Tourbillon watches are the most expensive in the world often costing $500,000. They became fashionable in the last decade as non-forgeable status symbols for billionaires, but that is now being threatened by Chinese imitations.The style of these devices is baroque in the truest sense, but becuase their aesthetic derives from the rational world of mechanics the style jars and they are, to my mind, as grotesque and kitsch as their diamond encrusted counterparts in the luxury watch market.After facing the existential threat of digital which made accuracy cheap, the Swiss watch industry turned to making high end jewelry either directly with diamond encrusted gold watches or indirectly via those that fetishised complex mechanics for the sake of it, such as these. Ironic, since the origins of Swiss watch making came from the ban on jewelry in Calvanist Geneva.These tourbillon (whirlwind) watches are the most extreme example of complex analog mechanics, the most expensive clockwork items in the world, costing between $100,000 and $500,000, they all share a rotating escapement which theoretically leads to better accuracy (even though that does not compare to a $50 swatch).This mechanism is very difficult to make and fascinating to look at, so most tourbillon watches directly expose their intricate mechanics, which originally only the Swiss could make. Recently, however, Chinese watch makers have brought tourbillon watches to market, for a tenth of the price, threatening their cache as a status symbol which is difficult to fake.
One of the negative things about technological progress is when something that was originally intricate and mechanical becomes a ubiquitous piece of cheap technology. This happened in the 70s with watches and more recently has happened with cameras.A modern day spy camera is not that interesting, but the miniature ones here are, similarly the wide range of hardware solutions create much more design diversity in early cameras, from the giant 900lb box camera to the bizarre miniature ones developed for carrier pigeons, from gun like trigger activated shutters to a propeller powered film advance mechanism for a camera mounted below an early aircraft.
Around the same time Roy Lichtenstein copied comic books for the New York chattering classes, Papua New Guinean tribesmen did the same for their battle shields. These items are real, used in tribal warfare after prototypical lycra-clad American comic book hero The Phantom somehow struck a chord with traditional cultures in the Western Highlands. They are possibly one of the most bizarre items of popular culture’s infiltration of the far corners of the world.
Nail houses have become emblematic of the accelerated rate of development in China. They are buildings whose owners have resisted selling to developers and which remain standing in the middle of new construction all around, like stubborn nails which can’t be beaten down with a hammer. Here are 9 examples including ones in the US and Europe.
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.
P.J. O’Rourke observed that when someone digs up Manhattan in 2000 years, they’ll wonder what kind of hideous torture the civilization inflicted on people there because of the amount of gym equipment. The same could be said of this stuff which, despite its bizarre appearance, is generally quite benign.Most interestingly, these devices were the work or Dr Kellog, now better known for his breakfast cereals which were part of his health regimen as medical head of the Battle Creek sanitarium.A big thank you to John EverBlest at Healthexhibits.com who provided me with these pictures from his wonderful collection.
If Apple is all about the product which then sells itself, then Ron Popeil’s Ronco was the exact reverse. Popeil took the kinds of things that work well with a hard sell: knives, peelers, dubious hair loss products that looked like spray paint, created a new twist rather than an invention per se and made them from cheap materials. These were then the subject of the archetypal infomercial, progenitor of the term O-matic and popularizer of the phrase ‘as seen on TV’.Popeil represents the quintessential salesman and as a result is seen with affection rather than derision, an iconic part of American popular culture and capitalism. Her are 9 videos of Popeil products.
The tanning devices here may not be perceived as light therapy devices, but the concept of sun bathing morphed from scientific and quasi scientific light treatments at the end of the 19th century, where people would immerse themselves in light baths – hence the term sun bathing.Abuse of sun bathing as recreation has created a backlash, masking its genuine benefits in moderation and how it is perceived has obviously changed over time, as witnessed by my favorite item here which shows four congressmen in suits bathing in the light shower baths of the Turkish baths of the House of Representatives.
Times Square is the worlds most visited attraction. More people visit this crossroads in Manhattan every year than there are Canadians. It used to be called Longacre Square after the same area in London which was also the center of the carriage trade. Then the New York Times created its headquarters on the south side in 1904, and so the area was names after it.The Times building was completely remodeled in the mid 60s as the Allied Chemical building, then again more recently, to the point where it is basically a giant billboard support with only one tenant – the people who drop the famous ball at New Year.For this Times Square set I’ve chosen images all looking south towards the former Times building, from 1880 to 2011, through the first neon billboards, the decline in the 80s, the Christo project to wrap it 1 Times Square in 1985 and its refurbishment in the 1990s as something more like the Vegas strip.
Movies originated from animated still images, either through a rotating slit (zoetropes), a faceted mirror (praxinoscopes) or a rotating drum with flip cards in the case of the mutoscope. Here are some sample videos of the machines themselves, from antiques to modern day installations based on them.
There are plenty of interesting unbuilt projects for some of the world’s most famous cities, but there is something particularly unsettling about alternatives for things that were build. Some monuments are so iconic that their alternatives seem like sacrilege.Included here among various alternatives for Tower Bridge, the Washington Monument, The Chrysler building and St. Paul’s Cathedral are proposed extensions to the White House, a 5 million tomb alternative to London’s famous Victorian cemeteries and a particularly uninspiring second place entry for the Sydney Opera House competition. My personal favorite, however is the Triumphal Elephant which could have capped off the Champs Elysees in Paris. If someone could only find the rejected competition entry for what became the Eiffel Tower, which consisted of a giant replica of a Guillotine.
Inflatables are an obvious choice for space vehicles and satellites, a small sized payload than can be inflated once up, yet for some reason they aren’t the norm.The first passive communications satellites were inflatable spheres, such as the Echo series, which mylar was developed for, and early prototypes for space stations were inflatable. More recently, funding for the inflatable replacement for the habitat unit on the space station was cancelled and a private company Bigelow Aerospace is now the pioneer in the field, having successfully launched an inflatable unit.My favorite in this list, however, is the grid sphere satellite which replaced the Echo ones which didn’t stay up long becuase the suns heat would deform them and slow them down. A helium inflated plastic balloon expanded a signal reflecting hollow geodesic mesh, with the plastic then dissolving under the suns rays. The mesh could then stay up for 11 years or so.
Dueling pistols are strange, beautiful and ironic. Gadgets to shoot each other in the face with, crafted with the delicacy and decorative extravagance of expensive jewelry.They appeared in the 18th C, as faster firing versions of flintlock guns replaced swords. Their use dwindled in the 19th C, while duels were still fought in the Western US states where the less rich would engage in gouging, similarly prearranged combat, with the aim of plucking out the opponent’s eyes.Dueling pistols were designed for the upper classes, for the preservation of honor, used illegally by generals and poets (Pushkin was killed in a duel), several US presidents (even Lincoln accepted a challenge to a duel)and even presented, with no sense of irony, as diplomatic gifts.
Photo finishes are made using strip or slit scan cameras. They are an assemblage of slices of something as it passes a certain point, such as a finish line. The same y axis at different points in time rather than different points in an x,y plane at an instant. As such they produce sometimes beautiful or plain weird distortions, from the arched backs and smeared limbs of Olympic cyclists and runners to pictures of aircraft propellers which appear impossibly separated from the nosecone.
The Olympics has become surreal, an athletic event which manages to roll up some of the world’s least popular sports and make some of the world’s most popular, such as soccer, capture less interest. It’s all about the opening ceremony and the 100M, so the entire multi-billion dollar affair centers on 3 hours of introduction and 10 seconds of meaningful competition. It’s an event where the organizers earn tens of times that of the athletes, evade taxes and create new criminal laws to prosecute those who challenge sponsors who peddle things that are bad for your health. Added to this is the absurd level paramilitary security.It used to be worse however. The security used to be an event, with Military Patrol being a sport in three games. Shown here is the rather disturbing image of the German medal winning Military patrol team, between WWI and WWII. Other dubious shooting contests included killing pigeons (as well as racing them) and dueling, where two competitors would try and shoot each other in the face with wax bullets.Several of the demonstration sports are straight from Monty Python territory: Fire Fighting, Cannon Shooting and Kite Flying. But my absolute favorite are the little known arts medals. Walter Winans was one of 2 people to win both sports and and arts medals, for sculpture and deer shooting and Brooklyn’s Marine Park was the subject of Charles Downing Lay’s Olympic silver medal in Town Planning in 1936.I seen several sites doing a similar list to this, however I spent a long time trying to pick up the best selection including a few that were missed elsewhere. Enjoy.
Unlike today’s universal cigar shaped commercial airliners, early aircraft took lots of design forms as people experimented with different principals. This is a normal trend in design, however the image of multiplanes (those with many wings) collapsing as an icon of naive understanding of flight masks an ironic truth.The most ridiculous looking items in this list are the three flying ‘venetian blinds’, constructed by Horatio Phillips between 1883 and 1907, the last of which, with more than 50 wings, looks more like a wooden building frame than an aircraft. Phillips, however, was the first person to truly understand the science of flight and aerfoil shapes, so these mark one of the more rational developments in aviation history.
Football kit (American football), has changed dramatically over a relatively short history, such that early football helmets look positively medieval and the latest anti-concussion helmets are fully fledged gadgets in their own right.The first football helmet designs were soft shell lattices that resemble those still worn by rugby players. Unlike rugby, however, contact can be made when you don’t have possession of the ball, so helmets became progressively more robust and elaborate. Around the 1920s helmets were clearly inspired by Roman army ones, only made of soft leather and occasionally with full face-masks. These ‘executioner’ helmets are the most sought after collectors items, today.The first metal face masks appeared in the 30s although they did not become commonplace until the 50s, when the modern helmet took shape, eventually becoming a hard plastic or composite shell.
The blackboard is a somewhat legacy item that has disappeared from classrooms and meeting rooms, to be replaced by screens and whiteboards, except that is for physicists and Hollywood movies. Walking around CERN and peeking into rooms many still have blackboards covered in equations.In celebration of the Higgs, here are 15 physicists in front of their blackboards. The apotheosis of ‘blackboard craft’ is possibly John Wheeler who used to pre-prepare very elaborate boards filled with colored diagrams. In the list I’ve tried to pick those which have some relevance to the development of the standard model: Feynman; Gell-Mann; Glashow or the eventual discovery of the Higgs, such as Higgs himself or important CERN luminaries such as my personal hero, John Bell, author of what has been called the most profound theory in physics: that if quantum theory is correct, then either things communicate instantly at a distance, or they don’t exist when they aren’t being looked at or both. Brownie points if you can say what the equations on the blackboards are, in the comments
Escape pods are a ubiquitous element of science fiction but surprisingly rare in real life. The ones I found are largely for high speed jet fighters or ships, submarines and oil platforms, but my absolute favorite is the patent drawing for a gigantic detachable commercial pod in a regular commercial airliner which floats passengers gently to the ground via an array of parachutes. In the massively unlikely event that this ever is realized, I will fly forever with any airline that adopts it.
The first early warning systems were large concrete dishes which focused the sound of incoming Zeppelins towards listeners wearing stethoscopes, during WW1. Today’s nuclear attack early warning systems are largely satellite based infra red detectors and airborne dishes, mounted on planes and helicopters. They have made a vast array of geodesic domed, Cold War radar installations obsolete, where they remain abandoned in some of the most isolated places on earth such as Greenland and Northern Canada.
Amazingly, the existence of the unsuccessful Soviet moon landing program was secret until the fall of the USSR. It consisted of three principal components: the N1 rocket; Soyuz 7K-L3 orbiter and LK lander.The first stage of the N1 is the most powerful rocket every built, it never launched successfully and when it blew up, it resulted in the largest non-nuclear, man-made explosion in history. All of the hardware looks similar enough to be familiar, but different enough to be slightly alien, such as the bug like lander, of which there are 5 left. All that remains of the N1 itself are a few scraps in a children’s playground in Kazakhstan, but its engine type is still in existence, used by the company that formerly owned the satellite system used by Google Maps.
In the movies, spook equipment equals high tech and futuristic, but the reality of the external product design design is often anything but. Product design will eventually no longer be an issue. This is one of those lists where as technology improves the items become less interesting, to the point where they disappear, as encryption technology becomes software only, as with the NSAs secure version of Google’s Android OS. Nonetheless standard secure phones are still provided to government officials, by the NSA, the latest model being introduced in 2008 and with hardware that looks distinctly antiquated compared with consumer technology such as an iPhone. The odd one out in this list is the US/Soviet hotline, which is arguably as much a reaction against the time it took to decode secure messages, being introduced after the delays in doing so during the Cuban missile crisis.
From legendary conceptual architects Haus Rucker, who created mind expanding fly head like human cocoons and inflatables, in the 60s, to Lawrence Malstaff who does brilliant installations today, including a real typhoon in a cylindrical pod to humans shrink wrapped between to pieces of plastic, with a breathing tube. Here are a range of beautiful, filament like, cocoon structures produced by artists and architects.
Giant projected images on buildings have been iconic examples of futurism since the movie Blade Runner. More recently they have become a lot more sophisticated via projection of animated 3d computer models onto quasi 2 dimensional surfaces such as building facades. Examples here range from the skyscraper projections for Nokia in London, to guerrilla activist projections of Al Weiwei on a Chinese Embassy and the Occupy Wall street ‘bat signal’ on the Verizon tower in Manhattan.
For the last decade, Apple have absolutely dominated gadget design, bringing modernism to the masses in a way that architects never did. Yves Behar, the Swiss born (but not Swiss) designer is the first person to really challenge Apple’s hegemony, he designed the original Slingbox and Paypal’s recent attempt to compete with Square, but is becoming well known because of the superior design of the Jawbone headset and Jambox wireless speaker. Here are our favorite Behar designs.
Flight simulation is quintessentially high tech, the inspiration for Virtual Reality, so I went looking for early examples and found some delightfully quixotic alternatives to modern day immersive environments. These include the wooden mockups of the Apollo capsules, the stunted Link simulator, used during WWII, which looks like a kids ride outside a supermarket and the very early pre-WWI training rig for the Antoinette aircraft, which principally consists of two half barrels on top of each other. But the best of all are the incredible Convair trainer which has an extra cockpit attached to its front and the celestial navigation trainers which are masterpieces of pre-electronic navigational complexity.
Aside from the POV Parkour here, non of these videos involve super human skills, Spidey Senses or Red Bull addiction. I actually prefer the seemingly bland but interesting ones such as strapping a GoPro to a dog, hula hoop, time lapse of the view out of a commercial flight or RC car in Walmart to endless surfing videos
Manikins used for dental training are either deep into uncanny valley (creepy) territory if they try and look at all realistic, or just plain terrifying in their more abstract incarnations. A lot of this is just becuase (a) people are very good at interpreting faces and anything face-like seems possessed, (b) dental manikins have to bare their teeth so often have bizarre expressions. Anyhow, they are quite interesting, particularly the vintage metal ones which are a nastily grotty and beaten up.
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.
The history of the pressure suit from its origins in the 30s for high altitude pilots to space missions is one which perfectly encapsulates (no pun intended) all of the aspects of product design from craft to science. Aesthetically, the first pressure suit, created by the aviator Wiley Post in 1934, looks more like a deep sea diving one, just as deep sea diving inspired the fictional aesthetic for robots and space men, until the space race. But the Post suit is where the two design styles diverge, culminating in the Apollo mission suits which were produced in craft fashion by the seamstresses of bra manufacturer, Playtex after their proposal outperformed those submitted by engineering contractors.Pressure suits don’t need to be air tight, apart from the helmet, because human skin is, they just need to be tight to stop your skin swelling. Those worn by pilots are usually different from astronauts, who also have to wear external layers of reflective insulation (separated by intermediate layers of non heat conducting material, exactly like modern loft insulation) and a protective skin against micro-meteors and abrasive dust. As well as all fabric pressure suits, there are rigid or partially rigid ones, such as some of the moon walk prototypes or space walk (EVA) ones which are hybrids of a rigid torso and flexible limbs. EVA and moon walk suits have a life support system as a backpack, while astronauts often carry theirs like a suitcase, as a backup in case cabin pressure fails.
New York’s retro futurism is particularly interesting becuase the city itself is an anachronistic view of modernism – an antique skyscraper city. Each one of these proposals is not just a past vision of the future, but a past vision of the future which is now in the past itself.The 15 items here, range from the purely conceptual work of Italian 60s architects, Superstudio, who designed a continuous monument around the earth, crashing through lower Manhattan to Lindenthal’s serious proposal for an absolutely gargantuan bridge across the Hudson, with towers bigger than some of the tallest skyscrapers and where the keystone, still exists today.Along with Buckminster Fuller’s well known idea for a geodesic dome over mid-town Manhattan, is his lesser known one for an array of huge, cooling tower like housing projects in Harlem, each holding 40,000 people. There are a couple of representative engineering projects showing plans to dam the Hudson or drain the East River and an array of transportation concepts, including Raymond Loewy’s idea for a helicopter pad covering Bryant park, 10 storys above ground.Weirdest of all is the proposal for a spherical nuke proof 2nd city, below ground.
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.
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.
Bel Geddes is the industrial designer most associated with the streamline style, an aerodynamic form than was as much about aesthetics as wind resistance. These designs actually look better than more aerodynamic forms and as such were used by Geddes for things that didn’t have to move at all, such as his streamlined school desk. Geddes started out as a theatrical designer then made a series of model cars and prototypes for trains and planes, including the incredible airliner number 4 – a 1929 proposal for a transatlantic boat plane carrying 450 passengers and an army of staff including a musicians and entertainers. But the other thing that Geddes created was his daughter, who was Miss Ellie in the TV series, Dallas.
I combined two types of concept plan in this list that are very different but share the fact that they show an alternate universe where airports weren’t giant fields on the edge of cities.On the one had there are the airports that literally float on water, and although these have become a reality with projects such as Kansai or military aircraft carriers, some of the original designs are for runways floating on rivers right in the middle of cities. Here the concept overlaps with the other type of floating airports: those that metaphorically float above the city on stilts – or over rather than on a river, via a structure like an overhead railroad.These concepts are not as unpractical as they appear, by using short-takeoff, quiet planes, London city airport is very close to the financial center of London and its a shame that aircraft haven’t been developed to allow some of these magnificent, early ambitions to have become a reality.
Diving bells were originally just that – an upturned church bell with enough trapped air to stand in while reclaiming things from shipwrecks in relatively shallow water. As such the engraving of Edmund Halley’s 18th century diving bell is one of my favorite images on oobject, because it shows gadgetry from an age prior to machines. There’s a guy walking around the sea floor in what looks more like a velvet courtier’s outfit that a divers suit. This list is a collection of images of diving bells that evoke that same sort of weirdness, as best I could find
Although we previously did a list on diving helmets, the variety of strange diving outfits warranted another list. Having spent hours pouring through these to pick my favorites, it occurred to me that the inspiration for early science fiction robots and space suits, before the age of actual space travel, clearly comes from this pre-space age technology.Deep sea diving equipment needs to be solid and heavy it has a very different aesthetic from aviation and space equipment which needs to be light, so there is a market difference between the look of space things in science fiction, between the 50s and 60s.
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/
A tank has an iconic shape and when it deviates from that it looks strange, despite the fact that many of these alternative forms are equally viable. They include designs that are based on steam tractors, tricycles and cannon and ones where ordinary tanks are adapted for different tasks such as mine clearing. In the latter case, the Progvev T is particularly weird, where the gun has been replaced by a reverse mounted Mig fighter jet engine, in order to clear mines by blasting them with an afterburn.
I normally try and avoid military stuff unless there’s an ironic design twist, and there is here. Somehow, these crude, mechanical ‘remote control’ rifles, used for shooting over trenches manage to emasculate the phallic nature of guns and turn them into something worthy of Rube Goldberg himself. Nevertheless, they are for killing people sneakily, something to remember, while admiring their weirdness.
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.
From double amputee, Aimee Mullins, who modeled for Alexander McQueen on a pair of beautiful hand-carved wooden prosthetic legs made from solid ash to amputee soldiers who would not have survived without advances in combat medical care and who are returning to active combat at a rate which is 7 times higher than a generation ago (2% – 16%) to athletes such as Oscar Pistorius, whose carbon fiber prosthetics help him compete at a level which calls into question the separation of ‘special’ athletic competition, the way we view prosthetics and disability is changing. 3d printing, advanced composite materials are enabling this from an aesthetic and design standpoint as much as the more obvious technical advances through electronics and bio feedback systems.
Complex dangerous machinery isn’t the first choice for a home-brew project, unless you are rural farmer, apparently. Some of these look like remnants of a cargo cult, and most of them received stern warnings from the relevant civil aviation authorities to not even try firing them up, but a couple actually flew.
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.
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.
Despite the uninteresting name, these rectifiers are one of the most beautiful gadgets ever made. As a result they are often seen if films and are quintessential elements of mad scientist labs, yet few people could name them or know what they were used for. Invented at the beginning of the 20th Century, Mercury Arc Rectifiers were like spectacularly large versions of the Tubes in pre-transistor era electronics. They were used to convert electricity from alternating to direct current.
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.
Soviet computer manufacture had a promising beginning with devices such as the MESM, which when it was produced in 1950 was the first universally programmable computer in continental Europe. By today’s standards, you’d have to fill the Empire State Building full of MESMs to have the same processing power as an iPhone. Later Soviet block computers were invariably based on Western counterparts with a myriad of Sinclair Spectrum clones, an Apple II based machine, PC compatibles and later on, Vax based systems from Robotron in East Germany.
The excitement over commercial sub-orbital space tourism masks the reality of real commercial space venture through orbiting satellites. Obviously these are splendid complex objects to drool over, but you only get to do that while they are being assembled on the ground. Here are some of our favorite images including the giant clean rooms where surgeon-like technicians in white overalls piece them together.
Perhaps it’s because we sometimes take the things we see around us for granted and a technical drawing of its design shows the effort that went into it that I find these Nasa drawings so interesting. That in addition to the labels saying what things do. With that in mind, i included an diagram which isn’t really a blueprint, from a Apollo 15 press kit showing how they unpacked the lunar rover – for some reason I always wondered how they did that. I also cheated with a couple of NASA project images that aren’t from NASA to show how other companies were involved – such as Lockheed’s Hubble Telescope and Boeing’s drawings of the Saturn V configuration.
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.
In case there were any doubt about just how unpleasantly weird Kim Jong Il’s tyrannical grip over North Korea, here are 12 examples of his propaganda posters. They range from imagery of attacks on the US in a bizarre blend of Soviet art and 50s American comic books to perhaps the most macabre of all, pictures of copious abundance of produce in a place where people are starving to death.
When the shuttle takes off tomorrow it will be a symbolic example of technological regress, a small step down for man, a giant plunge for mankind. After the Shuttle, there will longer be re-usable space vehicles, no rocket capable of taking us to the moon, no submersible capable of taking us to the bottom of the deepest ocean. Airline travelers will only be able to fly half as fast as they used to and most seriously, children will get diseases that were previously wiped out all because progress doesn’t always happen and because some people don’t believe in it.I’ve picked 9 examples of technological regression, they will be ordered according to your votes – pick the the ones you think are the biggest loss.
One of the most odd objects we’ve ever seen these items are sometimes confused with spy gadgetry, but the truth is stranger. Jailers’ keys were apparently filled with gun powder to create a primitive gun that could be detonated if there was any trouble when opening a cell door. We found several original versions that back up this claim, dating from the 17th century and of various complexity.
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.
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.
Vehicles that are actually driven by screws were developed as all terrain vehicles for places like snow driven Siberia. In the US there were several experimental vehicles including the Fordson snow devil, built on top of a tractor. Included here are as many videos of them in action, as I could find.
The earliest remotes were neither wireless or used to control TVs. Since the 30s devices were available to control radios, Philcos 1939 wood and Bakelite model was actually wireless and predates any TV remote. TV remotes started with gadgets such as the Zenith Lazy Bones and it was Zenith who introduced the first cable free TV remote, with the Flash-matic.
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.
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.
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.
Bridge layers have to be about the closest thing in the real world to a Transformer, giant fold up, extendable instantly deployable bridges that are most often fixed to modified tanks. They have been around since tanks first existed, during WW1, and are one of the more bizarre and obscure forms of military hardware. There is also something incredibly circular about a vehicle that carries its own road.
When I was an architect, it was common for structural engineering books to have this image of two people effortlessly supporting a third to demonstrate the cantilever principal of the famous Forth Rail Bridge outside of Edinburgh. When I was looking for this picture, I noticed that the people were different. It turns out that this iconic image is not unique and here are the three variants I could find, making this the shortest (and one of the more obscure) oobject list to date.
Roman cavalry would often have lifelike armored face masks which were deliberately expressionless to add to their creepiness. Conversely, traditional Japanese face armor is often contorted into aggressive displays of anger. Ironic somehow, since the Japanese are considered stoic and in control of their emotions whereas modern day Italians are caricatured as anything but. Military masks are interesting because they reveal the underlying hidden character of the often faceless uniforms of war. They range from early lifelike representations to some of the more abstract examples during the Renaissance or the accidentally terrifying arctic warfare masks of the otherwise friendly Swedish.
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.
Before rendering, 3d computer models are displayed as wireframes, which have a particular aesthetic. Several artists have tried to capture this in real life, with surreal models of things that aren’t really there. I also threw in Gaudi’s classic upside down catenary arch model of Sagrada Familia, for its sheer prowess.
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.
This may seem like an overly esoteric oobject, but there is something interesting about the shape of a hairdryer – an item designed largely as a female beauty product that is often shaped like a gun or looks like sticking your head in a jet engine. One of these is actually shaped like a gun. The most interesting ones I could find were the machine age chrome ones or some of the more bizarre soft bonnet versions.