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The original British Secret Service headquarters was just that, secret. But the increase in importance of electronics meant that it was more important for a building to be invisible to electronic eavesdropping. as such the current M16 HQ in London is about as obvious a giant sign saying 'secret building here', yet it is enclosed in a giant Faraday cage to protect its communications.Not all Intelligence agencies have had a discrete architectural past, Franco's House of Screams, or the Soviet Lubyanka are demonstrably terrifying. Mossad's HQ, until the 60s or the current Australian Secret Intelligence Service look quite modest compared to the hardly known Ministry of National Security of Azerbaijan, which houses its intelligence service, in a large and monolithic building of dramatic proportions.

15 images of not so secret secret service buildings

There were justifiable fears of being buried alive, before modern medicine could safely identify the difference between certain types of paralysis or coma and being dead. Fears which were exacerbated by fiction such as The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe. As a result a bizarre range of contraptions were invented to signal having been buried alive, from bells, whistles and even a spring loaded ejector coffin which might actually kill other people from the shock of seeing an interred body spring out of the ground in a cemetery.Added to this were ranges of hermetically sealed iron coffins and a device to prevent grave robbing consisting of a booby-trap subterranean torpedo.For more of these, check out: http://deathreferencedesk.org/2010/02/02/premature-burial-device-patents/

12 Safety Coffins

A gallery of incredible streamline design. No other period in product design is more important to American history than the Streamlined period. Here are our favorite gadgets and vehicles from the Sky Captain World of Tomorrow.Ironically the streamlined shape is less aerodynamic than it looks. It came from the high speed steam trains designed by people like Raymond Loewy or cars by Norman Bel Geddes (the father of the actress who played Miss Ellie in Dallas) and still exists in kitchen and bar-ware and the 40s style Airstream trailers which escorted the Astronauts off the Space Shuttle today and still look futuristic.

24 Sky Captain gadgets & vehicles

Toilet design says a lot about a culture. In the US public toilet cubicles typically have a quarter inch gap which allows people to see in, although a pissoir, which is a partially open air urinal is almost unknown. The reason for this irony is possibly prudery. The gaps are to prevent impropriety, but the enclosed toilets are because of a general American shyness about toilet matters. A small gap allows monitoring a large one encourages voyeurism. Political correctness due to the fact that pissoirs can normally only be used by men is undoubtedly also part of the reason, although recently funnel based womens pissoirs have been developed.Pissoirs first became widespread in France but exist throughout the world, from Scandinavia to Australia. They fell out of fashion in the late 20th century, but have seen something of a revival, with ultra modern versions being built in places like Berlin. Britain, which shares anglo-saxon prudishness with America has recently relaxed its taboo against open air urinals, due to the problem of binge drinking and subsequent al fresco urination. In the south of England, cylindrical pissoirs which are hidden during the day, telescope out of the ground at night, for the relief of marauding drunken hordes.

pissoir designs

The sight of a Zeppelin under construction must have been an awe inspiring experience. The hangers that were constructed for this purpose are the largest structures even created and the lightness required for the Zeppelin frames meant that their trusses consisted of sophisticated aluminum struts where each strut was in turn another truss. The overall effect is of incredible complexity and detail, like a gigantic high-tech whale set in a space that resembles a Piranesi engraving of a dungeon with enormous shafts of sunlight lit by dust. Because of their age, this technological look is combined with distinctly archaic elements, such as the gas bags which were made from thousands of cows' stomachs or the scaffolding and ladders which are wooden and rickety.

Zeppelins under construction

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

Long before periscopes became uniquely associated with submarines, they were widely used to peer over the trenches in WW1. Here are other uses from on board jet aircraft to golf courses, bank vaults and even to look underwater from dry land - the inverse of what we associate periscopes with.

9 non submarine periscopes

A general store is often no more than a shack with a veranda, peeling paint and a flat gable sign. This humble piece of vernacular architecture is sometimes found in Canada and Australia, but at its heart it is American. The general store, nostalgically fictionalized as Ike Godsey's in the Waltons or Oleson's Mercantile in Little House on the Prairie is part of America's soul that has been eroded, in the real world, by strip malls and Walmarts. Here is a collection of just a few of our favorites. Drill through on the links to explore some of the great finds on sites like Flic

general store architecture

Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich donated money for a giant tunneling machine to build a tunnel between Russia and Sarah Palin's house, when he was governor of the adjacent region to Alaska. The Wikipedia entry for Tunneling Machines and the entry for Civil Engineers in the UK Yellow Pages have something in common, they both read: 'see boring'. Doubly ironic, since boring is one of the most interesting projects for civil engineers, and the machines used to do the job are spectacular. The set here includes a variety of shield tunnel boring machines, TBMs, including those for celebrated projects such as Yucca mountain or the Channel Tunnel. Perhaps the most ironic of all is the Air Force TBM, a machine for digging deep underground, owned by the people who defend the skies.

20 interesting boring machines

Ever since the flat screen, trading rooms and trading desk setups have become more and more extreme, a symbol of the culture of leveraged trading that disappeared in today's meltdown. Here are some of the most interesting trading places and trading gear, from the slick, modern Frankfurt stock exchange, Geneva's weird trading ring that (appropriately) looks like the set for the Weakest Link game show and a ridiculous 20 screen setup for a spotty-adolescent looking Hedge Fund manager. If you are looking to get a tricked out multi screen trading setup to browse the web, the second hand market is going to look pretty good.

trading places

The external fixator is a device which creates an external scaffold to holds bones in stress, allowing for regeneration of otherwise unfixable fractures. The technique was pioneered by a Russian, Dr. Ilizarov, but didn’t reach the West until the 60s after it as used to heal an Olympic athlete.These images are incredible, and they represent medical ingenuity complete with cyborg-like gadget fetish appeal. Although they are a celebration of the ability to heal people, they are, however, applied to people who have suffered terrible trauma. Something which shouldn’t be forgotten. The images which we have chosen are non squeamish, however the sites which are linked to show medical information which can be.

12 extreme examples of medical scaffolding

Famous French industrial designer, Roger Tallon recently died, leaving something of a design mystery. Newspapers universally credited him as the designer of the iconic French high speed train, the TGV, but that was almost certainly the work of Jacques Cooper. Tallon did take over from Cooper to do the TGV Atlantique, but this was an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary design. Perhaps Tallon's influence was more on the interiors? For me, Tallon's best work was his 1960's M400 spiral stair which seems to be the direct inspiration for some of Ross Lovegrove's best work.

9 Roger Tallon Designs

1927 to 1959 was the golden era of General Motors. This was the period when Harley Earl started as Vice President of the Art and Color Division and gave birth to the modern notion of car design.Earl eschewed the purely engineering driven practicality of Ford to take inspirations from aircraft and space age concepts and add them to cars, turning them into works of art. The designs ranged from the highly futuristic Firebird gas turbine concept vehicles to the wildly successful production Corvette.Like almost all product design and architecture, the stamp of authorship is not clear cut and nor should it be. Many designs that are associated with him were produced by people working under him, but it was Early himself who created the school and he deserves a place alongside Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles and Ray Eames as one of America's most important designers.Vote for your favorite.

top 12 harley earl designs

Money is like quantum physics, the more you think about it the weirder it becomes, from the completely abstract versions of credit to 4 ton limestone Yap island coins. Money is most often based on trust, the illusion that a promise has tangible value. Here are some of the most interesting examples of money we could find, the earliest coins, credit cards and bank notes and the largest coins and checks.

12 examples of money

Algorithmic architecture uses computers to generate natural looking aperiodic forms that are are a revolutionary alternative to the extreme crystalline regularity of what has up to now been considered modern. The dreary exhibition of pre-fabricated architecture at New York's MOMA, has a couple of examples of algorithmic designs at its entrance, but that is where it stops. On entering it is an mixture of of the dated, High Tech style and dumbed down Mid-Century Modern boxes for Dwell magazine readers. If you really want to see what is happening at the cutting edge of architecture, look at some of these schemes. This list could go on forever. Drill down on some of the links and explore.

Algorithmic architecture

From giant wind blown animal sculptures to an armored mechanical shark. The number of possible entries in this list is huge. Here is a selection of some of our faves, vote for yours.

Mechanical Animals

In 2006 and 2007 a new method of smuggling emerged, surface skimming, semi-submersible, home-made submarines were captured from Thailand to Spain to Colombia. In 2008 the number spotted has already reached the 2007 count. These craft often had sophisticated electronics for evading capture. To get some idea of the logistical scale of these things, a 100ft long Russian designed submarine was captured in Colombia's capital, Bogota, 7,500 ft above sea level. The voting for this list is obviously irrelevant.

drug smuggling submarines

The first in a two part list. Here are a series of strange and unusual bus stops, including those with domestic or air conditioned interiors, odd structures and a variety of innovative integral advertising.

bus stops as art

Top500.org have just released their updated list of the worlds most powerful supercomputers. In June all of the top 5 were in the US, now only 2 are, with India, Sweden and Germany appearing.Here's an interesting thing, you can make it into this list for less than the cost of a family house in Manhattan.The fact that a Swedish Military computer is at number 5 indicates that either the Swedish military require the world's most powerful computers, or they are just unusually unsecretive, and that there are many machines we don't know about.Here are the top 15, with pictures of the actual machines, where they have been built. Although the IBM Blue Gene has a simple and striking case, only the Barcelona Computer Center and Leibniz Rechenzentrum are contained in rooms that are at all impressive. Vote for which ones you think are worthy of note.

15 top supercomputers

The point of this list was to find interesting fountain designs that are truly modern, something that is rare, since fountains are luxurious, flowing and decorative by nature.For example Rome's Trevi fountain may be a masterpiece, but trying to recreate classical splendor today always looks awful and kitsch. The horrid water display at the Vegas Bellagio is a case in point, opulence without craft. In fairness, its designers, WET design have produced many other much more interesting designs which balance fun with restraint. Here are some of our favorite designs, from computer controlled fountains such as the wonderful animated version at Detroit Airport to Chicago's celebrated screen based Crown fountain

12 great modern fountains

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Category: 'industrial archaeology'

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.

Here are some examples of things we put in space that came back down. They went up shiny and futuristic and what came back looks like medieval remains.

Crumbling hospitals are archetypal places of creepiness, because they are ironic. An hospital is a place that is supposed to be clean, from bedding to bathing to surgery and this has been exploited for dramatic effect in films from Jacob's Ladder to 12 Monkeys and the more recent Shutter Island.Abandoned hospitals are also a popular destination for urban explorers, so here I've picked the best examples I could find from records of their adventures on Flickr. But continue to have a look there for some other great shots.The set pieces are where a few pieces of furniture and medical equipment remain in a decaying room, to the extent that some of these are obviously staged from found objects, but they're no less impressive.

The Olympics is to the World Cup as the Eurovision Song Contest is to Saturday Night at the Apollo. An event created by top down bureaucracy rather than grass roots passion. This is sometimes reflected in its architecture, which has a far worse track record in terms of long term use. Many Olympic sites fail to live up to their aims at sustainability or regeneration and instead lie in ruin or have since been demolished.After the recent scandal about the horrendous state of the recent Athens Olympics’ facilities we decided to look for more examples. Here is what we found. Some are the products of politics and war rather than over-ambitious folly, but it seems that about half of the Olympic sites are gone or wrecked.

Being tall and thin means that one of the common but nevertheless unusual uses of old silos is to house climbing walls. Old silo structures, from underground missile silos to towering grain stores are often interesting pieces of industrial archaeology and make unconventional architectural conversions.

The interior design of Sweden's giant nuclear bunker.In the mid seventies, when ABBA topped the music charts, Sweden was just putting the finishing touches on its giant civil defense nuclear bunker outside Stockholm, called the Elephant.Traditionally neutral Sweden made this a priority due to its close proximity with Russia, but the Elephant is unlike any other cold war bunker - because it looks rather like an underground IKEA.In order to prevent claustrophobia, fake horizons were painted on the walls of recreation areas, with green below and blue above, representing sky and grass. Even lamps were painted yellow to represent the sun. In the business parts of the bunker, such as briefing rooms and control rooms, shades of gray relieved by red were used.Unlike other bunkers which used the same tactics, with murals of mountain or countryside scenes the obsessive schematic nature of the Swedish bunker is like a children's bedroom in hell.Urban explorers have visited and documented the Elephant bunker. Here are our picks from a wonderful set by Bill_R on Flickr. Click through any of the pictures for more.

We could go on about how empty pools, once awash with liquidity and fun are a metaphor for the wreckage left after the credit bust. But then again, there is something cool about empty pools, period. Here are our faves.

Nothing seemed as modern as the space race, gleaming white rockets and cutting edge technology. Except that that was decades ago, and some of the most spectacularly important pieces of technology have been left to rot. Soviet shuttle prototypes have been spotted in the most unlikely places, from the wind swept deserts of Bahrain to a river side dock, full of scrap metal, in a Moscow suburb.The NASA LUT-1 launch tower that sent the first men to the moon was described as 'the modern day equivalent of the dock from which the Santa Maria sailed for the New World'. It lay in a rusting pile of collapsed metal until it was broken up for scrap four years ago.

In the pre Pirate Bay days of analog transmission, pirate radio stations were setup in the most bizarre places, to avoid being shut down. Many of these were offshore, in boats, lighthouses, disused forts, or even balloons or planes.The idea for outlaw stations came from the US military who broadcast from B 29 bombers, over Vietnam, ships off the coast of Soviet states and continue to broadcast to Cuba from balloons. Israel is the last remaining country to have pirate radio ships in operation, where they broadcast ultra conservative religious programming.

To celebrate I am Legend, here is a chart of our favorite abandoned technology. Disused military equipment, famous aircraft bone yards, derelict lighthouses, fun fairs subway systems and railway locomotives.