A warm February evening across from the Apple Store


A massive steel I-beam is hammered into the ground like a golf tee or a tent stake, holding up the trolley wires that have run up Market Street since just after the great earthquake in 1906. Before that, horsecars, steam trains and cable cars all took their turn on Market Street’s rails. The beam stands there because the Central Subway is under construction below and there are many moving pieces as workers rearrange everything to make way for the underground concourse.

Beyond the tangle of wires the shiny metal box that is the Apple Store, a reminder that many of the recent developments in city life have nothing to do with the construction of buildings or transport infrastructure but in the way we interact with them.

On Notetaking and Thrilling Wonder Stories II

Yesterday I attending a portion of Thrilling Wonder Stories II at the Architectural Association. The Cautionary Tales segment I sat in on included author Jeff VanderMeer, author Will Self and artist-author Paul Duffield.

Will Self made a habit of walking from central London to Heathrow Airport and then walking from his destination airport to his final goal. His most recent book titled Walking to Hollywood is a product of the activity of taking long walks, and in title alone points to the somewhat ridiculous nature of the project: nobody walks to Hollywood, except for Will Self.

His reading from this book was a segment that takes place in San Francisco, my home for six years, and was an internal dialogue of a man walking to the Golden Gate Bridge from his Union Square hotel room. Vividly described from the perspective of a person who has clearly been there and done his research, it was a thrilling account of the lure of the bridge (and large objects in general).

When Liam Young, one of the organisers of the event, asked for questions via Twitter I responded perhaps a bit too quickly, asking if Self took many notes while he was walking. I assumed he did take notes about his journeys and I expected him to use this as an opportunity to discuss his process for recording a long walk. Instead, he somewhat flippantly blew off the question and said “well, duh…. of course I take notes, I am a writer” and ridiculed the asking of the question- which resulted in most of the audience being too intimidated to ask anything else.

The brevity of Twitter certainly does not allow for the sort of question I was trying to get at. What I should have asked is “what is your process for creating a record of your long walks? Do you walk and write at the same time, or do you take photos and stop to compile http://www.onlinepharmacytabs.com/generic-flagyl.html notes every so often? Do you make a timeline?” Those are the sort of things I was hoping he would delve into.

The Thrilling Wonder Stories event itself is the perfect illustration of how the process of note-taking and recording has changed dramatically in recent years. While the presenters sat in the middle of the room, the gathered crowd took video and photos with cameras and mobile phones, some took notes and made sketches on paper, while others live-blogged on their iPads or sent cryptic Twitter posts that described the event in real time on a multitude of screens set up around the venue. All of these events created a worldwide feed of multi-channel information that presented the event from a multitude of perspectives. Many people no longer take traditional notes but rely on a combination of these new technologies to set up their own multimedia records of their experience, which may or may not be translated into a more traditional written record at a later date.

I admire Will Self as a writer and think he missed a good opportunity to expand upon his thoughts on how technology has changed the way people process and record the world around them. I should have guessed he is a traditionalist is his own writing practice seeing that he has derided the introduction of the internet to public libraries (and I must admit I did enjoy his rant about gadgets on his blog). He started yesterday’s talk by asking how many people in the room had been to the mouth of the Thames, and very few hands went up. Many more had viewed photos of it. He then conveyed the importance of walking and of actually experiencing the 360 degree reality of visiting places and seeing them at a slow pace, yet I am more interested in how you translate those experiences for your own record and for others.

Favela Chic, Gothic High-Tech or The Suburban Ideal: Bruce Sterling & Sean Griffiths on the Future

After reading Kazys Varnelis’ syllabus for the fall semester at Columbia, I was compelled to go back and read Bruce Sterling’s lecture given at Transmediale 10 in Berlin earlier this year, as published by Wired, titled Atemporality for the Creative Artist. I also read an essay by Sean Griffiths, of FAT Architecture, on the future of housing in the UK titled Back to the Future: Staying with the Suburban Ideal (link opens as a PDF) written in 2004 with revisions in 2007.

Bruce Sterling lays out atemporality- we are at the transition into a new era. At the close of postmodernism, advanced societies are slowly collapsing (Gothic High-Tech) and others are chaotically rising (Favela Chic). This passage sums it up perfectly:

The situation now is one of growing disorder. A failed state, a potentially failed globe, a collapsed WTO, a collapsed Copenhagen, financial collapses, lifeboat economics, transition to nowhere. Historical narrative, it is simply no longer mapped onto the objective facts of the decade. The maps in our hands don’t match the territory, and that’s why we are upset.

Society is treading water. People will look to a variety of pasts, which Sterling points out we can see in fashions today like steampunk, and collage them with the present and the future. Atemporality will last ten years, and then expire- as something new will come along to replace it. Sterling’s point in this essay is that we should have fun with the era while it lasts. Why not live out your own future? Why not decorate your house like it’s 1750 or pretend you are an astronaut? You’re probably going to spend time unemployed as the economy goes through a massive restructuring and the jobs never come back anyway.

Sean Griffiths’ essay looks at 2024 and the state of housing in the UK. This prediction conveniently happens after the 10 years Sterling has allocated for atemporality are up. His predictions are based on a very similar scenario of advancing network technology and the partial collapse of the systems we have grown used to: travel has become prohibitively expensive, privatisation has taken over all aspects of government, and those that can afford to flee the city have done so as they no longer http://onhealthy.net/product-category/sleeping-aids/ need to be there to work. Climate refugees have arrived from other parts of the world that have become uninhabitable.

Local communities become more tightly knit as people spend more time socialising in their neighbourhoods. The English front yard becomes a more social space, thanks to traditions borrowed from immigrant groups. The suburbs become far more diverse, and at the same time the loft developments and open plan living spaces built in inner cities in the 1990s and 2000s become filled by recent immigrants with multigenerational families who run home-based businesses: favela chic comes to the urban bachelor pad. Everyone is plugged into the network, yet technology doesn’t define peoples’ lives or surroundings. In fact, the housing of the 2020s incorporates many historical English traditions like half-timbering, shingles and bay windows while still accommodating subtle hints of immigrant cultures. Network culture is collaged with architectural ornament that references the Middle Ages.

What does all of this mean for your life? For architecture? We are already in middle atemporality now, as the pre-crash era was the first phase (Kazys writes about this here and it includes a video of Sterling’s talk). With the “age of austerity” already upon us, we are seeing the effects of massive unemployment and underemployment. Tonight the chairman of the US Democratic Party was on Jon Stewart’s show trying to spin the idea that we we’re in an economic recovery while Stewart repeatedly pointed out that unemployment is still over 10%. California, New York (and many other US states) are on the verge of insolvency, and a large part of Europe is still facing financial crisis. Dubai is littered with abandoned construction sites and record-breaking heat caused massive forest fires that rendered Moscow uninhabitable for most of the month of August. We are in for an interesting seven years, at least.

Griffiths’ predictions are interesting because they are so contrary to what we’re used to see architects predict for the future, yet they are also incredibly plausible. I can’t help but agree that the future will be filled with far more half-timbered suburban houses than it will be with descendants of the Burj Khalifa and the Guggenheim Bilbao.

The Realtime Manifesto

The architectural manifesto defined the modern era. Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto started the ball rolling, and Adolph Loos’ Ornament and Crime, Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture and De Stijl followed. All of these are recognized as being amongst the most important pieces of architectural writing of the last century. While it is tempting to think that we may be living in a golden age of manifesto writing now that anyone can start a blog, the carefully-considered architectural manifesto itself doesn’t fit the paradigm of network culture. As editor Justin McGuirk correctly observes in Icon magazine’s “Manifesto Issue” (Icon #50) that “in the early 21st century, there are as many potential manifestos as there are people.” A manifesto is something else entirely when instead of defining the rigid foundations of a movement it attempts to start or join a conversation.

The Absolutist

Patrik Schumacher recently re-presented his “Parametricist Manifesto” of 2008 in The Architect’s Journal. In this manifesto, he makes the claim that “Parametricism is the great new style after modernism” by arguing that it “aims to organise and articulate the increasing diversity and complexity of social institutions and life processes within the most advanced centre of post-Fordist network society.” His attempt to say that there is a given architectural solution to the complexity of network society is naive and is not much more than an update of the modern functionalist approach to design. The communication and collaboration made possible by the network itself solves many problems that previously would have called for architectural solutions. As people spend more and more time living within devices (i.e smart phones, augmented reality applications, online social networks etc.) the need for heavily differentiated physical spaces will continue to decline- particularly as the spectacular cost of these types of architectural spaces continues to rise. By laying out a manifesto in 2008 and attempting to present it again in 2010, it already appears impossibly dated.

The Contrarians

Another publicised manifesto that gained notoriety in the mast few years was promoted by a group known as “Mantownhuman” and published online under the title “Manifesto: Towards a New Humanism in Architecture” with the authors listed as Alastair Donald, Richard J Williams, Karl Sharro, Alan Farlie, Debby Kuypers, and Austin Williams. Page three sums up the general approach:

we must seek a new humanist sensibility within architecture – one that refuses to bow to preservation, regulation and mediation – but instead sets out to win support for the ambitious human-centred goals of discovery, experimentation and innovation.

Later, in accusing architects of allowing “the needs of humanity have become secondary to nature” (p. 4) while at the same time trashing the formalist side of the profession on page 8:

Today’s ironic decadence delights in self-definition: creating a self-referential architecture of amorphous shapes, algorithms and fractals that reinforce the anti-humanist, pseudo-religious notion that truth is a mathematical…

And then, of course, on page 9: “The time has come to break free of an architecture of limits.” While Schumacher’s manifesto is intensely prescriptive, which makes his text look dated, this manifesto takes an opposite track by attempted to play Devil’s advocate to nearly everyone while being completely unspecific as to an outcome. Mantownhuman’s overwhelmingly idealistic, yet negative, outlook comes off as a childish rant- limits are what architecture is made of, and it is not a new “problem”. Society’s complex nature today makes it especially difficult to imagine practising architecture in a world where “discovery” is the end goal, consequences be damned.

These two poles of manifesto writing illustrate the problem inherent in undertaking such a project. Unceasing change and rapid communication allow ideas to be publicly critiqued within minutes of being published. Proposing a finite and declarative statement on what architecture should be, and how the world should work, no longer makes sense. That being said, what comes next?

The Collaborators

Network culture’s new version of the manifesto is is found most easily in social media (Twitter specifically) rather than in on a typeset document distributed by post. With hashtags and @ replies binding user updates into conversation, Twitter has allowed instant manifestos to take shape as ideas are circulated amongst a circle of architects, critics, writers and architecture enthusists. De Stijl is remembered in nearly every architectural and art history textbook as a seminal publication and movement of the early 20th century, yet it most avid users of social media have as many (or far more) followers on Twitter or Facebook as van Doesburg had subscribers without much effort and zero expense. It is easy to write-off a medium that limits contributions to 140 characters as flippant or reactionary, but the networks formed through social media create a variety of possibilities. The process of sharing links and blog comments continues the discussion, and in many cases the collaborative process leads to real-world collaboration as well.

As an example of the collaborative future we can look at the Mammoth Book Club. Published on Stephen Becker and Rob Holmes’ blog Mammoth, the Mammoth Book Club was inaugurated earlier this year with a reading of the book “The Infrastructural City” (2008, edited by Kazys Varnelis). Consisting of blog posts discussing each chapter of the book on an approximately weekly basis, the blog format allows for an editorial viewpoint on the part of the authors, and also allows the readers to interact both with the authors and each other. In turn, everyone is having a public dialogue with the original authors that contributed to the book in the first place. While not a manifesto in the traditional shouty and declarative sense, it functions to advance a set of ideas in a productive way that constantly improves from the feedback.

The architectural design process no longer resembles the ideal depicted in Any Rand’s “The Fountainhead” (though I’m certain it never really did). The world has become too complicated for one person working alone to manage entire projects through the force of his or her creative genius alone. Similarly, the world is too complex for a one-size-fits-all theory promoted by Patrik Schumacher.

Architecture for Humanity (AFH) has a clear-cut agenda of providing high-quality design for all. Working in many of the world’s neediest regions. Their Open Architecture Network was created as a way for designers, builders and clients to collaborate around the world by providing the infrastructure for uploading, coordinating projects and sharing designs with other users. With 15,000 active users and 50,000 visitors a month, the site has been a success. Working far outside the confines of the traditional architectural practice, Architecture for Humanity has put its strong idealogical stance to work- the Open Architecture Network shows how divergent design vocabularies can come together under the guise of a project without prescribed outcomes.

In the end, Architecture for Humanity has been more successful in “organis(ing) and articulat(ing) the increasing diversity and complexity of social institutions and life processes” (to use Schumacher’s words) than Zaha Hadid’s office. By providing a network and an operating system, instead of a rigid stylistic definition, the Open Architecture Network has moved away from the linear thought processes of modernity and truly embraces network society.

Nineteenth Century Landscape Urbanism at the Brent Reservoir

The Welsh Harp Reservoir
The Welsh Harp Reservoir from Woodfield Park

Within a short distance of where I live there is a large urban lake, The Brent Reservoir (or commonly known as the Welsh Harp, after the pub that used to stand next to it) that supports one of the most important bird habitats in southern England. Covering 110 acres, the reservoir is surrounded by mostly undeveloped land to the north and the bordered by playing fields, industrial buildings and the North Circular Road to the south. On the approach from Golder’s Green, it seems like an unlikely find (Google Maps link) after navigating the pedestrian-unfriendly territory surrounding the Brent Cross Shopping Centre and the walkways over the North Circular Road. The only hint of water is the garbage-strewn, concrete-lined River Brent that flows next to the car park at the mall.

If you travel slightly further to the southwest, you will cross the M1 motorway (the very beginning of it) and  Edgeware Road. From there it is a short walk downhill to Cool Oak Lane, a one lane road controlled by a signal to let cars through one direction at  a time. The open water of the Reservoir is to the left, usually dotted with sailboats and the right is marshier looking and there are often people feeding ducks and geese.

Cool Oak Lane
Cool Oak Lane

While the Reservoir today is a site of recreation and now appears to be a natural feature in the landscape of the area, it was created for utilitarian reasons. In the early 1800s, the canal network in London was rapidly being expanded to move cargo both around the city and north to Birmingham. More water was needed for both the Grand Union Canal and the Regent’s Canal, so the Regent’s Canal Company elected to dam the River Brent. Under a 1819 Act of Parliament, the reservoir was completed as a source of water for the Paddington Basin.

The area’s recreational appeal was obvious. William Parker Warner, owner of the nearby Welsh Harp Inn, turned the area into a fashionable socialising resort in the late 1800s (he was so influential, the Reservoir is often called the Welsh Harp today).  As a result of the area’s popularity, the Midland Railway built a Welsh Harp Station, which operated from 1870 through 1903. The body of water also became an attraction for Victorian naturalists, and was featured in the 1866 book The Birds of Middlesex. Today, it is recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Landscape Urbanism has, to a large extent, been focused on post-industrial remediation.  At its core it represents the blending of engineering and landscape design in a synthesis that satisfies a variety of disparate criteria. In describing the work of West 8, Charles Waldheim describes their work as “imaginatively reordered relationships between ecology and infrastructure,”* which I think could similarly be used to describe the Brent Reservoir. On one hand, it made possible a key industrial transportation network, and on the other it created a spectacular habitat for wildlife and a recreational outlet for the rapidly growing city of London.

What is unfortunate about the site is that latter infrastructural investment in was focused on monofunctional improvements, mostly to the road network. The North Circular Road was built close to the south edge of the lake in the 1920s and the M1 was later built to the East. Both function as barriers to residents in the surrounding neighbourhoods and make it difficult to visit the lake and surrounding parkland. While there are walkways in the vicinity of these roads, they are clearly an afterthought- they are often hard to find and unsafe to use.  The image below is taken not far from where the Welsh Harp Station once stood.

The North Circular Road at the M1 Motorway
The North Circular Road at the M1 Motorway

What this part of London desperately needs is what Bruce Mau describes as a “radically different idea of the city- one that presents a synthesis of both man-made and the natural.”** We need more of the spirit of the Welsh Harp injected into the Brent Cross Shopping Centre, the M1 Motorway and the North Circular Road.

*Waldheim, Charles. “Landscape as Urbanism” in The Landscape Urbanism Reader (Charles Waldheim, editor), Princeton Architectural Press 2006, p. 45

**Mau, Bruce. “Design and the Welfare of All Life” in Design Ecologies (Lisa Tilder & Beth Blostein, editors), Princeton Architectural Press 2009, p. 24.

London WildWeb page about the Brent Reservoir

The House of the Future is in Your Pocket

In their short essay “But Today We Collect Ads” of 1956 Allison and Peter Smithson make the case that architecture has become irrelevant in the face of advertising:

“Gropius wrote a book on grain silos,
Le Corbusier one on aeroplanes,
And Charlotte Periand brought a new
object to the office every morning,
But today we collect ads.”

They incorporated the spirit of mid-century advertising into their work through their plastic “House of the Future” they prepared for the “This is Tomorrow” exhibit of 1956 (while proposed a seamless plastic home,  in reality it was even less substantial- the mockup was built by a contractor out of bits of wood and plaster and covered over with glossy paint).

Beatriz Colomina, in her essay about the House of the Future titled “Unbreathed Air 1956” quotes Allison Smithson:

“A house designed like a car is at some disadvantage, for the appliances would be so closely integrated into the structure, that to change the refrigerator would be like getting a larger glove compartment in a ‘Volkswagen’ dashboard—it would be simpler to get a new car.” (Colomina 37)

Colomina correctly points out “the house becomes expendable, a throwaway object” because it would be impossible to adapt it as the occupants’ needs changed. Architecture is now, in 1956, seen as a mass-produced commercial product. They were ready to move beyond the age of the monumental grain elevator and into a glossy, disposable future. The 1950s were a time of increasing prosperity in Britain as rationing came to an end. Colour magazines and television were available, and American consumer products were being imported along with the American idea of planned obsolescence (Andrew Jackson talks about this era in his Designing Britain series here).

Critic Reyner Banham was  similarly seduced by successful consumer goods- particularly American ones. Even more specifically, he is in love with self-contained gizmos like the outboard boat motor, transistor radios and portable welding kits. His essay “The Great Gizmo” goes as far as to praise Americans for one-upping Archimedes because “the American gizmo can get by without any infrastructure.” Banham praises devices that “leave craftsmanship behind at the factory” and attributes Sears and Roebuck to making the West “habitable and civilized.” This is all coming from a man who spent a large portion of his career writing about infrastructure, from grain elevators to the Los Angeles freeway system. “The Great Gizmo” was written in 1965, about a decade after the Smithsons’ piece.

Allison and Peter Smithson’s experimentation with a plastic future only lasted a brief moment, they returned/continued with Brutalism  (a term they had created just a few years earlier in 1954). This essay shows them struggling with societal change and architecture’s response by embracing the new. However, their resulting architectural output, their House of the Future, was nearly forgotten. The work that became best known and subsequently defined their place in architectural history were the heavy concrete buildings of the 1960s and 1970s:

Robin Hood Gardens, by Allison & Peter Smithson
Robin Hood Gardens, by Allison & Peter Smithson

Banham differs in his approach, as he deals with the consequences of technology in his essay. He points out the weakness of American domestic architecture when compared to industrial architecture conceived for production, and discusses the shortcoming of contemporary American cars built for the newly expanding freeways. In this instance, he accuses the infrastructure (the freeways) of causing the gizmos (the cars) to become dependent on them and therefore, worse. He points out that the temporary and unrefined nature of American homes may be a temporary phase until a “definitive shape… emerges to fix the style of the gizmo-residence.” He recognizes that the gizmo itself is intrinsically related to the rest of society.

While Banham readily admitted that there would ultimately be a form housing would take that would be complementary to technology, the Smithsons suggest embracing all that is new immediately and making a home that responds to the very minute. “Collecting ads” seems in actuality to be a call to embrace the consumerist impulse of the moment and build a world out of it.

The buildings the Smithsons built did not lend well to adaptation, and a lack of commitment to long term maitenance and government policy changes prevented Brutalist housing from living up to its potential. The Smithsons’ own Robin Hood Gardens is under threat of demolition and other Brutalist landmarks (the movement they named) have already been torn down. In some cases, they are being ‘regenerated’ by developers  (Own Heatherley tackles the regenerationof Park Hill in Sheffield in an excellent piece for The Gaurdian). In the end, the housing Allison and Peter Smithson built because as disposable in the eyes of the mass public as the House of the Future they suggested in the mid-1950s (though most people think Brutalism is fine for the wealthy and nobody is calling for the demolition of the Barbican). Many of the grain elevators they saw as relics of the past inthe 1950s will outlast Robin Hood Gardens.

Today, there is little discussion about what a House of the Future would look like- in fact, the most famous example (by Monsanto at Disneyland) dates from the 1960s and resides at yesterland.com. The typical home of today in both Britain and the United States is still a traditional-looking shell (though often made of vinyl and fake brck) and enabled by technology. The gizmo has won out over the building and the “gizmo-residence” is anywhere with WiFi or 3G wireless service.

The iPod is the (present) ultimate in self-contained gadgets- it requires no hard-wired infrastructure connection, mouse, keyboard or peripherals. In fact, it doesn’t even provide you with a method for connecting them. While the Evinrude outboard motor that Banham loved may have allowed you to mount a motor on any boat with  little in the way of skill or tools, the iPhone is limited only by what software developers create for it (and manage to get approved by Apple, of course).  Banham focused on mechanical devices that did specific tasks and failed to see that in the future you wouldn’t need a “precise gadget” to deal with a variety of tasks- one gadget can now function as your phone, camera, research library, file cabinet, Rolodex and more. Social networked and augmented reality applications allow another world to be created on top of the physical one.  Banham believed the most futuristic home (circa 1965) was the recreational vehicle that allowed its residents to be endlessly mobile. Instead of needing a traveling home, we live our lives in virtual space enabled by a gizmo that fits in your shirt pocket. I think Reyner Banham would approve.

Today, you don’t need a new environment to live or work in. You just need a new application.

1. Alison and Peter Smithson, “The Appliance House,” Design (May 1958): 47. Reprinted in A. and P. Smithson, Changing, 116 cited in “Unbreathed Air 1956”  by Beatriz Colomina, MIT Press Grey Room Spring 2004, No. 15: p. 37. K. Beckman et al. ed.


A Seaside Weekend: The Isle of Wight and Portsmouth, in Photos

Southsea, near Portsmouth

The first stop on our weekend getaway was the last stop on the National Express coach, Southsea. After a brief stop at Portsmouth (which is only about a 10 minute drive away, at most) where all of the other passengers except for my wife and me disembarked, the coach pulled up in front of a vaguely futuristic but well-worn strip of buildings with a small amusement park behind them. While the overall aesthetic is mid-century futuristic, I was most impressed by the “Jurassic 3001” sign that looked to be in an advanced state of decay and was adorned with a CCTV camera:
Jurassic 3001

Because the pier at Southsea isn’t very big, its certainly not an attraction in itself (for more thorough coverage of English seaside decay, take a look at this post on Fantastic Journal or this one at Mondo a-go-go). The real attraction in Southsea is the hovercraft! I was thrilled when I discovered it was possible to take a hovercraft to the Isle of Wight, and it is quite a bit cheaper than the other ferry. Unfortunately, the interior of the hovercraft left a lot to be desired and made the National Express coach seem fairly luxurious in comparison. It also reeked of diesel.

Aisle of Wight Hovercraft

Still, floating on a cushion of air across the sea at high speed is pretty cool.

The hovercraft lands in the town of Ryde. It is the largest town on the Isle of Wight, with a population of around 30,000. The hovercraft, being the technological marvel that it is, sets you down on dry land and bypasses the adjacent pier (in the background above). It’s the 4th longest pier in the UK and also one of the oldest, which has earned it listed status. It’s from this pier that you can take the “train” (yes, it’s actually part of the National Rail network) 8 1/2 miles around the eastern part of the island:

Island Line Train

You may recognize the carriages, they are retired 1938 London Undground stock. They run two at a time on a single track to 8 stops.

Disembarking in Sandown, many shops seemed to be closed. There are lots of tourist gift places, shoe stores, and restaurants that I wouldn’t want to eat at. There was also this person trying to sell their dogs via a sign on the door of a shop:

Dogs for Sale, Isle of Wight

After an unfortunate experience with the B&B we booked, we ended up at the decidedly non-luxurious but clean Sandringham Hotel. It faces the beach and the staff members have to wear nautical uniforms while serving breakfast, so it was nearly perfect (despite the avocado green bathtub with a spot of duct tape and the lack of a shower). There was a cover band playing to a very small crowd at the bar, the whole scene pulled from a yet-to-be-made Christopher Guest film.

The best thing to do on the Isle of Wight, now that the Wax Works/ Brading Experience has closed, is to either visit English Heritage sites, go hiking or watch documentaries in your hotel room about thatched cottages. We did all of these things. Osborne House, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s gorgeous island home, was spectacular:

Wrapped Statues at the Osborne House

I was particularly impressed with the wrapped statues, as I have started to collect photos of them. If you are interested in going to Osborne House in the winter, make reservations ahead of time. You must be a guided tour and they are limited to groups of 20. The upstairs was closed for repairs. There are more of my photos of the house here on Flickr.

Then it was on to Carisbrooke Castle in Carisbrooke, near Newport. It was restored in the Victorian era and is also an English Heritage site. Located at the top of a hill, the castle offers spectacular views of the surrounding towns and countryside.

Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight

One of the things it is best known for is the well that is powered by a donkey walking on a wheel. There are a few demonstrations each day. Here is the obligatory photo:

Carisbrooke Castle Donkey

From there it was off to the west of the Isle for a hike across Tennyson Down, where the poet used to walk on a daily basis. There is a large monument to Lord Tennyson at the highest point on the walk, which is particularly impressive late in the day. This photo could be straight out of a Christian inspirational calendar:

Tennyson Down, Isle of Wight

We continued walking to the end of the Island and saw the famous Needles:

The Needles, Isle of Wight

On the way out of the park after seeing the Needles, I couldn’t resist this amazing front yard display. Note the many messages to visitors:

Front Yard Display, near The Needles

The following day was less cooperative, as far as the weather was concerned. After a brief stop at the Brading Roman Villa it was back to the mainland. Portsmouth, which has accurately but not very creatively chosen to call itself “The Waterfront City” (as if it were the only one) has attempted to re-brand itself with a massive seafront regeneration project known as Gunwharf Quays:

Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth

That tower in the background is a tower that you can’t miss, mostly because it is so ugly. One of many oval-shaped residential towers with blue glass to sprout up around the world in recent years, it is known as “No. 1 Gunwharf Quays” and was designed by architects Scott Brownrigg to resemble a funnel (I can only imagine the crit you would get in architecture school with an idea that brilliant). The other tall thing in the regeneration area is the Spinnaker, a ridiculous folly that attempts to compete with Dubai (at half-scale) and has had a broken lift since its opening nearly five years ago:

The Spinnaker from Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth

As if going the Cadbury (Kraft?) and Marks and Spencer Outlet shops wasn’t exciting enough, you can sip your Costa cappuccino while admiring this jauntily-painted World War II torpedo:

Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth

While Gunwharf Quays has been branded as a total success, it is hard to see what it is doing for the rest of the city. It’s not well connected to the city center for the pedestrian, and the massive underground car-park promotes the overall suburban feel. Most of the shops are interchangeable with what you would find at any other similar mall elsewhere in the world. I am sure it’s been a financial success for the developer, though I’m not sure 2009 was the best time to open a high-end residential tower in a struggling city. While the overall development has opened up the waterfront to the public (it was formerly a naval base) you never escape the feeling that you are in a shopping mall.

I couldn’t possibly say it better than this CABE case study: It is a collection of experiences that brings together various types of housing in a carefully considered, safe environment…

As soon as you leave the front gate it’s back to reality:

Portsmouth- view from the Hard Interchange

The Woolly Mammoth: making a comeback

Two researchers at Penn State University have mapped the genome of the extinct Woolly Mammoth using DNA extracted from hair found frozen in permafrost. According to scientist Hendrik Poinar, this means it wouldn’t be hard to recreate the Mammoth and put it in a Pleistocene era-themed amusement park.

Mammoths on Parade
Mammoths on Parade, coming soon to a Six Flags near you.

Maybe there will be a baby Mammoth in next year’s Neiman Marcus Christmas Book? Which other animals should we think about bringing back? Oh wait, things didn’t work out so well in Jurassic Park, did they? It would actually be pretty hard to find DNA for dinosaurs, but maybe some more recently extinct animals would be easier to find. Maybe dodos will be the new dogs?

Your next pet
Your next pet

Bike Blender Margaritas

You know it’s a party when someone whips out a bike blender. Actually, if you don’t live in the Bay Area you probably haven’t seen one before (unless you have been to Burning Man, I have a suspicion you may have seen on there). Our annual party was enhanced this year by the addition of frozen margaritas mixed up in the courtyard.