form and which is based in the world of speculative finance (MP on speculative/specular architecture). “Architecture” Nic said “has replaced a vision of the future with an image of the future.” Touché.

It was basically a lecture exploring the juxtaposition of extremes in the events of Ballard’s life: the sudden and shocking death of his wife from pneumonia while on holiday was contrasted with his domestic situation, which Ballard called ‘dreary and boring, ubiquitous suburbia’. His feelings of injustice, that in some way Nature had committed a crime, inform his earlier novels: Drowned World, Drought, Crystal World.

His early life was a strong theme, as it almost always is in discussions of Ballard: his childhood in Shanghai as the son of a civil servant, the Japanese invasion, and his young adulthood in a prisoner of war camp. The speed with which the normal became extreme; the amazing capability for humans to adapt; protagonists that are simultaneously liberated and condemned; and the essential tendency of people towards power abuse and violence are all Ballardian motifs that find their roots in this time.

As the discourse moved on to Ballard’s later life in England, as Englishman yet somehow perpetual foreigner, he made a good point about just how influential the author has become: Ballard’s last novel Kingdom Come was based around the shopping centre, commercialism, a civilisation that lacks any civic identity except the shared experience of consumption (with undercurrents of latent nationalism, and borderline racism), and its protagonist was a mid-40’s advertising agent. This rang untrue, but only because, as a man in his mid-40’s, Nic knew that he would never have been sucked into the plot, because in reality he would have immediately identified the setting as Ballardian. To this extent, not being an author of meta-fiction, Ballard could not have written himself into his own novel, and its lack of credibility was based upon the fact that the influence of Ballard was absent in the characters of the Ballardian world. Ha.

The lecture accompanied the work of his studio. In the dark of the movie room, I asked several people what they thought, to which one said: “the films are provocative, and atmospheric, but they are not providing any solid ideas.” In any case, the production of the unit is truly remarkable. Nic’s conclusion about Ballard's thinking was this: we must embrace the future, if only because we have no other choice.


Church near Ferrybridge (scroll down) via John Davies.

In Zamyatin's 1920 novel We everything is made of glass. There is only one city, ruled by the Benefactor, a glistening metropolis of green glass – all the buildings, all the streets, all the furniture, even the very wall of the city itself are cast from that one pure liquid. The 'cyphers' (as the mathematically-minded citizens are known) operate in a transparent world where everything is immediately visible, and therefore immediately perceivable.

At the edge of this vast crystal dictatorship is "the ancient house", a home from the early 20th century protected from the age of millennia by a protective glass pustule. It is remarkable because of its solidity, its opaqueness, and its strange ornaments and objects that imply outmoded societal structures. But as the protagonist, D-503, points out, while in the process of solving a question of mathematical logic: "there is no end to revolutions. Revolutions are potentially infinite." Even the magnificent towers of glass will one day crumble back below the surface of the earth, leaving behind them only one thing: a violent and savage humanity.

Not wholeheartedly related.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

the wake of the wealth of nations

After Adam Smith by Shannon C. Stimson and Murray Milgate (of Palgrave’s fame) is a recent publication from the Princeton University Press that examines how, and in what ways, our thinking about the relationship between politics and political economy was transformed in the one-hundred years or so after the publication of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (1776).

And yet, for what is at its base a detailed historical analysis of the development of 19th century economic theory, the book remains remarkably current. And with everyone from Barack to Brown name-dropping Keynes it is certainly refreshing to read about the somewhat eclipsed Smith. By re-visiting the grand questions that interested Smith (for example, the relationship between the market and the state, or between individual liberty and common good), Milgate and Stimson re-assess the relevance of his thinking to our current global economic predicaments.

The premise of this (mostly architectural) blog is in fact an economic one – that the period 2001-2007 was not the beginning of a New Millennium, but the continuation of the 20th century, because it was a continuation of 20th century economic thinking. This conclusion is based on a subliminal association: I am defining an epoch not by its essential social dialectic, but by the economic principles that largely determine that dialectic.

In this respect, works like After Adam Smith become important signifiers of the emerging zeitgeist. The book will be of interest to anyone concerned with how the ideas of economics and economists have influenced (and continue to influence) politics and politicians. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Adam Smith on the new £20 note.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

fistful of links

The 1900 Paris World Expo, via the FlickrCommons.

The locus of links that leads straight to our hearts: some news.

There are not enough tampons in Williamsburgh. Not at all related, Auschwitz is now on facebook. Still not related, man seeks Glaswegian translator. Probably not related, The WHO has decided to ban booze. Finally related, this is bad news for the inventors of the Beer Belly (don't miss their equally amazing Wine Rack). Blurring the human-machine interface: the talking Piano (via Shawn Sims) and Vocaloid (via Tokyo Bling). Looks like the robot workers of the future will be... Mexicans? Pretty much related, the possibility for a ten-fingered mouse/keyboard: 10GUI.

American readers (you make up over 50%) will no doubt have been following the Balloon Hoax fiasco: Gawker's exclusive; The Balloon Boy Game. Coincidentally, the Queen recently wrote to a different Balloon Boy. Related, only in the sense that playing with ants was something I did as a boy, the man who makes casts of ant colonies.

In case CCTV seems too impersonal, there's now a camera to capture your life. Related, the camera to capture your dog's life. Related, the company that will look after your dog when the apocalypse comes. Related, a spectacular anti-evolution poster (via unknown Tweet). Still related, the end of the world is probably not 2012 after all, according to reliable sources; movie (is it just me or are apocalyptic films getting lazy?) sticks by its guns: Kids with Guns; Bullets from Guns.

Old man caught in doors by faulty Tube, abused by Underground staff (via the Londonist). Also in this City of Cities: London After The Rain (a film by the AVATAR); map of London brownfields (via Things). Not related, Hi-Rise– hi-res images of mars. Related, the beautiful art of Florian Maier-Aichen (via But Does It Float?) Related, but is it art: the 4th plinth. Also art, dead flies.


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Monday, 19 October 2009

fully sick

Image: my project for a remotely located research station, UNSW, 2007 – pdf here.

As I lay in bed Saturday morning, feeling ill and self-piteous, my thoughts turned away from the bleak landscape of 1970's social housing outside my window to my home in Australia. If I had to describe autumnal London in a word it would be 'grim'. I made a cup of tea and turned on Australian Radio National. By Design was on, a discussion between architect Glenn Murcutt (under whose tuition the above project was completed) and writer David Malouf – held in Utzon's Opera House.

It was an interesting talk for a number of reasons, not least for Glenn's comments about the Opera House shifting the city's focus to the harbour side (whereas previously it had been centred on Sydney's commercial district). He also mentioned Utzon's proposals to unite Sydney's laneways. It was the first time I've heard Glenn talk about the city this way. He is known to irritate a lot of Australian architects for his refusal to wholeheartedly engage with the metropolitan condition, which is after all the condition of the 21st century. His expensive homes in beautiful scenery are seen as marginal to the discussion of contemporary architecture.

But if you dig architecture and want to gain a window into a very particular type of Australian thinking, this is for you. The undertone of the talk is a criticism of Australia's litigious and restrictive architectural thinking (which I believe stems from its origins as an imperial penal colony). This type of self-deprecation is common to Australia, with everyone complaining about the situation and yet nothing changing. It makes me sick. Or, sicker, rather.

I passed out to Sunset Rubdown, which always reminds me of driving in the sun.

Saturday, 17 October 2009


Battleground, via Nasa

I'm out Sunday, so I'm bringing you tomorrow's post today (which is more than can be said of the actual post).

In theory, the moon belongs to no one. That is to say, it belongs to everyone. We take solace in the fact that while the Earth might be geo-politically torn by the petty disputes of its microscopically visioned peoples, there lies beyond our fragile sphere the vast reaches of deep space. It calls to us with the voice of the New World, inviting us into the tranquility of eternal emptiness, a profound vacuum of silence.

This is perhaps why the recent bombing of the moon by American satellites sits so uncomfortably in the public mind. The idea of pristine lunar landscapes being exploited by nations (India, China, Japan, Europe) and corporations is abhorrent, because we do not trust our own countries to behave responsibly. We're no longer sure who is the parent and who the child in the modern citizen-state relationship: 20th century policies of paternalism have largely dissolved into models dictated by the Market Economy.

One thing you sometimes hear from astronauts, although it is now fairly passé, is that 'from space, the earth has no borders'. This invokes for me not grandiose visions of one nation, nor one love, one hope, nor any of that other white-rasta-fake-hippy shenanigans. I am after all a realist. It makes me reflect more on why there are no boundaries on other heavenly bodies. The moon is an inaccessible, but perpetually present, celestial element that for us is unified because it is unoccupied. I've written about the problems of mapping the moon before – the subtext of this post is concerned with the conceptual difficulties of creating a socio-political map of the moon. But what will happen when it is colonised? Most people hardly know the geography of the earth, let alone the moon. But will we begin to look up at that satellite and subconsciously divide it into its political regions, as we do with images of the earth?

The final thing I wanted to say is that the difficulty of visualising the future human boundaries of the moon is tied up in the fact that we know those boundaries are arbitrary. When we view maps of Antarctica, the effect is similar. Yes, that segment belongs to Britain. But it is not a part of Britain, because it is physically unconnected to the socio-political evolution of that country. The New Millennium requires humanity to radically shift the way it conceives of boundaries, and I am not just referring to those that are socio-political. Perhaps the effect of a divided moon will have far-reaching impacts on the way we conceive of space that we cannot even begin to predict...

Friday, 16 October 2009

prophetic visions

"When Burt Smallways" reads the blurb to Wells' 1907 classic " is accidentally whisked off to Germany in a balloon carrying plans for a top-secret aeroplane, he gets involved in Prince Karl Albert's massive airship raid on New York... the first step in a war which soon flares into world-wide catastrophe." The novel sees fearless and hapless Burt witness, from relative safety, the destruction of the Western world, before striving to make a new life for himself in a brutal and feudal post-war society of devastated Europe.

He tumbles into the balloon while assisting an eccentric inventor (a narrative technique perhaps borrowed from Verne's Mysterious Island?) and when, at length, the fog clears he finds himself bobbing between gargantuan Zeppelins – he lands in a German air park, described as an endless matrix of orthogonally aligned airships, each tied down to the ground by a mass of fuel pumps and strings of lights. The scene invokes a cross between Gulliver's Travels and Archigram's Instant Cities.

He sees the fire bombing of New York, a massive aerial battle over Niagara Falls, and only after many years of travel does he make it back to the small suburb where the story began. Civilisation is completely destroyed, and the novel ends with an interesting remark from one of the characters. As he stares up at the rusting monorail lines he realises that even if his children were to live to 100 they would never see the wonders of the society he grew up in.

Image via.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

sir ken adam

Sketch for Submarine Lair in the classic Bond 'The Spy Who Loved Me'.

On Tuesday night I was at the AA, just hanging around the bar, minding my own business, when I heard that Sir Ken Adam was going to give an interview downstairs. I was incredibly excited. If you're not aware of who he is, I will just say this: every James Bond set, gadget and gimmick – from machine gun headlights to volcano lairs– were his idea. As were the sets of Dr. Strangelove, much of Star Wars, Hornblower, Around the World in 80 Days, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and he also consulted (apparently in a fairly involved manner) for 2001: a space odyssey (although he said that after Dr. Stangelove he didn't get on so well with Kubrick).

Further, he was the only German national to fight for the RAF during the Second War, and helped to provide air cover for the D-Day invasions: "Zthey said 'you juzt fly down zther, and fiare all your rockits' and I zthought 'that zounds simple' but... it vwas.... a lot more complicated than that."

Sketch for Dr. Strangelove's War Room (dir: Kubrick).

For the most part he reiterated the things I have heard him say elsewhere, which is why I won't be reiterating them here: go elsewhere. I'm just going to touch on one or two things that stood out. At one point he showed a slide of a drawing, and said "I had no idea who could have been doing a glass tower block like this one in 1928 in Berlin for my father's sports shop. And then, of course, I discovered it was a Mies. It was one of his forgotten projects. Even Moma didn't know about it." Needless to say a million architects reached for their pens. His photograph is not online, but the project is briefly described here.

He also postulated that the reason American Modernism was so strong and English Modernism so weak was because all the German exiles emigrated to the States – before the War the English had not taken a fancy to Modernism, and found it even unattractive as a style. He refered to 'Highpoint' in Highgate in particular. When he studied architecture at the Bartlett in 1936, he said, they were still teaching him to use Georgian and Edwardian styles. 1936. Shame. He wondered what would have happened if the English had embraced Modernity, instead of encouraging all the German Modernists to move further West.

The final point I'm going to write up is one he made about the Flowmaster pen. It was the first pen to have a felt nib and a transluscent replaceable bulb. Not only, he said, did it change the way he drew (up until that time only charcoal had provided him with the fluidity he desired) but it changed the way he designed. Later on he said, in reference to a modern render that had been done from one of his drawings, "I can tell, you kno, if a design hasz bin started by haand or as a computer architecture." He didn't express a preference, but I think the lesson is obvious: we are both limited, and afforded capabilities, with each new technology.

In the case of digital technology, the question must always be asked: are you designing that way because you can (that is, arbitrarily, because the technology allows for it)? Or, if given a blank piece of paper, or a charcoal stick, would you be trying to describe similar forms? What I really mean is, do you design digital architecture because you have digital means, or is the digital a design ideal in itself, unique from technology?

Roll that one over, Millennium People.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

thames and tyburn

The lost rivers of London, via Strange Maps.

London has only very recently emerged from the tidal marshes and floodplains of the Thames Valley; only very recently ceased to be a site of soft clay pools and nomadic tribes of proto-humanoid hunters. Beginning with the Romans' wooden river defences and culminating with the 19th century embankment and 20th century River Barrier programs, the city has slowly re-claimed an inhospitable and humid landscape.

The dominance of the 'Dark River' over the city is absolute, and Londoners will not share its ancient and prestigious path with any rival. The Fleet, the Effra, the Falcon, all were made to disappear out of deference to the Thames. Even the lesser tributaries– the Black Ditch and Earl's Sluice, for example – are invisible. Although I can't help but suspect this has more to do with their role in the Great Stink of 1858.

But what would happen if these rivers were unburied? The Tyburn turned loose? In ancient times London used the source of the Tyburn as the site of immense gallows for the mass and public execution of criminals and political scapegoats (such as those brothers of the Charterhouse). Now Marble Arch blocks its way – could hangings take place there instead? Where now the river is only visible as it runs underneath Grey's Antiques, the uncovered Tyburn would spill down over Hyde Park in a deluge of destruction.

It would flood Buckingham Palace, turning the royal household into a tidal marshland ruin:

Buckingham Palace as it would sit on the tidal plains of the River Tyburn, via Time Team (UK only).

It would flow around the rise of Westminster City, as it used to, and once again set Thorney Island in the middle of the river.

Thorney Island, via the Museum of London.

Let's do it. Let's flood London.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

fistful of links

Ballard's Drowned World as bankers' swimming pool, via Transatlantis.

Slicing it up and dishing it out – the 'net, just like yo'mama used to make: some news.

We are living in times of universal bru-hah-ha: Obama has been politically castrated by the Nobel peace prize, and them old sea-levels just don't seem to be getting any lower. We're also running out of oil much faster than we thought (last two via Liam Young). But anyway, who can concentrate on the fact we've discovered the missing link, when we're going the way of the mammoth?

Jesus certainly can't save us, he can't even stop His signs getting nicked. And the only known immortal animal isn't giving up its secrets either. On the upside, when the apocalypse does come those of us living in sin will be able to get past Peter by faking our own virginity. Related, I'm not sure how this is going to work out for lesbians, who can't even fool the army. Also related, I wonder whether the fake blood in the virginity pack will work in the blood-powered lamp? Not related, worm sick could be the answer to underwater glue (I naively didn't even realise it was a question).

We're bombing the moon, in case you hadn't heard. Related, turns out playing God is a lot like an insect version of Gran Turismo. Also related, perhaps these radio-controlled insects will live in miniature homes carved out of IBMs. Not related, the geography of unemployment. Kind of related, Ford are doing their bit for our children's future. Tangentially related, the 'photography' of Levi van Veluw (I know how he did that). Gratuitously related, bunker Shots. Also in the world, a book cover design based on Dazzle, a really interesting form of camouflage. There's an AA studio devoted to it this year. Related, Themepark Heterotopia (there's another studio being run on that). Not related, I tracked down Stewart from Time Team – who is employed as a 'landscape investigator', though everyone else calls him the 'lumps and bumps man'. I think I would quite like to be a landscape investigator.

Finally, the sexist (or sexiest?) PUMA Index, via Sociological Images:

Monday, 12 October 2009

inter seven

To prevent Millennium People from being press-ganged into becoming a mouthpiece for my AA work (MP has a goal which is similar, but separate) I have started a new blog called Inter Seven. While at the moment it only represents my own feeble forays into the confusing world of contemporary architecture, I hope, over time, to reinforce its status with the work of my peers, and possibly professors.

Otherwise, this Millennium People directional hiatus is well and truly over – to prove it, here's what the week holds:
  • Tuesday has a fresh new fistful of links, including directions to a company that specialises in faking your own virginity.
  • Wednesday asks what would happen if you started un-burying some of the underground rivers in London.
  • Thursday recounts Tuesdays' Sir Ken Adam lecture.
  • Friday takes war into the air.
  • Saturday turns to the Turner exhibit at the Tate.
  • Sunday finds MP once again in space.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

a new london topography

A quick collage I did to suggest a future London topography: Buckingham Palace finds itself under the resurfaced Tyburn river (currently buried), which also makes Westminster and Big Ben into an island (as it was, until the 18th century); London Pool has become a massive tidal marsh and most of the suburbs have been turned to tilled fields. Only the very core of the old city remains with its 2 million inhabitants, each one perturbed by the primordial dreams that visit them in their restless sleep...

More on the present struggle with a new architectural zeitgeist early next week: below another rapid image demonstrating 'human geology' – an amazing map from 1863 of the geology of England and Wales (London zoom) (legend).

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

human geology

An everyday scene of a city during the apocalypse: London during the Blitz, via.

I was watching Time Team (a British archaeological television program) today – they were doing a special on the wartime defences of London (here, UK only). The site was Shooter's Hill, to the city's south east, which is one of the highest points in London. During the second war it comprised part of what was called the London Stop Line – military installations designed to slow down a Nazi Blitzkrieg invasion from Dover. These included bunkers, foxholes for anti-tank weapons, barrage balloons and a number of concealed traps. One in particular was a flamethrower disguised as a florists that could shoot a 100ft wall of flame across the main road, sending burning petrol rolling down the hill and into the forest.

Clue 1: While excavating a trench the team suddenly came across remnants of Bronze-age metalworking equipment (which is rare in Britain), with the possibility of a Bronze-Age hill fort underneath a foxhole. During the war they had dug into the hill and landed in the middle of another strata of history, so that separating the ancient and relatively modern finds became very difficult. The soldiers had compacted and superposed distinct epochs into a fused mess.

Clue 2: At a certain point a bunker was revealed that bore an uncanny resemblance to the National Theatre at Southbank. And I naively stared at it, thinking 'oh yeah, like London Brutalism was totally a re-interpretation of the local military architecture.'

Human Geology: The larger geological landscape is made up of stratified materials, granite under chalk under clay, and so forth, which each one having its specific period of time. At fault lines, there is a displacement that allows for two very different materials to be found very close to each other: closing the gap instantly between millennia. Cities are in a sense human geology, the various strata each being formed under different conditions and at different times, the Neolithic under the Roman under the Victorian, and so forth. Where we cut or dig into the urban territory we produce artificial fault lines, backfilled superpositions of history. Edwardian street lamps lighting Saxon longhouses, Georgian ballrooms within Roman villas. History becomes anachronistic.

Apocalypse: The AA's Inter 7 asks for a post-apocalyptic scenario that will tell us something about the world of today (don't they all?). And so my own tale is this: as the global trading power of China and India rises, and the power of the United States wanes, Europe will become economically marginalised. London will become a spent husk of its former self, and over several centuries immigration (there will be no reason to come to London, since better jobs will be found elsewhere) and declining birth rates will reduce the city to but a few million inhabitants. Vast, empty suburbs. With the unification of Europe, there will be no need for a capital of England, and as London declines in influence, the capital of Britain will be moved to its intellectual centre: Edinburgh. The centuries pass, and but for the hushed talk of when London was great, no one will think of it. It will become nothing more than the ancient capital of a defunct economic model.

But then there will be a new renaissance. And just as the thinkers of the Enlightenment turned to Greece and Rome for their precedents, so now will architect's turn to the untapped potential of London. Of course not much from its heyday will remain, just a few buildings, and the landscape will have changed quite drastically, but there will be at least several key buildings that will have survived, albeit in re-purposed forms (think about the Parthenon as a Turkish military stronghold). Because of the way we group history, we will no longer see the 19th as distinct from the 20th century. A period of several hundred years will be simply termed the 'British Golden Age' and architects will confuse Westminster Cathedral and the Barbican as contemporary, and misread their functions. The new hybrid styles that result from this cross-polination through the ages will form the basis of a neo-Londinian style: a baroque-brutalism, a neo-classical post-modernism. It will not be a poor pastiche of old styles, but a new style formed from an agglomeration of historical influences.

Houses of Parliament and the National Theatre and St. Pauls = What??

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

fistful of links

Image via.

The loose links in the ghetto gold that keeps us real: some news.

A world round up: Singapore's ghost fleets are getting out of hand, and there are about 700 people living under LA's strip (via Liam Young); Mt. Rushmore gets a facelift; London gets a facebook (its the social network capital of the world); related, Facebook used to measure happiness; McDonald's to open at the Louvre; Adeleide kids are tripping on something much worse than acid, which happens to be what the Arctic seas are turning into; Norway is the best place to live; Japan probably the worst right now (supertyphoon on its way).

Child-nude of Brook Shields got taken out of the Tate Modern (my opinion of which falls lower every time I go). Controversial photo here (nsfw... possibly just nsf). A while back Roman Polanski drugged and repreatedly raped an underage girl before fleeing to Europe, Whoopi Goldberg "isn't sure what to call it, but it's not, like, rape-rape." What? Don't get me wrong, I loved MacBeth, but rape is rape, no? Related, Stephen Fry watches a man have his head raped by a parrot.

A mechano set that delivers lethal injections, perhaps for those of us that find the human replacement pillows no longer effective. Not related, Anti-wifi paint to stop neighbours nicking your bandwidth (or your sweet noggin getting zapped while you sleep). Related, 100 abandoned houses. Not related, splice and fuse your trees, at the arborsmith. The Sesquipedalist, a blog about interesting urban and architectural interventions. Related, the consistently surprising F*Mass (a tumblr).

A Russian cavern used for testing napalm – so hot that the bricks melted into stalictites. Related, the deepest pool in the world. Faith, the amazing bipedal dog. Related, the amazing leap of faith, turns out to be commited by a dog. The apocalyptic images of Parke-Harrison. Biggie at age 17. A pavillion at Pestival based on termite spaces. Why do all iphone rivals just look like iphone rip-offs? Nick Sowers' Atlantikwall Flickr (and his bunker exploration blog)

Finally, 'Seizure', a brutalist apartment in a condemnded council block is filled with a stange chemical liquid that results in electric blue crystal growths. London: If you haven't seen it yet, its a must see.

bldgblog mentions

I just noticed I've been put in the right-hand column over at bldgblog. Mysteriously under the epigraph 'urbanism'.

Still, if the cap fits. And this explains the sudden hits spike a week back, I was wondering about that. Thanks Mr. Manaugh.

Slowly, but surely, Millennium People is making its escape from the insular confines of my mind, and ecstatically leaping into the arms of whoever will heed its call. In some ways, this is not unlike the plot to Showgirls.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

the data city + jules verne

Stark images of LA by David Maisel.
"The modern city is the data city. Architectural renderings and monographs present case studies in the context of information, with statistics and graphs supplementing the traditional projected view. The utopia of tomorrow will be saturated with information, and it is how we navigate this space that is the focus of so much contemporary speculation on technology and the city."
Via Things

A two part post today: if you don't like what you're reading, scroll down past the +++

There's an interesting post over at the much-loved Things, which might be summarised thus: urban interaction is becoming increasingly non-physical as we experience the city more and more through technologies of its representation (GPS, Twitter, Google Maps, etc) than through the actuality of its corporeal fabric. Nonetheless, Things recognises that our relation to the city is as a simulacrum – we are not replacing the real with the informatic, we are simply poorly imitating it: "the way virtual interfaces mimic physical spaces – desktops, pinboards, tables and surfaces you can post, pin, pinch and scatter content across – acknowledges our hunger for the tangible." They conclude: "The data city of the future will be unnavigable without technology, granted, but as a species we seem to be crying out for help remembering, unable to find things with the arsenal of digital tools and reliant, instead, on other people's recollections."

Contemporary data, being instant and always accessible, is also instantly forgettable. Couple this with declining attention spans (I wonder how many readers even make it to this point) and you arrive at an inescapable conclusion: in the future we will either learn to forge more ephemeral relationships to information (we won't remember, but we won't need to) or we will learn to handle information in a very different way.

Since, and this is my real point, the future is never merely a prolongation or projection of the conditions of the present, I would definitely consider the latter as more likely. The future is the data city, but it won't be accepted by people as the city of the future. To a certain extent the city has always been a 'data city', the possibility for the exchange of information (and obviously goods and services) is what intitially permitted for fixed settlements. And yet the way that data is handled by the city's citizens changes all the time, and to envisage the city of the future in the digital or informatic terms of today is as redundant as the utopias of the steampunk clique. To extend Things' conclusion – the rise of digital information might be weakening the reasons for the city's existence at all. In this future, the metropolis itself may one day become physically irrelevant.

In explaining the goals of Millennium People I often compare 2009 to 1909. When the people of this time envisaged the future they merely projected forward the industrialism of the late 19th century (not unlike the Steampunks). They could hardly have foreseen processes like computerisation, miniaturisation, post-Fordian society, globalisation, contemporary financial systems, because they lay so far outside their realm of reality as to be inconceivable. For them, the flying machine, made of canvas and wood, seemed like a pretty far-fetched idea.

By the same, to consider the metropolis of the future in traditional utopian terms – and especially to become overly fixated with the rise of the digital, is to limit oneself to a future that is really only a hi-tech version of today. This is not to say that the future is unimaginable: but it requires a very special mind, perhaps even greater than H.G. Wells or J.G. Ballard.


My benchmark of futuristic thought is Jules Verne's novel Paris in the 20th Century. Considered too radical by his publisher in 1863, the book was locked away in a family vault for over a hundred years, and was only re-discovered by accident in the late 80's. Which is how I plucked my own copy from a box of freshly printed American first editions in 1996.

I won't spoil the plot, but in this remarkable story set in the year 1960 Verne envisages a city of glistening skyscrapers, each one air-conditioned. The streets are crammed with gas-powered cars, with rapid public transit covering the sub-terranean city. And yet these are only the more mundane visions: he foresees a worldwide 'telegraphic' communications network (the internet), a type of screen for viewing from a distance (television), elevators and an electronic, telephonic, document copier (fax machine).

Returning to the present day, it is this type of Vernian imagination that will carry us into the future. And the first step is to move beyond the 'data city', move beyond the delights of the digital and start scratching our heads about what is to come next. That's how we will become New Millennium People.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

post: apocalyptic futures

'Mike', 1952, via zvis.

I was recently interviewed for a "cult", and, to my surprise and delight, I was accepted. They call themselves Intermediate 7, and they are one of the 13 units being run as part of the second and third year design studios at the AA school of architecture, here in London. Inter 7's other title is: The End of the World and Other Bedtime Stories, and the focus for the year-long studio is visions of the future, post-apocalyptic societies, etc. Think ballardian fiction, sci-fi flicks. Their modus operandi is to slip in and out of the real and imagined, to produce falsified verity (by means of media or objects). For me this seems like a great excuse to re-watch old favourites like Forbidden Planet (hopefully more on that one day, I've got a killer angle on the plot), re-read the Red Mars trilogy, the War in the Air, and so on. This will all hinge around a unit trip to study emerging environmental and political tensions in Greenland (supposedly in November, although what we are likely to see in the unending night of the Arctic winter, I'm not sure).

But I also see this studio as an opportunity to sit ourselves down, take stock of our bearings and have some deep-and-meaningfuls about not just the future (and post-future) but also the present. I believe we will use our visions of the end of the world to perhaps give some shape to the embryonic Zeitgeist of this new decade, as we all become truly New Millennium People. This is a rather happy coincidence given the rubric of this blog, of which I need hardly remind the regular reader (if you're not one now, carpe diem is all I can say).

As an outburst of over-excitement and puerile anticipation of the day the real work begins, I thought I would make the bulk of this post a summary of my initial reflections on the 'Apocalypse'.

My first instinct is to examine a problem through its etymology A problem well articulated is a problem solved, as I believe Einstein once said (quiet nod to A.Verge, M.Tawa and S.Fung). The etymology of Apocalypse comes from 'kaluptein' which means 'to cover'. Apocalypse is therefore the act of 'uncovering'. In the medieval sense, this referred to the coming of JC and the era of Zion (see Revelations).

This set me thinking about a Heidegger paper about the origins of the word 'light' (amongst other things). He talks about heavy, then light, lightness, illumination (bringing oneself to light) and finally the word 'leathe'. This means 'to conceal, to cover' and its opposite 'aleathea' is the Greek word for 'truth'. Truth is an act of 'unconcealment'. The Apocalypse is an act of 'uncovering'. The Apocalypse is an act of truth.

And since it lies beyond the imagination ('ability to be depicted') of the present day, it is also an evidence (evidentia = ex + videre, or "out of sight"). The Apocalypse is evident, and its prediction is an act of previewing. It is to search for patterns in history, to define the present, to project into the future. 'Post-Apocalyptic' accordingly means 'after the unconcealment' – and could refer to either utopic or distopic situations. It could of course refer to neither, and simply mean 'the era following the unforeseen truth'.

So the core of the Apocalypse is not to fabricate or falsify the future, but to reveal, to expose and uncover... the truth, or a truth. This definition hinges on, and leaves open, the dimension of time. The Apocalypse is not a single occurrence (28 Days Later; The Day After Tomorrow; Deep Impact, etc) but can be any period of time necessary to unconceal a truth: the demise of the Roman Empire; the collapse of the Soviet Union; the end of petrol; the decline of the offline...

My goal for the studio-cult is, in no naive terms, to gestate an Apocalyptic truth.