Urban Observatory: TED Co-Founder’s New Civic Data Platform

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[ By WebUrbanist in Gaming & Computing & Technology. ]

urban observatory splash page

This new project brings a whole world’s worth of metropolitan data to your fingertips via both an online application and an upcoming installation at the Smithsonian Museum, courtesy of TED founder Richard Saul Wurman. A rich virtual resource, it represents the work of over 15,000 contributing cartographers and designers from 200 countries.

urban observatory monitor picture

Collecting and data big and small, static and live, the multi-media Urban Observatory allows (and encourages) comprehensible and comprehensive visual comparisons between cities on various fascinating fronts.

urban observatory touch screens

While it continues to solicit data sets to expand its offerings, already people can look into housing and population density of young and old urban residents, transit patterns for cars, trains and planes, open spaces and much more.

urban observatory chart detail

Want to learn about how traffic patterns differ between a spread-out city like Los Angeles versus central London, or see how home prices differ between New York and Tokyo in an intuitively interactive way? Now you can do all of these in one place and using a straightforward and user-friendly interface. From its creators: “The Urban Observatory is an interactive exhibit that gives you the chance to compare and contrast data from cities around the world–all from one location. It aims to make the world’s data both understandable and useful. Brought to life by Richard Saul Wurman, Radical Media, and Esri, it is the first exhibit of its kind.”

urban observatory demonstration installation

The spatial installation component is coming to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, in 2015. More from VentureBeat: “It was a massive undertaking. Cartographers and computer scientists used big data sets, helped by 3D graphics and Landsat, NASA’s satellite program that captures incredibly detailed images of the earth’s surface, to look back at the last 40 years of city development. It provided scientists insight into how the planet is developing – and how to help save it.”


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Cargo Canvases: 6 Street Artists Paint 22 Stacked Containers

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[ By WebUrbanist in Art & Street Art & Graffiti. ]

cargo container greek gods

Towers constructed from shipping container modules formed the blank basis behind this series of incredible giant-sized, site-specific artworks using spray paint and pole brushes.

cargo shipping container art

cargo container blank canvas

For the North West Walls Street Art Festival in Belgium, curated by Arne Quinze, each contributor was encouraged to compose something on one side of each of three unique and random-seeming stacks.

cargo art under construction

cargo container stacked progress

cargo container art details

cargo shipping art finished

Famous graffiti artists Pichi & Avo added an array of Greek gods to their chosen canvas, framing the brilliantly-rendered figures in contemporary style, using warm-colored graffiti to create a stark contrast around them.

cargo container finished zoo

cargo container upper view

A play on the artist’s name and implicit commentary on creatures in captive zoo conditions, Roa’s Ark features a series of caged and chained animals each contained in one of the cargo units, the effectively black-and-white composition intentionally devoid of bright colors.

cargo container death mask

cargo container lift crane

cargo art strange face

Other contributors included Jen Zie and Martin Ron, adding further colorful and abstract creations to the mix. Together, the finished works represent a wonderful array of approaches, some playing on history, references and culture and others on visual effects, depth and perception.


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Guerrilla Lace: Prettied-Up Urban Surfaces in Poland

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[ By Steph in Art & Street Art & Graffiti. ]

Urban Lace 1

Urban sidewalks, sewer grates and dingy underpasses aren’t exactly the most likely places to find beautiful large-scale ornamental lace, but for artist NeSpoon Polska, that’s exactly where it belongs. The Polish artist creates both spray-painted street art and crocheted installations for interactive displays in all sorts of public spaces, from street lamps to abandoned houses.

Urban Lace 3

Urban Lace 7

Urban Lace 2

Urban Lace 4

Urban Lace 6

Calling it ‘illegal city decor’ and ‘public jewelry,’ Polska wanders around Warsaw, swiftly painting parking meters, utility boxes, blank signs and other blank (and often ugly) urban surfaces. Some, like a giant mural taking up almost the entire side of a three-story building, are created with permission.

Urban Lace 8

Urban Lace 9

Urban Lace 5

Urban Lace 10

“Jewelry makes people look pretty, my public jewelry has the same goal, make public places look better. I would like people who discover, here and there, my small applications, to smile and just simply feel better,” says the artist.


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Fairytale Retreats: 15 Magical BlueForest Tree Houses

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[ By Steph in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

Blueforest Treehouses Main

Daydream about an ideal fairytale retreat in the forest, and what you envision will likely look a lot like these 14 amazing arboreal creations. There’s simply no other word for them but ‘magical,’ and UK-based builder Blueforest has that style down pat with conical towers, Gothic windows, quirky cedar shingles and swaying rope bridges.

Living the Highlife Tree House

Blueforest Highlife Treehouse

Two separate retreats, one for kids and one for adults, are lofted high into the sky and connected by a canopy walkway at the ‘Living the Highlife’ treehouse. The adult section features a castle-style conical thatched roof, while the kids’ has three medieval towers, one of which contains a games room accessed by secret trap door.

Willow Nook Tree House
Blueforest Willow Nook Tree House

How much relaxation can you even handle? The Willow Nook Tree House is not only a tranquil getaway set among flowering greenery, it’s got a wood stove, a cedar hot tub on its deck, and a beautiful handmade swing.

Alice in Wonderland Tree House
Blueforest Alice in Wonderland Treehouse

Inspired by the off-kilter architecture seen in the classic story Alice in Wonderland, this treehouse in Spain includes “handmade wonky windows,” a copper turret and cedar lining that was cut to look like melting chocolate. The air-conditioned interior room has a TV and storage for toys.

Alton Towers
Blueforest Alton Towers Treehouse

Looking like something out of a fantasy movie, the Alton Towers Treehouse village is a series of 5 luxury treehouses for the Alton Towers Resort, the UK’s leading theme park. Each sleeps up to 8 people and contains its own open-plan living space and en-suite bathrooms.

Quiet Tree House
Blueforest Quiet Treehouse

Don’t be fooled by the rustic feel of the Quiet Treehouse, which Blueforest calls “an entirely new concept in arboreal living.” While it’s made to resemble a tree, it comes complete with next-generation sound engineering to be equally at home in a natural woodland environment or modern urban setting, and it’s sound-proofed. It’s also full of the latest ‘quiet’ gadgets from companies like Bose, Smeg, Samsung and Dyson.

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Rich Door, Poor Door: Segregated Entrances Spark Controversy

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

rich door front entrance

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development has come under attack by critics for approving  building plans in NYC that include separate entrances for affordable-housing tenants and luxury-condo owners. The debate raises other questions about the urban poor and the mixing of classes in this city and beyond.

rich door entrance scandal

40 Riverside Boulevard, an Upper West Side project of the Extell Development Company, is the property at the heart of this particular controversy. Its 55 street-facing units for low-income residents have helped permit its developers to create many of the other 219 additional units to be sold at market rates and take advantage of associated tax breaks. The aggregate effect of the benefits? An estimated $100 million in added floor space value for this 33-story tower.

rich door extel example

The now-approved plans call for a back-alley entryway for second-class residents and a more prominent front entrance for its full-priced buyers. Detractors say the separation of entryways defeats the intention of the program, effectively segregating low-income from regular housing. Arguments on the flip side suggest that the city should focus its efforts developing less-valuable land elsewhere for subsidized housing projects.

rich door lobby entrance

The Inclusionary Housing Program to which Extell applied is meant to encourage integrated complexes and, in exchange, allow developers to build larger structures on coveted urban sites. At issue is the notion that this development may follow the letter but not the spirit of the system, which, in theory, should be arbitrated by the HPD, but in practice has become part of a larger public discourse.

rich poor divide interior

The heated and ongoing debate has caused Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer to promise a rejection of any future plans that similarly separate out entrances. Whether that will truly help solve the island’s long-term affordable-neighborhoods issue, though, remains to be seen.


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5,000 Residents Being Evicted from World’s Tallest Vertical Slum

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tower david shelf wall

A forced relocation is underway as thousands of squatters are moved by authorities out of their homes and the city of Caracas, some of whom have called the infamous half-finished Tower of David home for as long as seven years.

tower of david view above

Rumors began a few weeks back as Chinese bankers expressed interest in purchasing the unfinished structure in Venezuela, with the intention of turning it back toward the (official and licensed) commercial and office uses for which it was originally intended. Currently, however, over 1,000 families live and work in the first few dozen floors of this 44-story skyscraper.

tower of david ground floor

With surprising speed over the past week, the government has already shifted over 100 of these to a settlement outside of town (three floors a time) and is set to displace everyone living in the building, primarily to Valles del Tuy in the state of Miranda.

tower david tall pic

The tower was originally abandoned mid-construction in 1990 and eventually taken over by informal inhabitants who created not just homes but stores, offices, gyms, groceries, tailors, factories, churches tattoo parlors and even internet cafes within its walls.

tower of david room tv

Without an elevator (and with missing windows on the top levels), its most prized spaces for occupants have been on the lower floors, with scooter taxis that ferry people up ramps to some levels adjacent to the parking structure. Like Kowloon Walled City, the place has its own rules and informal systems of bringing in and sharing resources, including limited water and power.

tower of david exterior view

The Urban Think Tank, which spent years studying the building (and writing Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities), has weighed in on the significance of the building and its occupants as well as its sudden shift in direction: “What we found was neither a den of criminality nor a romantic utopia. Torre David is a building that has the complexity of a city. It merges formal structure and informal adaptation to provide urgently needed solutions, and shows us how bottom-up resourcefulness has the ability to address prevailing urban scarcities.”

More from UTT: “When dealing with informal settlements, infusions of money for major public works and other approaches that involve large-scale rapid change – such as the razing of slums and relocation of poor populations – have generally failed in the complex setting of the city. The commercial housing market simply does not supply enough homes. There are too few units of social housing, and the majority of these are far beyond the reach of low-income families.”

“The dire asymmetries of capital in the global south do little to help; yet various forms of structural neglect have not always diminished great entrepreneurial vigor. Shunned by governments and the formal private sector, city dwellers, like those in Torre David, have devised and employed tactics to improvise shelter and housing.” Images via The Atlantic and Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities.


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Rotating Rooms: Push a Button, Change Your House Layout

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[ By Steph in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

Rotating Rooms 1

Maybe in the summer, you’d prefer cooler, shadier lodgings, and in the winter, you wish you could extend your living space out into the sun. The lucky people who live in the three-story Sharifi-Ha house in Tehran, by design firm nextoffice, can transform the layout of their house in various cool ways with the simple push of a button.

Rotating Rooms 2

Rotating Rooms 3

Three mobile wooden volumes containing different living spaces – a guest room, home office and dining room – can be aligned flush against the fixed part of the home, rotated so the glassed-in ends face a variety of angles, and extended in or out telescopically.

Rotating Rooms 4

Rotating Rooms 5

When the movable rooms are facing straight out, they open up terraces on each level, bringing more daylight into the rooms that are deeper within the home.

Rotating Rooms 6

When the occupants want more privacy and a sense of coziness, the home closes up, essentially going into either extroverted or introverted mode along with the humans who live there.


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Drones for Life: 13 Fun & Positive Flying Robot Functions

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Drone defibrillator 1

Instead of raining death and destruction, these 13 drones deliver defibrillators and piping hot pizza, save drowning victims, mix the perfect cocktails, clean ocean pollution and even take your selfies for you. The creators of these flying robots focus on how they can be used for the greater good, rather than remaining associated with war. After all, it’s hard to argue against the statement that a giant burrito is better than a bomb.

Yura Bartender Drone

Drone Bartender 2

Drone Bartender 1

Your own personal robotic bartender will make you any drink, from tea just the way you like it to the perfect margarita, and then deliver it to you. The flying droid, by Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture student Herman Haydin, can be activated with voice commands or via a smartphone or computer, and is equipped with navigation, WiFI and sensory body screens. It’ll even determine just how many calories should be in your drink to meet your needs.

Dominos’ Pizza-Delivering DomiCopter

Drone Dominos Pizza Delivery

Your pizza could get to you a lot fresher and hotter if the driver didn’t have to worry about traffic. Enter ‘DomiCopter,’ a Dominos drone that can deliver pies in heatwave bags over long distances without having to refuel. The company is currently testing the prototype at its headquarters.

KATSU Drone Paintings

Drone Painting 1 Drone Painting 2

Multi-media artist KATSU presented a series of abstract paintings created by drones at New York’s The Hole Gallery in April 2014. “The artworks in this exhibition are a completely new type of painting that has never been made before. As drone aircraft (drones) have become more affordable to consumers, KATSU has been working to develop a way to make them paint. Originally developing technology so drones could be programmed to write illegal graffiti, KATSU created the hardware and software to have a drone carry a spray paint can and a mechanism to press the can to emit spray. These pasts months he has experimented with the weight of the paint, the straw for the sprayer, the sensor for the can activation, the flight of the drone and different paint and surfaces to achieve the artworks he sought.”

Personal Assistant Drone on Demand

Drone Personal Assistant 1

Need a personal assistant to go to the post office, watch out for your safety in a questionable area, or scout out a parking spot? The Gofor concept envisions thousands of drones hovering around in the sky, just waiting to be summoned down to perform various tasks. While the technology to make this happen isn’t quite in place yet, graphic artist Alex Cornell makes a convincing case for the service.

‘Dronies’: Have Drones Take Your Selfies

Drone Selfies

Is a selfie still a selfie if it’s taken by a drone? An entire Vimeo channel exists solely for the ‘Dronies’ phenomenon of people using little flying robots to snap self-portraits. They’ve been taken everywhere from suburban parks to the Roman Colosseum, capturing the subject’s environment for a whole new dimension to what’s typically a pretty limited photograph. Anybody could stick a GoPro or similar camera onto a flying robot to try it out for themselves.

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Crash Course: 24 Elements of Design Animated in 48 Seconds

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animation design elements video

Arguing that design is more art than science, this stunning short video provides a rapid-fire visual tour of principles all aspiring designers should keep in mind.

Matt Greenwood ties each example into the next, speeding through basics like lines and planes before covering balance, scale, texture, symmetry, then contrasting rules with randomness and much more.

animated example of designers

It might not teach you to be a designer in less than a minute, but it does provide a dazzling introduction to basic concepts, showing and not just telling with useful and compelling (if quick) examples.

animated principles of design

About the creator: Matt is a “freelance art director & motion designer based in Toronto with over 10 years professional experience. Working with After Effects, Photoshop, illustrator and Cinema 4D, [he] create[s] styleframes, storyboards, hand drawn illustration, 3D animation, matte painting and compositing for both broadcast and film work.”

animation example design principles

If you are into speed-learning new things (and have a few more minutes to spare), you may also want to check out this 15-minute Animated History of Western Architecture as well as this short 100-second animation of 26 famous buildings.


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Just Add Monsters: Chris McMahon’s Modified Thrift Store Art

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[ By Steve in Art & Drawing & Digital. ]

Chris McMahaon Empty Swing monster thrift store painting
Artist Chris McMahon looks at cheap thrift store landscape paintings and sees something missing. Then he paints in the hidden monsters for all to enjoy.

Chris McMahon Empty Swing monster thrift store painting original

Artist Chris McMahon first began buying thrift store landscape paintings for economic reasons: often costing a mere dollar apiece, the paintings were far cheaper than new, unused canvases and McMahon saved plenty by covering the dime-a-dozen scenes with gesso and starting anew. That all changed one day when McMahon bought a landscape scene that caught his attention – not for what it showed but for what appeared to be missing. Check out the original “The Empty Swing” painting above and you’ll probably agree, though McMahon’s “completion” of the scene might not sit well with overly imaginative squeamish types.

The Mountain Monster

Chris McMahon Mountain Monster painting

“I’ve always liked giant monsters,” admits McMahon at his website, Involuntary Collaborations, “from rubber-suit Godzilla to Cloverfield.” We think The Mountain Monster, above, is a worthy addition to the pantheon. Stalking ominously through a backlit landscape of stunted conifers and fetid mist, the crazed creature appears to fit the scene perfectly. One wonder if the original artist would agree should they be presented with McMahon’s respectful augmentation.

The Swamp Monster

Swamp Monster thrift shop painting Chris McMahon

Somehow the swamp monster in the eponymously titled painting above, McMahon’s third such dip in the Involuntary Collaboration pool, doesn’t seem all that monstrous given he (or she) is giving the viewer a friendly wave. Even so, the scene is disconcerting to say the least. “This is the first one that I added my signature below the original artist’s,” states McMahon. “I feel better if the original artist has signed his or her landscape – that way it doesn’t look (as much) like I’m taking credit for another person’s work.”

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