Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Warsaw Old Town

I've posted about the fantastic '99% Invisible' design podcast on this blog before, but I wanted to draw attention to the most recent episode on Warsaw.

Warsaw's 'Old Town' was pretty much levelled in the bombing campaigns of WW2, following a direct order by Hitler to utterly destroy it as part of his subjugation of the Polish.


What is fascinatingly revealed in the podcast though is the quite bizarre process of re-building, and indeed re-imagining of the historic town centre, to give it the look it has today.

Much of the rebuild was directly based on the 18th century paintings of the city, produced by Italian artist Bellotto - who had 'prettified' his vision of the city while documenting the skyline (adding extra windows or storeys to buildings, cleaning up confusion etc). His vision of Warsaw was 'better' than the reality, an approach taken by those responsible for the post-WW2 rebuild too. The buildings we see today are simple facades - fake fronts dropped onto modern buildings.

I'll leave it to the podcast to take you through the story - a highly recommended piece of social history and architecture. Go and subscribe to the podcast and download the back catalogue: there's some superb things to hear.

Skyscrapers in Reverse

Due to the incredibly tight confines in the world's most populous city, Tokyo, engineers have come up with an extremely novel way of taking down a famous landmark hotel - from the bottom up.

The process is said to be both safer and cleaner than typical demolition processes involving wrecking balls and explosives.

Over the weeks, the building has been shrinking, much to the surprise of nearby residents.  

The BBC has an interesting page about skyscraper demolition, here, that's worth a read.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Witchcraft at the National Gallery

I called into the National Gallery this afternoon to escape the rain (but not the crowds, unfortunately) and revisit a few old favourites.

I stumbled upon a painting that somehow I have never seen before - Salvator Rosa's 'Witches at their Incantations' (c1646).

It is a fantastically bizarre and nightmarish nocturnal scene. A body hangs from a tree, incantations are pronounced over a dead body, strange skeletons lurk behind, while a stolen baby is held above a strange creature.

This Salvator Rosa painting probably caught my interest due to all the Goya 'Black Paintings' I've been looking at again recently, after a trip to the Prado a year or so ago. I'm particularly drawn to 'The Fates', below:

The occult rarely seems to feature in painting around this period as a central subject, other than perhaps through literary associations. Henry Fuseli offers plenty though - he claimed his visions were provoked through eating lots of raw pork (not the massive quantities of opium he consumed though...)

In this scene, from 1799, the 'night-hag', or goddess Hecate, who presided over witchcraft, appears to visit the witches of Lapland - all derived from a passage taken from Milton's 'Paradise Lost'.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Etch-A-Sketch inventor Andre Cassagnes Dies

Last month, classic toy inventor Andre Cassagnes died, at the age of 86, the BBC reports.

Over 100million units have sold since the product first went to market in 1959, and the bright red rectangle with two white knobs has become an icon of nostalgia. The product underwent an upsurge in popularity after featuring in Disney Pixar's 'Toy Story'.

The mechanical operation behind the device is relatively simple - turning the dials moves a stylus behind the screen, which displaces aluminium powder, thus leaving a clear line.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

New Disney Short

Check out Disney's new short film animation, 'Paperman', seven minutes of perfection!

More detail here on the Telegraph site.

And here's the film: