Boompjes 2

Boompjes observation tower, OMA, 1980

Following on from the previous post about OMA's Boompjes project from 1980, here is the amazing image of the observation tower that formed part of the scheme. The tower is a pure Constructivist monument, a homage to Leonidov and El Lissitzky. Compare it to Lenin Tribune design of El Lissitzky from 1924.

Lenin Tribune, El Lissitzky

As this article on the fantastic Russian Utopia site puts it:

The tribune designed by El Lissitzky became an icon of the Modernist movement. Leninism became a dogma. When both were subjected to revision, it became clear that invigoration socialism was more difficult than updating Modernism.

If you don't find this worms-eye axonometric view of a Constructivist tower in Rotterdam totally awesome, then you're probably reading the wrong blog.


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.


Why 2010 wont be like '2010'


In 1984, during the third quarter of Superbowl XVIII, Apple aired its infamous advert, directed by Ridley Scott, to launch the Apple Macintosh, and proclaimed that "1984 won't be like '1984'".


Fast forward 26 years, and it's clear that 2010 won't be like '2010'.

Written by Arthur C Clarke in 1982, and made into a film in 1984 by Peter Hyams, '2010' is the sequel to '2001', and follows Dr Heywood Floyd (Roy Schieder), as he travels onboard the Soviet spacecraft Alexei Leonov to retrieve USS Discovery and try and revive HAL. The story is set against a backdrop of escalating nuclear tension between the two superpowers.

2010 2010 2010

Visually, while not as intoxicating or sensuous as Kubrick's masterful '2001' (about which I've written previously), '2010' is still a great film. I love the interior shots of the Leonov, aglow with thousands of brightly-lit buttons and instrument panels. The computers aboard the Leonov are tactile, push-button, and display crude (but charming) simple vectorised graphics.

2010 2010 2010

But it's not just the Cold War that has faded in the interim, or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I was watching a video of '2010' on an iPhone when I was suddenly struck by the dichotomy between the future presented on the screen and the future as it turned out, with the iPhone representing perhaps the definitive piece of technology of the current decade.


Computers have become personalised, miniaturised, portals into another space - cyberspace. Released, like the film of '2010', in 1984, William Gibson's novel Neuromancer has been a far more potent vision of the future than Clarke's 'hard' sci-fi vision. Neuromancer represents a phase shift rather than simply a projection of contemporary technologies into the future. In many ways, Neuromancer helped define the future.

2010 2010

Unlike the computers of 2010, the computers in '2010' do not create space. The computers of the Leonov, and even HAL 9000 on the Discovery, are little more than tools or automatons, tactile and solid. Whereas HAL looked out into our world, today we look into the world created within the computer.

2010 2010

We've replaced the dreams of visiting other planets with the inner space of computer devices. Our focus has shifted from exploring outer space to the computer generated world of cyberspace.

As I write, the tech-press is building itself into a frenzied state of excitement speculating what the new Apple tablet, iSlate, or whatever is revealed at the launch event on Thursday 27th January 2010, might do to create a new paradigm for Human Computer Interface, the next evolution of personal computing technology. The horizon of our vision for technology is no longer interplanetary travel but multi-touch user interface designs.

Our ambition seems to have shrunk to the size of a touchscreen tablet. Expect a monolith of a very different kind.


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.]


Construction of a Rectilinear Motion, 1925

Construction of a Rectilinear Motion, 1925

I discovered these great images of paintings by the artist Ivan Alexeevich Kudriashev here.

Painted in 1925, both entitled Construction of a Rectilinear Motion, they're both stunning examples of Futurism in Soviet art. There is very little about Kudriashev online, so if anyone has any more information, please let us know.

From the book Laboratory of Dreams, edited by John E. Bowlt & Olga Matic, in a chapter "Tsiolkovsky as a moment in the prehistory of the Avant-Garde" by Michael Holquist, about the Soviet father of rocketry Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, we learn the following:

"Kudriashev, an important member of the left-wing movement OST, was the son of a master model builder. In this capacity the elder Kudriashev had been invited by Tsiolkovsky to Kaluga, where the rocket engineer needed someone who could build wooden mock-ups of this machines. The young art student accompanied his father on these journeys, and actually helped translate Tsiolkovsky's technical drawings into miniature space ships.

The relation of the new sense of cosmic, interplanetary space to the manner in which space was perceived on Earth became a major preoccupation of Kudriashev. As the artist himself would write, it was his aim to provide in his paintings 'a realistic expression of the contemporary perception of space ... that is the substantial novelty that today is producing the space-painting ['prostranstvennaiazhivopis'].'

The connection of interplanetary travel to the striving of OST members can be demonstrated in a number of ways, as in the 1922 construction by Vladimir Liushin entitled A Station for Interplanetary Communication."

All of which is getting me very excited for the Futurism show at Tate Modern, starting next week (Friday 12th June 2009).