Stellar Caves: Illuminated Underground String Installation

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[ By Steph in Art & Installation & Sound. ]

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Eighty-two feet under the surface of the earth, hidden within the cellars of the Maison Ackerman winery in Saumur, France, an eerie blue-violet wonderland blooms in carefully constructed arrangements of UV-coated string. Artist Julien Salaud wound 28 miles of cotton thread around 65,000 nails for his installation Fleuve Céleste, which explores themes of nature, mysticism and shamanism against the natural rock walls of the space.

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At first glance, the images seem as if they were created on a computer. But anyone who takes a tour of the winery can walk within tunnels of the glowing string, illuminated by a projected ultraviolet light.

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According to Salaud, the work offers “a different viewpoint of what an animal can be: that of the Cartesian or the geneticist, of the predator or the prey, of the sorcerer or the mystic.” Conceived specifically for this unusual space, the work will be on display for three years and is the first exhibition originating from the Ackerman + Fontrevaud La Scéne residency.


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Look Out! 12 Outstanding Observation Towers Worth Climbing

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[ By Steph in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

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From Canal Street in New Orleans to a nature preserve in Latvia, these diverse observation towers look out over everything from bird sanctuaries to Formula One race tracks. With designs that stand out for both their brilliance and quirks, these 12 viewing decks in the sky provide unparalleled views of both urban and rural settings.

Phoenix Observation Tower by BIG Architects
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Arizona’s capital city will soon get a 70,000-square-foot addition to its skyline, a spiraling walkway stretching toward the clouds. Three glass elevators lead to the helical apex, with retail, exhibition and recreation spaces at the base. BIG Architects envision it as a pin on the map, which “becomes a point of reference and a mechanism to set the landscape in motion through the movement of the spectator.”

Floating Observation Deck for Grand Central Terminal by SOM
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A floating ring slides up and down two supporting towers right over New York City’s Grand Central Terminal in this design by SOM. The moving deck preserves the original 100-year-old station while rethinking the available space around the building, turning it into a landmark with 360-degree views of the city.

Leaning Tower of Belgium by Ateliereen Architecten
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There’s only one angle from which Ateliereen Architecten’s observation tower in Belgium looks like it’s standing up straight. Everywhere else, the 30-meter steel and timber tower draped with ribbons of rope appears to be leaning. The ropes reference the nearby sand dunes in the nature preserve in which the tower is set.

Observation Tower in Jurmala by Arhis Architects
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Observation decks jut out from this lookout tower in Jurmala, Latvia like balconies from a skyscraper, providing a variety of vantage points from which to enjoy Dzintaru Park. Consisting of an open-air cage, the structure reaches to 124.6 feet at its pinnacle.

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3D Farming: Trees Grown into Fully Shaped & Formed Furniture

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[ By WebUrbanist in Design & Furniture & Decor. ]

molded tree furniture design

Taking arborsculpture to new levels of efficiency and functionality, this furniture designer creates plastic molds in which his designs are grown without needing to be sawed and shaped after the fact, reducing waste and streamlining the production process. Light, soil and air are the equivalent of filament in this organic 3D printing analog, and even more directly: the molds can be 3D-printed as well.

molded organic furniture plants

While requiring careful planning and additional work upfront, taking young willow, oak, ash and sycamore trees and turning them as they grow into chairs, tables and lamps both shortens the construction cycle and eliminates the need to reconnect disparate pieces.

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molded plastic tree furniture

Founder of Full Grown in Derbyshire, England, Gavin Munro aims to challenge “the way we create products as well as how we see the items with which we surround ourselves, the Grown Furniture has an immediate tactile, visceral and organic appeal.”

growing tree furniture set

Gavin thinks of this process as a kind of “organic 3D printing that uses air, soil and sunshine as its source materials. After it’s grown into the shape we want, we continue to care for and nurture the tree, while it thickens and matures, before harvesting it in the Winter and then letting it season and dry. It’s then a matter of planing and finishing to show off the wood and grain inside.”

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The notion of shaping trees as they grow on a massive scale is not a novel one – similar techniques have long been employed in vineyards to maximize growth and optimize grape picking. Even the idea of growing fully-formed furniture is not new – artists and designers have long shaped living trees to create objects of use. As far back as Ancient Greece, chairs were ‘built’ by digging out chair-shaped holes and allowing them to fill with root structures before being ‘harvested’ from the ground.

molded plant lamp shape

Still, the scale and ambitions here are, however, much bigger – creating full crops of grown furniture, turning a one-off idea into a potentially mass-produced (but always unique) product line.

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Each furniture piece takes a few years to grow and maintaining this ‘forest of furniture’ is nothing if not challenging: “I’m only making 50 or so pieces per year but for every 100 trees you grow there are a 1,000 branches you need to care for, and 10,000 shoots you have to prune at the right time.”

molded root grown chair

Still, the results are worth the effort in the mind of this maker: “They’re still growing now, but when harvested and finished we expect them to be not just fully functional and ergonomic but grown, grafted and fastened into one solid piece, [meaning] no joints that only ever loosen over time. These could last for centuries. We hope and trust that this will eventually become an improvement on current methods.”


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Deserted Aisles: 11 More Creepy Abandoned Supermarkets

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[ By Steve in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

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Supermarkets? More like Stupor Markets, amiright? That’s the case with these 11 abandoned supermarkets where “checkout” is more than a state of mind.

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Cleanup in aisle… well, all of ‘em actually, and you’d better bring a hazmat suit along with a bucket & mop. Almost 30 years after the Chernobyl nuclear accident turned Pripyat into a creepy radioactive ghost town, the city’s snazzy supermarket recalls the good old days – Soviet style – when the shelves were stocked and the shopping carts had wheels.

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Urbex ubergeek Florian from Abandoned Kansai visited the abandoned supermarket just off Lenin Square back in January of 2011 and lived to tell the tale – and post the images above. According to Florian’s native guide Maxim, Pripyat was a privileged place before the 1986 disaster and the central supermarket “was one of the few places in the Soviet Union that actually sold Chanel Nº 5.” Now it just stinks.

Well, ByeVee

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The soaring “V for Victory” signpost standing resolutely Ozymandias-like in the Iowa summer sun indicates the above abandoned supermarket above was once a HyVee. Flickr user Andrew T…has left the building captured the forlorn state of the place in June of 2012, sometime after HyVee consolidated their two existing Newton, IA stores into a newer, larger complex.

Howard’s End

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Abandoned in 1999, the old Howard Park Super Pride supermarket on Liberty Heights Avenue finally succumbed to the wrecking ball after ShopRite selected the site for their new store.

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Though it’s good to see any neighborhood revitalized, the oddly gentle demolition of the Super Pride’s landmark sign had to bring a tear to more than a few local eyes.

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Landskating: Giant Chinese Landscapes Drawn with Roller Blades

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landskating creative drawing process

Modified inline skates holding pots of black pigment allow this artist to create her huge works (up to 40 feet or more) while rolling around the room, with results that look remarkably like smaller-scale works of hand-drawn calligraphy.

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giant calligraphy style drawing

A student at the California College of art, Tian Haisu has dubbed her approach Landskating. She notes that her “whole body is involved” in this unusual process, filling her creations with a unique kind of “power, speed and rhythm.”

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giant landskating art work

Her works feature landscapes, plants and architecture, all created by pressing down on giant unrolled sheets of paper deployed after she has sketched out and thought through these larger compositions on small sheets.

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As with any artistic approach, it took the artist time to learn the medium, executing with her feet rather than her hands in a way that both liberates the creative process but also involves complexities and stylistic impacts that are not always easy to predict or control.


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Playing with Perspective in Paris: New Optical Illusion Art

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

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Two-dimensional shapes seem to hover weightlessly in space like a projection, but step slightly to your right or left and the whole image falls apart, becoming a chaotic assemblage of lines painted onto various surfaces in a room. Swiss painter Felice Varini has been transforming public spaces with his single-vantage-point illusions since 1978, and now he’s brought them to the Grande halle de la Villette in Paris’ Parc de lab Villette.

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Varian invites us to look at the spaces around us in a new way, taking a closer look at the physicality of the world we have constructed around us through his somewhat disorienting optical illusions.

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The spaces themselves are Varian’s true media, more so than the paint. Even when certain shapes and motifs are repeated, the result is different every time. “My work evolves in relation to spaces that I am in contact with,” he says.

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The installations will be up through September 13th, 2015, and guided tours are available.


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Adult Erector Sets: Toymaker Now Sells DIY Furniture Part Kits

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[ By WebUrbanist in Design & Furniture & Decor. ]

home furniture erector set

Combining elements of IKEA ingenuity and their own classic line of modular toys, Meccano (makers of Erector Sets) is now offering a new type of do-it-yourself furniture modeled on their own miniature for-kids equivalents.

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Made in France, the Meccano Home furniture series involves the same sorts of struts, surfaces, connectors and bolts found at smaller scale in their toy line, a kit-of-parts approach letting you build then rework any domestic object you desire, reusing pieces along the way.

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Currently sold in sets, you can start out with a single piece then use the modules to make something entirely new or combine elements from other packages. Twenty different pieces help create sufficient consistency while also providing variety – there are a lot of options but no risk of losing a ‘rare’ part that could be more difficult to replace.

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Flashy colors and a nostalgic aesthetic aside, the bigger picture here is a powerful one: a world in which we no longer scrap or sell our used furniture, but instead cannibalize the parts, storing them for future use or re-purposing them on the spot into new furnishings.


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Griddy Cities: Aerial Cyberpunk Cityscapes Shot from 7,500 Feet

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aerial new york city

Flying over New York City, San Francisco and Las Vegas, this photographer has managed to both capture the essence of each city he shoots from the night sky above while also turning these places into surrealistic, faux-futuristic versions of themselves.

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Using a full-body harness to hang out of helicopters, adventurous artist Vincent Laforet went to great lengths and high altitudes (in some cases nearly 10,000 feet) to take pictures of each setting (NYC and LV shown above, SF shown with making-of video below).

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Special permission needed to be obtained to use flight paths normally reserved for passing planes. Tilt-shift techniques make the scale more comprehensible and help highlight areas of focus in each shot. What is truly remarkable, though, is how each set both reflects the photographer’s personal style but also very much embodies the character of each distinct location.

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R2-D2 Express: Take a Ride on a Real Star Wars-Themed Plane

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Pretend like you’re on a journey to a galaxy far, far away while aboard a real Star Wars-themed aircraft painted to look like R2-D2 on a Japan-based ANA Airways flight. The R2-D2 Dreamliner aircraft is an officially Star Wars-branded 787-9, the logo writ large across the body of the plane, and is set to take flight for the first time in September 2015.

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ANA chose R2-D2 not just because the shape happens to be convenient for the nose of a plane, but because the character is “not your typical droid,” they explain. “No matter the challenge, the highly loyal R2-D2 never fails to complete his mission and surprise us with his clever solutions.”

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Never mind that as passengers on an international flight, most of us would prefer that clever solutions never have to come into play in the first place. The plane’s design is a welcome change from the usual airline logos, and it’ll be fun for unsuspecting onlookers to spot it from the ground.

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The plane is a promotional tie-in for the upcoming film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, due to hit theaters on December 18th.


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Stealth Structures: 10 Buildings That Aren’t What They Seem

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superhero supply

How many houses that you pass each day aren’t really houses at all, but just realistic-looking facades hiding a secret function? Speakeasies and secret clubs masquerade as run-down stores in New York, faux suburban residences hide unexpected operations and weird-looking towers all over Los Angeles contain something you’d never expect.

Top Secret Bar You’d Never Find On Your Own
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New York City hides all sorts of secrets, among them a number of fake storefronts hiding secret bars, clubs and meeting spaces. Scouting New York listed out eight of the best, including ‘Lower East Side Toys’ on Norfolk Street in Manhattan. It definitely doesn’t look like much from the street, and the door marked with a peeling sign that says ‘Deliveries Only’ seems innocuous enough. But those in the know step right through into The Back Room, a speakeasy-style bar. The takeaway here is that if you think a New York City business is a front for something else, you’re probably right.

Fake Brooklyn Brownstone Hides an Underground Portal

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If you’re very observant, you might have noticed when passing by that the windows in this otherwise normal-looking Brooklyn brownstone are curiously blacked out. But that’s just about the only clue that anything is amiss – unless you walk right up to the door and peer through the crack, which reveals not a home but rather a concrete-lined, windowless industrial space. 58 Joralemon Street stands directly above the tracks for New York City’s subway lines 4 and 5, and functions as a ventilation shaft. The MTA disguised it as a courtesy to the residential neighbors.

Chicago Mansion Is Really a Power Substation
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A faux Georgian mansion stands at a Chicago intersection with front doors that don’t open and windows that are never illuminated, no matter the time of day. It’s actually a substation for electrical company Commonwealth Edison, which goes to some trouble to camouflage many of these typically unsightly structures when they’re located in conspicuous spots. This one was designed by Stanley Tigerman, former director of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Triggerman made it as authentically Georgian as he could, down to the sturdy brickwork pattern that will help it stand the test of time with minimal maintenance. The blacked-out windows are actually vents.

Superhero Supply Store Doesn’t Really Sell Superhero Supplies
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You might suspect that something’s amiss with the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co, given that the products on display in the window and listed on a card outside include antimatter, a collapsible portal, galactic compasses and manuals for all sorts of fantastical weapons that don’t really exist. If you know the secret of the place once inside, you’ll head directly for a secret door hidden in a bookcase, which leads not to the headquarters of the Justice League but rather a student learning and activity center focusing on literacy. A viewing portal in the wall gives visitors a glimpse into this space. Disappointed? You can actually buy a number of products from the shop and the website, including superhero disguise kits, costumes, and even one-gallon cans of immortality. There’s even a musical inspired by it.

Swiss Fortress in Disguise
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Would you ever guess that this little pink house in Switzerland is really a fortress? Villa Rose is located on the Toblerone defensive line, built to defend the country from invasion during World War II. If you opened the garage door you’d come face-to-face with a pair of gigantic cannons, a third hidden deeper inside. The fake windows painted onto the second story would only fool onlookers from afar, but when the fortress was active, nobody would have made it close enough to notice. The Villa Rose is now open to the public as a museum.

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