"Tivo-ifies the web" Paul Kedrosky

Naked City

Hunter Gatherer has a great post about the classic 1948 film noir, Naked City, and the subsequent TV series which ran between 1958-1963, complete with a few choice clips.

Most so-called New York TV series were shot in studios. Friends, for example, was filmed in LA. In most episodes the only genuine NY image is of the front door in the West Village, and even this spells fake as an implausibly expensive location for its fictional occupants. Naked City is special because, befitting its title, it was filmed in large part, on location in New York and strips Manhattan bare to reveal an architecture that was far more coherent than today’s mixture of glass and steel modernism and pre-war masonry gothic.

This great opening shot from the movie shows how much bigger the downtown skyscraper cluster was relative to midtown, before the corporate center of gravity shifted. The financial district is dominated by the hypodermic needle like tower of what is now a focus of news half a century later, as the HQ of AIG with its injections of tax payer bail-out cash, while midtown looks relatively spartan revealing the since hidden laminated shards of the side facade of the Rockefeller Center.


3 comments architecture, drama

Design Classics, The London Underground Map

There was a period, between the wars, when European refugees like Gropius stopped in Britain. This stimulated a brief flourishing of modernism resulting in the design aesthetic of London public transport, from the Routemaster bus (the only piece of British ‘architecture’ that Corbusier liked) to moderne Tube stations such as Arnos Grove.

But the pinnacle of London Transport’s modernist design was the Tube map which rearranged distances to produce a supremely navigable schematic diagram that is little changed today. (I have been looking for this documentary for ages).

26 comments architecture

Eames Lounge Chair Debut in 1956 on NBC

Charles and Ray appear on a very dated TV show presented by a creature with a very dated accent to launch a chair which looks as modern today as it did then.

In two parts, second part here.

3 comments architecture, nostalgia

The Original Penn Station, Spliced Together from Hollywood Movies

“Intercut scenes, from Hollywood films shot in New York’s Pennsylvania Station before it was demolished in 1963, or on stage sets representing it, form a composited narrative set in Manhattan’s great lost architectural masterpiece”.

And now the good news: the reason why we still have New York’s Grand Central, or London’s St Pancras in all their glory is because with hindsight the demolition of Euston and Penn Stations were evidently a mistake.

2 comments architecture

Robert Hughes on Skyscrapers

Why Hughes is better known in print, in the US, is a complete mystery. He has been astounding as a documentary presenter for 30 years.

Eight minutes into this clip is an amazing snippet of the futuristic costumed dancers at the opening ceremony for the Chrysler building.

2 comments architecture, smashing telly top 10 documentaries

An Airship Flying Over a Skyscraper

The iconic (and fabricated) image of an airship docking the Empire State Building, sums up for me the notion of New York as an antique modern city. This is as good as I could find, a Zeppelin flying past the roof of what looks like the Woolworth building.

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How Buildings Learn – Uploaded by Stewart Brand Himself

Amazingly, this does indeed look like Stewart Brand has uploaded the entire series based on his seminal book ‘How Buildings Learn’. The uploads have the pre-roll countdown screen.

Having been both an Architect of buildings and of software I agree with Brand’s point that “architects are not as alert as computer people” in being interested in his book. However, technology companies are much less alert about design than architecture firms are. Most software is engineered rather than designed, and the term designer often is reserved for people responsible for more superficial (in the literal rather than pejorative sense) UI tasks such as web designers.

Almost no computer software is actually designed by ‘architects’ who sit in between the people who commission software and the people who build it. An architect takes requirements and re-interprets, adds, combines, eliminates and prioritizes them into a ‘holistic’ design rather than a collection of requirements. In software, feature decisions are usually made by marketing departments (product marketing people who create requirements documents, PRDs) who pass them to the engineering department. In architecture this would be like someone who wanted to a building going straight to the contractor. This happens with tract housing, and the result is crappy, like the vast majority of current software.

The lack of architectural design in software is largely due to it being both novel, historically, and about novelty. New things are sold based upon features, from menu functions to gigaherz & gigabytes, rather than overall design. Once features become standardized, such as hifis then holistic design becomes important. Cheap hifis, for example, often have lots of features and flashing lights, better ones often have merely an on/off switch and a volume control, but they sound great. Software is still sold based upon bells and whistles rather than ergonomics.

How buildings learn was a great idea for a book, but it had its faults. The premise was that feedback from the use and behavior of a building throughout its lifespan, would allow for evolutionary (in the Lamarckian sense, i.e. during its lifespan) design improvement. Some modern architects were criticized (notably Richard Rogers, where the criticism had to be removed from the UK edition, to avoid being sued) because of design flaws which were largely the inevitable result of innovation.

Although Brand pointed to examples of innovative buildings whose designs were refined over time, such as Jefferson’s Monticello, the innovation here largely comprised neat gadgets such as dumb-waiters and fold-away beds, contained within a very traditional, neo-classical, building envelope style that had been perfected over centuries (actually, by definition, two millennia). Secondly, buildings like Piano and Rogers’ Beaubourg center, are flamboyant cultural monuments rather than purely rational designs. Brand’s criticism of some of the elements of modern architecture as something that could be perfected in an evolutionary manner, is like saying you could make a cathedral warmer and more energy efficient by making the ceiling ten foot high.

The premise of How Buildings Learn could be applied to the book itself, it could be improved by being re-worked, based upon feedback. Equally, a book could be written about taking architectural approaches to software design called: ‘How Software Learns’.

Anyway, the documentary is great stuff. Brand writes:

“This six-part, three-hour, BBC TV series aired in 1997. I presented and co-wrote the series; it was directed by James Muncie, with music by Brian Eno. The series was based on my 1994 book, HOW BUILDINGS LEARN: What Happens After They’re Built. The book is still selling well and is used as a text in some college courses. Most of the 27 reviews on Amazon treat it as a book about system and software design, which tells me that architects are not as alert as computer people. But I knew that; that’s part of why I wrote the book. Anybody is welcome to use anything from this series in any way they like. Please don’t bug me with requests for permission. Hack away. Do credit the BBC, who put considerable time and talent into the project. Historic note: this was one of the first television productions made entirely in digital— shot digital, edited digital. The project wound up with not enough money, so digital was the workaround. The camera was so small that we seldom had to ask permission to shoot; everybody thought we were tourists. No film or sound crew. Everything technical on site was done by editors, writers, directors. That’s why the sound is a little sketchy, but there’s also some direct perception in the filming that is unusual.”

In six 30 min parts.
Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

8 comments architecture

Algorithmic Architecture

An algorithmic design for a Hotel in Wellington, New Zealand, generated in Max Script. This is the first genuinely new movement in architecture that I have seen in the 20 years since I began.

Modern buildings are designed rather like crystals, they are a repetition of components (periodic). Natural things, however, including DNA and medieval towns are more like aperiodic crystals, with variable repetition. To create these structures, requires an algorithm rather than a single equation (that was the premise of Stephen Wolfram’s self-published tome, ‘A New Kind of Science’). Whether this is a new kind of science is debatable, however, it is certainly a new kind of architecture.

Here is a roundup of some other algorithmic architecture on another of my sites, ‘oobject’.

6 comments architecture

The Dessau Bauhaus

Documentary about the second Bauhaus.

Running time: 27mins

Comments Off architecture

Around the World in 80 Treasures

As with the fictional ‘around the world in 80 days’ this 5 month 10 part odyssey made in 2005, includes a variety of modes of transport, exotic locations food and cultures – all to find the world’s 80 principal treasures. The list, of course, is suitably maverick and non-cliche for it to be absolutely fascinating. Chosen by Dan Cruickshank who is a personal favorite architectural historian, this is a must for architecture fans.

1 comment architecture, history, world