Close encounter

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was being shown on TV this weekend. I happened across it accidently, and sat glued to it for a couple of hours, realising perhaps how burnt into my subconcious some of the images in it are for me.

I started watching it not for the story (of which there is not much, admittedly) but trying to watch the imagery, the iconography.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

So many of my hot buttons pressed! One of the first issues of Starlog I ever bought, about 1978/79 / a classic 2000ad cover by Brian Bolland / The Goodies / Syd-Mead-esque prefabricated pods and silky tracksuits / 1975 NASA Ames /Stanford Torus research illustrations / the italian-supermodern furniture aesthetic of Space 1999 /

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

I’m currently reading Ken Holling’s excellent “Welcome To Mars”, in which the golden age of flying saucer culture is juxtaposed with the rise of suburbia and the military-industrial-entertainment complex.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

One could conside Close Encounters as the end of that trajectory – and the end of other trajectories: the last freak-out LSD scifi, the last ‘serious’ 70’s scifi before/during the starwarsification of the scifi movie.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

And the beginning of trajectories: the scifi conspiracy movie, the beginning of the industrial light-and-magic revolution, and an in-joke that would play out more than 25 years later in Alias.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

Aside from being lost in the imagery, one piece of dialog I had never heard before floated through as soon as I’d switched on. It’s the scene  where a young boy, Barry is about to be abducted.

His mother tries to block all the doors, windows and ducts but cannot stop screws being unscrewed and their hiding place being unwrapped by light, noise and apparent unseen malevolence.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

Barry stands smiling, points at the UFOs and cries with joy: “TOYS!!”

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The Bourne Infrastructure

BondBourne, originally uploaded by rodcorp.

In the art bar at the RCA last night with Noam, we started discussing my recent obsession with the dematerialisation of super-villainy.

I haven’t seen the latest Bond movie, but Noam had – and he started talking about how there’s no travel in the new Bond. Or more correctly, there’s lots of travel, but no destinations.

Bond and his various nemeses live in the inter-zone, a bland Super-Cannes. As opposed to the Connery/Moore, hell – even Brosnan films, where you had long establishing shots of exotic destinations, you just feel like you are in the international late-capitalist nonplace.

We started talking about the Bourne movies, and how, particularly the first and the last are set in Schengen – a connected, border-less Mitteleurope that can be hacked and accessed and traversed – not without effort, but with determination, stolen vehicles and the right train timetables.

Again, the triumph of dematerialisation – but with a twist.

Rather than Bond’s private infrastructure expensive cars and toys, Bourne uses public infrastructure as a superpower.

A battered watch and an accurate U-Bahn time-table are all he needs for a perfectly-timed, death-defying evasion of the authorities.

As Rod has already pointed out:

Jason Bourne is the man-as-weapon, never troubled by indecision or doubt, immediately responsive, unbalancing his enemies’ battlefield underneath them. He moves forward constantly, like a shark, and lives in a fast forward that’s the exact opposite of bullet-time – blurred fragments experienced at extraordinary speed – and his reactions are all reflex-fast”

But in addition, Bourne wraps cities, autobahns, ferries and train terminuses around him as the ultimate body-armour, in ways that Old Etonians could never even dream of.

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Who Stole My Volcano? Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dematerialisation of Supervillain Architecture.

Sir Ken Adam in conversation with Sir Christopher Frayling, V&A

I saw Sir Ken Adam, production designer of numerous Bonds, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang and Dr. Strangelove amongst other movies, interviewed by Christopher Frayling at the V&A last Friday, as part of their current Cold War Modern exhibit.

As a result, Frayling concentrated the conversation on those iconic Cold War images of the war room in Dr. Strangelove, and the numerous lairs for Bond Villains he had designed.

Frayling described these lairs with a lovely turn of phrase, paraphrasing Corbusier’s “houses are machines for living in” – that they were “Machines for being a meglomaniac in”.

Adam responded that his intention was to make the Bond Villain a contemporary creature. They should embedded in the material culture of the times – albeit with the resources of a meglomaniac millionaire or billionaire – and also able to reach a little bit beyond into a near-future as those resources allow.

Although rather than maintaining a purely high-modernist aesthetic, Adam’s villains were ostentatious, status-seeking magpies, with their old masters from a daring heist, siberian tiger rugs and priceless antiques on display next to their Eames recliners and Open-plan freestanding fireplaces.

“Gantries and Baroque” might be the best name for the look though, as this finery was, of course, all inside the ‘sanctum-sanctorum’ of their lair – generally they would have maintained such a well-appointed apartment somewhere within a more massive and industrial death-dealing facility staffed by uniformed private armies.

Frayling pointed out this repeating formula in the 60s and 70s Bond movies to the audience. A hidden fortress, that had to be discovered, infiltrated and destroyed with a girl/goddess as guide – but not to be destroyed before we could take in some of the fine lifestyle touches that supervillainy gave as rewards.

But then in an almost throw-away aside to Adam, he reflected that the modern Bond villain (and he might have added, villains in pop culture in general) is placeless, ubiquitous, mobile.

His hidden fortress is in the network, represented only by a briefcase, or perhaps even just a mobile phone.

Where’s the fun in that for a production designer?

Maybe it’s in the objects. It’s not the pictures that got small, but the places our villains draw they powers from.

Perhaps the architypical transformation from gigantic static lair to mobile, compact “UbiLair” is in the film Spartan, where Val Kilmer’s anti-heroic ronin carries everything he needs in his “go-bag” – including a padded shooting mat that unfolds from it to turn any place into a place where he holds the advantage.

Move beyond film and I immediately think of my favourite supervillain of the year, Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Stane from Matt Fraction‘s masterful run on the comicbook Invincible Iron Man.

As Fraction puts it:

Zeke is a post-national business man and kind of an open source ideological terrorist, he has absolutely no loyalty to any sort of law, creed, or credo. He doesn’t want to beat Tony Stark, he wants to make him obsolete. Windows wants to be on every computer desktop in the world, but Linux and Stane want to destroy the desktop. He’s the open source to Stark’s closed source oppressiveness. He has no headquarters, no base, and no bank account. He’s a true ghost in the machine; completely off the grid, flexible, and mobile. That absolutely flies in the face of Tony’s received business wisdom and in the way business is done. There are banks and lawyers and you have facilities and testing. Stane is a much more different animal. He’s a much smarter, more mobile and much quicker to respond and evolve futurist.

Zeke has no need for specialised infrastructure beyond commodity gear than he can improvise and customise. He doesn’t need HeliCarriers or giant military-industrial infrastructure like Tony Stark. He just needs his brain and his hate. As Fraction says in an interview:

I was trying to figure out what a new Iron Man would look like, and I figured, well, there wouldn’t be a suit anymore. The user would be the suit. I just started to riff on that, on cybernetics and riffing on weaponized bodymod culture stuff. Tony’s old money, old world, old school and old model manufacture. So where would Stane, a guy that had no manufacturing base and no assembly facilities, get his tech? Everything would need power sources, so how would that work? Where would the surgeries be performed? How would he pay for it? What’s his ideology? I started reading up on 4G war and warfare. And on and on until I understood Stane’s reality, and how Stane would wage war on Stark Industries and Tony both.

So – for a “4th generation warfare” supervillain there aren’t even objects for the production designer to create and imbue with personality. The effects and the consequences can be illustrated by the storytelling, but the network and the intent can’t be foreshadowed by environments and objects in the impressionist way that Adam employed to support character and storytelling.

But – what about materialising, visualising these invisible networks in order to do so?

Dan Hill just published a spectacular study of his – into the ‘architecture’ of wifi in a public space. They make visible the invisible flows of the network around tangible architecture, and the effect that has on how people inhabit that tangible space.

Interesting, deeply-interesting stuff.

Me, I just think that’s what’s fluxing and flexing around the 4th Gen Bond Villain.

That’s what could telegraph to us, the audience their bad intentions. That’s what communicates their preference, and their potency. Could it do it as effectively, immediately, seductively as Sir Ken could with Cor-Ten and Cashmere?

Probably not. Yet.

The visualisations he’s made Dan freely admits make more than a nod to Cedric Price‘s Aviary at London Zoo. Price himself being no stranger to creating intangible, mobile, flexible architectures – I bet he would have been bursting with ideas for 4th Gen Bond Villain UbiLairs…

In the mean-time, in the real world of all-controlling superpowers, we seem to be coming full circle, architecture professor Jeffrey Huang has been investigating the all-too-tangible architecture of what we rather-wishfully call the cloud: server farms.

These hydropowered, energy-guzzelling megastructures seem to have all the ‘Gantry’ but not a lot of ‘Baroque’ panache to qualify as good old-fashioned Bond Villain SuperLairs.

But, perhaps Larry and Sergei are working on it…

This summer, Google put a patent on floating data centers cooled and powered by the ocean.

Sir Ken was always ahead of his time.

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Siege Engines, Mother-boxes, Stub-makers and Iceberg-ticklers

A week or so ago, Ryan of Adaptive Path conducted a long, looping interview with me over IM where we covered the above and beyond.

Of course, this was meant to be something punchy, level-headed and action-packed as a promotion for their upcoming MX event, where people want to hear about the business-like practicalities and opportunities of ‘design thinking’ etc.

Instead they got something that Peter accurately described as ‘DVD-extras’, and I’m pretty comfortable with that.

For me, at least, and YMMV of course – crispy, crunchy blue-shirt and chinos bullet-points don’t do it. Design, invention and making comes out of play, punning and rambling on – generative, diverging and looping and splicing.

I’m very glad that Ryan decided to do the interview in IM, rather than emailing me questions that I could respond to as if in an exam. It’s a fun mess, that I’m glad to say Peter returned to and found a seed of something to advance further himself: the influence that our new ability of visualising shared behaviours has on our old ability as a social species to flock.

I’m hoping that my talk at MX will have a little more discipline to it, but still have enough DVD extras there for people to pick out and run with. If you register for MX, then use the discount code AP have given me: “MXMJ”, you’ll get 15% off the
registration price…

“The Earth is becoming unearthly” – Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

Bldgblog
Bartlett
23.1.08

RAW NOTES:

Free software and access = no obligation so feeds enthusiasm ?like sunlight or vitamin c?
(He speaks very fast in a NE USA accent this is not going to be a transcript)

Archigram x Ballard x Philadelphia x depression x claustrophobia = start of bldgblog

A catalogue of enjoyment.

Changed his life.
> Map of climate zones in europe projected in europe 2071 from the guardian
How do design climate-appropriately for a rapidly changing climate? What is site-specificity in this dynamic context?

Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

Refs “solastaglia” cf. Collision Detection (http://www.collisiondetection.net/mt/archives/2005/12/solastalgia.html) – climate-change melancholy. Losing a homeland without moving anywhere
Will future pharma companies sell you pill to combat climate change
Obsessed by the fact that the earth is becoming unearthly
Showing projected maps of the future coastline is in some senses “adventure tourism”
Be aware of the risks of showing these images – might be exciting rather than prohibitive

Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

Quotes from “The Drowned World”
> Shows billboard architecture
Could climate change refugees be clinging to billboards on the hammersmith flyover?

Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

> Battleship island, japan
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashima_Island

> Bannermans island: private home of the world’s biggest arms dealer at the time of the spanish-american war

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bannerman’s_Castle

Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

Rumour was that he used faulty cannons as rebar-the thoughts of turning weapons into architecture is exciting
> Island fortress of the coast of india
> Maunsell towers off whitstable – influence for archigram
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maunsell_Forts

Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

Texas tower off the coast of new jersey – post-war
http://www.radomes.org/museum/documents/TexasTower.html

> Oilrigs by statoil
– Man standing on the seabed
Costs about the same as flat in downtown manhattan / camden designed by rogers
The premium offshore oil-rig market could be tapped into
Dubai terraforming
– The thing that you don’t realise is the scale
Dubai is very disappointing, very boring. Invest that much money and all you can come with is dumb homes for sports-stars? That much hubris, time, money and slave labour? And that?s all you come with? Islands in the shape of a palm tree?

> Artifical reefs – what if archigram had been active in this area?

Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

– Looks remarkable looks like chinese armillary spheres- jesuit astronomy instruments
– The reef has a brand on it.
– In 300yrs when this is a “quote/unquote” a natural object – someone will find a logo.
– Sovereign control of undersea structures: there is a feature under the sea between china and japan. Japanese are cultivating coral in order to grow an island so that they can make the territory claim.
What do artificial islands imply for the future of sovereign territory: is the future of colonialism reef science?

George Perec: worms/table/epoxy
http://www.amazon.com/Life-Users-Manual-Georges-Perec/dp/0879237511
China Mieville: slow sculpture
http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/sciencefiction/0,,1312147,00.html
http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2006/01/demolition-sculptures-or-sandblasting.html

The evolution of the landmass of north america >california is not solid ground – it is “the remnants of islands, former continents, lost indonesias”

Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

Google Earth: Ron blakey geology maps
http://tinyurl.com/223rmr

San andreas fault is itself an assemblage of microfaults

Taipei 101 is activating the surface of the earth – causing minor tectonic faults – is it a long term weapon?

The interaction between architecture, weight and the earth’s surface could be further explored
The more people move to LA and build, the safer it will be to live there. The anti-taipei101. Pin the earth down.
We could be massaging the tension out of the earth surface with traffic.

A view to a kill – christopher walken and “terrestrial weaponisation”

Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

US military: “Earthquake Array”

Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

The us military is the real Archigram.

Modular, portable cities, temporary structures, flexible autonomous cities
Dungeon instancing/sharding: in WoW – what are the implications of that for architecture. If you had billions of dollars and very nimble stagehands you could perhaps achieve this effect in the physical world. If I walk into the same building 5 mins later to you? Is it the same?

Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

Subterranea Brittanica
http://www.subbrit.org.uk/
Where have all the trapdoors gone? Why doesn?t pret-a-manger have trapdoors?
Border tunnels – hidden entrances in cargo containers on the border. Crosses through sovereign space into a store front in mexico. “The border is filigreed with this sort of thing. Landscape experiences that are not available to you if you are law-abiding”
Ground-penetrating radar – non invasive archeology

Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

Underground cities could be faked? if you hack the GPR?
Biking under london from bethnal green to whitehall – in the 80s?
Urban exploration: burgeoning
Michael Cook/toronto: interview on bldgblog
http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2007/08/drains-of-canada-interview-with-michael.html
Different tunnel technology sound different – you can almost sonically-navigate around

Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

From underworld to offworld
Mars rovers are the landscape photographers of the future
The new landscapes of the sublime are off-world
Kim Stanley Robinson: comparative planetology is a new thought process for humans.
We’re exporting a earth-centric template onto the other.

Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG at The Bartlett

> Columbia hills complex of mars of memorial sites for dead astronauts
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4143223/
“Mars is becoming earth through our melancholy”
Mars analogue site is being constructed on earth: mars conditions and appearance.
We are making mars like earth and earth like mars, either deliberately on a small scale like this or accidentally on a large scale through climate change :

These are interesting times – “The Earth is becoming unearthly”