Commercial deployment for Soviet space relics

Paul Raven @ 12-01-2011

When you’re trying to get your new business off the blocks, keeping costs low is important. When that business is space flight, keeping to technology that has a proven track record is also important. Excalibur Almaz are combining that business wisdom with a bit of large-scale recycling, and are buying up old Soviet space modules and vehicles as part of their bid to grab a slice of the commercial space-truckin’ pie.

As elegant and sleek as the Space Shuttle is, I have an aesthetic affection for the more utilitarian approach to space – possibly born of the knowledge that, once you’re out of the atmosphere, you don’t need things like wings or an aerodynamic body. Indeed, probably the most redeeming feature of Stephen Donaldson’s Gap Cycle space opera series (not so well known as the inexplicably popular and interminable Thomas Covenant bore-fests) was the way his fictional spacecraft were ugly, practical things, built for function rather than form.

I’m also reminded of a number of Stephen Baxter’s novels, where gutsy defiers-of-bureaucracy blast themselves up the gravity well in vehicles so crude they’re little more than an unpressurised metal box bolted on to the top of a giant rocket, and the time-worn undermaintained habitats and vehicles of Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix.  Safety and elegance are fine things, but they’re prohibitive obstructions when you’re breaking a new frontier.


Playing Our Way To the Future: Consumer Science and Technology goes Military

Brenda Cooper @ 10-02-2010

Last month, I spoke at a United States Army Training and Doctrine Command event billed as a mad scientist conference. That was actually quite an honor, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to, even though it was hard to spend three days thinking about threats based on new technology. I’ve got a blog entry up at my regular site that talks more about the conference, but suffice it to say I’ve been thinking about the military and science/science fiction. In the way of all attractive coincidences, I was also recently asked to write a military science fiction story. All that, and I’m basically a pacifist! Continue reading “Playing Our Way To the Future: Consumer Science and Technology goes Military”


Swimming at the strip mall

Paul Raven @ 09-07-2009

Macro-Sea dumpster swimming poolAs regular readers will know, I get a kick out of stories about the reclamation of disused and abandoned urban spaces. BoingBoing flagged up a rather cute and apolitical example – an organisation called Macro-Sea that transforms defunct strip malls into community spaces, most notably by building public swimming pools out of industrial-sized dumpsters.

As Jocko and I continued our correspondence I quickly learned that Steve was right (not that I ever doubted him), the pool project was a small part of something much larger. Macro-Sea has been involved with a number of artists, architects and retailers across the country working to transform defunct strip malls. “By stripping and altering its [strip malls] common architectural features, adding community space and involvement, and carefully selecting and curating vendors and the space itself Macro-Sea hopes to create and promote a place for people to shop, meet, learn, and engage with one another.” Sounds like a good plan to me and I’ve seen it happen successfully before, in Sao Paulo, Brazil a few years ago.

This project is conceptually connected to Chairman Bruce’s squelettes, and to the theory of the Temporary Autonomous Zone. As cities expand, there will be more and more of these dead spaces scattered around, and I’d like to see people making imaginitive use of them rather than waiting for the authorities to scrape together the cash to build some sterile new development… or, more likely, a new mall to replace the old. [image borrowed from article at ReadyMade Magazine]


Shipping container tower block

Paul Raven @ 17-03-2009

In what might be some bizarre manifestation of hyper-rapid Zeitgesit symbolism adoption, the repurposed shipping container really does look like it will be one of the visual memes of 2009. Here’s the latest contender, the proposed Lotto Turm of Stuttgart, Germany:

Lotto Turm - shipping container tower block

The Lotto Turm tower will be constructed of 55 shipping containers stacked on top of each other, and will be designed to include a noise-free courtyard as well as a spiral pathway that circles around the building. Balconies, terraces, and stairs accent the tower from top to bottom, giving the stacked block structure a fantastical quality, and Gardens and plants will accentuate the varied vertical landscape. The public may enter and go all the way to the top of tower for a view of the city through the lotto sphere.

I don’t know what local development policy is like in Germany, but there’s no way that a shipping container tower block would get a green light here in the UK (more’s the pity). That said, I’m not entirely sure how straight-faced the Lotto Turm idea really is – there’s definitely an element of humour in Behrendt’s design.

Still, given the amount of shipping containers that have started piling up empty in docks and factory lots around the country, they’re just waiting to be reused for something worthwhile; pragmatism may defeat NIMBYism in shorter order than anyone might expect. [image by architect/designer Lars Behrendt]