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oobject: 'daily user-ranked gadget lists'
A bicycle makes for an excellent machine even when stationary, something that is shown nowhere better than in the home-brew design phenomenon of bicycles and knife sharpeners. This is a design typology that spans continents and traces back to 19th century pedal powered machines. Here are our favorite examples from around the world.

12 Knife Bikes

Solar cookers are reflectors which focus sunlight enough to heat food, but they are a simple eco-friendly gadget that happens to look interesting and comes in a large variety of interesting forms.Because solar cookers are shiny and look like satellite dishes, they have a particularly futuristic appearance which often creates an extreme contrast with the surroundings where they are used, as some of these testify.

15 Solar Cookers

There is something fantastically hellish about fiery steel manufacture, nothing seems more gigantic or obviously dangerous looking. The instruments used to transfer molten iron, steel and slag are massive solid items made of the same thing they contain in liquid form and are objects of wonder.Particularly interesting are the torpedo ladle railroad cars, which transfer hot metal from blast to oxygen furnaces. They are dramatic and interesting enough that despite their obscurity they are available in several forms for model railroads. Vote for your faves.

giant molten steel handling equipment

The telescopes chosen for this list are largely based on how they look, from a design perspective, rather than their scientific importance. Their unusual requirements create interesting structural engineering approaches. However, the Holmdel Horn Antenna is possibly the most interesting from both points of view, its highly unusual shape is like a gigantic ear trumpet sticking out of a garden shed, but it also happens to be the device which discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation - the echo of the big bang. I've included a view beneath the mesh of the gigantic Arecibo dish, just because I always wondered what that space was like. For the rest I've chosen ones which best display the spiky, high tech look of giant scaffolds and space frames or which are attached in impossibly top heavy ways ancillary buildings, like the giant upturned umbrella of the Parkes telescope.

18 radio telescopes

Despite the title of this list, several of these housing projects were designed by some of the world’s most famous architects and lauded at the time. The undeniable squalor of 19th Century slums combined with modernism to produce and attempt to clean things up and create a crystalline utopia. The end result was often an anti-septic vision of hell, a place devoid of organic spaces and evolves social interaction.The architectural crime that started with Corbusier’s insane proposal to demolish the historic center of Paris and replace it with something like the worst of the South Bronx and culminated in the White and Black racially segregated human silos of St Louis's Pruitt-Igoe, continues to this day and even as middle class, owner-occupied dwelling such as those in Hong Kong. Its principal feature is de-humanizing alienation. Vote for your worst…

15 housing projects from hell

We've trawled the web to fine genuinely special objects for this gift guide, from a Cray super-computer, an original Apple Lisa, a calculator used on the Mir space station, some classic Dieter Rams objects and the most beautifully futuristic car ever made, the Citroen SM.You can buy any of the items via the links to the sites where they are listed. If anyone bought me anything from this list I'd be very, very happy.

oobject 2012 holiday gift guide

Fingerprint scanners are a dime a dozen these days. But how about devices which can literally grant access by the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you type or write, bite or grip. Here is a chart of state of the art biometric applications, including futuristic devices like portable Game Boys which are ominously called HIIDE (handheld interagency identity detection).

18 futuristic biometric devices

Dieter Rams' 40 year stint at Braun until 1995 redefined the world of product design, taking pure modernism to the world of gadgets. He is the direct inspiration for much of Apple's product design after Steve Jobs returned and in many aspects his work is more rigorous and more coherent than Apple's. I've picked 15 of my favorite items, but if I had to choose just one, it would be the LE 1 electrostatic speakers from 1959. They were built around Quad technology and influenced Apple's large screen displays.

15 dieter rams classics

At first glance you think, wow a tie camera, a camera in a case, mirror, plant, cigarette packet, cell phone. How cool would that have been when I was a kid? Then you think, hmm …cell phone. Cell phones already have cameras, its a pretty dumb place to put a spy cam.The progress of technology has overtaken the mystique of the hidden camera such that we have been invaded by a million spy cams embedded in wholesale crap.Vote for the silliest. Oh, and do check out the rather great antique watch camera which is from the days when spy cams were actually impressive.

16 odd spy cams

Although making a 3d image is more dramatic than increasing its resolution, say, the technology is fairly primitive. Because of this, stereo cameras are something of an interesting retro curiosity. These days, custom made stereo cameras with twin lenses at eye separation are usually replaced by custom rigs for digital cameras, with appropriate software.

stereo cameras

I didn’t go for just massive or complex for the items in this list but tried to pick a variety of water slides that were each special in their own way. Items range from the obviously impressive ‘Insano’ in Brazil to various sinewy beauties and the simple but surreal canal side water slide in the Netherlands, which looks like a post modern take on a 17th Century Dutch landscape painting.

12 wonderful water slides

Why would you buy a horrible plastic fan this summer, when Ebay is full of better alternatives at reasonable prices? Vintage fans are a perfect piece of machine age Americana with streamlined Moderne or Art Deco styling. Here are some of our favorite picks, available on Ebay at the time of writing.

vintage fans for sale

A selection of our favorite camera rigs, modifications and improvisations from eccentric Czech artist Miroslav Tichs trash camera to a camera which is setup to deliberately create the red-eye effect.

10 neat camera hacks

Magician's posters are a particularly interesting form of advertising, since they are selling something which is, by definition, fake. This often leads to a particularly exaggerated and interesting graphic style, particularly with hypnotists. My favorites are the turn of the century ones which have early modernist or art deco graphics which predate their use in movie posters.

12 mesmerising magicians posters

Spot the man made fakery from the bizarre but real. For April Fools Day Oobject becomes Zoobject and is all about animals rather than machines, with a cunning cryptozoology quiz. Vote for your faves and click to see which are real or fake.

zoobject cryptozoology quiz

For no other reason than these things look slightly disturbing here a re a variety of devices to measure bits and pieces of your head, for quack or legitimate purposes or just to hold it still.

12 fetishy head frames

Electric tattoo machines are based on a modified version of an engraving device invented by Edison, which had a 2 coil vibrating mechanism similar to an old fashioned electric doorbell. Samuel O'Reilly added a needle and ink reservoir to this to create a dedicated tattoo device in the 1890s.The particularly fascinating thing about these items is how their design has evolved towards the Victorian retro technology aesthetic that has now become fashionable elsewhere, however the beautiful machines designed by designers like Bernhard outclass many of the products design labeled Steampunk.The Bernhard machines are so magnificent, they warrant a list all of their own.

tattoo machines

Thanks to an intrepid group of urban explorers, some of the most magnificent hidden engineering triumphs that lie, hidden, beneath the streets of the worlds cities are being recorded and posted on underground (no pun intended) websites.Here are some of our favorite sewers and drains, from Paris tourist attraction sewers to Londons Escher-like, arched, Victorian Gothic drains, to still working ancient Roman systems and the infamous giant storm drains beneath Tokyo. Vote for your faves.

Spectacular Sewers

At first glance this lesser known part of the telephone inventor's life seems crazy. Bell became obsessed with pyramids, building towers, buildings, boats, kites and eventually planes made entirely out of little tetrahedrons (triangular pyramids). Eventually setting up the Aerial Experiment Association, he built 3 tetrahedral kite planes where each pyramid frame component had 2 of its 4 sides covered in fabric.His obsession, however, was ingenious and is possibly feasible - that if you could fly a pyramid frame structure then by combining lots of them together you would be adding no more weight per unit of lift, so you could fly a structure of any size.Although only one of Bell's planes managed to fly under its own power, the tetrahedral frame structure was to become a much used component of high tech architecture more than half a century later, giving these images of the Victorian inventors a bizarre science fiction feel.

Alexander Graham Bell Tetrahedrals

Bank vaults comprise the most impressive fortresses ever built. Their giant mechanical doors are supreme gadgets, as large as a truck but built with the precision of a Swiss watch.Working vaults range from the New York Federal Reserve with 5000 tons of gold beneath Starbucks on the corner of Nassau St. to the giant doomsday project seed bank vault in the Arctic. Reconverted vaults are used for an amazing array of items such as underground farms, dry cleaned garment stores, wine cellars, radioactive material storage and restaurants. There are even bank vaults which have survived nuclear explosions in both Nevada and Hiroshima. Here is a collection of some of the most celebrated or unusual vaults in the world

bank vaults

Flying helmets are interesting because they demonstrate the rate of technological progress over the 20th century, from primitive, almost medieval looking leather caps to sophisticated cyborg like devices packed full of electronics. They also show different air force cultures, from spartan Soviet styles to individualistic, decorated and painted US fighter pilot helmets.

flying helmets

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Category: 'architecture'

Nothing makes architecture quite as gadget like as if it folds up into a kit or a box. Here are 12 examples of rooms in a box by various designers. Many of these are actually purchasable, which is sometimes rare for conceptual architecture. Click through the links for their sources.

Such was the propensity for the Soviets to put fighter jets on plinths dotted around the empire that they are sometimes referred to as Migs on sticks. Other people did this, of course. In the US, Phantom jets were a favorite and some of these Migs are in places outside the Soviet Union, like Somalia, where Russian jets were bought. The trend also intended to a variety of other planes such as the particularly ungainly looking Tupelov monument, in this list. But there is something about a Mig on an angled concrete base that is reminiscent of Soviet graphic design, crass and muscular with people leaning forward in earnest. Comic like, but deadly serious.

The telescopes chosen for this list are largely based on how they look, from a design perspective, rather than their scientific importance. Their unusual requirements create interesting structural engineering approaches. However, the Holmdel Horn Antenna is possibly the most interesting from both points of view, its highly unusual shape is like a gigantic ear trumpet sticking out of a garden shed, but it also happens to be the device which discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation - the echo of the big bang. I've included a view beneath the mesh of the gigantic Arecibo dish, just because I always wondered what that space was like. For the rest I've chosen ones which best display the spiky, high tech look of giant scaffolds and space frames or which are attached in impossibly top heavy ways ancillary buildings, like the giant upturned umbrella of the Parkes telescope.

Attempts by architects to create utopian communities usually have one distinguishing feature - they are not utopian and they fail. As such, they make great settings for dystopic fiction, such as the slightly kitsch and creepy Portmeirion in the Kafkaesque Prisoner TV series or Seaside, Florida in the Truman show.Some uptopias have been built and failed, such as Soleri's semi-inhabited Arcosanti and some were only half realized, such as Disney's Progress City, which ended up being watered down as Epcot. But possibly the most insane of all is Le Corbusier's utopian vision for Paris which consisted of bulldozing the city of lights and replacing it with what resembles the worst projects in the South Bronx. It says a lot for the profession that the vision of arguably the world's most famous architect was to destroy what is arguably the world's most beautiful architecture.

Bunker architecture is often better by accident than the deliberate attempts to create an aesthetic based on massive elements, through brutalism. Paul Virilio famously published a book of some of the more extreme versions of the 12,000 bunkers that formed the Atlantic Wall in WWII and Albania has an incredible 700,000 bunkers in a population of 3M, created by its mad leader, Enver Hoxha. Perhaps the strangest of all are the concealed bunkers that litter the Swiss countryside either as fake chalets or as mountains that literally open up to reveal jet fighters.

Lookout towers are often more dramatic pieces of architecture than tall buildings because they only have a single floor – the top one. This means that they can be very skeletal and the design is all about a dramatic staircase. Here are some of our favorite examples,accidental architectural gems, like mini Eiffel Towers used for watching everything from forest fires to smugglers.

Switzerland may not have been the place where the symbolically mundane cuckoo clock was invented (it was actually Germany), but it was where Hofmann invented LSD. And although the CERN lab is mainly in Switzerland, where the plaque commemorating the web’s invention sits, the room where Tim Berners Lee wrote the proposal for the web is literally a few feet across the border into neighboring France. Here are some some labs where famous inventors worked.

Lighthouses are extreme and iconic buildings. Remote, intrinsically conspicuous and built to withstand extreme environments. For this list I've picked some interesting lighthouses themselves, such as the transparent latticework hyperboloid structure by Russian engineer Vladimir Shukhov or the haunting abandoned soviet nuclear powered polar lighthouses. In addition I've chosen some interesting elements from the giant fresnel lenses lamps to the traveling libraries that the predecessor to the US coastguard used to pass around to lighthouse keepers to keep their sanity.

As someone who fell the height of the Eiffel tower in a climbing accident, each one of these images makes my palms sweat, from Bettmans classic views of acrobats on the edges of newly built NY skyscrapers to Li Wei's elaborate illusions of people seemingly in mid air. One however, stands out from all the rest, the legendary stuntman Dar Robinson on the edge of the CN tower. Click through to see a video of the stunt.

I deliberately picked spiral ramps as opposed to spiral staircases, since they include buildings whose entire form is determined by the ramp rather than being merely a feature. Examples include everything from the Guggenheim to the Reichstag, the Tatlin Tower, Lingotto Factory or Lubetkin’s brilliant Penguin Pool at London Zoo. My personal favorite is the spiral ramp at Convair Aeronautics, by Pereira and Luckman, the people that designed the now defunct control tower at LAX. The insane but amazing proposal for a half mile high drive up skyscraper for the 1937 Paris exhibition is one example of a spiral ramp car park, and I’ve thrown a few examples of anonymous car park ramps into the mix to show how beautifu these often overlooked pieces of background architecture are.

Both the second world war and cold war produced particular styles and uses of bomb shelters that were unusual, from Swiss suburban houses with mandatory blast shelters and several years of food to the use of London’s tube stations as shelters during the second world war. Here are a few examples of vintage shelters, each with a hint of retro irony or bygone strangeness.

One of the ways to get something architecturally novel built is to tell people it is temporary. Despite the fact that 99.9% of buildings are temporary over a few generations, people seem to tolerate something as long as it will be gone before they are. As a result, several of the worlds most famous pieces of architecture (Barcelona and Rietveld pavilions) or some of the worlds most famous city landmarks (Eiffel Tower, London Eye) have remained because they won people over after the fact.

Up to the 19th Century mentally ill people were sometimes chained naked in squalid conditions in places like London’s Bethlehem hospital which became synonymous with chaos (its name being contracted to bedlam) and where tourists would pay to see the freak show. Then came the extreme rationalism of the Kirkbride plan which created a very unusual form of architecture for asylums throughout the Anglosphere that was used until the 20th Century. As a result of their demise, most are abandoned ruins today, giant, rotting testimonies to a bygone era of clinical Victorian discipline combined with neo-Gothic extravagance.The Kirkbride plan consists of an enormous a symmetrical staggered wing, like a bird made out of lego. Men are on the left and women on the right in wings that radiate from the main entrance for increasingly violent or incurable patients. Early mental institutions where patients had to pay for their own incarceration would also vary in class (rich to poor) on the y axis. The staggering of the wings ensured the flow of air through each, purging them of diseased vapors perhaps, such was the Victorian obsession with fresh air, from outdoor Tuberculosis wards to seaside promenades and piers.

I like these buildings, their high contrast sculptural forms give me a kick. But then again, I have a damaged view because I'm an architect, taught by the types of people who built these inner city sea-defenses. They were designed to last a 1000 years under the ravages of nature, but often haven't lasted 50 under the impact of public opinion.Architects will tell you that the term Brutalism comes from the French term for raw concrete, ‘beton-brut', but then again brut and brute share the same root and nobody but the completely stupid or naive would believe that the association will always be with the latter. This association is re-enforced by the use of brutalist buildings as the setting for a Clockwork Orange or the fact that Ian Flemming hated his Brutalist architect neighbor, Erno Goldfingerso much that he named a James Bond villain after him.Brutalism, for all its International credentials is really a British thing, and damp, concrete fortresses like the Park Hill Estate in Sheffield will never look like the Salk Institute, because Britain's weather is not like California's. But then again, if you like this thing then there are no better examples than Lasdun's National Theatre or Neave Brown's Alexandra Road.

Babel is interesting because it represents the ultimate in imaginary architecture, a skyscraper of the mind. The Tower of Babel is the archetypal image of a giant tower, a man made hill, yet nothing like our idea of it has ever been built. The closest are possibly Mont Saint-Michel or perhaps the downtown Manhattan cluster, yet one is a natural mound and the other an apparent hill created from many buildings.The idea of Babel traces back to ancient Sumerian stories from the time of 5000 year old Mesopotamian Ziggurats, to the reinterpretation of these myths in the book of Genesis. In the 16th century the ironic obsession with Babel among 16th century painters in hill-less Lowland Europe, created the most well known imagery, but it evolved further with the unbuilt Palace of the Soviets or the imaginary babel in the retro futuristic skyscraper cities of Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

Anyone self respecting geek who has been spellbound by the inspired rescue of the Chilean miners, will have found plenty of great info-graphics showing just how impressive a mine is. Here we have gathered some other cutaways, sections and 3d models showing a variety of mines, from the two coal mine alternatives (room and pillar or longwall) to the cavernous chambers of salt mines. Most impressive of all, however, is the physical model of Kidd Creek mine in Ontario where the relatively insignificant looking blobs at the bottom are the world's tallest man made structures, to scale.

Its October 2010 and Chinese property booms while most of the Western world's houses have shrunk to more realistic levels. In the US, homes have ceased to be ATMs to buy oriental barbecues, but in Britain, a crowded island with a cultural attachment to carving out a personal defensible space are Englishmen's homes still castles, with prices to match.As US housing prices adjusted, UK ones, faltered then regained their losses smack in the middle of the recession. This time things look different, with last month seeing the largest dip in housing prices in history. Perhaps prices in Britain will go up forever, or perhaps Britain will be like Japan, another crowded island which had the same phenomenon and where eventual capitulation resulted in a crash where property is worth less than a decade ago?One way to judge judge this is to look at what a million dollars gets you in London and its hinterland - a place where an apartment recently sold for a quarter of a billion dollars during the biggest downturn since the Great Depression.

Antarctic architecture provides imagery of the closest thing that people will be able see to a moon base, within their lifetimes. The extreme nature of the environment combined with its bizarre statelessness, provides the location for a freezing architectural expo, with each country having its own icy pavilion.Since the early days of wooden huts, the architecture has converged on a style which consists of a pod on legs, somewhat reminiscent of Thunderbird II's cargo bay or the Space 1999 freighter. In addition large scale experiments such as the south pole telescope or ice cube neutrino detector (which is technically a telescope at the north pole since it watch for particles which have traveled through the earth) provide equally interesting accidental architecture, in that their designs are purely functional.

Seven US Presidents may have been born in a log cabin, but only one is shown here. Alongside are some of the more unusual ones, few were born in cities or apartments and few grew up in grand houses. Click through to reveal who was born where.Nothing symbolizes the concept of the rags to riches American dream more than Lincoln's enshrined log cabin.

Almost everything there is to know about modernism is contained in a single room slice of a curtain wall tower dropped into the Illinois countryside. The Farnsworth house was a project designed and built by Mies van der Rohe 60 years ago, undeserving of its patron's name, who wrongfully sued and which still seems to win prizes and be declared as innovative when architects consciously or unconsciously copy it today. Here are a dozen examples to demonstrate it.

There’s not much information about helter skelters on Wikipedia, so we decided to find out more:Despite becoming a recent fixture at Victorian themed winter fairs and a perennial one at summer funfairs, the helter skelter is clearly modeled on a Victorian lighthouse, and so is originally and end of pier attraction. We found a picture from 1907 where the helter skelter is clearly labeled as a one and we even found one labeled a helter skelter at Coney Island, so perhaps its a term that did carry to the US. The architectural style is even referenced in a spire at Disneyland, the capital of the funfair world.An almost exclusively British term for a spiral fairground slide, helter skelter is known in the US from songs by the Beatles, Oasis and Genesis, and from the association with Charles Manson. In the UK its one of those things that every child can recognize, but which when you really look at, becomes strangely unfamiliar and weird – an architectural naked lunch. The taste of this naked lunch combines hints of jousting, medieval pageants and overtones of Paganesque Englishness, from Morris Dancing to the Wicker Man. Its principal flavor, however, is of the English seaside: damp and Victorian.

Terry Gilliam was perhaps first to notice the architectural qualities of power station cooling towers, setting the torture scene from Brazil inside the base of one in South London. Their sheer size, monolithic masonry walls and gentle curves make them like enormous castle towers. Particularly special are the ones that have open structures at the base, making them appear to float impossibly, and the view from the inside is what we have focused on in this list. Accidental architectural masterpieces indeed.

It seems that for maximum impact, upside down houses need to be cartoon versions of what a building should be, pitched roof, symmetric, central door.

Incredibly, automatic car parks have been around since the 30s culminating in the incredibly futuristic VW Autostadt. Here are some of our favorites.

Unlike the obvious candidates, such as the Flatiron or various svelte skyscrapers, these buildings aren't famous pieces of architecture, but accidental vernacular gems which seemingly defy gravity.

Creating the illusion that a staircase is floating in mid air has become a recent design trend. It can be achieved using a glass balustrade and hidden bolts, hanging the treads from above, cantilevering the stairs from a concealed beam or by using the structure of a spiral shape to make the entire staircase self supporting. Here are some of our favorites.

Just like the Empire State building the Burj Dubai is opening after a crash, only it is twice the height. Here are our picks for a visual record of the construction of the world's tallest structure, from its 200 foot deep foundation to a video from the crows nest at the top of it's spire.

To mark the 800th anniversary of the famous London Bridge, the Royal Institute of British Architects has launched a competition for designs of an inhabited bridge.The current London Bridge is not the Victorian Gothic Tower Bridge, as many people believe, but a rather bland stone one. Its predecessor was also uninteresting and was bought by mistake and put in the Arizona desert. But the original London Bridge was a cultural icon, a bridge covered in buildings.Inspired by the competition we have put together a list of the most interesting inhabited bridges, from surreal single house bridge designs to Zaha Hadids sleek Zaragoza Expo bridge .

The name Chrysler will be remembered if no other car is produced, in the automobile inspired skyscraper that is the pinnacle of American machine-age design.The Chrysler building is the tallest brick (steel re-enforced) building in the world but it is fundamentally modern, a triumph of both technology and design. Steel gargoyles were modeled on 1929 Chrysler automobile hood decorations and radiator caps and the earliest stainless steel cladding covered the stepped, Thai Princess-like crown. The Chrysler's spire was unveiled in less than an hour, to make it the tallest building in the world and the first the first structure more than 1000ft high.Here are a selection of iconic views and details of the Chrysler, what I believe is America's most important building, and an important milestone in the history of technology.

From London to Moscow to New York, Chicago, Dubai and Shanghai, almost every single high rise city in the world is seeing skyscraper projects canceled even as they have their foundations laid and start to rise from the ground.Here is a list of the biggest projects that have been put on hold so far. The disappointing reality is that almost none of them have any particular architectural merit, apart from Calatrava's Chicago Spire, perhaps, and reflect a period when architecture firms were too overloaded with work to think very hard about the designs. Vote for which ones you would have liked to have seen finished.

Below is the strangest skyscraper proposal you will ever see, an upside down underground tower block lit by a giant mirror.From deflecting the suns rays with mirrors to light up an entire Austrian town which is shrouded in shadow to fiber optic channels which light underground caverns, combinations of heliostats (sun trackers) and light pipes are being increasing used to create architectural lighting effects which are entirely natural.Included here are a variety of technique, including the recent park heliostats, in New York and light pipes which channel daylight from street level to the subway in Berlin. Vote for your faves.

Inflatable structures have the advantage of being able to be deployed very quickly, and the disadvantage that they are vulnerable to failure, over time. This makes them ideal for temporary shelters, from mine accidents to military deployment, festivals and even on the moon.

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