Unpleasant Design by Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic. Publisher: G.L.O.R.I.A (Belgrade.)

Available on Amazon USA. Sorry, I couldn't find it on amazon UK.

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Book Description: The "Unpleasant Design" book is a collection of different research approaches to a phenomenon experienced by all of us. Unpleasant design is a global fashion with many examples to be found across cities worldwide, manifested in the form of "silent agents" that take care of behaviour in public space, without the explicit presence of authorities. Photographs, essays and case studies of unpleasant urban spaces, urban furniture and communication strategies reveal this pervasive phenomenon. With contributions by Adam Rothstein, Francesco Morace and Heather Stewart Feldman, Vladan Jeremic, Dan Lockton, Yasmine Abbas, Gilles Paté, Adam Harvey and many others, the book is in an attempt to recognise this nascent discipline within contemporary design taxonomies.

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Re-enactment of Fakir's Rest in Rotterdam on a so-called Leaning Bench, Rotterdam 2011

Unpleasant Design landed on my doorsteps a few days ago. I opened the envelope, grabbed the book and uttered a loud "Who's the idiot who designed this?!?" because the sleeve around the cover was made of sandpaper. Sandpaper!

I then read the title of the book and had to admit that it was a very clever idea.

Each of us has met examples of unpleasant design as we go through the city. The bench that is uncomfortable to sit on for more than 10 minutes, the trash can specially designed so that you can't sit on it nor stuff big bag of garbage inside, the anti-sticker coating on lamp posts, etc. I guess most of us don't really pay attention but they do coerce us to use the city in a prescribed, restricted way. And then there's unpleasant design for the unhappy few: benches with armrests in the middle so that the homeless can't lay down and sleep on it, blue lights in bathrooms and tunnels preventing drug users to spot their veins, an aluminium bar with spikes on it found in corners of buildings and alleys that is angled so that pee would end on your feet (a popular design in The Netherlands apparently), structures to remind pigeons that they are not welcome in town, or CCTV cameras that target specific race and age groups. And of course, there's that notorious mosquito device.

Unpleasant Design dresses the portraits of bullying urban furniture, looks at the specific strategies behind its design, comments on the use and control of public and semi-public spaces. After having had the book in your sandpapered hands, you won't look at your city with the same eyes, i'm sure.

The book documents and casts a critical eye on design motivated by policies of exclusion but, and that's what makes the book such an inspiring lecture, it also looks at how individuals, artists, activists are responding to urban unpleasantness.

Authors Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic have spent over a year researching forms of social unpleasantness, taking photos wherever they went, writing down ideas and talking with people who are also denouncing and resisting unpleasant design. The resulting essays and interviews are enclosed in the book. Among my favourite are: Survival Group's photos and comments about Anti-Sites (the spaces designed to prevent homeless people or simply weary passersby to sit down and have a rest), Vladan Jeremic's look at the hidden politics of garbage removal in Belgrade, an interview with the insightful and witty urban hacktivist Florian Rivière, a discussion with 'neo-nomad' Yasmine Abbas, another one with Dan Lockton of Design with Intent, the interview with Gilles Paté, the 'fakir' of urban spaces, etc. Add to that, plenty of case studies, examples of artistic devices and ideas that create and fight unpleasant design but also the outcome of a competition about unpleasant design.

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Blue lights in a public toilet at Bonn central station. Photo: Jurjen van Enter

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Florian Rivière, Don't pay, play!, 2011

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Florian Rivière, Juicer, 2012

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Sarah Ross, Archisuits, 2008

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Sarah Ross, Archisuits, 2008

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Fabian Brunsing, Pay & Sit - the Private Bench, 2008

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Survival Group, Anti-Sites, a collection of anti-homeless urban designs

Two of the winning projects of the Unpleasant Design competition:

A maze lock for public toilets, bars and restaurants to avoid drunkards entering the toilet and passing out or damaging the property.

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Ankita Thaker, Maze door lock

SI8DO is a social-integration urban furniture designed to improve the working conditions of immigrants who work at the traffic lights selling tissues.

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(bau)m_arquitectura, SI 8 DO - Social integration furniture Sevilla

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The programme of Project Space, the quiet gallery by the side entrance of Tate Modern, almost in front of the gadget shop, is often bolder, brainier and more socially-engaged than Tate's more blockbuster offerings (the Lichtenstein retrospective is a joy, btw.) Project Space is now showing Ruins in Reverse, a small-ish exhibition that takes its title from a a paragraph from an essay that land artist Robert Smithson wrote in 1967 while he was visiting industrial ruins in New Jersey: That zero panorama seemed to contain ruins in reverse, that is -all the new construction that would eventually be built. This is the opposite of the 'romantic ruin' because the buildings don't fall into ruin after they are built but rather rise into ruin before they are built. This anti-romantic mise-en-scène suggests the discredited idea of time and many other 'out of date' things. (...)'

Six artists were invited to show existing or specially commissioned work that consider the -sometimes fictitious- relationship between historical monuments and urban ruins.

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Rä di Martino, No More Stars (Star Wars), 2010. © the artist and Monitor, Rome

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Rä di Martino, No More Stars (Star Wars), 2010. © the artist and Monitor, Rome

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Rä di Martino, No More Stars (Star Wars) 33°59'39 N 7°50'34 E Chot El-Gharsa, Tunisia 03 September 2010. © the artist and Monitor, Rome

No More Stars (Star Wars) is perhaps the series that most clearly embodies the idea behind the show. Rä di Martino photographed the quietly decaying Star Wars movie sets in the deserts of Tunisia, which now look like an undusted archaeological site. I like the fact that her photos intrigue and attract the eye even if at first, you have no idea that they show the dissolving remains of a cult sc-ifi movie.

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Pablo Hare, Monuments 2005-12. Giganotosaurus, Valle de Majes, Arequipa, 2006. © Pablo Hare

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Pablo Hare, Monuments, 2005-2012. Miguel Grau, Bahía Tortugas, Ancash, 2008. © Pablo Hare

Pablo Hare's Monuments series documents the proliferation of public statuary on public squares and in the landscape of the young Republic of Peru. These dolphins, dinosaurs, Ancient Greece-style statues and other sculptures are sad rather than majestic and are often at odds with the spirit of a place they are supposed to epitomize.

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Eliana Otta, Archaeology as Fiction and Materiality as Fiction, 2010. © Eliana Otta

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Eliana Otta, Archaeology as Fiction and Materiality as Fiction, 2010. © Eliana Otta

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Eliana Otta, Archaeology as Fiction and Materiality as Fiction, 2010. © Eliana Otta

Eliana Otta's Archaeology as Fiction surveys and maps the decline of Lima's (analogical) record industry since its 1960s and 70s heyday, and the concurrent construction boom taking place in Lima.

The artist wrote down the addresses she could find printed on the records she owns and hunted for their location in the city. Most have disappeared and the buildings are either crumbling or have been replaced by offices of the Opus Dei.

The installation at Tate shows cassettes, photos, CDs, vinyls, lyrics written by hands or printed, etc. Each artefact has a material relationship to music and to an era that might now look like fiction to people who grew up with digital culture.

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Haroon Mirza, Cross section of a revolution, 2011. © Haroon Mirza

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Haroon Mirza, Cross section of a revolution, 2011. © Haroon Mirza

Haroon Mirza's sound installation Cross Section of a Revolution combines turntables, radio set and computer keyboards, fragments of technological obsolescence that form part of our domestic archaeology, with intangible fragments of the fast-paced Internet era. A TV monitor is repurposed to deliver a YouTube clip of a public speaking competition in Lahore. The turntable assemblage emits a repetitive electronic sound. It sounds like cacophony, i've no clue what the guy on the screen is talking about but the result is rather engrossing.

This way for the video.

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Amalia Pica, On Education, 2008. © Courtesy Herald St, London and Diana Stigter, Amsterdam

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Amalia Pica, On Education, 2008. © Courtesy Herald St, London and Diana Stigter, Amsterdam

Other works include Amalia Pica's video On Education showing a man painting an equestrian statue and a commission by José Carlos Martinat which explores the idea of the neglected urban ruin. The artist hung resin skins peeled from Lima's city walls by the windows of Tate Modern. They show ads and graffiti and they assume a whole new meaning when hanging inside the museum space.

Center for the Aesthetic Revolution has more photos and info.

Project Space: Ruins in Reverse is curated by Flavia Frigeri at Tate Modern and Sharon Lerner Museo de Arte de Lima. The exhibition is at Tate Modern, Project Space, Level 1 until 24 June 2013.

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, is aired tonight.

This week we'll be talking to Liam Young, a speculative architect whose work use fictional near-future scenarios in order to make us reflect upon the social, architectural and political consequences of emerging biological and technological futures.

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Liam is a founder of Tomorrows Thoughts Today, a think tank that explores the possibilities of fantastic, imaginary and even perverse urbanisms.

Liam also runs the rather fascinating Unknown Fields Division, a nomadic workshop that travels to the most intriguing places on this planet in order to investigate forgotten landscapes, alien terrains and industrial ecologies. The Unknown Fields Division have traveled to locations as different from each other (and from our own daily environment) as the Amazon, the Alaska, the mining landscapes of the Australia Outback, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and more recently the Roswell Crash Site.

If that were not enough, Liam is also one of the curators of this year's Lisbon Architecture Triennale.

My conversation with Liam today is going to focus on Under Tomorrows Sky, a project that will be shown at the Triennale. The first bricks of 'Under Tomorrows Sky' were laid last Summer, at the MU Foundation in Eindhoven, where Liam was joined by a group of scientists, technologists, futurists, science fiction writers and even special effects artists to collectively imagine and build a room sized miniature model of a fictional, future city. 

The show will be aired today Thursday 21st February at 17:30. The repeat is next Tuesday at 6.30 am (yes, a.m!) If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.

Image on the homepage: Under Tomorrows Sky concept art by Daniel Dociu.

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Kreider + O'Leary, Light Vessel Automatic (This Space), 2013

A couple of weeks ago, i attended the Performing Architecture evening at Tate Britain. The event attempted to answer the questions 'What does performance have to do with architecture?' and 'How can a building perform, and how can we perform a building?' Call me an ignorant but i had never heard about Performance Architecture so i'm gathering here a few notes i wrote down during the Late at Tate night. I hope to get a chance to explore performance architecture with more details in the near future.

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Lamis Bayar and Alex Schweder discussing with Marianne Mulvey

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The most enlightening introduction to the practice was probably the discussion that Tate Curator Marianne Mulvey had with performance architect Alex Schweder and Lamis Bayar , Associate Editor of Le Journal Spéciale'Z.

Performance architecture is an emerging term but it comes from a long history of performance art. Emblematic examples would be Yves Klein's Air Architecture and his iconic Leap into the Void in 1960. Performance architecture also builds upon the works of avant garde architecture studios such as Haus-Rucker-Co, Archigram and Superstudio.

While architecture is usually prescriptive, performance architecture has to do with permission. It gives more agency to the people who occupy or pass through a building, urging them to explore and open up a building.

For the Late at Tate event, Schweder and Bayar scattered instructions inviting visitors to 'perform' Tate's Duveen Galleries. The examples of performance architecture taken from Schweder's portfolio might explain the concept with more clarity:

For 5 days, Schweder and Ward Shelley lived in Counterweight Roommate, a twiglike building made for two occupants of the same weight. Movement in the house depends on using the body mass of one's roommate as a counter weight to aid ascent or slow descent. When one occupant wishes to go up to the kitchen at the top level, the other must go down to the bathroom at the bottom. Between these two rooms are two private sleep / work rooms on levels two and four, and a common room at level three where the ends of the rope meet.

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Counterweight Roommate, 2011. Photography by Georgios Kefalas

The same pair spent a whole week living inside Stability, a wooden seesaw with two beds, a kitchen and a bathroom. The structure moved up and down whenever either of the occupants decided to move from one room to another. The work was about the negotiations and moments of cooperation that take place when several people share a living space as the position of one of the dweller immediately affects the comfort of the other occupant.

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Alex Schweder and Ward Shelly, Stability, Seattle, 2009. Photos © Scott Lawrimore, edited by Ward Shelly & author

Other projects that the architect mentioned in his talk included giving instructions to people to 'paint this floor until it touches the ceiling' and asking people to breathe warm air as soon as they entered an adjacent room where the temperature is always lower (the room was used to store meat in the past.) Imperceptibly and over time, the breath of the visitors raised the temperature of the second room.

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The rest of the evening included more talks, a couple of performances, a workshop, and a series of famous and less famous short films such as Gordon Matta-Clark's spiralling 'cut' that breathed light and air into two derelict 17th century buildings in Paris.


Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical Intersect, 1975

Two films that document Absalon living within his experimental Cellules, 1:1 architectural propositions for idealised living-pods scaled to, and designed to condition, the sculptor's body and mind.


Absalon, Proposals for a Habitat, 1990

A film by Thomas Lock that deconstructs northern France's abandoned WW2 bunkers and Atlantic Wall into a time-based collage of fractured imagery and sound.


Thomas Lock, Breaking points, 2010

As well as Sean Snyder's Dallas Southfork in Hermes Land that follows a Romanian oligarch's re-creation of the ranch from the TV show Dallas - one of the few American TV programmes broadcast under Ceausescu's Cold War rule.

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Sean Snyder, Still from "Dallas Southfork in Hermes Land" Slobozia, Romania, 2001

0cov191087517.jpgArchitectural Inventions Visionary Drawings, by Matt Bua and Maximilian Goldfarb.

(available on amazon USA and UK.)

Publisher Laurence King writes: Born out of the drawingbuilding.org online archive, Architectural Inventions presents a stunning visual study of impossible or speculative structures that exist only on paper. Soliciting the work of architects, designers, and artists of renown -as well as emerging talents from all over the world -Maximilian Goldfarb and Matt Bua have gathered an array of works that convey architectural alternatives, through products, expansions, or critiques of our inhabited environments.

From abstract and conceptual visual interpretations of structures to more traditional architectural renderings, the featured work is divided into thematic chapters, ranging from 'Adapt/Reuse' to 'Clandestine'' 'Mobile'' 'Radical Lifestyle', 'Techno-Sustainable', and 'Worship'. Along with arresting and awe-inspiring illustrated content, every chapter also features an essay exploring its respective themes.

Highlighting visions that exist outside of established channels of production and conventions of design, Architectural Inventions showcases a wide scope in concept and vision, fantasy and innovation.

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David Jacob, Simulated dwelling for a family of five, 1970 (photo)

Architectural Inventions offers an exciting trip to a place you may or may never want to go: inside the head of architects. While a few projects are fairly well documented (for example, The House that Herman built), the majority of the drawings have never been published, not even on the websites of their authors. Which is thrilling but also frustrating when you want to know more about the memorial for the space shuttle Columbia, the extravagant Tesla coil show, the helicopter archipelago, the missile houses, the static desert viking ship, the temple for a moon cult, the artificial planet put into orbit around the sun, the robotic terrorism defense system (i thought that one was already around?!?), aerial suburbs, intricate subterranean networks of garbage disposal, etc. Sometimes the images are accompanied by a short text written in cursive (a real pain to read) and sometimes there's just a title.

The drawings section is introduced by a series of essays by architects, visionaries, installation artists and other people who have interesting thoughts about the impact of the Alexander technique on the built space, time machines, utopia and doomsday. Yes, doomsday because the images and essays might be whimsical and compelling, they never completely lose touch with the dark reality of our time.

Views inside the book:

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A Guide to Archigram 1961-74 , edited by Dennis Crompton.

(Available on amazon USA and UK.)

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Publisher Princeton Architectural Press writes: In the decade of the Beatles and the moon landing, cybernetics and megacities, an ambitious group of young British architects burst on the scene with a bold manifesto for urban building. The Archigram group pioneered a playful brand of architecture that was visionary, utopian, and grounded in social need. Through a provocative series of publications and exhibitions, the avant-garde cooperative challenged an architectural establishment they felt had become reactionary and self-serving. They advocated a complete rethinking of the relationships between technology, society, and architecture, rightly predicting today's information revolution decades before it came to pass.

A Guide to Archigram 1961-74 is a compact history showcasing the group's most interesting and influential schemes, from walking cities and plug-in universities to inflatable dwellings and free time nodes. This book, the most comprehensive guide to Archigram's voluminous output, collects the critical responses of the period, in addition to hundreds of drawings and photographs.

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Amazing Archigram, 1964. Cover illustration of the fourth issue of Archigram magazine

I thought i knew Archigram. I had read about their vision of technology (or 'technocratic future' as magazine editors like to call it), about the walking city, the plug-in city and the instant city. I even read about the swimming pool for Rod Stewart. But this book confirmed that my knowledge of their work and ideas was -at best- superficial.

The book is like a paper version of the Archigram Archive that the University of Westminster made available online a couple of years ago. There's only a couple of contemporary essays in the book. The rest is drawings, comics, editorials written by Peter Cook for the Archigram magazines, essays by members of the group, project descriptions, black and white photos, etc. You jump from an essay mentioning the anti-aircraft Maunsell Forts recycled into headquarters for offshore pirate stations to houses you can carry on your back, inflatables villages or even traveling metropolis. With Archigram, robots are shooting screens, seminars and conferences are adopting the model of the circus to move around the country and Roy Lichtenstein draws urban super heroes.

Archigram is a product of their time of excitement, innovation and faith in the future when thinkers, engineers and architects were dreaming of marine cities and flying houses. Yet the texts written by Peter Cook in the issues of the Archigram magazine haven't lost their spark nor visionary relevance. Back in the 70s they were already saluting the rise of diy initiatives, of people being creative and playing a more active part in the environment in which they lived. And while today, we're talking about smart fridges, a 1969 Archigram project imagined the 'electronic tomato' which would do the shopping and direct business operations for you.

Reading Archigram's essay is uplifting and thought-provoking. Because of the vivid imagination, the use of comics to communicate ideas but also because of Archigram's critique of society (and of the architecture profession in particular.)

It's also a bit disheartening at times, i know that next time i visit the graduation show of a design school, i might look at some of the projects and realize that they have that uncanny air of "Archigram's been there, done that!"

Two words about the format: it is squarish, super thick and short. The kind of shape that never quite fits into the most manicured bookshelves. The inside has a vintage feel with thick, mat pages and tiny fonts.

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Archigram Magazine Issue No. 1

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Page from Archigram Magazine n. 5, Computer City, November 1964

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Archigram, no. 8, 1968

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Archigram, "Walking city" Concept

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Ron Herron, Enviro Pill, 1969

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Living Pod, 1966. © David Greene, Archigram

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Living Pod, 1966. © David Greene, Archigram

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Gala Ambiance, Monte Carlo Palm Tree Project, Archigram Architects, 1971


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Room of 1000 Delights, Peter Cook, 1970

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Peter Cook, Blow-out Village, 1986

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Electronic Tomato, 1969. © Warren Chalk, David Greene, Archigram

Photo on the homepage: Blow-Out Village, Peter Cook, Archigram 1966.

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