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England’s eccentric ‘New Brutalist’ architects, The Smithsons
06.30.2014
10:52 am

Topics:
Design

Tags:
architecture
The Smithsons

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Though they only designed a handful of buildings during their four decades career, British architects Alison and Peter Smithson were amongst the most influential and controversial pioneers of the New Brutalist movement. The husband and wife partnership achieved early success by winning a competition to design Hunstanton Secondary Modern School in Norfolk, England in May 1950, but due to post-war steel shortages, the school was not constructed until 1954.

Their design of a “single oblong with three internal courtyards—the middle of which is roofed to provide the school with a hall” was made from steel, concrete and glass and owed much to Mies van der Rohe for its style and structure. The construction was highly praised by fellow architects, including Philip Johnson who wrote in the Architectural Review in 1954:

...the plan is not only radical but good Mies van der Rohe, yet the architects have never seen Mies’s work. And though the Smithsons may not agree, much of the excellence of their work is a tribute not only to themselves but also to the genius of Mies van der Rohe.

Johnson was wrong on one point, the Smithsons had seen the work of van der Rohe. However the building also had its detractors in particular the children and teachers who used the building claimed it was too hot in summer and unbearably cold in winter.
 
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When the completed school was photographed for architectural journals Peter had every piece of furniture removed from the interior to best show the building in its pristine glory. There of course is the problem, for what makes architecture seem good on paper, is often foiled the moment humans inhabit the space.

The Smithsons moved away from van der Rohe and embraced Le Corbusier and his ideas for urban planning as propagated through the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM). They described themselves as the “New Brutalists,” and their early success was followed by almost a decade without commissions. This may have been in part due to the institutionalized sexism of the day—in a world where a woman architect was almost unheard of—and also to the couple’s didactic and over-bearing personalities. As Rachel Cooke put it in her essay on Alison Smithson in her excellent book Her Brilliant Career:

[Alison] and Peter were increasingly convinced that, at bottom, the drought was personal—that competition judges and planning officers had only to see their names on a drawing to lose interest. It had been a political statement, of sorts, to call their partnership ‘Alison and Peter Smithson’, and Alison now suggested, only half-jokingly, that they should start using only Peter’s name, or even a pseudonym.

The dry spell would continue for the rest of the Fifties. But it wasn’t only their designs that caused people to baulk. Somewhere along the way the Smithsons gained a reputation for being difficult. Specifically, Alison gained a reputation for being difficult. ‘The problem was that she could upset clients,’ says a former assistant. ‘It wasn’t just the case that she thought she was right; the client should do what she said too. That didn’t go down well.’ Another architect: ‘Alison whined. She was relentless. Her voice was relentless. She had a chip on her shoulder.’ And another: ‘I found her difficult. She had a beastly temper, and she could be horrid to people.’ And here is Jane Drew: ‘I thought her voice always had a moan in it somewhere.’ I take all of these comments with a pinch of salt; visible women in male-dominated professions are often characterised as shrill, bossy, chippy, stubborn and complaining, even by other visible women. On the other hand, Alison could be exasperating. Even those who loved her will tell you so.

 
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The Smithsons next major project was “The Economist Building” (1959-62) in London, which proved to be successful with both commissioner (chairman of The Economist, Sir Geoffrey Crowther) and the magazine’s staff. The Smithsons wrote of the project:

[The Economist] had the nerve to commission and to build their own building, without any previous experience of how to do such a thing; allowing their architects to shape their work space with its presence in St. James’s Street, Piccadilly, to its filling systems and taps in the lavatories.

Some consider “The Economist Building” to be the Smithson’s masterpiece that has “withstood the flow of time.” But yet again, the success of a concrete and glass building did not last long and the couple were faced with another spell without commissions.
 
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This changed at the end of the decade, when Alison and Peter bagged their biggest public commission from the London County Council to build a modern housing estate, consisting of two long concrete tower blocks.

The scheme had a pretty name: Robin Hood Gardens. But though it looked fabulously arresting in photographs, as such egg boxes always do, it was not at all pretty in the flesh. It consisted of two non-identical slab blocks of pre-cast concrete, ‘split like a kipper’ as Peter put it, and bent around a green mound made with the spoil of the buildings it replaced. There were 213 [apartments] in all, access to which was provided by [elevators] at the end of every block and continuous decks that ran the full length.

Robin Hood Gardens was occupied in 1971, and completed in 1972, at a cost of £1,845,585. Vandals began their angry work soon after the first residents moved in. The facilities at the base of the building—the social centre and the laundrette among them—closed just weeks later.

 
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In 1970, novelist B. S. Johnson was commissioned by the BBC to make a documentary on Alison and Peter Smithson and the building of Robin Hood Gardens. Called The Smithsons on Housing, the documentary was damningly criticized on its screening by both BBC management (who thought it disappointing and amateurish) and by critics. Johnson was a fan of the Smithsons but one would never guess it from his documentary, the main fault of which is the manner in which he collaborated with the couple in presenting them in horrendous mid-close-up, talking directly and endlessly to camera. They come across as unsympathetic and unlikable and it perhaps explains why they were often unsuccessful in their careers. Or, as Jonathan Coe described the film in his biography on Johnson Like a Fiery Elephant:

Watching it today is a positively eerie experience. This is not just a question of hindsight—of knowing that the brave new housing project which these two theorists discuss with such daunting intellectual fervour would come to be regarded, by many, as a social and architectural disaster—but of the whole atmosphere of the film, an atmosphere dictated by the screen presence of Peter and Alison Smithson themselves. Never can late ‘60s fashions have looked so eccentric, for one thing. Sitting upright at what appears to be a kitchen table in extreme close-up, reading cue cards with all the expressive variety of a dalek with a PhD, Alison Smithson appears to be wearing a child’s spacesuit improvised out of tin foil for much of the film. The effect is frankly terrifying, and it’s frequently hard to concentrate on what either of them is saying.

Over-earnestness can undermine the most well intentioned speaker and here the Smithson’s veer between Monty Python’s “most boring man” and one of Eleanor Bron’s satirical characters, which is unfortunate, as in amongst the suggestion of making London a future Venice or admitting that they “maybe asking people to live in a way that is stupid,” there are some interesting ideas. However, Johnson’s film is a powerful presentation of why the Smithsons were perceived so unsympathetically by their critics, as they come across as zealots, who cared more for the theory of architecture than the practice of living.
 

 
More of The Smithsons after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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The house that’s decorated in beer cans

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If you’ve ever wanted an interesting way to recycle all those empty beer cans left after a weekend party, then take a tip from retired bus driver Phil Muspratt, who has clad his house in Hartlepool, England with over 75,000 of them.

Muspratt started collecting beer cans and bottles in 2005, and soon began sticking the empties to the outside of his house. It’s been thirsty work, as for every eight cans there’s a drunken man, for every 150 there’s been a party. At roughly a dollar a can, you could say Mr. Muspratt has added considerable value to his home.

The house has become a tourist attraction, but there are plans to demolish it along with over 70 other houses in the area. A campaign has been started to save the Mr. Muspratt’s art house but going by the lack of activity on the the supporter’s Facebook page, it’s unclear whether “Can House” will survive.

In 2012, first time director Maxy Neil Bianco made a documentary about Phil Muspratt’s endeavors:

The Can House is a piece of contemporary folk art, made by Phil, a man on the margins of society, a man who’s life is in freefall. This is what you come up with when you run out of nothing- the Can House is an act of defiance, a two fingers up to the hand of fate, to a world slowly degenerating and disappearing. It is a memorial to alcoholism and to wasted lives, but it is also an act of creativity that gives Phil"s life a sense of meaning, that helps it make some kind of sense.

Hartlepool is known as the city that supposedly tried and hung a monkey as a spy during the Napoleonic wars in the 1800s (though it has also been suggested this was no ape but a “powder monkey,” the name given to young boys who served on ships of war). The legend of the hanged monkey is still associated with Hartlepool, but perhaps it’s time to move on and have the city associated with something equally bizarre, like Phil Muspratt’s “Can House”?
 
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With thanks to Paul D. Brazill
 
More pictures of ‘Can House’ after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Twin Peaks-themed shower curtains
05.21.2014
11:37 am

Topics:
Amusing
Design
Movies
Television

Tags:
Twin Peaks


 
I have a thing for unusual shower curtains. I guess it’s because my bathroom is totally boring and bland and just the right one adds a certain je ne sais quoi. Or maybe I’m just a weirdo with a shower curtain fetish? (If that’s not a thing yet, it will be.)

I picked a few Twin Peaks-inspired curtains I liked the best. The links underneath the images lead to where you can purchase them.


Twin Peaks Map by Robert Farkas available here for $69.95.
 

Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer - Pixel Portrait available here for $68.00
 

Agent Dale Cooper / Twin Peaks available here for $68
 

David Lynch Signature Cup Coffee (Rabbit Blend) available here for $68
 

Black Lodge Dreams (Twin Peaks) available here for $68
 

Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks available here for $68
 
More after the jump…
 

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Bulgaria’s abandoned monument to Communism looks like a decaying spaceship
05.16.2014
09:04 am

Topics:
Design
History

Tags:
Bulgaria
Buzludzha
Roman Veillon


 
Photographer Roman Veillon captures rotting and decrepit sites of abandonment. While his overgrown mansions and dilapidated discotheques are certainly mesmerizing, it’s his pictures of Buzludzha Monument, set high in the Balkans of Bulgaria that feel truly otherworldly—simultaneously ghostly and futuristic.

Built in 1981, Buzludzha Monument looks like the ship ruins of an ancient race of alien apparatchiks. The site is totally closed off from the public now (Veillon had to sneak in). Its abandonment is nothing short of a tragedy. Aside from the singular architecture (which took seven years and 6,000 workers to complete), the interior is filled with beautifully ornate mosaic work, much of which was created by the foremost Bulgarian artists of the time.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Via Dazed

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Ultra Modernism: The groovy interiors of Verner Panton
05.12.2014
08:39 am

Topics:
Design

Tags:
Verner Panton
interior design


Visiona 2, 1970
 
Danish designer Verner Panton’s dreamy colorful interiors are completely antithetical to the Scandinavian modernism that dominated contemporary design in the mid 50s. Panton, who was primarily an architect at the time, used to pack up his models in a Volkswagen and travel across Europe in hopes of finding a designer or manufacturer willing to produce his work on a mass scale. It was his famous cone chair in 1959 that really made his reputation as a groundbreaking designer—in New York police ordered it be removed from the display window, since the spectacle was causing an obstructive crowd on the sidewalk. From there his work advanced and matured into some of the most radical interior design on the 1960s. 

In addition to highly experimental ideas on housing (plastic, cardboard, and collapsible were all concepts he explored), Panton was known for designing absolutely everything—from futuristic light fixtures to conceptual furniture to loud fabrics. Though his work is still quite prized today, folks usually pick out a single Panton chair or lamp as a bold accent piece. It’s when he was given free reign to design a room from scratch though, that he was able to create these otherworldly spaces. Panton’s rooms—or environments perhaps—are certainly jolting, but they’re also cohesive, balanced and exotically beautiful.
 

Visiona 2, 1970
 

Visiona 2, 1970
 

Visiona 2, 1970
 

Spiegel publishing house waiting area, Hamburg, 1969
 

Spiegel publishing house swimming pool, Hamburg, 1969
 

Varna restaurant, Aarhus Denmark, 1971
 

Private apartment in Copenhagen, 1994-1999
 

Living Sculpture, 1972
 

 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Extremely detailed miniature ‘Addams Family’ set
05.05.2014
10:20 am

Topics:
Design
Television

Tags:
The Addams Family


 
I like teeny-tiny things. I especially like this handmade scale model of The Addams Family set by Los Angeles-based Etsy seller Everyday Miniatures. Paper, foam board, printed paper, time, glue and a lot of patience were used to make this wee set.

You can buy the finished model here or you can purchase the instuctions here to make your own.
 

 

 

 
Below, some rarely-seen color photographs of The Addams Family set from an old TV Guide. I would have never guessed their digs were so… vibrant?! Totally unexpected color choices. Gomez And Morticia Addams liked pink?! Who knew?
 

 

 

 
Via Boing Boing

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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N.W.A. alumnus Ice Cube waxes philosophical on modern architecture
04.01.2014
06:56 am

Topics:
Art
Design
Hip-hop

Tags:
architecture
Ice Cube
Eames


Ice Cube reenacting this famous photo of Charles Eames
 
A few days ago, a friend and I were discussing the bourgeois assumption that the “lower classes” do not enjoy “high art.” Part and parcel to this snobbery, there’s the idea that the wealthy are automatically “cultured,” a myth easily dispelled by a quick glance at the nouveau riche so often paraded on reality TV. Anyone can be tacky, but rich people have the means to really take tacky to its highest heights—and I say this as a long-standing fan of “tacky!”

Still, it’s always nice to learn that a former hardscrabble member of the hoi polloi has staked their claim to the artistic traditions of the monied, so I was pleased as punch to learn that Ice Cube has a penchant for modern architecture, specifically for modernist husband and wife duo, Charles and Ray Eames. Apparently Ice left El Lay to study architectural drafting at the Phoenix Institute of Technology before his career with N.W.A took off. The video below is a promotion for “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980,” an exhibit that ran from 2011 to 2012 at the Getty Institute. As Ice opines the beauty and dynamism of Los Angeles, the parallels between the prefab design of the Eames and rap are made obvious, when he declares, “They was doing mash-ups before mash-ups even existed.”

Nowadays the name “Ice Cube” can illicit a little bit of disdain in a certain crowd—his acting in family-friendly movies apparently cost him some kind of mythical “credibility.” But from the looks of the man in this video, he’s clearly still just a guy who likes what he likes, and he doesn’t really give a fuck what anyone else thinks.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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‘Real-life’ Marge Simpson is jaw-dropping (and kinda terrifying)


 
This is truly something else. And before you all yell “photoshop” and “fake”—I monitor the comments here on Dangerous Minds sometimes so I’m accustomed to all the usual comment tropes—it’s very real. Moscow-based photographer Alexander Khokhlov captures these extraordinary images with super-talented make-up artists, designers and expert lighting.

While this “real life” Marge Simpson is simply fascinating to look at, she’s still somewhat unsettling and terrifying, right?!?

There’s a video below showing you how Khokhlov and his team created Marge. I highly recommend muting the music. It’s godawful and distracting.

 
Via Geekologie

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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IKEA’s Expedit line is biting the dust, and vinyl nuts aren’t happy about it
02.18.2014
09:32 am

Topics:
Design
Music

Tags:
IKEA

Expedit
 
IKEA recently announced that they are discontinuing their Expedit line of bookshelves—at least in Germany—and the news has sparked an intense reaction among German vinyl enthusiasts. For a generation now, Expedit has been the shelf of choice for record collectors, who don’t care to imagine life without the line. It seems to be the case that IKEA product lines are not specific to countries—if that’s true, then that probably means that IKEAs in America will also cease carrying the Expedit line soon, too.
 
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Since mid-January there has been a Facebook group dedicated to saving the Expedit. “Rettet das Ikea Expedit Regal” (Save the IKEA Expedit bookshelf) has already amassed 5,820 “likes” in just over a month. Record collectors united!
 
Expedit
“Last chance! We’re always making room for new things. The EXPEDIT series is exiting the product line. Take advantage while it’s still here!”
 
The Kallax line has been announced as the replacement for Expedit. It is a close match to Expedit and will certainly do a fine job holding your LPs. However, if you already have Expedits in your home and need your next shelf to match, you’d better stock up now. The user “soundscope” on the 35hz.co.uk message forum pointed out that the sides are not nearly as thick. Even worse, a Facebook user on the “Rettet das Ikea Expedit Regal” suggested that Kallax has no 5x5 version, which Expedit does offer.
 
Kallax
 
All things are temporary in this life, including mass-produced bookshelf lines. As the Sufi poets of medieval Persia once said, “This too shall pass.” But those guys didn’t collect vinyl.
 

Here’s a useful guide to the Expedit line for record collectors:
 

 
via Kraftfuttermischwerk

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘Movies R Fun!’: R-rated movies drawn in the style of a children’s book
02.17.2014
08:49 am

Topics:
Amusing
Books
Design
Movies

Tags:
Josh Cooley


The Graduate
 
Pixar storyboard artist Josh Cooley‘s new book Movies R Fun!: A Collection of Cinematic Classics for the Pre-(Film) School Cinephile will be available to purchase on March 1.

I’m going to hold out for Cooley’s XXX version children’s book.
 
The Godfather
 

Rosemary’s Baby
 

Léon: The Professional
 

Seven
 

Fargo
 

Blues Brothers
 
Apocalypse Now

Pan’s Labyrinth
 

Silence of the Lambs

Via Imgur

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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