Although current proposals for 4000 mph Maglev trains running in evacuated tubes, would offer New York to Beijing in less than 2 hours, built versions of pneumatic railways predate regular subways. Brunel built one, and an underground pneumatic railway was built by Alfred Ely Beach, in Manhattan, in 1869. The late 19th century stock market crash, depression and Civil War, destroyed the idea and little of it remains apart from the station, which features in the movie Ghost Busters II.
Cargo holds are often impressive, cavernous spaces containing strange and interesting objects and equally interesting when empty, often displaying a stark minimalist beauty. They are iconic spaces which often feature in video games and in science fiction, perhaps most famously in Aliens. Here we show our favorites from the real world including giant cargo planes, ships holds that have been turned into a restaurant and a theater and, of course, the Space Shuttle cargo bay.
Skype is an idea that was conceived of by the Victorians, featured in movies in the 20s and became an icon for futurism, and yet the videophone has become ubiquitous independently of telecoms companies. How is it that an idea that could have been seen from such a long way off didn't get developed by phone companies, leading to the ridiculous situation where a phone call costs money but a Skype video phone call is free? Here's a visual history of early videophone concepts.
I started this list as a Thanksgiving homage to American innovation via its greatest inventor. Reading more about Edison and his strange obsession with things like filming electrocutions, using alternating current, of everything from small animals to people and even an elephant, just to try and put people off the rival AC system, managed to put me off him. So as an act of revenge here are some of his less successful, stranger inventions from concrete phonographs to what became the tattoo machine and a ghost detection instrument. Happy Thanksgiving anyway.
In some sense these are steampunk iPods, a ridiculously old fashioned and quixotic category of technology, because there is nothing portable about a record, particularly the brittle shellac versions of the gramophone era. Overcoming this lack of portability is precisely what makes these devices so beautiful and intricate, however, from the later versions which were installed in cars and music systems to the fantastic Peter Pan picnic player, where everything folds out including the platter and the telescopic trumpet. The Peter Pan style came from Europe, when they were called Kamerphones since they looked like the box cameras of the time. They were imported by the Jehovah's Witnesses to take on their rounds and play bible discourses outside people's doors.
November 15th, 2010 link to (permalink)
5 years ago
On our recent trip to Bern we discovered this fantastic antique store, in the Wunderkammer tradition. It's located at 16 Munstergasse in the center of Bern, 50 yards as the crow flies from where Einstein was living in 1905.
November 15th, 2010 link to (permalink)
5 years ago
We've moved temporarily from New York to the Swiss-French border where we've bought a derelict barn. Although I will presumably go bankrupt doing this, its been fun re-learning my old architecture skills. I'll upload progress images here. David
According to Bismarck the two things you should never see being made are laws and sausages. Here we reveal the machines involved in the process that is less stomach churning - it involves taking meat and making it into a brown paste then putting it into a colon, traditionally pigs intestines but now plastic. The irony of this being the exact reverse of eating and pooping, obviously hadn't been lost on the German general.There are no more distressing images here beyond what you'd see in the meat section at the supermarket (merely gross ones), but the clip for the Advanced Meat Recovery System which is accompanied by some smooth dinner jazz and whose opening caption reads ‘preparing the beef neckbones with a bandsaw' wins a prize for lack of sensitivity.
Babel is interesting because it represents the ultimate in imaginary architecture, a skyscraper of the mind. The Tower of Babel is the archetypal image of a giant tower, a man made hill, yet nothing like our idea of it has ever been built. The closest are possibly Mont Saint-Michel or perhaps the downtown Manhattan cluster, yet one is a natural mound and the other an apparent hill created from many buildings.The idea of Babel traces back to ancient Sumerian stories from the time of 5000 year old Mesopotamian Ziggurats, to the reinterpretation of these myths in the book of Genesis. In the 16th century the ironic obsession with Babel among 16th century painters in hill-less Lowland Europe, created the most well known imagery, but it evolved further with the unbuilt Palace of the Soviets or the imaginary babel in the retro futuristic skyscraper cities of Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
November 1st, 2010 link to (permalink)
5 years ago
Yesterday, we visited the Amberley Working Museum, in the picturesque Sussex countryside, in England. This is a great place for exotic man made objects, from phones that were struck by lightning to a great collection of obsolete electronics, including some Sinclair radios that we didn't know existed. Amberley Museum has what bigger institutions sometimes don't have - character. It's an eccentric place run by enthusiasts which give it a feeling all of its own. Enjoy!
October 31st, 2010 link to (permalink)
5 years ago
What I like about this site: Its an architecture blog that is about the non superficial aspects of design, rather than a Zoolanderesque blog full of signature architecture and willful posing. And I like the 'Pattern Language' style rules. Enjoy. David
The monorail perfectly exemplifies that nothing dates like the future, it is a piece of anachronistic technology that is today largely relegated to theme parks and inter terminal airport transit. Although the archetypal image of a monorail is the 1959 Disneyland version, as this list shows, its design history traces back to the middle of the 19th century, with steam driven versions that share none of the futuristic aesthetic of the streamlined post war versions. In this case, although the pioneering system from a technical point of view was the 1952 German Alweg, the 1911 Boyes monorail prototype shows the origins of the futuristic look.
Scoping this list was more difficult than finding the items - I've tried to keep to electronic devices, the first transistor radio rather than the First radio, and products that were actually sold such as the Dycam Model 1 digital camera rather than the Fuji DS-1P.My favorite here is the first web server, it was one of 2 NeXT machines bought for Tim Berners Lee and nobody knows which one (they both survive) was the first to serve a web page. The NeXT was a beautifully designed machine that Steve Jobs built to show what a personal computer should be, after being ousted from Apple. Berners Lee specifically needed a NeXT to be able to build the web and had difficulty getting approval.You could argue the first web server is merely the machine that happened to perform a first role, rather than a device designed for a purpose, but the fact that Berners Lee needed the NeXT to be able to develop the web quickly and elegantly, shows that sometimes the development of the first example of something predates it actually being used for the pioneering purpose for which it is suited.
Anyone self respecting geek who has been spellbound by the inspired rescue of the Chilean miners, will have found plenty of great info-graphics showing just how impressive a mine is. Here we have gathered some other cutaways, sections and 3d models showing a variety of mines, from the two coal mine alternatives (room and pillar or longwall) to the cavernous chambers of salt mines. Most impressive of all, however, is the physical model of Kidd Creek mine in Ontario where the relatively insignificant looking blobs at the bottom are the world's tallest man made structures, to scale.
Its October 2010 and Chinese property booms while most of the Western world's houses have shrunk to more realistic levels. In the US, homes have ceased to be ATMs to buy oriental barbecues, but in Britain, a crowded island with a cultural attachment to carving out a personal defensible space are Englishmen's homes still castles, with prices to match.As US housing prices adjusted, UK ones, faltered then regained their losses smack in the middle of the recession. This time things look different, with last month seeing the largest dip in housing prices in history. Perhaps prices in Britain will go up forever, or perhaps Britain will be like Japan, another crowded island which had the same phenomenon and where eventual capitulation resulted in a crash where property is worth less than a decade ago?One way to judge judge this is to look at what a million dollars gets you in London and its hinterland - a place where an apartment recently sold for a quarter of a billion dollars during the biggest downturn since the Great Depression.
When Craig Breedlove built the first of the modern jet-propelled record breaking cars in his garage, he named it the Spirit of America, this could have just as well pertained to the place of creation as the object itself. The garage is a symbol of creative entrepreneurialism, people making anything from cars to music to robots and, of course, the Apple computer.
We tend to think of submarines as being a particularly 20th century object when we imagine the nuclear powered, nuclear missile carrying versions. Obviously however, they feature in the Jules Verne classic, ‘20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea' and are, as such a definitive Victorian piece of technology, or to use the term currently in vogue, 'steampunk'.Although the idea of a submarine began as early as the 16th century, it was in the Victorian era that the modern cigar with periscope form was developed with France's Gymnote in 1889.Included here is a picture of the model of the Plongeur which was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in 1867. This was the actual item that Jules Verne saw and inspired the Nautilus in his seminal science fiction work, making it an historic item in the cultural history of technology.
Today, prosthetics are a world apart from these pre-digital age examples, using advanced robotic and cybernetic technologies and tools such as 3-d printers for mass customization. As such vintage prosthetics often have the particularly strange look which is both creepy and fascinating and accompanies technological obsolescence.Early prosthetic limbs date from ancient Egypt and Rome, however examples from the middle ages appear more regularly, being made of armor. The were later replaced by non articulated wooden prosthetics, of the caricature style normally worn by pirates. The tragically large number of amputees in the Napoleonic Wars led to the development of the 'Clapper', named after the sound made by its articulated toes which were controlled by artificial tendons. This prosthetic became the model for the 'American Leg' which was developed during the American Civil war. Wooden prosthetics were heavy and were not improved on till the development of lightweight alloys, during the first World War.
Antarctic architecture provides imagery of the closest thing that people will be able see to a moon base, within their lifetimes. The extreme nature of the environment combined with its bizarre statelessness, provides the location for a freezing architectural expo, with each country having its own icy pavilion.Since the early days of wooden huts, the architecture has converged on a style which consists of a pod on legs, somewhat reminiscent of Thunderbird II's cargo bay or the Space 1999 freighter. In addition large scale experiments such as the south pole telescope or ice cube neutrino detector (which is technically a telescope at the north pole since it watch for particles which have traveled through the earth) provide equally interesting accidental architecture, in that their designs are purely functional.