Happy Birthday, Mr Darwin

” Charles Darwin ” 1840. Chalk and water-colour drawing by George Richmond (1809-96).

Today, February 12 2009, is the bi-centenary of Charles Darwin‘s birth, a fact that cannot have escaped our educated readers. We’re glad to see there are no shortage of celebrations and we’ve already paid a visit to our monument in our local Charles Darwin Park.

Darwin is important not only as one of history’s greatest scientists and not just because  the theory of evolution explains human origins. The theory also provides crucial pointers to the necessary action that may, just may, save humanity (and millions of other unwitting species) from the perfect storm of multiple disasters we have created.

Among the many things he told us, remember,

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

and you can add

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed”

– an appropriate thought as the contemptible era of extreme capitalism draws to an ignoble close.

Happy Birthday, Mr Darwin.

The Grinning Smithsons

As their greatest and most heroic project is about to bite the dust after decades of slow demolition by neglect, Alison and Peter Smithson’s remaining body of work increasingly looks like the Cheshire cat’s grin – exactly at the point when they seem to be vanishing they are also achieving a prominence they haven’t enjoyed in decades.

Irony just isn’t a strong enough word to describe the situation where two highly influential architects who devoted most of their lives to developing models for social housing will end up being represented by a school, a number of delightful but unrepresentative middle class houses, an office building and finally a shed.

But it’s a great shed, and it’s for sale. The whole project is near to, and reminiscent of, their own weekender, the refreshingly ascetic Upper Lawn Pavilion. It’s hard to imagine a more exciting prospect for adaptive reuse – beautiful (in a rustic brutalist way), spectacular pedigree, fashionably tiny – it’s got it all.

It’s in the garden of the Levitt house, pretty spectacular in its own right. We found it through one of our favourite (architectural) porn sites, materialicious.

And meanwhile Owen Hatherley of sit down man you’re a bloody tragedy has taken a holiday to visit the Smithson’s Hunstanton Secondary Modern School, an enlightening but bleak experience by all accounts.

Reviving Newcastle

It can take a heroic effort to bring an ailing city district back to life but often all it takes to spark it off is one person or one small group. Marcus Westbury‘s efforts to revive Hunter Street, the ailing main street of the Australian industrial city of Newcastle (think rustbelt if you are not in Australia) have certainly been heroic. He is staging a “Renewing Newcastle” information night tomorrow night Wednesday 10th of September at 6:30pm. The venue is the Lock Up (next to the now derelict Post Office) at 90 Hunter Street Newcastle.

Vacant shopfronts in the Newcastle CBD should be opened up to community arts and not-for-profit groups, under control of a property trust that assists building owners with tax concessions.

The idea is simple enough, it’s worked before, but can it work here?

It was pretty amazing to watch the numbers rising on his facebook site when he sent out invitations so here’s hoping it will work. If you are anywhere near there make sure you attend.

Out of the closet

Why does the humble wardrobe have so much appeal as a refuge, an escape to a different world even. From children’s stories like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Indian in the Cupboard, to farces and cartoons where everything from lovers to dead mothers are hidden in them, somehow wardrobes seem to be hotbeds of activity.

And it’s not all fictional. There was the story a few years back about the woman whose lover lived in the wardrobe, emerging one day to kill her husband and then in May this year there was the story of the Japanese man who found a homeless woman had moved into a closet in his house.

Perhaps our tendency to treat the wardrobe as a miniaturised house is an archetypal fantasy of having a nice safe nest, a fantasy that also plays out in cubby houses, tree houses, tiny buildings and caravans, Japanese tea houses even. It’s a sort of fantasy we fall into easily

and maybe that’s why Sydney artist Adam Norton‘s recent exhibition at Gallery9 was so appealing. His wardrobe, adaptively reused as a sort of inner space capsule had all the necessities for a long term hide away from the world.

All bodily functions are catered for, there is storage for food and water, as well as cooking and washing facilities.

There is even a periscope so that you can check if the coast is clear before getting out and stretching your legs.

The reading is admittedly of the most survivalist type but this is where theory and practice are synthesised into an entire lifestyle, and the clock, notebook and paper allow you to document the experience as well, thus creating a complete loop of self referentiality, so to speak.

It’s not as luxuriously roomy as the International Space Station

but it at least seems on a par with early US space capsules. Perhaps later versions will expand to fill the space available, a wardrobe as large as the room it stands in.

Of course there are more ways of hiding than hiding in a cupboard. Norton’s other works include suits for urban camouflage allowing the wearer to lie around inconspicuously in the urban outdoors or even hide within a map.

Flying low

motoart mile high bed

If we are to save the world it is necessary for the principles of sustainability and adaptive reuse to penetrate be adopted by all strata of society. The MotoArt Mile High Bed … what more can we say?

motoart f4 ejector seat

Personally, we prefer the ejector seats.

Charles Darwin was here

It’s the 150th anniversary of the first public exposition, to the Linnean Society, of Charles Darwin’s theory of the evolution of species by natural selection, or at least it was on July 1 and we are just running late as usual (we’ve been working on a couple of large projects that we’ll talk about later).

It’s an important anniversary for us because this blog is an investigation of a less biological version of the theory, an accumulation of examples of technological memes in the process of evolving.

But there is another more immediate reason for its importance, the unlikely fact that Darwin’s first thoughts on the subject occurred only a few hundred metres from where I’m writing this blog in Wallerawang, a small town west of Sydney.

charles darwin in wallerawang

It’s one of those hard-to-believe facts, that something so earth shattering could have originated in what is now an ugly and ruinous industrial gothick landscape, a completely insignificant place to most people although it delights us because of its almost post-apocalyptic weirdness.

Darwin visited Australia in 1836 during the voyage of the Beagle. His only inland trip was to Bathurst, 50 kilometres west of here. On the way he stopped here for several days to make observations of the local fauna, particularly the platypus, our local icon that can still be found living its secretive life in nearby creeks. How could there be a better symbol for adaptive reuse than the platypus,

we are platypus
Snorgtees We are platypus t-shirt

the animal made from leftover parts, we love em.

Anyway it was here on the 19th January 1836 that he wrote in his diary about his observations of ant-lions:

…I had been lying on a sunny bank & was reflecting on the strange character of the animals of this country compared to the rest of the World. An unbeliever in everything beyond his own reason might exclaim, “Surely two distinct Creators must have been at work; their object is the same & certainly the end in each case is complete”.

This comment is considered the first indication of the line of thought that soon led to the theory of evolution.

darwin first tree of life diagram
Darwin’s first tree of life diagram from his 1837 notebook

Of course ironies abound. The site of the sheep station where he stayed is now submerged beneath the waters of a dam that supplies a nearby coal fired power station – so we are now manufacturing the end of species here – and the lake is delightfully named Lake Wallace, although not after Darwin’s great rival, the fascinating and under-rated socialist Alfred Russell Wallace.

lake wallace wallerawang

And we have convinced the local council to rename the shabby adjacent park and erect a monument to the event (although the local National Trust branch had to pay for the plaque which was promptly stolen by the local scrap metal thieves and is currently awaiting a replacement).

charles darwin park wallerawang

So one thing only has not changed, the character of the animals, particularly the humans, remains strange to this day.

Warehouses to offices

The 8522 National Boulevard Complex in Culver City, California is an early (1990) work by architect Eric Owen Moss. Five adjoining 1920s and 40s warehouses have been adapted into a single building united by a new entrance and a public corridor creating varied and light filled working spaces.

eric owen moss culver city

eric owen moss culver city

eric owen moss culver city

eric owen moss culver city

eric owen moss culver city

eric owen moss culver city

Links: Eric Owen Moss

Small workshop to apartments

This adaptively reused workshop in Milan was converted into a small block of eight apartments by the addition of an extra floor by LPzR Architetti.

LPZR milan workshop

LPZR milan workshop

LPZR milan workshop

LPZR milan workshop

LPZR milan workshop

Links: LPzR
Via: materialicious

And the winner is…

No we aren’t talking about Jean Nouvel. The prize for Best Fossil Fools Day Prank goes to Inhabitat’s Frank Gehry McMansion

gehry mcmansion

with its “extremely advanced” “PVC-framed double glazed windows, gypsum plasterboard walls and an advanced timber framing system”. It sounds all too plausible, what with his line of McMuseums and all, and you can bet something similar will be appearing soon, somewhere. In the suburbs of Dubai perhaps? Very witty, guys.

Happy Fossil Fools Day!

It’s good to see an old meme meaningfully adaptively reused, but isn’t every day Fossil Fools Day? Well if you’re fool enough to think you’ll be saved from climate change by the Rapture or some other supernatural event like the US rejoining the planet any day soon then you could be in for a sad surprise, there ain’t nothing supernatural around here.

rapture longcat returns

All the signs have been there for a long time…

cat nativity
The Rev Anaglyph)

you should have investigated further. Now you’d better start being nice to cats and the rest of the planet’s creature or you’ll be meeting the Prince of Darkness….

Prince Of Darkness

With many thanks to the delightful Tetherd Cow

PS We’ve been having server and wordpress meltdowns over the last few days, apologies to everyone, we are slowly getting it under control we hope.