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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

The most impressive neon districts in the world include Tokyo's Ginza and Shibuya, Osaka's Dotonburi which was the inspiration for Blade Runner, the worlds largest shopping street, Nanjing Road in Shanghai and, of course, Vegas and Times Square. Bangkok's Soi Cowboy district (named after an American who opened one of the first go go bars in the 70s) deserves inclusion on account of its unpleasant strangeness, with live elephants paraded up and down the pink neon streets.Most dramatic of all, however is Hong Kong where the entire skyscraper cluster is animated for 15 minutes as part of the worlds largest light show.Vegas and Times square deserve double mentions as they are more famous for iconic signage which has since been demolished or taken down. We have included footage of both past and present.Although the classic welcome to Vegas sign by Betty Willis has been preserved, many of the famous signs lie in the Vegas neon boneyard and we have included a movie made by urban spelunkers who broke into the yard to explore it.

The 10 most important examples of neon signage

Gym equipment has a habit of making people look stupid, like that weird guy on TV with the pony tail and the abs machine. These machines are the zenith of fitness absurdity - teaching you to swim on dry land, anywhere. Handy if you are an Olympic swimmer holed up in a hotel room, waiting to be airlifted into Beijing when the smog clears.

12 dry land swimming machines

Historically, military rations, comprised, in significant part, of cigarettes and alcohol, while the quantity of food was far less than today. Current US army field rations are ready to eat and focus on high energy foods including caffeine-infused gum, they must cost less than $7.25 per meal, survive for 3 years at 27 degrees C and after a 100 foot drop.Civilian rations are often far less bountiful, such as WW2 food rations current Cuban rations or the tiny hunk of bread that Gulag prisoners were given. Vote for which items are most striking.

12 different food rations

Charles Sheelers iconic image of the Albert Kahns Ford River Rouge Plant, with its criss crossing conveyors and spire like chimneys, is probably the most iconic image of the American Car manufacturing industry whose future, like Kahns original buildings, hangs in the balanceEven among architects, Albert Kahn is less renowned than Louis. But Albert Kahn is far more important in terms of the influence of his buildings. He is sometimes referred to as the architect of Detroit. Kahn invented the American factory style, taking early European modernism to the place where assembly lines were invented and developing an architectural style that was supremely innovative both in terms of construction and design. The plants he built are in many places around America, but most famously in Detroit, where, lie the car industry itself, some of his most important building lie in ruins.We have two favorite images in this list. One if of the abandoned Detroit Public Schools Book depository, with its once minimalist, clean modernism in absolute and total decay, overflowing with rotting books strewn across its floor. The other image is, of course, Charles Sheelers

the architect of detroit

One of the benefits of the tradition of wooden buildings in the US is that they have fairly good tensile strength, so you can pick them up and move them elsewhere without them falling apart. This makes for some fairly surreal imagery, particularly in time lapse, since homes are all about static permanency. And we've included one daring masonry building move in the list, just to prove it can be done.

8 moving houses videos

Chandeliers are all about opulence and excess. When decoration became cheap to mass produce, in the early 20th century, minimalist modernism was in and things like chandeliers were out. The tide is turning, now that Ikea can stamp out designer modernism for the masses, designery magazines are starting to show decorative things now. Bu why buy a horrid crystal monstrosity for $10K when you can make a chandelier out of almost anything. Here is a selection of chandeliers made out of inexpensive things or found objects - including human bones.

17 found object chandeliers

What a tech bubble needs is bubble cars like these classics from the 40s to the present. Perhaps they should replace the Google bus with a 1958 Goggomobil?

Bubble Cars

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

Watching robots get more and more sophisticated over half a century of commercials is fascinating. Trends evolve from the erector set inspired Mr Machine and terrifying Garloo to cute 70s robot buddies, through the Japanese dominated 80s and hip hop and rave culture inspired 90s.

toy robot commercials through history (videos)

As people blow each other to pieces, daily, on the planet below, the silently floating Hubble telescope seems to represent everything great about humankind. Here are our other favorite telescopes.Update: Have been in continuous operation since 1963, the Arecibo project is in danger of closing due to cuts in funding. Jonathan, who is a researcher working at the Arecibo dish has posted a link in the comments to its website where you can donate or voice your support. http://www.arecibo-observatory.org

16 most wonderful telescopes

Before there was Lego, there was the Erector Set. This was an altogether different type of toy that resembled genuine engineering construction with trusses and girders, rather than plastic, primary color pixelated, objects.Although Erector Sets are sold today, they are re-branded versions of a different toy. The original Gilbert sets were made from 1913 till 1967 and are an iconic toy for gadget aficionados that can be picked up relatively cheaply on Ebay. Here are 10 favorite vintage kits that are currently for sale.

vintage erector sets to buy

Custom machinery designed for harvesting vast amounts of produce very quickly, has a particularly hellish quality. This list shows the variety of designs around a common theme, each for gathering a different product: carrots; beans; spinach; coffee; lettuce; cranberries; grapes etc. But then then there are our special favorites such as the worm harvester or the machines that eat trees, including a video of the infamous spider-like walking tree harvester.

15 monstrous harvesters

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.

soviet moon shot hardware

Thrones provide a history of self importance through design, from Ivan the Terrible's ivory throne to some of the more absurd set pieces, complete with enormous backdrops.The throne and sculptural setting for Papal audiences is a fitting example of something that would have Jesus rolling in his proverbial grave, quite missing the entire message of the scriptures. Other favorites include the coronation throne in Britain which is covered in antique graffiti, as if it were a unimportant school chair, or Saddam Hussein's scud missile set piece. My personal favorite is the throne which the lunatic singer, Michael Jackson had made for himself, which actually looks ordinary here.

thrones

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

The world is truly a small place when the Inuit, Bedouin tribesmen and Tibetan nomads all have HBO. The wonder of satellite transmission creates a perfect juxtaposition of old and new as space age technology meets traditional lifestyles than haven't changed in centuries - apart from the ability to watch Battlestar Gallactica in Outer Mongolia. Here are ten examples of traditional dwellings with satellite dishes.

10 mud huts yurts tents and an igloo with satellite

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.

armored face masks

The original yellow submarine may have been aqualung inventor Jacques Cousteaus. Since The Beatles song, all manner of weird and wonderful, quixotic submarines have to be bright yellow, from home made subs, floating human powered septic tanks and deep sea exploration vehicles. Vote for your faves.

Lots of Yellow Submarines

Some of these are very high end audiophile speakers and others are those that we think are well designed from a product point of view. Extremely well designed or extremely well engineered.The Kef Muon's are an unbelievable $140,000 while others are as low as $100. Our favorites are the 1960s Quad Electrostatics which are unlike anything ever made since and go nicely with a classic Quad 33 and 303 Pre and Power Amp.Its somewhat unfair to vote on something that is to be listened to and not looked at, so vote with your gut.

17 most extreme speakers

In the niche world of extreme car hi-fi, which seems to straddle both red neck and hip hop, various measures of audio insanity are used: how much the roof flexes or the windshield warps, to the point of shattering; or how much water can be thrown into the air from containers on the roof.My personal favorite, however, is the drive up Seven-11 remote window shake.

videos of extremely loud car distorting stereos

Until very recently, dental surgery appears to have been carried out with carpentry equipment. In fact, quite literally, since early dental drills were adapted from woodworking equipment. Here are some of our favorites ranging from the beautiful to the macabre.

12 vicious vintage dental tools

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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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