Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

February 5, 2015

Maghoki Attar mosque, Bukhara

Just a few photos of this extraordinary “mishmash of the original 12th-century building (mainly in the southern facade and doorways) and the 16th-century reconstruction.” Like most of Bukhara’s historical mosques, it’s currently in use as a carpet shop (or “museum”). Photographed in 2004

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And while I’m at it, everyone’s favourite Chor Minar (four towers):

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October 3, 2013

Wargaming, sculpture and architecture

Patrick Stuart of the RPG blog False Machine writes a lot of very provocative meditations on art, gaming, writing and so on. This is the first time I’ve seen him take on the phenomenology of architecture, and… it just might be the most interesting thing I’ve ever read on the subject.
Mini’s might be like sculpture, but the battlefield is more like a cathedral… They are information-producing spaces. The information is a narrative.  In the cathedral the story is the religion. It never changes, but you are meant to. 

The battlefield is a story you create and reshape moment by moment.

The cathedral is a space you transit through, saints and the like look down on you from above. The battlefield is a space you create and change as you play. In both cases there is a kind of movement through the space, one literally with your body, the other with your intent and minds-eye.
…Most of what you see of you miniatures on the table is them facing away from you. Yes you can, and will see them from every other angle as the game goes on. But the primary, the assumed angle is from behind and from above, at about 75 (I think) degrees.
This is the same angle from which the Saints view you. Which explains why a great many religions are obsessed with certain headgears, robes and haircuts. It’s because God is looking at you from the same angle. 75 degrees. From behind. He wants you to have a distinctive reverse silhouette so he can pick you out of your squad. In case he needs to grab you.
Computer wargames (especially “real time strategy” games like original Warcraft, Command and Conquer) of course adopt the same perspective (because their markets grew out of tabletop wargamers and because of the same practical reasons used on the tabletop – that’s how you and Napoleon and Garry Kasparov find it easiest to move forces around)…
But they’ve largely abandoned this view in their advertising – which is supposed to “immerse” (involve and implicate) you in the game’s world and get you to identify with the characters
maybe because the actual experience of play is adapted for utility of interaction, not maximum visual impact,
maybe because actually playing the game looks kinda nerdy. By which I mean containing purposes and interactions not immediately obvious to bystanders.
And as the mode of interaction becomes “freer” (less continuously directed toward a defined set of goals) so the amount of incidental space in the game increases and the screen of the player becomes less entertaining to bystanders.
June 10, 2013

Really brilliant piece of space-hacking for public awareness campaign




These corner-hugging stencil-graffitti posters are the work of Argentinian sex workers’ political organization Ammar. The message is that 86% of sex workers in Argentina are mothers – and that they want proper legal regulation.

Architecture very often appears in service to graphic design – it’s not often that graphic design gets featured on this architecture blog (or anything recently, actually) – but this is a smart smart use of a very simple spatial unit. Viewpoints frame, and here for a change they are commented on. The derive is the message.

Also it’s, like, on a street corner. It requires walking to understand. That is some kind of situated and bodily communication right there.

November 28, 2011

technology and landscape

This is more interesting than anything I might have to say about it – the ironic effects of landmines on the preservation of natural landscapes, placing woods, meadows, and even remote country roads off-limits, fatally tainted terrains given back to animals and vegetation. Reminds me of the surveys of Bikini Atoll 50 years after the nuclear tests, which found wildlife in considerably better condition than that which had been exposed to tourism over the same period.

At the other end of the landthreat spectrum, Tsunami Escape Pod is a great name for a band, but the artifact sadly doesn’t look either as functional or as gojirapunk as you might hope. … it measures 4 feet in diameter, can house up to four  adults [um? For how long?] …Inside you won’t find any safety-belts or webbing and there doesn’t seem to be much padding – just a vertical bar which survivors are expected to hold onto while bouncing off buildings and debris. Right. Also, on the plus side a buoyant sphere is a good choice of shape for dealing with unpredictable threats but on the minus side, it’s completely uncontrollable, unstabilizable, and incapable of dealing with threats like sudden acceleration or crushing by other flotsam. Reminds me of Roger Dean’s retreat pod, only more paranoi.

It looks like even if you get swept out to see there’s no chance of escaping google – which is part of a robot vessel/sensor-pod scheme, to gather data about the oceans. Which in turn reminds me of how little we know about the deep sea, and how comparable such ventures are to the Mars Rover.

September 28, 2011

Join the Navy…

US: to help people (“America’s Navy – a global force for good”). [ahem. That’s why they need all those weapons?]

Russia: to shoot stuff [ahem. To the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack]

Japan: for love! And dancing.

India: to do stuff in formation [to Carmina Burana]

Philippines: for constancy AND change, stability AND excitement.



May 30, 2011

20,000 leagues in 84 days

Naval History Blog tells us that submarine USS Triton circumnavigated the globe on, or under, Magellan’s route in 84 days in 1960.

Sure, it’s not actually 20,000 leagues. Maybe 9,000. But imagine if they’d found a hole in the mid-Pacific trench and journeyed to the centre of the Earth?

March 21, 2011

The last days of Old Kashgar

Somehow it completely passed me by that in 2009-2010 the Chinese government took a bulldozer to one of its great cultural treasures. Stefan Geens managed to dash in when the job was half done and documented what became of Kashgar.

Other cities across Central Asia have received similar treatment, some before and some after receiving their UNESCO World Heritage status. Kashgar was supposed to be one of the last major, ancient urban centres to retain its domestic architecture and urban fabric, and now it’s gone, erased by the Chinese government just as surely as it could have been by any earthquake or volcano or wave (it’s about as far as you can get from the sea on Earth, BTW).

Here’s his flickr set. One of the crowning ironies for me is that other cities, under Soviet and post-Soviet tutelage, have also erased their fabric, while leaving the big showy mosques intact. And shorn of their context, the mosques seem really strange. The delightful, important thing about a mosque courtyard is its openness in the middle of a teeming city. Take the city away and you have a collection of empty eggshells. Which kinda seem to act as metaphors for Islam under the socialist empires. Bukhara, which I did visit, and Khiva and Samarkand, which I didn’t get to, have suffered museumification of this kind, but those were the lucky cities – Tashkent was torn down by imperial invaders, Ashgabat and Astana were gutted by their post-Soviet dictators to be remade as swagger projects of modernity.  And now there goes another one. And there won’t ever be another of the same scale or antiquity or importance.

So thanks, PRC. You’ve achieved at Kashgar what Genghis Khan did at Merv.

February 9, 2011

dissertations of interest?

Danielle Bobker: The shape of intimacy: Private space and the British social imagination, 1650–1770 (diss, Rutgers, 2007)
deals with “closets” and carriages in England, development of these intimate spaces beside increasing public space.

Negotiating public landscapes: History, archaeology, and the material culture of colonial Chesapeake towns, 1680 to 1720 (diss, nothing more known right now)

On prisons – Published book: viviane saleh-hanna: Colonial Systems of Control, criminal justice in Nigeria

I’m searching for a good, memorable title. My wife wisely notes that such a title needn’t have a clear relationship to the topic at hand (“Spatial Analysis of VOC Ships” is probably not what I’m looking for). Right now I’m thinking “Worse than Turks,” but my hat’s off to Mark Driscoll for Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque: The Living, Dead, and Undead in Japan’s Imperialism, 1895–1945. Really, once you’ve got eroticised undead in there, the form of your title doesn’t matter any more. Maybe I should go with Zombie Perverts of the VOC?

Slightly more seriously, Rediker’s Villains of All Nations is pretty good. Maybe I could use Scum of the Earth (J. P. Coen’s assessment of VOC sailors, though it stands rather in the shadow of Fanon) or Brigands and Gallows-birds (names thrown at some of my mutineers).

February 2, 2011

another turning point in maritime history?

An Indian frigate has sunk after colliding with a merchant ship.

Maybe it’s horribly Eurocentric or just stupidly historicist of me, but I feel that in tussles like this the merchant ship should come off worse. I’m wondering if there’s another decisive moment here in the evolution of ships, toward ever larger scales and proportionally ever more frail hulls. By 1600 a lot of merchant ships had to be beached extremely carefully to avoid breaking. At what point did it become suicidal to knock into another ship without actually intending to ram?

January 7, 2011

Yoko Arisaka, Hubert Dreyfus and Martin Heidegger

I’ve read bits of Being and Time, and I’ve found it to be utter gibberish. Well, actually I’m not even confident in saying that. I have repeatedly failed to find any thesis in it; it seems to me to consist of all the connective tissue of argument but I have no idea where the organs are.

Dreyfus I’ve found to be very nearly as opaque as Heidegger himself (although this might help: the man speaking rather than writing). I can at least detect some direction in Dreyfus, even if his terminology, his assertions and his leaps bewilder me. My experience of reading Dreyfus is that I repeatedly fake it through a page or two, hoping that something concrete will come along to glue all the bits of argument together that he’s thrown into my brain, and then he’ll hit me with something that instead makes me realise I haven’t been following him at all.

So I am enormously grateful to Yoko Arisaka, whose papers on the spatiality of Being and Time are lucid, understandable and follow clear paths of argumentation. Who supplies information I can actually take away and think about.

Is it Heidegger? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. It’s certainly interesting in its own right. I shall just be careful to cite her as Arisaka, an original thinker, based (as they say in Hollywood) on Heidegger.