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Il fait beau dans l’métro! May 19, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Architecture, Art and Design.
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The Stockholm subway is a good example of public art, exhibiting the work of about 130 artists over 110km of track. In fact, it’s called the longest art gallery in the world… and sure, I can believe that. Some of the stations were dug out of solid rock with the ceilings and walls left with a cave-like feel. In short, they’ve managed to transform what looks like a set of fairly standard subway tunnels into a very interesting experience. Judge for yourself below, I’ve posted a few pictures taken from this site. Seriously, doesn’t it make commuting to work just that much more fun?

Stockholm Subway 1

Stockholm Subway 2

Stockholm Subway 3

Reminds me a bit of the Montreal metro (not just because of the trains): both systems were built around the same time and incorporate art into the designs. In the case of the Montreal metro, though stylistically out of date and with its own set of problems, there’s an added bonus of some absolutely great spaces. I’d emphasize the lengths to which the designers and engineers went to in order to incorporate natural daylighting into the deeper stations, especially in the underground multistorey spaces like Monk and Verdun. Instead of backfilling the holes into narrow corridors and low ceilings, the underground spaces are left either completely open in the case of Verdun, or equipped with mezzanines and balconies in the case of Monk.

Verdun 21.9m deep:

Verdun metro 1 Verdun metro 2

Monk, 18.3m deep:

Monk metro 2 Monk metro 1

I found the pictures at this metro aficionado‘s site. Check it out for more info on the metro, it’s bilingual for your convenience and has a comprehensive rating of every station!

So now what? Well this short rant serves as a preamble to my finally visiting the 3 new Laval stations. We’ll see what judgement befalls them…

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Méliès for an oscar? May 18, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Art and Design.
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Georges Méliès is probably still one of the most creative filmmakers in cinema history, credited with the invention of a number of editing tricks. He invariably manages to showcase them all within the span of a few minutes, such as in his ‘Voyage dans la lune’ from 1902 (Trip to the moon), an adventure story that’s very Jules Vernes in style. Some of the scenes are great, like the ship in the moon’s eye and the ‘clair de terre’ scenes. I also love the use of the stop trick to “vaporise” the moon people. Notice how at the end, just before the statue scene, one of the moon’s inhabitants manages to make it down to earth…

But here’s my personal favorite, a very short film made entirely in his home studio (like all his other productions). Hilarious…

Motivated by Captain Kirk May 18, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Humour.
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First off, thanks to Cat who first introduced me to the Star Trek motivational posters…

A strange obsession seems to have gripped the cyber-community for motivational posters, de-motivational posters and unrelated posters using the same exciting colour scheme. I have decided to jump on the bandwagon and nominate my two favourites:

Captain Kirk

Cat

But it gets better! It appears that you can now create your own motivational poster here! I’ve decided to give it a shot and behold… my very own inspirational poster, starring Eugene Hutz, frontman for Gogol Bordello.

Inspirational Gogol

Urban assault meets theme park May 10, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Architecture.
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BLDGBLOG has an excellent post on the not-so-new-anymore urban assault training complex at Camp San Luis Obispo in California, halfway between the cities of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. Urban warfare is something that has been gaining momentum in the minds of military strategists. Just think of the attacks conducted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on the city of Nablus in 2002. Forget alleys, doors and windows; the IDF decided to move through the city by blasting holes through people’s walls and floors. The same thing is happening in San Obispo, but just very far away from any real conflict. Soldiers are being prepared for urban conflict in third world countries by emulating the anticipated combat setting: three mock middle-eastern style houses were built solely for the purpose of training troops, complete with Moorish style walled-in courtyards and even fake media interviews. “Call it the new International Style, or perhaps Military Arabesque”. This is a new take on what already exists as mock American cities used uniquely for military and police training. You can see some photographs of these amazing cities at the following website.

Nablus 2002 San Obispo

Personally, I can’t help but think of Disneyland here. The makers encapsulate a certain temporal or spatial condition, often both, into what Diane Ghirardo calls “one manageable, idealized setting”. Take for example Frontierland, Disney’s cowboy and pioneer wild west. Disney presents it as “the tranquil movement of happy citizens into uninhabited lands rather than as also a government-approved campaign of conquest, land stealing and genocide”. Or say, Main Street USA. At 7/8th real scale, Main Street thrives solely on consumption and “lacks industry, poverty, and, most of all, political life”. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Disney is selective about which elements it glorifies to promote the idea of a utopian setting. So when it comes to recreating ‘typical’ cities for military training, how selective should you be?

Military architecture is nothing new. Cities as isolated from each other as Paris and Kandahar still use the memories of their defensive architecture as landmarks. These two cities’ expansion may have destroyed their walls, but the traces linger in the language: Porte de la Villette and Porte de Saint-Ouen in Paris, Herat Gate and Kabul Gate in Kandahar. In fact, walls are still used today as defensive statements: the Mexico-US border, the Israeli-Palestinian wall, the Baghdad wall, gated communities… But while these examples are designed to respond to a certain given context, San Obispo is completely removed from the setting it emulates.

As I see it, the risk is that selectivity, relatively benign in the case of Disneyland, could lead to dangerous under-information in a military context. The more removed from history and context the training grounds are, the more disingenuous the replica becomes. And this could mean two things. Firstly, since the training camp cannot take into consideration the endless variations that time and location impart on a place, it could just end up as misleading preparation. Secondly, the removal of context ‘virtualizes’ the camp, making it no different than one of the Department of Defense’s fancy video games. Except this is real and built.

So is the U.S. Department of Defense at the forefront of architectural innovation? Not really, Disney had it all figured out a long time ago.

More information on military urbanism? Sure, an entire blog right here.

Where’s Afghanistan? May 8, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Politics.
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Is it just me or has Afghanistan faded considerably from mainstream news coverage? A full blown invasion was launched by the US and supplemented by NATO forces in 2001 to capture Ben Laden, rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and destroy Al-Qaeda. Five years later, it’s time to look back and measure the results. The plight of the Afghan people hasn’t improved much and in 2006, Afghanistan was rated 10th on the failed states index, up from 11th in 2005. In case you’re curious, the least vulnerable states are Finland, Norway and Sweden. And one more thing, Al Qaeda’s activities have increased in the area.

Back in September, a young Afghan MP, Malalai Joya, spoke to students at McGill University. Her message is clear: the US and NATO forces aren’t doing much to help the country as long as they keep throwing their support behind local warlords. An astounding 60% of the deputies in Afghanistan’s lower house are “directly or indirectly connected to current and past human rights abuses”. Joya’s message to Canada is that it must act independently of the US in terms of Afghan foreign policy. Given Canada’s position in NATO, I find that not only is that highly unlikely, it would probably not help much. All of the forces as well as the aid agencies currently serving there need to focus their attention on building a state, not just short-term action and policies. That means rehabilitating warriors, building and securing roads to foster trade, and most importantly providing security to the Afghans by taking power away from the warlords.

I’m not arguing for or against the decision to invade. Nor am I arguing for or against a withdrawal. And I’m certainly not belittling the work of the troops and aid workers currently in Afghanistan. What I’m ranting about here is what consistently strikes me as a disregard for post-invasion strategies. There was a military plan but there doesn’t seem to have been a civilian plan ready to be implemented right after the invasion. The warlords should have been removed from power at the very beginning of the invasion; the more time goes by, the harder it will be. And the more the work of aid workers and troops will be undermined. In a country that’s been ravaged by three decades of war, creating a sound democracy and therefore gaining the trust of the Afghans would have done much more to ensure the safety of the troops than any defensive measures. As long as the Afghans don’t feel secure in their homeland, the road will be paved for extremism. After all, it was the terror of the post-soviet mujahideen nights (read: warlords) that brought the Taliban along in the first place. They had promised security, along with it came intolerance. It wasn’t the other way around.

Sarah Chayes notes in her book that “the time for writing the Taliban story was five years ago”. Back when the Taliban were still in power, that’s when we should have been hearing about their blatant human rights abuses. Now is the time to write about the post-taliban era.

Wong Kar Wai strikes again May 8, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Art and Design.
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All right I admit it, it’s a bit outdated. But if you haven’t seen it yet, the video clip done by Wong Kar Wai for DJ Shadow’s ‘Six Days’ is worth checking out. Good song too. The bold colour palette and the frequent use of strong contrasts is absolutely amazing. I especially like the closing scene with the actor sitting alone in front of the green wall. And let’s not forget the flickering light; it’s all about the flickering light. In short, it’s beautifully shot and composed… Am I the only one mesmerized every time I see it?

For all you Mos Def fans out there, there’s a remix of the song using the same video clip. You can find it easily on youtube but I feel the video is a lot less powerful in that version. Maybe I underestimated how much the strength of the clip relied on the actual song…

Nike Goalie – “Taxi Driver” May 2, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Humour.
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Are you Swedish? That’s good because I’m not picking up Swedish people, they remind me of Mats Sundin!

Nike Goalie – “Landscaper” May 2, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Humour.
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Die Maple Leafs, die! I’m going to kill you!!!

Turkey’s big hype May 2, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Politics.
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Turkey’s up in arms over the parliament’s election of a member of the ruling AKP party, Abdallah Gul, as president. The AKP’s Islamist roots seem to be worrying the radical secularists, all those headscarves and what not… In fact, the military, self-proclaimed defender of Kemalist principles, is threatening to forcibly oust Gul if he takes on the leadership.

This raises the issue of the apparent conflict between Islamic agendas and a secular democracy. But while it may look like Turkey is trying to decide for one or the other, what kind of secular democracy is it really when the ultimate reigns of power lie in the hands of its military? The truth is that the AKP was democratically elected and as shown in Erdogan’s last few years in power, they’ve proven to be fairly moderate.

Matthew Yglesias goes to the point of comparing the AKP to the American Republican party. I think that’s interesting, and it’s true that the Republicans’ constant use of Christian rhetoric to appeal to their voters does not make them any less democratic.

In a time of exportable democracies, it’s a debate that’s very relevant to the region and ultimately, whatever Turkey decides will influence the surrounding areas. Secularism and Islamism can both be taken to the level of uncompromising radicalism, so where do you draw the line? Personally, like one of Yglesias’s commentators, I’m a bit torn here between the protesters, keen on safeguarding their secular Kemalist heritage, and a moderate democratically elected Islamist-based ruling party. New elections have been called out (the speed of which I find impressive, crowds seldom have this much influence elsewhere), now what happens if the AKP wins again?