R2D2 Makeover: Star Wars-Themed Space Observatory in Germany

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Street Art & Graffiti. ]

In its original blank state, an observatory in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany was practically begging for a Star Wars-themed paint job. It was already the perfect shape for its transformation into one of the space epic’s most beloved characters; all it took was a fresh coat of white and a few new blue markings.

image via instagram @cpt.maggi
image via Hochschule Kaiserslautern

Hubert Zitt, an electrotechnology professor at the Zweibrücken University of Applied Sciences, was already known for injecting his lectures with a little pop culture flavor when he decided to take on the project. He’s spent the last few decades traveling the world, speaking at sci-fi conventions on the scientific realism (or lack thereof) in fictional worlds. He even has a class called “The Physics of Star Trek,” where he explores such topics as the feasibility of beaming and warp-drive technologies.

image via instagram @ferwen04
image via Hochschule Kaiserslautern

So it’s no surprise that, upon considering how to bring more visitors to the observatory, his first thought was an R2D2 paint job. Zitt brought together a team of volunteer painters, including his father and some of his students, to complete the transformation in late 2018.

Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, brought attention to the project on Twitter, rewriting Laughing Squid’s headline to make sure those responsible know they’re massive nerds.

image via instagram @syntaction

As you might imagine, the scheme worked, going viral on American and European media and drawing in Star Wars fans from lands (if not galaxies) far, far away.

Share on Facebook



[ By SA Rogers in Art & Street Art & Graffiti. ]

[ WebUrbanist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

Arata Isozaki: The Architect Who Linked East and West After World War II

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Public & Institutional. ]

Art Tower Mito, photo courtesy of Yasuhiro Ishimoto

Plenty of architects can say they began from nothing, but few mean it quite so literally as Arata Isozaki. He was fourteen years old in 1945, when his hometown of Oita, located halfway between Nagasaki and Hiroshima, was destroyed by the United States’ atomic bombs. Looking around him in the aftermath, he says, he began to wonder what it would take to rebuild. “So, my first experience of architecture was the void of architecture.”

Recipient of the 2019 Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honor, Isozaki is getting more of the international attention he deserves after a decades-long career spanning continents and helping cities around the world grow from the ground up. Some observers might find his work a bit difficult to pin down; other than a repeated use of simple geometric shapes like cubes and pyramids, there are few connecting threads from one project to the next. Isozaki has defied conventions, refusing to cooperate with external demands that he define for himself a particular style, remaining open to flexibility and adaptability as he addresses the needs of each individual project.

Oita Prefectural Library
Oita Prefectural Library

A 1954 graduate of the University of Tokyo, Isozaki first worked under the tutelage of future 1987 Pritzker Prize laureate Kenzo Tange, another of eight total Japanese architects to win the prestigious prize, but he quickly made a name for himself on his own merit. His first notable project was the Oita Prefectural Library (1966), which was repurposed as an art gallery in 1996 and is described by the Pritzker Prize jury as “a masterpiece of Japanese Brutalism.”

MOMA Gunma, photo courtesy of Yasuhiro Ishimoto
MOMA Gunma, photo courtesy of Yasuhiro Ishimoto
City in the Air concept by Arata Isozaki
City in the Air concept by Arata Isozaki

Other early works in Japan, including the Museum of Modern Art Gunma (1964) and the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Fukuoka (1974) share this structure’s avant garde boldness. During this time, Isozaki also created futuristic renderings like City in the Air (1962), imagining a fresh veneer of urban life suspended above the existing fabric of Tokyo in response to rapid urbanization.

MoLA, photo courtesy of Yasuhiro Ishimoto
MoCA, photo courtesy of Yasuhiro Ishimoto

Isozaki’s first overseas commission was the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (1986), representing one of the first major buildings in the United States to be designed by a Japanese architect. This swiftly led to more commissions, including large-scale projects that drew upon Isozaki’s initial fascination with building cities from scratch.

“If you look at the construction booms that I have experienced, they all started with my first job overseas, which was in Los Angeles — the Museum of Contemporary Art there,” Isozaki tells the Japan Times. “That was part of a very large-scale development. It was the same kind of project as the Mori Building’s Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, where they started with a large-scale development and then added in a hall or a museum to attract the people. MoCA was also the first museum focused on contemporary art in the world.”

“So, in America, in the 1970s and ’80s many large-scale developments were being made, and in Japan, too, at the end of the construction boom that continued through the 1980s, there were lots of ideas for similarly large-scale developments. Then the economic bubble in Japan burst, and all those ideas were scrapped. Now, I think the situation you see in Tokyo is that the ideas born in the bubble period are finally being realized.”

Fujimi Country Club by Arata Isozaki

As he accumulated over 100 built projects around the world, Isozaki displayed his chameleon-like sense of adaptability, all tied together by his favored blend of geometric shapes and organic curves. His preference for dramatic modernist silhouettes gradually fell away as he approached each individual project with an eye for its context, and his sense of humor occasionally made way for unexpected solutions, like the question mark-shaped Fujimi Country Club (1973), which was reportedly a sign of his bemusement with Japan’s golf obsession.

Domus- La Casa del Hombre, photo courtesy of Hisao Suzuki
Art Tower Mito, photo courtesy of Yasuhiro Ishimoto
Ceramic Park Mino, photo courtesy of Hisao Suzuki

Domus: La Casa del Hombre (1995), a science museum in Caruña, Spain, rises like a ship against the rocky cliffs; the 100-meter-tall Art Tower Mito (1990) in Japan takes a stack of glittering metallic tetrahedrons high into the sky; Ceramic Park Mino (2002) recalls the sensibilities of MOMA Gunma.

Qatar National Convention Center, photo courtesy of Hisao Suzuki
Qatar National Convention Center, photo courtesy of Hisao Suzuki

Over the years, Isozaki’s work began to display a certain softness. The Qatar National Convention Center (2011) is characterized by stretching branches supporting a cantilevered roof and penetrating the interior of the building. Allianz Tower, Milan (2015), completed in collaboration with architect Andrea Maffei, looks like an ordinary skyscraper from afar, revealing its gently billowing facade when you stand at its base. Others in this vein include the Palau Sant Jordi, Spain (1992), Nara Centennial Hall (1999), Shanghai Symphony Hall (2014) and his inflatable 2013 collaboration with artist Anish Kapoor, the Ark Nova.

Allianz Tower, photo courtesy of Alessandra Chemollo
Lucerne Festival Ark by Arata Isozaki and Anish Kapoor

“Isozaki demonstrated a worldwide vision that was ahead of his time and facilitated a dialogue between East and West,” write the Pritzker Prize jurors.

“Isozaki’s oeuvre has been described as heterogeneous and encompasses descriptions from vernacular to high tech. What is patently clear is that he has not been following trends but forging his own path… Clearly, he is one of the most influential figures in contemporary world architecture on a constant search, not afraid to change and try new ideas. His architecture rests on profound understanding, not only of architecture but also of philosophy, history, theory and culture.”

Share on Facebook



[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Public & Institutional. ]

[ WebUrbanist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

Iconic: Animated Pop-Art Graphics of Bowie, Darth Vader and Daft Punk

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Drawing & Digital. ]

Architecturally inspired animated 3D scenes pay tribute to David Bowie, Darth Vader and Daft Punk in a striking new series by Vincent Viriot. The direction and motion designer created the ‘ICONIC’ trio of animated graphics for a Parisian design studio of the same name in what has got to be some of the coolest branding ever.

Each of the three images is rendered in black, white and metallics, incorporating geometric forms, spheres, and elements that rotate and unfold. Ever wish you could see inside Darth Vader’s head? In Viriot’s vision, as half of the villain’s face swings to the side, we find yet more rotating shapes and an impenetrable core.

The close-up shots of each animation give those of us who aren’t digital animators a fascinating glimpse into the hyperrealistic details.

Commissioned as part of the launch of Iconic Paris’ new website, the series expands upon the style of Viriot’s previous animations. If you want to see more, check out his tumblr, which is full of them.

Vincent Viriot, who produces work as FMK7, is represented by H+ Creative. “His contemporary graphics manipulate type and imagery, creating a unique aesthetic that has been featured by internationally recognized clients,” they say, including SuperDeluxe, Globe Skateboards, Game Awards, MIXER and BBDO NY.

via Designboom

Share on Facebook



[ By SA Rogers in Art & Drawing & Digital. ]

[ WebUrbanist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

Contained: 7 Closed & Abandoned Package Stores

[ By Steve in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

Liquor by any other name may sell the same but these closed and abandoned ‘package’ stores couldn’t succeed in what most say is a can’t-miss business.

The OTHER White Castle

What the heck is a “package store”, anyway? Why not call a spade a spade? Blame the lingering effects of the Twenty-first Amendment that repealed the Eighteenth Amendment (aka Prohibition) but left alcohol marketing in the hands of individual states. Local idioms and societal culture led to retail outlets being named Package stores, ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) stores, and South Carolina’s famous Red Dot stores.

Flickr member Robby Virus captured the shuttered store above, located in Omaha, Nebraska, in July of 2016. Sad to say that even including “package” and “liquor” on the sign couldn’t stanch the flow of red ink.

Don’t Drink OR Drive

Prohibition was literally the Law of the Land for over a decade – and for some states, even longer: Mississippi didn’t relax its state-wide booze ban ’til 1966. Other states such as Connecticut went the Package Store (“packie”, in local parlance) route, as shown in the above shot of an abandoned gas station / package store combo (“two great tastes that taste great together”) snapped by Flickr member Greg (63vwdriver) in the summer of 2016.

Dispeptic

What isn’t rusted is faded (and vice versa) at this VERY long-abandoned market and package store in Belcher Square, Great Barrington, Massachusetts. How long? Well, that particular Pepsi logo was used between 1940 and 1950 so… yeah. Flickr member Lisa DeLange (LisaSez) captured the desolate, post-apocalyptic storefront in December of 2009.

Coors’s, Foiled Again

You won’t find any Coors (or any Coors-competitors) in this ramshackle abandoned package store in Federalsburg, MD. Plenty of free parking, though… just don’t park a hot vehicle over those mangy weeds. Flickr member Adam Myers (adamkmyers) snapped this way overgrown and woefully understaffed wobbly-pop shop in the fall of 2016.

Packaged Deal

This blockhouse-like abandoned package store in Watertown, MA would make a great anti-zombie fortress, even without shelves stocked with “adult beverages”. We can’t say why this structure, seemingly built to withstand an atomic apocalypse, couldn’t withstand the mid-2000s retail apocalypse. Flickr member ChinatownKicks recorded the concrete cube corner colossus for posterity in May of 2008.

Joe’s Deli-cate Condition

It’s a Package Store, it’s a Deli, it’s… the poster child for abandoned shops! It’s not certain which of the two buildings dispensed drinks while the other served eats but both have seen better days, MANY days ago. Likely the same can be said for “Joe”.

Flickr member DjD-567 visited the decrepit and decayed short-bus of strip malls in Brimfield, MA back in October of 2011. “The inside is in much worse shape, from what I saw through the window,” states the photographer. Contrast that with the still sharp-looking sign out front – Joe shoulda got his sign guy to work on the interior.

Flown the Coop

Signs are known for their staying power; sometimes a store’s sign manages to hang (literally) around longer than the store itself. Such was the case at Cooper’s Package Store on New Park Avenue in Hartford. CT. Nothing lasts forever, mind you. “I’m so glad you got a picture of this sign,” stated one commenter at Flickr member Pixel (improbcat)’s post dated September 17 of 2008. “I went there to photograph it a few weeks ago and it’s gone.” One might say, this package has been de-livered, de-listed, and deleted. We’d buy Pixel a drink in tribute to their excellent timing but… oh.

Share on Facebook



[ By Steve in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

[ WebUrbanist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

Sunken Periscope: Europe’s First Underwater Restaurant Opens in Norway

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Offices & Commercial. ]

What looks like a post-apocalyptic scene of a building collapsing into the sea is actually Europe’s first underwater restaurant, and it’s officially open for business. Architecture firm Snøhetta has completed “Under,” an eatery set on the southernmost point of the Norwegian coastline, which doubles as a marine research center. Opening to diners on March 20th, “Under” gives visitors views of a unique habitat for sea life from the submerged half of a tilted 34-meter-long (112 feet) monolithic volume.

The rough texture of the building’s concrete shell is designed to act as an artificial reef, inviting kelp, limpets and other sea creatures to take up residence. Snøhetta imagines it as a sunken periscope peering beneath waters that can be brackish and mysterious from above. The restaurant offers a serene contrast to the intense weather conditions of Lindesnes. As you pass from the bright surface down into the dining room, the feel of the space shifts, plunging you into deep blue-greens.

“Under is a natural progression of our experimentation with boundaries, says Snøhetta Founder and Architect, Kjetil Trædal Thorsen. “As a new landmark for Southern Norway, Under proposes unexpected combinations of pronouns and prepositions, and challenges what determines a person’s physical placement in their environment. In this building, you may find yourself under water, over the seabed, between land and sea. This will offer you new perspectives and ways of seeing the world, both beyond and beneath the waterline”.

The name “Under” has a double meaning, since in Norwegian, the word can be translated to “wonder.” Accommodating 30 to 40 diners each night, the restaurant offers menus focused on locally sourced produce and sustainable wildlife along with an educational experience about the biodiversity of the area.

“An equally important part of the project is the building’s facilitation of marine research. The restaurant will welcome interdisciplinary research teams studying marine biology and fish behavior, through cameras and other measurement tools that are installed on and outside the facade of the restaurant. The researchers’ aim is to document the population, behavior and diversity of species that are living around the restaurant, through cameras and live observation. The goal of the research is to collect data that can be programmed into machine learning tools that monitor the population dynamics of key marine species on a regular basis, thereby creating new opportunities to improve official marine resource management.”

Share on Facebook



[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Offices & Commercial. ]

[ WebUrbanist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

Mausoleum of the Giants: Monumental Sculptures by Street Artist Phlegm

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Sculpture & Craft. ]

Enormous creatures crouch in a historic building in Sheffield, England, as street artist Phlegm brings the signature style he developed through years of illustrating black and white comics into three dimensions. “Mausoleum of the Giants” is a large-scale sculptural installation featuring many of the same characters Phlegm has brought to life in other mediums, including murals all over the world.

Last time we checked in with Phlegm (way back in 2011) the artist said he was feeling a bit disillusioned after getting “sucked into the art machine” and decided to only produce art that was made by his own hands, with no shows planned in the foreseeable future. Eight years later, after adorning countless building facades with fantastical creatures and scenes, he’s clearly ready for bigger and better things. Last year, he said he was feeling energized, noting “I’ve unlocked something and feel more driven than I think I ever have.” It looks like this show is part of that burst of energy and inspiration.

Set within Eyewitness Works, a restored 19th century brick building that once housed craftsmen producing pocket knives and other cutlery, “Mausoleum of the Giants” almost feels like an invitation into the artist’s mind, allowing visitors to roam around and view colossal sculptures from all angles. It’s always exciting to see artists experiment with translating their individual style to a new medium, and this exhibition doesn’t disappoint.

“Sheffield as the stage for this epic showcase was no accident. With local industrial buildings often forming the backdrop for his murals in the city, an old factory complex is the perfect location for presenting such a poetic and personal undertaking and bringing Phlegm’s iconic characters to life. Imagined as beings whose life spans over thousands of years, these peaceful beasts have seen rivers erode and mountains change. With their final days coming slowly but surely, the giants are ready for their eternal rest, giving everyone enough time to meet them, mourn them and make peace with their ending.”

The show is free and will be up through April 6th, 2019. If you can’t make it there in person, check out the #phlegmgiants tag on Instagram.

Share on Facebook



[ By SA Rogers in Art & Sculpture & Craft. ]

[ WebUrbanist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

Chambers of Secrets: Miniature 3D Models of Harry Potter Architecture

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Sculpture & Craft. ]

Sets and scenes from the Harry Potter series are reimagined as miniature cardboard models by architecture students from the Melbourne School of Design. Created as part of a summer intensive called Smoke and Mirrors, the project brings Gringotts, The Burrow, the Shrieking Shack, the Chamber of Secrets and other key buildings and interiors to life, each one appropriately a little off-kilter, its details rendered in the monochrome of the material.

The Chamber of Secrets
The Chamber of Secrets
Gringotts
Gringotts
Grimmauld Place
Grimmauld Place

Teams of students selected characters from J.K. Rowling’s series of books and researched their choice in all available source materials, including the movies and the author’s interactive website, Pottermore. The idea is that this character is their “client,” and rather than reproducing associated locations according to how they were seen on film, the students had to reinterpret them in a fun way, as if the client had commissioned the design based on a wacky Pinterest board.

Flourish and Blotts
Ollivanders Wand Shop
Ollivanders Wand Shop
The Shrieking Shack
The Shrieking Shack
The Great Staircase
The Great Staircase

Led by architect Jannette Le and tutors Michael Mack, Mond Qu and Denis Vieghe, the students used 1mm and .6mm cardboard along with tracing paper for windows, LED lights and motors connected to Arduinos to create their models. They only had 11 days to design, build and fabricate the models using hand modeling, digital fabrication techniques and laser cutting. They used in-camera effects like forced perspective to give each set its cinematic feel.

The Burrow
The Burrow
The Burrow Detail
The Burrow Detail

Share on Facebook



[ By SA Rogers in Art & Sculpture & Craft. ]

[ WebUrbanist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

Clubbered: The Closed Fort Henry Men’s Club

[ By Steve in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

For well over a century the Fort Henry Club in Wheeling, West Virginia served as a home away from home for local wheeler-dealers of the male persuasion.

No Girls Allowed

The Fort Henry Club is located at 1324 Chapline St. (at the corner of Chapline and 14th Streets) in beautiful downtown Wheeling. Originally displaying then-fashionable Classical Revival architecture, the townhouse was built in 1850 for Mr. James Fitzsimmons. After it was purchased some years later by Mr. Allen Howell, the impressive building became known as the Howell Mansion.

Members Only

In August of 1890, the initial organizational meeting of the “Fort Henry Club” was held at the Howell Mansion. The first order of business was establishing and funding the club, a process involving 65 founding members who each bought three shares of stock for $100 per share. Additional funds were then gathered, resulting in a total of $19,500 to serve as the club’s financial nest egg. Within a week of the first meeting, the club was officially incorporated with the Howell Mansion being purchased outright by the Fort Henry Club on September 4th of 1890.

Coat Checks Canceled

Transforming a posh residence into an exclusive men’s club wasn’t as simple as one might think. Wheeling-based architect Edward Bates Franzheim was commissioned to conduct extensive renovations that included additions to enlarge the original structure. Stylistic modifications were made as well, leaving the building’s exterior to reflect a more Neo-Classical aesthetic. By December 23rd of 1890, the renovations were completed and the Fort Henry Club opened for business… and pleasure.

Chair Men of the Board

The business of America – or Wheeling, at least – runs on a steady diet of food and drink. As such, a full-time chef was appointed to serve three formal meals daily while remaining on-call for peckish members at any time of the day or night. The club soon gained a reputation as THE place to be when one was in Wheeling. Early twentieth century celebrities including Charles Lindbergh, Herbert Hoover, and Babe Ruth were known to patronize the Fort Henry Club, though not all at the same time.

A Club With A Peel

Times were good but they would not last… Wheeling’s population reached its peak of 61,659 in 1930 and the regional industrial base never fully recovered from the effects of The Great Depression. By the year 2010 only 28,496 people lived in the town – the membership of the Fort Henry Club saw a similar decline which proved to be financially unsustainable. Things reached their nadir in 2011 when the club declared bankruptcy and was closed to the public by management.

Answering the Call

At that point St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, located just across the street, stepped in to purchase the Fort Henry Club building and its associated property. Flickr member Jonathan Haeber (TunnelBug) paid a visit to the shuttered club in early June of 2013, by which time the once-luxurious interior décor was already showing signs of deterioration and decay. Dig that groovy Greek Revival telephone!

Clubbed to the Floor

Several months after Haeber snapped these (and more) evocative photographs, the building was purchased by McKinley & Associates with the aim of renovating the interior into individual office spaces. As was the case back in 1890, re-purposing a dedicated structure into something wholly different takes time and money – by mid-2017, several million dollars had already been spent on the project.

Big Fan of Pink

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, however, as the former men’s club‘s entire second story currently houses the offices and staff of the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services. No doubt more than a few of those staff are female… it’s enough to drive a railroad tycoon to drink!

Share on Facebook



[ By Steve in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

[ WebUrbanist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

3D-Printed Sushi Nutritionally Customized Based on Diner’s Biodata

[ By SA Rogers in Conceptual & Futuristic & Technology. ]

Not many sushis restaurants ask their patrons to provide urine and saliva samples upon entrance, but in our era of hyper-personalization, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. From the Japanese company Open Meals, which debuted its complex 3D-printed sushi at the South by Southwest festival in Austin last year, comes a new range of high tech food that’s tailored specifically to the nutritional needs of its diners.

Set to launch in Tokyo next year, “Sushi Singularity” relies on a system of 3D printers, CNC routers, lasers, robotic arms and other components most often associated with industrial design to produce edible sculptures made of sushi ingredients. In each item on the menu, you’ll find common sushi elements like tuna, squid, eel and seaweed, but it’ll be in a form you’ve never seen before.

In order to mix each custom cocktail of nutrients in an aesthetically pleasing way through its machinery, Open Meals transforms each ingredient into a gel or paste. Menu items include “micro pillar saltwater eel,” “oze tick kappa roll,” “dash soup universe,” “anisotropic stiffness steamed shrimp,” “negative stiffness honeycomb octopus,” “cell cultured tuna,” “powdered sintered uni” and “squid castle.” When customers make a reservation, it’ll trigger the system to automatically send them a biodata kit in the mail, which requests urine, saliva and stool samples. The results will determine the exact creations you’re ultimately served when you arrive.

Here’s how they describe their process:

“Food Ingredient Cartridges: These will contain sustainable food ingredients such as seaweed and crickets, which are mixed with water, fiber, and enzymes for output. Nutrient Cylinders: 11 types of nutrients in cylindrical cartridges. Foods will be nutritionally optimized based on a Health ID. Alginate Fermenter: Produces spherical food in a chemical reaction between sodium alginate and calcium solution. Artificial light farm: Cultivates fresh vegetables in enclosed spaces through use of artificial light such as LEDs. Hot Water FDM: Items that cannot be formed at room temperature or in air can be realized by outputting them in hot water.”

“SLS: Laser Sintered 3D Printer. Powder-based raw materials are baked into specific shapes using lasers. FFM Control Interface: The brain of the entire machine, which combines various data to design and hyper-personalize food. Laser FDM: Thermolysis Laminated 3D Printer. The raw material is melted by heat and formed by stacking layers. Robot arm: The unit is equipped with an ultra-high precision arm. Chilled FDM: Outputs at ultra low temperatures to realize shapes impossible at room temperature. 6-axis CNC router: Cuts the material with a multi-axis router, enabling precise, elaborate modeling. Fermenter: Cultivates food ingredients in real time through precise management of water temperature and nutrients.”

Whether or not any of this actually sounds appetizing to you, the final result is certainly artistic, and perhaps a signal of what’s to come to the world of food in the near future as this kind of technology grows more accessible.

Share on Facebook



[ By SA Rogers in Conceptual & Futuristic & Technology. ]

[ WebUrbanist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]

Desire Paths: When Design and the Needs of Users Diverge

[ By SA Rogers in Design & Products & Packaging. ]

These days, “user experience” tends to refer more to the digital realm than our physical environment, but it’s no less relevant to roads and sidewalks than to websites and software. When creating something that people will interact with, no matter what it is, the goals are often the same: it should be useful, usable, accessible, findable, desirable and valuable (add “credible” when it comes to information). It gives you what you need, when you need it, in precisely the right form.

But in the process of designing something one hopes will be beautiful, sometimes user experience falls by the wayside. So-called “desire paths” are one example of what can happen as a result. Formed when people forge a path across unpaved land, regardless of any nearby walkways that may already exist, these paths are an organic and often unconscious form of urban hacking, when users decide what works best for them in the environments they occupy every day.

Desire Path, Tirana

Who would’ve guessed from r/DesirePath

People made a desire pentagram inside a big roundabout. from r/DesirePath

Desire paths are almost like a litmus test for built environments; when they appear, they’re signaling that somewhere along the way, someone likely failed to determine what the design was supposed to do, and for whom. At its root, urban planning is a tool of social control, attempting to impose order upon the wild and intuitive, with a goal of producing an efficient system that’s easy to manage. Of course, it’s essential to maintaining the complexity of modern cities, and the grids and patterns that form the basis of most cities have their purposes, like streamlining traffic and navigation.

That may be fine when you’re driving, but walking is a different story. Most of us want efficiency when we’re walking, too, and that means cutting out unnecessary corners and curves along the way. Enormous pedestrian roundabouts might fit neatly within traffic circles and look nice from above, but when you’re just trying to get from point A to point B, spending the extra minutes it takes to keep to the concrete circle rather than cutting through the grass feels like a waste.

Desire Path (by the steps)

desire path

Illicit trails reveal a lot about a given place, the people who populate it, what their needs are and whether those needs are being met. That’s especially true when it comes to accessibility. Over time, it can become abundantly clear that ramps should be built for people who can’t navigate staircases (as it should have been from the very beginning).

A common miserable desire path found during a typical Canadian winter.

Blocked off alley doesn’t stop people. from r/DesirePath

Once you start looking for them, you’ll spot desire paths everywhere; there’s even a fascinating and enthusiastic subreddit devoted to them. They can change according to the weather, appearing when sidewalks get icy; snow can sometimes reveal invisible common paths taken to cut across hard surfaces like asphalt.

View from my dormitory, huge one with a fork at the end from r/DesirePath

Desire paths don’t always result from a design failure. Sometimes they just reflect the fact that people want to walk, run or bike on a natural surface instead of following pavement. Sometimes they illustrate the need for cities to be more adaptive; a system of sidewalks that worked twenty years ago stops serving its users when new popular destinations pop up in different spots along the way. And sometimes, when walkways are attempting to protect sensitive natural habitats, user-determined paths can be legitimately harmful.

A local college is trying to thwart this desire path by planting a tree in the middle of it. from r/DesirePath

The Oval walkways at Ohio State University were paved based on the students’ desire paths from r/DesirePath

My University giving into the desire path from r/DesirePath

Paving a Desire Path

Those in charge of determining the location and layout of official pedestrian paths may try to fight user-created routes with obstacles, but it’s a fool’s errand, much like trying to hold back the ocean. The paths will simply multiply. Rebellious in spirit, desire paths are a physical manifestation of the untamed parts of us that defy control by external systems. Sometimes there’s nothing for urban planners to do but accept the wisdom of the people who actually use the paths, and make them official.

Top image by wetwebwork/Flickr CC by 2.0

Share on Facebook



[ By SA Rogers in Design & Products & Packaging. ]

[ WebUrbanist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]