Thursday, 27 May 2010

fistful of links

I'm in the labs waiting for some images to render (more on that later in the year), so while the computer plugs away at it: some news.

London: the image above maps the city by geo-tagged flickr photos – I'm kind of surprised the rapidly gentrifying East isn't darker. Check out the Geotaggers' World Atlas (must see!). Related, the Londonist has mapped city institutions that broadcast on Twitter. Slight diversion - did you know is an English nationalist site? Tweets precipitated into cuckoo clocks (also, tweets converted into bone structure). Back to geotagged photo maps: Europe. Back to London: Boris Johnson, mayor thereof, is scrapping the Western Congestion zone. WTF dude? Chelsea is where most of the cars are at, no? Also on Boris' to-do list, city-wide free wifi by 2012 - from the unimaginatively named company The Cloud.

Herzog + De Meuron have turned a car park into an art form (1111 Lincoln Road, Miami). But is it really Post-Ballardian? Related, Into The Loop's mixed-use car park/metro station. Still re-using urban structures – the Lords of Raisintown: skateboarders that clean out the pools of re-possessed homes in order to skate in them. Police and real-estate agents are cool with this, since it keeps the pools clean and the property supervised. BLDG BLOG on rogue factories.

I wrote yesterday about Renzo - MP tip-off (I wish you would all send in more, frankly) from an Italian reader – for $11 you can 'be Renzo Piano', its an ipad app... OMA have made a new map of Europe – Eneropa! It's been wrapped up by all the regular dudes, Supercolossal + Infranet and whatever, but the best images are by far Club Construct.

Image source and location unknown...

Dross: inside Hitler's bunker (LIFE have some great galleries); The Ghastlycrumb Tinies, a children's book; startup quotes (Twitter founder: "Investors are employees you can never hire. We made sure to pick investors that thought like us."); crazy tunnels in Russia's only private metro; Turkish bees make beautiful nests from flowers; Notes from Chris (must-read!); in relation to my screen bit, the Nintendo DS as building; why I don't go to festivals; Sean Connery in a thong; steal this idea; Japanese neon light fights (real gorey, with blood and shit, prob NSFW); minigolf meets publicity: advertput; a mad hail storm in the states...


Wednesday, 26 May 2010

symposiums at home and away

I'm not going to write one of those falsely self-deprecating – yet secretly/overtly proud – notices on the wonderful things I have been up to recently (viz: "here is a bit of shameless self-promotion *school-girl giggling*"), I am simply going to say the following:

1. I was involved in a very brief panel conversation at the end of a fascinating two-day conference held at the AA called Architecture's Pasts. It is available here online. Speakers included Jeff Kipnis, Mark Cousins, Adrian Forty, Brian Hatton, Reinhold Martin, and Brett Steele (and many more).

2. I have a review of another AA symposium Rendering Speculations published in June's Architectural Review. I've seen the issue, and there's some particularly good pieces in there – including one on H+DeM's Miami 1111 building/car park and some good visual porn from the Milan design fair.

The image above is purely gratuitous.

piano lessons

"Architecture is a dangerous profession. If we are wrong, we are wrong for a long, long time." So saying Renzo Piano began his short speech to a small audience gathered in the central courtyard of his first UK building (and the most colourful, by percentage of facade, ever built in London): Central St. Giles.

Personally, while I find his eye for detailing impeccable, I am not a fan of his work in general. Although he expresses himself with a frank charm, I find his approach to architecture strangely... archaic. His description of how the building came to be – starting with the destruction of an old Ministry of Defence brick fortress, followed by nine years of searching for the right way to create 'an urban meeting place' – was part architect-as-master-builder, part architect-as-social-engineer.

"London has a texture that is medieval, no two facades point in the same direction." he argued, describing the condition of the city. "It has a magic feeling. It is made of piazzas and streets and passages... it is always mixed in its use." I definitely agree London is medieval, but I've never stumbled into one of its piazzas. It is a grubby and run-down city, a city that takes time to learn to love, with none of the allure (or homogeneity) of Rome or Paris. The only people I've ever heard use the word "magic" in London are Spanish tourists describing the hit musical 'Mama-Mia: the songs of Abba'.

"I think the city is a place of surprise." Piano continued. There was something terribly trite about this Italian, who "wanted to tell the truth, and be completely honest" about the building. The corporate sterility of the courtyard and the transplanted oak jarred with this old-world charisma and sincerity about materiality. "Every building must bear the mark of the hand"... It didn't help the talk was called 'Piano Lessons'. Jeez. Talk about Cheese Louise.

"Architecture is the art of making shelter. But it also the art of answering desires and dreams." Cue whoosing wind and wind chimes. Then he suddenly changed pitch, and the smile fell from his face. "I want to confess everything. Some people think you begin with the idea. But there is always something missing from a project. I don't mean I am a perfectionist, I am talking about the real struggle. We want to be good, but this takes a lot of energy. We [architects] must be stubborn. But we must also be right, so we must be good listeners... I don't think schools really teach you that. Maybe the parents, but mostly we learn this in life. You must fight –" he gestured to the developers sitting in the front row "but we're not really fighting, we are struggling" The project team smiled knowingly at each other. "This is what I call the responsibility of the architect... No one can be so arrogant as to know exactly what to do in this job, you must struggle." He broke off to look at a large printed render mounted on card "This is the problem with scale and proportion. Many people know how to make these horrible renders, that always lie! They can make perfect models, but if they are not careful they will end up with buildings that are just large models."

He closed with a metaphor: "Being an architect is like conquering the wild west. First you must get a caravan, and then there is a big river, and then the horse gets tired, and then you are attacked by Indians... And then you make it there in the end. And you think, sometimes those Indians look bad, but they're really good guys." The audience sat bemuzed, thoroughly puzzled by this last remark.

Sunday, 23 May 2010


When Millennium People becomes a collective (around its first birthday in July) it may or may not adopt the title of Think Tank. In order to justify such a term MP has to start having an influence. Here's a suggestion: no one should use square and round brackets to name projects anymore. That era is over.

The practise of hid[in]g words within words began sometime around the beginning of last decade, popularised perhaps by the increasing use of code (in particular Java and Python) to script architectural forms. For those of you unfamiliar with this as a design tool, the idea is basically to write a small computer programme that defines certain parameters (this might be about the shape, or the limits or the function) of a particular element (say, a facade). You then use this little programme (a script) to generate your architectural solution, or a million architectural solutions. I can only imagine that it was the syntax of these scripts, which often involve defining commands through (round) or [square] brackets that led teachers and students to apply it to their design titles.

For example, the 2005 student book produced by UNSW's Faculty of the Built Environment (located within a bright terracotta building) was "Re[a]d Centre". You see what they did there? This is banal, but fairly innocuous. Versions that really irritate me tend to suggest another meaning through the inclusion of the brackets: "[Re]thinking Architecture", "[De]sign ", "Mor[e]ph", "Tran[s]tasis", and so on. This format ranks up there in the idiocy charts with unneccessary triple slashes /// and NASA's weird acronyms ('CUM BLOW' = cumulative booster lift-off weight).

Back to the [], the problem stems from the basic indecision of this naming. Rather than making me think the authors are innovative or cutting-edge, it just makes me think they can't make up their minds. You are either reading architecture or you're re-reading it. You can't do both simultaneously.

Remember your first e-mail address? If you're like me it was probably something ridiculous like 'self_inspired' or 'groovy_gurl350'. The novelty of the e-mail address made this kind of acceptable. It was a pseudonym and never meant to be associated directly with the user. The Internet was a place of anonymity back then. Nowadays the trend has generally been away from yahoo and hotmail towards gmail, with straightforward and serious formatting: The same is true of this naming technique. We're a bit more grown up now, and it's time to move away from these childish appellations.

P[ass] it on.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

the end of the world

Just a quick notification: the Architecture Association's Intermediate Seven unit, run by Kate Davies and Liam Young, and titled 'The end of the world, and other bedtime stories' has just released its first publication for this academic year (a second is forthcoming). It's not expensive and is available from the AA Bookstore. If you want to keep your fingers on the pulse, this is one to watch. Also good for aspiring anarchists, the millennial avant-garde, and anyone looking to buy a gift for the man that has it all...

This year the unit went to Iceland to study the end of the world. If you missed Millennium People's coverage, it was intense and ace.

fistful of links

Latitude of Silence by You LI.

Sixpence an adventure and he'll take you home again: some news.

Every week I wrap up the world on the web, this week it's the web in the world that has got me in a tizzy.

Some ideas about surfing is a new zine by the young artist Joel Colover (available here as a pdf download) exploring the act of web-browsing as a type of Situationist derive – or passive drift. It is a nice return to the 90's zine aesthetic, featuring bold text and xeroxed sketches.

"Tab based browsing is surfing different waves at the same time. All the time. On the Internet we surf the currents left by other users. Old lost content and new data supply us with the momentum we need... The Internet is not a world, it is a city the size of a universe. It can be split into different quarters, not just based on content, but also on presentation, design, architecture of the pages. This is what the invisible walls are made of."


The Facebook/privacy debate continues. I can't say I'm too happy about Google's monopoly of the Web, especially when it turns out they were using Street View to capture information from people's wireless networks. That said, they are still miles better than Facebook – the "obnoxious drunk girl at the party/Internet". Related, the US still using a mercenary spy ring. Related, Cold War Paranoia. Maybe related, computers have replaced all your friends. The original lightweight portable telephone: $1499. (Wow, old technology is so attractively crap).

Left: Eventual Ghost. Net neutrality looks like its going to be a thing of the past real quick; Also things of the past: "Future Days" a book by Asimov describing turn of the twentieth century visions for the future. I actually own this book, it is a pleasure. Also books: OMA are exhibiting all of their books at the AA. Hear what the Sesquipedalist has to say about it. Also OMA: old Coney Island postcards.

Inevitable ending, when print meets the net: the 48hr magazine project. Same subject: the magazine of tomorrow (developed by Millennial Wunderkinds Berg London). If you don't know Berg, like, really, do yourself a favour and check that shit pronto: touch, here and there, olinda, the schooloscope (to mention just a few of their amazing projects); The Internet approaches its address limit. I think we should start erasing the weak and old websites to make more space. Controversial. What Google fears most; the continuity of inter-connecting relationships; cloud computing goes mainstream (WATCH OUT FOR THIS ONE). Our one hope for the future of the web (not to be over-dramatic): the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative. This is the opposite of the Patriot Act of the Internet: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Does anyone else feel like the present stumbled into Blade Runner? On a lighter note, the real is now irrelevant: Banksy returns in digital form. A tip off for MP: Geocitiesizer, make any website look like it was designed by a 13yo in 1996.

Dross: I love unhappy hipsters; big babies at the Shanghai expo; Universal Corrective World Map; Britain is being run by a coalition, in case you didn't hear. It's like the Uk has got two gay dads – Conservative/Liberal Democrat agreement; some of the world's oldest colour photos; 40 mind-blowing hubble pics; dope NASA images; oh, and I remember where all the fistfuls are to be found thanks to Instapaper.


A day at Walmart, via Club Construct.

Christianese via Sociological Images.

Friday, 14 May 2010


By the time you read this, I will already be on my bike. Ah, automatic scheduling.

Just a quick (hopefully not too banal) observation on the development of the computer screen: I have often had teachers and employers (admittedly less with every passing year) that have had trouble 'reading' screens. Print that shit out, they say. And I say, fine, it's your time and money. As long as that is the case, otherwise I kick up a stink.

I've always maintained that the reason these people have been unable to read computer screens ("Jesus, Jack, stop whirling around for a minute and just stay still!") is because they are misunderstanding the purpose of the screen. A cinema or even a photograph is just a flat surface onto which an image has been projected. It remains clearly limited by the frame, we are not supposed to think there is anything outside it. Indeed, the joy of cinema can only come when one forgets the intense action that surrounds every minute action.

Not so with the map. When we look in an A-Z we are looking at some enormous, perfect, map of the entire world. It happens to be arbitrarily cut up into frames, through which we look at a portion. With the map there is a space beyond that of the edges, a map-reality we can peer into. The computer screen operates the same way, as a membrane separating us from some other, virtual, reality. My generation sees the membrane as wholly arbitrary because we believe in the reality of the image within. In other words, we believe it has space.

The confusion of reading a membrane like a flat surface means the image appears inconsistent, blurry and dizzying. Every moment it composes itself it changes again. So when Gramps struggles with your flash Japanese DS game, riddle it out to him in these terms.


This is just a paraphrased version of an opening paragraph to a veerry long piece I'm working on at the moment about the meaning of the architectural render. Watch this space. At least the movie is pretty cool, no?

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

strangers on the web

A tip-off sent into MP, originally from I-Am-Bored.


Last night I spoke at the Whitechapel for Love Art London on the subject of Robbrecht+Daem's Whitechapel Gallery extension and renovation. Perhaps the only downside was the fact that I delivered my bit, then had to repeat it twice more over a three hour period. During the second iteration a piece of sonic sculpture started singing next to me, and just before the third an old architect came and asked me some really intense questions, which threw/bored me. Unlike wine, but very much like humous, the subject did not improve with ageing. Here is the kernel of what I said:

There is almost perpetual conflict between the artist and the architect, though most of this can be put down to envy on the part of the architect. Never is this more true than when the architect is commissioned to design an art gallery. The temptation for the architect is to simply construct such a fantastic piece of sculpture than the building itself becomes art, and everything within it becomes somehow secondary to its housing. I'm thinking of Bilbao.

If the opportunity to really get in there and make a statement is non-existent, then the architect will prefer to design an art museum rather than a gallery. The contents of a museum are depoliticised, making the art safe for public consumption – and certainly no threat to the architecture. There is a feeble excuse sometimes given: since the word museum pertains to the muses, and therefore art is the product of divine inspiration, the proper place for art is in a temple. Hence the fact that most art galleries built up until the end of the 19th century were Neo-Classical, with steps running up to a large plinth and imposing collonnade. I'm thinking of the British Museum, the Tate, etc. While quite formal, at least everyone knew their place. The destruction of formal distinctions between art and architecture is what leads to the collapse of one onto the other. I'm thinking of Anish Kapoor's monstrosity for the London Olympics.

The Whitechapel is a heritage listed building. So is/was the adjacent 'Whitechapel Free and Public Library' which was bought by the gallery in 2001, with a view to expanding the relatively small exhibition space. Because the whole structure sits on top of Aldgate East tube, there wasn't that much room for architectural intervention. What remained for Robbrecht and Daem was principally a question of circulation.

The firm compared their proposal to a type of Art Internet: rather than the traditional sequence of lineally organised galleries, with coherently collated art, here the viewer can choose their own trajectory (backtracking, sidestepping and allowing intuition to guide them from one room to the next). Boredom was a big factor, the idea that someone could just pop in, have a coffee, do a quick swing into one, but not necessarily all, rooms and then whip out again.

I was pretty horrified by the analogy. If the Whitechapel acts, or is supposed to act, like the Internet – why on earth would I go it? If we look to print media, the newspapers and publications that are surviving and thriving (the Guardian, for example) are doing so by providing good critique, not simply news (which is omnipresent). If the art gallery fails to add anything to the experience a user might otherwise have clicking through their site, what is the difference? Why not virtualise the institution? I have to say I've been a couple of times since the Whitechapel reopened and I've found it each time pretty tame, maybe digitisation is the answer, an easier way to radicalise the art experience?

Monday, 10 May 2010

fistful of links

Top: the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, shortly before it sunk. Bottom: visualisation showing the resuming of air traffic across Europe in the wake of the Volcano. Airspace Rebooted (related: Flightradar24 where you can see all flights in Europe in real-time).

When it rains it pours: some news.

What seems to be going on in the world? Volcanoes, oil spills, the economic bankruptcy of most of Europe, and now Britain has a hung parliament. It's like we're copping it from all angles (which is exactly what she said). Luckily the Royal Guards are still able to instil some sense of normality. Oh, wait, they're busy marching in Red Square to celebrate conquest of the Nazis...

Related, as a kind of cultural exchange programme: Lenin in London. Same theme: Verso's Marxism conference. It's coming back into fashion again, that old Marxism. Yes sir, Marx my words, it has yet to make its full Marx. Dad jokes. Of course, the popular conception that ex-KGB lurk around every Moscow street corner couldn't be farther from the truth. Possibly related, Orwell on the principles of Newspeak. Back to London, but on a sombre note: Ghost Bikes. I've seen two people die as a result of bike accidents since I arrived in London a year ago, and I see a new ghost bike every few weeks. If you cycle in the city, do take care. Last thing on the capital: "London's Poor now no different from slaves"...

Let's hop on over to the oil rig shindig: a professional engineer in the field explains how monumentally fucked up all that shit is, in a no doubt hastily named article: mother of all gushers. Related, workers describe the methane explosion. Apocalyptic scenario? Who knows. But I'll invoke the imagery of the sky before Katrina as a visual metaphor for the global condition. A political metaphor might be Kanellos, the Greek protest dog.

Let's keep it a bit positive shall we? I'm not bothered by the oil escaping, since we've now got a petrol producing bug. When you factor in declining fuel reserves and Icelandic tectonic activity (not to mention the fact that vacationing is now a human right, according to the UN) then it seems like the future in travel is airships. Ace. Here's MPs proposal.

To technology: the first ever non-latin web addresses have gone live (although it still displays in most browsers as a bunch of x--n, wgbii, characters). The reasoning behind creating non-english URLs was that otherwise the Internet was likely to split into multiple Internets (can you even imagine multiple Internets?), although I would have thought that it makes the web less unified, not more. A convincing ipad rival has been released, which of course now justifies the ipad's right to existence. Nice one, idiots. That said, what if I had bought apple stock instead of an apple product? Still Mac, Steve Jobs' thoughts on flash. My own: phase out that shit - I gots one acronym, one number for you buddy: HTML 5. It can do everything flash can do, and it's native to the browser. Sorry Adobe, but I still love your Creative Suite. Related, obsolete technology.

Few kickshaws for you: a cream designed to grow long lashes can permanently change eye colour (Brooke Shields is the product's figureface); DAYTUM, in case you didn't already have enough information about yourself. Comes from Nicholas Feltron, whose Annual Reports always cause such a stir; BLDGBLOG's theatre for one; radioactive toothpaste; 4,000 year old lentils grown from seeds; National Geographic got a Tumblr; BIG's Shanghai Pavilion (also check out Heatherwick's). Still China: the fantastically multifunctional Chinese army shovel. Those guys, what will they think of next?

They can't tell us though, Millennium People is blocked in China.


Saturday, 8 May 2010


Via the magnificent Flowing Data.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

one new change

As I mentioned some time ago, I arrived in London in February 2009 expecting to work on Jean Nouvel's One New Change project. For reasons that are still too emotional to go into in any depth, I was not employed. It grieves me further that in spite of the absence of my creative input the building is nonetheless approaching completion. My only consolation is that the glass is pretty ugly (more here on Flickr).

The building caused quite a lot of controversy when the valiant Prince of Darkness decided he didn't like it and was going to have it canned. This was shortly after his fiddling with the Rogers re-development over at Chelsea Barracks. Those same Qatari developers have their fingers in every pie and they are also responsible for the Renzo Piano monstrosity currently under construction near London Bridge. The core alone is the width of a 20 storey building.

Dark times lie on the horizon for London (literally, as the massive structure will be able to cast a shadow over all of Borough Market).

Shard (right) under construction.