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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knitted bus 6

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.

knitted bus 4

knitted bus 3

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.

knitted bus 5

knitted bus 6

“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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View Forward: Driverless London Train Cars Arriving in 2020


[ 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


[ 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


[ 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


[ 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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