Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
6000 on Nine reflections
Simon Gibbs on The River Thames carpet
Brian Micklethwait on The River Thames carpet
Simon Gibbs on The River Thames carpet
Alan Little on The localness of London's weather
Michael Jennings on Sacred architecture and profane roof clutter - a speculation
Friday Night Smoke on The River Thames carpet
Michael Jennings on Bombardier Embrio
Brian Micklethwait on ASI Boat Trip 6: Crowd scenes
Simon Gibbs on ASI Boat Trip 6: Crowd scenes
Most recent entries
- ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
- Nine reflections
- The localness of London’s weather
- Round headlights equals an old car
- The River Thames carpet
- Cats … on scaffolding … with shadows …
- Sacred architecture and profane roof clutter - a speculation
- ASI Boat Trip 6: Crowd scenes
- Self-healing concrete
- Bombardier Embrio
- Football comment
- Quota bird
- ASI Boat Trip 5: Individuals
- New London bridge competition
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Category archive: Architecture
Here is a London picture, with the River Thames turned into a floor, very badly carpeted with very bad carpet tiles:
It’s Google Maps’s 3D-isation of London.
Despite the bad river carpeting, I would like to explore this Virtual London. But none of the reports I read of this exciting new virtuality tell me how can do this. Can I? And if I can, will I have to pay?
The are two photos which I took last Monday. The one with the bright blue sky, me looking up, was taken in Wigmore Street. The one looking down, was taken from the ME Hotel Radio Rooftop Bar.
They are photos not so much of roof clutter, as of roofs, roof in all their elaborately designed glory. But, you can spot the late twentieth century incursions:
The aesthetic impact of radio and television aerials does not seem to be much discussed in the architectural world. It could be that it has, and I merely haven’t noticed, but I don’t think that’s it.
Here is what I think is going on inside the heads of architectural aestheticians, on this subject. The deal we will make with you mindless philistines is: you can have your damn aerials, because we know that if you are not allowed, by us, to have your damn aerials, you will hut us down and burn us at the stake. But, we refuse to talk about them. We will not incorporate them into our aesthetic theories of how things look, and should look. We will not see them.
Which is how we got from the above scenario, where everything on the roof is elaborately designed, but the first few aerials have crept into the pictures, but have not been seen by the architects and their aesethetic guides, to this:
Yet still, they don’t see it and they don’t talk about.
Really, really weird.
I’ve been pondering roof clutter for a while now, but the more I ponder it, the more weird the phenomenon is.
What this reminds me of is a distinction that my sociology teachers at Essex University all those years ago made much of, that between the sacred and the profane. The sacred stuff here is the regular “architecture”, the walls, the windows, the roofs, the interiors, and so on. All of that is sacred, and is accordingly obsessed over, every tiny square inch of it, every subtle colour change, just as priests obsess about every word in a prayer.
But those aerials are profane. They don’t register. They aren’t architecture, any more than a tracksuit worn by a impoverished member of the congregation in a church is a sacred vestment, the details of which must be argued about by bishops and theologians, or the sales pitch being done over the phone on Monday morning (by someone who had been devoutly praying on Sunday) is itself a prayer. That sales pitch is profane. Forget about it. Don’t even think about it.
Those aerials, in among the sacredness of all those designed chimneys and roofs and little towers, are profane. And hence invisible. Aerials are designed, by aerial designers, to make sense of radio waves. But they are not designed to be looked at. They are a pure case of form following function. Architects ought to love them, if they believed their prayers. But they don’t because what is there for architects to add? Nothing. The job has all been done, by profane aerial designers.
Well, I don’t know. I’m thinking as I go along here, but writing it anyway. Which is all part of why I have this blog. At this blog, I am allowed to be wrong. This is a thinking allowed zone, you might say, a place where the thinking does not have to be done before the blogging begins. This is, you might say, a profane blog.
The reason to do crowd scenes is to show what a big crowd it was. Yes, it matters who was individually present. But the sheer number of individuals present also counts, a lot. It counts that they are too numerous to count conveniently. Think what some of them might accomplish, in the years to come. The law of averages says it’s bound to add up to something.
Crowd scenes also show the venue, which, if impressive, ought to register in the photos taken. And could there be a more impressive venue than London on a fine evening, from the river? Earth has not anything to show more fair.
What’s that you say? One of these pictures is just a head shot? Not a crowd scene, you say? Look again.
From Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik (pp. 80-81):
Given that literally half of the world’s structures are made from concrete, the upkeep of concrete structures represents a huge and growing effort. To make matters more difficult, many of these structures are in environments that we don’t want to have to revisit on a regular basis, such as the Oresund bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark, or the inner core of a nuclear power station. In these situations it would be ideal to find a way to allow concrete to look after itself, to engineer concrete to be self-healing. Such a concrete does now exist, and although it is in its infancy it has already been shown to work.
The story of these self-healing concretes started when scientists began to investigate the types of life forms that can survive extreme conditions. They found a type of bacterium that lives in the bottom of highly alkaline lakes formed by volcanic activity. These lakes have pH values of 9-11, which will cause burns to human skin. Previously it had been thought, not unreasonably, that no life could exist in these sulphurous ponds. But careful study revealed life to be much more tenacious than we thought. Alkaliphilic bacteria were found to be able to survive in these conditions. And it was discovered that one particular type called B. Pasteurii could excrete the mineral calcite, a constituent of concrete. These bacteria were also found to be extremely tough and able to survive dormant, encased in rock, for decades.
Self-healing concrete has these bacteria embedded inside it along with a form of starch, which acts as food for the bacteria. Under normal circumstances these bacteria remain dormant, encased by the calcium silicate hydrate fibrils. But if a crack forms, the bacteria are released from their bonds, and in the presence of water they wake up and start to look around for food. They find the starch that has been added to the concrete, and this allows them to grow and replicate. In the process they excrete the mineral calcite, a form of calcium carbonate. This calcite bonds to the concrete and starts to build up a mineral structure that spans the crack, stopping further growth of the crack and sealing it up.
It’s the sort of idea that might sound good in theory but never work in practice. But it does work. Research now shows that cracked concrete that has been prepared in this way can recover 90 per cent of its strength thanks to these bacteria. This self-healing concrete is now being developed for use in real engineering structures.
Maybe Miodownik is very good at explaining things, or maybe I am just ready to be learning this stuff. Probably both. I chose that excerpt because my average reader may not know about such things as bacteria which automatically repair concrete. But the truth is that I am almost embarrassed by how much I am reading that is new to me, or only vaguely known, as a sort of historical rumour.
I had no idea, to take just one example, who invented/discovered stainless steel, or where, or how. Now, I have a much better idea. The story is told on page 29 of this book, which I heartily recommend to all technological illiterates who would like not to be technological illiterates.
Last Saturday, I was out and about by the river, taking pictures like this one:
But then, I noticed that bird, at the bottom of the left hand tower of Tower Bridge, and started snapping away in a more zoomed wayr than for the picture above. Hence the title of this posting:
I don’t know what brand of bird that is. I do know that it is not one of those avian imposters that calls itself a “crane” (thus clothing itself in dignity stolen from the mighty urban machine of construction), but other than that, I can only guess. A cormorant perhaps?
Pick and click.
Photographing birds properly is not my strong suit. You probably need to know their habits, the way I know the habits of the digital photographer, the one living creature that really interests me.
If, on the other hand, birds were to start taking photographs ...
Yesterday, London was bent totally out of shape by the Tour de France. It became a French provincial city for the day, as I suppose some French people think it is always.
It rained. I was otherwise engaged, and in any case did not fancy fighting my way through crowds for the mere chance of snapping a herd of cyclists racing past me for about twenty seconds, especially after I had watched a Lance Armstrong documentary on my television. What a shit. And what a shitty sport. Besides which there would, I reasoned, soon be plenty of photos on the www of the drugged up veloherd pouring past the Docklands Towers, the City and its Big Things, Parliament, Buckingham Palace and so on.
Most of the pictures I found today involved Parliament and Buckingham Palace rather than more modern Big Things, and the veloherd (all with hats designed by Zaha Hadid) of course, and the best Tour de France in London snap by far that I found today was taken three months before the big day, when they were still telling everyone about it:
Classic. Seriously, what better background could there be to a sport that is all about wheels?
Original and slightly bigger picture, with the story, here.
On the left, the strange reflection effect I saw, on my way to St James’s Tube Station, and at once photoed. This is one of those cases where the smaller the photo, the clearer the effect, so it’s good that this picture here is quite small. Click on it, to make the effect less clear:
On the right, what the sunlight was bouncing itself off. It’s New Scotland Yard.
Soon there will be another Scotland Yard. But calling this New New Scotland Yard would be silly. So, instead, It will be called Scotland Yard.
Is it just me, or does the white line between the two photos above look like it’s at an angle?
Just now, there is some particularly choice stuff at Colossal:
An Abandoned Bangkok Shopping Mall Hides a Fishy Secret
This is fish being farmed in an abandoned basement.
Click and enjoy.
Further to this posting, more incoming from Darren, following my interest in further Oval views, looking to the right of the Spraycan shot in that earlier posting, towards the middle of London:
Here’s the other photo I took at the same time. No Shard, but you can just see Victoria Tower (The King’s Tower) with a nice crane alongside. Not a great view, but then again actually pretty good considering it was taken with a device whose main purpose it to access the internet.
Yes, cranes are always good. Here at BrianMicklethwaitDotCom, we like cranes. And yes, we can all see the Other Parliament Tower, by which I mean the other one besides Big Ben:
But now take a closer look (good thing Darren sent me the full sized version rather than a cut-down version) at that Thing Cluster, in the middle:
Now you can also see Big Ben itself, and the BT Telecom Tower or whatever it may have decided lately to call itself instead. I know this Thing as the GPO Tower, and it was the first of London’s modern Big Things. And there it is, to the left of the spike that is Big Ben. (Here is another BT Tower picture, one of my best ever snaps, I think.)
The point of photos like Darren’s, and like the previous one taken from the same spot, is not that they are perfect photos. They are not. They were taken with a mobile phone, in fading light, for heavens sakes. What matters is that such photos show what can be photographed from this or that vantage point, what (if you have really good eyesight, better than mine) you can see.
If anyone else - me for instance - wants to go there with a better camera with a zoomier zoom, we now know what we are looking for. We know that a pictorial snark is there to be hunted.
Incoming from Darren:
I just read your comment about The Spraycan always being lit the same way in your
Big Things in the sunset article and it made me realise I might have one or more photos waiting on my phone that I took last night that would confirm your assertion. I wasn’t (deliberately) photographing The Spraycan, of course.
Unfortunately it turned out that rather a large bit of “clutter” had thwarted me - see attached:
So, you’d have been watching Jason Roy upstage Dilshan then.
That looks like a great seat you had there, way up in the stand. A while back, D, you said something about us both going to the Oval. Rudely (apologies) I now realise I never replied. Serves me right. But next time you are going to that high up spot, and there’s space for me, let me know.
The Spraycan is right in the middle of this picture, at the back there, behind the floodlight. The Spraycan being at Vauxhall and the Oval being right near there also, there it is. Over to the right but further away, there are such things as the Strata and the Shard to be seen, or so I seem to recollect from when I was last at the Oval.
I’d enjoy the cricket too.
Surrey are doing really well just now. In addition to Roy’s T20 heroics, they are now third in Division 2 of the County Championship and have an outside chance of getting promoted right back into Division 1. All this after a truly frightful start to the season. Their last four first class games have been won 2 drawn 2, which may not sound that amazing, but Surrey have topped 400 in their first innings every time, and in one of those innings even got past 600. The last time they did that must have been in the halcyon days of Ramps. Now, instead of just the one guy making half the runs, they’re all at it. Burns, Ansari, Davies, Solanki, Roy (off 55 balls) and new captain Wilson have all got first class centuries in the last few weeks, and Tremlett nearly got one also.
Gloucester saved that game where Surrey got 600, losing only one wicket throughout the last day. But the point is, Surrey are making big first innings runs again, for the first time since Ramps went off the boil. Even if you don’t win after that, you don’t lose either, and the bonus points pile up. For batting obviously, but for bowling as well, because nothing puts pressure on opposition batters like a ton of runs against them. Gloucester may have escaped heroically, but Surrey still got quite a few more points than them in that game.
Earlier this evening I attended the Adam Smith Institute boat trip drinks party. Excellent. I took about a million pictures, of which disturbingly few looked much use when I got home. I had a lot more fun taking them than I had looking at them later the same evening. But maybe this is just another example of the rule that you should always take a day or two before looking at a huge clutch of photos that you had fun taking. That way you see them as they are rather than as not as good at you remember them.
The main thing that struck me was how much better the pictures of buildings on the banks of the river were compared to the pictures of people in the boat on the river.
I liked this one, though:
And oh look, it’s a selfie. Tomorrow I’m going to try to pick out the ones that might be of some use to the ASI. I just hope that, in the cold light of day, there are few that qualify. If that’s so, then it doesn’t matter how terrible all the rest are.
Incoming from 6k, about a dramatic Big Things photo that he came across, via a Facebook friend. There is also a blog posting at his place about it, and about how I might like it, which indeed I do.
I’ve done what he suggested and have thinned it for here:
He has the whole thing, and here it is even bigger. Very dramatic, I think you will agree.
6k entitles his posting “Waterloo sunset”. This is a fine Kinks song, but sunsets are defined by where you are when you see them, and this photo was taken from the other side from Waterloo of the Big Things of the City of London, which is what these Big Things are. He has most of them identified, but his big omission (no criticism intended - he is, after all, now 6k miles away) is the tallest one, in the middle. This is the Cheesegrater.
My first thought was that this view might have been taken from the spot I visited last January, when I took these Big Thing photos.
But that isn’t right. However, some other photos I took that day that do point at the approximate spot where the above sunset photo was, I think, taken from.
Photos like this one, also thinned:
6k’s sunset photo was taken from somewhere in among those houses on the other side of the river, with the Shard sticking up behind, on the left of my photo.
Here is a slice of Google Map which shows were everyone is:
I was where it says “ME”. The Big Things of the City are where it says “BIG THINGS”, and 6k’s anonymous photographer was standing somewhere very approximately where I have put “?”. The spot I chose for “?” is something called Stave Hill Ecological Park, which sounds very promising, what with it maybe being a hill. I have never been there and I must check it out. But, that’s only my guess. The photographer could have been quite a bit further south and/or west. Don’t know.
But there is more. While going through the photos I took last January, comparing them with 6k’s sunset photo, I came across this one, which I have again thinned:
Again, click to get the bigger version.
Now, in the middle there, unmistakably (with three unmistakable holes in its top), is the Strata.
But, and I only spotted this today, almost directly behind it is the equally unmistakable Spraycan, unmistakable because in the dark, that is how the Spraycan is always lit up.
Here is a close up of the two of them:
The Strata is at the Elephant and Castle, and the Spraycan is way over in Vauxhall. Beyond Waterloo, in other words. Once again, I hit google maps, to check on the alignment of these two favourite Big Things, and it all fits. By and by, I shall return to that same spot, to take more and better versions of this photo.
Like I always say, my camera has better eyesight than I have. On days like that one, it almost invariably sees far more than I see.
I am fond of saying that a consequence of how Big Thing architecture tends to be done these is that there is now a big call for highly specialised window cleaners. (See, for instance, this piece, about One New Change.) Just hanging a shelf down from the top no longer does it, because now the walls are liable to slope every which way.
Now, you need mountaineers:
A social enterprise is looking for people with a head for heights who want to be The Shard’s window cleaners.
The unique opportunity was posted on jobs site Good People Connect, and pays up to £20,000 a year, depending on experience.
You need to have abseiled before for the role, working 6am to 2pm six days a week, and need to be unemployed and living in Southwark.
That’s from a short report by Robyn Vinter, of whom I was critical the other day. Good to be able to be nicer this time around.
I will go on saying that the tower, as featured in all these photos that I recently photoed, ...:
... should be called the Spray Can, until everyone is calling it the Spray Can. Or the Spraycan, that’s optional.
Or until someone comes up with an (even) better name.
But meanwhile, what shall we call the ”Salesforce” Tower?
The new name should please the residents but piss off Salesforce, for renaming towers all over the damn place, and make them wish they hadn’t attempted this in London. Salesfuck. Something along those lines. Not good enough, because too profane to be printed in regular newspapers. Salesfarce? Failsforce? Close enough to Salesforce to make the connection. But insulting. To Salesforce. The obvious thing would be to just carry on calling it the Heron Tower, but I don’t think that will punish these Salesfuckers nearly enough. Their stupid name needs to be dragged audibly through the mud.
In case you are wondering, yes I am still a libertarian. Capitalism, hurrah! But the thing is, when you complain about a business doing something really annoying, there’s quite a decent chance they may stop, or at least, if they persist, be commercially punished. At the very least there is a decent chance you can make whoever did whatever it was squirm a little, and generally be made a bit of a prat of. When you complain about the government, there is much less chance of any such good stuff happening. No way will you get, e.g., refund. Just another bill to clean up whatever the original mess was.
So, complaints against capitalism are rewarded, by capitalism. Complaints against governments are not rewarded nearly so much, by governments or by anything else.
So guess which, in defiance of all sanity, you get more of.
That’s quite profound, I think. (This is why I like tangenting. See below.)
I love to look at modern buildings, before they are finished and covered up. All sorts of strange things are to be seen, that may or may not soon disappear from view.
What, for example, is this peculiar structure, which I photographed this afternoon, on the south side of Oxford Street?
Here is the original shot I took, before I cropped, rotated, and so forth:
I include that because there may be clues as to what the Thing is from its context.
But what will this Thing end up looking like? Will it be covered up? Will ladders be involved? I don’t know, but I’ll keep you posted.
I’ll also do something obvious that I failed to even attempt this afternoon, which is I’ll try to photo whatever signs on the site I could find, that might enable me to chase down a website with maybe a mock-up of what the final Thing will look like. I keep telling myself to do this kind of thing, and telling other digital photographers that they should do this kind of thing. But today, I was not concentrating on photography, I was concentrating on shopping. Trying to buy a new jacket. And I forgot to search out signs. Mistake.
But correctable. I can go back. London is what I love to photograph and if I get it wrong, I can try again. If the weather is bad I can wait until it’s nicer. It’s not like this Thing is in a foreign city I was in last month, and I’m stuck here never being able to photo those signs. I can go back there, find those signs, if they are there, and chase down that website, if it exists.