Architectural Magic: Big Stone Building Breaks Free & Floats

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[ 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

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[ 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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View Forward: Driverless London Train Cars Arriving in 2020

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[ By WebUrbanist in Technology & Vehicles & Mods. ]

new tube train car

Called the New Tube, the next phase in London’s Underground system will feature partially and entirely automated cars, including ones that let passengers sit up front in the space heretofore reserved for drivers.

new tube front face

new tube train design

This forward-looking plan calls for 250 driverless trains for the Piccadilly, Central, Bakerloo and Waterloo & City lines, rolling out in the year 2020 and beyond, each with larger doors for faster entry and exit capabilities.

new tube london design

new tube continuous interior

These new models will not be segmented in traditional cars but instead be continuous and segmented (able to be walked from front to back) and feature built-in wifi as well as passive air conditioning. The newly-freed front ends of these will feature emergency egress doors as well.

new tube driverless trains

new tube side doors

An LED lighting system will glow to show the speed and direction of travel and light up to let passengers know when doors are opening or closing as well. Digital displays will replace paper advertisements inside the cabins, too.

new tube sleek sides

new tube day view

These sleek new machines are being made to operate 24 hours a day with a projected lifespan of 30 to 40 years so their technologies must, as much as it is possible, take into account existing issues as well as population growth and other future-proofing concerns.


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Looking Sharp: Blade-Like Bridge Slices Through the Air

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[ By Steph in Destinations & Sights & Travel. ]

blade bridge 1

Five blade-like beams slice into the sky when this cantilevered footbridge in London’s Merchant Square rises to make way for boats moving along the Grand Union Canal. The movement of its dynamic design is inspired by the opening and closing of a traditional hand-held fan, the steel elements separating as they’re lifted into the air by hydraulic jacks.

blade bridge

blade bridge 2

Designed by Knight Architects and AKT II, the bridge spans a 20-meter (65-foot) section of the canal. The beams weigh six to seven tons each, and are balanced by a 40-ton counterweight. When fully open, the bottom blade hovers about 8 feet over the surface of the water. When closed, the bridge offers a flat and comparatively unremarkable surface that pedestrians can cross three-abreast.

blade bridge 3 blade bridge 4

Envisioned as a kinetic sculpture, the design beat out dozens of others in a 2012 contest. Like Thomas Heatherwick’s nearby Rolling Bridge, which curls into a ball as it opens, the new bridge rises every Friday and is considered a landmark for the area.


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Under London: Disused Tunnel Now a Subterranean Skate Park

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[ By Steph in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

House of Vans Skate Park 1

The infamous Old Vic Tunnels under London’s Waterloo Station are now home to the city’s first subterranean skate park with the opening of House of Vans, a cultural complex taking up the entire 32,000-square-foot space. In addition to the pool-style bowl, street section and mini-ramp for skaters, the space will offer a music venue, cafe, bar, cinema, artist studios and gallery space.

House of Vans Skate Park 2

House of Vans Skate Park 5

The four massive tunnels were the subject of a bidding war once the Old Vic Theather vacated the underground space, with Vans reportedly beating out Apple and Nike. The skate park is a fitting usage for it, located adjacent to London’s largest legal graffiti wall and another skate park on the Thames River.

House of Vans Skate Park 3

House of Vans Skate Park 4

The smooth new concrete surfaces and black-and-white checkered floors contrast with the centuries-old weathered brick surfaces of the original tunnels, which are still under control of England’s Department of Transport. Before it was taken over by Old Vic, the disused tunnel played host to the premiere of Banksy’s movie Exit Through the Gift Shop.

House of Vans Skate Park 6

House of Vans Skate Park 7

Skate sessions are free, but must be reserved in advance, with time slots getting snapped up as much as a month ahead of time. Artists selected to utilize the studios for free get the opportunity to display their work in the gallery space at the end of their tenancy.


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Crowdsourced Data Reveals Most Beautiful Urban Walking Routes

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[ By WebUrbanist in Destinations & Sights & Travel. ]

best walking routes study

Using a mapping algorithm coupled with citizen reviews of sights and scenery, a team of researchers has developed a way to choose paths through cities based on beauty, quiet and happiness rather than simply the shortest distance between two points.

shortest or beautiful route

The project employed Google Street View and Geograph as well as Flickr images and their metadata to build out an initial estimation of probable best paths, then solicited human feedback (to check and enhance the results) from a group of participants on the website UrbanGems (shown above).

london main sites map

The study, published by Cornell University’s arXiv, came up with a number of route suggestions in Boston and London and contains a number of interesting findings. For starters, the ‘beautiful’ routes were only slightly longer than the shortest routes, and significantly shorter than typical tourist-oriented directions and guided-tour paths. As the algorithm improves, it is increasingly able to generate paths through new cities via metadata alone, reducing reliance on input from people.

beauty and shortest boston

boston main sights map

The project’s creators included Daniele Quercia and Luca Maria Aiello of Yahoo Labs in Barcelona and Rossano Schifanella of the University of Torino, Italy. From their abstract: “When providing directions to a place, web and mobile mapping services are all able to suggest the shortest route. The goal of this work is to automatically suggest routes that are not only short but also emotionally pleasant.

beauty walking route london

shortest walking route london

The assessments are not simply qualitative value judgments, but a hybrid of human and machine input: “Based on a quantitative validation, we find that, compared to the shortest routes, the recommended ones add just a few extra walking minutes and are indeed perceived to be more beautiful, quiet, and happy.”

happy walking path london

quiet walking route london

From UrbanGems: “Buildings and neighbourhoods speak. They speak of egalitarianism or elitism, beauty or ugliness, acceptance or arrogance. The aim of UrbanGems is to identify the visual cues that are generally associated with concepts difficult to define such beauty, happiness, quietness, or even deprivation. The difficult task of deciding what makes a building beautiful, or what is sought after in a quiet location is outsourced to the users of this site using comparisons of pictures. With a comprehensive list of aesthetic virtues at hand, we would be more likely to systematically understand and re-create the environments we intuitively love.”


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Machine Cemetery: Diggers Bury Selves in Unmarked Graves

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

london basement cave making

A surreal testimony to the excesses of underground construction in London, developers have been intentionally burying still-functioning digging machines used to excavate subterranean extensions below expensive city homes – an estimated 500 to 1000 to date.

london hidden depths

Property values coupled with height restrictions have driven ultra-rich clients underground in a search for ever-more space. Expanding beneath the surface, however, means using machines to tunnel – ones that are not always deemed worth the complexity and cost of retrieving.

london basement excavation process

london underground spa design

As Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG describes the surreal situation, “London is thus becoming a machine cemetery, with upwards of £5 million worth of excavators now lying in state beneath the houses of the 1% …. [These] sacrificial JCBs have excavated the very holes they are then ritually entombed within, turning the city into a Celtic barrow for an age of heroic machinery.”

london basement dig article

In most cases, the spaces created by these machines are luxury additions, ranging from multistory wine cellars and climbing walls to pool halls and bowling alleys. When a machine’s cavern-creating tasks are completed, their masters give them one final suicide mission: carving out their own grave, to be filled with dirt, concrete and themselves, all becoming a permanent fixture of the site’s foundations.

london grated entry example

How does this strange set of circumstances come about? As Ed Smith of the New Statesment reports, The difficulty is in getting the digger out again. To construct a no-expense-spared new basement, the digger has to go so deep into the London earth. Initially, the developers would often use a large crane to scoop up the digger, which was by now nestled almost out of sight at the bottom of a deep hole.”

london floor skylight example

It was only a matter of time before the analysts took over: “Then they began to calculate the cost-benefit equation of this procedure. First, a crane would have to be hired; second, the entire street would need to be closed for a day while the crane was manoeuvred into place. Both of these stages were very expensive, not to mention unpopular among the distinguished local residents.”

london underground mansion excavation

london basement exterior entry

In the end, economics won out and developers concluded that rescuing a piece of a machinery worth thousands from a pit under a house worth millions was just not important. This practice has gone on long enough for a new problem to arise: diggers encountering their concrete-encased cousins on subsequent excavations. And as if that were not odd enough, imagine the reactions of future archaeologists, wondering at the strange burial practices of London urbanites in centuries yet to come. (Images via London Basement).


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Broken Mirror: Shard Hotel Views Reflect Next-Door Rooms

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[ By WebUrbanist in Boutique & Art Hotels & Travel. ]

shard hotel london night

Splintered corners, giving The Shard in London its iconic multifaceted look, are now also responsible for letting guests of Europe’s tallest hotel see into the spaces of their nighttime neighbors.

shard broken reflection mistake

As the Financial Times reports,a  series of glass panels standing out from the structure have turned into a series of accidental mirrors, giving room-with-a-view a new meaning in the context of this building.

london hotel interior problem

During the day, visitors to the Shangri-La can see out in nearly all directions, but at night with inside lights on they also get an uninvited sneak peak back into adjacent bedrooms. Designed by Renzo Piano, the famous building may not be as problem-plagued as its car-melting sibling but it certainly has some issues yet to be resolved.

shard hotel london day

The solution so far offered by the hotel seems somewhat incomplete – they are notifying guests of the issue and advising them to use curtains. Still, not everyone will remember to take such steps and many will want to leave their curtains open, since they came for the lovely views in the first place. In the end, one is left to wonder how no light modeling of the building revealed this potential problem (image above by Patrick Collins).


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Urban Islet: Nordic Nature Retreat Floats in London Canal

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Public & Institutional. ]

wildlife wood finnish design

Referencing rocky Nordic island sanctuaries, this platform is designed to provide a place to relax and observe local wildlife in the heart of a bustling city. The prefabricated structure was lifted into the canal by crane and pushed into place by a tiny tugboat, all in a single day.

floating urban wildlife platform

Viewpoint was created for the London Wildlife Trust by Finnish architects of AOR. Of their inspiration: “For Finns, [small] islands are places of sanctuary, to relax the mind and get away from hectic city life. Viewpoint offers Londoners a chance to experience this escape on a secluded islet in the heart of the city.”  It is to be a permanent fixture of Regent’s Canal, located in Camley Street Natural Park.

floating islet concept context

wildlife platform floating london

As the architects alluded to, this minimalist approach and triangular architecture are modeled on the vernacular of traditional temporary dwellings found further north. Such residential retreats are situated on small islands and used for hunting and fishing excursions. Typically, these humble abodes are made using natural at-hand materials including tree bark, branches, leaves and mosses.

floating islet facade elevation

floating islet kings cross

Unveiled by the The Finnish Institute in London and The Architecture Foundation, the finished design is definitively Finnish, created with acoustics, human scale and tactile experiences in mind, and factoring in how materials will weather over time. The result features modest volumes and a warm wooden frame rising up from concrete and clad in Corten steel. In turn, this made-to-age material palette will increasingly blend the structure in with its surroundings.


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