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Category archive: Design

Friday September 21 2018

The high point, literally, of the expedition that GodDaughter2 and I made to Kew Gardens back in August was our exploration of the Great Pagoda. 

From the top of the Great Pagoda, you can see the Big Things of Central London.  But what the Great Pagoda itself looks like is also worth examining.

Here is an early view we had of it:

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And here is how it looked when we got closer:

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The Daily Mail describes the Great Pagoda as Britain’s First Skyscraper.

Now look how it looked when we got closer still:

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So, what are those sticky-outy things on the corners of each sticky-outy roof?

That’s right, dragons.  And we’re not talking merely inflated dragons.  These are solid looking and scary.  You couldn’t kill these dragons with a mere pin prick, and you wouldn’t dare to try.

Most of the Great Pagoda dragons look like this:

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We discovered when we got there that the recent restoration of this Great Pagoda had, only a few weeks before our visit, been completed.  We got very lucky with that.

Read more about these dragons, and about the Pagoda that they now guard, in this Guardian report.

This Great Pagoda, London’s very first Big Thing, was built by Sir Wiiliam Chambers in 1762.  The dragons were a feature of the original Pagoda, but in 1784 they were removed.  Being made of wood, and following a burst of wet weather, they had started to rot.

Wikipedia says that Kew Gardens was adopted as a national botanical garden in 1840.  Would that be when the Pagoda was opened to the general public?  Whenever exactly that was, Kew Gardens and the Great Pagoda have been what we now call visitor attractions for quite a while now.

During World War 2, the Great Pagoda was used to test bombs.  You can still see one of the holes they made in all the floors, to allow the bombs to fall.  Keeping that for everyone to see now is a nice touch, I think.

Kew Gardens contains lots of greenery, and green stuff on sticks.  What do they call those things?  Trees.  Kew Gardens has lots and lots of trees, of many different brands.

So, on the left here, the hole in the floor.  On the right there, the seat made from many trees:

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And in the middle, the seat, seen through the hole.

But back to those dragons.  The old rotting dragons have now been almost entirely replaced by 3D printed dragons, which look solid but which are actually far lighter than the timer originals.

On the lowest roof, right near the ground, there was a different sort of dragon, which looked like this:

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I wonder what the story was of that one, for there did indeed seem to be only one such blue dragon.  Had the original plan been to make all the dragons like that one?  But did its structural weakness cause them to abandon that plan, and go with the other darker green dragon with its scary red tongue, and with its rather more solid wings?  Don’t know, but whatever the story is, the winning dragon design is pretty good also.

Everything about how the Great Pagoda looks, inside as well as its exterior, says: class.  This is a visitor attraction that I warmly recommend.  There is no lift, not originally of course, and not now, but the steps, although quite numerous, are at a comfortably mild angle - rather than, say, like the ones in the Monument.  Even better, each flight of steps you go up causes you to reach another actual floor, of the sort you can stand on, with windows looking outwards.  So, oldies like me can go up two floors, say, and then have a comfortable breather, without blocking anyone else on the stairs.  If we are on the right floor, we can even use that multi-treed seat (see above).

The weather on the day that GD2 and I visited Kew Gardens was not perfect.  The dragons look rather dark and menacing in my photos.  But that look works, I think.  And as days out go, this day out was pretty much perfect.

Thursday September 20 2018

To me, nothing says Abroad quite like a poster, somewhere in Abroad, advertising an English speaking movie, whose English title I already know, with a foreign title that is different, but with all the same star names:

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La Taupe means The Mole.  I preferred the TV series, but I love this poster.  Photoed by me in Paris in February 2012.

As was this, on the same expedition:

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In the same directory, I encountered other photos of posters advertising the following movies: Drive (Ryan Gosling), Ghost Rider (Nicolas Cage), Underworld (Kate Beckingsale), and Star Wars Episode 1 (whoever).  But in those posters, the titles stayed in their original English.  Why?

Tuesday September 18 2018

And no, I don’t mean reinforcements for an army.  I mean the kind of reinforcements that end up buried in concrete.

Like these ones:

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All six of these photos also feature one of the more impressive scaffolding arrays near me just now.  The art of scaffolding and the art of creating reinforcements for structural concrete have much in common.  Both involve putting together lots of bits of metal.  Both need to result in a structure that stays put and does not collapse.  Both look pretty to people like me.

But there are also big differences.  Scaffolding is very visible, and it remains visible for the duration of its working existence.  Scaffolding thus proclaims itself to the world, by its very existence.  That we live in a golden age of scaffolding is obvious to all of us, whether we like this fact or hate it.

Also, scaffolding rather quickly punishes those who erect it, if they don’t do it right.  While creating scaffolding, scaffolders make use of the scaffolding they have just been constructing, and they are their own first users.  They thus have a literally inbuilt incentive to do their work well.  And if they don’t, it is not that hard for others to spot this.  Bad scaffolding wobbles.  Such are my surmises about scaffolding.

Reinforcements for concrete are something else again.  By the time they go to work, doing the job they were built for, everyone concerned had better be damn sure that they have done their work well.  But, if they haven’t, the disastrous consequences of that bad work may take years to happen, and even then to be controversial.  Who is to say exactly what caused a building to collapse?  And if the building collapses rather catastrophically, it is liable to destroy a lot of the evidence of what exactly happened, and why.  Investigating such catastrophes being a whole separate job in itself.  So, getting these reinforcements right, with an inbuilt regime of testing and inspection and supervision, all managed by morally upright people whose declarations of confidence in what they have been inspecting can be relied upon, is a whole distinct industry.

But, this is an industry whose products, by their nature, end up being invisible.  We all rely on such work being done correctly, not just “structurally” but also in a morally correct manner.  Yet, we mostly never see this work, only its indirect results.

So, I hereby I celebrate the work, morally as well as merely technically good, that goes into the making of reinforcements for concrete.  I salute the good men and true who make these (I think) beautiful objects, and who ensure that they perform faithfully.  Their moral as well as technical excellence is all part of why I consider such reinforcements to be things of beauty.

I did some googling to try to determine exactly what reinforcements like those in my photos are used for.  The lorry says R. SWAIN AND SONS on it.  But they are hauliers, not makers of concrete reinforcements.  The nearest I got to an answer was this photo, of objects just like those on my lorry, with this verbiage attached: “Prefabricated Piling Cages Made of Reinforced Bars On Site”.  Prefabricated Piling cages.  Piling sounds to me like foundations.  (Yes.) The reinforcing has to be shoved down a hole in one go.  It can’t be constructed bit by bit, in the hole.  It either gets assembled beforehand on site, or, it gets assembled in a factory and taken to the site by lorry, as above.

The reinforcing that a structure needs when it is above ground, on the other hand, can be assembled on site, and I’m guessing that this is what usually happens.

Just guessing, you understand.  My first guess actually was: for an above ground structure, until I came upon the photo I just linked to, and not foundations.  But, what do I know?

Friday September 14 2018

Last Sunday morning I was trying to have a good old lie-in, but instead I got woken up early by a giant anteater.

Yes.  Having been woken up, I looked out my window towards where all the din seemed to be coming from, and this was the scene I beheld:

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At first I thought the culprit might be that refuse lorry in the foreground, but it soon because clear that the noise had been coming from that red lorry with the crane-like thing attached to it.

Let’s move in closer:

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By the time this photo had been photoed, the big red lorry had lifted its nozzle out of that hole in the pavement on the right there, which I subsequently learned had been dug in connection with electric cables.  Evidently there was muck in the hole which needed to be got out, in a hurry.  Sometimes technology really sucks.

I was intrigued, and at first greatly puzzled, by picture on the side of the red lorry, and it took me quite a while to work it out.  It is a giant anteater.  It looks like at least two creatures, pointing in opposite directions, but the “other creature” is, or so I believe, the giant anteater’s giant tail.  That tail being a lot of what makes the anteater a giant.

Wikipedia tells us what an actual giant anteater looks like:

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I can see why an anteater would have a very long nose.  But why the enormous tail?  Balance, perhaps?  The answer offered here says balance, and also maybe to cover itself when sleeping.  It seems to be mixed up with the anteater having a low body temperature, the tail being there partly to keep heat out.  So, perhaps also some kind of fan?  I couldn’t find a confident answer.

As for the gizmo deployed at the back of the lorry, note how this time, a bendy arm with a tube in it does make use of a bendy tube, unlike that machine for squirting concrete that I mentioned here earlier.  Guess: not so much pressure this time, not least because the material itself being sucked up (this time) is not so heavy and bulky.  Some pressure, but not so much.

That phone number of the side of the lorry got me to the enterprise that supplied this equipment.  But follow that link and you’ll find no mention of any red lorries with anteaters on the side.  By which I mean, I didn’t.

Friday September 07 2018

Driverless cars will happen, eventually.  But when they do, who knows what they will be like, or look like, what they will do or not do, what other changes they will precipitate?  When this finally happens, it will surely be the railways, or the internet, in the sense that it will be big, and that nobody now knows how big or what the details will consist of.

Two driverless vehicle articles came to my attention today, both of which illustrate how very different driverless vehicles could end up being to the vehicles we are now familiar with.

This Dezeen report reports on a scheme by Land Rover to put eyes on the front of driverless vehicles, to communicate with pedestrians, the way pedestrians now look at the faces of drivers to negotiate who goes where, when.  Makes sense.  With no driver, and the vehicle driving itself, it could use a face, or else how will the vehicle be able to participate in after-you-no-after-you-no-afteryou-no-I-insist-so-do-I sessions?

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So, does a robot with a working face (in due course robot faces will be a lot better than that one) count as: “Other creatures”?  I say: yes (see below).

Will the Thomas the Tank Engine books prove to be a prophetic glimpse into the future of transport?  Eat your hearts out, SF movies.  Didn’t see that coming, did you?

And here is a posting about how people might choose to sleep in driverless vehicles on long journeys, instead of going by air.  The problem with going by air being that you have to go by airport, and that sleeping in the typical airplane is for many impossibly uncomfortable.  But, if we do sleep on long distance driverless vehicles, what will we do about going to the toilet?  Stop at a toilet sounds like an answer.  But what will the toilet be like?  Might it also be a vehicle?

The point is: nobody knows how driverless vehicles will play out.  Except to say that if they look like cars and vans and lorries look now, that would be an insanely improbable coincidence.

LATER: More about those eyes here.

Monday September 03 2018

So I went looking for interesting new bridges, as I do from time to time, but found nothing interesting that I didn’t know about.  Like I say, the bridge news these days is when they collapse.

So I gave up on bridges, and instead thought about doing a posting about the Brunel Museum, which I visited on Saturday.  There is, of course, a website.  But there is also a Wikipedia entry.  And look what I found there.  That’s right, it’s the Royal Albert Bridge, Saltash, made smaller and sittable upon, with a train:

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I’m pretty sure that, while waiting to be told about the nearby Brunel tunnel under the Thames (set in motion by Brunel’s dad Marc), I and my two pals were sitting sipping our drinks within a few feet of this bridge-bench.  But it was dark, and I only found out about it just now.

Here are two things I did see:

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On the left, a bust of Marc Brunel, in the little museum.  On the right, a photo of son Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the famous photo with the huge chains behind him, projected onto the extremely grubby and deranged wall of the place where we listened to a lecture about the tunnel.  The guy is saying: “Well, you just can’t get the walls these days.”

No, he wasn’t.  He was saying something I didn’t catch because I wasn’t concentrating hard enough to make it out.  That being because the acoustics of this strange vertical cylinder in the ground were about as reverberationally bad as acoustics are able to be, and I could only make out about one in three of the words spoken by the guy, despite him being an actor who enunciated very clearly, and despite him standing about four yards from where we were sitting.

But despite all of the above, it was a fun evening.  Basically (a) because of the company, and (b) because now, when people ask me if I know anything about the Brunel Museum in Bermondsey, I can now say: Yes.  I’ve been there.  And because I had fun photoing.

Monday August 27 2018

It was a moment in London’s construction history which has always intrigued me.  My photos of it were taken in March 2012:

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That’s right.  Those strange ghost columns were, for a few short months or years (I don’t recall), being used as so many tiny building sites, supporting the construction of the Blackfriars Bridge railway station.

I regret that some more permanent use could have been found for these ghost columns.  Maybe some sort of pedestrian bridge?  But I suppose these columns are distrusted for anything but the lightest use, such as we observe in the above photos.

If you read this, you will learn that these ghosts used to come in threes, rather than in the twos we observe now.  The inner columns became part of the new bridge.

But if those columns were good enough to do that job, why cannot their brethren be made more use of?

It seems a shame.  It seems like a missed opportunity.

I think I may have said something like this here before.  So be it.  It bears repetition.

Sunday August 26 2018

June 8th of this year was a good day for roof clutter.  In Pimlico:

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It’s the variety I like, and the mixture of the ancient (the chimney pots (including some quite superior ones)) and the modern (aerials), that I like.  The chimney pots are often very decorative on purpose, while the more modern technology is only decorative as a throw-away consequence of how it needs to be to do its various jobs.

In one of them, there is scaffolding.

It helped, at lot, that the weather was so nice.  In my opinion, almost anything looks good in really nice weather,

Thursday August 16 2018

The Devil’s Dice is a debut work of crime fiction, written by my niece (which I mention to make clear that I am biased in her favour) Roz Watkins, and published earlier this year.  I enjoyed it a lot when I read it, but I did complain about the cover design:

Memo to self: If I ever design a book cover, make the title on the front either in dark lettering with a light background, or with light lettering on a dark background.

This earlier posting reinforced that point with a photo of a big display of books in Waterstone’s Piccadilly, from which you can only tell that The Devil’s Dice is The Devil’s Dice when you crop out that one title from that bigger picture and blow it up, thus:

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This illegibility effect is also all too evident in this photo, taken by Roz’s brother.

All of which means that this (this being the relevant Amazon link) is good news:

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That’s the cover of the paperback version of The Devil’s Dice, which which will be available in January of next year.  Okay, it’s not a huge change, but putting the same orange lettering on a black background instead of a near white background is much more likely to get the attention of the fading-eyesight community, of which I am a member, and which is surely a quite large chunk of the public for crime fiction.  This is also the kind of thing that just might sway a decision about whether to put a book in a bookshop window display.

I bet I wasn’t the only one grumbling about that earlier hardback cover, and it would appear that the grumbling has had exactly the desired effect.

I know little about book publishing, but I’m guessing that paperbacks are where the volume sales are, driven by those early glowing reviews (The Devil’s Dice got lots of glowing reviews) penned by the readers of the hardback version.  And from that volume comes the magic of a serious word-of-mouth wave.  Most readers are probably willing to wait a little in order not to have to devote scarce bookshelf space to great big chunks of cardboard, and for the sake of having something a bit easier to carry around.

And, if you really insist of your books being ultra portable, or if your eyesight is even worse than mine and you need seriously to enlarge the text, The Devil’s Dice is also now available in Kindle format, for just £1.99.  I am biased (see above), but for what it’s worth I agree with all those glowing reviewers, and recommend The Devil’s Dice in all formats, even the hardback with its dodgy cover.

Tuesday August 14 2018

Just a question, suggested by this bridge disaster. today, in Genoa.

Every few weeks I go looking for new and photogenic bridges, and don’t seem to find anything much.  But now that all these great bridges have been built, and now that they are all getting older, or getting really old like this one, and are having to be kind of rebuilt ...:

The highway operator said work to shore up its foundation was being carried out at the time of the collapse.

... this could be the first of many such bridge collapses.

Oh My God.  Now I want more bridge collapses, just to be right.

Thursday August 09 2018

The final full day of The Great Heatwave of 2018 was two days ago, on August 7th.  August 8th was a couldn’t-make-up-its-mind day, and today was a could-make-up-its-mind day, and it made up its mind to be cold and wet and generally horrible, perhaps in honour of the Lord’s Test between England and India, today’s first day of which was totally rained off.  One day, magic beams will rise up into the sky from around the boundaries of all major cricket games and will divert the rain into giant vats, also on the boundary, and play will proceed no matter what the weather beyond the ground.  (Such devices will also transform global agriculture, and make the entire population of the world obese.)

So, as I was saying, two days ago was the last day of the Heatwave, and maybe it was this heat which cause this lady to be wearing, in a street near me, this headgear:

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This lady looked normal enough, apart from the headgear.  I made no secret of the fact that I was photoing her, and she clearly saw me doing this and didn’t seem to min.  Or maybe she was concentrating on her phoning and actually didn’t see me.  Either way, I waited until her face was hidden.

The sane explanation for the headgear was the heat.  And honestly, I do believe that this was what it was for.  That heatwave really was very hot.

Sunday July 29 2018

Two things got my attention just now on Twitter, both, I think, very funny.  I didn’t actually LOL.  But I did smile.

First up, this quote:

It is always bittersweet when your relatives bid you fond farewell as you leave for Edinburgh, and only you know how much you are about to defame them for comedic gain.

And next up, this cartoon:

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The latter of these two jollities goes way back, and I suspect that the script and the visuals were done by different people.  But the first one is bang up to date, and I am hence able to direct you to who originated it, which I like to do.

This, on the other hand, baffles me:

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I recognise financial commentator and funny man Dominic Frisby, on the left there.  But why do Frisby’s shoes have lightbulbs in them?  Who is that other bloke, and why are the two of them waving their fingers like that?  Why are they sitting in the eyes of a giant skull?  Also, what on earth does this have to do with Brexit?  What is it that Remainers have said about such a scene as this, to the effect that it couldn’t happen, or would happen less?  Are the above two gents, like the provider of the quote above, in Edinburgh, for the Festival?  And have the Remainers said that the Edinburgh Festival this year would be a flop?  Yes, that must be it.

LATER: Just noticed where it says spikedmath.com in the cartoon.  So I guess that’s where that started.

EVEN LATER: This:

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Also:this.

Wednesday July 25 2018

I like this, in an I wouldn’t actually want one sort of a way::

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But it isn’t a serious piece of furniture.  Nobody is actually going to buy one of these edifices.  If that’s wrong, I look forward to learning about it and telling you about it, with more photos, of this 3 decker sofa in an actual home type home, instead of in something that looks like a city office.

The idea is, I assume, to flood the internet with the set of pictures of which the above is but one, of this cross between a sofa and a sports stadium, and thereby get people to link to stories like this one, which are about some kind of joint venture between BT (which stands for British Telecom) and EE (which stands for Esomething Esomething), involving being able to shove whatever television stuff you are receiving on your mobile phone onto your television.  At no extra charge, blah blah, which always actually means at a definite extra charge.  (EE probably began life meaning Extremely Expensive.  Something to do with mobile internet connections, I think.)

For me, what this sofa-sports-stand is about is the fact that domestic television is getting steadily bigger and better, and cinemas and pubs are get steadily less attractive as places to watch … video.  This is the trend that EE/BT are tuning into, to sell whatever it is they’re selling.

The key moment in this process was when big TVs started getting cheap.

Thursday July 19 2018

Here.

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Basically it’s a drone that can twiddle two of its propellers.  A robotised, propeller version of a Harrier Jump Jet.

However, the notion that flying cars will reduce or avoid traffic congestion is absurd.  Once such contraptions are finally made to work, they will not reduce or avoid traffic congestion They will cause traffic congestion to take to the skies.  They will give a new dimension to what is now a merely two dimensional phenomenon, and not in a good way.

Enjoy these days of big, empty, blue skies, while you still can.

Monday July 09 2018

Last Saturday, in the afternoon, while the rest of England was obsessing over Sweden v England, I was taking the train from Victoria around the south of central London to South Bermondsey, to see an actual man, about a metaphorical dog.  My train stopped off at Denmark Hill on its way to Bermondsey, and there I took another of those inside-a-train photos, with yellow tank tracks on it caused by the lighting in the train:

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That looks like some sort of helicopter landing and taking off pad, of the sort that they have on top of hospitals.

If this was the twentieth century, it would have remained a mystery, to me, for ever, unless I happened upon someone who knew what this was and I happened to ask him.  But it is the twenty first century, and just now, I googled “Denmark Hill helicopter pad”.  And in no time at all, I learned that this was a helicopter landing and taking off pad on top of a hospital.

To say that I unreservedly love the twenty first century would be to overstate matters.  But it does have its features, in among all its various bugs.

So much for the certainties of this situation, as revealed by the internet, one of the better features of this century so far.

Now for some guesses.

Why the ramp, leading from the pad, to the hospital?

Why not a lift, into which bodies can simply be wheeled, in about ten seconds?

My guess is that nothing is allowed to protrude above the surface of the pad, in case helicopters are blown into it by a gust of wind, or in case they miscalculate in some other way.  No protrusions.  Not even for seriously injured bodies, perhaps close to death.

So, the ramp.  And for the first few scary yards of it, there are no fences to stop you or the body trolley you are pushing being blown off, just a horizontal bit of wire netting to catch it and you, and prevent the very worst, just like the similar horizontal bits that surround the pad itself.  So, take care.  But, as you descend the ramp, a fence slowly rises up around you that will impede any ill-judged horizontal meandering you may blunder or be blown into doing, without in any way impeding the helicopters.  And, as soon as you have got down below the pad, you go under it, into a lift.  And you are in the hospital and can breath easy, even if the body you have brought with you may be breathing very difficult.

It’s my belief that if you look at my photo, you will see, if not all, then at least most, of the above.

I recall reading, once upon a time, that digital photoing is a substitute for really looking closely at stuff.  We photo things instead of really looking at things and really seeing things, said whoever it was who was grumbling.  My experience has been the opposite.  For me, digital photoing has meant spending so much time looking at and seeing things that the problem has been finding the time time to be doing anything else.