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Terry Gilliam was perhaps first to notice the architectural qualities of power station cooling towers, setting the torture scene from Brazil inside the base of one in South London. Their sheer size, monolithic masonry walls and gentle curves make them like enormous castle towers. Particularly special are the ones that have open structures at the base, making them appear to float impossibly, and the view from the inside is what we have focused on in this list. Accidental architectural masterpieces indeed.

accidental masterpieces cooling towers

Pleasure piers are a unique and interesting piece of architecture in that they are both whimsical and sinister. Inhabited bridges that lead nowhere and aren’t meant for ships to dock, they are often abandoned, creepy and decrepit, yet covered in brightly colored gadgets built for amusement. These piers are giant technological follies.One of the few remaining giant Victorian English pleasure piers burned down today. In fact a large proportion of them burned to the ground, which you might think is ironic, since they are surrounded by water. The sea breeze which was the reason they were built in the first place, as health promenades, is what makes them a fire hazard as winds fan the flames of timber buildings.

12 pleasure piers

To mark the 800th anniversary of the famous London Bridge, the Royal Institute of British Architects has launched a competition for designs of an inhabited bridge.The current London Bridge is not the Victorian Gothic Tower Bridge, as many people believe, but a rather bland stone one. Its predecessor was also uninteresting and was bought by mistake and put in the Arizona desert. But the original London Bridge was a cultural icon, a bridge covered in buildings.Inspired by the competition we have put together a list of the most interesting inhabited bridges, from surreal single house bridge designs to Zaha Hadids sleek Zaragoza Expo bridge .

12 inhabited bridges

Some of the amazing projects recently built or currently under construction in China’s rival cities. We have tried to pick links to the latest state of construction where possible. What is emerging is a distinct stylistic difference, Shanghai is about glitz while Beijing scores on architectural innovation, although this largely due to the Olympics and the role of Beijing as the capital.While the Arabian peninsula has overtaken the US in raw architectural point scoring (not one New York skyscraper will make the top ten tallest there within a couple of years), China is producing buildings on both a scale and quality that now far exceeds the US.

Shanghai vs Beijing architectural bakeoff

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.

15 aircraft with lots of wings

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 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

15 physicists in front of their blackboards

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WTF is that? #11

July 6th, 2009 #link


What is this giant book?

3 Responses to “WTF is that? #11”

  1. Ryan Says:

    Its not a giant book, its a tiny moustached man.

    Ok, well maybe its the The Codex Gigas. The figure on the right hand page is the devil.

    But wikipedia can explain better than I can =)

  2. admin Says:


    Damn, you got it in one! Game over.

    It is indeed the Codex Gigas, the largest mediaeval manuscript, sometimes known as the Devil’s Bible, on account of the illustration rather than the contents.

    Anyway – in terms of spectacularly giant old creepy books this seems pretty definitive, more impressive than many movie props. Unless anyone else can find anything?

  3. admin Says:

    Actually, I was wrong. The Wikipedia article suggests the Devil’s Bible moniker has a story that does relate to the content, which makes this ‘oobject’ all the more strange:

    “According to legend the scribe was a monk who broke his monastic vows and was sentenced to be walled up alive. In order to forbear this harsh penalty he promised to create in one single night a book to glorify the monastery forever, including all human knowledge. Near midnight he became sure that he could not complete this task alone, so he made a special prayer, not addressed to God but to the fallen archangel Satan, asking him to help him finish the book in exchange for his soul. The devil completed the manuscript and the monk added the devil’s picture out of gratitude for his aid.”