Monday, 30 November 2009


Its that time of year again.

Rather than let Millennium People drift into the region of half-written, never posted entries with the obligatory Fistful keeping the thing ticking along, MP is going on holiday – to the Arctic of all places. Next post no later than Christmas Day... with a re-launch and re-vamp for the New Year.

Take a load off, Sally. Take a load for free. And happy holidays...

Saturday, 28 November 2009

unfinished 2009 posts #3: steampunk

This was going to be a crushing indictment of the steampunk movement, revealing it to be a kitsch throwback, a false nostalgia, and so on. Never got round to it, and have since lost interest, so find some links: I am the Weather; Herr Doktor; Tombanwell; Neatorama; Behind the Steam.

Ah, what could have been... There is actually one more unfinished draft, on the use of colour in ancient temples, but I think I will save that one for later in the new year.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

unfinished 2009 drafts #2: M.McLuhan

This is an unfinished draft, posted at the end of 2009.

The phonetic alphabet, Marshall McLuhan tells us, requires only the eye as medium for comprehension:
"The alphabet is a construct of fragmented bits and parts which have no semantic meaning in themselves, and which must be strung together in a line, bead-like, and in a prescribed order. Its use fosters and encourages the habit of perceiving all environment in visual and spatial terms – particularly in terms of a space and of a time that are uniform, continuous and connected. The line, the continuum, became the organising principle of life."
This post was originally going to explore how the fundamentals of a language impact upon our perception of space. Popular demand may see it revived.

fistful of links

Via The Day After You Die.

A short one today: some news.

John Mayer threatens to sodomise NY Mag editor (via Gawker). Not related, Rabbi's pimp gets worried for his health, cancels girls and coccaine. All lightweights, compared with the Internet Vices. Still sort of religious, the Christian Dollar Store's Scripture Candy (Testamints, Jesus Loves You Suckers, etc). Kitsch. And Christian. What do you know, there's even a blog for that: Kitchianity.

Projects by Cabracega including the 'you are here' umbrella for identifying yourself on Google Maps (yeah, like if you wait about 3 years). Picked by Six, a weblog. Also, NoMoreBrains. Wikipedia's list of legendary creatures. Another legendary creature, the amazing 50's pin-up that is Bombshell Betty (via Shae, from Spokane). Related, accidental geography. 15 days in GTA4, via Digital Foundry, what do you need real cities for anyways? Related, the miniatures.

The Fall, via bldgblog. Pop-architecture firm BIG have released a comic book of their exploits. UK launch tomorrow. The pigeon towers of Iran; Abu Dhabi does its thing. What the hell is this film? X-Wing explodes in the desert.

Yeah, I mean, the links are all still there, but they just don't run as glibly as they used to. Maybe I need help?

What to do with the other arm while spooning, via NYT blog: Abstract City.

Monday, 23 November 2009

riding the wave

Apparently the world's best surf photographer: Clark Little.

Over the last three months or so I've been researching the idea of the 'open plan internet'. In the 19th century homes were designed in a hub and spoke manner – a central entry leading through corridors to rooms with single functions: bedrooms; bathrooms; dining rooms, etc. Robin Evans explained how the relationship between these rooms was highly limited, most rooms only had one door, or, in exceptional cases, two (kitchen/dining, for example). The open plan rooms of the 20th century, rather than being simply the sum of the older rooms, became a new and different type of space. There was a spatial gestalt effect.

The Web: today the internet is comprised of monofunctional internet programs or sites connected in fairly linear ways: e-mail; social networking; chat and phone programs; video and image sharing, etc. Youtube, Myspace, Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail, Skype, MSN Messenger (if anyone still uses it), Flickr, Picasa, are all examples of 'rooms' on the internet. These were either created by one of the two internet giants (Yahoo/Google – Goohoo as I call them) or quickly absorbed into their families. The clan-like collection of these sites was the first step towards the 'open plan internet' – an internet that will be other than the sum of the applications and sites that make it up. A digital gestalt.

Today I joined Google Wave (many thanks to Will Wiles), which is what I would consider to be the first open-plan web browsing application. It differs from previous feed amalgamation programs (where you can view twitter and facebook at the same time, for example) in the same way that putting a doorway between the dining and kitchen is not the same as knocking down all the walls to make an open space.

In what looks like an e-mail window, the user can 'start a new wave' and then add to it using 'blips'. The only way I can think to describe a wave is like a massive, informal, wikipedia page, or possibly a blog: it can contain chats, videos, images, references to external sites, in both real-time (like googlechat or ICQ) and delayed-time (like hotmail or flickr). It seems at first like a mess. Especially when you consider that all the elements are editable, and all edits are saved and able to be reviewed. Imagine receiving an e-mail from a friend only to find that the next day the message has been changed. Unlike the world of 1984, for the moment the changes are traceable.

I think something should be said about the rise of real-time editing. The ability to doctor information (images, text, etc) as it is in the process of being created has far-reaching philosophical ramifications. There can be no 'original' – simply a series of second order simulations (or worse, a chain of simulacrums). More to folllow...

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

fistful of links

Over 300 works by deceased sci-fi artist Peter Elson have been scanned and put online. Above: his magnificent art for the Kim Stanley Robinson titles: The Martians (Elson's last work); Red Mars; Green Mars; Blue Mars. Elson died of a heart attack painting a mural for Butlins.

I was a young teenager when I first discovered the world of terraforming, and the bizarre 'future histories' of Robinson, yet these images were perhaps even more powerful– they inspired a whole world of lego models and pencil drawings. There was something so terribly normal about the sight of a pine tree in a Martian valley. Foreign planets are a lot like earth, really, just very far away.

Word out to my Gerroa homeboy Richard for hooking me up with that shit: some news

2012: there's only one person I would trust to investigate the end of the world and that's my good friend NASA. Ask an astrobiologist. Related, if the apocalypse does come, its better underground (says China). Signs of life from Dubai at night. Related, view from the top of the tallest tower in the world: Burj, via Archi-Ninja. Still crazy architecture, another reminder of why Hadid won the Pritzker... Related, I am Zaha and you can too: Grasshopper and Rhino tutorials (the design programs, not the animals) at Digital Toolbox.

What if Ice Cube had become an architect? NY's Highline is saved; not saved, the bunkers of Albania: Concrete Mushrooms. The City Project, a blog. Australia splits conjoined twins; man attempts to smuggle 1000 live spiders in Brazil; scenes of joy from Berlin; Murdoch gives Google the cold shoulder.

What to do with all that foreclosed property just lying around? Answer: The Land Bank. NME names top 50 albums of the decade – what dopes, they forgot Hot Chip? Top new words of the year, 'unfriend', 'intexticated', etc. And 'hashtag' for those of you on Twitter. I didn't realise it wasn't a word already. Not related, Hitler on Letters of Note. Not related to that, the photography of Greg Miller, via Sociological Images.


Monday, 16 November 2009

ghost forest

Walking through Trafalgar Square last night I took a photo of a crews installing a new artwork, called Ghost Forest. I'll let the website fill in the rest. Oh, and new pictures via the Londonist.

Friday, 13 November 2009

where in the world / scatterbrain

If the future dialectic is the real/digital (I've heard your comments, just run with it a bit) then a poignant question might be "what of the real is already in the digital (read: Second Life, MMORPGs) and what of the digital is already in the real (read: where on the earth actually is the internet)?"

Also, I toyed with putting this up on Inter 7 (I've just put up some images of visualising wireless fields), but decided in the end it was MP worthy. It is a photo-cartoon series I've been doing about the future of the Internet, drawing the comparison between the process by which houses with monofunctional rooms (dining room, bedroom, bathroom, etc) became open plan (where the open plan is in fact other than the sum of its composite functions) and the changing nature of the Internet from a collection of monofunctional sites (facebook, wikipedia, twitter, etc) into the open plan internet (read Google Wave, and any other of those things).

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

fistful of links

The crisis in California via This isn't happiness

I missed our little tête-à-tête last week, it was like a fistful to my heart: some news.

Hardcore gamers adopt strap-ons. Related, a court is played a couple's sex sessions. Still related, Orgy, via Geekologie. Only related if you consider children the inevitable result of careless foreplay, Maclaren pushchairs create amputees. Apropos of nothing: Art-con? Related, Chinese mass-produced art. So that's where all those paintings I saw at Montmatre came from.

Everyone knows Vice's do's and dont's are passé (unless you're a hipster); seek shameful joy at People of Walmart. Battersea, I hear, is the new Left Bank. I certainly didn't hear it from the man on the Clapham omnibus (that's a little geographical joke). Another joke, the top 100 defining cultural moments of the 2000's. Not on my list.

News of the world... Texas: Major goes postal. Related, the origins of the term 'going round the bend'. Australia: hacker invents first iphone worm. No worms in Paris: one table restaurant atop the Palais de Tokyo (one-time home of Würsa). Other turning tables: 9/11 – that's not funny. Also Stateside, an article on design observer that has been doing the rounds. Not a Millennium Person, if you ask me. London: pecha kucha is back. The Net: the amazing Beagle escape.

Second to last, Mas Yendo - an ex-student of Lebbeus Woods - is speaking at the Bartlett this week via Tomorrow's Thoughts Today. Also from that think tank: the power of dystopias.

Last: Richard Dawkins, Britain's foremost aethiest, uses one nerdy profanity.

Monday, 9 November 2009

toyo ito talks it over

When I got home to Battersea the fog had completely permeated the suburb, leaving nothing but the orange halos of streetlights and massive neon 'Tescos' sign to guide my navigation. I shudder to think what it was like when this was all still swampland. That's right, I shudder.
I spent the evening at the Architectural Association, listening to a talk by Toyo Ito entitled 'my first and most recent works'. This was a confusing title, because his first works seemed to encompass 1964 to 2002, and his recent works 2006 to 2009. I can't remember what he did in 2003,4 & 5, but he must regret it. He arrived, and bowed to everyone, and then just launched into an explanation of his beginnings in Japanese, with translator: the end of the 60's/early 70's, when rapid technological advances clashed with student political ideologies. He worked on Tange's Olympic Stadium, and Kikutake's Expo 70 Tower. Ito took inspiration from the Metabolists, particularly the Nakagin Capsule Tower, but also from less influential architects like Shinohara. He described Japan as being divided between Metabolism and another school that focused on minimalism, interiority and isolated space. This, he said, led to the current Japanese architectural trend of closed boxes [What We Do Is Secret] .

In 1971 he wanted to go back to university, but because of the revolts all universities were closed. So he was forced to open his own practise. His explained his first work, the Aluminium House, [unusually I can't find any good images of this building] as being founded around two Nagakin capsules that had fallen to the earth. This grounding, for him, signified the end of Metabolism, but also a new beginning. He purposely chose aluminium for its disposable connotations, as opposed to the solid durability of the Metabolist modules.

After his famous White-U building, where he had tried to create a completely isolated and socially disconnected space, he tried to re-engage with society and community through a Dom-ino mass produced housing system. They only sold one, which went to Sejima's parents. Towards the mid-eighties he tried to revisit some questions of traditional ephemerality in modern Japanese architecture. The Japanese house, he said, is like an empty stage [Kuma]. It only remains to bring in the furniture, which will immediately imply certain relationships – relationships brought to life through rituals.

He touched briefly on the 90's, ending with the Serpentine and Brugge pavilions, before brushing over completely the Sendai Mediatheque and concentrating on his Tama Art University Library. "I try to avoid becoming reliant on high quality finishes, because if you become too used to Japanese quality, you find it very hard to build elsewhere." In this building, through the furniture and the shelving, he tried to explore what the positions of the body associated with learning might be. What is the physicality of education?

Several questions were asked after the lecture: first Jencks rambled for a bit, really boring everyone with a long winded discourse, and finally with no question. If he hadn't been Charles Jencks I'd have reminded him whose lecture it was. Brett Steele asked a good one: Ito mentioned that he wanted to reject traditional symbolism in architecture, but, since his Dom-ino system he had in fact been rejecting some of the most fundamental elements of architecture: the column and the grid. None of his buildings after the Dom-ino possessed columns at all, nor a regular grid. Was this purposeful? Ito smiled and said, in broken English, "this is a subject of current research."

I asked "You mentioned several times the fact that this lecture is mostly translated, how would you say the language, or vocabulary, of Japanese space influenced your work?" He paused. At length, he said "Language is about an ambiguity, and there can often be a contradiction of expectations in translation. I find this metaphor useful: you go to the water temple, the surface is of still water. You pick up stones of different sizes, and you throw them. Each one creates different ripples. The meaning of the shape comes not from any single pattern of ripples, but through the collection and association of the sum. This is the Japanese language."

One other student asked "how do you conceive of ephemerality in your buildings?" Ito responded "The notion of ephemerality may not lie in the structure itself, but in its occupation, as at Sendai..." He spoke in English "But, generally, I should wish any architecture to not rest too long."

Certified Millennium Person.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

shetlands and urchins

Battersea Mill - unique for having no windmill, but wooden shutters that opened to turn a central shaft.

Winter is coming, the air has a certain bite to it. That grey light of dawn persists the whole day, and then brightens to dusk, before dimming to night. I emerged from my house at 5:30, to find myself in utter darkness.

If you catch the 344 past Battersea Power Station there is a type of bridge that goes over the railway, and down on the right is a small back street with an old Irish pub, called Finnegan's, on the corner. As I passed it this afternoon I noticed a small band of children peering over the handrail – kids from the estates, shivering without coats. They had a slight sheen under the lamplight... vaguely oily. Not a clean shine like machines, but like old newspapers wrapped around greasy chips. It really struck me.
In any case, the street had been partially blocked by two or three horse floats, and about three dozen Shetland ponies were tied to any iron or wood fixture their owners could find. The owners, pints in hand, were feeding the horses from buckets while the children nervously jeered from above. I looked more closely at the pub. Was that gas burning in its lanterns? The street was lit by gas?

One more piece of evidence that London is at best a Victorian city.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

nature versus technology

A natural landscape. See also: 14, by David Bickerstaff.

Technology, as I wrote yesterday, means only ‘to assemble’ (and shares this root with 'tectonic'). The traditional misconception, however, is that nature is somehow atechnological. Nature is pure, it precedes humanity and is complete without it. So there is a dichotomy established- that technology is dangerous, that it will threaten nature. In light of the original meaning of ‘technology’ nature is most certainly a technological creational force. The dichotomy disappears.

Human technology, as opposed to natural technology, is distinct only in the manner by which the product comes to being: the body must always be the mediator for its creation, while nature generates itself. Hence the association that the root of technology is the tool, and the belief that if the tool is made big and dangerous enough it will one day turn back on its maker and pummel him.

The etymology of 'nature' is the Latin 'nasci' meaning birth (the root trickles down to 'renaissance'). The Roman notion of birth is that it occurs when the baby is complete - which is why nature carries implications of being finished, perfect and balanced. The sense of these two terms opposite each other is: the perfect, finished world versus the constructive, unfinished assemblage. And so the point I am making is that the meaning of 'nature' is misconstrued, and that it is also technological, it is also in a state of construction and evolution, and is not a static, finished thing. There can therefore be no such thing as 'tampering' with nature, or 'playing God', since all our actions are essentially natural.

Let's just assume that global warming stems from human activity. It remains nonetheless a natural process. But it is also a technological process, since it occurs over time and through the coming together (arrangement, assemblage) of innumerable sub-processes. This distinction carries through to all of our current experimentation with 'nature'. Growing an ear on the back of a mouse, cloning a sheep, stem cell research, each of these is both technological and natural.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

digital dialectic

It was eerily silent at Oxford Circus last night. It had been on Sunday night too. I waited in front of the Tube exit for my father while a constant stream of empty buses rolled past, flicking up wakes in the gutters. The pavements were deserted. Then I suddenly had the irrational sensation that London was concealing itself in preparation for some imminent event and only I remained unwarned.


Fukuyama famously announced the Death of History a couple of years after my birth (I don't believe the two were connected). The Death of History? The end of all history? His basis for this statement was a worldview he had extrapolated from Hegelian thinking. Hegel basically saw the spirit of any epoch (zeitgeist) as being defined by the struggle between two principal opposing entities. The neutralisation of this great struggle signals the end of the age.

The first epoch is supposedly the human struggle for mutual acknowledgement; to be recognised and recognisable to ourselves and by each other. Perhaps less opaquely, the late 19th century might be seen as the struggle between worker and master - the resolution of which signalled the end of the Industrial Revolution. The mid to late 20th century might be seen as the struggle between Communism and Capitalism.

Fukuyama's argument is that when the USSR packed up it ended the Communist/Capitalist struggle, allowing for global free-market Capitalism. The idea of the opposing entities is that they are fundamental. Capitalism is a fundamental organisation of society, as is Communism. The vacuum of the struggle, the absence of a dialectic, apparently signals the end of all history, since no major struggle replaced it.

Fukuyama's basic problem was that he was considering the 'spirit of the times' from a strictly economic standpoint. I find his dramatism about the end of history pretty absurd. Although it is true that the collapse of the USSR did signal the end of the Communism/Capitalism struggle – and Capitalism, having no opposition to keep it in check, ran out of control. The '07 crash (which we are apparently climbing out of) signalled the actual end of this mighty struggle. Which is part of my argument for why we are only now at the beginning of a new decade, new century and a new millennium, people.

To define the new age, to find the spirit of the times, in Hegelian terms is a lot easier than it sounds. It only requires the defining of the two opposing entities. Some people would say that the principal struggle of our times is technology versus nature. I'm not going to get into it too much (perhaps in another post) but this is a false division. If you look at the root of technology - tekne - it means simply 'to assemble'. Technology is an assemblage. Nature, however, is also an assemblage. That is, nature is technological. When we talk about nature and technology as opposites we are really talking about the differences in the manner of assembly. Nature assembles itself, while human assembly is always mediated. Our technology has to be assembled by our own hands.

The nature versus technology struggle can be excluded. For me, the strongest alternative is the struggle between the real and the digital. This is for several reasons - firstly, it would seem to be a logical historical progression: we have moved from the manual revolution (industrial) to the digital revolution. But a digital revolution cannot be without purpose, it has to have something to revolt against. And that subject is the real.

More to come on the subject...