Red Mars

Since June 2010, six would be astronauts have been locked in a sealed capsule in research facility outside Moscow, pretending to fly to Mars.

Mars500 In probably the longest ever role-playing session ever attempted (and certainly beating the time some friends and I tried to play Dungeons and Dragons for a continuous 24 hour stretch), the six volunteers have been going through all the motions of a spaceflight to Mars (except the zero gravity), in a project called Mars500. The experiment is designed to test the stresses and strains that come with being locked in a box for 500 days, conducted at the [Institute of Biomedical Problems])http://www.imbp.ru/Mars500/Mars500-e.html).

Mars500

Mars500

Now, on Valentine's Day, Feb 14 2011, the Mars500 team will attempt a fake landing on Mars, and step out on the surface of the mock Red Planet - a Martian Potemkin village. They will explore the alien planet for 2 days, before climbing back inside the capsule for the 8-month flight 'home'. Once again the simulation has superseded the real.

Capricorn One All this sounds identical to 1978 sci-fi movie Capricorn One, the basic premise of which was a faked manned mission to Mars. In this film, James Brolin, Sam Waterston and OJ Simpson manage to break out of the their film-set captivity into the desert, to try and reveal the deception that is being foisted upon the American people.

Capricorn One The theme of a fake Soviet space mission was the subject of Victor Pelevin novel Omon Ra, published in 1992. Here, the protagonist believes he has flown to the moon only to discover himself in part of the Moscow Metro.

The Soviet Union has long been obsessed with the effects of long-term space travel, the Soyuz missions of the 80's and 90's to the Mir space station placing their cosmonauts on ever increasing mission durations and tests of human endurance. In 1992, Sergei Krikalev was aboard Mir when below him the Soviet Union collapsed, but that didn't stop him flying future missions to the International Space Station, and he holds the record for the most days spent in space, at 803 days.

Having lost the race to land on the Moon, the Soviet Union turned their attentions to Mars. It seems that while NASA were sending spacecraft further and further to explore the outer reaches of the solar system, the Soviets became ever more preoccupied with conquest and colonisation, rather than discovery. Pelevin used Omon Ra to illustrate the fixation of the Soviet establishment on "heroic achievements" which could be broadcast to the outside world. Mars500 is perhaps the latest continuation of this.

This post sponsored by Portakabin:
Modular construction

Het Nieuwe Bouwen

Het Nieuwe Bouwen in Rotterdam, book jacket

Back in the day, I probably knew more about the modern movement in Dutch architecture, Het Nieuwe Bouwen, than just about anything else. Had I been asked to select a specialist subject to appear on Mastermind, it's probably what I would have chosen. These days I've forgotten more than I can remember, but the recent sight of these posters by Wim Crouwel has rekindled my memory, and why I was (and remain) so fascinated by it.

The Dutch experiment with Functionalism seemed to be much more engaged than the brief flirtation of the UK. The evolution of ideas and form works of precursors such as Berlage, van de Velde and Dudok, through to Duiker, Oud, Rietveld and onto to Brinkmann, van der Vlugt, Bekama etc. to my eyes form a compelling continuum of experimentation, openness and shared ambition, and established a platform for the confidence of Dutch architecture throughout the course of the 20th Century.

Het Nieuwe Bouwen, CIAM poster

Het Nieuwe Bouwen, posters

These posters, created by Crouwel's Total Studio in 1983 to accompany a series of exhibitions across museums Holland including the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Kröller-Müller at Otterlo, and the Gementesmuseum in The Hague. Each of the exhibitions was accompanied by a book, also designed by Crouwel/ Total Studio, and these are well worth tracking down for both their beautiful design as well as their content.

The beauty of the covers/ posters, with the axonometric view of the signature buildings, on a silvered background with the roof picked out in white, and with the helvetica type set at a 45 degree angle, reflects a total synthesis between graphic design and architecture. It doesn't get better than this.

(The images shown here don't really do them justice - I will scan and photograph the covers of my book copies to replace them shortly, if anyone has any decent images of the posters please let me know).

Het Nieuwe Bouwen, books You can pick these books up second hand but you can also download 4 of them from Scribd (links: Previous History, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, De Stijl, CIAM). If you're feeling rich you can also buy the posters, try here.

This post sponsored by Portakabin:
Modular construction

Cities and Cosmonauts 3

Buran on launchpad at Baikonour

Liam Young and Kate Davies, lecturers at the Architectural Association, are leading a study visit to Chernobyl and Baikonour next July, as part of their Unknown Fields nomadic studio.

"This year, on the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight, we will pack our Geiger counters and spacesuits as we chart a course from the atomic to the cosmic to investigate the unknown fields between the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor in the Ukraine and Gagarin’s launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Beginning in the shadows of nuclear disaster we will survey the irradiated wilderness and bear witness to a sobering apocalyptic vision. We will skirt the retreating tide of the Aral Sea and mine the ‘black gold’ in the Caspian oilfields and caviar factories. We will wander through the cotton fields of Kazakhstan and tread the ancient silk road before reaching the shores of the cosmic ocean bathed in the white light of satellites blasting into tomorrow’s sky. In these shifting fields of nature and artifice we will re-examine our preservationist and conservationist attitudes toward the natural world and document a cross-section through a haunting landscape of the ecologically fragile and the technologically obsolete."

I'm glad that others have recognised the spatial and architectonic qualities of Baikonour. There are of course the hauntological aspects, the disused and abandoned launchpads, and the tragedy of the collapse of the hangar in 2002 where the last Buran was stored, crushing with it the dream of resurrecting the Soviet shuttle program that was hinted at by Leonid Gurushkin's announcement of 2001. "We have been dreaming of this time," said Gurushkin.

But it is too easy to regard Baikonour as a monument to failed dreams, and forget that it is still a working spaceport. It is a truly disurbanist settlement, to a much greater degree than the compromised linear city plan for Magnitogorsk or the other Sotsgorod. It is a town whose locus is off-world, the earthly counterpart to a true Kosmograd yet to be built.

Buran on launchpad at Baikonour

If, like me, you maintain that the Soviet Space program enabled the secret continuation of the Constructivist project after the rise of Stalin, then Baikonour is a site of key architectural importance.

This is another in a series of posts on Kosmograd sponsored by Portakabin:

Prefabricated buildings from Portakabin.


Previously:

Cities and Cosmonauts 2

Jeremy Geddes paintings/

Jeremy Geddes paintings

The theme of the Lost Cosmonaut has been a continuing inspiration for the artist Jeremy Geddes.

In a series of paintings, Geddes explores the romance and the desolation of the cosmonaut, floating in space, or crashed to Earth. The figure of the Cosmonaut is often placed in a deserted urban setting.

Jeremy Geddes paintings

There's a line from the Silver Jews song People which goes:

"People send people up to the moon, when they return well there isn't much, people be careful not to crest too soon.".

Many astronauts, most well documented being the Apollo astronauts who went to the moon, could never reconcile their lives afterwards and depression and alcoholism were commonplace, and Neil Armstrong became a recluse. Many Soviet cosmonauts experienced similar post-mission trauma, including Yuri Gagarin.

Jeremy Geddes painting

If cosmonaut art is your thing you should also check out this series by Justin Van Genderen, beautiful montages inspired by the Soviet space program.

This is another in a series of posts on Kosmograd sponsored by Portakabin:

Prefabricated buildings from Portakabin.


Previously:

Cities and Cosmonauts

cosmonaut

The Cosmonaut is crowd-sourced and crowd-funded film from the Riot Cinema collective based in Spain.

They hope to create a feature length film with support from private funding. On the website there is currently a trailer, plus a host of supporting material, including a full script, and a full business plan. There's also an "aesthetic dossier" - a collection of related imagery from the Soviet space program, adding background and context to the project.

cosmonaut

The theme of the film, of a lost cosmonaut returning to earth to find everything changed, is a familiar enough theme, and there are also aspects of the script which reminded me of fictional works such of Omon Ra by Victor Pelevin, Gibson and Sterling's Red Star, Winter Orbit, Solaris, even Capricorn 1 or the eternal triangle of Jules et Jim; and real events from Soviet space history such as the death of Komarov, At its heart is the romance of the Soviet space program, a consensual hallucination, the belief that when you dream something hard enough you can make it happen.

cosmonaut

Much of the film is set in Star City, the cosmonaut training facility just outside Moscow, and the filmmakers, who have describe it as a like a movie set, hope to be able to film on location there.

The motif of The Cosmonaut film is a hummingbird, Kolibri, a fictional name given to Brezhnev's plan to land a Soviet on the Moon by 1970. As described here:

"Back came the ritual reply - a Soviet manned lunar landing must be achieved by the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Lenin (April 22, 1970). On that date a Soviet man would plant the Red Banner and unveil a bust of Lenin on the lunar surface. Unlike the US President, Brezhnev would never get to see a manned launch to the moon."

cosmonaut

In the shop you can purchase merchandise and also make a donation to be a producer on the film, earning a mention in the credits. Currently they have about 2400 producers and 19% of the funding they require, so why not show your support of this exciting venture.

This is another in a series of posts on Kosmograd sponsored by Portakabin:

Prefabricated buildings from Portakabin.

Cycle path Suprematism

Barclays Cycle Hire

Transport for London, in looking for a corporate sponsor for their plans to encourage, have entered into a Faustian pact with the Barclays banking corporation.

Launched in August this year, the Barclays Cycle Hire is one of the largest cycle hire schemes in the world (with over 6000 bikes available at over 200 docking stations across central London. In sponsoring the scheme, Barclays have not only got their name plastered all the logo, on the bikes and the docking stations, but also injected their corporate colour, a bright cyan blue, into all livery and signage too.

Corporations like to associate themselves with a particular colour - think of the UPS brown, for instance, or T-mobile's magenta. Barclays cyan is a distinctive colour, and by contributing £25 million to the costs of the London Cycle Hire scheme, have sealed themselves a highly conspicuous brand presence.

According to this article:

"The Mayor sees the Barclays bikes becoming as iconic as London's black cabs, and red double-decker buses. It is not the first time advertising has been built into the cityscape. The iconic Art Deco windows of the Oxo Tower, formerly home to the makers of the eponymous stock cube, on the South Bank of the River Thames were reputedly built to sidestep an advertising ban imposed by London County Council."

As well as sponsoring the cycle hire scheme, Transport for London have also allowed Barclays to brand a series of 'cycle superhighways'. These glorified bike paths, eventually ten routes radiating out from Central London, are designed to permit greater numbers of cyclists to move quickly in and out of the city with improved right of way and priority at junctions.

Whilst the Hire Bikes are ubiquitous, moving adverts for Barclays, the Cycle Superhighways are a permanent branding etched onto the urban fabric.

Barclays Cycle Superhighway

Barclays Bike hire and Barclays Cycle Superhighways represent the most comprehensive urban spatial branding ever visited upon the city. The streets have literally been coloured in Barclays brand livery.

Barlcays Cycle Superhighway

Looked at another way and it may become a huge Suprematist composition, visible only from Google Earth. Ribbons of colour radiate out from the city, an act of corporate geomancy inscribed on the fabric of the city.

Barclays Cycle Superhighway

However, the lumpen reality on the ground of these Superhighways is that they are often little more than re-sprayed cyclepaths, and far from cutting a swath through the chaos of the city, are just another part of its culture of congestion. The continuous cyan ribbon is truncated, terminated, dug up and parked upon.

Henk Hofstra

If Barclays really want to go for it, they should take a leaf out of the book of artist Henk Hofstra, who in 2007 painted the whole width of a road in Drachten, Netherlands, a vivid cyan colour, for 1 kilometer. His aim was that the streets would show up on satellite images, perhaps this is where Barclays got the inspiration.

This is the first in a series of posts on Kosmograd sponsored by Portakabin:

Prefabricated buildings from Portakabin.