Stationary Cinema

[Image: Wallpaper by Studio Carnovsky, via Creative Review].

This wallpaper, designed by Studio Carnovsky, changes images depending on what color light you view it under. As such, it could be an incredibly interesting thing to experiment with in other contexts—including outdoor urban lighting, public signage, and even film animation.

[Image: Wallpaper by Studio Carnovsky, via Creative Review].

In the latter case, imagine a hallway whose wallpaper is printed with six or seven closely related scenes from an animated clip; each "scene" is printed in a different color. A light programmed to move through the appropriate sequence of color changes is then installed in the same corridor; as it flashes from color to color, changing perhaps every half-second, you see what appears to be a moving image on the walls around you.

It would be a kind of unmoving zoetrope—a stationary cinema in printed form (or a stationary cinema in stationery form?).

[Images: Wallpaper by Studio Carnovsky, via Creative Review].

Even if only used for interior decoration, however, the effect is well worth exploring further.

(Thanks to a tip from Tim Maly).

Architecturally Armed

[Image: Photo by Vincent Fournier, courtesy of Wired UK].

This morning's post about a robot-city on the slopes of Mount Fuji reminded me of this thing called the CyberMotion Simulator, operated by the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany (and featured in this month's issue of Wired UK).

The Simulator, Wired writes, is "a RoboCoaster industrial robotic arm adapted and programmed to simulate an F1 Ferrari F2007."
    Testers are strapped into a cabin two metres above ground, and use a steering wheel, accelerator and brake to control CyberMotion. The simulator can provide accelerations of 2G and its display shows a 3D view of the circuit at Monza. The arm's six axes allow for the replication of twists and turns on the track and can even turn the subjects upside down.
But I'm curious what everyday architectural uses such a robo-arm might have. An office full of moving cubicles held aloft by black robotic arms that lift, turn, and rotate each desk based on who the worker wants to talk to; mobile bedroom furniture for a depressed ex-astronaut; avant-garde set design for a new play in East London; a vertigo-treatment facility designed by Aristide Antonas; surveillance towers for traffic police in outer Tokyo; a hawk-watching platform in Fort Washington State Park.

You show up for your first day of high school somewhere in a Chinese colonial city in central Africa and find that everyone—in room after room, holding hundreds of people—is sitting ten feet off the ground in these weird and wormy chairs, dipping and weaving and reading Shakespeare.

Maunsell Nation

[Image: From Anti Syn Nation by Jonas Loh].

I like this tiny model of the Maunsell Towers, part of Jonas Loh's Anti Syn Nation project—"a speculative micro nation," he writes, supported by the "natural genetic engineering" of sea slugs. But I think someone should make a chess set entirely from Maunsell-tower like oil platforms and other modular microutopias at sea—or perhaps just a student thesis project presented using custom-milled chess pieces, with elaborate spatial rules governing the resulting game.

The Robot A-Z

[Image: The yellow chipboards of the Fanuc global headquarters; courtesy of Fanuc].

On the flight back to Los Angeles yesterday I read about the corporate campus of Fanuc, "a secretive maker of robots and industrial automation gear," according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

"Some 60 percent of the world's precision machine tools use Fanuc's controls," the article explains, "which give lathes, grinders, and milling machines the agility to turn metal into just about any manufactured product." As if suggesting a future art installation by Jeff Koons—sponsored by Boeing—we read about a man who uses "a milling machine with Fanuc controls to sculpt 747 parts." (The company's robot A-Z shows off their other goods).

[Image: Assembly robots by Fanuc].

But it's the description of the firm's actual facilities that caught my eye. "Fanuc's headquarters, a sprawling complex in a forest on the slopes of Mount Fuji, looks like something out of a sci-fi flick":
    Workers in yellow jumpsuits with badges on their shoulders trot among yellow buildings as yellow cars hum along pine-lined roads. Fanuc lore holds that the founder, Seiuemon Inaba, believed yellow "promotes clear thinking."Inside the compound's windowless factories, an army of (yes, yellow) robots works 24/7. "On a factory floor as big as a football field you might see four people. It's basically just robots reproducing themselves."
Thing is, if you want to see more—to see this strange origin-site for contemporary intelligent machines—you can't. "Outsiders are rarely allowed inside the facility, and workers not engaged in research are barred from labs," Businessweek adds. "'I can't even get in,' quips a board member who asks that his name not be used."

In a way, I'm reminded of South Korea's plans for its own "Robot Land," an "industrial city built specifically for the robotics industry," that will have "all sorts of facilities for the research, development, and production of robots, as well as things like exhibition halls and even a stadium for robot-on-robot competitions."

Here, though, alone amidst other versions of themselves in the pines of Mt. Fuji, "the world's most reliable robots" take shape in secret, shelled in yellow, reproducing themselves, forming a robot city of their own.

First-Strike Reforestation

Earlier this month, Macleans looked at the idea of "aerial reforestation," or the large-scale dropping of tree seedlings using decommissioned military aircraft. Of course, we looked at this same plan many, many years ago—and it turns out the same guy is behind this latest round of journalistic interest.

[Image: Courtesy of Getty Images/Macleans].

Moshe Alamaro, still affiliated with MIT, had previously been pushing his plan for "using a small fertilizing plane to drop saplings in plastic pods one at a time from a hopper," Macleans explains. The biodegradable canisters would then have "hit the ground at 200 m.p.h.," MIT explained back in 1997, "and imbed themselves in the soil. Then the canisters decompose and the young trees take root. A large aircraft could drop as many as 100,000 saplings in a single flight: Alamaro's system could plant as many as a million trees in one day."

But, Macleans points out, "it wasn’t very fruitful—most pods hit debris during pilot tests and failed to actually take root."

The idea has thus now been "upgraded," using different technical means "to create new forests on empty landscapes."
    The process Alamaro advocates places trees in metal pods that rot on contact with the ground, instead of the low-tech and less sturdy plastic version. He says the process can be adapted to plant shrubs, and would work best in places with clear, loose soil, such as sub-desert parts of the Middle East, or newly habitable Arctic tundra opened up by global warming. “What is needed is government policy to use old military aircraft,” he says, adding that thousands are in hangars across the globe. Although the original pitch failed, Alamaro says the growing carbon market is creating new interest, and he hopes to find funding for a large-scale pilot project soon. Once Alamaro gets planes in the air, the last step, says [Dennis Bendickson, professor of forestry], will be to simply “get people out of the way.”
In this context, it's difficult to resist pointing out Iceland's own soil-bombing campaign: "Iceland is big and sparsely populated," the BBC reported in 2005. "There are few roads. So, Icelanders decided to 'bomb their own country'," dropping special mixtures of fertiliser and seeds "from a WWII DC 3 Dakota"—carpet-bombing subarctic desert in an attempt to make that emptiness flower.

I feel compelled here to point out a brief scene from the film Hellboy 2, in which we see a "forest god" killed in the streets of Brooklyn (roughly 2:36 in this clip); his green and bubbling blood blooms instantly into a carpet of soft roots and lichen, splashing onto the roofs of cars, sending seedpods from wildflowers and pollinating plants down in drifts along the New York sidewalks. Should a substance that fertile be developed in real life, Alamaro's—and Iceland's—plans could be realized in the blink of an eye.

In any case, will Alamaro finally succeed? Will we see whole new woodsy landscapes grow in the wake of sustained rural bombing campaigns—druidic warfare—cryptoforests spreading out from craters and abandoned fields far below? Will we launch seed grenades from sapling artillery, plant improvised explosive devices packed dense with forest nutrients?

(Story found via @treestrategist).

Thrilling Wonder Update

Here is an updated schedule for tomorrow's big event at the Architectural Association, Thrilling Wonder Stories II. We've had a few changes to the line-up (and, thus, to the schedule itself), requiring us to move some people around and repopulate each theme.

[Image: Thrilling Wonder Stories II at the Architectural Association; view larger].

See below for the current and correct proceedings:


12:00 Bookshop, coffee, music and gaming

12:30 Introductions by Brett Steele and Liam Young

12:40—14:00 COUNTERFEIT ARCHAEOLOGIES
Geoff Manaugh + Nicola Twilley
[Founders of Future Plural, authors of BLDGBLOG and Edible Geography]
Dunne and Raby
[Design provocateurs]

14:00–15:20 CAUTIONARY TALES
Jeff VanderMeer
[Author of City of Saints and Madmen and Finch]
Will Self
[Author of The Book of Dave, Psychogeography and Walking Through Hollywood]
Paul Duffield
[Artist and Author of Freakangels and Signal comics]


15:20–15:40 Break/Overspill


15:40–17:00 NEAR FUTURES
BERG London
[Technologists, futurists and RFID magicians]
Alex Rutterford
[Motion graphics filmmaker, director and designer for Ridley Scott Associates and Warp Records]
Gavin Rothery
[Concept artist for the film Moon]
Ubisoft
[Transmedia and game designers]

17:00–18:20 APOCALYPTIC VISIONS
Antony Johnston
[Author of Wasteland and Daredevil comics]
Splash Damage
[Designers of the Ark, the war-stricken floating refugee city from the game Brink]
Rachel Armstrong
[Biotechnology and scifi squishiness]


18:20–18:40 Break/Overspill


18:40-20:00 ALTERNATIVE PRESENTS
Ant Farm
[Architectural supergroup and countercultural heroes]
Joep Van Lieshout
[Founder of Atelier Van Lieshout and the speculative free state of AVL Ville]


Feel free to stop by any time between noon and 8pm to see how it's all moving along; it will also be livecast, courtesy of the AA. Here is a map.

Hope to see you tomorrow!

The Inevitability Of Prophecy Among Models Of New York

[Image: From Prototype, courtesy of Activision].

[Note: This is a guest post by Jim Rossignol].

The parallels and disparities between videogames and movies are endlessly debated, but there's one certainty: they both return, routinely, to the architecture of New York City. The most frequently filmed city in the world is also the most frequently modeled.

The canyons of New York are as useful for game designers as they are for film directors. If the decision is arbitrary, then New York represents a kind of go-to alpha city: the logical choice if you need a city at all. For film directors it's a grand and familiar backdrop, and the same bold geometry is relatively straightforward for game technologies to render. The grid-like topology, an added bonus, is easy for gamers to understand and navigate, too.

Models of the city exist, at many different levels of fidelity, for many different gaming scenarios. From the crude polygonal outlines of early iterations of Microsoft Flight Sim, to the normal-mapped biomorphic horrors of last year's ultraviolent brawler, Prototype, Manhattan's skyline and the districts beyond are etched into virtuality, over and over. These models exist on countless DVDs and hard-discs across the world, in ten of thousands of memory-states within the architecture of game consoles and PCs that are modeling the city right now, in real time. It might be impossible to say how many different (or identical) instances of New York are stored, digitally, within the city itself. It seems likely that a model of New York sits just an arm-length away from every Xbox-inhabited TV stand in the greater metropolitan area.

[Image: From True Crime: New York City, courtesy of Activision].

There have been dozens of instances of New York remade for the escape-hatch sub-realities of gaming in studios around the world. In just the past decade we could name Alone In The Dark, True Crime, The Hulk, World In Conflict, Forza 2, Project Gotham, 50 Cent, Max Payne 1 & 2, Gran Turismo 3, and Def Jam Vendetta. This number spills into scores more across the previous decades, and it's a figure which becomes hazier still when mods, expansions, analogues, and cancelled or lost projects are counted in the mix.

[Image: From Max Payne, courtesy of Rockstar Games].

This reliance on New York isn't simply about providing a visually interesting backdrop, of course, because it has also provided some of the strongest connections to character. When the noir ultraviolence of Max Payne was moved to Sao Paulo for Max Payne 3, there was uproar. If you took Max out of the tenements of New York, was he really Max at all? What was the New York cop without his delirious nightmare of New York's criminal innards? Similarly, when it was announced that Crysis 2 would be moving from its technologically impressive jungle-island home to the exploding streets of Manhattan, no one really thought to comment. Of course it would be set in New York. Indeed, if they really wanted to see/destroy it all, where else would the aliens want to go next?

[Image: From Crysis 2, courtesy of Electronic Arts].

Crysis 2's ash-hazed avenues are impeccably damaged, while surly pedestrians in any sandbox city are happy to pick a fight if you don't look where you're going. These models new look increasingly like New York City, and more often behave like it, too. As the complexity of games increases, it seems that we are speeding towards a completionist model of the city—one that whirs and hums and yells like the real thing. As the models made by game studios march toward reality, they march towards Manhattan.

Yet realism is not a goal that games should really be striving for. Leave that to the CAD programs and the satellite maps. Instead games should explore the aspects of Manhattan that make less sense, like its dreams, or the models of the city that represent it not as it is, but as we are able to explore it, thanks to the mutational potentials of digital simulation. Examine those aspects of the city and perhaps the issue becomes less about New York as a fabulous piece of set design, and more about New York as a vital raw material for the business of fantasy.

This is a relationship that has moved on from simply being a straightforward practical connection to something that is embroiled in deeper meaning. New York city has become gaming's ideal and idealized urban environment, and it has done so by becoming refictionalized and reimagined. The finest example of a city yet given to gaming, that of Grand Theft Auto IV, isn't really New York at all, and yet it is more like New York than ever before. It's the essence of New York—a distillation that is only possible thanks to the unique way in which games are able to make the figurative and the abstract resonate with us even more profoundly than the infinite detail of the everyday.

[Image: From Grand Theft Auto IV, courtesy of Rockstar Games].

It's worth noting that the superficial New Yorkness of other, real cities often counts in their favor when it comes to making movies. At the end of American Psycho, for instance, Toronto's TD Centre convincingly stands in for the fictional Patrick Bateman's office in the real-world Seagram Building—both buildings by Mies van der Rohe, but the latter is in Manhattan. The TD Centre thus becomes an architectural stunt double—or perhaps a sinewy body double helping the real New York look good. Not only that, but Pinewood Toronto Studios recently announced that they will be investing further in their home city to create lived-in, urban areas that look like residences in New York, Chicago and London—real districts of a city that are permanently and deliberately cast as a "living movie set."

[Image: From Deus Ex, courtesy of Eidos Interactive].

Where games are concerned, New York, and the modeling thereof, is a primary conduit for things that cannot happen, or things that need to happen over and over in a slightly different way each time. Not just a conveniently located backdrop, but a thing that can be toyed with digitally, again and again, first by the game developers and then by the gamers themselves. Occasionally, even, the simulations might accidentally model things that have yet to happen. Conspiratorial cyber-fantasy Deus Ex was awash with its own ideas about the sinister possibilities of our politico-military techno-future, but what was the meaning behind the twin towers missing from its future skyline? A year before the towers were destroyed? The silent bells of paranoia began to ring.

In truth the skyline had been cheaply mirrored to reduce the game's memory footprint, and the Twin Towers portion had simply been left out to make the game run more smoothly. It was nothing more than a technical conceit of the kind games are riddled with, one of the limiting factors of memory or processing that makes the computerized cities so much less than their real counterparts. But it was also a manifestation of something that became inevitable as New York was modeled over and over—as speculation mingled with outright fantasy—the inevitability that games could become a form of architectural prophecy.

• • •

Jim Rossignol is a games critic, blogger, occasional guest writer on BLDGBLOG, and author of the excellent This Gaming Life: Travels in Three Cities, published by the University of Michigan Press. He is @jimrossignol on Twitter.

Stratigraphies of Infestation

In his book Rats, Robert Sullivan—an author whose work we previously reviewed here—offers a glimpse of how the city is seen through the eyes of the pest-control industry.

[Image: Rats by Robert Sullivan].

Effective rodent control requires a very specific kind of spatial knowledge, Sullivan suggests, one that often eludes architects and city planners.

Sullivan quotes one rat-control professional, for instance, who "foresees a day when he will be hired to analyze a building's weaknesses, vis-à-vis pests and rodents... 'They design buildings to support pigeons and for infiltration by rodents because they don't think about it. Grand Central Station, right? They just renovated it, right? Who knows what they spend on that, right? You know how much they spend on pest control? You know how much they budgeted? Nothing. I did all the extra work there, but they had to pay us out of the emergency budget.'"

Pest control here becomes an explicitly architectural problem, something you can design both for and against. Imagine an entire degree program in infestation-resistant urban design.

Sullivan points out that a massive, urban-scale architectural intervention, in the form of a quarantine wall fortifying all of New York City against rats, was once tentatively planned: “There was a time in New York, in the 1920s," he writes, "when scientists proposed a great wall along the waterfront to shut out rats completely, to seal out rats and, thus, forever end rat fear. Eventually, though, the idea was deemed implausible and abandoned: rats will always get through.”

But it's the particular subset of urban knowledge that has been actively cultivated within the pest control industry that fascinates me here. Sullivan spends a bit of time with a man named Larry Adams, a municipal rodent control expert. “If you hang around Larry long enough," Sullivan says, "you realize that he sees the city in a way that most people don’t—in layers." And what follows is well worth quoting in full:
    He sees the parks and the streets and then he sees the subways and the sewers and even the old tunnels underneath the sewers. He sees the city that is on the maps and the city that was on the maps—the city’s past, the city of hidden speakeasies and ancient tunnels, the inklings of old streams and hills.
    "People don’t realize the subterranean conditions out there," he likes to say. "People don’t realize the levels. People don’t realize that we got things down there from the Revolution. A lot of people don’t realize that there’s just layers of settlers here, that things just get bricked off, covered up and all. They’re not accessible to people, but they are to rats. And they have rats down there that have maybe never seen the surface. If they did, then they’d run people out. Like in the movies. You see, we only see the tail end of it. And we only see the weak rats, the ones that get forced out to look for food.”
The book's wealth of rat-catching anecdotes are often unbelievable. "More than anything," Sullivan reflects, "I have learned from exterminators that history is crucial in effective rat analysis."
    In fact, history is everything when it comes to looking at rats—though it is not the history that you generally read; it is the unwritten history. Rats wind up in the disused vaults, in long underground tunnels that aren’t necessarily going anywhere; they wind up in places that are neglected and overlooked, places with a story that has been forgotten for one reason or another. And to find a rat, a lot of times you have to look at what a place was. One exterminator I know tells the story of a job on the Lower East Side in an old building where rats kept appearing, nesting, multiplying, no matter how many were killed. The exterminator searched and searched. At last, he found an old tunnel covered by floorboards, a passageway that headed toward the East River. The tunnel was full of rats. Later, he discovered that the building had housed a speakeasy during Prohibition.
Or this disconcerting image of an infested basement that was never fully demolished—it was simply forgotten, walled off beneath the surface of the city. Here, Sullivan visits an abandoned lot with a rat-catching expert named Isaac, writing that, "just before we drove off, two men walked by and stopped at the fence; they looked into the abandoned lot and spoke with Isaac in Spanish."
    They told Isaac that they remembered when the lot was the site of an old wooden house that had become abandoned and filled with rats. They remembered the house being demolished and partially buried—the basement was still there, they said. They pointed to the ground, saying that the old home was still beneath it, still rat-infested.
What a perfectly haunting line: They pointed to the ground, saying that the old home was still beneath it, still rat-infested. (And if anyone out there has read The Rats by James Herbert, you might remember that the novel begins with a vaguely similar urban image).

[Image: A "rat king," via Wikimedia].

Speaking later with Mike, another rat-control expert, Sullivan learns how the stratigraphy of the city takes shape in the mind of the exterminator: “I was getting ready to leave—Mike was just too busy. But then Mike was reminded of an aspect of the nature of rats in the city, and as he put down the phone, he said, ‘You know, I heard there are three layers of sewer lines.’ He counted them off on his fingers. ‘There are the ones from the 1800s, the ones from the 1700s, and the ones they don’t have maps for anymore. Once in a while, they use that old line, when they’re doing construction or something, and you read in the papers that there are hundreds of rats coming up. Well, those rats that are in the third line, they haven’t even seen man before.’”

These stratigraphies of infestation are wonderfully horrifying—but also perfectly and immediately available to the architect and urban planner as practical design challenges. How does one deal with "what was on the maps," as Sullivan phrases it, while at the same time designing a pest-unfriendly metropolis?

Taking as their design target rats and other "unwanted inhabitants" of the city, as Sullivan phrases it, what inspired collaborations could we develop amongst public health inspectors, urban ecologists, pesticide manufacturers, historical cartographers, city archivists, materials scientists (Sullivan writes, for instance, that Larry Adams, mentioned earlier, has actually developed his own special mix of rat-resistant concrete: “With his expertise, Larry has developed his own rat-eradication techniques, such as concrete mixed with broken glass to keep the rats from gnawing through the concrete. ‘Sometimes, they’ll still cut through before the concrete hardens. So sometimes, I use glass and industrial-strength steel wool and put it in with the concrete and make one big goop with it’”), and, of course, architects and planners? How realistic—let alone ethical—a design challenge is the rodent-free metropolis?

Thrilling Wonder Stories II

One week from today, at the Architectural Association in London, Liam Young and I will be hosting Thrilling Wonder Stories II, eight hours of architectural futurism featuring an unbelievable line-up of novelists, game designers, animators, scientists, comic book artists, architects, and more.

[Image: Thrilling Wonder Stories II at the Architectural Association; view larger].

Some of you might remember last year's inaugural installment of Thrilling Wonder Stories, featuring Peter Cook, Warren Ellis, François Roche, Squint Opera, Nic Clear, Ian MacLeod, Viktor Antonov, and Jim Rossignol; this year we've nearly tripled the list of participants, who we've grouped into five thematic clusters (see below).

Things kick off at noon with music and live Kinect gameplay (including a pre-release demonstration of ubisoft’s Children of Eden), a pop-up bookstore of spatio-speculative literature, and much more; the speakers themselves will take the stage a little bit before 1pm. You can follow the proceedings live at aaschool.co.uk as well as through the Thrilling Wonder Stories Twitter feed, @wonderstories, to be maintained by Jack Self of Millennium People.

Here is the line-up:

12:00 Bookshop, coffee, music and gaming

12:30 Introductions by Brett Steele and Liam Young

12:40—14:00 COUNTERFEIT ARCHAEOLOGIES
Geoff Manaugh + Nicola Twilley
[Founders of Future Plural, authors of BLDGBLOG and Edible Geography]
Dunne and Raby
[Design provocateurs]

14:00–15:20 CAUTIONARY TALES
Jeff VanderMeer
[Author of City of Saints and Madmen and Finch]
Will Self
[Author of The Book of Dave, Psychogeography and Walking Through Hollywood]
Paul Duffield
[Artist and Author of Freakangels and Signal comics]


15:20–15:40 Break/Overspill


15:40–17:00 NEAR FUTURES
BERG London
[Technologists, futurists and RFID magicians]
Alex Rutterford
[Motion graphics filmmaker, director and designer for Ridley Scott Associates and Warp Records]
Gavin Rothery
[Concept artist for the film Moon]
Ubisoft
[Transmedia and game designers]

17:00–18:20 APOCALYPTIC VISIONS
Antony Johnston
[Author of Wasteland and Daredevil comics]
Splash Damage
[Designers of the Ark, the war-stricken floating refugee city from the game Brink]
Rachel Armstrong
[Biotechnology and scifi squishiness]


18:20–18:40 Break/Overspill


18:40-20:00 ALTERNATIVE PRESENTS
Ant Farm
[Architectural supergroup and countercultural heroes]
Joep Van Lieshout
[Founder of Atelier Van Lieshout and the speculative free state of AVL Ville]


Entrance is free and first-come, first-serve; here is a map. Hope to see you there!

(Watch for the grand finale, Thrilling Wonder Stories III, in late 2011. If you missed it, meanwhile, consider reading this slightly loopy conversation between François Roche, Warren Ellis, and myself, originally published in Icon, recorded immediately following Thrilling Wonder Stories last May).

The Annals of Weather Warfare

[Image: Kurt, the Nazi weather station, via Beachcombing].

My morning began with the fascinating story of Kurt, a forgotten Nazi weather station installed on the coast of Labrador during World War II that was only rediscovered in 1981. From a long article by Murray Sager:
    Wetterfunkgerat Land 26 (code name "Kurt") consisted of ten canisters, one for the recording instruments, another for the 10-metre antenna and the others for the world's first Ni-cad batteries. There was a second mast for an anemometer and wind vane. These automatic stations were designed to broadcast temperature, wind speed and direction, air pressure and humidity in coded 120-second broadcasts every three hours and were designed to operate for six months. The Germans had also developed automatic weather buoys which were normally submerged but surfaced to record and broadcast before re-submerging. They had a designed "life" of nine months, and some were still operating into 1946. "Kurt" however had a short life, falling silent after only a couple of broadcasts. The Germans were unable to return to repair it or to place a planned second station on Labrador.
From here, it becomes something out of a Jules Verne novel:
    The station's existence might have remained unknown. However, the son of the meteorologist attached to the U-boat [that originally installed Kurt], while going through his lather's papers after his death, found photographs of a barren rock and snow covered coastline that he could not identify. He contacted Franz Selinger, a retired Siemens engineer who was writing a history of the company (Siemens had built the automatic stations). The photos were tentatively identified and on a Canadian Coast Guard patrol along the coast of Labrador they were used to match the present day shoreline, and the remains of the station were found.
The blog post where I first read the story suggests that weather warfare would make for an amazing book—as it happens, much of James Fleming's recent Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control is about exactly that.

In a fantastic paper called "The Climate Engineers," for instance, originally published in the Wilson Quarterly, Fleming quotes General George C. Kenney, former head of the Allied Strategic Air Command: Kenney once declared that “the nation which first learns to plot the paths of air masses accurately and learns to control the time and place of precipitation will dominate the globe"—first-strike meteorology, perhaps. Fleming goes on to describe hallucinatory military visions of a "perfectly accurate machine forecast combined with a paramilitary rapid deployment force" that could annihilate all enemies—a Global Weather Corps, so to speak, flying ahead of the storm winds that it itself would generate.

In any case, read Beachcombing and Murray Sager for more about this abandoned Nazi weather station in the Allied Arctic.

(Thanks to Rob Holmes for the tip!)

City of Holes

[Image: Courtesy of the Nottingham Caves Survey].

Some new images of the ongoing laser-scan project taking place in the caves beneath Nottingham, England, have been released. "The Nottingham Caves Survey is in the process of recording all of Nottingham’s 450+ sandstone caves," the organizers explain.

From malting caves and circular kilns to a 19th-century underground butcher, via the Shire Hall and, of course, Mortimer's Hole, it's intoxicating to imagine a city whose most exciting discoveries lie somewhere far below its own streets and urban surfaces, in a delirious sprawl of artificially enlarged sandstone caves.

[Images: Courtesy of the Nottingham Caves Survey].

Check out this video, below, which is basically just a fly-and-walk-through of the resulting scans.



Like the short film La Subterranea, which we screened a few years back at the Silver Lake Film Fest, the video suggests a fundamentally porous urban world in which, as Alex Trevi writes, "day and night, laser scanners that have gone mobile will be deployed into these voids, and bit by pinprick bit, these labyrinths that once confounded, concealed and even consumed trespassers with their disorienting mazes will resolve into total comprehensibility. Every detail will be known to you."

The city, CAT-scanned, becomes a labyrinth of complete transparency.

Imagine, for instance, a city consumed by its own archaeology—a hole complex of obsessive-compulsive excavation—where the streets are just the thinnest of bridges spanning a sponge-like void below.

[Images: Courtesy of the Nottingham Caves Survey].

For more, check out the site of the Nottingham Caves Survey, which has link after link after link to explore; perhaps start with their Cave Map and move onward from there.

[Image: The scanner at work; courtesy of the Nottingham Caves Survey].

All in all, this might be the best advertisement for a city—intentional or not—that I've ever seen: drawing people to visit based on quasi-holographic laser scans of that city's underground history.

(Via Archaeology News).

A Visitors Center for the Center of the Earth

I received a strange packet in the mail last week, full of maps and images hand-annotated with ball-point pen and partly held together with red duct tape. It implies—more than it describes—a subterranean expedition in a boat led by an unnamed explorer ("note," it says, "expedition almost goes down the drain," with an arrow pointing into the abyss).

[Images: Two illustrations for Dante's Inferno, both by Gustav Doré].

The actual purpose of the elaborate packaging, however, was to announce that there is a party and "underground fundraiser" in Austin, Texas, from 6-8pm on Thursday night of this week, celebrating the opening of a (fictitious) "center of the earth visitors center" and benefiting an organization called the Austin Bat Cave, "a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for kids." If you're in the area and interested in attending, contact underground(at)austinbatcave(dot)org, and tell them that you read about it on BLDGBLOG.

[Image: Viewmaster images of the Center of the Earth Visitors Center by Legge Lewis Legge architects].

As architects Legge Lewis Legge describe their plans for this fictitious complex in Austin, it will be "a visitors' center for a cave system recently rediscovered underneath the City of Austin, Texas."
    The labyrinthine system of caves and tunnels is only partially explored. The cave system's first explorers noted many years ago that "some cave passageways have been observed to lead toward the very center of the earth." Along with Austin Bat Cave, Legge Lewis Legge are concepting and designing the Center, as well as assisting with mapping and rendering cave and tunnel interiors from descriptions recorded long ago when the caves were first discovered.
The idea of a visitors center for the center of the earth is pretty fantastic design brief; I would love to see this taken up as the broader premise of an architectural challenge or summer workshop. In other words, what facility for preparing surface visitors for their forthcoming visit to the center of the earth would be most appropriate (and fun) to design? A museum of the earth's core; a series of hands-on, experiential pressure chambers; a make-your-own-stalactites class; a mind-bogglingly elaborate series of wormhole-like passages that you crawl and squeeze your way through, for hours at a time, in preparation for the abyss that awaits you.

[Image: The Jenolan Caves in Australia; photo by BLDGBLOG].

Perhaps a worthwhile reference for any such class would be Jeff Long's over-the-top but undeniably enjoyable, religiously-inflected science-horror novel The Descent, published back in 2001, for its proposed architectural exploration of the planet's interior—suggesting that liberal applications of hydroponic agriculture, UV lights, and seemingly endless quantities of instant concrete could allow for an organized human "descent" into the planet.

Long writes that his underworld explorers "approached the subplanet the way America [sic] approached manned landings on the moon forty years ago, as a mission requiring life support systems, modes of transportation and access, and logistics." Accordingly, the Army Corps of Engineers gets involved, "tasked to reinforce tunnels, devise new transport systems, drill shafts, build elevators, bore channels, and erect whole camps underground. They even paved parking lots—three thousand feet beneath the surface. Roadways were constructed through the mouths of caves."

Apply the personal infrastructure of caving on an industrial scale; devise a visitors center for people about to embark upon an exploration of that underground world; produce a Center of the Earth reading & viewing list for the interested public; and use the whole thing as an excuse to talk about the uniquely challenging design constraints of architecture in extreme environments. The best project wins a lifetime membership at Mammoth Cave.

[Image: The way out. Jenolan Caves, Australia; photo by BLDGBLOG].

In any case, if you're in the vicinity of Austin, Texas, consider contacting the email address, above, to find out more about the fundraiser.

Drylands Design

If I could go back in time, there are two things I would have prioritized this autumn, had I known about them earlier: 1) I would have stopped by the Out of Water: Innovative Technologies in Arid Climates exhibition, curated by Liat Margolis and Aziza Chouani, at the Arid Lands Institute of Woodbury University, and 2) I would have attended more of the accompanying lecture series. The whole thing sounds amazing.

Here's a description of the lecture series:
    Excavating Innovation: The History and Future of Drylands Design examines the role of water engineering in shaping public space and city form, by using arid and semi-arid sites in India, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and the New World to explore how dryland water systems throughout history have formed and been formed by ritual, hygiene, gender, technology, governance, markets, and, perhaps above all, power.
The series "brings together historians, urbanists, and contemporary designers to selectively excavate global historical case studies and reveal relevance to contemporary design practice."

The specific lectures sound almost too good to be true, including a forthcoming talk this Thursday, November 18, about the stepwells of India—fantastically gorgeous native hydrological structures I've returned to again and again in my own off-blog reading and research.

[Image: Stepwell at Chand Baori, courtesy of Wikipedia].

The series continues into 2011 with a lecture by Nan Ellin called "Canalscape: Ancient and Contemporary Infrastructures of Phoenix" (January 27) and one by Vinayak Bharne called "Indigenous Infrastructure and the Urban Water Crisis: Perspectives from Asia" (February 10).

Anyone interested in the idea of "drylands design" or arid-climate technologies should strongly consider picking up a copy of Fred Pearce's excellent book When the Rivers Run Dry: Water, The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century. In it, Pearce presents a huge variety of vernacular water-harvesting and storage architectures, from Chinese domestic cisterns and dew ponds in the English South Downs to fog-catching nets in Pacific South America. Two other quick suggestions, if you want to extend your reading, include Marc Reisner's classic Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water—an immensely interesting but often historically over-detailed book—and James Powell's Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West. The latter title I favorably reviewed a while back for the The Wilson Quarterly.

In fact, if you're really into this stuff, another article I frequently recommend here is something published in the Chicago Reader back in 2006: "They need it, we waste it," a provocative look at the future interstate politics of freshwater, projecting a time when cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and even L.A. might come, buckets in hand, begging for clean water from the Great Lakes. What impending hydro-political rearrangement of North America might we then see take shape?

(Follow the Arid Land Institute on Twitter. Earlier on BLDGBLOG: N.A.W.A.P.A.).

The Unified Lunar Control Network

[Image: Lunar topography, courtesy of the USGS].

The Unified Lunar Control Network is "a set of points on the lunar surface whose three dimensional selenodetic coordinates (latitude, longitude, and radial position) have been determined by careful measurement. Typically the points consist of very small craters." This network forms a series of cardinal points that can then be used to orient, fix, and control our topographic understanding of the moon—in a sense, lunar variants on terrestrial coordinate systems such as the trig stations of New Zealand, "a network of control marks that serve as physical reference points."

As it happens, there is quite a long history of temporary "lunar control networks," most of which have simply faded into cartographic obsolescence. For instance, you can read this brief "Chronology of Lunar Control Networks." It includes such phrases as the Apollo Zone Triangulation, the Manchester Selenodetic Control System, the Kazan Series, and the Clementine Control Network—a taxonomic graveyard of discarded geographies, these lost trigonometries of the moon.

(Thanks to Jon Rennie for pointing out trig stations to me a few weeks ago).

The Road Printer

A few hours ago, we looked at the exoatmospheric potential of 3D printers in space, but what about road-printers here on our own home planet, printing brick & cobblestone streets through rural villages?

[Image: From the video, which appears below, showing the laying of so-called Tiger Stone].

As it happens, a new street-printing device—unfurling a geological substrate known as Tiger Stone, as orderly and as easy "as laying laminate flooring"—can neatly place brick roads where there weren't roads before.

Here's a video of the "printer" in action:



After you've watched this footage, of course, it becomes immediately clear that it is inaccurate to refer to this technology as a literal or genuine act of "printing," but it's nonetheless provocative to imagine a world where roads can be created, as if from an inkjet printer, directly from the vehicles that travel on them.

In China Miéville's book Iron Council, readers follow the path of a vehicle called the "Perpetual Train." It operates by laying its own tracks as it moves forward, hauling in the road it travels upon only to unfurl it again seconds later, tank-like, pushing deeper into landscapes that would once have been impenetrable. It is a route that drives itself, moving, as Miéville writes, on "downlaid and uptaken rails," whereby "the roadbed is extended, the tracks laid through, taken up again," always cycling, again and again forward, on "rails, newly renewed," their own context, "meandering."

The road-printing vehicle featured in the video above clearly presents no such utopia, but it does offer at least a domesticated variant on Miéville's mobile perpetuity, bringing roads to distant towns in a single afternoon. What is the geographical status of the road that, itself, can travel?

(Thanks to Jon Bucholtz for the tip!)

Gold is the Metal

[Image: Gold nanoparticles, courtesy of Georgia Tech].

It was reported earlier this month that "gold nanoparticles can induce luminescence in leaves." That's right: glowing trees. The scientists who discovered it call it bio-LED.

According to ElectroIQ, "by implanting the gold nanoparticles into Bacopa caroliniana plants, Dr. Yen-Hsun Su [of the Research Center for Applied Science in Taiwan] was able to induce the chlorophyll in the leaves to produce a red emission. Under high wavelength of ultraviolet, the gold nanoparticles can produce a blue-violet fluorescence to trigger a red emission of the surrounding chlorophyll."

This has the exquisitely surreal effect of being able "to make roadside trees luminescent at night"—with the important caveat "that the technologies and bioluminescence efficiency need to be improved for the trees to replace street lights in the future." In other words, we're not quite there—but a deciduous splendor might illuminate streets near you, soon.

[Image: Gold nanoparticles, courtesy of Georgia Tech].

Last spring, I should point out, I had the pleasure of teaching a research seminar at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, looking at blackouts: that is, landscapes—both urban and otherwise—encountered in a state of unexpected darkness.

We looked at a huge variety of technologies for non-electrical illumination—sources of light for situations in which electricity has failed—from tools as basic as pocket lighters to openly whimsical investigations into bioluminescent fish, plants, algae, and bacteria, scaled up to intimations of an entire bioluminescent metropolis.

But the idea that trees impregnated with gold might someday line city streets, turning night into day, is like a vision of Gustav Klimt unexpectedly crossed with Con Edison: a botanical alchemy through which base wood becomes light at the speed of photosynthesis.

(Via Popular Science; earlier: Three Trees).