Category Archives: transport

Rising in the world

redneck mansion trailer reuse

This image under the title Redneck Mansion is racing through the blogosphere faster than headlice through a kindergarten leaving a wake of vicious and patronising comments, as if rednecks had a monopoly on vulgarity. But it strikes us as an imaginative, witty and good fun bit of adaptive reuse, not at all vulgar – and probably fairly expensive to build. So yah boo sucks to the commenters who seem a more vulgar bunch of rednecks than whoever built this. But where is it? And where did the image originally come from?

The return of the dispossessed


(Photo Sean Hemmerle)

You will have noticed that we’ve been updating our links since new year. While trawling our bookmarks we noticed a thread of links about apocalypse that we discussed in our last post but also about attempts to adapt to catastrophes/war/dystopias, providing visions of a future that is all too possible.

Beirut seems to be the test bed of cataclysmic adaptation. The most interesting Beirut link, because of its clear personal tone, is the unbuilt architecture blog, the source of this image

which did the blog rounds recently.

After destruction through war or any other inhumane deployment of technology, capital and energy, we are left with sites, minds and societies unbuilt. Leveled to the ground. Making room for denial, doubt and a divided society. Understandable but unacceptable. This condition needs those who dare to envision perspectives beyond the ruins…

Bullet holes adaptively reused as art or lighting? or their public space project?

Unbuilt do their public space project in Beirut’s dysfunctional public spaces but the lack of public space is common throughout the developed world, a physical reflection of the atomised social pathology. First world cities increasingly consist of private spaces pretending to be public where you are welcome only if you have money to spend,


(Photo helixblue)

places like Boca Raton, Florida where the only genuinely public spaces are the roads.

ArtAfterCrisis, ” a weblog reporting on the role of art in crisis areas” also visits Beirut. Author Chis Keulemans describes his mission to document creative adaptation

I am interested in the ability of artists and intellectuals to reinvent society after the peace has been signed or the dictator has been toppled. How does their work reflect the horrors of the past? How do they reclaim public space in their cities? Do they contribute to or criticize the new collective identity of their society? How do they communicate with the world outside?

Talking about Hassan Choubassi’s map

of the (fictional) Beirut Metro he says

Riëtte, my girlfriend and photographer, spent hours with Choubassi visiting several of the most prominent stops on his fictional Metro Map: places that were crossroads on the demarcation line between the Christian East and the Muslim West parts of town during the civil war of 1975 to 1990.

How do these places look today, and what were the stories behind them?

Adaptive reuse is the only possible way to live in a war torn city.

In the book Traces of Life (2003), the result of a research [Tony Chakar] did with colleague Naji Assi and their students of architecture into the maze of a poor laborer’s neighborhood called Rouwaysset, he describes how densely populated slums like these create their own urban space. ‘The relationship of a building in Rouwaysset with the surrounding buildings and spaces is a relationshiop of mutual and continually renewed violence – a violence that both defines the shape of these buildings and spaces and is defined by them.’

What strikes me is the use of the word violence. Building places for people to live, eat and make babies in is not usually associated with violence. And he is not talking about the violence that may come with the razing down of whole neighborhoods to create spaces of power (like in Ceausescu’s Bucharest) or commerce (like the Jakarta shopping malls), he uses the word to describe the day-to-day push and shove of new additions to existing infrastructure, the perpetual festering of concrete, glass and iron that goes on so stubbornly in Beirut, that it makes it seductive – here more than in many other cities – to compare it to a living organism. Layer upon layer, it grows into a never-ending palimpsest of histories.

Finally, there is a section about Beirut in Worldview,

a web-based project of the Architectural League of New York that invites architects from around the world to present reports on what is new and interesting in architecture and urbanism in their cities, with a particular focus on cities and regions that are not adequately reported on by the mainstream architectural press.

Elie Haddad edits the section on Beirut and he comments

Some historians have attributed the destruction of the city to a latent hatred for what Beirut had come to represent for many of those living on its margins, i.e. an exclusive concentration of economic and political powers that reduced the rest of the population to a condition of subservience. In one post-war documentary, a militiaman candidly recounted the feeling of satisfaction that he and his comrades felt as they entered one of the grand hotels, heretofore a symbol of those in power, and violently took their sweet revenge on the place and all that it symbolized.

Therein lies the warning that cities like Beirut pose, that the exploited and dispossessed will have their revenge. The most immediate and effective solution to global warming would be the immediate and complete destruction of western industrial consumerist society. The disastrous consequences of consumerist greed are now being visited unfairly on the vast majority of the planet’s population who never received any of its benefits. Who could blame them for the most violent retaliation, especially as the destruction of our industrial economies would put an immediate end to the source of all emissions?


(Photo Abdallah Kahil)

Anyone who believes that would be impossible has not learned the lessons of Vietnam, Afghanistan and now Iraq, that a low tech society can always ultimately defeat a high tech military. And a low tech society will be best adapted to survive the next few centuries of chaos.

The joy of apocalypse

Recent announcements by Exxon-Mobil and George Bush indicate that we are now moving out of the climate change denial phase and into the sabotage-and-delay-by-spurious-solution phase (with a good dash of solutions-that-are-worse-than-the-problem like nuclear power and sunlight blocking). It all means that serious catastrophe looks increasingly likely.

We don’t really believe it will end in apocalypse but it’s worth thinking about complete apocalypse if only to get the full range of possible consequences clear in your head. After all, right now much of the developed world, particularly the US, is behaving as if the slightest change (eg less cars, more public transport) will be equivalent to apocalypse.


(Havana. Photo unpeuplus)

The reality is that even genuine and enormous catastrophe is not the end, humans are amazingly adaptive and some places have already had to face the problems that still lie ahead for the rest of us. Cuba has already had its peak oil crisis with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early nineties. Ironically, almost 40 years of US economic embargoes may have made it the society most likely to survive intact, with lots of empty highways ideal for cycling.


(Photo Lauras512– check out her Cuba cycling holiday)

Culture change discusses the Cuban example and suggests Plan B for survival where adaptive reuse will be the order of the day

Depaving is a vast opportunity to free up land. There is more paved land in the U.S than officially designated wilderness. There is unused pavement even with the vast numbers of unnecessary motor vehicles today. Driveways and parking lots are easiest to remove. Tearing up roads is harder because of the deeper and harder road bed. However, trees can still be planted in roads and former roads.

On the other hand Dmitry Orlov is grimly hilarious on the lessons the US might learn from the Soviet experience of national collapse and the adaptation necessary to survive.

In all, I expect drugs and alcohol to become one of the largest short-term post-collapse entrepreneurial opportunities in the United States, along with asset stripping, and security.

And while we are talking about hilarious, the Anthropik Network‘s advocacy of primitivism and survivalist tribalism is whacky if not downright sinister but their 30 Theses make for a thought provoking read. One bit we can agree with is their catchcry that “First, civilization is fragile, and second, humans are not”. Of course, as they point out, we all see these things through our own prejudices

He isn’t alone in seeing what he wants to see of course – the Viridian camp sees a shiny green future awaiting us in the post oil world, old school oil guys like T Boone Pickens see a exploration and drilling bonanza, energy industry investors like Matt Simmons and Henry Groppe see soaring energy prices, gold bugs see rampart inflation and soaring gold prices, ferals and hippies see a return to living closer to nature, socialists see the revival of marxism, conspiracy theorists see government/elite conspiracies and the rise of the new world order, primitivists see the collapse of industrial civilisation and human dieoff, libertarians see an opportunity for the market to bring new energy sources and technologies to us, fascists see an opportunity for a return to authoritarianism and some of the uglier approaches to population control used by their ilk in the past, economists see supply and demand issues being resolved by energy prices, military-industrial complex members see the need to militarily dominate the energy rich regions of the planet, end-times Christian fundamentalists see another symptom of the impending rapture and survivalists see an opportunity to say “I told you so” and finally get to use the skills and tools they’ve spent their lives practicing for.

You’ve just got to remember that whatever you are being sold

it can sometimes be hard to tell if it’s a joke

or if they are serious (from the National Atomic Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico, photos by Life on the Edge). Have a happy apocalypse!

Magic carpet ride

A few months ago when we did a post on the Cambodian norry railway we searched high and low for similar DIY railways but all we found were high tech/high capital experimental projects. But we had something like this in the back of our minds,

and because it seemed such a good idea we knew someone would have done it already, somewhere. Well, here it is (via Cory Doctorow and BoingBoing), the Tapis Volant, part of the Train project by HeHe (artists Helen Evans and Heiko Hansen)

Seen above in Istiklal, Istanbul in 2005, they describe the mechanics of its magic.

Tapis Volant appears as a rectangular red cushion with beaded tassels dangling down from each of its sides. It runs along a single tram track, using it as a monorail, its wheels propelled by an electric motor. The cushion lies on top of a mechanical system that allows the driver to balance when seated in the Lotus position. This posture not only mimics the operation of a ‘real’ flying carpet, but also links body posture to movement in a way that driver has to be Zen to operate

We were interested to find that the underlying impulse for the project was a conscious understanding of adaptive reuse:

The TRAIN project shares the fascination for a personalised automated travel experience, however, its inspiration did not derive from a system of vehicles, but from the idea of using an existing architecture, The Petite Ceinture (The little belt) in Paris. The Petite Ceinture is a magic site: an industrial monument, a rail track that encompasses the city of Paris, abandoned in 1934 due to the extension of the metro lines towards the Paris suburbs.

As well as the Istanbul and Paris version (here seen near Basilique St Denis)

they have produced variations for events in Slovakia,

Valenciennes,

and a surfing version for San Jose.

The artists describe themselves as follows:

HeHe reverse cultural engineers the technological systems that surround us: From transport design to pollution monitoring, from public advertisement to meteorology, from architecture to public lightning. Their work seeks to go back in time, re-work past and as a result, re-phrase the existing into a new critical usage, a social function, with the spectator in its epicentre. At a time of ongoing technological expansion, progress starts to fray on its edges. How can we use and re-use, not only as a semiotic resistance against those who prey on the new, but also to return back to original invention, which have become clouded by recursive innovations. In this way, the work of HeHe is a process of reduction and subtraction until they find a point of departure, from which they can develop a usage with a plain functionality.

Translating the slightly clumsy artspeak, we think that means they are on about exactly the same thing as us, a back-to-fundamentals approach to adaptively reusing heritage and technology to bring about cultural change. Its always comforting to find a few more out there.

Pimp my couch

At 3am in the dark night of the soul the thought often occurs “Why is Segway?” and you babble incoherently “Down there…those things…legs… for walking… or if I want to go faster, for cycling…” Now the news has come through that Segways have been banned in the Netherlands except when used in private by consenting adults.

The lurid late night raving is all caused by the inner gadget geek’s desire for a Segway while the more rational self suspects that every upright Segway user has a prone couch potato dark side. And we think that at last we have found the platonic ideal of the Segway, the guilty secret locked away in every Segway user’s heart.

These adaptively reused couches are available from Armchair Cruisers

The Busycle

Last year we linked to Moz, the creator of one less ute, a load bearing bicycle designed to carry up to 200kg. Given a recent random encounter with the man at a new years festival, it was hardly surprising that Moz should show up again, this time as part of the crew behind the construction of the Busycle.

Conceived of as a “public art project” by Heather Clark and Matthew Mazzotta, the Busycle is a “15 person 100% pedaled vehicle”. It adaptively reuses materials “ranging from office chairs to steel bed frames” in a creation where the emphasis is as much on the communal effort involved in building and powering it, as it is on the creation of an alternative mode of transport.

Over 50 people participated in the design and construction of this vehicle with an impressive diversity of backgrounds and expertise contributing to the project’s realization. A quick look at the bio’s section of the busycle website is enough to send Nicolas Bourriaud into a frenzy. His term “relational aesthetics” has vicariously attached itself to many modes of artist production as well as to notions of “newness” and “the avant garde” in contemporary art. In some ways projects like the Busycle are responsible for reclaiming and reinvigorating the territory which the term relational aesthetics sought to map out. The collaboration and engineering involved in creating the Busycle moves the relational beyond its formulaic application in the art gallery context, into territory where its identification as art becomes unimportant.

Don’t waste your energy

Part One


There is nothing new about pedal power electricity in Australia, in fact throughout most of the twentieth century the adaptively reused bike pedal was essential to two of the mainstays of outback life, the Flying Doctor Service and the School of the Air. Both relied on radio powered by a pedal generator invented in 1928 by Alfred Traeger, shown above with his first working prototype. It continued in use until late in the century when the “Traeger” was replaced by diesel generators and, more recently, solar power.


But that doesn’t mean the idea disappeared. You can still buy similar generators


including one that is hooked up to a normal bike.


But what of this Chinese version, clearly based on the adaptively reused exercise bike?

We’ve had a few laughs in the past at the uselessness of the exercise bike and at the whole sport/exercise culture, one of those delightful examples of capitalism selling a lifestyle that destroys health then making more money by selling a supposed cure for the poor health it is creating. It’s tragic that the history of human physical exertion has come to this absurdity although some slight sanity is reappearing, like redesigning cities to make them more walkable.


Now it may just be post-holiday-season dyspepsia, or our ingrained tendency to always look for the unintended consequence, but something about this exercise machine made us suspect that in a dystopic sustainable future we could be seeing rows of prisoners exercising away to generate the power to run sustainable prisons. Plus ça change.


Strangely, the prison treadmill (the hard labour part of “Sentenced to hard labour”) was common in Britain but it never took off in the US where it was viewed as a profligate waste of labour already in short supply (the chain gang was preferred). The treadmill’s exhausting, mind-numbing futility is credited with the final destruction of Oscar Wilde, yet throughout the developed world the obese, and the merely narcissistic, regularly subject themselves to a similar regime at the gym. Go figure.

Part Two

Just before posting the above, while checking something, Notions of Expenditure turned up in a search.


It’s a proposal to hook gymnasium equipment up to the grid and use all that exercise to generate power, but it’s much more than that and deserves a future post of it’s own. It’s a great site, a bit hard to decide whether it’s completely serious or not, but it’s got lots of info, proposals and interesting links – go and check it out in depth. But ya gotta laugh, because prisons and gyms are equally places of futile suffering we felt like saying great minds think alike…until we found this exasperated editorial comment on yet another “great idea” along the same lines. Originality 30%? Maybe that’s a sign that the adaptively reused gymnasium’s time has come and someone should do it.

Sketchy transport

The bicycle and other human powered vehicles are the most energy efficient forms of transport that our species has managed to engineer, but just how well this latest bicycle adaption runs is a question for those who live in a climate cold enough to warrant it… the snow bike via the make blog.

Also from the make people another version of the electr-o-sketch,

this time for those who prefer their stepper motor driven etch-a-sketch in sphere mode.

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!