"Sublime images are just mirages that are destined to remain in books"

Although projects by OMA and BIG have come close, we’re still a way off realising “sublime” architecture through generic forms, says Aaron Betsky in this Opinion column.

Can the absolutely normal and everyday be beautiful? Two recent books claim it can be. They take standard, interchangeable building blocks of the kind we see everyday – suburban houses, office buildings, and apartment blocks – to construct a human-made landscape they hope will evoke a sense of wonder.

One of the two, The Generic Sublime, by Ciro Najle, uses computer technology to develop landscapes unfolding into structures of a huge scale.

The other, Atlas of Another America, by Keith Krumwiede, starts from suburban house plans and combines them into mythical subdivisions. If in the end it is hard to believe in either Najle’s or Krumwiede’s proposals, that does not make them any less compelling.

Najle’s thesis, developed through several years of teaching studios at Harvard’s GSD, is an ambitious one, and one that he sees as continuing the work of the Beast Master of Banality, Rem Koolhaas. Najle says:

The result, he says, would be “optimistic” and a “second nature”, which is in line of what both those who study large-scale development and those who advocate computer-generated form claim for their work.

Najle’s students’ work proceeds from diagrams to landscapes that are most intriguing when they consist of towers whose bases melt into the landscape and then sprout up new versions of themselves, or nests of apartment slabs whose endless crossing and re-crossing leads the eye towards the distance.

Grids of either office or apartment blocks reproduce seemingly automatically, according to the computer’s programs, while constructions of a more sinuous persuasion snake along what appear to be contour lines of an invented landscape.

The forms are beautiful, but they also look familiar, recalling the products that have come out of Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture and its offspring, such as BIG, over the last decade.

It is no wonder that students look towards such heroic producers of what are indeed banal bits and pieces stacked up, deformed, or blown up in scale. But what neither they nor their professor seem to catch is exactly the manipulation, which is altogether willful and not generic, that cracks these forms open to produce a sense of wonder as, for instance, you look up or down the stacked terraces of Koolhaas’ Seattle Public Library or the curve of BIG’s VIA 57 West apartment building.

The Generic Sublime show at Harvard GSD

The work of Ciro Najle’s students at Harvard GSD proceeds from diagrams, to towers with bases that melt into the landscape and then sprout up new versions of themselves

Krumwiede, by contrast, starts small and old-fashioned. After analysing an array of developer plans for suburban homes, Krumwiede comes to the conclusion that the four-square plan of an entry with guest bath, living room, dining room and kitchen, with bedrooms above, around a circulation core – the basic American house plan of the period right after the second world war – has over the last few decades spun out not into just endless variations, but first into two types, namely Laminar (Wide) and Laminar (Deep) that add both ancillary spaces and square footage to the dwelling.

These are then divided into the Cellular, Nuclear, Bisected, and Branching plans, each of which adds more spaces and complexity. Diagonals move out to control some of that sprawl, as do central halls that can become round or octagonal.

As these plans metastasise, they also increase in cost, from what Krumwiede says is about $119 (£95) for the Four-Square to $198 (£158) for the Branching type.

Krumwiede’s result is something closer to a “generic sublime” than the landscapes of Najle

Then this author breaks one cardinal rule of American subdivisions: he combines each of the plans separately into rows, blocks, pinwheels and other geometric groupings. They lose their vestigial side yard separation, as well as their – in truth often also nominal – private front and rear yards.

Instead, they become compounds around and in shared open space with names such The Citadel at Filarete Fields, Robin Hood Gardens, and Le Ville Rotunde, whose names recall both the plans’ architectural pretensions and the grandiloquent names developers give to their creations.

In Krumwiede’s book Atlas of Another America, he suggests that residential blocks find their place on a mile-square grid of land, amongst agriculture and amenities

Next, Krumwiede proposes that each of these blocks find its place in a “section”: the mile-square grid that makes up the basic unit within the National Land Ordinance of 1785 (the Jeffersonian Grid) that divided up the United States.

He arranges them into larger groupings that together he calls Freedomland: settlements in some unknown, flat expanse where the inhabitants of the blocks will farm and hunt, but also have big box retail stores and other modern conveniences.

The whole is a combination of a nostalgic vision of living on the land, as Thomas Jefferson once hoped all Americans would, while have all modern conveniences that we expect in suburbia.

Krumwiede finishes and sauces his vision by describing the scheme with texts that evoke the language of 18th and 19th century utopian proposals. He then raids art history, cribbing paintings by the likes of Winslow Home, Millet, and Claude Le Lorrain, collaging his house plans into their visions of verdant splendor.

This veneer might not quite prove Freedomland’s potential sublimity, but it does present us with a vision of American suburbia ennobled, enhanced, and enlarged to the point that it looks pretty darn attractive.

For now, the generic remains in its banality

When combined with the intricacy of the geometries Krumwiede mines from the combination of the house plans, the result is something closer to a “generic sublime” than the landscapes Najle and his students spun out of their computers. Not only that, but Krumwiede’s research is invaluable, not least for taking an area overlooked by almost every architect seriously and trying to figure out what makes it work.

Both schemes have, in my opinion, one major failing that keeps them from living up to their similar, though differently pursued, goals: they refuse to accept the social and economic logic behind the generic building blocks from which they start.

Krumwiede’s avowedly mythic vision assumes a world in which we will somehow give up our absurd desire for our very own mansion, no matter how mass produced, while Najle and his students spin recognisable buildings into fantastical piles and landscapes whose very presentation in black lines on white paper (or screens) are too abstract to be real.

For now, the generic remains in its banality, leaving our boxes of absence in soulless sprawl to spread all around us. The sublime images are just mirages that are destined to remain in books. I hope that, in continuing to explore their methods, either Najle or Krumwiede can figure out how to make something astonishingly real out of that sprawl that goes beyond their modest, if mordant and intriguing, proposals.

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Hand Tool School #18: Wood Strength 101

Last night my Maple 18″ bowsaw broke. It’s a relatively well-made tool that I’ve maintained and used properly, but regular use over the last few years has weakened it and last night it just wore out.

This should be expected since the wood choice, Maple, was not the best to begin with. For those of you surprised by this, I’ll go into a little Wood 101 , slightly oversimplified, to explain. 

Hardness Does Not Always Equal Strength

The tiny pores are spread all over so there is no distinct plane of strength and little room to bend.

Yes, Maple is very hard, but hardness should not be confused with strength. Usually the harder a wood, the more brittle it becomes. The hardness is a reflection of the wood’s density. The tighter packed the fibers are, the less space in between them and less compression. This means that the wood doesn’t bend much, and very often you will find a higher MOE (modulus of elasticity) rating accompanies the species. When something doesn’t flex under a dynamic load, it relies only on the fibers to withstand the force and often will break or micro cracks will develop. When this break occurs it usually shatters instead of splinters. A good example of this is a Maple baseball bat versus an older Ash bat. In this case, Maple is a diffuse porous wood so it is very tightly packed and the open space (the pores) are tiny and evenly spaced in no particular pattern throughout the wood.

This ring porous wood clearly illustrates the lines of strength between the pores

Ash is ring porous, with larger pores ordered in neat rings, thus leaving non-porous material also lined up in between the pores. This makes for long strands of fibers that have room to flex into the open pores in a predictable manner.

Here is a food analogy you can use to illustrate this. Grab some spaghetti and hold 10 or 12 pieces loosely in your hand. Now bend them. They will flex a bit with the open space around them. Take those same pieces and grip them tightly so they are packed tightly together. Now bend them. They will snap very easily because there is no room to flex into.

Those pieces of spaghetti are all the same material with the same hardness properties. So hardness alone can’t be used to determine the strength of a wood since both Ash and Maple have similar Janka hardness ratings. (It is a good starting point, however, especially when you get into hardness ratings above 1500.)

Kiln Drying Makes the Cookie Crumble

Now add to the mix a kiln-dried wood. Kiln drying hardens the wood fibers, just like most things harden when they are baked. Take a flour tortilla and put it in the oven. In a few minutes you have a crispy tortilla that will break when you try to bend it. This is what is happening in a lumber kiln to some extent.

Kilns also use steam to lower this shock and keep the fibers more pliable. Take that same tortilla but wrap it in a wet paper towel then bake it. You will get a warm, but more flexible tortilla. (Anybody getting hungry yet?)

Air-dried wood does not rely on heat to force evaporation, so the fibers do not harden and they retain their natural pliability. The woods that are the strongest and handle dynamic forces best are ones that are air-dried regardless of species.

Sawing Goes Against the Grain

Sawing by its very nature cuts the wood fibers and rarely follows the natural grain. When you cut across the wood fibers you weaken the wood dramatically. Riving the wood splits it along the grain and exploits the natural weakness between the fibers while leaving long, continuous strands of wood fiber which are ridiculously strong.

A board comprised of a bunch of short fibers relies entirely on the “glue” between the fibers to hold it together. Cut a 1 inch piece off a board and you will see how easy it is to break in half across the grain with just your fingers. The “glue” isn’t strong enough to withstand even a little force. (Sorry no food analogy here, if you can think of one let me know.)

What is Strong?

In all of the cases above I am thinking about a situation where dynamic stresses will be placed on the wood. Let’s face it, if we make furniture, this is most of the time. From sliding a table across the floor to leaning back in a chair, our joinery and the wood itself is being subjected to varying levels of force.

A bowsaw is an extreme example, where a rigid cross piece aligns its strongest dimension against the weakest dimension of the arms. Then tension is applied by shortening the distance between the arms at the top while restraining the bottom with a saw blade. This is akin to breaking a board over your knee—it doesn’t take much force. The bowsaw arms are the same and you can easily snap one by applying too much tension. Likewise the constant tightening and loosening will wear out the fibers. Take a credit card and bend it and straighten it repeatedly. It will become very weak and eventually break.

So how does this help us choose a strong wood? It is all situational and one needs to recognize where the force will be placed on the wood and how much. A keepsake box sees very low stress so there is nothing to worry about. A dining chair sees a lot of stress and a combination of well-planned joinery and wood selection is in order. Usually chair makers rely on riven wood and optimize their joinery to place the strong dimensions so they are resisting or supporting each other.

Strength requirements vary dramatically and in most furniture it isn’t something we need to worry about. It’s when we get into the stuff that takes the most dynamic pressure that we need to start planning. Axe handles, chairs, roof trusses, and bow saws.

In a perfect world we could all be working with riven and air dried material. It would be ring porous to allow for a natural bending tendency. When some of these factors can’t be found then the others become all the more important.

The hardest is probably the air dried thing. Most of us only have access to kiln dried material so we need to choose our species wisely and if possible split out our parts to maximize the long grain. If you don’t have the extra stock to split it out then all you have going for you is choosing the species wisely and a nice ring porous wood is your best option. Think Ash, Hickory, Oak, or even Walnut (semi-ring porous).

A larger bow saw means a longer and wider blade so wood choice is key

So with all of this in mind, why did I make my own turning saw out of Maple? Simple answer, because it was pretty and I had it on hand. This saw needs much less tension with a shorter and narrower blade so it will perform nicely and has for some time. However I won’t be shocked when one day it snaps on me as I’m probably introducing micro fractures every time I use it.

The model available from Gramercy uses Hickory, and will outlast my shop-made one easily because it is a naturally bendy, ring porous wood. My larger bowsaw was expected to tension a much wider and longer blade plus cut through thicker stock. It makes sense then that the more heavy duty the tool, the more thought needs to go into wood choice.

If I can leave you with anything it is not to run for the hills panicking that all your projects will fall apart because you are using a hard and brittle wood that is kiln dried and sawn. Heck even my kiln dried, sawn, Maple bowsaw lasted four years of hard use before giving up. The key is that when it snapped, I was not surprised at all and even expected it. When I remake the arm, I will make two and use a more appropriate wood species.

The bowsaw is an extreme example with the forces it is expected to withstand, but hopefully a look at these principles will help you understand the material we all love that much more.

Now go make a spaghetti burrito.


This “Hand Tool School” series is provided courtesy of Shannon Rogers, a/k/a The Renaissance Woodworker. Rogers is founder of The Hand Tool School, which provides members with an online apprenticeship that teaches them how to use hand tools and to build furniture with traditional methods.

What Can a Cello Maker Create With His Cut-Offs?

Christopher Moore studied Industrial Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but the ID field wasn’t enough to keep him; we lost him to the Chicago School of Violin Making. There he learned classical 17th- and 18th-Century crafting techniques, and for the past 16 years he’s run his own fine stringed instrument manufacturing and repair workshop in Wisconsin.

Moore submitted the following project to a Fine Woodworking contest, explaining where the raw materials came from: “I’m a cello maker and have lots of scraps from pegbox cut-offs. So I thought it would be cool to make a different sort of box from what I had lying around.”

I tried to include some of the design elements of a violin without having the end result look kitchy, and the violin corner makes for a nice lift on the lid. The hinge is made of ebony from an old fingerboard and was meant to somewhat allude to the tailpiece.

For the finish, I varnished it as I do my instruments, and then I antiqued it to try and make it look like a 200 year old, well-used sort of box. The materials are spruce, maple, and ebony.

Unsurprisingly, Moore won first place in FW’s “Build Outside the Box” challenge.

Link About It: Wild Green Comet Coming Our Way Saturday Morning

Wild Green Comet Coming Our Way Saturday Morning

For early risers on Saturday morning, a strange green comet will be visible. Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova (named for the three astronomers who discovered it back in 1948) will reach maximum brightness pre-dawn, but you’ll need binoculars or a……

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Sci-fi landscape illustrations accompany winning story in architectural fairytale competition

Gravity-defying megastructures are inserted into landscapes in artworks by Ukranian architect Mykhailo Ponomarenko, who claimed first place in a competition to create an architectural fairytale.

Ponomarenko was announced as the winner of the Fairy Tales 2017 competition during a ceremony at Washington DC’s National Building Museum earlier this week.

Now in its fourth year, the competition is organised by the museum, the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) and New York architecture platform Blank Space.

Fairytales competition

Ponomarenko’s story features gravity-defying infrastructure depicted among painted landscapes

Entrants submit a series of images to support a short story, based on an architectural theme.

“The proposals put forth in the Fairy Tales competition create entire worlds of the imagination – they build their immersive stories as much by what they don’t say, as by what they do,” said the organisers.

First prize was given to Ponomarenko for his story Last Day, which describes a cylindrical town and floating-ring farms created after the discovery of the Great Gravity Anomaly in Russia.

Carved into a mountain and circling hilltops, these sci-fi infrastructures work in harmony with nature. They are depicted in Ponomarenko’s images as elements within classical landscape paintings.

Fairytales competition

Terrence Hector won second prize for his City Walkers story

“Landscapes have always inspired me to put something weird, unreal and out of human scale into them,” he said, “something not feasible and not practical that contrasts with the natural surroundings, but also exists at the same scale.”

“These satirical interventions lead to new ideas and feelings about nature – they make the viewer more aware about the environment and our harmful impact on it,” Ponomarenko added.

Fairytales competition

The City Walkers are a sentient species of architecture that moves slower than humans can perceive

Second place in the competition was awarded to Chicago architect Terrence Hector. His entry, City Walkers, tells a story of a sentient species of architecture that moves slower than humans can perceive.

“The city in this story was an exploration of civilisation and urbanism as humanity’s relationship with natural and biological systems that exist on a vastly longer timescale than the human lifespan,” said Hector.

“Creating a closer relationship time-wise between human and natural timeframes let me derive a new urban typology, which also acts as a parable of overexploitation.”

Fairytales competition

Third-prize winners Ariane Merle d’Aubigné and Jean Maleyrat based their story on refugees

French duo Ariane Merle d’Aubigné and Jean Maleyrat’s tale Up Above came in third. In their story, refugees have created shanty towns in the sky, building homes on tall thin stilts to escape oppression and regulations on the ground.

“Migration, the accumulation of wealth, overpopulation, the terrorist threat and pollution are some of the issues with which we live every day,” said the pair. “We highlighted these concerns and our love of art through this poetic tale.”

Fairytales competition

The duo imagined the refugees building houses in the sky to escape oppression on the ground

The AIAS Prize for the highest-scoring entry from an AIAS member was awarded to Maria Syed and Adriana Davis, who met while studying in New Jersey.

Their Memphis-influenced architectural drawings of a modest dwelling provide the setting for a narrative in which each room causes its occupant to behave differently.

“Playing House embodies the idea that architecture can eclipse the personality of its occupants, where the character and style of the architecture dictate the mood of the inhabitants,” they said.

Fairytales competition

Playing House by Maria Syed and Adriana Davis received the AIAS prize

“The loud textures and discordant angles of the home sparked the idea for the story: transitioning from room to room manifests itself in drastic physical and psychological change.”

The Jury also awarded 10 honourable mentions, which can be found along with the full stories by the winners on Blank Space’s website.

Fairytales competition

Their Memphis-influenced drawings provide the setting for a narrative in which each room causes its occupant to behave differently

Last year’s Fairy Tales competition was won by Seattle firm Olson Kundig, for a story about a dead architect who is resurrected and dropped into a futuristic urban landscape, while Alice in Wonderland became the backdrop for a dystopian world filled with fantastical structures in the 2014 winning entry.

Read Ponomarenko’s winning fairytale in full below:

Last Day by Mykhailo Ponomarenko

They were on the edge, facing the gorgeous mountain view and majestic ring of the Saturn A6, hovering around one of the pinnacles.

Saturn A6 was a huge artificial platform, which used anti-gravity engines to fool the laws of nature and to prove to the creator of the universe that we can control the game. In places, where it was hard to make a living because of a lack of flat surfaces and picturesque landscapes, Saturn technology brought a new range of emotions and experiences to its citizens. Saturn A6 was an agricultural platform. The people were extremely happy to work in their “fields of opportunities”, and, at the same time, contemplate the stunning views around them.

Martina and Sefora were visiting Martina’s grandfather, who had a potato field in Sector 3. Life was good on the farm, but at times the people would lose access to satellite signals, interrupting their internet and other network connections for weeks at a time in some cases.

Fairytales competition

Ponomarenko’s winning entry describes floating rings called Saturns, which support agriculture

Since it was agricultural platform, nobody rushed right away to fix it, like they would do with at the resort platform, for instance.

Anyway, it was one of those interrupted weeks and the girls went to the stationary phone on the opposite mountain. Sefora wanted to call her “mami” and a couple of friends to share her experiences on Saturn A6, and to vent a bit about the “hijos de putas” on the maintenance crew. While she was on a call, Marti tried to catch the signal. Who knows, maybe she can check her Facebook from here, but Fate wanted them to stay tuned with reality during that week.

After cities were built all over the land and the oceans, the only place to move was the sky – and we conquered it. Now we thrive and are in a harmony with nature. We opened ourselves to its beauty and we embraced it – we live above it and we live with it. Saturns were all over the world now. Totally safe and clean, they provide us with fantastic views which make us conscious about surrounding world. They changed our collective mindset, and led us to rethink our place in the world and our impact on it. Any person who worked on flat land, a farmer for instance, now was capable to keep working on their land – suddenly you could better the feel scale of the sky and the depth of space. In addition, people grew accustomed to the higher altitudes, helping them grow more stamina and richer imaginations for future generations. Most of us had way too narrow of a world view. With Saturns, we started suddenly seeing the bigger picture. This helped us become more aware of our impacts on Earth’s landscapes and ecologies.

Saturn technology was introduced to the world in Vnutrigorsk (Внутригорск in Russian, meaning “inside the mountain”). This first occurred in the USSR in 1967, and was discovered by pure accident. Nikodim, a shepherd on the mountains in the Altai region, noticed a missing member of his flock. Martha, one of his most precious sheep, was nowhere to be found. After a brief search, Nikodim found Martha in a crack in the mountain’s surface. Bent on protecting his flock, Nikodim went into the crevice after her.

Fairytales competition

The Saturns also provide views of the landscape, helping people to become more aware of human impact on Earth

After a while of exploring the flesh of the mountain, Nikodim finally found himself and Martha inside a huge cave on the opposite side of the mountain’s surface. The laws of physics did not work in a conventional way here, but he didn’t notice out of fear and a shroud of darkness. He later reported the mysterious cave to the Village Council, who sent geologists to investigate. This is how the Great Gravity Anomaly – GGA, was discovered.

After discovering the GGA, the area become overpopulated with all types of people, intellectuals and undesirables alike, including scientists, laborers, and military. The GGA was such an extravaganza, they decided to build a scientific research institution and a new town to accommodate all the people. That’s how Vnutrigorsk was established.

Research on the GGA conducted in Vnutrigorsk helped the scientists develop an anti-gravity engine. These findings led to the building of the first Saturn. They were called “Saturns” because of the rings, platforms hovering around the mountaintops, resemblance to the planet.

My father had heard rumors about a “weird town in the mountains” and the first Saturn being built. So, in summer 1978, he and a friend went to see it. A day-long trek to the mountains in the Altai region would lead them to Vnutrigorsk. When they arrived in the region, on their way through the mountains they saw a very picturesque road. From a distance it looked like a DNA strand and spiraled above and through the mountains. This spiral thrilled them for 15 kilometers and in the end got them down into the valley. Dad concluded that it was some sort of symbolic entrance to Vnutrigorsk – and then they saw the town. It was unbelievable. A huge cylindrical hole was made in the mountain and the town was wrapped on the inner side of it. Apparently, there is zero gravity in the center, because on the poles there were two big research facilities, and on the sides were typical Soviet residential areas, so the guys went to explore it.

It was a small Soviet town with straight rows of five-story houses, typically among the people called “Khrushchevka”, with lush yards in between them. I grew up in similar house and yard on other side of the country, so I got the feeling of “urban design” instantly. Also there was a school and a kindergarten. All other necessities were provided within the research facility.

When you were standing there in one of the yards, you could look up and see people on the opposite side! It was remarkable! Kids there had very peculiar games, all related to throwing stuff from one yard to another on the opposite one above you, without hitting the research towers. Some people would use slingshots.

Fairytales competition

Other infrastructures in Ponomarenko’s story include a “DNA” road that snakes through the mountains

On every house entrance there were seniors, mostly grannies, sitting and talking. My dad noticed they were discussing them, probably because they looked like tourists. One boy came up and asked where they had come from. Dad said who they were and what they were doing. The boy seemed excited, and after an exchange of a chocolate bar and a charcoal black pencil, the boy guided them to the roof of one of the houses. The view was absolutely surreal. Mountains and valley were tilted 90 degrees. Around one of the pinnacles they saw a Saturn – the very first one! The scale was enormous, but at the same time it was harmonious with the surrounding landscape – it was the whole town looped in a circle. Its horizontal line contrasted with the verticality of the mountain. It was serene, high and absolutely inaccessible from land.

My dad and his friend saw numerous objects flying around it, probably carriers of people and goods. While looking at Saturn and Vnutrigorsk from the roof, the boy offered to them to throw a piece of a brick to the opposite side where some bullies lived. Dad laughed, but refused.

At the end of the day they started the drive back. Mountains, Vnutrigorsk, Saturn and the “DNA” highway were way behind them. Coming around the last corner of the highway, they were floored to see two more rings hovering over the flat fields. Dad never saw Saturn that close. On top of it were Khrushchevkas again, and lush greenery in between, and big institutions and light poles, all covered with the warm light of the setting sun. They came to a stop under the center of one of the rings. They felt like they had saw the future. It was as if the whole city could fit it in your hand, and it could. It was the end of an era for my dad, but he knew that tomorrow a new one would begin, holding untold opportunities. Silently the rings hovered in the sky – waiting.

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Historic forest and houses transported 800 kilometres to create new Shanghai resort

Threatened by construction of a major new reservoir, a forest of 10,000 trees and a collection of 50 historic houses have been transported 800 kilometres to Shanghai, where they are being transformed into a vast holiday resort.

Chinese businessman Ma Dadong was so upset to discover that the forest of 2,000-year-old Camphor trees was set to be destroyed, he embarked on a 10-year conservation project to move them to a new site.

Aman in Shanghai

The project has also involved the dismantling of more than 30 villages, which resulted in 50 Ming and Qing dynasty houses being carefully taken apart and rebuilt in the new location, on the outskirts of Shanghai.

Together, they will provide a new resort for Aman – the hotel resort brand of Russian real-estate developer Vladislav Doronin.

Aman in Shanghai

“I realised the only way to protect and celebrate our history was by instilling a new life and purpose into these ancient homes, and to allow the sacred trees that surround them, to be animated with renewed spirit,” said Ma.

“Much like the ornate stone carvings and the stories they hold, this ambitious project will continue to recount and nourish the next generation with hopes and expectations for the future.”

Aman in Shanghai

Ma enlisted the help of botanists, engineers, craftsmen and experts in ancient Chinese architecture to ensure the move went as smoothly as possible. Almost 80 per cent of the trees survived the relocation.

During the process, the team rediscovered 400-year-old building techniques. They also uncovered carvings and reliefs that would have taken decades to complete, and which trace family histories dating back 2,00o years.

Aman in Shanghai

Called Amanyangyun, the resort will open its doors in Autumn 2017. The 50 reconstructed houses provide 26 “antique villas” – some containing guest homes and some housing amenities – plus 24 one-bedroom suites.

Facilities will include a variety of dining spaces, including a 200-seat banquet hall, a club lounge, swimming pools and a spa. Guests will be invited to learn calligraphy and the process of a tea ceremony.

Aman in Shanghai

Australian architect Kerry Hill designed the minimal interiors, with a brief to blend the old with the new. His designs use simple unfinished materials including bamboo, wood and stone.

According to Aman, the resort will be a peaceful sanctuary that “safeguards priceless natural and cultural treasures, giving a new life to these dynasty houses and ancient forest”.

Aman in Shanghai

Vladislav Doronin opened the first Aman resort in 1988 in Phuket, Thailand. The company now owns 31 properties, including three others in China.

Doronin also commissioned Zaha Hadid to design his own house, in a forest close to Moscow. It is the only private house that Hadid built during her lifetime.

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Netflix's design documentary series to premier tomorrow

This exclusive clip gives a preview of the new design documentary series Abstract: The Art of Design, which will bring Bjarke Ingels, Es DevlinIlse Crawford and more into the living rooms of Netflix’s global audience.

Launching internationally tomorrow, the series profiles eight designers representing different fields in the industry.

Along with Ingels, Devlin and Crawford from the fields of architecture, stage design and interior design respectively, there’s graphic designer Paula Scher, automobile designer Ralph Gilles, Nike shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, illustrator Christoph Niemann and photographer Platon.

The series is exclusive to the Netflix streaming service, which reaches an audience of more than 93 million members in over 190 countries.

Following in the footsteps of Netflix’s ongoing docu-series The Chef’s Table, Abstract: The Art of Design will focus on a different designer.

The episodes are helmed by different directors – including the likes of Morgan Neville, who was behind the Academy Award-winning music documentary 20 Feet From Stardom – and take different storytelling and aesthetic approaches.

The eight episodes will be released collectively on Friday, 10 February.

The trailer for Netflix’s Abstract: The Art of Design

Ingels’ episode was filmed in the lead-up to the installation of his Serpentine Pavilion. In it, the Danish architect talks about how BIG has changed perception of what architecture should be like.

The episode following Scher, a partner at Pentagram, explores how her typography has shaped the face of New York, as well as some of the iconic album covers of the 1970s.

Another episode traces Hatfield’s career at Nike, showing how he came to design some of the sports brand’s most famous shoes – including the nearly ill-fated Air Max.

Other episodes focus on the achievements and creative processes of Crawford, Gilles, Devlin, Niemann and Platon.

The series is produced by Neville alongside Wired’s departing editor-in-chief Scott Dadich, Dave O’Conner, Justin Wilkes, Jon Kamen and Radical Media.

Abstract: The Art of Design will launch on Netflix at 12:01am PST Friday, 10 February 2017.

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Stone cold awesome!


The flour mill is easily an incredibly old invention from possibly the stone age. Two massive discs of stone that run against each other, grinding grains of wheat between to a fine powder that we refer to as flour. There’s nothing sophisticated about the mill, but there’s also no reason for it NOT to look sophisticated. The Millithic Stone Mill gives a makeover to an age-old product. What essentially is two stone discs with a rudimentary handle on the top for rotating is now a slick looking product with two stones hidden behind a matte black exterior. It comes with a foldable handle, compacting the design… and even a neat looking flour reservoir. Boy, our ancestors would be proud!

Designer: Meng Jie Chen









Is Public Wi-Fi Safe?

You might want to think twice before signing into that too-good-to-be-true “Free Airport Wi-Fi.” It might not be what you think it is…(Read…)

A Villain Who Unintentionally Always Does Helpful Things

A villain who unintentionally always does helpful things…(Read…)