Wednesday 12 June 2024

labyrinth (11. 622)

Earthmoving equipment for the construction of a new airport in northwest Crete, to replace the current second largest one in Heraklion, has revealed a monumental ancient circular structure from the Minoan Era (see previously here and here), consisting of eight concentric stone rings with a vault in the centre, reminiscent of a conical, beehive tomb, and radial walls that cross the rings. Excavations continue on the multicursal, branching Bronze Age site—and designated in the building plans as the location of the new airport’s radar array, a new place will be found.

Thursday 16 May 2024

scope of practise (11. 563)

Via Kottke, we that the inaugural World Umarlling Championship has been announced and is taking submissions, giving us a chance to revisit the gentle stereotype, classically a male pensioner who pauses to observe and inspect construction works in progress. Self-appointed foremen, the interest that umari take in infrastructure and built-environments is a model that we could all take a lesson from in terms of civic engagement without being a busybody or a backseat driver, especially under the terms of the competition. Learn ore at the links above.

Wednesday 8 May 2024

hardhat riot (11. 546)

As our faithful chronicler reminds, on this day in 1970, around noon a group of more than four-hundred construction workers—many working on the World Trade Center—converged on a group of anti-war protesters, mostly college students picketing the New York Stock Exchange and rallying on the steps of Federal Hall, originally a Customs House on Wall Street, setting up a memorial for those killed at Kent State four days prior and calling for an end to the fighting in Vietnam and Cambodia, release of political prisoners and an end to military-related research on university campuses. By lunch time the clashes turned violent with some eight hundred office workers joining the ranks of the agitating construction workers, breaking through a thin line of police separating the two sides and pursuing students and onlookers and beating them safety equipment and tools. Law enforcement, sympathetic to the counter protesters, did little to intervene or stop the melee. Two weeks of protests followed before the demonstrations, pitting labour union leaders against pacifists, subsided and towards the end of the month, the organiser of the initial riot and a delegation of representing some three-hundred thousand unionised trade workers, were invited to the White House to meet with president Richard Nixon, who said he sought to honour those labour leaders “and people from Middle America who still have character and guts and a bit of patriotism,” accepting hard hats as a gift. For his loyalty and role in starting a culture war, a values war that divided traditionally shared sentiments among Democratic voters, that leader Peter J Brennan was appointed secretary of labour and the cabinet official outlasted the Nixon administration and served under Ford as well.


one year ago: an early fifth century bog man

two years ago: the Nebra Skydisc

three years ago: a classic Eurodance number, assorted links worth revisiting plus more photographs from Pete Souza

four years ago: the death of Tito (1980), more links to enjoy plus Russian borderlands

five years ago: more links worth the revisit plus Heath Robinson contraptions

Tuesday 19 March 2024

bascรญlica i temple expaitori de sagrada famรญlia (11. 436)

For the anniversary of the laying of the ground stone for the largest unfinished Catholic church in the world (see also) initially under the direction of architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano in 1882, whom resigned his commission from the Spiritual Association of Devotees of St Joseph over creative differences and was subsequently awarded to Antoni Gaudรญ (previously) who transformed the project into his magnum opus. Passing away in 1926 when the structure was only an estimated fifteen percent completed and leaving future builders to finish his vision, Gaudรญ reported answered to the slow progress of construction with “My client is not in a hurry.” Impediments to progress arose during World War I, the Spanish Civil War and World War II but the cathedral is open to the public, with regular masses held since 2017. Executed in Gaudรญ’s unique fusion of Cubism and Art Nouveau and rich withsymbolism, one can take a virtual tour courtesy of Open Culture at the link above. 


one year ago: the history of paper shredding, more FOIA follies, the excavation of Knossos, Germany’s biggest union plus the Second Iraqi War (2003)

two years ago: assorted links to revisit plus Plagiarism Today

three years ago: more links to enjoy

four years ago: Spring is coming

five years ago: C-SPAN, Hitler’s orders to destroy infrastructure in Germany (1945), more links worth revisiting plus music for cheese

Saturday 3 February 2024

flakturm iv (11. 317)

Reminiscent of the transformation of the Colossus of Prora into luxury vacation properties, we learned that there has been a similar rehabilitation effort in the works for a decade to crown the one of the landmarks of the past of Hamburg, the air-defence bunker in Heiligengeistfeld in St Pauli (see previously), too difficult to demolish and built as nearly impenetrable, with an extension in the form of a boutique, green hotel with a lush rooftop garden. The accommodations open in April, which includes an in-house memorial and information centre about the indestructible structure’s Nazi past, after a three year delay in construction.


one year ago: assorted links to revisit plus Crocodile Rock (1973)

two years ago: more links to enjoy plus more on Tulipomania

three years ago: more links worth revisiting plus a Bauhaus chessboard

four years ago: Setsubun, the Benelux (1958) plus antique school notebooks from all over the world

five years ago: The Day the Music Died (1959)

Saturday 16 December 2023

8x8 (11. 190)

a portrait of justice: the iconography of Ruth Bader-Ginsburg’s judicial collars—see previously 

kreuz am bichl: a uniquely divided church in Carinthia  

oh little town of bethlehem: this year’s creche and other required reading—see more

location scouting: historical movies and filming sites mapped  

modern day umarell: Defector contributor unravels a construction mystery with the help amateur experts—see previously  

18¢ piece: making change, the Greedy Algorithm and the Shallit system of optimal coins  

penguin drama: two aquaria in Japan meticulously update a flow chart to document the changing relationships of their residents  

free mickeys: Disney’s flagship character (see previously) to enter the public domain following a US Supreme court ruling that copyrights cannot be extended with trademarks


one year ago: Kurt Cobain’s Unplugged session (1993), assorted links to revisit plus OpenAI authors Hallmark holiday specials

two years ago: a triple album from George Harrison plus the mental acumen of rarefied genius

three years ago: awards recognising the best of Quarantine Culture, the great apes, St Adelaide plus a classic spy story from John le Carrรฉ

four years ago: the seasonal designs of Jen Nollaig

five years ago: redundant acronym syndrome, Queen Medb plus the Moon on flags (and flags on the Moon)

Saturday 23 April 2022


Though later inaugurated by the respective heads of state over a century later, on this day in 1867 Queen Victoria and Napoleon III jointly reject a proposal from surveyors and engineers Aimรฉ Thomรฉ de Gamond and Henry Marc Brunel for a mined railway tunnel from Dover to Calais, an idea that was revisited several times before its eventual completion.

Wednesday 5 January 2022

truss arch and causeway

On this day in 1933, construction of the Golden Gate Bridge (see previously here and here) began under the initial direction and design of Irving Morrow, Leon Moisseiff, Charles Alton Ellis and Joseph Strauss in order to connect San Francisco to Marin County, named for the strait it crosses, the largest city in America at the time serviced primarily by ferry boats. Delayed by the Great Depression, once under way, however, the span was completed ahead of time and under budget.

Monday 20 September 2021

30 rock

Captured on this day in 1932 by the appointed Photographic Director for the documentation of the Rockefeller Center’s construction, Charles Clyde Ebbets (*1905 - †1978) framed Lunch atop a Skyscraper (who took this picture?), depicting eleven workers taking their break on a girder, feet dangling high above New York City streets, from the perspective of the sixty-ninth storey of the neighbouring RCA Building—itself still under construction. The following year Ebbets returned to his native Florida and worked with the Seminole tribe to champion the conservation of the Everglades and promote responsible tourism.

Thursday 27 May 2021


Among many other anniversaries of the great and good, on this day, as our faithful chronicler informs, in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge linking the San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean, was opened to pedestrian traffic—the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world at the time.

First conceived in 1916, ambitious engineer and pontifex Joseph Baermann Strauss (1870 – 1938) answered the call having proposed a similar railroad bridge to cross the Bering Strait and connect Alaska with Russia and oversaw the construction of some four hundred draw bridges in a major infrastructure overhaul, and in collaboration (which ended unfortunately acrimoniously) with Charles Alton Ellis, completed it in four years (see also). During the week-long opening ceremony, more than two hundred thousand visitors crossed the mile-long span or foot or on roller skates. The particular shade of vermilion is called international orange, chosen to compliment the bridge’s natural surroundings and improve its visibility in fog, and is a unique hue differing from aerospace or safety orange.

Tuesday 6 April 2021

port authority trans-hudson

Though entertained throughout the 1940s and 1950s as a vehicle for urban renewal and to stimulate development, New York governor Nelson Rockefeller felt he had not gathered the sufficient and sustaining political and public will to sign the bill directing the construction of a World Trade Centre for Manhattan until this day in 1961 and fraught with zoning and controversy, not completed until twelve years later—almost to the day. The project, intended to rehabilitate the Port Authority where ridership was declining, displaced New York City’s Radio Row, a warehouse district that had existed since the 1920s which hosted many electronics goods stores and was a driver of innovation by proximity and saturation as well as affecting many tenants and small businesses in the dense waterfront neighbourhood. Many of the affected protested that the city should have gotten involved in a prestige project masquerading as social stimulus.

Thursday 20 August 2020


Via the always engrossing Futility Closet—which has, in addition to its regular podcast, returned to blogging with a fervour after a hiatus, we learn a Bolognese term that refers to retired gentlemen who pass time at roadworks and other construction sites supervising and disbursing advise to the crew.
The word meaning “little man,” it has picked up use around Italy since a 2005 book employed the term and not just in the one region and often with the female equivalent ลผdรฅura, an umarell’s wife. While the subject of gentle derision, developers and municipalities often are willing to pay a small stipend in exchange for their scrutiny and quality-control.

Saturday 6 June 2020


Though still under construction, the spectacular “horizontal skyscraper” of Chonqing’s Raffles City project in the central Yuzhong district is welcoming visitors—like its namesake development in Singapore, called in honour of Sir Stamford Raffles (*1781 – †1826), Lieutenant-Governor of the East India Company and founder of the modern city state and British Malay.
The skybridge, the Crystal, is three hundred metres long and is supported by four towers at a height of a quarter of a kilometre and features a park, a history and industrial museum of the city, and an observation platform with future plans for a lounge, restaurants, bars and an infinity pool. Within the glass and steel columns, there are spaces allotted for offices, hotels, shopping centres as well as fourteen hundred residential units.

Wednesday 6 May 2020

bรฉton brut

Beginning with an overture on aesthetic differences immortalised in in the 007 franchise, 99% Invisible (both in written form and as a podcast) presents an excellent and comprehensive look at the landmarks of Brutalist architecture.
Aside from the distinct pleasure of revisiting a selection of these sometimes reviled yet unrivalled masterpieces of formalism that often courted condemnation as fallout shelters, urban blight or Soviet-era slab with a guided tour—sadly prompted by the premature loss of two architects synonymous with the vernacular—rather than the utopian and optimistic impulse the construction medium brought. Much more to explore at the link above.

Saturday 12 May 2018

but our princess is in another castle

 I was impressed to see that our old hometown, which was undergoing quite some extensive construction work under the streets of the historic old town to modernise its gas lines and feed it from a biofuel processing plant, had been creative enough to canvas over the site with a Super Mario Brothers’ theme—sort of like the neat frieze of refrigerator magnets that my sister had given us a few years back. Each panel represented a different level and told about renovation challenges, timelines and the benefits that would eventually materialise. Mario’s companion is a sea-monster called Nesi—which is also the namesake for the fleet of buses that comprise the local public transportation (NES being the license plate designation for that county—Neu Stadt an der Saale) and the video game segment even incorporated the landmark gate towers of the Altstadt.

Monday 20 March 2017


An architectural studio called oiio, as Hyperallergic informs, has released design proposal for a skyscraper they’re calling the Big Bend that’s being hailed as the world’s longest structure—at 1,2 kilometres in the form of a long, skinny arch. In an already crowded Manhattan neighbourhood, this innovative proposal occupies a fairly small footprint yet manages to optimise space for working and living. I wonder what it would be like to like the Wonkavator at this address.

Saturday 17 August 2013


I took a train to spend the day in the city of Frankfurt am Main and though I had been through there numerous times, I had not taken the chance to scout of the metropolis without a specific agenda and destination—usually a transportation hub. That day, however, I got to wonder at the skyline and linger over the contrasts of a work-in-progress, becoming and the historic fait accompli—much of which had been lovingly restored with care and true to the original, and some of the grittiness, and I  had the chance to see quite a few sights. I saw the big euro sign, which the € always made me think of Uncle Scrooge's (Onkel Dagoberts) Money Bin, before the European Central Bank (EZB) building.
Later walking towards the East Harbour (Osthafen) learned that that towering spire—in every German community one sees scaffolding and construction cranes busy with something—visible behind the beautiful and hallowed Cathedral of Frankfurt (Dom Sankt Bartholomรคus), which is also under construction, and the Eiserner Steg, the footbridge across the Main River, is to be the future home of the European Union's financial institution, built on the grounds of the Wholesale Market Halls (GroรŸmarkthalle) of docklands.
Further, as home to Germany's stock market, the DAX, the city has attracted an ensemble of banks and other business headquarters, hence the modern skyscrapers. I thought it good luck to rub the bear's nose and hang on the bull's horns but I don't know if that's really the customary thing to do.
I'll have to ask one of those stock-brokers next time. In back of the timbered houses and medieval edifices that comprise the city's core, the old Rathaus and its extensions known as the Rรถmer—where emperors, newly crowned in the nearby cathedral had their celebratory banquets and is now a happy venue for civil marriages, lies the Pauluskirche (the Lutheran Church of St. Paul), which is an important political monument.
It was really only used as a consecrated place of worship sporadically.  The site is more renowned as the venue for Germany's first democratic national assembly, a convention that led to the creation of the Weimar Republic and, after WWII and the reunification.

I never had the chance before to visit the impressive upper, plenary chamber, the assembly hall, and learn about its history, as it was occupied on a previous visit with some awards ceremony. Surely, there is a lot more to discover and to learn about the city, and I am looking forward to my (and our) next chance to visit.