Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Most recent entries
- Don’t mention The Wires!!!
- White Van Brians
- A Shiny Thing by Frank Stella Hon RA
- Richard J. Evans on how evidence can become more significant over time
- Another from the archives
- Big 4
- Another quota sign
- Magic clarified
- Viewing the clutter at Centre Point
- Giant cat head worn by a human
- BMdotcom abusive comment of the day
- Made-up London detectives in real London places
- Marc Morris on how the Bayeux Tapestry ought not to exist
- Fantastic day
- Another use for a drone
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Category archive: Design
Yesterday, while walking along the sharp right kink at the top end of Horseferry Road, which I do a lot, I looked up into the bright blue sky and beheld things of colourful beauty. What do you suppose it is?:
Does this make it any clearer?:
Clear for those to whom it is now clear, but still not very clear for most, is my guess.
Yes, it’s a Big 4. And if you still don’t know what it is, apart from it being a Big 4, it is the Big 4 outside the fantastically over-the-top front door of Channel 4 TV HQ.
This Big 4 has changed a lot over the years. (You can see a few of those changes in among all this google-search-imagery.) Different artists and designers have taken it in turns to adorn its metal skeleton in a succession of different colours and costumes. The above is merely the latest iteration of this process. And definitely one of the better ones, I think.
I like how the colours all vanish once you get straight in front of the 4, and all you get is a relatively bland white 4. The effect is calculated to resemble the fleeting glimpse of the 4 that you get in the various intros you see just before Channel 4 shows on the telly. Note also how the sun at that particular later afternoon time of day picked out the white bits of the Big 4, while leaving the stuff behind it in relative darkness. I still don’t really understand how this happened, but I definitely like it.
The bad news, however, is that to get that particular Big 4 picture from the exact right place, you need to be standing in the middle of the road that turns south off Horseferry Road, past the left hand side of C4HQ, as we look at it, and at exactly the spot where the pavement would have been, right next to Horseferry Road itself.
So, finally, what we now see is the exact moment when a car came up right behind me and honked loudly, anxious to get past me and out of Horseferry Road instead of being stuck right in it, and honked at in its turn by angry cars behind it.
I immediately jumped out of the car’s way, and it politely waved thankyou as soon as it had made its slightly relieved way past me.
A lot of cars deliver and collect a lot of people to and from that exact spot, and they must get this a lot.
Here is a piece I did here about how Modernism got associated with whiteness. And for most would-be Modernists, Modernism still is white. But, here is another piece I did about coloured Modernism, in the form of Renzo Piano’s very colourful buildings near Centre Point. (Renzo Piano also designed the Shard.)
Here is another photo I took of these, I think, delightful edifices:
And here is a faked-up picture I came across not long ago, which suggests that Piano’s colourfulness may have struck a chord with other architects:
That picture adorns a report about the footbridge that you can see on the right of the picture, the very same one that I saw being installed last August. But I think you will agree that the towers on the Island there are a definite echo of that Pianistic colour.
The great thing about coloured architecture is that you can build the most severely functional lumps, and only worry about brightening them up afterwards. Form can colour function, and then colour can cover up the form and make it fun.
But it need not stop at just having one plain colour. Soon the artists will join in, and there will be giant murals.
If I had to place a bet about how different London will look from now in thirty year’s time, this would be the change I would bet on. Both new buildings and dull old ones will be much more brightly coloured.
I’m guessing that outdoor paint is a technology that has had a lot of work done on it in recent years, and that such work continues.
I will be interested to see if those Piano office blocks become faded, or if the colour stays bright for a decent time.
Interestingly Le Corbusier was a great one for colour being slapped on Modern buildings, but the notion never really caught on. Or rather, it is only now catching on.
As is illustrated in this posting at Material Girls. Where the point is also made that another huge influence on the monochrome association with Modernism was early and black-and-white photography. Even colourfully painted buildings didn’t look coloured in the photos. (One might add that newspapers and magazines only burst into colour after WW2, in the case of newspapers only in the 1960s. Until then, all newspaper and magazine photos were printed in black and white. So even if Modernism was done in colour, its influence spread in black and white.)
Now, colourful buildings tend to look colourful, both for real, and in the photos.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (hence the second exclamation mark in the title), now.
Yes it’s another Immaculately Modernistical Japanese House Posting at Dezeen, where the pictures are full of The Wires …:
… but where the text never mentions The Wires.
They don’t see the anarchy. They see only the Order.
After photoing the old London Model, which was the original reason (excuse?) I had visited the Building Centre, I took a look around the place to see what else was on view.
Look what I found:
Nut I took another picture of the Building Centre CATable which included a rather cool looking chair. All I was thinking about when I took it was including the chair. I liked the chair. (I also liked how it was lit.) But this snap, quite fortuitously, turned out to make the CATable look particularly like a cat:
It looks like it’s got eyes, because of the accidental aignment of two of the holes, and because of the way that there is light behind. We humans are programmed to find faces where we can, and if they can’t be human faces, maybe they can be cat faces.
The way that the CATable’s legs are done already shows that the cat resemblance is deliberate.
The CATable is not a one-off creation. They are now being mass produced and you can buy one, if you want to. A snip at $4,799.
Further evidence of highbrow types climbing aboard the catwagon in this Colossal report on Intimate Portraits of 50 Artists and Their Cats Compiled by Alison Nastasi. Artists eh? They’ll do anything to get noticed.
And I don’t mean Twiggy.
I love it when a bald bloke photos a London Big Thing. So I loved it when this fashionably bare-headed gentleman photoed lots of little London Big Things:
This big old London model is in the process of being refurbished. If all goes as advertised, a big new London model will be ready to view at the end of this month.
People often say “I can’t wait”, when things like this are in the offing. What do they mean? That by the time it arrives, too much time will have elapsed and they will no longer be interested?
I know, it’s just what they say. They don’t really mean it.
I can wait, and I will wait.
Ages ago now, before I was ill, I checked out that Suicide Bridge in North London, as reported in this posting. This was a fine destination to have picked for an photo-odyssey, both because the destination itself did not disappoint, and because it was in an unfamiliar part of town, and thus was only the first of many wondrous discoveries I would make that day.
As the years go by, I accumulate more and more photo-collections of such days, and get further and further behind in mentioning them here. Which is fine, because there will soon come a time when I won’t want to be going out at all, just sitting here reminiscing. Then I can catch up. Then I can die.
So, March 8th of this year. I hoover up snaps of the view from Suicide Bridge and then walk away from the top of it in a westerly direction, along Hornsey Lane. I am in Highgate. Then I go north (actually more like west north west) along the B519, past the Ghana High Commission, until I get to a turning that looks like fun again, turning west, again (actually more like south west). I am climbing, still, getting higher and higher above central London. And I take another turn, south, and come upon a miniature version of the Alexandra Palace Tower (that being a bit further out of London, to the north east), beside a lane called Swains Lane.
Here is a web entry that says what this tower is.
And here are some of the photos I took of it and of various decorative effects that it had on its surroundings, on a day that, although getting very dark in parts, is still topped off with a bright blue blue sky, worthy of Hartley himself:
And here is another web entry, which explains what an excellent war this contraption had:
The British immediately realised that the powerful Alexandra Palace TV transmitter was capable of transmitting on the transponder frequencies and instigated ‘Operation Domino’. Using the receiving station at Swains Lane, Highgate, the return signal from the aircraft’s transponder was retransmitted back to the aircraft on its receiving frequency by the Alexandra Palace TV transmitter and hence back to the aircraft’s home station. This extra loop producing a false distance reading.
The Swains Lane receiver station was connected by Post Office landline to the Alexandra Palace transmitter. By using a low-voltage motor, this line controlled any drifting in the lock-on carrier beam, thus eliminating any give-away heterodyning beat-notes.
Which you obviously wouldn’t want, would you?
I love the way things like this look. Totally functional, but … sculptors eat your hearts out. It beats most of what you guys do without even giving it a thought.
Actually, slight correction provoked by actually reading some of what I linked to above. The current structure at Swains Lane is the metal successor structure to its wooden predecessor structure, and it was the wooden predecessor structure which had a good war, but was then blown down by a gale in October 1945.
Had it not been for this extreme weather story, pride of place there would have gone to the report about Quisling getting shot.
I love the internet.
It started in Quimper, where I particularly wanted to photo the cathedral without all those summer tree leaves in the way. And I did.
But I am now realising, about a decade and a half later than I should have but better late than never, that the exact same principle applies to London. London is full of trees, which you either can see through or can’t see through, depending on the season:
That photo was taken by me yesterday afternoon, looking across Vincent Square towards … well, you can see what it was towards, because there were no leaves in the way.
See also this example of the same genre.
I’ve been reading Paul Kennedy’s Engineers of Victory, which is about how WW2 was won, by us good guys. Kennedy, like many others, identifies the Battle of the Atlantic as the allied victory which made all the other victories over Germany by the Anglo-American alliance possible. I agree with the Amazon reviewers who say things like “good overview, not much engineering”. But this actually suited me quite well. At least I now know what I want to know more about the engineering of. And thanks to Kennedy, I certainly want to know more about how centimetric radar was engineered.
Centimetric radar was even more of a breakthrough, arguably the greatest. HF-DF might have identified a U-boat’s radio emissions 20 miles from the convoy, but the corvette or plane dispatched in that direction still needed to locate a small target such as a conning tower, perhaps in the dark or in fog. The giant radar towers erected along the coast of southeast England to alert Fighter Command of Luftwaffe attacks during the Battle of Britain could never be replicated in the mid-Atlantic, simply because the structures were far too large. What was needed was a miniaturized version, but creating one had defied all British and American efforts for basic physical and technical reasons: there seemed to be no device that could hold the power necessary to generate the microwave pulses needed to locate objects much smaller than, say, a squadron of Junkers bombers coming across the English Channel, yet still made small enough to be put on a small escort vessel or in the nose of a long-range aircraft. There had been early air-to-surface vessel (ASV) sets in Allied aircraft, but by 1942 the German Metox detectors provided the U-boats with early warning of them. Another breakthrough was needed, and by late spring of 1943 that problem had been solved with the steady introduction of 10-centimeter (later 9.1-centimeter) radar into Allied reconnaissance aircraft and even humble Flower-class corvettes; equipped with this facility, they could spot a U-boat’s conning tower miles away, day or night. In calm waters, the radar set could even pick up a periscope. From the Allies’ viewpoint, the additional beauty of it was that none of the German systems could detect centimetric radar working against them.
Where did this centimetric radar come from? In many accounts of the war, it simply “pops up”; Liddell Hart is no worse than many others in noting, “But radar, on the new 10cm wavelength that the U-boats could not intercept, was certainly a very important factor.” Hitherto, all scientists’ efforts to create miniaturized radar with sufficient power had failed, and Doenitz’s advisors believed it was impossible, which is why German warships were limited to a primitive gunnery-direction radar, not a proper detection system. The breakthrough came in spring 1940 at Birmingham University, in the labs of Mark Oliphant (himself a student of the great physicist Ernest Rutherford), when the junior scientists John Randall and Harry Boot, working in a modest wooden building, finally put together the cavity magnetron.
This saucer-sized object possessed an amazing capacity to detect small metal objects, such as a U-boat’s conning tower, and it needed a much smaller antenna for such detection. Most important of all, the device’s case did not crack or melt because of the extreme energy exuded. Later in the year important tests took place at the Telecommunications Research Establishment on the Dorset coast. In midsummer the radar picked up an echo from a man cycling in the distance along the cliff, and in November it tracked the conning tower of a Royal Navy submarine steaming along the shore. Ironically, Oliphant’s team had found their first clue in papers published sixty years earlier by the great German physicist and engineer Adolf Herz, who had set out the original theory for a metal casement sturdy enough to hold a machine sending out very large energy pulses. Randall had studied radio physics in Germany during the 1930s and had read Herz’s articles during that time. Back in Birmingham, he and another young scholar simply picked up the raw parts from a scrap metal dealer and assembled the device.
Almost inevitably, development of this novel gadget ran into a few problems: low budgets, inadequate research facilities, and an understandable concentration of most of Britain’s scientific efforts at finding better ways of detecting German air attacks on the home islands. But in September 1940 (at the height of the Battle of Britain, and well before the United States formally entered the war) the Tizard Mission arrived in the United States to discuss scientific cooperation. This mission brought with it a prototype cavity magnetron, among many other devices, and handed it to the astonished Americans, who quickly recognized that this far surpassed all their own approaches to the miniature-radar problem. Production and test improvements went into full gear, both at Bell Labs and at the newly created Radiation Laboratory (Rad Lab) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even so, there were all sorts of delays - where could they fit the equipment and operator in a Liberator? Where could they install the antennae? - so it was not until the crisis months of March and April 1943 that squadrons of fully equipped aircraft began to join the Allied forces in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Soon everyone was clamoring for centimetric radar - for the escorts, for the carrier aircraft, for gunnery control on the battleships. The destruction of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst off the North Cape on Boxing Day 1943, when the vessel was first shadowed by the centimetric radar of British cruisers and then crushed by the radar-controlled gunnery of the battleship HMS Duke of York, was an apt demonstration of the value of a machine that initially had been put together in a Birmingham shed. By the close of the war, American industry had produced more than a million cavity magnetrons, and in his Scientists Against Time (1946) James Baxter called them “the most valuable cargo ever brought to our shores” and “the single most important item in reverse lease-lend.” As a small though nice bonus, the ships using it could pick out life rafts and lifeboats in the darkest night and foggiest day. Many Allied and Axis sailors were to be rescued this way.
First, an outstanding White Van photo snapped from what looks like the inside of a cafe, by Simon Gibbs, to whom profuse thanks:
I’ve been photoing White Vans for a month and more, but have never got three of them in one go like that. That arrived chez moi first thing this morning.
And then, to my amazement, this was this at Guido, also today:
That’s right. Labour have launched there very own White Van! You wouldn’t dare make that up. I knew I was onto something with all this White Vannery.
The problem for the Labour Party here is that Essex White Van Man, the original beast, doesn’t work as an employee driver for Wellocks, or for Office Revival or for Yate Supplies (these being the enterprises who own and whose glory is proclaimed by Simon’s three White Vans above), and certainly not for the Labour Party. He has his own White Van, which is entirely white, as you can see when you peruse that original tweet that got all this fuss started:
That snap being a recent one of mine. And, as Guido points out, a proper Essex White Van is not a Merc, as the Labour White Van is. He doesn’t go on to say that it should be a Ford Transit, as above, but it should. The White Van in the original tweet is a Transit.
This new Labour White Van is supposed to separate Labour from the la-di-da world of London and to assert its connection to the common (i.e. non-rich-London) man. But it fails to do this, because, as these recent White Van postings of mine have been explaining, White Vans covered in poncey graphics are now quintessentially London. I assume that they have also become quintessentially Wigan and quintessentially Rotherham and for that matter quintessential Dagenham. But I further assume that when true-blue Wiganians and Rotherhamians and Dagenhamians look at them, they see, not their local culture, but cultural imperialism by bloody London.
(Damn. I did everything to this posting put actually post it “today”, so I’m leaving the date I originally attached to it. Cheating I know but it talks about Monday as today, so Monday it is.)
Yesterday I visited a shop called Tiger in Tottenham Court Road. Here is the sign about it that sticks out into the road, even though what I thought I was photoing at the time was the Wheel:
That’s actually one of my favourite views of the Wheel, because it is so weird and unexpected. We’re looking south along Tottenham Court Road, with Centre Point on the left as we look. You hear people seeing this, and saying: Oh look, the Wheel. Wow.
Tiger has lots of stuff in it, which I haven’t time to tell you about now but will hope to do Real Soon Now. But what I will say (today) is that, after a bit of searching, I found cats, in the shapes of: a cat mat, some cat suitcases, and some tigers:
Too knackered to say more now. Suffice it to say that Tiger is a veritable cornucopia of cheap and cheerful stuff.
Following on from yesterday’s White Van, here is another White Van, which marks the moment when I first started really noticing these things. It was parked outside an office just round the corner from my front door:
Let’s take a closer look at the driver’s door of this White Van. Because the exact moment when the whole White Van thing clicked inside my head was when I saw, and photoed, this:
There you go. They’re having a laugh about White Van Man. I told you it was a thing.
This happened on December 17th of last year, which was about a month after the Shadow Ministress did her tweet that cost her her shadow job. But they’ve been driving around in that joke since well before all that, as this blog posting from April of last year proves.
And I know this got me thinking about White Vans, because the very next photos I took were of this:
I had been noticing this other White Van hanging around near my home, but until that moment I had not considered it something worth photoing. Then, I did. And, off an on, I’ve been photoing such vans ever since, although few of them as lavishly decorated as that one.
Ever since that ruckus when a Labour Shadow Cabinet Ministress got into hot water with a tweet which involved a White Van, I’ve been photoing White Vans. And, in fact, I think I have been doing this since before that little drama. This White Van, photoed by me today in the Covent Garden area, is one of my favourites so far:
The point is, White Vans have rather gone up in the world. Lots of them now come with much carefully designed décor and info. London now abounds with fleets of White Vans thus decorated, white being the preferred colour by far. It’s like an automotive uniform.
It’s as if White Vans have a sort of macho-stroke-ironic appeal to those who drive them, and to the rest of us. The drivers, when asked what they do for a living, can say: I drive a White Van. Oh, ha ha ha! But no, not one of those White Vans, the sort they have in Essex. Oh no.
Or alternatively, if the driver is a genuine White Van Man, with no irony involved, of the sort that lady politician was having a go at, he’s happy too, even if he would probably prefer plain white, rather than all that poncey verbiage. And he’d rather have sacks of cement or tubs of plaster in the back there, rather than nerdy SF stuff.
Well, not sure about that. But White Vans are definitely, as they say nowadays, a thing.
Do you get bored with my obsession with photographing photographers? Well, such photos are easily skipped. It’s not like you have to read a whole chunk of stuff before you realised that the posting was of no interest to you.
Meanwhile, here is a cropped-out chunk of a photo I took on August 18th 2007, which tells me that, quite aside from photoing photoers being enormous fun at the time, photoing photoers will continue to be enormous fun far into the future, for as long as I have a future:
That’s right. The lady is taking a picture with a small, cheap digital camera. And she is, it would appear, on the phone, with her phone (one of the old-school folding sort) jammed between her raised-up shoulder and her ear. You would never see such a thing now, because the two gadgets would now be one and the same gadget.
You get a similar thing when you see people simultaneously photoing with and wired up to and listening to the same phone, a “phone” that would have been two separate pieces of kit a while back.
Things that will change, like cameras and phones and music machines, are more interesting to photo than things that will not change any time soon, like Big Ben.
Indeed. What on earth was I thinking, posting - on a Thursday, rather than today, Friday, the traditional BMdotcom day for cat-related items - a piece that starts with how computers are rather bad at recognising cats? I only even realised that the cat category should be attached to the posting just now. Oh well.
Anyway, more cat news, which I did deliberately hold back until today, is that the mega-behemothic-super-industry that is Hello Kitty is making a deliberate play for more male customers, with T-shirts decorated with such things as the picture you see to your right. But, will such images repel human females? You can imagine the high level debates that the Hello Kitty high ups (I somehow imagine them to be mostly men) must have been having about this issue, of such fundamental importance to their brand.
More cat news? I need a bit more to be sure that the picture there doesn’t bash its way into the posting below (even though that would be rather appropriate). Well, I am sad to report that for some people, the most interesting thing about the death of Terry Pratchett (good quote that – that’s the sort of thing he will be really missed for) was that he had a cat sleeping on his bed at the time.
Just before Christmas, Goddaughter 2 arranged for the two of us to see and hear a dress rehearsal of a Royal Opera House Covent Garden production of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. This was, for all practical purposes, a performance. I didn’t much care for Verdi before I went to this event, and I still don’t, but the show was at least notable for the outstanding singing of the lead tenor, Joseph Calleja, a new name to me. I was extremely happy whenever he was singing. (He has a blog.) The rest of the show I found somewhat forgettable, mainly because Verdi seems to have been opposed to doing nice tunes that you can remember, unlike my operatic composer favourites, Mozart, Puccini, and Richard Strauss.
But very memorable indeed, almost as good as Calleja’s singing, was the bar we visited afterwards, which is right next to the main performing space.
From the outside the opera house and the bar look like this:
The bar being the thing on the left as we look there.
And on the inside, the bar looks like this:
The ROH refers to this place as the Paul Hamlyn Hall. What regular people call it for real I have no idea, but I like it.
I especially like that disembodied clutch of drinkers, suspended up there as if in mid air, but actually in mid mirror.
Here is a closer look at that same feature:
I know exactly what is going on here, and how this weird effect is achieved, but still I’m impressed.
A bit of hasty googling has failed to tell me what this place used to be and when it was first built. I’m guessing it was at first something to do with selling fruit and/or veg, but that’s only a guess. Anyone?