Category Archives: Architecture

Bus CCTV – the accepted Panopticon.

It’s the year 2017 and I don’t look out of the window when I’m on a bus. This is because I’m too busy staring at everyone (and myself) on the bus through its CCTV feedback screen.

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Me on the No. 3 bus to Gorgie (Edinburgh) this afternoon.

I am specifically talking here about the Lothian Buses device, Edinburgh’s own slice of PG-13 voyeurism. Officially, I have no active interest in the other people joining me in the ramshackle vessel’s journey, but the screen is just … there. I even play a game: I sit at the back and pick my nose when the camera isn’t on me, and attempt to unearth something green and solid before I’ve been framed. If the contraption were on the Orient Express I’d be doing this instead of gazing through the glass and marvelling at the changing landscape.

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David L. Ryan/Globe Staff.

I’d like to see the crime statistics for bus assaults, and measure them against the introduction of cameras with their feedback display. I maintain my hunch that there is no doubt a correlation between knowing you’re being watched and committing a crime. A lot of scum frequent buses – these cameras are our psychological protection against the most cautious riff-raff.

I once again come back to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, which appears to be my obsession of late.

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The Presidio Modelo prison in Cuba, closed in 1967.

So many of our external endeavours – by this I mean our post-house interactions – are oriented within a Big Brother framing device. The only difference between Orwell’s all-seeing eye and our ‘real-life’ one is that we’re complicit in the game, inspecting ourselves in the frame and often inhabiting our own watered-down (or up) voyeur’s gaze. The amount of times I’ve acted the paparazzi in the presence of a midget, for example, is frankly beastly.

Further reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/23/panopticon-digital-surveillance-jeremy-bentham

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/exposed/exposed-voyeurism-surveillance-and-camera-exhibition-guide-4

Your generic shop for equipment: https://www.videosurveillance.com/buses.asp

 

 

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Budapest Metro is an underground sketch comedy from hell.

In late January and early February 2011 I spent eight days in Budapest. I hated the city and almost everything about it – it was just replete with scum who would literally do anything for a dollar. On every other street corner you had a hustler or a beggar or an alleged drug dealer peddling Daz washing powder as if it were cocaine fit for Hunter S. Thompson in his prime. The highlight was a Tesco and a ‘cinema hostel’ I stuck around at for the banter, i.e., alcohol and movies. I still meet up with (now) close pals I made on that trip, and we are all in agreement that the metro was, as Alex DeLarge would put it, a real horror show.

306453_10150797955890691_1579151984_nI’d never until that trip seen such shamelessly corrupt ‘authority figures’ as I did their ticket inspectors. They’d swagger around in packs – they reminded me of the Toon Patrol weasels from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – the ugliest, shortest, most unshaven specimens you’ll ever witness wearing a uniform. If it were the early 1940s they’d be volunteering for a stint in a death camp. Weirdly, so many of them were the spitting image of Georgy Zhukov. I took about 25 metro journeys during my time on the Danube, and on each occasion was privy to these mutants harassing half the train. I had the impression most of them were mentally compromised individuals on work experience. If you’re expecting commuters to be deferential, though, at least try and look like you’ve not just crawled out of bed.

 

Anyway, there is a film about them called Kontroll (2003), and it essentially sums up these plonkers, with a bit of magical realism thrown in. I saw it the other day and it impresses. Budapest Metro is apparently the oldest electrified subway network on the continent … which is just great. I’d have the staff replaced by robots.

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The movie is good, though, and better than the real thing (a common occurrence).

Further reading/viewing:

https://welovebudapest.com/en/2015/11/10/kontroll-issues-budapests-public-transport-ticket-inspectors/

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/kontroll-2005

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Architectural determinism and airports.

“There is no doubt whatever about the influence of architecture and structure upon human character and action. We make our buildings and afterwards they make us. They regulate the course of our lives.” – Winston Churchill addressing the English Architectural Association in 1924.

Such leaders did at one point uniformally think that society could be shaped by its physical constructs – that us peasants would be awed into a mode of thinking and behaving. How else could one explain Albert Speer’s infamous Cathedral of Light at Nuremberg from 1933 onwards, this perhaps *the* apotheosis of architecture as both symbolism and distraction, imbued with the ‘ideals’ of that regime and as, to speak plainly, something nice to look at.

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The sometimes hideous effects of what Maurice Broady termed ‘architectural determinism’ in his 1966 paper Social theory in Architectural Design can be evidenced in the case of the Wendell O. Pruitt Homes and William Igoe Apartments, or Pruitt–Igoe, surely the most striking example of authoritarian utopia ending in a right fucking mess.

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Designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect behind the World Trade Center towers and the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport main terminal, the Pruitt–Igoe was demolished a mere two decades after its completion in 1956, such were the levels of crime and racial discord within the complex. It’s now the archetypal failure of social engineering through architectural design.

It’s our airports today – our temporary living quarters – that perhaps more than any other constructs are so obviously designed to regulate human behaviour, and with good reason.

It’s only when I’m in an airport that I consider how much has consciously informed the design of the building to as calmly as possible guide the passenger from security to plane, that the best of them are an intricately sculpted conveyor belt. I’ve had the feeling many times: “I’m being controlled here.” A Panopticon-like transportation hub, I am not sure whether I am being watched in my every movement, but I behave as if I am and follow the orthodoxy, my surface deindividuation process complete. In airports we are powerless and deferential to authority, a uniform more powerful than words. In some cases, though, you will be in a horror show – Bratislava and Faro’s airports come to mind. This is when you witness the collective lose their proverbial shit.

You can ease someone into serenity, relieve the stress, but there have been times in some stinker airports where I must confess I have sweated spinal fluid. It’s being around confused people that does it. A microcosm of society, the airport is where the traumatised go to annoy the rest of us. You can see them actively struggling to comprehend what is going on, like headless hens on hallucinogens (accidental alliteration). I don’t want to know what it would be like were the busiest airports not the realisation of total design. We are even given the illusion of choice, with the range of shops on offer mostly all selling the exact same water or snack product, the selection of overpriced bars, to the option of speedy or priority boarding (as if the flight will be departing more quickly when choosing this option).

Some of the very best:

Munich Airport.

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Apparently (according to the *internets*), the Munich Airport Centre has the only supermarket in Bavaria; a passenger can shop from 5.30 a.m. to midnight every day. Enter every cliche about Germany and its efficiency and cleanliness.

Haneda Airport (Tokyo Haneda Airport).

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I was here in 2015. Fuck me, it was almost like I had ventured into another world. I could have been anywhere but an airport. Then I sat next to a fat bastard from Missouri who smelled like blue cheese.

Singapore Changi Airport.

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135,000 passengers a day but one doesn’t even feel like they have even approached the building. Omniscient greenery, a rooftop pool, movie theatres. Scenes.

Further reading:

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/design/how-architecture-uses-space-light-and-material-to-affect-your-mood-american-institute-architects-a6985986.html

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/apr/22/pruitt-igoe-high-rise-urban-america-history-cities

http://theconversation.com/building-a-better-world-can-architecture-shape-behaviour-21541

https://sites.psu.edu/siowfa16/2016/09/05/can-architecture-affect-human-behavior/

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Lunch atop a Skyscraper, 1932.

New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam

For about a decade I thought this image was a shot of construction workers enjoying a lunch-time nibble on the Empire State Building. Only last year was I told the building wasn’t the site of King Kong’s last hurrah but 30 Rockefeller Plaza, or 30 Rock for short (now recently renamed the Comcast Building).

Weirdly, Sir Alex Ferguson brought me here. In a TV interview with Fabien Barthez, Fergie explained to his old goalkeeper the importance of the photograph (it adorned his office wall), that it encapsulated with its 11 men dangling on the 840-foot girder classic themes of sacrifice and teamwork, and of realising the impossible. A cultured chap for a football manager, one would of course expect this kind of art on his wall, and not Vinnie Jones crunching Gazza’s testicles.

Widely credited to Charles C. Ebbets, the snap has a staged, advertising feel to it, but is nonetheless quietly subversive in its details. This is the Prohibition era, yet the bloke on the far right is hogging a bottle of whiskey (fuck the system!). Researchers have identified him as Gustáv (Gusti) Popovič, a lumberjack and carpenter from Slovakia, who would at the end of WWII be killed by a grenade. He even sent his wife this photograph, on which he wrote, ‘Don’t you worry, my dear Mariska, as you can see I’m still with bottle. Your Gusti.’

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Immigrants building the future, eh. Many photographs are considered great merely on the basis of their functional quality (a photo is a photo is a photo), others also have an accompanying historical value which enriches them, surface components opening up human dramas outwith the artefact.

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