Category Archives: art

Going batty

The world was does not belong only to humans, notwithstanding the deluded ravings of right wing religious extremists.

We share it with a still unknown number of other species and most of them can be pretty awe inspiring once you get to know them better.

What better way to spend your life than trying to make the world better for them rather than worse as we have for the last few thousands of years? (Photos:JJ Kaczanow/Bat Conservation Trust). The Bat House project by 2004 Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller sets out to do exactly that.

Although not an adaptive reuse project in the strictest sense of the word, it is an attempt to adapt the environs of the city of London to make it a more bat friendly place.

Jeremy Deller and the Bat House Project Partners are pleased to invite you to join a collaborative initiative to imagine and design a home for bats in London.

The Project highlights the potential for architects, builders, home-owners and conservationists to work together to produce wildlife-friendly building design. It connects the worlds of art and ecology to encourage public engagement with ecology issues. The Project builds on the Mayor of London’s policies to raise awareness of urban biodiversity and to support the survival of London’s ten bat species.

Each month there is a challenge and the first, ending on January 15, 2007, asks What is it like being a bat in London?

Imagine you’re a bat in London. Where do you hang out? What do you see, feel, hear, eat, need? What attracts you? What gets in your way? Use any medium you like to communicate your idea .

Like Natalie Jeremijenko’s rooftop for pigeons, this is another example of art that gets our stamp of approval.

The gardener on the roof

There can be no doubt that urban agriculture is going to get more of our attention in the future but we draw the line at the adaptive reuse of entire city buildings for intensive urban farming, a dubious idea that seems to be yet another attempt to extend corporate control of food production, an issue that is already reaching crisis point.

Another reason to be cynical about such large scale corporate proposals is a basic management principle – if you have a major fuck up on your hands, get new people to fix it, never ever leave it to the same people who created the problem. Global warming goes with global capitalism and global capital’s “solutions” (eg more nuclear power) will always regard maintaining corporate power as a greater priority than solving the problem – that’s the nature of the globalist meme.

But that doesn’t mean that growing food on the rooftops of city buildings is a bad thing, in fact like all localised and independent forms of production it can be more sustainable and ethical and an important tactic in taking some control back from corporations. And it fits with our belief that adaptively reusing what already exists is always the first step.

Check out this article on rooftop hydroponics in Singapore. The move to food production is the latest step for the burgeoning green rooftop movement (a timeline of the development of green roofs is here).

For many years a building in Sydney’s central business district had a rooftop filled with water and water plants, a sort of rooftop swamp complete with spectacular birdlife. We don’t know if it’s still there but it was the first time we realised that the roof top garden could be more than just an aerial collection of pot plants.

In fact the technology of rooftop gardens has come a long way since then and the benefits of a green roof are now indisputable.

Green roofs conserve energy by moderating temperature on roof and surrounding areas, dramatically reduce storm water runoff, add ecological and aesthetic value by providing wildlife habitat in the urban environment and assist sustainability by protecting and extending the service life of the roof.

As Dr. Manfred Koehler, spokesperson for the new World Green Roof Infrastructure Network (WGRIN), launched this month in Berlin says

Rooftop greening provides an outstanding opportunity to accomplish multiple sustainability objectives and fight climate change.

Until recently the majority of green roofs were on contemporary buildings

such as this commercial building in Kassel, Germany,

the spectacular Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium by nikken sekkei

or the recent coastal research Laboratories of the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute by Lyons Architecture for the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, considered to be Australia’s best green roof design so far (Photos John Gollings),

or the Solaire building, Battery Park, Manhattan, the first ‘green’ residential high-rise in North America. The building’s design incorporates two green roofs: an intensively planted 5,000 square foot terrace green roof on the 19th floor and a 4,800 square foot extensive green roof on the 28th floor. The cleaned run-off water from the roofs is collected in Solaire’s basement cistern along with the building’s grey water and is later used to irrigate nearby parks.

In recent years, however, a new trend has developed, green roofs on heritage buildings such as this roof garden atop Chicago City Hall, 11 stories and 220 feet above street level, or the incorporation of green roofs into adaptive reuse projects, thus further increasing the contribution that these projects make to sustainability. In many instances this now qualifies the buildings under various certification schemes for tax rebates, assisting their financial viability.

One typical example is the Brewers Hill project, a $120 million multi-stage redevelopment of one of Baltimore’s most significant historic brewery complexes into office space, retail shops, residential units and light industrial spaces. Cho Benn Holback + Associates has designed the focal point Natty Boh building, a 10-story brick building complete with planted green roofs and a rainwater collection system.

Some are even arguing that the adoption of green roofs is being accelerated by the bird’s eye view provided by easily available satellite imagery such as Google Earth:

In this degraded age, the roof is emerging as a focus of society’s growing environmental anxiety. Not that green roofs will save the planet — sadly — but in cities from Toronto to Tokyo they are viewed as increasingly necessary if we are to slow global warming. In the Japanese capital, green roofs are a legal requirement for all projects over a minimum size. Even Toronto’s rooftop profile is starting to change, to become greener, thanks in part to a growing awareness of the bird’s eye view.

On the other hand, speaking of the bird’s eye view, how often is a roof top designed for that much despised flying rat, the urban pigeon?

Here is one that is also an example of the sort of art that we really approve of.

It’s by Natalie Jeremijenko at Postmasters Gallery, New York, here’s the press release and here’s an interview and a profile. We first came across her as a mover and shaker at the admirable How Stuff Is Made project then discovered her numerous art projects.

All we can say is that the video here at Seed made our week.

Silly season

Time to use up some of the stranger examples of adaptive reuse that we have come across recently.

Adaptive reuse of images like the crucifixion? How gay is that? (We found it here, otherwise don’t ask, us we don’t know either)

And while we are on the subject of adaptively reusing classical imagery, how about a Judith and Holofernes hand bag by Yael Mer

who also designed the inflatable skirt, indispensable at a time of rising sea levels. (We found them on the incomparable We Make Money Not Art, the best blog in the world).

And while we are on the subject of adaptively reusing the skirt, how about the utilikilt,

the kilt adapted for the modern working class man. The end of unsightly plumber’s crack and a “modesty snap closure system” to save viewers from other unsights. At last, the dress for real men.

And while we are on the subject of real men, would real men drive a hummer that has been pimped for a greener image? A hydrogen powered hummer with algae filled panels that exude oxygen? Or would a real man recognise this sort of cretinous gimmickry is the automobile industry’s warped way of laughing at its critics?

Then how would a real man adapt his vehicle? By making a stupid vehicle even more stupid, that’s how! We know because the comments say so. Perhaps this is useful in areas with a lot of ice but then again vehicles like that are contributing to the disappearance of all the ice on the planet.

If you want to know the way the car is really likely to go then here’s a clue.

This Chinese proposal is more girly and cuddly and maybe it’s not so silly at all even if it does look like a grown up Segway, (aka “the solution in search of a problem”).

Australia’s racist climate-criminal Prime Minister, John Howard, keeps snivelling that we can’t sign the Kyoto Protocol unless the Chinese do because it will be bad for our economy. The Camper Lotus is one of numerous signs that the Chinese have worked out how to economically benefit from fighting climate change while leaving Australia and the US behind. Another more telling sign is that China’s richest man made his fortune from solar technology and China’s richest woman made her fortune from recycling. Tell them sustainability is bad for business!


Everyone must have seen African tin toys made from reused tin cans, and the wire frame type that are often rather unsettling in their ghostliness.

The toy influence is obvious when you see this.

It’s the maquette for a much larger work that seems to have been made in a similar way from even bigger tin cans like oil drums. But it wasn’t and it’s connection to oil is far more sinister.

It’s a new memorial to Ken Saro-Wiwa, the writer and activist executed 11 years ago in Nigeria for his campaign against the environmental devastation of the Niger delta, and the oil-companies-sponsored campaign of genocide against the Ogoni people who live there. There is a great article and slide show about its construction by artist Sokari Douglas Camp in the Guardian.

It also reminded us of another vehicle,

one of the most impressive and unaccountably moving artworks we saw this year, by Paul Hopmeier at Defiance Gallery. Made from adaptively reused truck parts, it was based on an exhibit he saw in the Hermitage in St Petersburg,

a 5th century BC funerary vehicle, constructed from birch wood. Hopmeier’s open cage tumbril is as disturbing as the blind windows of the Saro-Wiwa bus, both vehicles of the dead.

But Ken Saro-Wiwa was hardly the first artist-activist executed on dubious charges. One of the greatest was also a master of adaptive reuse. We mean, of course, Joe Hill, the unionist and song writer executed in 1915. As an organiser for the Industrial Workers of the World (motto “sing and fight”) he wrote numerous parodies of popular songs and hymns – why should the devil have all the best tunes indeed! A typical example is “The preacher and the slave” (sung here by Shannon Murray), his version of the Salvation army dirge “In the sweet bye and bye” which gave us the now common term “pie in the sky”. The song’s condemnation of religious delusion and passivity in the face of injustice has not lost its bite in our age cursed by corporate religions.

His memorial is in the form of the great song “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill“, the first song to be sung in the Sydney Opera House for an audience of construction workers by an unaccompanied Paul Robeson. Robeson himself could almost be considered a martyr artist-activist, his achievements still slandered and his career destroyed because of his life-long and world-wide fight against racism.

Unfortunately Ken Saro-Wiwa is unlikely to to be the last martyr to corporate greed in the difficult century ahead.

Street life

It’s one thing to write about converting 747s into mansions but ultimately that’s only for an extremely wealthy minority.

Homelessness is endemic throughout the world and in the US alone approximately 3.5 million people are estimated to experience homelessness at some point annually, a million of them children. Extremist right wing governments have exacerbated the problem by cutting back health and welfare funding to such an extent that in Los Angeles, for instance, impoverished hospital patients are regularly dumped on Skid Row, as captured on LA Police video below.

Homelessness itself has been criminalised in some cities and numerous attempts are made to make public spaces as uncongenial as possible for everyone except paying consumers.

Check out the anti-sit archives for numerous examples of inventive small-minded malevolence.

But there have been some interesting attempts to adapt and manipulate public spaces and street furniture to alleviate some of the problems of homelessness.

Australian architect Sean Godsell has adaptively reused both the park bench and

the bus shelter for use by the homeless. This flies in the face of the bureaucratic impulse to prevent the homeless from benefitting from any public facilities by putting armrests in the middle of benches, sloping the seats etc (warning: great architect, another crappy flash animated website).

Artist Michael Rakowitz‘s paraSITE proposes a parasitical adaptive reuse of waste heated air from air conditioning exhausts to inflate and warm a shelter.

It comes in several versions.

And although Lucy Orta‘s Refuge Wear is more artwork than practical she is attempting to blend and adapt our concepts of clothing and shelter into a practical unity.

The adaptive reuse of shipping containers is the bigger version of this type of homeless shelter and Sean Godsell’s Future Shack is a now famous example although it’s so good that anyone would want to live in it. But it’s time to face up to it, homeless and refugee shelter is going to be one of the big issues of the coming century.

The blogging art

Although the essay in its adapted blog form is not yet the essay of Bacon, Montaigne, Addison or Orwell you can nonetheless see what may lie in the future as the form refines itself. Brief and pointed, visual as well as literary, loaded with allusion and subterranean complexity via links, and potentially collaborative and open ended through its comments, the blog essay has a great future.

Why this self reflexive ruminating? A post on BLDGBLOG, one of our favourite blogs, about the beauty and future reuses of oil drilling platforms that begins with the author’s discovery of this advertisement. There are times when you just have to stand back and admire. But don’t take my word for it, read the original post here, and its follow up here.

Let me show you my etchings

That ubiquitous fixture of garage sales, the Etch-A-Sketch, has finally been turned into something useful (did anyone ever manage to create a recognisable image on one of those things.. er yes, sort of.)

Here it is, the Electr-O-Sketch, the computerised, adaptively reused Etch-A-Sketch. Two Cornell University engineering students, Jason Levin and Chris Hopkins, replaced the knobs with stepper motors

so that the Etch-A-Sketch could be controlled with a mouse. When that worked they added record and playback that meant it could be used like a printer, although you would need one Electr-O-Sketch per page – at least it doesn’t need refills. One printer per page is only marginally worse than the average inkjet printer where the ink refills costs more than the printer and only print a few hundred pages. We can see banks of these connected to raptop computers, clunking away to determine the meaning of life. This is the peripheral that the internet made of a series of toobs has been waiting for.

We were told about it by our friend Ben Denham

whose marionette spray guns are themselves masterpieces of adaptive reuse and arguably the world’s trickiest writing device.

Check out the videos. It adds a whole new dimension to the idea of hand-eye co-ordination. Thanks Ben.

Into the light

Louise T Blouin is a squillionaire Canadian publisher with an interest in the arts. Having acquired the iconoclastic art magazine Modern Painters and turned it into a fashion magazine she has now set up a foundation in her own name and its new headquarters have just opened in London.

The Louise T Blouin Institute is one of the largest non-government funded, not-for-profit cultural spaces in London to be used for exhibitions and events. Louise T Blouin MacBain’s £20 million investment has transformed the former coachworks of Barker & Co, coachbuilders for Rolls Royce, Bentley and Daimler.

Architects Borgos Dance have retained its 1920s industrial facade but rebuilt the interior

to provide a dramatic triple height 35 ft entrance hall, a 5,000 sq ft gallery space and café, offices for the Louise T Blouin Foundation and

another 4,000 sq ft gallery on the second floor.

A permanent James Turrell installation will work with the façades of the building, using all 80 of the existing external windows. Each window, lit from within, will act as an intelligent unit, controlled individually or as a whole to create an ever-changing artwork on the facade of the building.

As an adaptive reuse project it is beautiful and admirable, yet there is something disturbing about it all. Hey, Louise T Blouin McBain is probably a charming and lovely woman, even if she collects celebrity intelligensia and war criminals. And the rich and powerful have always used vacuous blockbuster art to dress up their activities, but something about this makes me feel queasy, whether it’s the oh-so-correct cliches about creativity and culture, the endless photos of the rich and powerful, the slickness, the spin……?

Never mind, we’ll just eat cake.

Wing it

The Mini desk reminded me that few years back I’d seen a DC3 wing desk in one of those house porn magazines so I went looking for it and here it is.

You can get a single wing

or if you are particularly obese you can get a double winger

and you can accessorize – a nose cone light for instance,

and every man needs a propellor or

a tail fin. I was sort of interested until I discovered they were around US$20k. But if you’d like one, get them here.

But this adaptively reused wing idea seems to then have been adaptively reused by Australian woodworker Ben Culley

whose Wing Desk does the whole thing in wood.

A lid opens when you punch your special code into a keypad, revealing a fitted interior work surface.

I’m afraid that both versions would only work for a clean-desk type of person and that’s not me. Where could I put my computer, how could I stop the mouse from running away?

I did have a clean desk type boss once, but I discovered in the end that he was a filing clerk at heart, spending most of his time filing things to keep his desk clean. He once told me that “your problem is you have too many ideas” which confirmed my suspicion that the clean desk is for the completely uncreative corporate clone who has a career but doesn’t have a life. Perhaps the ultimate desk and chair for that sort of person are these, made from adaptively reused pencils

by German artist Kerstin Schulz for Faber Castell’s one hundredth anniversary exhibition.

Although I’ve owned many antique desks and tables I think I’m a junk desk sort of person as well as an untidy desk person.

I’ve got lots of mismatched antique legs and for ages I have been going to make myself a desk in the style of this bench, but it will be a desk of many, many legs so I can use up the whole lot of them. One of these days.