London Bridge: 12 Contenders Including ‘Flaming Mouth of Hades’


[ By Steph in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

london bridge 008

Some of the concepts submitted for the new Nine Elms to Pimlico pedestrian bridge in London are rather – well – pedestrian, while others are so out-there they’ve been nicknamed ‘The Flaming Mouth of Hades.’ Spanning the Thames River, the bridge will link two very different parts of the city, and must be “technically rigorous and beautiful,” cyclist-friendly and well-engineered while providing headroom for river traffic.

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The competition to design the bridge has drawn dozens of entries from around the world, with a shortlist set to be announced later this month and a winner unveiled in July. The design brief notes that “how the bridge looks from afar, as it bestrides the Thames, what it feels like to cross and how it touches land on either shore – and the places that it creates around each landing point – will be critical to its success.”

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london bridge 003

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london bridge 19

Thus far, there’s only a gallery of images to look at, without any supporting information on each design, so it’s hard to tell just what we’re looking at in some cases. The City Metric called most of the entries ‘ridiculous,’ pointing out “the one which is definitely not a bridge,” “the one like a nightmarish Escher painting” and “the one that’s a spoon.”

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london bridge hades

It’s clear enough why the word Hades was invoked to describe the strange violet-and-orange creation pictured above, and it’s unclear how this design would actually function as a bridge. You have to wonder whether some of the entrants are just trolling. But some of the designs are actually quite beautiful, like the one featuring a perforated undulating canopy over a network of paths planted with greenery. However will the judges choose?

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Road A-Peel: Upside-Down Car Clings to Curling Street


[ By Steph in Art & Installation & Sound. ]

hanging car 6

An upside-down, cherry-red car clings improbably to a slice of a concrete parking lot as it curls up over itself in this gravity-defying installation by British artist Alex Chinneck. Hanging in mid-air with no visible supports, ‘Pick yourself up and pull yourself together’ is a collaboration with Vauxhall Motors located just outside London’s Southbank Centre.

hanging car 1

About 50 feet of the parking lot surface appears to have been peeled right up, with the vehicle hanging from its uppermost curve within sight of one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, the London Eye. Hidden sections of steel designed by structural engineers hold the car in place.

hanging car 2

hanging car 3

“I see sculpture as the physical reinterpretation of the material world around us and so by introducing fictional narratives into familiar scenarios, I try to make everyday situations as extraordinary as they can be,” says Chinneck. “I choose to do this through illusions because I think there is something both optimistic and captivating about defying the realms of possibility.”

hanging car 5

“With an effortlessly curling road I hoped to transcend the material nature of tarmac and stone, giving these typically inflexible materials an apparent fluidity. Vauxhall Motors allowed me a great amount of creative freedom and this collaboration offered my studio an exciting platform to explore new areas of engineering and fabrication.”

Top image by Richard Simms

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The Under Line: Derelict London Tube Tunnels as Public Paths


[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

under line renderings concept

Tapping unused sections of the London Underground,  this bold proposal would create a network of subterranean paths for pedestrians and cyclists as well as spaces for pop-up shops, cafes and cultural events, all situated in stations and subway stretches of rail currently sitting idle and empty.

In the spirit of New York’s proposed Low Line, the plan involves main disused tunnels serving as primary areas for circulation and interaction. Simultaneously, putting existing but unused infrastructural voids to better use, the design calls for old reservoir chambers and exchanges to connect these larger and more open sections of the Tube.

london underline tunnel prospect

Architects at Gensler, the firm behind the idea, developed it to address a series of issues in the densely-populated capital of England, including bicyclist fatalities on surface streets, a lack of public space and ease of movement across the city.

under line subterranean path

As a bonus, special panels lining the interior of these underground spaces would be used to generate kinetic energy from people passing through and walking on surfaces, obviating the need for external power sources. Indeed, the technology for this system already exists, and this would be a great potential application for both cost and sustainability reasons.

under line tube reuse

The development process could also be incremental, moving in stages to make transition and restoration costs more manageable and to test usage patterns. The default plan is to start with voids between Green Park and Holborn, working stations that could provide access to unused portions of the Tube spanning them. In turn, tying these spaces into the existing Underground network would make them more accessible to visitors coming into the city and locals alike.

london underline park idea

Unlike other conceptual projects for London, like the SkyCycle,or serious proposals, like the Garden Bridge, very little would have to be added or displaced for this reprogramming approach to work. The Under Line may also borrow a bit of inspiration from this clever idea to transform Paris Metro stops into event spaces.

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London Approves Europe’s First City-Spanning Bike Superhighway


[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

london transit

Catering to some of the 170,000 cyclists that ride across London every day, this segregated bicycle lane will stretch from west to east, pass through the heart of the city and span 18 miles when completed. Approved by mayor Boris Johnson, a second route will also eventually span perpendicular to this first one, reaching south to north and crossing the first in the middle of the city.

london separated bicycle pathway

Allocating bikers lane space on par with that given to cars and separated by safety curbs, this plan represents a huge shift in how London treats cyclists and the largest such endeavor of its kind to date. Few long bike paths on the planet can boast such separation for bikers from city traffic, a move that makes bike lanes much more accessible to bikers of all ages and abilities.

london dedicated bike paths

As The Guardian‘s Peter Walker describes, “The effect is humanizing, civilizing, relaxing, enchanting. It makes the city immediately more appealing. Beyond all that it also rebuts the perennial complaint that the push for London bike routes is the niche hobby horse of a small coterie of middle-class, male cyclists. The whole point is that if you create safer cycling you necessarily create more inclusive cycling.”

bike path lanes

Building on a series original-but-modified proposals shown directly above and below, the new path with pass along the Victoria Embankment to connect Tower Hill and Paddington, re-purposing existing lanes used by motorists and linking up with a north-south route that would connect King’s Cross with Elephant and Castle.

bike path city

While the removal of motorized vehicular space has drawn complaints from some, it fits London’s larger vision of reducing car traffic in and through the city (dovetailing with existing strategies including a hefty congestion tax).

bike path urban

Other cities will be looking to the results of this radical change, which could have significant global influence on urban design strategies around city cycling for years and decades to come.

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10 Vintage London Paintings Superimposed on Street View Images


[ By WebUrbanist in Art & Drawing & Digital. ]

london church street montage

Blending fiction and reality, art and history, this series of superimpositions takes ‘then-and-now’ imagery all the back to the 18th Century on the streets and rivers of England’s capital city. Most of the added classics (spliced with Google Street View shots) are largely unedited, a few are strategically cropped but many show a naturally stark contrast in colors, tones, lighting, and of course: street life.

london historical street view

london history meets modernity

Collected and collaged by Halley Docherty, these hybrids show historical structures in their built environments like St. Martin in the Fields, shown at the top (painting by William Logsdail in 1888), a church situated on the opposite side of Trafalgar Square to Northumberland House, pictured directly below (painted by Canaletto in 1752 and since demolished).

london then now painting

london ships boats river

Various views of the River Thames show how the riverfronts, skylines, ships and boats and shifted in type and number over time, or highlight key points and storytelling scenes of local history set against the everyday backdrop captured by Street View vans.

london historical painting war

london street chapel view

Many major streets are shown at least partly as they were, albeit with some embellishments or artistic license here and there, as well as the vehicles and people that populated them (just surrounded by contemporary persons and contexts).

london historical contemporary collage

london gardens park neighborhood

london street view hybrid

Other paintings shown in this collection include: A View of Greenwich from the River by Canaletto (1750–52), Blackman Street London by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1885), View of The Grand Walk by Canaletto (1751), The 9th of November, 1888 by William Logsdail (1890), The Strand Looking East from Exeter Exchange by Anonymous (1822), Covent Garden Market by Balthazar Nebot (1737), The River Thames with St. Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day by Canaletto (1746) and Westminster Abbey with a Procession of Knights of the Bath by Canaletto (1749).

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Iceberg Homes: London Boroughs Curb Luxury ‘Super-Basements’


[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

underground estate luxury home

It is increasingly common to find London properties that have more subterranean interior space than above-ground square footage, a byproduct of the wealthy desiring to build additions without tripping over surface-oriented building codes. New legislation in some boroughs of the city aims to cut down on permits issue to such underground expansions.

mega basement

'Iceberg house' illustration

Anecdotes around these mega-basements abound, including stories of the compromising neighboring houses by undermining their structural integrity. As Curbed reports: “In a famous case from 2012, excavation work under the mansion of a Goldmann Sachs director resulted in his neighbor getting trapped inside her home, unable to open her front door since it had shifted so much.”

mega basement design

Indeed, the billionaires building these projects do a lot of strange things to maintain their bottom line while maximizing their additions, including leaving diggers worth thousands of dollars each (millions in aggregate) buried in unmarked and self-dug graves simply because the cost of excavating exceeds that of retrieving them. Like other facets of this phenomena, the lack of visibility relating to such practices has helped keep them hidden from public scrutiny.

london basement expansion diagram

Over the last decade, the demand for permits to extend below ground has skyrocketed, increasing by over tenfold. In response to the growing concern over these practices, Chelsea and other boroughs are considering measures including: restricting below-ground extensions to a single story, reducing the distance they can expand beyond the building footprint and capping the total subterranean square footage by project (diagrams via TheDailyMail and TheGuardian).

mole man underground house

Finally, any discussion of tunnels and London would be remiss not to mention the famous case of the Mole Man, which helped bring many of these other oddities to light. Without permits or permission of any time, this now-infamous Hackney resident began to burrow beneath his house. William Lyttle ultimately tunneled outward in various directions and well beyond his own property line and underneath adjacent streets and homes. For the safety of all involved, the building has been condemned though there are potential plans in place to turn it into artist housing.

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Yarn Bomb Bus: Knitted Double Decker Cruises Around London


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Has there ever been a cozier-looking bus cruising around the streets of London than this neon yarn-bombed double decker dubbed the No. 7up? The beverage brand commissioned Austin-based artist and ‘urban knitter’ Magda Sayeg to essentially knit a gigantic sweater for one of London’s iconic public buses, a classic red Routemaster, in a variety of eye-popping patterns.

knitted bus 2

Sayeg lugged 20 suitcases of yarn to London for the project, part of 7up’s ‘Feels Good to be You’ campaign aiming to refresh the brand as ‘naturally unique and individual.’ The artist is known for covering all sorts of urban surfaces in soft knits, from public benches and fountains to an entire town square in Santiago, Chile.

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The practice of ‘yarn bombing’ is sort of like graffiti, enlivening objects all around a city with unexpected artistic details. Typically, sections of each piece are pre-made and then quickly knitted together around the object. It’s not unusual to see entire cars and buses covered in colorful yarn creations, but a double-decker seems to take the art of yarn bombing to new heights.

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“Knitting and crocheting doesn’t have to be functional, it can be subversive, renegade – even illegal in certain cases. It’s bad ass!” Sayeg told Design Milk. “And it makes me proud, as a woman, to be part of something that is so powerful. Taking this craft that is female dominated onto the streets graffiti style, which is male dominated, is what is appealing (or not) about yarn bombing. As long as it evokes some emotion, I believe it is good.”

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Architectural Magic: Big Stone Building Breaks Free & Floats


[ By WebUrbanist in Art & Installation & Sound. ]

architecture floating building magic trick

A work of art, genius and incredible effort, half of this replica structure appears to hang in mid-air, seeming at once a perfect aesthetic fit for its surroundings and completely disconnected from the laws of physics.

architecture covent garden installation

British artist Alex Chinneck and his crew spent over 500 hours and had to construct a 4-ton counterweight to balance this faux building in the sky – what appears to be solid stone is in fact a steel-framed copy of an historic structure also found at Covent Garden (the original is nearly 200 years old).

architecture floating building illusion

architecture draft plan model

Chinneck is well known for his architecture-centric optical illusions, with this particular piece created as a play on the area’s “performance culture” – its proximity to theaters and performance spaces.

architecture faux construction process

architecture cut slice pieces

The construction process required a painstaking attention to historical details and materials in addition to grafting the appearance of age, wear and tear onto the fake structure. Another significant challenge: the seemingly haphazard breaking and slicing of everything from stones to windows and their frames.

architecture hidden steel frame

architecture floating building magic trick

From the artist: “The hovering building introduces contemporary art to traditional architecture, performing a magic trick of spectacular scale to present the everyday world in an extraordinary way. My objective was to create an accessible artwork that makes a harmonious but breath-taking contribution to its historic surroundings, leaving a lasting and positive impression upon the cultural landscape of Covent Garden and in the minds of its many visitors.”

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Gravesend: Fake Town for Simulating Crimes, Riots & Terrorism


[ By WebUrbanist in Travel & Urban Exploration. ]

artifical street urban complex

Like the set of a movie or setting of a video game, this surreal suburban facility could easily be mistaken for a real place at first glance – in reality, the installation is an elaborate artificial environment used by police to simulate complex and dangerous situations (photos by Chris Clarke).

artificial empty building facaDE

As Geoff Manaugh summarizes the setup, “the barren streets and hollow buildings of this militarized non-place were designed for use as an immersive staging ground for police-training exercises, fighting staged riots, burglaries, bank robberies, and other crimes” including hostage situations and terrorist attacks.

artifical training ground building

Located in Gravesend, Kent, just outside of London, this strange facsimile of an urban complex is devoid of residents but comes complete with parks, nightclubs, estates, aircraft, trains and tube stations (for hijacking and bombing simulations). Its population, instead, consists of the ebb and flow of the Metropolitan Police, of which the complex accommodate up to 300 militarized participants at one time.

artificial city for police

Open “in 2003 to provide London’s officers with firearms and public order training,” the complex’s designers at Advanced Interactive Systems (AIS) “provided all specialist firearms-related design, fit-out of the live-fire ranges with internal ballistic and anti-ricochet finishes, simulation and targetry equipment, and range sound systems.”

artificial backdrop city street

The same company was later contracted to “upgrade the specialist indoor shooting ranges and simulation systems [to] feature High-Definition projection systems, additional support for standard issue firearms and less-lethal devices, laser-based 3D virtual training environments, and a course editor for creating bespoke training exercises.” Even these official descriptions lend themselves to a range of dystopian speculation and dark interpretation.

artificial complex urban tube

Author of Subtopia, Brian Finoki notes that this dull gray place is deeply bizarre in nature, “a city standing on the planet for one purpose: to be rioted, hijacked, trashed, held hostage, sacked, and overrun by thousands of chaotic scenarios, only so that it can be reclaimed, retaken, re-propped in circuitous loops of more dazzling proto-militant exercise, stormed by a thousand coordinated boots for eternity, targeted by hundreds of synchronized crosshairs of both lethal and non-lethal weapons.”

artifical commercial street facade

Photographer Chis Clarke, whose Flickr photo set is worth seeing in its entirety, suggests a bold take on the complex and its meaning in the contemporary cultural context of the United Kingdom: “Gravesend can be interpreted as a warning – a prophecy of society’s potential to alienate itself from itself, and kill its collective identity. This surreal installation serves as a chilling account of the death of community in 21st century Britain.”

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