Diggin’ The Scene…ry

English: Roadworks

English: Roadworks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the last four weeks the county council has been tearing up and relaying the pavements on the street which is home to the glassworks that keeps me busy during the day.  We’ve got used to the workers now, we’ve given them hot water for tea when their cabin generator wouldn’t work, they’ve patched some potholes on the edge of our car park to make up for the inconvenience of their work.

On Thursday last week they put the top layer of tarmac on a section of path and were rightfully miffed the next morning to see workers belonging to a utility company attacking their less than 20-hour old pavement with a circular saw.  And so it is now, a perfect stretch of path with a cut out bulge of dissimilar tarmac halfway along it like some kind of scab on the landscape.

It’s a long-standing joke in this country that as soon as a road is resurfaced a utility will come along and dig it up again but in my experience this is a record.

It’s also ridiculous in these days, just a few days earlier they wouldn’t even have had to dig up any tarmac.  Surely with that mysterious thing called the Internet some kind of magical central database of roadworks could be maintained so that the likes of Gas and Electricity companies can tweak their schedules to drop pipes and cables into already bare roads.  Going even further, as my dad suggested when I mentioned this to him, when major works are carried out – replacing main drains etc, why not include conduits for current and future services in the same hole?

The answer is probably because creating such resources would cost far more than necessary and be outdated by the time it arrives – designed to run on that latest Microsoft OS, Windows XP I think it is, that’s the future.  Erm, wait, what?

 

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Give Me Shelter

Afghan Former Refugees at UNHCR Returnee Camp

Afghan Former Refugees at UNHCR Returnee Camp (Photo credit: United Nations Photo)

Refugees the world over being looked after by the United Nations currently only have basic tents to call home, often for years, and these structures that provide little protection from cold and heat and it’s for this reason the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) has recruited our favourite flatpack furniture maker to bring things into the 21st century.

The Ikea Foundation’s designers have come up with a framework which is covered by lightweight insulated panels which reflect daytime sunlight and retain heat at night.  They can be put up in a matter of hours and last up to three years.

The shelters are to be tested in Ethiopia next month and the UNHCR is looking to incorporate solar-charged lighting in the design.

Click through to Gizmodo UK for pictures of the shelter.

[Ikea via Gizmodo UK and Fast Company]

Standard Issue

tape measure

tape measure (Photo credit: redjar)

In these days of flat-pack, off the shelf furniture whether it be from Ikea or Argos people seem to expect to get everything straight away, packaged, ready to go, as I’ve written about before.  Part of this expectation is the idea of things being “standard”.

People will ring up wanting a new double-glazed sealed unit and say “it’s just a standard one” without noticing that there’s often not two of the same size in the same house.  It’s the same with door locks and when you tell them they’ll have to measure sizes, thicknesses and so on they often seem most put-out by it – it’s just a standard lock, why don’t you stock them?  They assume that today everything must be a standard type or size and what they’ve got is, by definition, it.  As such we should be able to just pull a new sealed unit off the shelf.  We’d need a very, very big warehouse to do that, and a lot of time to fill it.

Admittedly there are many things that are to a standard specification in new-build houses but that doesn’t cover the last few hundred years of bricks and mortar.

Print Anything

3D Printed Cells Bowl - Math Art by @Dizingof

3D Printed Cells Bowl – Math Art by @Dizingof (Photo credit: Dizingof)

And I mean anything.  Trust me.

Whatever new technology comes along someone will use it, or combine it with something else, to create something unique.  And this is true of 3D Printing.  The technology has been around for a while, used by designers and engineers to create prototypes and demonstrations for shows, and has now matured to the point where desktop and portable devices are soon to be available although some, like the Kickstarter-funded Formlab Form1 have come up against patent issues that are ongoing.

The idea, of slowly producing three-dimensional solid objects layer by layer by laying down material one layer on the next or selectively laser-fusing or curing liquids to form the layers, at the moment produces solid parts that can be assembled like an Airfix model kit but there has also been an intriguing chocolate 3D printer which could prove popular too. Already there are online archives of things to download and print from models of the Eiffel Tower to AK-47s – as I said, someone will always find a use for such tech.

The hope is that in future the technology could combine multiple materials in a single object, extending the technique beyond plastics and further improving the detail achievable although at the moment the printers can create tiny details, and even using the materials to replace structures like steel beams.  One amazing use is a device called a 3D Bio-Printer that can print out a hybrid natural-synthetic cartilage which once implanted acts as a support for natural tissue to regrow.

Which medical miracles brings us to two Japanese uses for the technology:  firstly a 3D photobooth that can scan your body and create a plastic mini-me, perfect for those who are so into model railways they want to be in their model railways, and secondly Fortean Times this month (FT297 pp10) reports on a clinic in Tokyo that uses a “Bio Texture” process and MRI scans to give parents-to-be a chance to see and hold their baby months before birth.  The “Shape of an Angel” service is £800 plus the cost of the MRI scan.  Imagine the scene, a family get-together, the baby photos are brought up on the wall projection to embarrass the teenager as parents sometimes do…   “This is you when you were five… ah, when you were two… look, you were only a few hours old there…  go get the box…  this was you when you were minus three months”.

Welcome Home

bath & candles

bath & candles (Photo credit: elprofeabra)

Imagine a home that senses how you’re feeling when you arrive home, if you’re apparently feeling worn out it automatically alters the lighting, sets the perfect temperature and runs you a bath. Or one that detects lots of people, music etc and knows it’s a party and turns the heating down a bit for everyone’s comfort.  This could be part of the future of architecture – buildings that can feel, that can sense their environment and their occupants and react accordingly and a building in Paris has been equipped with sensors and interactive elements that allow the building to learn about its visitors and react to them, even to the point of choosing who to allow into its very heart.

One day, with the advances in sensors which could be built into appliances and fittings could even detect health issues.  At the basic level your home or office could just put itself to sleep to save energy when you go out.  Just don’t forget to say goodbye and goodnight when you go on holiday.

Watch the BBC’s video report here

Old is the New… New

Alfa Romeo Duetto

Alfa Romeo Duetto (Photo credit: lewong2000)

It seems that the more we step forward into the blinding light of our techno future the more people seem to be looking back.  Retro is still with us and is increasingly seen as a mainstream design choice.  As I see it the reasons are varied and often depend on the product.

For some the appeal of retro design comes from the feeling that designs from the fifties and sixties were crafted with more care and solidity, with metal rather than plastic, with levers and cranks that moved with a reassuring smoothness, clicked and whirred precisely giving a sense that they’d last forever and that you were getting what you paid for.  Such is the case with cameras such as Digital Leica rangefinders that remain true to their film predecessors’ styling and construction; Fujifilm’s X100, X1 and X-Pro1 cameras which are also built from metals and leather patterned plastic; and my favourite the Olympus OM-D E-M5 digital system camera which from most angles looks as solid, sleek and minimalist as the old OM series cameras – it’s only round the back that you see the array of buttons and the large screen that betray it’s 21st Century innards.  It is true that these cameras are relatively expensive and for many that will be the reason they’ll buy them but there is also another reason for products like these: to look longingly at what is often perceived as a better time in society as well as manufacturing.

Many retro products aim squarely at a time before bling when cool meant understated presence, celebrities and celebrity photographers used Leicas, drove E-type Jags and Alfa Duettos – the latter cars also currently being reborn with new century tech and tweaked, sharper lines to again bridge the gap between the past and the future.  There are hints of the rejection of overt showiness and loud celeb culture beginning to emerge.  In fashion and advertising the likes of TV shows such as Mad Men are having an effect for the same reason.  Stella Artois’ current campaigns have an obvious fifties-sixties style to associate the brand with what is seen as classic cool.

Instagram and Hipstamatic photos flood daily into Facebook and while the low-fi style of these is fun and interesting too many of the people taking the shots take the whole thing too seriously telling people that their pictures are more “authentic” because they look like old photos taken with film cameras, this kind of retro though is not strictly accurate though as film hasn’t had the kind of graininess and vignetting applied by these apps for most of the last fifty years, unless you had a really cheap camera, like the ones that you can now buy imitations of to deliberately get the poor quality – because it looks cool, of course.

So retro is either a desire to emulate a seemingly better time before our throwaway society and our transient carbon-copy celebrities, or it’s a fad to show how unconventional you are, or it’s a way to say how well off and tasteful you are, or it’s a case of designers taking cues from a time where form and function both mattered and subtlety had more impact than in-your-face showiness to create something truly stylish and often beautiful.

To create the future it is often useful to reference the past, both for its mistakes and its triumphs.

The Dream Palais

Palais Idéal, Hauterives, Drôme, France.

Palais Idéal, Hauterives, Drôme, France. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Built over thirty-five years by one man, The Palais idéal in the French town of Hauterives is an architectural wonder that is at the same time regarded by art critics as merely a folly and an example of so-called naive art.

Joseph-Ferdinand Cheval was born in 1836 and suffered an unsettled early life including the death of both his parents before he was 18, the deaths of two wives and several children, and many poorly paid jobs.  In 1867 he began work as a postman and the story of the Palais began.

As he walked on his rounds in the French countryside he began to construct in his mind what he called “a fairy palace of my dreams” in order to combat the boredom he had begun to feel.  His vision became so vivid as to be almost real in his mind but then he lost confidence in his internal vision and found himself simply wandering through the real world that had none of the wonders of his Palais and had only brought him pain in the past.

His spirit was awakened by tripping over a stone in his path that seemed to him to have been sculpted by nature and he realised that if creativity is inherent in nature then it could be within himself too and at that moment he found what he had been missing.  He realised that he could bring his dream castles into the real world and so he began to collect stones and build his Palais.

Once completed The Palais demonstrated his vision of creative reality, merging styles from across the world and across time.  Cheval said that creativity is life and in finding creativity he began a new life and was enriched by its energy.

The Palais was, from its unveiling, intended to be seen and was open to the public so that they too could be inspired to create and live rather than simply, passively be entertained.  Cheval hoped that his Palais would be part of a wider transformation of the world as people found their own creativity after seeing his work.  The Fortean Times article I read ended by talking about this aspect and its author said it was offered as a pebble for use in building that global palace and as I’d now come into contact with the Palais so I was inspired to discover my own kind of creativity and share it.  Today you don’t need stones and we can build a Palais online if we want, in some ways 21st Century Lunch is part of mine.

Fortean Times #286 p74-76 / Interesting Thing of The Day / Wikipedia