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.