Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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
Rob Fisher on David Pierce on what it's like using an electric scooter
Prudy on Skyscraper covered in Gothic sculpture proposed for Manhattan
Brian Micklethwait on Big Things on Boris Bikes
Javier on Big Things on Boris Bikes
Most recent entries
- 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
- The first Brian’s Friday of the year tomorrow evening
- Walkie Talkie looking not that huge
- David Pierce on what it’s like using an electric scooter
- Shard behind the Tower of London (reprise)
- Big Things on Boris Bikes
- Two bits for Samizdata and a weird bridge in Poole
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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Counting Cats in Zanzibar
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we make money not art
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Category archive: USA
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.
This picture of a taxi ticks two BMdotcom boxes. First, its a black cab which isn’t, either because it just isn’t, or because it is covered in an advert. In this case, it’s a bit of both:
But better, we observe in the advert on the not-black cab two Big Things. The Big Thing on the left says: London! And what is actually the much Bigger Thing, on the right, says: New York! I am collecting imagery that says: London!, and this fits that bill very well, even if it does say: New York! as well.
I quite like the replacement for the Twin Towers, but it seems to me rather bland, in a picture, when you can’t see how very big it is. Bland being what you do not want in a Big Thing for saying: New York! But I guess, the Twin Towers having established themselves as the Big Things that formerly said: New York, whatever replaced them was going to have to do that job as soon as it appeared, bland or not. The Empire State or the Chrysler would no longer do, them having already been dethroned as the sayers of: New York!, by the Twin Towers.
I think it is very telling that in the New York picture there is a clump of skyscrapers rather than just one. Because New York is not any one skyscraper. It’s a forest of skyscrapers. Each individual skyscraper may be rather bland, but what it all adds up to is anything but bland.
But New York is not my town, and that is only me guessing.
David Pierce writes at Wired about gadgets for speeding up pedestrians, which I too am interested in. He has been using an electric scooter. I saw one of these in London recently, travelling at an impressive lick, but didn’t manage to photo it, because was holding too much shopping. Still should have. Will try to next time I see such a thing.
The problem with moving away from car ownership is that you give up one its biggest upsides: you can usually park exactly where you’re going. Public transit, built around permanent stations, can’t offer that. That’s called the “last mile” problem: How do you get from the subway or bus stop to where you’re actually going, when it’s just a little too far to walk?
In among such good analysis are bits of humbug about how cars are, in addition to clogging up cities, ruining the planet with their sinful carbon emissions. You don’t have to buy into all that guff to see the point of not ruining cities, but instead continuing to get around in them, speedily yet comfortably. Personally, I live in a big city partly in order not to have to own a car.
Electric kick scooters, goofy [though? - BM] they may be, are a particularly good answer to the last mile problem. …
Pierce focusses in on one of the details, of just the sort that settle these contests in favour of this gadget and against that one:
The UScooter’s much easier to ride than the hugely popular hoverboard, because all you have to do is hop on and not tip over. Turns out handlebars are helpful that way. You can take it over small curbs and cracks in the sidewalk, powering through the obstacles that would launch you forward off a hoverboard. ...
This piece is entitled “It’s Too Bad Electric Scooters Are So Lame, Because They May Be the Future”. So this is yet another of those arguments where what looks like it could be a very smart thing is being held back by jeering coolists who think it’s not cool. (See also: using tablets to take photos.) I wonder if, when the wheel first got invented, idiot fashionistas stood around saying, yes, we entirely see the point of this thing, but it’s not cool. It’s lame. Therefore, we forbid it. Wankers.
3D printing is not the replacement of factories by homes. It is manufacturing in factories only more so. Making stuff is not, as of now, getting less skilled. It is getting more skilled ...:
Most ceramic 3D printing uses complex techniques to deposit layers of the material on top of each other, and as a result have to use materials with relatively low melting points. The techniques can also only be used to create fairly simple shapes.
But a team from HRL Laboratories in Malibu, California, has developed what they call a pre-ceramic resin, which they can 3D print much like regular polymers into complex shapes. The process, known as stereolithography, fuses a powder of silicon carbide ceramics using UV light. Once the basic shape is printed, it can be heat-treated at 1,800°F to turn the pre-ceramic resin into a regular ceramic object. In fact, this is the first time silicon carbide ceramics have ever been 3D printed.
… which is very good news for the rich world economies.
Says a commenter:
So 2016 opens with YAAI3DP (Yet Another Advance In 3D Printing.) and some point all these breakthroughs are going to add up and utterly transform manufacturing.
The way he then goes on to say that it will transform manufacturing is that we may eventually get stuff made whenever and wherever we want it made. In homes and shopping malls, in other words. Maybe eventually. In the meantime, cleverer stuff is getting made in the same old places, and then transported to where it is needed.
When I transport blogged, one of the constant themes I found myself noticing was how people regularly thought that transport would be done away with, but it never was. The main notion was that people would communicate so well that they’d never want to meet face-to-face. Now, it is being speculated that stuff will be made so cleverly that it will be makable anywhere. Maybe so, but that isn’t now the smart way to do it, and it probably never will be.
Many more here, as Hartley adds, at Calvin Seibert’s My “Sand Castles” Flickr site.
Here, I think we can say with confidence, is another impact of digital photography. Seibert doesn’t say in his short introductory spiel (click on “show more") how important digital photography is in preserving something of these castles before the incoming tide or human destructiveness or accident claims them. But it obviously is. Would he have developed this way of sculpting, if he had had no convenient way of recording it?
And my other thought is that the website where Hartley learned about these castles, which is called Amusing Planet and which I had not previously heard of, will be well worth making regular visits to. It says in this post that Amusing Planet has now been in action for nearly eight years. I must have been there before. But, I didn’t pay any attention to the surroundings of whatever posting I was looking at. I should have.
My bet? It won’t be built in New York. It will be built somewhere else.
I have been reading Peter Foster’s book, Why We Bite the Invisible Hand: The Psychology of Anti-Capitalism. And very good it is. Here are some of the things Foster says about Robert Owen (pp. 86-69, pp 92-95:
After he built Cromford, Arkwright became involved in the development of another even more spectacular water-driven venture, at New Lanark in Scotland. The fast-flowing river below the beautiful Falls of Clyde made the site ideal. Arkwright’s partner there was David Dale, a respected Glasgow merchant. The notoriously prickly Arkwright fell out with Dale, reportedly over a triviality, and withdrew. Dale took control and continued to expand, but the reason New Lanark is so well preserved today is not that it is seen as a monument to capitalism. Quite the contrary. Dale’s son-in-law, Robert Owen, turned New Lanark into the promotional centre for a Utopian dream, where he nurtured anti-capitalist sentiment. A fair amount of anti-capitalist sentiment still seems to pervade the site today.
Owen’s New Lanark was very far from being an experiment in socialism understood as collective ownership and control. Workers had neither shares in the mill nor much - if any - say in how it was run. Nor was Owen a political revolutionary. What he did share in common with more radical socialists was opposition to religion; belief that human nature was an indeterminate clay ("blank slate"), there to be moulded by men such as himself; distaste for the “individual selfish” competitive system and private property (even though they enabled him to promote his muddled ideas); demonization of money; and a generally woolly notion of how economies - as opposed to individual businesses - work. Owen rejected Adam Smith’s idea of gradual improvement under a system of “natural liberty.” For him, cotton masters, the men who owned and ran the mills, were (except for himself) greedy and selfish, while workers were oppressed sheep to be led, with himself as the Good Shepherd.
Adam Smith had shrewdly noted that people by nature give far more deference to the ideas of the wealthy than they deserve. Of few people was this more true than Robert Owen.
Owen was born on May 14, 1771, in Newtown in Wales, five years before the publication of The Wealth of Nations. He received only a rudimentary education before being shipped off by his parents to work in the drapery business. He proved an assiduous employee and developed a keen interest in the then-booming textile industry. He started his own business but soon returned to employment as a mill manager in Manchester. Close to his 20th birthday, he was reportedly managing 500 workers, at the then substantial salary of £300 a year. Owen soon found investors to help him start his own mill. He also became interested in education and social reform (which was the rule rather than the exception for industrialists of the time). However, when he visited New Lanark he saw a place where he might indulge a nascent vision of industrial harmony, a New Jerusalem in which he would be the secular Messiah.
Owen courted David Dale’s daughter, Anne Caroline, married her on September 30, 1799, and took over New Lanark early in 1800 on what seemed generous terms, essentially promising to pay Dale out of the mill’s future profits. New Lanark was the basis for the fortune and reputation that enabled Robert Owen to indulge his ideas. The scale of New Lanark seems extraordinary even today, but to visitors from the present, if they could travel back to Owen’s time, the most arresting feature of the place would be that most of its employees were children, supplied by orphanages in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Child labour has become one of the great fixed images of the Industrial Revolution, but it is inappropriate to take our modern sensitivities back to earlier times. Child labour was common - as it still is in many poor countries - because it was, and is, necessary for the survival of both the children and their families. It was most necessary for orphans. Indeed, orphanages paid cotton manufacturers to take their charges off their hands. David Dale reportedly treated his young employees well. By 1796 he was employing 16 teachers at the site.
Owen’s desire to prevent children under 10 from working appears wholly admirable, until we remember that this might have led them to starve. His desire to educate children and provide an early equivalent of daycare was worthy but ultimately self-interested in business terms, since these measures increased the skills and contentment - and thus productivity - of the workforce, as did his organization of medical insurance, savings opportunities, food and other provisions. There was no conflict between good business and morality. Indeed, Owen himself constantly, at least in the early days, stressed the importance of these measures for increasing profitability.
The village shop that Owen set up at New Lanark was reportedly an inspiration for the modern cooperative movement, which was founded in the town of Rochdale in Lancashire. According to a potted history at the New Lanark site, when Owen arrived, there were lots of small traders in the village, “selling poor quality goods at high prices.” He was able to buy in bulk, lower the prices and still make a profit. But of course this is exactly what supermarkets and big-box stores do today, even as they are castigated for putting the “little guy” … out of business.
Robert Owen put the little guy out of business too. He also made sure that no other traders could survive in the village, by paying his workers with “tickets for wages,” which they could spend only at his village shop. Elsewhere such enforced commitment to the company store would be cited as evidence of corporate villainy, but Owen declared that his own motives weren’t “selfish.” The important thing was not what was good for him, but what was good for mankind, although he clearly expected a little kudos for showing mankind the way.
At New Lanark, Owen in fact displayed more of the enlightened capitalist than of the Utopian dreamer. One might not doubt his good intentions when it came to spreading education and advocating factory reform, but he seemed eager to bury the fact that many other cottom masters, and businessmen of the time more generally, were enlightened and reform-minded.
As the Napoleonic Wars drew to a close, both mill owners and authorities were disturbed by Luddite riots that resulted in the breaking of new machinery, which was seen as destroying jobs. Robert Owen claimed that what had brought about these awful, and worsening, conditions was economic liberalism and the competitive system, which, he declared, was based on “deception.” He came forward with a series of bold proposals for “villages of unity and co-operation,” which struck many as workhouses by a more glorified name.
Although the great and the good expressed polite interest in Owen’s solutions to what were, after all, pressing problems, many were profoundly skeptical. John Quincy Adams, then U.S. ambassador to Britain, described Owen in his memoirs as “crafty crazy ... a speculative, scheming, mischievous man.”
Owen managed to draw the ire of both radical reformers, the political economist heirs of Adam Smith, groups that rarely saw eye to eye. The radicals saw Owen’s communities as oppressive, while the economists viewed them as impractical and counterproductive. The reformer William Cobbett described them as “parallelograms of paupers.” The political economist Robert Torrens said it ws difficult to decide whether Owen was a “knave” or an enthusiast “in whose brain a copulation between vanity and benevolence has engendered madness.”
Owen welcomed a steady stream of “philanthropic tourists” at New Lanark. Their number included Grand Duke Nicholas, future czar of Russia. Some - although presumably not the grand duke - found disquieting authoritarian overtones to Owen’s operation. After watching Owen’s child labourers drill like little soldiers at the mill’s Institution for the Formation of Character (which has been lovingly restored with taxpayers’ money from the European Union), the poet Robert Southey compared the place to a slave plantation.
Parliament ultimately rejected Owen’s scheme. One member suggested that “this visionary plan, if adopted, would destroy the very roots of society.” Owen responded to criticism by making his schemes more grandiose. Undaunted, he set off to proselytize in the New World, and not merely to lecture but at last to put into effect his grand plan. He bought an existing cooperative community in Indiana, which he renamed New Harmony.
Owen attracted a large number of settlers, described by one of Owen’s sons, Robert Dale Owen, as a “heterogenous collection of radicals, enthusiastic devotees to principle ... and lazy theorists, with a sprinkling of unprincipled sharpers thrown in.” Owen Sr. soon went back to Britain to spread the word of his success. Another son, William, confided dolefully to his diary, “The enjoyment of a reformer, I would say, is much more in contemplation, than in reality.”
New Harmony soon started to fall apart. Skilled labour did not feel inclined to have its income, under Owen’s plan, “equalized” with the unskilled or, worse, with those who did not wish to work at all. A collectivist scheme such as Owen’s could in effect work only if powered by either religious conviction or forced labour, a lesson that would not be lost on Owen’s more revolutionary successors.
The abolition of money led to a bureaucratic nightmare. When even lettuce had to pass through the company store, it inevitably wilted before it reached the plate. (Moscow McDonald’s would encounter analogous problems in trying to get supplies through the collapsing Soviet system almost 200 years later.)
After an absence of two months, Owen returned to New Harmony, arriving by river with intellectual reinforcements dubbed the “boatload of knowledge.” He forced the community through numerous reorganizations, all the while churning out portentous exhortations such as the “Declaration of Mental Independence:’ which promised to free man from the “slavery” of private property, religion and marriage.
One visitor, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, wrote, “He looks forward to nothing else than to remodel the world entirely; to root out all crime; to abolish punishment; to create similar views and similar wants, and in this manner to abolish all dissension and warfare ... He was too unalterably convinced of the result to admit the slightest room for doubt!’ Every other member of the community to whom the duke spoke acknowledged that Owen was “deceived in his expectations!’ The final blow to the community was a falling-out between Owen and William Maclure, a wealthy emigre Scotsman, which led to the two men suing each other over property, the concept New Harmony was meant to transcend.
The one undoubted benefit Owen did bestow upon the former colonies was his children, who turned out to be a good deal more level-headed than their father and who would become prominent in American affairs. Owen then set off on an even more quixotic scheme: to persuade the government of Mexico to grant him a huge swath of land on which to test his theories. He required Mexico first to abandon Catholicism. Mexico demurred. Owen returned to London and embarked upon expansive new ventures. He became the first president of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union, an organization that lasted a year. Seeking to trump both the pecuniary root of all evil and “unnecessary” middlemen, he set up “labour exchanges,” whereby merchandise was exchanged for “labour notes,” whose value was meant to be calculated according to the hours of sweat embodied in each product. The administrators found that they could not possibly calculate values this way and were forced to copy market prices. The labour exchanges collapsed too.
Owen staunchly opposed the “superstition” of religion, and yet his own views were at root profoundly religious, based on a “New Moral World” set up in opposition to a demonic set of greedy capitalists. He founded the Rational Society, complete with Halls of Science instead of churches, and “social hymns.” Sample verse:
Outcasts in your native soil,
Doom’d to poverty and toil,
Strangers in your native land;
Come, and join the social band.
Owen’s acolytes founded another Utopian community, at an estate called Queenwood in Hampshire, whose collapse Owen hastened by spending it into the ground. One of his more clear-sighted disciples noted that “Mr. Owen was no financier, and had no idea of money.” Queenwood, like New Harmony, imploded amid lawsuits, yet again over property.
Robert Owen represented a psychological type that would persist throughout the business world. Although such businessmen have a good grasp of their own business, they fail to understand the nature of markets more generally and believe themselves to be morally exceptional in a world marked by short-sighted greed.
They’re playing an Old-Timers T20 in New York today. Here are the two squads, “Sachin’s Blasters” and “Warne’s Warriors”:
SR Tendulkar (Captain), CEL Ambrose, SC Ganguly, CL Hooper, DPMD Jayawardene, L Klusener, BC Lara, VVS Laxman, GD McGrath, Moin Khan†, M Muralitharan, SM Pollock, V Sehwag, Shoaib Akhtar, GP Swann.
SK Warne (Captain), AB Agarkar, AA Donald, ML Hayden, JH Kallis, RT Ponting, JN Rhodes, KC Sangakkara†, Saqlain Mushtaq, A Symonds, MP Vaughan, DL Vettori, CA Walsh, Wasim Akram.
It makes me think of these guys.
Find out what happened here, that also being where I found out about this remarkable enterprise.
Today, however, it’s practically in the air. I could flick through a copy of em>Wired magazine in a supermarket, or see the statue of James Watt in St Paul’s Cathedral. Innovation is unstoppable, but not because the Internet has innumerable nodes of useful information, as Ridley claims. It’s unstoppable because across the world, innovation is so deeply rooted in our speech, thought and culture. And we don’t even know it.
Innovation is, at root, the idea of innovation! And the idea that innovation is a good idea!
Anton Howes is making good progress as a scholar, his latest little victory being that he has been invited to present his findings at this event at Columbia University. My thanks to Simon Gibbs for alerting me to this latter happy circumstance.
It seems that I am not the only one reminiscing about photos taken nearly a decade ago. The Atlantic is now doing this, with the help of NASA and its Cassini orbiter, and the Cassini orbiter’s oresumably now rather obsolete camera:
Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, Enceladus (504 kilometers or 313 miles across), is the subject of much scrutiny, in large part due to its spectacular active geysers and the likelihood of a subsurface ocean of liquid water. NASA’s Cassini orbiter has studied Enceladus, along with the rest of the Saturnian system, since entering orbit in 2004. Studying the composition of the ocean within is made easier by the constant eruptions of plumes from the surface, and on October 28, Cassini will be making its deepest-ever dive through the ocean spray from Enceladus - passing within a mere 30 miles of the icy surface. Collected here are some of the most powerful and revealing images of Enceladus made by Cassini over the past decade, with more to follow from this final close flyby as they arrive.
Here is a picture of Enceladus taken on June 10th 2006:
That is picture number 25, or rather, a horizontal slice of it.
Beyond Enceladus and Saturn’s rings, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is ringed by sunlight passing through its atmosphere. Enceladus passes between Titan and Cassini ...
That’s right. Those two horizontal, ever so slightly converging white lines and the edge of the Rings of Saturn.
Picture number 10 is even more horizontalisable:
A pair of Saturn’s moons appear insignificant compared to the immensity of the planet in this Cassini spacecraft view. Enceladus, the larger moon is visible as a small sphere, while tiny Epimetheus (70 miles, or 113 kilometers across) appears as a tiny black speck on the far left of the image, just below the thin line of the rings.
That one was taken on November 4th 2011.
From the Washington Post, yesterday:
The piece also asks if it is only a matter of time before regular driving is banned. I think this will happen in lots of places, and driving a car will become like riding a horse. It will be something you do only for fun. I probably won’t live to see this, but I probably will live to see it quite widely discussed.
Vanity Fair piece about Frank Gehry. Key paragraph:
Things progressed slowly from there, as the architect continued to work more audacious swooping and compound curves into his designs. Eventually he found himself hitting the outer limits of what was buildable. This frustration led Gehry on a search for a way to fulfill his most far-reaching creative desires. “I asked the guys in the office if there was any way they knew of to get where I wanted to go through computers, which I am still illiterate in the use of,” he explains. Gehry’s partner, Jim Glymph - “the office hippie,” in Gehry’s words - led the way, adapting for architecture a program used to design fighter planes. As Gehry began to harness technology, his work started to take on riotous, almost gravity-defying boldness. He dared to take the liberties with form he had always dreamed of, fashioning models out of sensuously pleated cardboard and crushed paper-towel tubes. He always works with models, using scraps of “whatever is lying around” - on one occasion a Perrier bottle. “I move a piece of paper and agonize over it for a week, but in the end it was a matter of getting the stuff built,” he tells me. “The computer is a tool that lets the architect parent the project to the end, because it allows you to make accurate, descriptive, and detailed drawings of complicated forms.”
“Frank still doesn’t know how to use a computer except to throw it at somebody,” ...
I smell a classic two-man team there. Gehry dreams it. And this guy called “Glymph” (ever heard of him? - me neither - I got very little about him by googling) works out how to actually get the damn thing built. To quote myself:
Even when a single creative genius seems to stand in isolated splendour, more often than not it turns out that there was or is a backroom toiler seeing to the money, minding the shop, cleaning up the mess, lining up the required resources, publishing and/or editing what the Great Man has merely written, quietly eliminating the blunders of, or, not infrequently, actually doing the work only fantasised and announced by, the Great Man.
Glymph now seems to be on his own, although you can’t tell from the merely institutional appearances.
In general, the role of the Other Sort of Architect, the one who turns whatever some Genius Gehry figure wants into something buildable, and which will not be a mechanical disaster, seems to be growing and growing.
I found that picture of Gehry’s epoch-making Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao here. The VF piece identifies this as the most “important” building of our time. Architects love it. The public does not hate it.
A house, said Modernist Architecture Le Corbusier famously, is a “machine for living in”. Something very similar can be said about all buildings. They are machines to do stuff in, and their number one requirement is that they should work properly. Do the job. Not break. Not leak. Not collapse. Not be a struggle to occupy, work in or live in. They should be nice for people to be in.
But merely working is not the only thing that this strange thing called “architecture” must do. It may also be required to decorate, excite attention, amaze, astonish. It may also be required to be, as they now say, an “icon”.
These two distinct sorts of working - working as a machine, working as a means of exciting admiration and awe - described in my two previous paragraphs, often conflict. If all that architecture had to do was tick over successfully, without problems, then building would evolve, cautiously. There would be no grand gestures, no new styles.
But new styles there are. And when they first get started, new styles often involve lots of dumb mechanical decisions. What can happen is that the architect is so concerned to make his icon look iconic that he forgets to, I don’t know, stop the windows leaking. New styles cause mundane stuff to go wrong.
Illustration, this piece of early post-modernism:
This iconic Thing is the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago. But, it now faces demolition. Reason? It doesn’t work, as a machine for working in:
“This building is ineffective,” claimed governor Bruce Rauner in a news conference. “For the people who work here, all of whom are eager to move somewhere else, it’s noisy. It’s hard to meet with your colleagues. It’s hard to move through the building, very ineffective, noise from downstairs, smells from the food court all get into the offices.”
The 17-storey, nearly one-million-square-foot (92,903 square meters) government centre opened in 1985, and is known for its canted and curved glass exterior and massive interior atrium containing a food court and transit entrance with offices arrayed above.
“Hearkening back to the grand domes of earlier government structures, such as the state capitol in Springfield, the southeast profile is a slice of a hollow sphere, clad in curved blue glass and salmon-coloured steel,” said the Chicago Architecture Foundation in its listing for the building. “The populist Postmodernism continues inside.”
The structure serves as the state government’s Chicago headquarters – the Illinois state capital is Springfield. But maintenance problems, high operational costs, and functional issues have plagued the building since it opened.
Rauner estimates the building needs $100 million (£64.7 million) worth of deferred repairs. In 2009, a large granite panel fell off one of the pedestrian arcades, prompting the removal the remaining slabs. The building has also been infested with pests.
Libertarians often claim that cock-ups like these are a classic public sector problem, and that observation has merit. The public sector is notorious for overspending on the buildings themselves, and then imposing foot-shootingly false economies on maintenance. Public buildings where the political will to maintain, so to speak, has wavered, can end up looking very run-down, as does much publicly owned space generally. This is because no one person or organisation owns the thing. No individual or small group of individuals makes clear gains if the building continues to look its part and do its job. No individual or small group of individuals makes clear losses if maintenance is skimped on. No one is accountable, to use a word constantly used by political people, because they so regularly feel the lack of it in the arrangements they nevertheless keep on recommending.
Further evidence comes from industrial innovation, largely now done by the private sector (albeit often heavily regulated), where innovation is done with a combination of determination and caution, with an awareness that innovation must happen, yet is hazardous. But even there, this trade-off is often mismanaged. The private sector doesn’t avoid error. It is merely better at liquidating it than the public sector is.
There may be sufficient political will to preserve this Chicago Government Center, more than there might have been if it was privately owned and hence costing an owner a not-small fortune. But it if is preserved, will the will to maintain continue to be inadequate? Very probably.
A key question to be asked about this building is: If it must be preserved, is the building worth anything at all? If it isn’t then there will be no buyer for it if it must be preserved, and the Chicago taxpayers will have to go on maintaining it. And Chicago’s taxpayers right now face other and bigger problems.
Every so often I check out Jonathan Gewirtz’s photos, often because I am reminded to do this when I read Chicago Boyz, for which Jonathan writes. Yesterday, I found my way to this wonderful photo of the cranes of Miami. Because that photo has “Copyright 2013 Johathan Gewirtz” written across the middle of it, I looked for other Miami crane photos, and found this ( by “ozanablue"):
Then, I think my finger slipped. Anyway, something happened, and I found myself looking at another terrific Gewirtz Miami crane snap, also adorned with a Copyright notice, but from which I have sliced out this:
That slice is much smaller as well as much (vertically) thinner than the meteorologically imposing original. But, as is the rule here with anything I “borrow”, if JG sees this and wants even this small slice of his picture removed from here, it will be done pronto.
Those container ship cranes will surely be looked back at by historians as one of the great visual symbols of our time, to sum up all the peaceful material and trading progress that we as a species have been making in recent decades.
Shame our cranes of this sort are too far away from the centre of London for a picture of them to be able to include our Big Things as well. Because our Big Thing’s are better than Miami’s.
Talking of cranes, another English one attracting admiring attention is this one, who bowls leg spin for Hampshire. (Another spinner nearly won it for England today, in Abu Dhabi (where they also have cranes (they now have them everywhere important that’s next to the sea)).)
“Modern buildings, exemplified by the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge, are incredibly light and weight-efficient by virtue of their architectures,” commented Bill Carter, manager of the Architected Materials Group at HRL.
“We are revolutionising lightweight materials by bringing this concept to the materials level and designing their architectures at the nano- and micro-scales,” he added.
In the new film released by Boeing earlier this month, HRL research scientist Sophia Yang describes the metal as “the world’s lightest material”, and compares its 99.9 per cent air structure to the composition of human bones – rigid on the outside, but with an open cellular composition inside that keeps them lightweight.
All of which has obvious applications to airplanes:
Although the aerospace company hasn’t announced definite plans to use the microlattice, the film suggests that Boeing has been investigating possible applications for the material in aeroplanes, where it could be used for wall or floor panels to save weight and make aircraft more fuel efficient.
And it surely won’t stop with wall and floor panels.
These are the days of miracle and wonder.