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And you thought the matrix was fiction? Robots designed to access hostile areas such as radioactive areas are also used beneath the streets to clean or repair sewers or to lay cables. They were among the first things on the scene after 911 or Katrina and have a particular rugged beauty. Vote for your faves.

12 super sewer robots

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.

9 utopian architectural projects

Zoetropes, Phenakistoscopes and Praxinoscopes were the machines that formed the basis of modern day movie making. Here are some movies of these amazing machines in action, complete with some great modern interpretations.

Movies of moving picture machines (videos)

There is a saturation point where individual pieces of graffiti become a texture, when things are absolutely covered in graffiti. This tends to happen in places that are charged with emotional energy, such as the Berlin wall, however here are some less well known places. From the throne of England which is covered top to bottom in hundreds of years old carved graffiti and equally aristocratic Harrow School which features a wood paneled classroom where every inch is covered by pupils who have carved their names, including Winston Churchill to pop culture shrines such as U2's former recording studio and Elvis' Graceland and not so pop Oscar Wilde, whose grave is covered in kisses.

graffiti covered

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

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.

early warning systems

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

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.

12 strange tanks and armored vehicles

With the notable exception of Apple, America has largely ceased to be a design culture, yet from Art Deco to Mid-Century modern, the US once ruled the world. There is no better example of a quintessentially American product designer than Raymond Loewy, who combined the exuberance of consumer culture with the asceticism of modernism and applied this to elements from pencil sharpeners to locomotives.Like Apples lead designer, Loewy was not from America. He was born in France and travelled to New York after WWI, wearing only his officers uniform and carrying $40. Here are a dozen of our favorite examples of Loewy designs.

12 Classic Raymond Loewy Designs

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

Aside from the fact that vintage massage devices look less like smooth sensual objects than giant, terrifying dental machinery they are possibly the worlds best source of laugh-out-loud, euphemistic advertising copy.Here are a range of our favorite Frankenstein devices with some classic product names, such as the Handy Hannah Vitalator; Niagara Cycloid-Action Cyclo-Massage; Stim-U-Lax Junior; Bonger Body Massager, Magic Fingers Motel Bed Massager or our personal favorite the Chic [sic] Glorifier.

18 Vintage Massage Gadgets

The launching of a ship after smashing a bottle of champagne against its bow is an iconic ritual. It is also one of the few things in life which is still impressive despite being relatively slow. Shown here are videos which are interesting because of the ships fame, sheer size or quirkiness of the launch, including those where huge waves drench onlookers. Our favorite is the time lapse submarine launch in a floating dock.

12 videos of ships being launched

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

iPods, Nikons, vibrators, Hummers someone has released a really crass gold plated gadget for the arms dealer market. Gizmodo suggested the gold plated shuffle 'signaled the downfall of civilization', vote according to which item you think is the most revolting.

12 revolting gold gadgets

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.

15 skyscrapers on hold

From 3 megawatt offshore monsters to zero energy windmill skyscrapers, kite flown turbines and giant seabed anchored super-turbines, held aloft by blimps. Here is our list of the most futuristic and quixotic designs for wind turbines. By far the most beautiful way to harness energy.

16 beautiful wind turbines

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.

The architecture of bunkers

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.

15 video projections on buildings

Ross Lovegrove is renowned for beautiful fluid designs, earning him the nickname, Captain Organic. His $140,000 Muon speakers, for KEF were milled from enormous billets of solid aluminum, by an aeronautics manufacturer. A process that took a week.From his bladder molded, composite carbon and glass fiber DNA stair to liquid bioform furniture which is made using the same process used to manufacture body panels for Aston Martin cars, Lovegrove has teamed up with some of the world's most innovative manufacturers to combine design excellence and futuristic materials.

futuristic ross lovegrove design

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

Like fossils for creationists, these medical dinosaurs are concrete evidence of the tragic fallacy of anti-vaccinationism. During the 1940s and 50s entire hospital wards were filled with these terrifying looking submarine-like devices, to help polio victims whose paralysis rendered them unable to breath.Although modern day respirators tend to work with positive rather than negative pressure, polio itself has been almost entirely eradicated due to the successful widespread use of vaccines, saving countless lives.

12 iron lungs

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Most buildings are built to provide shelter from the natural environment for the maximum period of time. Rocket launch pads are designed to weather the extremely unnatural conditions of exploding kerosene fireballs for a short period of time, which makes them extraordinar.Here are ten that we found worthy of note. The list includes historical ones, such as the moon landing Apollo 11 or its predecessor, Wernher Von Braun’s Nazi V2 on a pad in America rather than Germany to the stunning architecture of the gantries of the twin shuttle pads 39a and 39b at Kennedy Space Center or the desolate surroundings of the Russian Buran Shuttle launch pad, and its surprisingly different design, considering the similarity of the vehicle.

Get into a car anywhere in the world and you are pretty much guaranteed that you will understand how to drive it. Cars have the ultimate user interface and Formula 1 cars perhaps represent the pinnacle of this UI, with the most demanding requirements.As recently as 1992, F1 steering wheels were round with 3 buttons (neutral, drinking water supply, radio), but since the advent of paddle gear changes there has been a sudden explosion of electronics and feature driven complexity.The complexity is ubiquitous, all 11 Formula 1 teams produce cars with more or less the same multi button design allowing adjustment and tweaks of traction and aerodynamics from the wheel itself. Unlike a road car, space and focus constraints mean that the entire dashboard is on the steering wheel. This is something that will no doubt be copied, unnecessarily, in consumer cars in future, but would that be a UI improvement?Given that all 11 F1 teams have converged on a remarkably similar UI, independently, you would think that dashboard steering wheel style was a rational design, however its complexity possibly caused Lewis Hamilton the 2007 F1 championship, when he accidentally pressed the neutral button (top left of the 2007 McLaren Mercedes wheel).We have gathered together as many of the modern style wheel designs that we could find and put a date to, to demonstrate the UI pattern. What is clear is that there is no clear accentuation of features (color, size) by how often the are used, merely by position. Even if drivers like Hamilton are experts and fully familiar with the UI, there is a tiny percentage chance of error. Our guess is that this trend in car UI would be a mistake if it filters through to everyday cars, and that F1 cars will revert to a more simple UI over time.

The Enigma is one of the most well known devices in the history of gadgets, being responsible for the birth of the computing industry, in attempts to crack it. This has largely overshadowed the plethora of other cryptographic devices, which are often overlooked. Here is a gallery of 20 secret message machines.

The original wireless network used pigeons. One of the worlds largest information firms, Reuters actually started out as a messaging service with carrier pigeons, they were used widely for messaging during the WW1 and even for aerial photography. The famous psychologist, Skinner worked on a guided missile which was to be controlled by live pigeons.

Bang and Olufsen are famous for their superior design in electronics in the period prior to the 80s, yet there are no designers employed by the company. Instead, all design is traditionally outsourced and the Bang and Olufsen heyday, when their products were must have items for the homes of architects and designers is largely due to one man Jacob Jensen who designed a range of classic products between the late 60s and 80s.Like Apple today, Jensen obsessed with build quality and finish, and eschewed visible buttons wherever possible, using below glass illuminated controls and even proposing gesture based interfaces.Most satisfyingly, unlike current trends in design from double curved car shells to rounded corner boxes on web pages, Jensens trademark was ruthlessly squared off edges.

Science Fiction Movies and famous architecture have a particularly strong tradition, however the link is not always flattering. Since much science fiction deals with a dystopic vision of the future, architecture is often seen as part of the environmental cause, from Philadelphias abandoned, alienating, solitary confinement based, Quaker prison in 12 Monkeys to the architectural brutalism of Brunel University in the literally brutal Clockwork Orange.In the Truman show, the blandness and superficiality of Seaside in Florida makes a real location feel like a set, and the accidental neo-classical fascist style Ronald Reagan building in Washington is a perfect authoritarian backdrop for Minority Report.

The design of ski jumps is interesting because it is the most extreme form of a playground slide. It has recently produced excellent pieces of modern architecture from Zaha Hadid and MR2 but equally impressive are the bizarre temporary ski jumps at baseball grounds and football stadia.

Imagine a gas powered desktop publishing system that weighed several tons, leaked oil, had thousands of moving parts, its own boiler full of molten lead and a keyboard where you couldn’t see what you had typed and which looked a thousand times more strange and complicated than any deliberately anachronistic Steampunk PC casemod.

This is how the machines that laid out the pages of newspapers were till the 80s, and to give some idea of how recent this technology was used, they were manufactured until after the release of the Apple computer. Linotype had a virtual monopoly on the typesetting of newspapers for a hundred years and their design is a superb example of an endlessly refined solution to what became an anachronistic problem. Linotypes were unlike any keyboard driven device, before or since.


For some reason cities around the world are scrambling to build massive Ferris Wheels in the name of modernity. Which is odd because this is old fashioned technology and not much improved. The biggest wheel in the world is less than twice the size of the very first one in Chicago. Ultimately however, what is disappointing about the biggest Ferris wheels in the world, from Beijing to Berlin is that they are boring. Here are our favorite less ordinary Ferris Wheels.

Some of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in the world have a spiral stair as the final flourish. The spiral stair is an architects favorite, from Gaudi to Corbusier to Foster, but some of the most interesting spiral stairs are accidental pieces of architecture, such as those inside lighthouses or on giant silos and storage tanks. Here is a deliberately diverse collection of some of our favorites. Vote for yours.

Magic Lanterns are essentially pre-electric slide projectors. They hold a unique position in the history of gadgets, being popular at the end of the nineteenth century when cheap mass produced decoration became available. They represent one of the last machines to be designed like furniture rather than gadgets.The dirty little secret of design is that good taste equals expensive - when everybody could afford decoration, minimalist design with expensive materials became a way to display wealth (the early modernist, Barcelona pavilion had stainless steel columns, onyx walls and travertine floors) contrary to legend, modernism was originally product for the elite, not the masses.Magic Lanterns are pre-modernist, richly decorated items that are very different from the design of todays gadgets, which look like their design is dictated by function, but in reality (like an expensive Porsche designed to travel at speeds which it is illegal to do so) is dictated by a fetishized culture of the machine.

Proving that expressions like point and shoot are not just mere metaphor. Here are some examples in the history of camera design that have lead for one reason or another to items which look exactly like guns, from early experimental cameras to sniper style Paparazzi kit to toys.

If there was one cassette deck to own, it was a Nakamichi. With the release of the model 1000 (its number reflected its high price) in the early 70s, reel-to-reel tape recorders were rendered all but obsolete, for consumers. With the release of the 700 Nakamichi created a functional and design classic.Because cassette tapes are in the gap between vintage retro and mere obsolescence, Nakamichis can be picked up for a reasonable price on Ebay.

A bus stop is perhaps the simplest form of shelter and therefore the simplest form of architecture. As such it is a surprisingly rich area for design innovation, from complex organic concrete shell structures to minimalist glass and steel modernism.

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.

The lack of design innovation in an economic environment which excluded innovators meant that Soviet Russian technology often lifted concepts directly from the West. Not just little things like microprocessors and computers, but massive projects like Superfortress bombers, the Concorde and even the Space Shuttle.

The earliest ejector seats were designed to save your life, but broke your back. Today the ultimate ejection seats are described as zero zero seats able to operate at zero altitude and zero airspeed. Ejection seats are interesting because they are the most extreme form of a commonplace design item - a chair.

Nothing demonstrates a more interesting quirk in the history of bad user interface design than the calculator watch, which required cramming the largest number of buttons into the smallest space. So quirky are they that there is a certain nostalgia, for their distinctive styling, both for the collectible ones from the 70s and their mainstream counterparts from the early 80s.

What the list says - a collection of pod shaped enclosures from a health monitoring system, to a tree house, escape module, house, bed and office.

With the possible exception of the 1972 Munich olympic stadium, Beijings 'Birds Nest' stadium, designed by fashionable Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron, promises to be the clear winner, architecturally. Here is a list of all 16 post-war olympic stadia. Vote for you faves.

Five of so architects have produced much of the most famous modern furniture. Here are 15 different chairs by 15 different famous modern architects. Vote for your faves.

Bicycles are very efficient machines, more efficient than legs! Here are some of the more bizarre bicycle powered objects from a washing machine, to a bulldozer, a centrifuge at NASA and even a rollercoaster.

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