A few artists discovered an apartment-sized vacant space under a mall in Providence, RI, and over several years proceeded to build a living space which they furnished (with things bought at the mall) as an "art piece." The project was called Trummerkind, which is what the Germans called the children and orphans who lived in alleys and abandonded buildings after WWII.
Chief architect of the apartment within the mall was Michael Townsend. He writes on Trummerkind that he got the idea while watching the construction of the mall and noticed the vacant space within it.
Starting in 2003 I committed to the idea of creating a luxury apartment in the mall. Life from within the mall was committed to the pursuit of normalcy and the purchase of objects and clothing that would help define me an active participant in the great things the mall has to offer. During the Christmas season of 2003 and 2004, radio ads for the Providence Place Mall featured an enthusiastic female voice talking about how great it would be if you (we) could live at the mall. The central theme of the ads was that the mall not only provided a rich shopping experience, but also had all the things that one would need to survive and lead a healthy life. This, along with a wide variety of theoretical musings about my relationship to the mall - as a citizen and public artists - provided the final catalyst for making the apartment.
The Providence Journal has a good story on some of the details of living inside a mall in a mall furnished flat. The space was quite spacious and the effort to furnish it, while remaining undetected in the middle of a mall, were herculean.
In a feat of derring-do likely to be savored for years by the Providence-area underground-art community, the artists illegally ate, drank, slept, read, held meetings, watched TV and enjoyed games on a Sony Playstation2 in a palace of American commercialism. The apartment, which was relatively soundproof, contained a sectional sofa, a love seat, a coffee table, a breakfast table with four chairs, lamps, a throw rug, a hutch and paintings on the walls. Although the group had bold improvement plans, the apartment lacked running water, a refrigerator and a toilet. The artists lugged in gallon jugs of water to drink, and to answer nature’s call, they would sneak out to use mall bathrooms. They did have a waffle iron, Yoto said, so meals tended to run toward breakfast food. They obtained electricity by running an extension cord to an outlet in the storage room.
The casually furnished, unheated apartment was in a 750-square-foot loft beneath an I-beam and above an unused dusty storage room in the mall parking garage that was accessed through a door in a stairwell, according to Townsend, his fellow artists and the police. The collective labored mightily to haul in more than two tons of construction materials and furnishings to build out and equip the space, which already had a concrete floor. Some of the material was brought in through an 11-inch-wide aperture on the west side of the mall that allowed access to the garage interior. Larger items were brought into the garage by car and carried up fire exit stairwells, the artists said. In order to section off and disguise the space, the artists cemented together 90 30-pound cinderblocks to make a wall and then installed a generic, beige-colored industrial door. Anyone who came into the storage room would see a steep metal ladder leading to the locked door.
Two other points to note from this article. One is that the inhabitants were once burglarized. The thief made off with their Playstation. Townsend said that this room became a home once it was burglarized. The other thing is Townsend's incredibly gracious note to the police and security guards, apologizing for "wasting their time" and for being professional while dealing with this very "peculiar" case. Five points for style!
This prototype of a prototypical street cart is artist Mouna Andraos' idea. From the artist's proposal: "An old idea from yesterday's streets adapted to serve the needs of today's urban dwellers, the Power Cart is a mobile unit that delivers alternative power to people in the streets. Street vendors have traditionally played an important role in defining the urban environment and often speak to the current social and cultural context of a city. In most parts of the world (and if the weather permits it), the street is a place where social interactions abound and where commerce rules, and street vendors around the globe bring to local populations the things they need right at their door steps. Knife sharpening in India, refills of gas in Africa, fake Gucci bags in Paris and chair massages in New York, the Power Cart looks and feels like another service for the city of today. Need a charge on your cell phone? Your laptop is about to die and you really need to check that email? Or maybe there is no power around you at all? Where ever you might be in the world, hail the Power Cart for a quick fix. Let the Power Cart owner turn the crank for you and get the electricity you need, one minute of cranking at a time."
Adam Sender runs the Exis Capital Management Inc., a hedge fund in New York City. He also owns a $100 million modern art collection which he would like to house in an old church in the Hamptons. He has a lot of money and a need for a lot of information. This photo of him in his New York office in January 2007 was shot by Bloomberg News. As you can see, his desk is part performance art, part futuristic demo of what some believe work will be like in the future.
These flat screens were never meant to be piled up and around like this, but when these displays are free (as they essential are to this rich guy), they become a fantastic street use example of where display technology is headed. In this photo I counted 25 screens. Most of Sender's screens don't need to be interactive since they appear chiefly as displays of stock movements, which means they are good candidates for electronic wallpaper. If these screens were stitched together into a single desktop as many dual screen sets are (like my own desktop) it might be hard to keep track of where your control cursor was (at least until someone figured out a good way to highlight it across all that real estate).
These screens remind me of a project I once worked on. About 8 years ago, I was part of a small group invited by Steven Spielberg to brainstorm about a future film he was launching. There were some writer types (like myself), some technologists, a few futurists, and one or two science fiction authors, all members of the Global Business Network. Speilberg flew us to Venice Beach, California and holed us up in the Shutters on the Beach Hotel for a day and a half. I remember the spectacular beach was fogged in, so we spent the days in a dim conference room, as a constant stream of assistants whizzed in and out the whole time. We were working from a short story by Philip K. Dick, a sketch really (no script), which was set in the near future. Our assignment was to describe the details of what life would look like in Washington DC in the year 2050. Forecast the future of cars, bedrooms, office space in as realistic and accurate way possible. The movie, of course, was Minority Report.
At the time I had been trying to imagine the office of the future. I suggested to the film team that we would be surrounded by a single seamless screen in an arc, and that we would stand up and gesture into it. I had observed that when you think on your feet you have different thoughts. I like to think while I walk or pace because I feel my whole body is thinking then. It may turn out to be a short-term anomaly that today we think while we are sitting. Perhaps if the right technology were around we'd always think with our entire body in motion. I know I would rather move while mining for new ideas. With that in mind I offered the wall-sized screen arc that you stand before and act. You would interact with the information at a slight distance using your arms. Spielberg's team found a great designer to make the idea real, and in a brilliant stroke of genius, they turned it into ballet by adding music.
I was simply describing the office I want. So far, Adam Sender is closest to this vision made real, although it is a long way from my ideal. I would be interested in hearing about other experiments in day-to-day surround-display. Can anyone point me to street-ready multiple displays hacked in home offices? How useful are they really? Can you keep track of what is happening behind you? Why not go up, rather than behind?
Todd Lapin found this cool "sock exchange" in a San Francisco laundromat (the Bernal Bubbles Laundromat, Cortland Avenue, Bernal
One of my favorite street-use sites is English-Russia. They frequently feature novel ways that Russians create their own technology. The latest example is this clever home-made lawn mower. The site doesn't say much about how it was built, but it seems to created around an electric motor and bicycle parts. About all they say about the machine is: "This particular lawnmower still works and sometimes is used by this Russian man on his “dacha”, the summer wooden cottage where he spends some of his weekends, like many other Russians do."
According to a BBC news item datelined Nairobi, a one Humphrey Barasa has "has been drawing cartoons on the [Kenyan] bus stop shelter for the last six years."
The cartoons, which Mr Barasa draws on the face of the shelter, highlight various issues - from politics and politicians, to health and social issues - and act as a pictorial analysis of current affairs..... He has won many fans, who visit the shelter every day to view his latest masterpiece. "It's very, very excellent work. It always gives me inspiration and that's why I pass here every day," said one of his fans.
Reader David Sarpal writes: "My sister is visiting Colombia right now and she happened upon a street vendor who has arrived at an ingenious re-use of a baby carriage as a street vendor."
Design student Andrew McClandlish sent me this image which was part of a large collection of anonymously photographed street use images from China which has been circulating on the internet for years. But I had not seen this contraption before. It is obviously a clever solution to someone who simply does not want to use a squatty potty.
Pedicabs drivers need a big bell -- all the momentum they are riding on is hard to stop quickly. These guys in Suzhou had a cool set of bells using an old gear to hold more than one bell. The circle of bells were struck by an armature in the center, turned by the rotation of the front wheel. It made a great big ring! Very cool.
A reader named John says he "saw this bench at the car wash in San Diego, CA a few weeks ago and thought of street use. Apparently they dont want their bench stolen."
It is actually a pretty cool design. It makes the bench heavy and awkward to move. Yet it doesn't detract from either its use or its looks (too much). And it is probably cheap to make. Also it can easily be applied to a variety of bench types. Why don't we see this solution more often?
If there ever was a technology that calls out for street use, it is a jet engine. There is a small subculture of jet hackers. Among them is New Zealander Bruce Simpson who runs a cool website of his experiments. He tells how he got started:
When I first started tinkering with pulsejet engine technology in 1999, I realized that there was huge potential for improving these devices. Although deceptively simple in construction, their design had changed little in the 55 years since the end of WW2, when they were rapidly replaced by the now common turbojet. The opportunity to apply 21st century materials and knowledge to the task of improving a design still mired in the 1950's was too great to resist -- so I set about developing a range of engines, each incremental better than the last.
In true enthusiast street use spirit Simpson tells you how to make one yourself. He sells a book on DVD with instructions.
"A step-by step video shows you how to build this pulsejet for around $20 using just regular hand-
tools. That's right, no welder or lathe is required."
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This is almost more folk art than folk technology, but it is way extreme. Sent in by Michael Krakovskiy, it shows a 12-15 story skyscraper built of wood built by Nikolai Sutyagin in Archanglesk, Russia, shown here. Called a Izba, in smaller sizes it is a traditional Russian wooden dwelling.
Michael has more of the story based on his own research posted on his blog Deadprogrammer's Cafe, but here's a few paragraphs:
"When Perestroyka came about Nikolai Sutyagin used his money to start a lumber and construction business which brought him a substantial fortune. Now he needed a suitable residence. At first he planned on building a huge two story wooden house. Wooden structures are limited by law to two stories for fire safety reasons. At first he built a refrigerator sized wooden mock up. He liked the scale, but didn't like the proportion of the roof. He decided to elongate it to achieve a more pleasing proportion. Then he started building working with his team like in the old times, but using the timber from his own company. When he was about done with the roof, he decided to build it up a little higher so that he could see the White Sea from the very top. Even though his building has two stories, the roof spans 11 more (some articles estimate the structure to have 12 stories, others - 13 and even 15).
The government and his neighbors hated Sutyagin's masterpiece. Fire hazard or not, it stands in the middle of a rather poor village, yet it's higher than the tallest cement building in the city of Archangelsk itself. The city government ordered the structure to be torn down, but the order was never realized as far as I know. But Sutyagin was accused by one of his employees (who stole $30,000 from Sutyagin) of beating him up and imprisoning him in a shed. True or not, Sutyagin got 4 years of prison. He was let out in 2 years. While he was away his company was looted like Baghdad after the war. Now he and his wife and daughter live in the unfinished skyscraper that he built."
"Here's an electric scooter I spotted on the beach in Santa Monica," writes Brian Lauas. "Apparently modified for increased range with 2 monstrous car batteries strapped on. Transportation for the Post Apocalypse generation. Sweet."
Some mobile devices are not as waterproof as others. Alexander Rose has lost several Treos to mild moisture penetration -- even from sweat in a pocket, or rain. His solution is a zip lock bag. It keeps water out and let's sound and light in, so he can speak and hear normally through the plastic and punch in the keys. Here is what Rose says: "I am on my 3rd Treo in a little over a year (good thing I got replacement insurance!). It turns out they are ridiculously sensitive to water. Even hi humidity or sweat has made mine blank out. So now whenever there is risk of it getting wet (like rain) I put it in a snack sized ziplock. You can use all the features, talk and hear through it just fine. There are also some high end cases by Otterbox but I like the ziplock solution as its light, collapsable, and just water tight enough."
It does look pretty dorky. Anyone else have the same problem, or different solution?
Sculpturer Eric Peltzer has built his own electric mountain bike using a huge go-kart motor. He writes on his blog: "The reason for this powerful a motor is simple: hills. I live on a steep hill. While a Zap or a US ProDrive rated at 400 watts goes a decent 17 mph on flat land, they slow to 3 to 5 mph on a decent hill. I can pedal that fast. However I wanted to go faster and be able to get up a hill. The simple fact is that you need from 5 to 10 times as much power to go a given speed on a decent grade. This is why a car that only needs 12 hp to go 60 mph on flat roads has an engine that can put out 100 to 200 hp."
My wife and I were in Turkey recently and while we were in the plaza in front of the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia) in Istanbul, I noticed this photo vendor. But instead of the old-fashioned kid-with-a-polaroid, this guy had a digital camera and a battery-powered photo printer!
I'm not sure who much these are actually used. They may be simply a design project. But they look plausible. In fact, I think I'll make some for guests.
You remove the spring from a wooden or plastic spring clothespin, and insert it between two chop sticks -- perhaps with a little grove shaved on the chop stick shank. The result is a pair that is easy to use and requires no life-long skill to pick up grains of rice.
Quick! A nifty way to store desk utensils without cluttering up the desktop. Make customizable holders with duck tape stuck to the bottom of your desktop. The idea and photos come from benrodian. His instructions:
1. make little duct tape slots for everything you need at your table or desk. (yes, that is a glow-in-the-dark Swiss Army knife)
2. stick everything to the underside of the desk.
3. now everything is right there but the top of your desk/table isn't cluttered.
As far as I can tell this is not a put-on, or hoax, but a legitimate innovation born of desperation. And I believe others have discovered the same solution. (I'm always surprised more people don't use some kind of hands-free contraption.) If you know more about this particular picture (forwarded to me by Alexander Rose) please email me.
In February, 2006 the BBC.com had a good article on an DIY low-powered FM radio station operated out of a electronics repair shop. I'd be surprised if this was the only one in India (or Asia) like this. The owner-builder claims not to know that broadcasting required a license. The station, he says, just sort of grew from his junk and his interests.
"On a balmy morning in India's northern state of Bihar, young Raghav Mahato gets ready to fire up his home-grown FM radio station. It may well be the only village FM radio station on the Asian sub-continent. It is certainly illegal. The transmission equipment, costing just over $1, may be the cheapest in the world.
The transmission kit is fitted on to an antenna attached to a bamboo pole on a neighbouring three-storey hospital. A long wire connects the contraption to a creaky, old homemade stereo cassette player in Raghav's radio shack. Three other rusty, locally made battery-powered tape recorders are connected to it with colourful wires and a cordless microphone. The radio station is a repair shop and studio rolled into on. The shack has some 200 tapes of local Bhojpuri, Bollywood and devotional songs which Raghav plays for his listeners. Raghav's station is truly a labour of love - he does not earn anything from it. His electronic repair shop work brings him some two thousand rupees ($45) a month."
Raghav makes his living from repairing electronic goods.
Your arm moves the printer head in this home-made hand-held ink jet printer. Devised by a Dutch hacker, he calls it an electronic stamp. It can print on paper, white board, a balloon - anything you can move your arm over.
He writes on his blog, Sprites Mods, "In a normal inkjet printer the print head is moved back and forth with a motor and a guiding system. If however, we want to make a manageable device then it is not convenient to integrate this entire system into an electronic stamp. That is why we use only the cartridge together with some electronics that drives the head. Moving the head itself is a job for the user. When moving it is important to hold the whole assembly straight and move with a uniform motion across the surface. After a little practice this is quite easy to do.
While riding a local bus in a village near Shanghai China I noticed a rather elegant device for ticketing. It's a wooden box that holds stacks of tickets under a rubber band on one lid. The other lid holds the coins for change. The ticket girl rips off the proper ticket/receit for a rider and then digs for the change visible on the other tray. She can close it up when she needs to hop off at a stop, and then opens it quickly again. Elegant solution.
From the ever-entertaining blog of musician/pop-star David Byrne comes this phone-cam picture he took during a religious procession encountered on "9th avenue in the 50s" in New York City, September 2006. It's a novel way for the brass section to hold their sheet music.
My favorite streetologist, Jan Chipchase, posted a cool find on his Future Perfect blog. It's a key ring/disk for a housemaid in a hotel in Chengdu, China.
This is literally street use of technology. Projecting films for the neighborhood at night is not a new idea, but hi-tech digital projectors make it possible on a much smaller scale. In New York City a group called Rooftop Films will rent equipment or help communities set up movie projections during warm summer nights. But anyone with a cheap digital projector can do their own show in their own neighborhoods. You need a large white wall or screen, a projector, DVD player, sound, lots of chairs and a warm night.
Lots of low-tech household items have been used to boost wi-fi signals, starting with Pringle cans and upward. But none have been able to match the decibel gains offered by a Chinese fry basket. This off-the-shelf item seems ready-made to accompany a laptop as it seeks a good signal in the park. Or near a den window. It has a nearly perfect parabola shape, and a handy bamboo handle. A guy in New Zealand named Stan Swan has devoted a web site to perfecting the fry basket antenna, where this image comes from.
Lloyd Kahn found this hand-made tool on the workbench of Louie's On the River. It's a Vice-Grip with a 90 degree pipe elbow welded to it to serve as a handle that can rest in your palm and let you work it one handed.
Telephone poles are supposed to hold up electrical wires, except when they serve as ad hoc billboards. I found this one telephone pole in my hometown of Pacifica, California which could be seen dead-on as you drove down a street ending in a "T". The pole has been covered by so many bills, posters, and sheets of papers nailed in over the years that it now has a sign ironically prohibiting its use as a sign post.
This billboard telephone pole glows in Oaxaca town Mexico
It's simple but elegant. A new garbage can gets a spigot and becomes a handy source of running water to wash one's hands in a cafe in a Oaxaca market.
There are about half a million bicycles in Amsterdam. While many are used by the inhabitants of this Dutch city, most of those half million bikes are parked, or chained, along the fences, poles, and lamp posts of the city. This gave me a chance to inspect them for modifications and street use mojo. I found a few that had taken your basic black single speed standard Amsterdam issue bike and altered the pattern with either a homemade paint job to make it easy to find, or else added a homemade basket to carry stuff.
Nice paint job! You can't miss this one in the crowd.
A kid's front seat made of wood and painted pink.
For carrying heavy loads and packages, how about a welded platform painted yellow?