Klushantsev

Without Pavel Klushantsev, Kubrick might never have made 2001.

Road to the Stars vs 2001

In 1954, Klushantsev, pioneering Soviet sci-fi film director, began working on a short film, part-documentary, part-visionary projection, about the Soviet conquest of space. The film follows a young man as he learns the basic principles of space flight, before the final parts of the film depict the launch of the first Soviet man in space, life on an orbiting space station, the first man to set foot on the moon, and concludes with the possibilities of colonising Mars.

You can watch the film online here.

Road to the Stars vs 2001

Road to the Stars vs 2001

In 1957 Sergei Korolev, the 'father' of the Soviet space program, proclaimed "the road to the stars is open" following the historic flight of Sputnik 1. Klushantsev quickly shot footage to represent this momentous occasion, and the film was released a month later.

Road to the Stars vs 2001

Road to the Stars is a delirious film, stunning in its prescience about many aspects of space exploration that would unfold over the next 40 years.The similarities between Road to the Stars and Kubrick's 2001 are obvious, and Kubrick was known to have been inspired by Klushantsev's film. Indeed, parts of 2001 can be considered a homage, or as this article states, a shot-for-shot copy.


[Slightly related, here's an article I wrote called Road to the Stars for Kino Fist about Baikonour and a space station called Kosmograd from the short story Red Star, Winter Orbit, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.]

City of Signs 8

Channel 4 idents

Channel 4 idents Over the last few years the Channel 4 idents have become a ubiquitous presence for UK viewers, making it easy to take for granted their visual significance.

In these idents, the camera moves through a landscape - such as a brutalist housing estate, an American city, a Japanese city a series of pylons - which for a brief moment reveals itself as the Channel 4 logo.
Signs become fleeting structure, for an instance, structure is resolved into meaningful sign.

I've often daydreamed whether it would be possible for architects, urban planners and landscape designers to hide codes and signs into their creations, which would only be revealed when viewed from a certain position.

Google Earth has revealed new symbolism in buildings, such as this Navy base in California:

Navy building, California

In the meantime, there's always GeoGreeting.

Kosmograd


Previously:

Madin Men

Birmingham Central Library

image by Flickr user manicstreetpreacher

Thanks to Rob over at No. 2 Self, we can enjoy a remarkable TV programme, shot in 1965, one of a series called Six Men, profiling an architect from Birmingham, John Madin. Click here to watch it.

There has been a resurgence of interest in the work of John Madin since Birmingham City Council decided they were going to knock down one of his later works, the Birmingham Central Library. More on this below.

Back to Six Men. In this episode we see Madin striding purposefully towards his office, talking through plans with staff, presenting designs to clients, and enjoying time with his young children.

Six Men: John Madin

Six Men: John Madin

Six Men: John Madin

But it's the period touches that really stand out for me. The drawing boards, the blueprints, and especially the rampant smoking. Added to the casual sexism and disregard for secretaries, and it's easy to read Six Men: John Madin as a British architectural version of US hit TV show Mad Men.

Six Men: John Madin

Six Men: John Madin

Six Men: John Madin

Others have commented on the beautifully observed design touches of Mad Men, the TV show set in a New York advertising agency back in 1960. At the moment, designers seem to be in love with the mid-century aesthetic, with a yearning for the physicallity of Knoll furniture, IBM Selectric typewriters and a private office with your name on the door, contrasting against the ethereal placelessness of the laptop carrying, mobile-toting nomad, connected everywhere but inhabiting nowhere.

Mad Men

Mad Men

But why are advertising agencies such catnip for television producers, whereas architects seldom are? A mid-century Howard Roark/Don Draper character wowing clients with dazzling pitches, berating planners and haranguing contractors would surely be television gold. With the conflict between his beautiful Modernist house and family, and his trysts with the wives of his clients, why the scripts would almost write themselves.

But what of Birmingham Library? It's an intriguing building, an inverted ziggurat of gray concrete and glass. But at ground level it has never really worked, due to cost-cutting measures it was never fully realised according to Madin's design. My memory of it from the 80's was an empty windswept concourse, occupied only by puddles and the occasional skateboarder.

Paradise Circus

In the 90's, a bridge was built across the Paradise Circus roundabout, part of a long overdue strategy to free Birmingham from the stranglehold of its inner ring road. This linked Broad Street and Centenary Square, with the Rep Theatre, International Convention Centre and Symphony Hall, to the rest of the City Centre, turning the area underneath the library into a thoroughfare. This area was then decked out with a rather naff assortment of shops and cafes - Wetherspoons and McDonalds anyone? - another missed opportunity to make some special in this intriguing void.

The new library, to be designed by the excellent Dutch practice Mecanoo, is to sit between Baskerville House, and the Rep Theatre, while the old library is to be demolished to make way for more commercial development that will fund the new library and further development of Centenary Square.

Birmingham Library

I've no doubt that Mecanoo's new library building will be exquisite, as long as the Council don't start interfering in its design. But, regardless of what you think of Madin's building, demolishing the old Central Library won't solve the problem that exists between Centenary Square and the City Centre. It is the other buildings around the library that are the problem. Opening up the site to commercial development has already given us two hideous black-glazed hotels, and a building (the triangular building on the north corner of Paradise Circus - I think it was originally built for Barclaycard) so unspeakably awful that it makes me sick in the mouth just thinking about it. It's as if someone found a secret Ugly command in AutoCad - Ctrl-Alt-Shift-U - and kept hitting it repeatedly.

Birmingham Library

image by Flickr user kevinrboyd

Take a look at this picture and think which building you think should be demolished. I'm sceptical that selling the land on which the current library sits, for commercial development, is the way create a unified public realm between Centenary Square through to Chamberlain Square and the rest of Birmingham City Centre. But then Birmingham always seems to find a way to shoot itself in the foot.

Tower Bawher

Tower Bawher

Tower Bawher

I know it's been around for a while now, but I couldn't mention Tatlin's tower without referencing the amazing animation Tower Bawher by Theodore Ushev. In a hyperkinetic homage to Soviet Constructivism, a tower is built, set to the strident score of "Time, Forward', by Georgy Sviridov.

While there are clips of the animation available on YouTube, the best quality version can be found on the Canadian National Film Board Animation Day site.

There's also a great interview with Ushev here.

City of Signs 4

Sao Paolo No Logo

The recent advert for Sky Movies is beautifully shot across the Brazilian city of São Paulo, that recently decreed to remove all billboards. It is inspired by Tony de Marco's São Paulo No Logo photographs, (Flickr set here), as previously written about here.

It is an advert celebrating non-advertising.

The imagery of the city scape presented is depicted as a purer, simpler urban realm, a rather surreal landscape of blank spaces and empty billboards.

As Ads without products points out, this could be the opening sequence to a psychological thriller much more interesting than 90% of the films Sky Movies show.

"And even better, way better, is that the damned thing looks like the opening sequence of an absolutely incredible (and a good deal more horrifying, to many in the wider audience, than Cloverfields, which isn’t very horrifying at all) of a very different sort of speculative fiction, one about a specter lurching back from the place where dismissed specters go in order to decapitate the idols of the era, break open the walls of the buildings in the expensive neighborhoods, and leave most bedazzled and exhilarated at the sweep of violence that has rubbled so many things we thought could never go, that we believed, despite ourselves, that the world simply couldn't live without."


Previously:

Flood London

Flood London

Flood London

Flood London

A new film, The Flood, offers an apocalyptic vision of Britain's capital city under a huge surge of water coming along the Thames.

In what appears, from the trailer, to be a fairly typical example of the British disaster movie genre, the surge overwhelms the Thames Barrier, and causes mass flooding to central London. Westminister is turned into a huge lake, the Millennium Eye becomes a giant water wheel.

All good hokum, of course, and according to this BBC article, with little truth to it. A storm surge, tsunami or tidal wave big enough to overtop the Thames Barrier, as the film sugggests, would also be enough to flood large parts of Kent and Essex, and go around the barrier.

Indeed, it is the Thames Estuary, further downstream from the Thames Barrier (at Woolwich Reach), to the east of Central London, that would be the most likely victim of any rising water levels or flood events. The real devastation would not be around the City of London, but the towns of Gillingham and Chatham, Dartford, Gravesend, Canvey Island, Southend, the Isle of Sheppey, and the proposed Thames Gateway development.

It was the floods of 1953, which cost the lives of 300 people, with extensive flooding to the east of London, such as Canvey Island, that was the impetus for building of the Thames Barrier, though ironically the Thames Barrier is only designed to save central London. Now, plans are being made to construct a flood defence mechanism that might serve the whole of the Thames Estuary.

More, inevitably, to follow.