Meanwhile, the new site offers a bunch of cool tools, such as a "Headlines" category that publishes only in the right-hand column—think of it as a kind of expanded Twitter feed for news items and quick links—as well as the ability to use marginal H6 tags for secondary asides and commentary.
Undoubtedly, there will be many details that still need fixing—that is, posts with no tags, missing links, or strange formatting—but I'll get to those over the next few weeks.
Finally, I owe huge, huge thanks to Jim Webb for his help with CSS and coding; Jim absolutely knows his stuff and makes a fantastic teacher. Consider hiring him for any site needs of your own.
[Image: Russian troops in Grozny, February 2000; image courtesy of AP].
“U.S. land forces will eventually find themselves locked in fights within huge, dense urban environments where skyscrapers tower over enormous shanty towns, and these troops need more realistic training to operate within these future megacities,” Brigadier General Julian Alford of the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory explained earlier this month, as reported by Defense News.
It's war in the age of megacities: “We talk about the three-block war, but we are moving quickly to the four-floor war,” Alford adds.
We are going to be on the top floor of a skyscraper... evacuating civilians and helping people. The middle floor, we might be detaining really bad people that we’ve caught. On the first floor we will be down there killing them. ...At the same time they will be getting away through the subway or subterrain. How do we train to fight that? Because it is coming, that fight right there is coming I do believe with all my heart.
The verticalization of Alford's metaphor—“the four-floor war”—is an interesting revision of the existing “three-block war” paradigm. In that earlier version, U.S. General Charles C. Krulak suggested that three separate and very different military goals—humanitarian assistance, peace-keeping, and “traditional warfighting”—could all occur within only three blocks of one another in the urban combat of the future. In his words, soldiers would be confronted by “the entire spectrum of tactical challenges in the span of a few hours and within the space of three contiguous city blocks.”
The idea that this is now a “four-floor” problem—that “the entire spectrum of tactical challenges” could now be experienced within the space of four floors of a single high-rise—is a dark indicator not only that our own everyday surroundings are now being modeled and war-gamed as sites of speculative combat, but also how terrifying full-scale architectural warfare would be. Battling upward through the interior of skyscrapers, perhaps even zip-lining from one tower to another, it would be Nakatomi space taken to its logical, militarized extreme.
Recall Mike Davis's observation from more than a decade ago that so-called Third World cities were being viewed as the “key battlespace of the future,” and that U.S. forces were thus preparing “for protracted combat in the near impassable, maze-like streets of the poverty-stricken cities of the Third World.” Davis elaborates on these points in an old interview with BLDGBLOG called Planet of Slums: An Interview with Mike Davis, Parts One and Two.
Last week’s successful demonstration of a reusable rocket, launched by Elon Musk's firm SpaceX, “was a critical step along the way towards being able to establish a city on Mars,” Musk later remarked. The proof-of-concept flight “dramatically improves my confidence that a city on Mars is possible,” he added. “That’s what all this is about.”
Previously, of course, Musk had urged the Royal Aeronautical Society to view Mars as a place where “you can start a self-sustaining civilization and grow it into something really big.” He later elaborated on these ideas in an interview with Aeon’s Ross Anderson, discussing optimistic but still purely speculative plans for “a citylike colony that he expects to be up and running by 2040.” In Musk’s own words, “If we have linear improvement in technology, as opposed to logarithmic, then we should have a significant base on Mars, perhaps with thousands or tens of thousands of people,” within this century.
Last week's successful demonstration of reusable rocket technology was thus, for Musk and his corporate hype-fueled imagination, a kind of future-ancestral historical moment for the founders of that Martian encampment.
Granted, de Ruijter has color-corrected these satellite shots and pushed the saturation, but as potential gardens of pure color and hue, the original pivotscapes are themselves already quite extraordinary.
In case this is of interest, I've got a new article up over at Travel + Leisure about photographer Gerco de Ruijter, who recently undertook an exploration of sites where the Jeffersonian road grid has to go askew in order to account for the curvature of the Earth.
De Ruijter is already widely known for his work documenting grids and other signs of human-induced geometry in the landscape, from Dutchtree farms to pivot irrigation systems, which gives this new focus an interestingly ironic air.
In other words, these are places where a vision of geometric perfection—a seemingly infinite grid, dividing equal plots of land for everyone, extending sea to shining sea—collides with the reality of a spherical planet and must undergo internal deviations.
Those are the "grid corrections" of de Ruijter's title, and they take the form of otherwise inexplicable T-intersections and zigzag turns in the middle of nowhere.
The project includes a series of spherical panoramas de Ruijter made using kite photography at specific corrective intersections outside Wichita, in effect distorting the distortions, a kind of topographical reverb.
All the Google Maps sleuthing of the Los Angeles "ghost streets" post reminded me of stumbling on a place called Yodaville—seen above—as previously explored here back in 2012. Yodaville is a simulated city in the Arizona desert, deep inside the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, used for targeting exercises.
"A community buy-out could see a former Cold War surveillance station turned into a place where tourists can listen to the sound of whales singing," the BBC reports.
During the Cold War, we read, "the site was part of NATO's early warning system against Soviet submarines and aircraft, but the Ministry of Defence has no further use for the derelict buildings on the clifftop site."
"It is now hoped a hydrophone could be placed in the sea to pick up the sound of whales."
The idea of "derelict buildings on [a] clifftop site" resonating with the artificially amplified sounds of distant whales is amazing, like some fantasy acoustic variation on the "Dolphin Embassy" by Ant Farm.
I couldn't find any further word on whether or not this plan is actually moving forward, but, if not, we should totally Kickstart this thing—and, if not there, then perhaps reusing the old abandoned bunkers of the Marin Headlands.
Your own private whale song bunker, reverberating with the inhuman chorus of the deep sea.
A honey fence is "a series of hives, suspended at ten-metre intervals from a single wire threaded around wooden fence posts. If an elephant touches either a hive or the wire, all the bees along the fence line feel the disturbance and swarm out of their hives in an angry, buzzing cloud."
"By encircling a village with a cordon of hives," we read, "the village’s crops are protected."
[Image: Isochronic map of travel distances from London, from An Atlas of Economic Geography (1914) by John G. Bartholomew (via)].
"This is an isochronic map—isochrones being lines joining points accessible in the same amount of time—and it tells a story about how travel was changing," Simon Willis explains over at Intelligent Life. The map shows you how long it would take to get somewhere, embarking from London:
You can get anywhere in the dark-pink section in the middle within five days–to the Azores in the west and the Russian city of Perm in the east. No surprises there: you’re just not going very far. Beyond that, things get a little more interesting. Within five to ten days, you can get as far as Winnipeg or the Blue Pearl of Siberia, Lake Baikal. It takes as much as 20 days to get to Tashkent, which is closer than either, or Honolulu, which is much farther away. In some places, a colour sweeps across a landmass, as pink sweeps across the eastern United States or orange across India. In others, you reach a barrier of blue not far inland, as in Africa and South America. What explains the difference? Railways.
Earlier this year, when a private spacecraft made it from the surface of the Earth to the International Space Station in less than six hours, the New York Times pointed out that "it is now quicker to go from Earth to the space station than it is to fly from New York to London."
In the context of Bartholomew's map, it would be interesting to re-explore isochronal cartography in our own time, to visualize the strange spacetime we live within today, where the moon is closer than parts of Antarctica and the International Space Station is a shorter trip than flying to Heathrow.
In a short story called "Reports of Certain Events in London" by China Miéville—a text often cited here on BLDGBLOG—we read about a spectral network of streets that appear and disappear around London like the static of a radio tuned between stations, old roadways that are neither here nor there, flickering on and off in the dead hours of the night.
For reasons mostly related to a bank heist described in my book, A Burglar's Guide to the City, I found myself looking at a lot of aerial shots of Los Angeles—specifically the area between West Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard—when I noticed this weird diagonal line cutting through the neighborhood.
First of all, I love the idea that the buildings seen here take their form from a lost street—that an old throughway since scrubbed from the surface of Los Angeles has reappeared in the form of contemporary architectural space.
That is, someone's living room is actually shaped the way it is not because of something peculiar to architectural history, but because of a ghost street, or the wall of perhaps your very own bedroom takes its angle from a right of way that, for whatever reason, long ago disappeared.
If you follow this thing from roughly the intersection of Hollywood & La Brea to the strangely cleaved back of an apartment building on Ogden Drive—the void left by this lost street, incredibly, now takes the form of a private swimming pool—these buildings seem to plow through the neighborhood like train cars.
Which could also be quite appropriate, as this superficial wound on the skin of the city is most likely a former streetcar route.
But who knows: my own research went no deeper than an abandoned Google search, and I was actually more curious what other people thought this might be or what they've experienced here, assuming at least someone in the world reading this post someday might live or work in one of these buildings.
And perhaps this is just the exact same point, repeated, but the notion that every city has these deeper wounds and removals that nonetheless never disappear is just incredible to me. You cut something out—and it becomes a building a generation later. You remove an entire street—and it becomes someone's living room.
I remember first learning that one of the auditoriums at the Barbican Art Centre in London is shaped the way it is because it was built inside a former WWII bomb crater, and simply reeling at the notion that all of these negative spaces left scattered and invisible around the city could take on architectural form.
Like ghosts appearing out of nowhere—or like China Miéville's fluttering half-streets, conjured out of the urban injuries we all live within and too easily mistake for property lines and real estate, amidst architectural incisions that someday become swimming pools and parking lots.
*Update* Some further "ghost streets" have popped up in the comments here, and the images are worth posting.
—is "a block in the Pico-Robertson area," a commenter writes:
I lived there as a teenager, but never noticed the two diagonals until I looked at it with google maps. There are some lots on the west side of the next two blocks north which also have diagonals. And if you continue north across Pico Blvd, you can see diagonal property lines around St. Mary Magdalene Catholic School and the church.
Thanks for all the tips, and by all means keep them coming, if you are aware of other sites like this, whether in Los Angeles or further afield; and be sure to read through the comments for more.
*Second Update* The examples keep coming. A commenter named Lance Morris explains that he did an MFA project "about this very thing, but in Long Beach. There's a long diagonal scar running from Long Beach Blvd and Willow all the way down to Belmont Shore. I tried walking as closely to the line as I could and GPS tracked the results. There are even 2 areas where you can still see tracks!"
This inspired me to look around the area a little bit on Google Maps, which led to another place nearby, as seen below.
Again, seeing how these local building forms have been generated by the outlines of a missing street or streetcar line is pretty astonishing.
Further, the tiniest indicators of these lost throughways remain visible from above, usually in the form of triangular building cuts or geometrically odd storage yards and parking lots. Because they all align—like some strange industrial ley line—you can deduce that an older piece of transportation infrastructure is now missing.
Indeed, if you zoom out from there in the map, you'll see that the subtle diagonal line cutting across the above image (from the lower left to the upper right) is, in fact, an old rail right of way that leads from the shore further inland.
To give a sense of how incredibly subtle some of these signs can be, the diagonal fence seen in the below screen grab—
—is actually shaped that way not because of some quirk of the local storage lot manager, but because it follows this lost right of way.
*Third Update* There are yet more interesting examples popping up now over in a thread on Metafilter.
There, among other notable comments, someone called univac points out that the streetcar scar that "begins on 8th St. at Hobart, and ends at Pico and Rimpau"—quoting an earlier commenter here on BLDGBLOG—"actually has one echo in the diagonally-stepped building here, and picks up again in the block bounded by Wilton, Westchester, 9th and San Marino, and ends at a crooked building just north of 4th and Olympic."
In the above image, you can see a small structure—a garage or a house—turned slightly off-axis in the northeast corner, indicating the line of the old streetcar line, with some open lawns and small paved areas revealing its obscured geometry as you look down to the southwest.
I watched this video with the typical ennui of your average internet user—expecting to hear nothing at all, really, before going back to other forms of online procrastination—but holy Hannah. This is a pretty loud building.
Although I would be making surreptitious ambient field recordings—and rhapsodizing to my sleepless friends about the unrealized acoustic dimensions of contemporary architecture—I have to say I'd be pretty unenthused to have this thing howling all day, everyday, in my neighborhood.
The actual target of the study was the hawkmoth, and four types of flowers were designed and produced to help understand the geometry of moth/flower interactions, including how "the hawkmoth responded to each of the flower shapes" and "how the flower shape affected the ability of the moth to use its proboscis (the long tube it uses as a mouth)."
Of course, a very similar experiment could have been done using handmade model flowers—not 3D printers—and thus could also have been performed with little fanfare generations ago.
But the idea that a surrogate landscape can now be so accurately designed and manufactured by printheads that it can be put into service specifically for the purpose of cross-species dissimulation—that it, tricking species other than humans into thinking that these flowers are part of a natural ecosystem—is extraordinary.
Many, many years ago, I was sitting in a park in Providence, Rhode Island, one afternoon reading a copy of Germinal Life by Keith Ansell Pearson. The book had a large printed flower on its front cover, wrapping over onto the book's spine.
Incredibly, at one point in the afternoon a small bee seemed to become confused by the image, as the bee kept returning over and over again to land on the spine and crawl around there—which, of course, might have had absolutely nothing to do with the image of a printed flower, but, considering the subject matter of Ansell Pearson's book, this was not without significant irony.
It was as if the book itself had become a participant in, or even the mediator of, a temporary human/bee ecosystem, an indirect assemblage created by this image, this surrogate flower.
In any case, the image of little gardens or entire, wild landscapes of 3D-printed flowers so detailed they appear to be organic brought me to look a little further into the work of Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg, a few pieces of whose you can see in the opening image at the top of this post.
Their 3D-printed floral and coral forms are astonishing.
Rosenkrantz's Flickr page gives as clear an indication as anything of what their formal interests and influences are: photos of coral, lichen, moss, mushrooms, and wildflowers pop up around shots of 3D-printed models.
They sometimes blend in so well, they appear to be living specimens.
[Image: Spot the model; from Jessica Rosenkrantz's Flickr page].
There is an attention to accuracy and detail in each piece that is obvious at first glance, but that is also made even more clear when you see the sorts of growth-studies they perform to understand how these sorts of systems branch and expand through space.
Anyway, while this work is not, of course, related to the hawkmoth study with which this post began, it's nonetheless pretty easy to get excited about the scientific and aesthetic possibilities opened up by some entirely speculative future collaboration between these sorts of 3D-printed models and laboratory-based ecological research.
One day, you receive a mysterious invitation to visit a small glass atrium constructed atop an old warehouse somewhere on the outskirts of New York City. You arrive, baffled as to what it is you're meant to see, when you notice, even from a great distance, that the room is alive with small colorful shapes, flickering around what appears to be a field of delicate flowers. As you approach the atrium, someone opens a door for you and you step inside, silent, slightly stunned, noticing that there is life everywhere: there are lichens, orchids, creeping vines, and wildflowers, even cacti and what appears to be a coral reef somehow inexplicably growing on dry land.
But the room does not smell like a garden; the air instead is charged with a light perfume of adhesives.
Everything you see has been 3D-printed, which comes as a shock as you begin to see tiny insects flittering from flowerhead to flowerhead, buzzing through laceworks of creeping vines and moss—until you look even more carefully and realize that they, too, have been 3D-printed, that everything in this beautiful, technicolor room is artificial, and that the person standing quietly at the other end of the room amidst a tangle of replicant vegetation is not a gardener at all but a geometrician, watching for your reaction to this most recent work.
Citing a new report in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Curbed LA points out that "parking infrastructure takes up about 200 square miles of land in LA county."
That's more than four San Franciscos' worth of space (46.87 square miles) and nearly five times the size of Paris (40.7 square miles). Or, as Janette Sadik-Khan wrote on Twitter, "LA County has 85% more parking spots than people, occupying more space than the entire city of Philly."
I've got a new article up over at New Scientist looking at the so-called "ghost cities" of China, and where exactly they can be found. This is not as straightforward as it might seem:
It seems hard to lose track of an entire city. But that appears to be what’s taken place—and not just once, but over and over again. The infamous “ghost cities” of China have become a favorite internet meme of the past half-decade. These ghost cities are meant to be sprawling wastelands of empty streets and uninhabited megastructures, without a human being in sight. But for all the discussion, do these places really exist?
The rest of the piece looks at various strategies put to use not only for quantifying but for simply locating these developments in the first place. This includes data analysis and satellite photography—but, just as compellingly, on-the-ground firsthand exploration.
Here, I talked to photographer Kai Caemmerer who has recently undertaken a series of photos exploring what he calls "unborn cities," or cities not dead and expired—that is, not ghost cities—but cities that are incomplete and still awaiting their future populations.
"Unlike many Western cities that begin as small developments and grow in accordance with local industries, gathering community and history as they age," Caemmerer explains, "these areas are built to the point of near completion before introducing people."
Because of this, there is an interim period between the final phases of development and when the areas become noticeably populated, when many of the buildings stand empty, occasionally still cloaked in scrim. During this phase of development, sensationalist Western media often describe them as defunct "ghost cities," which fails to recognize that they are built on an urban model, timeline, and scale that is simply unfamiliar to the methods of Western urbanization.
Caemmerer continued, pointing out that his interest in ostensibly empty urban environments is not about shaming China, or implying that unused architectural space is somehow only a non-Western problem. In fact, in another series—a few example of which I hope to post here in the near-future—Caemmerer turns his lens on his own home city of Chicago.
"I'm interested in what happens to the urban landscape when those who it was built for are not present," he explained to me. "More specifically, I'm interested in what can be revealed by the architecture when it appears vacant. "
BLDGBLOG ("building blog") is written by Geoff Manaugh. The opinions expressed here are my own; they do not reflect the views of my friends, editors, employers, publishers, or colleagues, with whom this blog is not affiliated. More.