A visual history of the future

Published at the end of September 2014, a new report, A Visual History of the Future, commissioned by the British government, offers a remarkable overview of alternative future visions for cities.

Plug In City

There are some bizarre omissions, Wright’s Broadacre City perhaps being the most glaring. Likewise, with Okhitovich’s Red City of The Planet of Communism nowhere to be seen, there is little discussion on the idea of a disurbanised city, only of a dense urban metropolis. This seems short sighted. Only MARS 1942 plan for London and of course Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City offer any sort of urban/rural engagement.

Other important missing projects, off the top of my head, would be OMA’s Exodus proposal, nothing by Superstudio. In a section on floating cities there nothing on Krutikev, no Klucis. Khidekel, not even the more prosaic NASA visualisations that inspired Elysium. But perhaps here I’m nitpicking - a comprehensive volume of alternative city designs would be a major undertaking.

It is odd that some science-fiction cities are represented, Neo-Tokyo from Akira, the Los Angeles of Blade Runner, along with Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Neuromancer and MegaCity One are name checked. Such a light scratching of the surface of urban visions in film and literature adds little.

But as primer on the history of futuristic urban visions, it's a pretty good start.

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.

Get the London look

"I left London when I started to feel like a stranger in my own city”

London panorama

I’ve recently published a series of three articles on Medium exploring London at this moment. Moving away from London has given me a different perspective on the city, now I view it from the outside looking in rather than caught in its all consuming bubble. I am still drawn to it, but I can also see it as a city almost spinning out of control, a potential death spiral. I think I’ve been thrown clear by the centrifugal forces.

The first article, London Belongs to Me No More, explores my own separation anxiety, the sense that London is becoming a playground or an investment opportunity for a nomadic global elite.

In London Must Build Upwards or Outwards, I explore two key factors which keep the housing stock in London in such short supply, and thus so overpriced.

Finally, in London’s Secret Sprawl, I look at the legacy of trying to preserve a rural/urban divide between London and the Home Counties, and how the Green Belt has instead of preventing sprawl, engendered a different kind of urbanism.

This London Trilogy completed, I am turning my attention to my new home in The North, its ambivalent relationship with London, its own rural/urban conflicts; its own identity crises.


(Image by Flickr user Jim Crossley)

Branding the Moon

"Moscow shot for the Moon, and scored a bullseye".

Although the Americans were the first to set foot on the Moon in 1969, they were not the first to leave their mark on the lunar surface.

Lunar pennants

In a fascinating act of planetary branding, or a sophisticated piece of land-art to trump any Andy Goldsworthy, the Soviet Luna-2 mission was the first man-made object to reach the surface of the Moon, crash-landing east of Mare Imbrium, on September 14, 1959. The Universal Newsreels report called it a propaganda bonus for Krushchev, stating "Moscow shot for the Moon, and scored a bullseye".

On board the Luna-2 craft were 2 small spheres, composed on a number of pentagonal panels, like a small football. The panels were made from titanium with "thermoresistant polysiloxane enamels." Each pentagon is a pennant, printed with the USSR state seal - a wreath of grain around the hammer and sickle - or the message СССР (USSR), СЕНТЯБРЬ(September) , 1959.

Luna Sphere

The ball on display at Kansas Cosmodrome, as discussed here, is inscribed with ЯНВАРЬ (January), rather than September, so it is likely that these were also placed on the earlier Luna 1 mission which launched in January 1959. Due to a programming error, Luna 1 missed the Moon by approximately 6000km, and instead became the first man-made object to reach heliocentric object. Its orbit now lies somewhere between Earth and Mars. With typical Soviet opportunism, it was dubbed Mechta (Dream) and also referred to as the First Cosmic Rocket.

It is unclear whether the balls were fitted with an explosive charge, to be fired from the craft before impact, and scattering individual pentagonal pennants, or whether the sphere was designed to stay intact, bouncing and rolling across the lunar dust. Either way it is unclear whether they would have survived the heat generated by the impact of Luna 2, estimated at 11000°K.

This picture implies there were two different sizes of sphere. The Wikipedia article states that there was a third ball, which was located in the main part of the rocket, which crashed into the Moon 30 minutes after the Luna-2 probe.

Luna 2

As this excellent page on Soviet spacecraft pennants shows, it seems that all Soviet space craft carried metallic pennants, left to commemorate the missions. This included the various Mars probes and the Venera (Venus) missions. Later Luna missions included rectangular pennants that illustrated from whence the craft came.

Karasik

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.

Khidekel1

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.

Khidekel2

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.

Khidekel3

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.

Khidekel1


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