Mariner 9

Mariner 9

Mariner 9

In its final few days at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, Mariner 9 is an installation by video artist Kelly Richardson that offers an eerie glimpse into the future of space exploration.

The installation consists of a panoramic video screen depicting the surface of Mars 200 years in the future, as viewed from the landing site of the hypothetical Mariner 9 mission to the Red Planet. The view is an unsettling one, the landscape littered with a myriad of crashed satellites, dead rovers and marooned landers, the detritus of over 2 centuries of space exploration of Mars.

Despite the sci-fi premise of scene presented, rendered using the same CGI software used by the film and game industries, it is largely devoid of action, with the odd blinking light, brief flickers of movement from a dying rover, and wisps of space dust floating across the Martian surface. Instead the piece becomes a contemplative mediation on the vicissitudes of space exploration, coupled with a sense of loss for past missions, with each new rover rendering its predecessor obsolete. There is also the powerful realisation that, although it is 140 million miles away, humans are already having an environmental impact on Mars

As with all great speculative fictions, it uses the future as a means of talking about the present. As a comment on the stalled space program, Mariner 9 could also be seen as a critique that, rather than manned missions and habitable bases, unmanned robotic landers may remain the limit of our exploration of Mars for centuries to come.


Related to the previous post on Lazar Khidekel, the artist Mikhail Karasik has created a limited edition artist's book titled Homage to Khidekel.

Karasik is one of the most important artists working in Russia today whose work is informed by the radical experiment in art and architecture at the start of the Soviet Union.


The book consists of 12 lithographic prints, inspired by Khidekel's work and designs. The use of lithographs is inspired by the extensive use of lithography at the UNOVIS school where Khidekel studied and taught.


Karasik has also included prints of woodworking tools such as a plane and a mortice gauge. To Karasik, these carpentry tools and the projects of Khidekel are related, the pragmatic and the visionary aspects of making architecture.


Other works by Karasik include an animated version of El Lissitsky's famous childrens' book 'About 2 Squares', as well as art books exploring Constructivism in Leningrad.




Khidekel composition

Earlier this year, Floating Worlds and Future Cities, an exhibition and symposium in New York, brought into focus the largely forgotten figure of Lazar Khidekel, and sought to place him properly as one of the pioneers of Suprematism. Khidekel could even be considered the first Suprematist architect, and was instrumental in helping Suprematism move beyond painting towards built form, urbanism and cosmic civilisation.

Khidekel was just 14 years old when admitted to the Vitebsk school of art, under Marc Chagall. In 1919, Kasmir Malevich founded a group called UNOVIS - Champions of the New Art - which also included El Lissitsky, Nina Kogan, Nikolai Suetin and Ilya Chashnik as well as Khidekel.

In 1921, (at the age of 17!) together with Ilya Chashnik, Khidekel headed the architecture and technical department at Vitebsk School of Art, and set about implementing a radical curriculum.

"The training of architects who at the same time will be the organisers and designers of the architectural units of the blocks that will constitute the streets and cities; the training of architects who will also be able to design and plan the economic centers." The official website at offers a tantalising glimpse of Khidekel's talents. The Suprematist works are drawings or paintings on paper, and lack the polish of finished works by Malevich or Ilya Chashnik, but are formally just as stunning.

Khidekel architecton

Suprematist composition

But it is in the architectonic works that we see Khidekel's unique talent, in translating the essence of Suprematist composition to architectural forms. His Architectons matched Malevich's own sculptural explorations, but Khidekel also went further in designing projects meant to be built, such as the Aeroclub project of 1922. As well as practical architectural projects, Khidekel continued to dream of floating cities and futurist visions of space and form. Malevich had called for his students "to show the entire development of volumetric Suprematism in accordance with the sensation of the aerial (aero) type and dynamic", and Khidekel responded with his designs for Aerograd, a city on stilts, hovering above water.

Arguably, only Gustav Klutsis with his designs for a Dynamic City was operating in the same raridied atmossphere, of a cosmic reach for architecture breaking free from the Earth.

Khidekel City on Poles

Cosmic habitat 1924

Floating structure 1923

Later, at the architectural college in Petrograd, Khidekel continued to develop his architectural ideas to more practical applications, as well as working with Malevich, Suetin and Chashnik to create Architectons and Planits.

In 1926 Khidekel created the first realised Suprematist built form, a Workers Club. It was originally credited to Malevich and published in Berlin. A restrained piece of modernism, it is reminiscent of similar avant grade designs of the Bauhaus or De Stijl architects such as Rietveld or JJP Oud.

Workers club

Workers club

In later years Khidekel continued to work on architectural projects, while continuing to create visionary drawings of structures and cities hovering just above the landscape, or orbiting the earth in space.

Khidekel floating city

Khidekel floating city

As Charlotte Douglas noted (quoted in Regina Khidekel's essay "The Trajectory of Suprematism":

"Khidekel’s distinction was that this initial vision of Suprematist structures floating in space remained a central part of his art and architecture for the next forty years, and richly informed his later development as a professional architect." It is not surprising that architects and designers are beginning to rediscover Khidekel's and recognise his visionary works as prefiguring many later projects. In the article "Discovering Khidekel" by WAI Architectural Think Tank, Khidekel is dubbed "The Last Suprematist", still prone to dizzying spatial visions long after his peers and Suprematist mentor Malevich had retreated to a less utopian position.

Khidekel floating city, 1961

"With each brushstroke of watercolor the Bolshevik utopia of utilitarian icons was painted obsolete. With the elongated appearance of each monochromatic volume a new form of revolution was achieved. Khidekel architectural visions transcended the rhetorical games of the revolution by developing complete cities out of sublime architecture. Long before Friedman’s Architecture Mobile, Constant’s New Babylon, and Isozaki’s Clusters in the Air, Khidekel imagined a world of horizontal skyscrapers that through their Suprematist weightless dynamism seemed to float ad infinitum across the surface of earth."

Khidekel Architecton compared against Gazprom proposal,OMA

While the city hovering above the ground still remains a powerful trope in both science fiction and architectural fantasy, Khidekel's visions still manage to look futuristic, arguably more so than most of the Metabolists or Situationist projects that today feel retro-futurist, inextricably tied to the past.

Khidekel's work remains endlessly floating towards the future.

Generative De Stijl

Mondrian scrutinizing Victory Boogie Woogie

A recent competition, Elegant Algorithms, organised by Setup in the Netherlands, challenged entrants to create a digital version of Piet Mondrian's painting Victory Boogie Woogie.The results range from faithful reproduction to radical reworkings, but all are fascinating in their own way. Each one includes a link to the code, so you can also look 'under the hood' and tinker.

The original Victory Boogie Woogie was unfinished, as Mondrian died of pneumonia in New York in 1944. But even so, the progression from Broadway Boogie Woogie of 1943 is profound, the simple grid of small coloured squares becoming more fractured, and with larger colour planes floating above and behind the grid; the lozenge format adds further visual tension. It arguably shows a transition to a more three-dimensional mode of representation than the resolutely flat pictures of Mondrian's earlier abstract works.

I'd never realised that Mondrian was such catnip for generative design wonks. But it turns out there is a long history of generative design projects that take the work of Mondrian as a starting point, especially the later, pure abstract works Mondrian called neo-plasticism.


There's a great explanation video of one of the Elegant Algorithms entries, Mondify, by Kiri Nichol:

One of Mondrian early works, painted when he was on the cusp of pure abstraction, was also the subject of one of the most famous scientific experiments into aesthetics by Michael Noll, who wanted to see if people could tell a Mondrian painting, Composition in Line (1916) from a computer generated one. His study revealed that only 28% of subjects could identify the original Mondrian.

Real or fake Mondrian?

Mondrian generators are fairly commonplace online. Darwindrian (composition of 'Darwin' and 'Mondrian') is an AI program creating painting with neo-plasticism style using a variation of genetic algorithm. It generates 20 images, and then you can select which ones you like to be used in the next generation.


myData=myMondrian by CJ Yeh (2004) will create a Mondrian-esque composition based on your own personal data.

Cyber-genetic Neo-plasticism is an AI program creating Mondrian-like paintings by using interactive bacterial evolution algorithm.

While it's relatively easy to create a Mondrian-generator which can spit out Mondrian-esque compositions capable of fooling the average layperson, a recent study by a group of Korean students at Chungbuk National University has tackled the much more difficult reverse problem - trying to spot a genuine Mondrian from a raft of imitations. Their research used machine learning to understand the deeper subconscious rules that Mondrian used in this paintings that he would probably been unaware of. This has great implications in the future for the authentication and verification of works of art.

The paper, [Supervised Learning-Based Feature Selection for Mondrian Paintings Style Authentication]), is long on maths and short on art theory, but is fascinating in its method:

"First, the Mondrian oeuvre of neoplasticism is compiled in a digital form and encoded as script. Second, based on this statistical information, a statistical generative model is built to produce pseudo-Mondrian style works. Third, the two supervised learning methods are applied to classify the collection of both Mondrian’s works and computer-generated works."

Once the machine method has learnt to distinguish the real from the computer generated, it can then be applied to other images to attempt a distinction. Their conclusion was that 'region portioning' and 'dual graph' were the most meaningful ways of distinguishing a real Mondrian from the fake.

But this knowledge also makes it possible to refine better Mondrian fakes, an arms race in the detection between the real and the simulation. A purely compositional approach to detecting Mondrian fakes is thus perhaps doomed to failed. Instead the time honoured forensic techniques of detecting forgeries based on the physical properties of the paintings seems more reliable, such as canvas analysis and paint analysis using spectroscopy.


Could a generative approach to 2D images of a highly formal movement such as De Stijl also be applied to 3D design? The furniture of Gerrit Rietveld seems eminently suitable for a generative, dare I say parametric approach, as does the most complete manifestation of De Stijl in architecture, the Rietveld-Schroder House. This seems to be an area ripe for future exploration.



I'm currently reading Fallingwater Rising by Franklin Toker, the 'biography' of the infamous house, and it set me to wonder whether there was there ever a more important private client in the history of modern architecture than Edgar Kaufmann and his wife Liliane?

A successful businessman, owner of a famous Pittsburgh Department Store, EJ Kaufman commissioned some of the best known works of modern architecture, including most famously, Fallingwater, in Bear Run, Pennslyvania, by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Toker book is excellent and detailed in describing how the Kaufmann's and FLW created Fallingwater, but for those short of time, this superb article in the NY Times by Kevin Gray summarises it brilliantly. The history of the Kaufmanns and the drama played out around Fallingwater would make a brilliant film or TV series, as Gray calls it, a Modern Gothic.

The story of how FLW designed Fallingwater is one that never fails to grow in the telling. In one version we see Wright as a blur of activity as assistants rush around feeding him pencils and paper so as not to break the creative fever that gripped him. Our collective love of creation myths (which explains why Hollywood keeps 'rebooting' superhero films), gives the creation of Fallingwater its elevated status. Perhaps it is the idea of creativity ex nihilo, of the form plucked from the ether, or the strive to understand that moment of inspiration, the divine madness of creativity, that draws us to these stories.

The legend grew that Fallingwater was drawn in 2 hours, and that Wright had not committed any ideas to paper before the most famous act of architectural prestidigitation, on September 22, 1935.



The design of Fallingwater had to cope with unusual living arrangements, as Liliane and Edgar had separate bedrooms and led largely separate lives. As first cousins, their marriage was essentially one of convenience rather than love, with EJ's numerous indiscretions paid a heavy toll on Liliane. While at first Fallingwater was a party house where the Kaufmanns made a great show of entertaining the good and the great, Liliane came to find it oppressive, and frequently retreated to the guest house " where she could lounge in solitude and swim in the hillside pool."

After selling the department store in 1946, EJ had little need to stay in PA with its cold dark winters, and instead became spending more time on the west coast. FLW bristled with anger and frustration when EJ Kaufmann commissioned former Wright pupil Richard Neutra to build them a house in Palm Springs, but later, when Liliane, estranged from Edgar, contacted FLW about building a retreat for herself, he never replied. ''He knew who buttered his bread." says Toker.

Things didn't end well at Fallingwater when Liliane Kaufmann died there in 1952 on a rare weekend when both her and EJ stayed there. Was it an accident, and overdose on the sleeping pills she took, or something more sinister? Her ghost is said to still haunt the master bedroom.


The relationship between EJ Kaufmann and Frank Lloyd Wright is a compelling one - they argued furiously over the details of Fallingwater, but each had too much invested in the other to back away. FLW designed over 20 other buildings for Kaufmann, none of which were realised in Kaufmann's lifetime. Frank Lloyd Wright's unbuilt legacy looms large - there are over 500 unrealised designs, almost as much as the built oeuvre. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation seeks to preserver the legacy and oversees any attempts to build any unrealised designs, with 16 projects so far completed with an official "designed by Frank Lloyd Wright" seal of approval.

The Massaro House

One of the many buildings that FLW designed was for a little island on a lake in upstate New York, for a man called Ahmed Chahroudi, in 1950. Chahroudi had boasted to Kaufmann that "When I finish the house on the island, it will surpass your Fallingwater." But he could never afford it, nor a second design FLW produced, an eventually sold the island. A local man, Joe Massaro bought the island in the late 1997 and set about building the house FLW had designed.

Massaro house

Massaro house

This move was not without opposition. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, official custodians of Wright's legacy, refused to give any assistance to help Massaro realise the plans, and argued that they owned the copyright on the plans. But a court ruled that there was no copyright, Massaro owned the island, and with it came the drawings. Eventually the argument was settled that Massaro could only describe the house as "inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright".

Eventually Wright found an architect, Thomas Heinz, willing to help him realise the project, and make it as faithful as possible to the original design. Construction began in 2000, and was near completion in 2006, when the architectural press became aware of it.

Massaro house

Massaro house

It has come in for much criticism as an ersatz Wrightian confection, with Heinz having to interpret Wright's design which consisted of just 5 drawings, a plan, a perspective and 3 elevations. Several modern features were added, such as domed skylights, superseding Wright's details that were considered outdated. Perhaps the most obvious deviation from Wright's style are the rubblestone walls, often referred to as 'desert masonry' which in Wright's designs the stones are closely pack and relatively flush. At the Massaro house the stones are widely spaced and jut out of the concrete, giving the walls a nougat-like appearance. Massaro defends this because of the need to add insulation into the walls, and thinks that Wright would have done the same to meet current building codes. But this is what happens when you build a building out of its time.

Massaro house

Massaro house

While inevitably it lacks the purity of vision that genuine Wright houses possess, it does have the essence of a late period Wright house, with huge cantilevered balconies, the strong horizontal elements countered by the massive vertical walls, the synthesis of the house with its location.

Massaro has put the island up for sale. Even in 2010, only 4 years after completion, Massaro seemed to have turned away from the house. In an echo of Kaufmann's move away to the west coast, Massaro stated "I put my heart and soul into this, but I’m spending more time in Florida now. I’m thinking of building a Frank Lloyd Wright house that he designed for the ocean."

In 2012, the house was advertised widely on the types of website that those looking for private islands would be likely to visit, with one even offering an online shopping cart where you can buy it with a single click for a cool £17 million.


In another interesting development, some blueprints from the original Fallingwater were made available by auction. Bidding ended in September 2012, with a top bid of £22,824. From the auction website, the description is that "the blueprints, which were discovered in Long Island, are accompanied by a letter from architect Arthur Hennighausen which reads: "The shop drawings of the 'Falling Water' steel sash were given to me as a professional courtesy at my architectural office in Waukegan Illinois by J. D. Graff who at that time was sales representative for Hope Windows, Inc. This was in the spring of 1938. No record was kept to further identify the time or place."

While an interesting piece of memorabilia, blueprints of a window detail are not in themselves useful for anyone looking to build their own version of Fallingwater. But this, and the Massaro house, raises a question about ownership and authenticity in architecture. Can a building be copyrighted? And if you own the blueprints to a house, do you own the rights to build that house?

Inevitably in this era of context-free image porn on sites like Dezeen, unscrupulous developers can plunder the archives for more than just inspiration. Zaha Hadid has recently discovered in China that imitation is the highest form of flattery, with her project for Wanging SOHO in Beijing pirated for a development in Chongqing, a 'megacity near the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau'. Thus Hadid finds herself in the position of racing to complete the original project before the copy is finished. It's the sort of thing that would have had Baudrillard in stitches.

The simulation has overtaken the real.



I finally got round to finishing my first iPad app. Called Triade, it's a fun tool for creating images made entirely out of triangles, using a technique called Delaunay Triangulation.

It's now available in the iTunes store. Click to find out more on the Triade app page here.