Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Rob Fisher on Footbridges in the sky
Rob Fisher on Footbridges in the sky
6000 on Quota caption competition
Michael Jennings on 148 to Burgess Park
Esteban on David Pierce on what it's like using an electric scooter
Brian Micklethwait on Zooming in on the workers
Rob Fisher on Zooming in on the workers
Brian Micklethwait on David Pierce on what it's like using an electric scooter
Rob Fisher on Zooming in on the workers
Rob Fisher on Big Things on Boris Bikes
Most recent entries
- Someone Legal eagles versus illegal drones?
- A rejected Grand Chose that shouldn’t have been
- Vans that need to look the part
- Quota caption competition
- Footbridges in the sky
- White vans in Kentish Town
- A busy day and a collection of Big Things
- A still life and a cat cushion in Kentish Town
- A Japanese torpedo bomber that could use some zoom
- A good time of the year
- 148 to Burgess Park
- A Big Thing and a Much Bigger Thing – on a not-black cab
- Another way to photo my meetings
- Quota Pavlova
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Category archive: Design
I still fondly remember a posting I did on Samizdata, over a decade ago now, about a banged-up police car that was claiming to be Working for a safer London. Well, the white van below, photoed back on December 29th of last year, isn’t as big a PR clanger as that was, but it is a bit bad:
I know, I know. You can’t really make data insecure by damaging the van on which it says “secure data management”. This is the enterprise in question. Look at where the green lines cross the phone numbers, and you will see that, in the picture there, it is not the same van. So, they have more than one van. And by the look of it, what these vans do is transport documents. Nevertheless, this blemish suggests a certain sloppiness, or maybe I mean a certain willingness to seem sloppy, that does not sit well with handling data securely. If I was them, I’d want it sorted soonest.
On the same day, on the same photo-expedition, I also photoed this van:
Not nearly as white as the secure data van, but more to the point: not a scratch and squeaky clean. Which is appropriate, because this is also a business which needs to look like it is taking care when it is doing its business:
With paramount importance placed on quality and support, all equipment is thoroughly cleaned, tested and checked by our experienced engineers ...
Here’s another van, also snapped on that same expedition, that is both white and clean:
White vans often get rather dirty, but not this one:
Calabash are the No.1 commercial cleaning and washroom services company in London. Since 1992 we’ve been ensuring our clients maintain their premises to the highest standards ...
This, in other words, is a van that also needs to be maintained to the highest standards, and by the look of it, it is.
More and more, as I browse around in places like dezeen, I come across pictures looking like this:
The this in question being the idea of connecting the tops of towers with footbridges. And that particular picture having been produced to advertise a new scheme for jazzing up Paris.
I love bridges of all kinds, and footbridges just as much as any other sort, so I have been paying attention to such pictures as the above for quite a while now. And I reckon there’s now something of a buzz developing around this idea. Simply, there are about to be a lot of such bridges as those fantasised above, connecting the tops of buildings, and often for the use of the general public, rather than just the people in the buildings directly connected. There will, in some big cities, in only a few years, be entire new alternative worlds at the old roof level, where you will be able to travel for miles without ever touching the regular old ground.
I am now going to scroll down at dezeen, to see if I can find more pictures like the above. Bear with me. …
Well, it took a while. Dezeen has lots of postings about stand-alone little modernist buildings, which, frankly, don’t interest me that much. My feeling about such stand-alones being: we already know how to do those. Modernist versions of big sheds or older school houses are just stylistic tweaking. Nothing profound is going on. But pictures like this …:
… and this …:
… (which I found in this posting, and which I remember being very struck by when I first set eyes on them) tell me that a seriously different urban future will soon be happening, in cities all over the globe.
The underlying story here is that cities are ceasing to be mere machines for living in and for working in, with occasional little spots that tourists will like to visit and have fun in (but which the locals ignore). They are becoming nice experiences. Everyone is becoming a tourist in them, you might say.
Central to this process is the banishment of big old road vehicles, and an alternative emphasis on being a pedestrian. Or even a speeded up pedestrian. Think of how the old dock districts of big cities are being turned into nice new developments with lots of waterside footpaths. Think of what has been happening to canals.
What’s going to happen is that one city – maybe Paris? – will do this in a big way, and tourism, including by the locals, will surge upwards, in the city and on the graphs. People will love it. And then lots of other cities will do it. Including London, because London has a natural pre-skyscraper height at which this will make sense, and because London is now so full of stuff that is worth seeing from this particular height..
A big reason why all this is going to happen is that it will not be all that expensive to do, one of the big reasons why pedestrian footbridges are already a major design flavour the decade being that public money is now tight, and footbridges are relatively cheap. Designers love them, because although footbridges do not involve that much metal or timber or concrete, they do often involve a lot of design.
The picture at the top of this posting has the words “Ternes-Villiers, La Ville Multi-Strate by Jacques Ferrier” attached to it at dezeen, and I just googled those words. And, I immediately found my way to this, here:
It’s not clear from this picture just how public these bridges are intended to be. Other pictures suggest that the “community” able to use these bridges will just be the people who live in the apartment blocks thus connected. But this doesn’t alter the fact that the general public are going to want to get involved in all this high-level fun and sightseeing (and photography), if only because it will all be so clearly visible from below.
On the same day I photoed this stuff, up there in …
…, I also photoed white vans, like these ones:
“Rimessa a nuovo e posa pavimenti in Legno” is the Italian for having sex for the first time, very elegantly (like they’re performing), on the pavement, in a place called Legno. No not really, I don’t know what that means. Something to do with wood flooring.
As for th van on the right, rather black but with a giant white painted piece of seafood on it, well, I like it. Although I do miss the times when the Wright Brothers didn’t mean that, but meant the first people to fly an airplane and land it, or whatever it was exactly that the original Wright Brothers did.
Here, on the other hand, is a white van of the sort you don’t want to see:
Graffiti, badly covered up or badly cleaned up, and then more graffiti. Not good. I have never seen a white van that was an graffiti battlefield before. Graffighting?
So, I’ll cheer myself up with another white van, this time an excellent one, photoed more recently, outside a building site in Westminster:
A white van for looking after tower cranes. White vans don’t get any better than that..
Today I have been what passes with me for busy. By this I do not mean that I have been doing anything along the lines of work, of benefit to others. Oh no. But I have been paying attention to a succession of things, all of which involved me not being in much of a state to do anything else.
There was a game of cricket, there was a game of rugger, and a game of football. England defeated South Africa. England defeated Scotland. And Spurs defeated Watford. So, three for three. And then I went to hear a talk at Christian Michel’s, about The Unconscious, Freudian and post-Freudian. Freud, it turns out, was right that there is an Unconscious, but wrong about a lot of the details.
On my way home from that talk, I took a photo. Technically it was very bad photo, because it was taken through the window of a moving tube train. It is of an advert at a tube station. But my photo did the job, which was to immortalise here yet another assemblage of London’s Big Things, in an advert:
That’s only a bit of the picture, rotated a bit, lightened and contrasted a bit and sharpened a bit.
The advert was for these visitor centres, which sound suspiciously like what used to be called “information desks”.
I see: the Cheesegrater, the Wheel, the BT Tower, Big Ben, the cable car river crossing, the Gherkin, Tower Bridge, the Shard, St Paul’s, and the pointy-topped Canary Wharf tower. I forgive TfL for plugging the embarrassing Emirates Dangleway. If they didn’t recommend it, who would?
Because of all that busy-ness, I have no time to put anything else here today.
Tomorrow: Super Bowl!
LATER: AB de Villiers, talking about South Africa now being two down with three to play:
“I can’t help but think, shit we have got to win three games in a row to win this series. Shucks, I mean. But that’s the fact of the matter. In situations like this, whether you are 2-nil up or 2-nil down, you have to take a small step. The next game is important for us. Shucks.”
We all know what shit is, but now learn what a shuck is.
The other day (like there has been been just the one (which is idiotic)), I was in …:
… to have brunch with GD2 and her sister in their newly acquired home.
While there I took some photos, including this still life, of pots and pans and utensils, which looks rather nice, like an oil painting:
Staying tasteful and artistic, and seeing as how this is Friday, here is something else I snapped there:
Yes, it’s a cat cushion! It was, though, probably there when they moved in.
Since a major percentage of the point of Art is to stay a couple of steps ahead of and to thereby piss off the dumbo bourgeoisie, the latest batch of Artists would probably now reckon the cat cushion to be more Artistic than the still life.
As for the bloke who painted that Kentish Town sign, he probably now works for an advertising agency.
Yes, I have struggled over the years to get good photos of what my meetings are like. The problem typically is that I can never get everyone into the same picture, and the pictures look like about half as many people attended as actually did. Since the number wasn’t that huge to start with, that’s not what you want.
Here is a different approach:
That was the scene today following last night’s meeting, me having done almost zero tidying up to that point, bar hoovering up a few crisps. Now, Imagine that space with as many people sitting in it as you can fit in. That was what it was like last night.
If you reckon that the “table” in the middle looks like it could be improved upon, you are not wrong. There was a disaster when it collapsed last night, luckily not during the Tim Evans talk, and some fruit juice hit the carpet, along with lots of potato crisps. And it was then only imperfectly reassembled. More work is needed on that front. But it was a great evening, partly because of the table collapsing, because that sort of thing adds to the anecdotage factor. But mostly because it was an excellent talk, and because a very classy group of people who came to hear it. Including a baby, who was very welcome.
Talking of unsatisfactory tables, I wasn’t feeling so good myself today. My sleep last night was full of weird dreams, which I can still remember bits of, which is not normal. Plus, I have a new blender, and this morning’s concoction was terrible. The trouble with most vegetables is that they don’t taste of anything. Or, they taste rather nasty. Thank goodness for cherry tomatoes. But, all my current stash of cherry tomatoes got consumed last night by all the people that you can’t see in the picture.
Earlier this month I came upon a clutch of Boris Bikes. Boris Bikes used to be sponsored by Barclays Bank, and now, as you can see from the pictures of Boris Bikes that follow, they are sponsored by Santander, but Boris Bikes is what we all call these things.
Here are six of the Boris Bike pictures I took, on January 11th:
Click on each of those to get six, seemingly pretty much identical, big pictures.
But actually, they are not identical pictures.
I have recently become especially interested not just in the way that London’s Big Things look when I photo them, but in the way that others use these Big Things, or stylised representations of these Big Things, to say “London”. In an advert for being a tourist in London, for instance. Or, in this case, as a way to flag up that here are some bikes for hire which will enable you to bike around in London, seeing London. And how do you make biking around London and seeing London seem more enticing? You throw in pictures of London’s Big Things. (You even throw in Big Things if you are advertising for sperm donors. Had it not been for my recently cultivated alertness to the use of London’s Big Things in adverts, I’d not have bothered to photo that sperm donor advert.)
What I noticed about these bikes, and what got me photoing so many of them in this apparently way too excessive manner, is that each of them has a picture of two London Big Things on them. I was able to find six different Big Thing duos, hence the above six pictures.
Allow me to save you the bother of looking more closely at the Big Things on these bikes, with some cropped out squares:
I just used google image searching to see if I could find any other Big Thing duos that I had not photoed on that day out, earlier this month. I failed. So far as I can tell, there are just six ways in which these bikes are decorated.
The complete set of Big Thing duos would appear to be: The Shard and Tower Bridge, the Wheel and St Paul’s Cathedral, the Big Olympic Thing and the Tower of London, the Millennium Bridge and Battersea Power Station, the Gherkin and Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the Dome. Ancient and modern, in pairs. I find this list interesting both for what is included, and for what is not. I am guessing that these Big Things were not chosen just by a bunch of guys round a table picking them. I’m guessing that a serious attempt was made to pick Big Things that really do say London to lots of different people. In particular, this is data about which particular bits of new engineering and architecture have truly been added to the short list of Big Things that are not merely big, but loved. Although it’s worth adding that the Millennium Bridge is not actually that big.
Even if actually this short list of six ancient Big Things and six modern Big Things actually was put together by a bunch of guys sitting around a table at an advertising agency, in the space of half an hour, well, that’s still data, of a sort. These are the Big Things that they think say London, to the people they are trying to persuade to hire Boris bikes.
The surprises? Well, for me, a slightly surprising inclusion is the Big Olympic Thing, and maybe a slightly surprising exclusion is Tate Modern. Also not included here: the new Wembley Arch. But by far the biggest surprise here is, I think, the omission of: the BT Tower.
Can anyone think of any other omissions as big as that one?
Of course, it could be that there are Boris bikes out there with the BT Tower on them, or with the Wembley Arch on them, and I just haven’t clocked them.
Except that just now I came across this bizarre bridge, in Poole, of all places:
Amusing Planet amuses again.
You often hear people talking about how buildings which are a lot taller than they are thick are really just penis substitutes. This advert, which I snapped on the tube earlier this month, makes the connection explicit:
Want to know more? Here.
I have noticed that the junk email I get, and the adverts that interrupt my internet browsing, seem sometimes to be related to stuff I have posted here. So, I may regret this posting.
An informative piece by Rowan Moore in the Guardian, about the hoped-for replacement for the dismal failure that is the Royal Festival Hall:
It’s an amazing thing that for the sake of some fractions of a second of reverberation time, and some other acoustic niceties, and for the sake of acoustic properties that can only be described with vague adjectives such as “warm”, it is proposed that several hundred million pounds be spent on a completely new concert hall in London, to improve on the existing Royal Festival Hall (built in 1951, extensively renovated in 1964 and 2007) and the Barbican (built in 1982, extensively renovated in 1994 and 2001).
This is what Simon Rattle, future music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, is saying, and he has got George Osborne and Boris Johnson to support him. Rattle says that London needs the best possible concert hall, where you can “experience the sound of a great orchestra with brilliance, immediacy, depth, richness and warmth”, to attract the best possible musicians, which means shifting very many tons of building materials to fine-tune the vibrations of air. And if there is one thing that almost everyone agrees on in this contentious project (why spend so much in straitened times? Wouldn’t it be better to back performers directly rather than their carapace? Should so much be spent in culturally well-endowed London?), it is that the acoustics of the city’s existing large auditoriums definitely don’t work well enough.
Which means that if this project is to go ahead, it definitely, absolutely, without a shadow of doubt, must get its acoustics right. ...
Moore also writes about the surroundings. These must be nice, but not attention seeking. Satisfying for concert-goers, but not “ikonic” if that in any way jeopardises the accoustics, or the satisfaction of concert-goers. Play your shots and don’t get out, as the cricketers say.
The logic of what Moore says tells me that they should first build the concert hall with absolutely no “surroundings”, and keep on building it until the acoustics are world class.
The basic fact here is, as Moore explains, that you only know for sure if you have a great concert hall after you have built it. And a bad concert hall, well architected, will be a total failure. London already has at least one of those (or two, depending on what you think of the Barbican’s architecture), and the last thing it needs is another.
So: build the new hall, as a separate process from all the subsequent architectural tarting up. If the acoustics are unfixably bad, smash it down and do it again, until the acoustics are satisfactorily superb. When the acoustics are superb, then get to work on the surroundings, and if that is fucked up first time around, well, do that again too. And then, if anyone feels inclined, why not then slap some ikonic stuff on the top? But: one thing at a time.
This is not the usual way that big architecture is done. The usual way is to do everything at once, and make damn sure you get everything as right as you can. But then, concert halls are not your usual architecture.
What this ...
...this being “facadism” …
… tells you is that architectural modernism has utterly conquered indoors, but that out of doors, modernism is only popular because its totalitarian impulses have been held at bay, by what you might call ancientism.
But I realise now that this is not quite right.
The key point is not that modernism has triumphed indoors, but that indoors, we are not at its mercy. We can decide about whether to keep it. We control indoors, with furniture, wallpaper, carpets, etc. If we want ancientism indoors, in the living room, say, or in the bedroom, we can unleash it at will, and there is not a damn thing that any interfering architect can do about it. Therefore, we do not mind if indoors is totally modern, when we move in. We can change it, just as much (or as little) as we want to.
Outdoors, however, we cannot just change things at will to suit our personal preferences. Therefore, if a large number of us want some ancientism to go alongside all the newly arriving modernism, we have to bully the architects and planners into allowing it, or even into doing some more. We did, and we did.
Modernism has definitely triumphed in the kitchen. In the kitchen, a place which did not exist in its current and highly mechanised form in ancientist times, it makes such total sense to have smooth white rectangles everywhere. Kitchen cupboards are for storing stuff, not for showing stuff off. You want the cupboard and fridge doors to be a vertical note pads for stick-on notes, not sculptures. You do not want your work work surfaces and wall areas and cupboard doors in the kitchen to be elaborately decorated like the outsides of ancientist buildings, or shaped like curved like car bonnets. You want them flat, to do things on and put things on.
Above all, you want everything easily cleanable. What if someone bangs into a saucepan and spreads slurpy food everywhere. In the kitchen, you want clean, clear, white surfaces, like outdoor Modern Movement modernism. You want horizontality and verticality, whiteness and cleanness, because you want convenience and cleanliness. The kitchen is a machine for cooking in.
Here is a picture I took when I recently visited my brother’s new home. It is a new home in more ways than one. It is new for him, and it has just been built. This is what the kitchen looks like:
Okay, once again, zero points for artistic impression. But look at what is being photoed. The Bauhaus is stationary in its happy, plain white, rigidly rectangular modernistical grave. This was what buildings were all going to look like. They don’t, thank goodness. But this is what most new kitchens now look like.
I wish I had also photoed the outside of the building where Pete lives. This is rather kitchy and cutesy, not at all purely “modern”, although you can clearly tell that it’s recent.
As with the work done in kitchens, so for the work done in other places. Modernism prevails wherever work is done, of the sort done by “workers”, work that involves doing stuff, to stuff. (When the work involves creating appearances, setting a particular tone, all bets are off.) The world of work is the world in which modernism evolved. When we want beauty and pleasure (and particular sorts of appearances or tones), modernism is just part of the mix. It is kept in its place.
Yes, a truly wonderful The Wires! sculpture gets long overdue recognition from Dezeen, on account of a lump of religious concrete being put next to it, by an architect.
The photographer clearly loves The Wires!:
But Dezeen’s writers are under strict orders.
It doesn’t matter how beautiful and intricate The Wires! are:
The rule is set in concrete.
Don’t mention The Wires!
I encountered this rather forlorn sight just moments after I left home this afternoon. Did some ungrateful nephew abandon it in the street on purpose? Or will it be genuinely missed?
Briefly, I thought that I might like it myself. But, had I taken it that would have been stealing. Wouldn’t it?
On second thoughts, pass. The reindeer seems to have lost an eye. Maybe that was why its original owner gave up on it too.
It seems that, photographically, my thing of the year so far is merely serviceable photos of interestingly decorated means of transport. Continuing this theme somewhat, but only somewhat, is the following photo - barely even serviceable as a photo, but it just about does the job - of a means of transport that is not decorated at all, if only because there isn’t room:
But, this is interesting, I think. Are we now witnesses the next Big Transport Thing? Not in the form of robot cars (still years away), but of mechanically enhanced pedestrians?
In addition to the above device, which I espied near my home about a month ago, I have also observed others travelling on electrified scooters.
And here is another such device, this time reported and photoed by others:
A “one-wheeled giroscopic skateboard”? Does this even work? Presumably, after a fashion.
The thing is, cities are being ever more ferociously pedestrianised. The usual way to speed up pedestrians is to put them in trains, buses or cars. Or on bikes. But are mechanised legs actually the wave of the immediate future? Is this the transport race now being raced? Could be.
If so, I wonder what will win. The winner has to be reasonably cheap, and reasonably small, and reasonably rechargeable. It must not, when used, be too much of a pain and a terror to other pedestrians, which I guess actually means too fast. If the above skateboard is too fast, might it not fit on regular pedestrian paths.
How about electrified rollerskates, which can, at the push of a button, be converted back into boots? I mean, who says there can only be one motor? Why not four? Two to power the wheels on the boots, and two to convert them to regular boots. The trouble with wheelies like in my picture above, and skateboards, is that if they don’t work on account of the surface being hostile (like: steps), they have to be carried. Rollerskates which change into semi-normal boots can be “carried” by your feet when not being used as rollerskates. Very light materials (a new thing these days) could make these boots perhaps quite big, but not too heavy. Maybe make the rollerskates into big boots, but detachable from more convenient boots, when you get to your destination.
Just thinking aloud, you understand. We shall see.
Another thing to be keeping a photographic eye out for.
I like a Union Jack which is not done with the usual colour scheme. Same shapes, but not the regular red, white and blue colours.
I like random assemblages of technology, unselfconsciously clustering, not with any aesthetic end in mind, but simply to get the various jobs being done … done.
So imagine my delight when I espied, on the way from my home to St James’s Park tube, during the early evening of day one of 2016, this:
I never expected ever, ever, to see both of the above effects at once. Sorry about that white circle at the top. This is a bit of dirt on the lens, not the moon.
I also remembered to photo where the website for this enterprise was inscribed on the lorry, and this is it. Plus, I even managed to find the guy who did this particular piece of lorry art. I also photoed the side of the lorry and this matched his design too, so it’s definitely his work. His name is Ben Butterfield. Nice job Mr Butterfield.