Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pixel contributions, Spectral Residues & Rome

A new computer algorithm developed at the University of Washington, using millions of online photographs from Flickr is able to construct a 3d model of various popular tourist sites. They are presently using the cities of Rome, Venice and Dubrovnik as examples to demonstrate and test the application that could allow a direct conversion of images to 3d models. The program is said to work based on its ability to calculate exact spots from where photographs were taken and then arranging various pixels to construct the 3d model (I am sure it isn't as simple as it sounds).
The 3d models somehow seem to embody the fragile translucent membrane quality, result of borrowing, selecting and careful arranging of pixels from an archive of images that are a result of a combination of eye, machine and experience, of the Colosseum, Trevi fountain, St. Peter's Basilica etc. by multiple visitors. To me it is like programming a flash mob with paint brushes carrying specific colours and co-ordinates on a canvas coming together to contribute a dot each and making Water Lilies (which too isn't as simple as it looks, but with some help from an ever growing community of Managers equipped with Excel, iPhones and Twitter, I don't think it should be a problem).

In one of the photographs of the Trevi fountain, one can also see a crowd that forms a pixel cloud/ghost that works like a contribution of remnant reverberation or rather spectral residues of different users who photographed themselves at various spots. Also, based on the popularity the city's visual modeling changes pixel density, and in some places dissolving completely in thin air.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


my past two years have been some of the most beautiful and fun times I had in my life. I made some great friends, visited magical places, learned some cooking, travelled and most importantly enjoyed living in one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the world-London.
I shall miss living in a city with a meandering river, the underground with its multilingual silence, the musical of sirens, the crisp dry English humour as it competes with the constantly drizzling humidity, public spaces dotted with children, dogs & tourists, long discussions with friends at various pubs, a regular nourishment of events, talks, screenings, exhibitions, carnivals and other festivities big and small that occupied my life here. My experiences of different spaces in this city from Brick lane, china town, Covent Garden, parks, theatres, universities, offices to homes were intertwined with friends who offered familiarity to this geography.
I shall miss my friends who too like me studied, struggled, worked, lived and loved in this city under the CCTVs, through the winters, under the rains, along the sirens, dispersed in various zones as strangers, migrants, musicians, researchers, philosophers, guerillas and other self proclaimed titles that we lovingly conferred upon each other in customary processions more sillier than the graduation day. I shall miss London, my friends and most dearest of them all Nora who made this city even more beautiful than what it is.
Hope to see all of you soon, sometime, someplace beautiful!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Industrial Artefacts

(A photograph by Angela Inglis, of King's Cross Gas Holders also called the Siamese triplets. the photograph has been sourced from Angela Inglis's website which has some more photographs of the King's Cross and other railway/industrial artefacts)
I came across a very good interview with Photographer Herald Finster by Tommy Manuel. what struck me most can be summed up where Herald Finster (whose work involves photographing industrial ruins) explains: "In most cases I do some research in order to answer the “how did it work” question, but the “who did the work” question remains unanswered in most cases and remains open to imagination." With number of city governments (London-Lea Valley, Bombay-Eastern Waterfronts, Athens-Gazi, Bilbao-port area etc) feeling an urgent need to regenerate their industrial past it becomes even more important to be aware of the nature of transformation.

(image sourced from AJ, showing Feix and Merlin's proposal for Gas holder number 8)

(image sourced from AJ, showing proposal by Hakes Associates for Gas holder number 8. These 2 are of the five short listed entries selected from 80 entries for a competition, you can find the complete article and other entries here on the AJ website)
In context to these transformations or rather conservation of industrial ruins through injecting hybrid programmes as some architects prefer describing it, Herald Finster explains "Essen and the Ruhr area will be “Kulturhauptstadt Europa 2010? (Capital of Culture 2010). The official pamphlet says “Die Identität dieser Metropole ist nicht mehr geprägt von Arbeit, sondern von Kultur” (the identity of this metropolis is no longer characterized by work, but by culture). This statement declares an antagonism between work and culture. It expresses the arrogance of the authorities and the powerful who feel themselves superior to the working class, if you permit me to use this old-fashioned term. They deny the merits of millions of people, who laid the ground for our welfare. These are the sorts of people who abuse industrial installations as vehicles. They cannot deny the existence of industrial architecture (although they do the best to wipe out as much of it as possible), but they try to pervert the original meaning of the installations. They add futuristic architectural elements, they pull out historic machinery to make the interior look “nice and modern” and they turn former work places into meaningless Disney Land like amusement parks."

(photo sourced from official website for Zollverein coke plant and colliery. The industrial site is a UNESCO world cultural heritage site, to which Herald Finster is refering to while talking about Essen- the city in which it is located. One can also find more sites like this on the European Route of Industrial Heritage website.)
The interview is very good and very well articulated using simple language, it raises important questions like..
1) how do we as architects/designers acknowledge our industrial past not just for the empty shells and aesthetics but for the history and people? or

2) how can we really avoid this "pervert" commodification of history? or

3) Is museum-ification the only response to conserving the industrial relic?

4) What does turning an industrial ruins into a public space achieve?

I believe these questions become even more difficult to deal with if one is from the design profession. It questions our contentment at transforming an old industrial shed into a plush restaurant or an art gallery.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Normandy Bunkers

(image sourced from: here)
With the nature and sheer volume of history behind every artefact of war, especially the architecture produced during a state of absolute war that blurs the distinction between civilian and military resource, I believe it would be unfair to adopt (only) phenomenology as a lens of understanding and representing these building. A personal experiential narrative of these built forms is meaningless given the complex collective history that has sculpted them. To further appropriate these artefacts of war along imaginations of science fiction writings (even if it is someone as good as J.G. Ballard) would be like making a comedy (Life is Beautiful) around the holocaust. The tourist and media both seemed to have turned history into something that we feel about rather than think about, but I guess the notion of collective memory does provide that overlap between history and experience.

(images sourced from: here)
Maybe due to the collective memory that we accumulate of these events it may be possible to have similar reactions of awe and wonder on seeing the Bunkers of Normandy or the sea forts of Maunsell mentioned recently on the BldgBlog (the post also has some very beautiful images of the sea forts from the outside and some interior spaces).

(images sourced from: here)
But one such person who is able to manage writing about this architecture carefully balancing between the two dialectics is Paul Virilio. Here is a very good interview I came across called 'The Kosovo War took Place in Orbital Space'. Throughout his works Virilio's combination of military conception of history and use of theory of perception, I believe allows one to truly appreciate the architecture of Normandy Bunkers.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Burning Man City

(image source: Telegraph. More images here)
The Burning Man annual event in the Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada this year witnessed approximately 50,000 participants coming together and forming a temporary 8 day settlement with the wooden effigy of the burning man being the focus of the event and the settlement.

(image source: Telegraph)
The event is organized by Black Rock City LLC. With valid entry ticket being the only strand that facilitates the formation of this 'city' (the temporary settlement is named The Black Rock City, also one cant help but draw comparisons to Masdar city proposal which will be in the middle of the desert and is projected to have same population), in the absence of collective history, common aspirations and various other things that form a community, the result is an array of images with a Mad Max like post apocalyptic flavour.

The plan of the settlement is equally dystopian with street names of Hysteria, Fetish, Ego, Catharsia, Amnesia etc. The satellite images shows the settlement forming concentric circles like garden-city-dream-gone-sour in the middle of a a desert landscape and the Burning man as the centre.

(image source: wikipedia)

(image source: http://muller.lbl.gov/travel_photos/BurningMan007/BurningMan007.html
it also has some more images of the event)

50,000 Strangers brought together by an event managing company, The Burning Man festival according to me is a prime example of a festivity with no history, a carnival with no reason and ritual with no tribe, somewhat similar to contemporary City design proposals that attempt to form communities through a valid entry ticket of property ownership.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Rumination of Utopias

As Ian Macleod one of the speakers during the Thrilling Wonder Stories syposium had pointed out, that in the present context there are no trajectories left of a future that can promise designs of utopia. With strong global authoritarian systems in place it allows very little flexibility to imagine either the utopias of social hierarchy or technological revolutions to purge problems, on the contrary newer innovations in social networking and lab-made glowing mice only encourage an image of a dystopian future. The only way by which science fiction writers are able to circumvent the existing condition is to start with a clean slate, an apocalyptic event with strong gravitational force to bend light and future, one of the indicators being a string of Hollywood movies of floods, doomsday, diseases, meteors and other last-days-of-man-on-earth genre.
I don't know if such an event could trigger a formation of a real community or some sort of collective that is a fundamental backbone of all utopias right from Thomas Moore's Utopia island, William Morris's News from Nowhere to more contemporary Garden City masterplans, but Dutch artist Rob Voerman works around such an assumption.

(Image by Rob Voerman called The Epicentre, which reminds me of the nuclear explosion shot from Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira. Image sourced from Rob Voerman's website)
His website describes: "Some years ago, I started a body of work in which I try to create the architecture of fictive communities living in remote areas or occupying existing city-landscapes. The communities will consist of a mixture of utopia, destruction and beauty, a symbiosis of hippie-communities from the seventies, with their often highly decorated self-build structures, the cabin of the Uni-bomber hidden in the Montana forests, art-deco and other influences.

(untitled 2004, by Rob Voerman has some very good details)
Romanticism combined with the grim qualities of terror. It is often a direct translation of destruction in a purely aesthetic form..."

(sculpture works by Rob Voerman. The sculpture to the left is Annex#4 and was displayed at Bedford Square, London as part of the show at the Architectural Association. Images sourced from Rob Voermans site)
It reminded me of work that I and Kostas had done almost a year back on utopias and imagined communities, as we attempted to put together a Rubik's cube of different utopian ideas.

(the model of the cube done by me and Kostas for our final Masters thesis project titled ABBAU+, that presently lies at my house which soon will be sacrificed to recycling for something new to take its place...)
More photos and description of the project can be found on Kostas's blog here.
While I am on the topic of utopia, I came across:
1) Ananya Roy's lecture video (which also was her acceptance speech for the Golden Apple Award) where she elaborates on utopias.
2) The Self Sufficient City Competition (3rd Advanced Architecture Contest) organized by the IAAC, which sounds like an interesting competition to take part in.
This competition could be a good opportunity for people interested in different ideas of ideal cities and societies to test their schemes, constructing not only the inhabited but also the inhabitant.