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The Blue Pullman : How to design a train, the Bill Mitchell way…

March 14, 2017 Leave a comment

A quick post to capture some thoughts on a fascinating conversation I had with my friends Bill & Joy Mitchell a week or so ago, and the barely believable story that Bill helped designed a train, and not just any old train. The famous Blue Pullman luxury train that set speed records between London & Manchester throughout the mid 1960’s and 70’s.

It all started apparently when Bill was approached by George Williams who at the time was the chief designer for British Rail. He asked if Bill would be interested in developing some full size mock ups for a 125mph train and a 250mph version. Bill decided that he was and after a fact finding trip up to Derby (the main fact uncovered being that there were hardly any drawings available to work from) set about finding a space big enough to make the mockups.

The answer was found in three sheds on the Woolwich Road where Bill and his team set about forming GRP into an engine unit and a carriage. He told me that the finished versions were in polished silver GRP and not blue, and that they looked very futuristic, shining like stainless steel bullets…

To get these huge things out of the studio once finished required the removal of an end wall to get them onto a lorry to take down to Marylebone Station, and it was at this point that Bill remembered someone had rung up the local police to tell them they’d been a train crash on the Woolwich Road, a story that apparently made the local papers..

As well as the overall shape of the train, including the instantly recognisable twin windowed front nose, Bill told me he designed the round cornered windows (versions of which are still used to this day), the little table lights, the adjustable seats (“borrowed” from a Russian train) the galley kitchen, the overhead parcel racks (“borrowed” from a VC10) a non touch lavatory flush system and all the door ironmongery. He also designed the individual inlaid timber panels at the end of each carriage, one of which can just about be seen on the above video at about 13 seconds, and another at the top of the image below…

When I asked how as an artist, he had managed to interpret and ensure compliance with all the design briefs, H&S standards and rules that I assumed must surely play a part in designing something as serious and potentially lethal as a diesel-electric train, Bill just said “No, we didn’t bother with any of that business, they just wanted something that looked good and wanted it quickly…”

If only it were that simple today…

 

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City of Culture of Galicia, Spain : Peter Eisenman

March 12, 2017 Leave a comment

We went on an office trip to Berlin at the end of last year and I was talking recently to one of my work colleagues Ian, about the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by the American architect Peter Eisenman. I said I hadn’t read much about Eisenman’s work  over the last few year’s and wondered how these big name architects survived on small projects…

Ian looked at me a bit funny, said what? and told me to look into Galicia’s City of Culture, a development on a scale so massive, that it could quite possibly be one of the largest building projects in Europe, that no one’s ever heard of… Which I suspect is something of an ongoing disappointment to the Citizens of Santiago de Compostella as they’ve had to watch as an unbelievably large number of Euros has been spent/ wasted trying to get it finished…


The complex is effectively a brand new city carved out of the top of a mountain in Southern Spain. Covering a total area of nearly 175 hectares, the project was to be a new home for a series of distinct cultural functions including a museum, a library, an archive facility, an arts center and a performing arts center.

The result of a 1999 competition, Eisenman’s winning idea was that the complex would appear as if it had always been there, buried below the surface, which though some unavoidable tectonic process, had erupted and heaved itself up from out of the ground.

Formally the layout was generated by overlaying part of the medieval street pattern of Santiago on to the top of the hill, which with the addition of some de rigueur Eisenman grid and fragmentation devices, helped to create an interesting, if somewhat rather spurious design concept.

The fiendishly complex nature of the proposals and the architects infamous penchant for minutely detailing every junction, resulted in a massive overspend, which with a final total cost in the region of €400m was more than 4 times the original budget.

Couple this with what now appears to be insanely over optimistic attendance figures (visitors to the beautiful UNESCO listed World Heritage site of Santiago, just do NOT seem to want to leave the Old Town) and what’s left is an empty folly to the vanity of its main protagonist, the premier at the time Manuel Fragan. A hubristic white elephant, or as The Guardian put it in a review when it first opened in 2011 “an anachronism at a time of austerity“.

So it came as no surprise to anyone when in 2013, after more than 10 years of building, and with Spain’s economic engine on the verge of collapse, that the project was permanently halted, leaving two of the six buildings unbuilt, and the future of the completed four, hanging precariously in the balance…. A perfect example of the wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time..

I usually like to finish with an opinion, but for this post, I think I’m going to let these images speak for themselves… The scope and ideas behind this project are undoubtedly interesting, the materials are wonderful and the spaces created dynamic and exciting. But at the same time the scale over which all these aspects are being spread really should have set alarm bells ringing.

Yes as architects we need to push the envelope, offer clients more than they knew or thought they wanted, but we do ourselves no favors as a profession when things get as out of hand as they seem to have done here… When you read that almost every slab of the stone cladding and paving is unique in size and shape and had to be computer cut to ensure that it went into the one place on the whole project it could, you really do have to question whether the clients best interests where ever really taken seriously…

 

The Bizzare Captain EO….

October 31, 2016 Leave a comment

Michael-Jackson-Captain-EO-Back-3D-DisneylandI came across a 30 year old story recently involving three of the biggest names in music and film that I didn’t have the faintest idea about… So on the assumption that you might not have heard of it either and have a spare couple of minutes to read this and 16 minutes to watch the film, it goes something like this…

In August 1985 George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola announced that along with a certain Michael Jackson they were working on “the ultimate movie experience”.

Originally known as the “International Music Man” the production now known as Captain EO (from the Greek eos or dawn) was a Disney generated idea for a themed park ride. Disneyland was struggling around the mid 1980’s and saw the idea of a big production with even bigger names, as a way of reversing the fortunes of the theme park. Accompanying the ride would be a short film that would be exclusive to the park and would not go on general release, so (they hoped) ensuring people would drive to the park to see the new attraction…

Captain EO was the tale of an emissary of light, a messiah if you will, travelling the universe saving its denizens through the gifts of song and love. There would be spaceships, space battles, assorted alien creatures and unsurprisingly with MJ on board, unfeasible amounts of dancing…

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One of the first films made with the then nascent 3D technology, it was also described by Disney as the worlds first 4D production. As it was only shown in specially modified cinemas at Disneyland, the on screen effects were supplemented with lasers, smells, smoke and flying asteroids filling the cinema auditorium itself.

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Like so many things involving MJ at the height of his fame, budget was seemingly not a major consideration and as a consequence the film ended up being the most expensive production ever made up to that time, supposedly almost $1 million per minute and with more effects per minute than Star Wars.

Time however was a limiting factor with both Ford Coppolla and Lucas having other projects already lined up, so once the story had been finalised, principal photography was wrapped up in less than two weeks…

eop220092LARGEBy all accounts the first edited version seen without many of the state of the art effects, was lamentably poor, allegedly it was even hidden from senior Disney executives for a while, it was so underwhelming. Jackson was no lead actor and the Muppet’s in Space appearance didn’t give the production much in the way of credibility or gravitas…

Additional filming and further editing got the film to a more acceptable state (although you can make your own mind up about that) despite one of the principle muppet characters having been lost and replaced by a painted ballcock and Angelica Houston’s role as the principle baddie being significantly reduced (possibly at her own request…)

The end result is a very strange thing. Even allowing for the now 30 year old effects, it seems unbelievably ropey given the money, talent and staus of the key players involved. A hybrid of ideas stolen from Star Wars, Alien (Houston’s Spider Queen), MJ’s Thiller video, Frank Oz’s The Dark Crystal and all points in between. Even the songs seem halfhearted and unconvincingly delivered when compared to Thriller from 2 years earlier and Bad from two years later.

Perhaps its not surprising then that even after all these years and despite a huge demand for it to be made available after Michael’s death in 2009, it can still only be seen in very poor quality versions like the one below..

There’s a detailed account of the films history here if  you’re interested..

Two Danny’s : Things you won’t believe are possible on a bike…

October 19, 2016 Leave a comment

First up, some seriously impressive tricks from Danny MacAskill.. wending his way homewards to see his old dad somewhere up in a very picturesque Scotland.

I’ve posted Danny’s amazing videos before, and he just seems to get more and more inventive. Someone on Facebook has noted that some of these tricks took more than 300 takes, which perhaps isn’t really surprising, but I don’t think detracts from the crazy skills on show…

And the second Danny, this time Atherton. I can hardly watch this one…

How on earth you learn to land these jumps and stunts without going through a serious amount of pain, or know instinctively that you’ve got the skill and confidence to pull them off is totally beyond me…

The two jumps at about 2.3o mins in followed by the slaloming though the trees and the series of banked turns, and the scary rocky bit after the wooden slatted jump… There must be 100 easy things to get badly wrong on that descent, and he gets them all spot on. Outstanding…

I’ve been “proper” mountain biking a few times in Wales with friends. It was fantastic fun and I think we all felt at times like we were showing a few MTB skills… But believe me its was like riding around on the local football pitch with stabilisers compared to this… 

A Freestyle No. 1: Kungs vs Cookin’ on 3 Burners

June 17, 2016 Leave a comment

My very good friend Dan told me last night that a reworked version of a tune by a band called Cookin’ on 3 Burners from his Freestyle Records label had reached the midweek number 1 slot in the UK.. the first time in his more than 25 years of trading that he’s achieved such a thing..

With a wry smile on his face, he pointed me towards Spotify where the tune, This Girl by Kungs vs Cookin’ on 3 Burners (which has already hit the top spot in Germany, Belgium and somewhere else in Euroland) has racked up nearly 39 million hits.. There’s a similar story on YouTube where the current total is in excess of 23 million views….

So here it is.. Apparently Kungs is a protege of David Guetta who has obviously taught him a thing or two about boiling a tune down to 2 or 3 key elements, upping the tempo and adding in a drop and/ or synth stab to get the kids going…

And here’s the original version as found on Freestyle Records, as laid back and soulful as you’d expect…

So huge congrats to Danny. I know the revenue payments from these streaming giants can be pretty derisory, but by my reckoning, any share of more than 60 million of anything, no matter how small, is likely to keep the smile on his face for many weeks to come.

Musicless Videos….

November 25, 2015 Leave a comment

Short and sweet this one.

Its a simple idea and there are a fair few of them around, but these three amused me greatly this evening, especially the Jamiroquai one, I just love the squeaky shoes…

Stanley Kubrick { one-point perspective }

June 2, 2015 Leave a comment

I came across this rather intriguing video online recently….

 

Who knew that Mr. Kubrick had such a thing for centrally positioned, one point perspectives in his films… Can’t say I recognise all the clips (probably because I’ve still never seen Barry Lyndon all the way through) but it’s truly fascinating seeing them all together like this.

Top marks to whoever realised how often Kubrick used this visual device, found all theses instances and edited them together…

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