Friday, March 29, 2013

sounding underground: a mutimedia experiment

The Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab has a very interesting online journal called Sensate: A Journal for Experiments in Critical Media Practice.

The website for the journal is beautifully designed, and breaks many conventions in regards to publishing (e.g. chronology of articles).

One of the journal's articles is about a topic that has often been discussed in this blog quite frequently - the underground, or more specifically in this case Sounding Underground.

The article by Ximena Alarcon examines underground life in the subways of London, Paris and Mexico City, using a collage of photographs, text and sound recordings, displayed in non-linear format using Zeega. Some of the screens work better than others (the screens with websites in motion are somewhat nauseating), but those that do work well (soundscapes and photographs in particular) give a colourful, cacophonous sense of underground life that would be difficult to achieve with text alone.

Image of Alfred Beach's pneumatic underground idea from InkBlueSky.

Monday, March 25, 2013

hospital design by doctor-architects: an exhibition

Readers of this blog may be interested in a new exhibition at the Osler Library in Montreal, Canada, about the contributions of doctors to hospital design. The exhibition is curated by Professor Annmarie Adams and showcases material from the library's architectural history collection. Alongside other themes, it examines the role of hospitals as tourist destinations, with objects such as hospital postcards and boardgames. Interestingly hospitals have now become a tourist destination for the retronaut, visiting pneumatic tube systems (see previous blog posts here, here and here).

The exhibitions runs through August 2013.
Architectural illustration by John Harris.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

pneumatic tubes in literature: the beginnings of a list

After writing numerous posts now about appearances of pneumatic tube systems in fiction, I thought it would be worthwhile to start a list of these books. Most books I have come across rather randomly, so if you can think of any others to add to the list please add them in the comments!

Paul Auster: Invisible
Edward Bellamy (1888): Looking Backward
Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451
Shena Mackay: The Atmospheric Railway: New and Selected Stories
Ian McEwan: The Innocent
Anne Michaels: The Winter Vault
George Orwell: 1984
Marcel Proust: The Way by Swann
Neal Shusterman: The Downsiders
Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five

Sunday, March 17, 2013

the sieve and the sand

It's Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Montag is in the vacuum-underground with the Bible in his hands. He is in "a loud car with blaring advertisements for Dentrifice, a train radio which vomits a ton-load of music made of tin, copper, silver, chromium, and brass" (p103). The people around him are pounded into submission; "there was no place to run". The "great air-train" that they travel in, falling down its shaft into the earth, resembles their fall into a bookless-hell, where all thoughts are governed by those in power. As Montag rushes "through the dead cellars of town, jolting him, he remembered the terrible logic of that sieve ... there were people in the suction train but he held the book in his hands and the silly thought came to him, if you read fast and read all, maybe some of the sand will stay in the sieve" (pp102 - 103). He does read and he remembers.

Later Montag catches the air-train again. An old man talks to him and talks to him "as the train was sucked from one end of the night city to the other on one long sickening gasp of motion" (p133). The pneumatic tube is a nauseating, suffocating place in Fahrenheit 451, where those who ride it are merely being taken for a ride, unquestioning cogs in the system.

Image from American Buddha.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

another tour of the lost technology

For the second time, the public was granted an insider's peak into Stanford Hospital's pneumatic tube system recently, opened again for Atlas Obscura.

Retronaut Annetta Black reported on the tour of the system (and Gever Tulley kindly uploaded photos from the tour onto his Flikr site for sharing). Black describes Standford's tubes as quiet and efficient (although ear plugs needed!), and surprisingly common place. The report appears amongst a series of essays and photographs about pneumatic tubes on the beautifully designed Atlas Obscura website. Not surprising considering that the pneumatic tube system at the New York Public Library made it to the site's top ten most popular places for 2012, and as Black states: "for many retro-tech enthusiasts, pneumatic dispatch is the holy grail of awesome lost technologies".

Image from Gever Tulley's photostream.