A series of disused railway arches in London have become surprisingly cozy interior spaces with the addition of modular wooden systems that fit together like puzzles. Architecture firm Boano Prišmontas has developed a kit of parts that can be quickly and easily deployed in a variety of similar spaces, working with developers and local governments to make those spaces valuable to the community once more.
“The Arches Project” uses dry-joint techniques to infill abandoned “pocket spaces” around the UK, including undercrofts and multi-story car parks as well as the arches beneath railroad lines. The firm says its value lies in its “nomadic, temporary and sustainable approach.” The company that owns the railroad already rents out these spaces to pop-up shops and other businesses, but provides nothing but some neon lights and corrugated plastic lining, which doesn’t improve the thermal quality of the space, and only allows certified installers to fix the lining onto the listed brick vaults.
“Boano Prišmontas worked around this constraint to design a freestanding self-buildable plug-in space, a room-within-a-room that is built by expanding its shape as much as possible to infill the vault of an arch.
The digitally fabricated structural system is comprised of two elements:
1. The boxes. Modular CNC-cut plywood units that are repeated to infill the space as much as possible and stacked on walls to support the beams as well as the external polycarbonate cladding.
2. The beams. Modular CNC-cut plywood pieces joined together to cover a maximum span of 7.2m. They are the support onto which the insulation sheet is clipped on.
The boxes are sized to host the polycarbonate facade, which allows to fill the internal space with natural light. The polycarbonate panels also spill light on the street showing a glimpse of the activity taking place inside the space.”
Made entirely of certified birch plywood sheets, the puzzle pieces are CNC cut to minimize material wastage and ensure a perfect fit. Every component, including the facade cladding and insulation sheet, is made to be re-deployed when dismantled (a basic tenet of the Designed for Disassembly movement.)
“The railway arches are a unique urban asset as they host all sorts of retail activities and productive spaces such as studios, laboratories, workshops, mechanics, shops, micro breweries, and coworking spaces to name just a few. Railway arches are the backbone of the ‘productive London’. The Arches Project aims to preserve and promote the diversity of uses by quickly creating a spacious, warm and dry space that delivers affordable workspace for local businesses.”
Overall, this is a pretty cool example of making better use of available urban space in a way that produces very little waste. Ideally, there would also be some serious consideration given to how the project impacts its surrounding community, including whether poor and unhoused people are able to take part in it and whether the installations promote gentrification, potentially having a negative future impact on affordability in the area. Projects that don’t consider social impacts simply aren’t sustainable.
In April, 1986, the Los Angeles Public Library’s historic Central Library on Flower Street went up in flames; the catastrophic (and still-unsolved) blaze consumed some 400,000 volumes and caused $22 million in damages to the 1926 building. Many collections were left without a home, including the reference department, where I’d worked for 10 years.
In the aftermath, we sorted through the ashes and saved as many books and artifacts as we could. In 1989, we were able to move into nearby temporary quarters (it wasn’t until 1993 that we returned to our home on Flower Street). By that time, the old map librarian had had more than enough of cartography questions and retired to Florida. I knew just a gnat’s eyelash more than anyone else about the map collection, which we had stuffed temporarily into an old bank vault of the one-time Title Insurance Company downtown. But the gig paid more; I fought to take on the job, and won.
Suddenly, I had 100,000 maps and no clue as to what they were or how to use them. Out of desperation, I began going drawer by drawer, in hopes of finding a cartographic Rosetta Stone. I was awash in initials: USGS, NOAA, DMA, BIA, USHO, BLM, ONC, PAIGH, WTF? At the first staff meeting, I was asked a question about a map’s scale. Panic set in: I never took Maps 101.
Over the next year, I tried to do my homework, visiting the map gurus around Southern California, poring through old books on the subject, and allowing the map-nerd public to teach me many lessons as I struggled to answer reference questions.
Even after attending cartographic society conventions, where the true map illuminati mingled, I was still not worthy of my title, and was bluffing most of the time. I was using my collection like a carpenter uses lumber and nails; there was no passion in it. I did not go home and dream of cadastrals and bathymetrics.
Still, I kept pushing myself to learn. Every day, I’d dump a new drawer on a wooden cart (called trucks in library-ese) and pick through the sheets, studying the authorship and time-frame of each one. I slogged through thousands of topographic maps and government cartography until I had finally reached the library’s greatly under-sung pictorial map collection. It was during one of these sessions that I met Joseph Jacinto Mora, who I now consider the king of pictorial mapping.
To view a Mora map is to grasp that mapping can be an art form. On that day in 1989, as I rested my eyes upon his “Historical and Recreational Map of Los Angeles,” I fell in love. The map is a riot of color, jocular images, historical events, and fairly accurate geography of the City of Angels. The “carte,” as he liked to call his pictorial maps, is dedicated to Jo’s pal, Charles Fletcher Lummis, a colorful L.A. literary figure from the turn of the 20th century who managed to become both the L.A. Times’ first city editor, chief librarian of the L.A. Public Library, and the founder of the Southwest Museum.
Mora’s carte encompasses a lot of L.A.’s past, from colonial times to its 1942 date of publishing. Beginning with Juan Bautista de Anza on horseback, it spans the Spanish and Mexican periods, including costumes, cultural life and even the breeds of cattle prevalent in early Los Angeles. Statehood, the connection of railroads, and early land booms are covered, along with the beginnings of electricity, streetcars, the development of the harbor, citrus farming, the movie studios, earthquakes, and the epic fight to bring water to the growing city.
The body describes the city’s charms and culture, including the Hollywood Bowl, Pacific Coast minor league baseball, radio stations, native fish off the coast. The city’s growth of population is portrayed via a series of ladies blowing up ever-larger balloons, etched with tiny numbers. There is a little Trojan at USC, a Bruin at UCLA, and a Jesuit at Loyola University.
To be sure, there is plenty that this highly romanticized map leaves out—the horrific realities of the Mission era, the consequences of L.A.’s water wars, the segregation that was occurring in Mora’s day. Some of his cartoon-like figures are racist stereotypes, including depictions of African Americans in servile roles, black-faced minstrel-show characters in Hollywood, and childlike Native Americans being swindled out of land in exchange for trinkets. Overall, the heroes of Los Angeles history have a distinctly paternalistic and pale hue. The map is very much a product of its age.
In other ways, though, its message is unusually inclusive. Mora’s characters are not big capitalists and celebrities, but mostly regular (if white) folks. The sheer volume of characters it celebrates seems to stress the large number of people it took to build the big city out of a dusty little pueblo. And it’s full of joyful and eccentric touches—strolling chinchillas, friendly mermaids, ostriches, and even a dinosaur stuck (anachronistically) in the La Brea Tar Pits. Mora’s map is about the place that Los Angeles was, and can be, for an everyday person.
Who was this artist who made maps not for navigation, but as expressions of a place he loved? Born in Uruguay, Jo Mora arrived in the U.S. as a boy in 1880. At 15, he was working as a graphic artist for Boston newspapers. Eventually he moved to California, settling in San Jose and the Monterey peninsula, and become an accomplished sculptor, book illustrator, muralist, writer and historian of the Southwest United States. His books on the early vaqueros and the pre-state Californios continue to be definitive, and his regular visits to L.A. left a trail of artworks in theaters, homes, and various public institutions.
Jo died in 1947, but over the last 70-plus years, his work has steadily gained stature. And though he only created them as a sideline from his busy artistic career, his cartes are masterpieces of the genre. From his picture of L.A., I traveled to Mora’s Carmel, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and beyond.
Thirty years later, I still do not get moony over stacks of nautical charts. But I do remember that the blue in their oceans signifies something grand, the sort of feeling that Mora was so good at evoking and that transforms an otherwise dry image into something more than good gift-wrapping paper. Since encountering Mora’s work, I can look at all forms of cartography with greater appreciation. I even dream about maps. (To be honest, I have nightmares where I can’t find them.)
In my decades running the map collection, I have been given many awards, and had the opportunity to take on many projects beyond my day-to-day work, authoring books, appearing in documentaries, and contributing toLos Angeles magazine and many other publications. But while others in my trade can opine at great length about maps of antiquity—Ptolemy, Mercator, Ortellius—I get charged up when I can pull out the Mora from our drawers. Soon, he’ll make it onto the walls: After including many of Mora’s maps in smaller exhibits over the years, next year, the library plans to display several of them, with the help of the Jo Mora Trust. He opened my eyes to the wonder that a map can hold, and my hope is to help all of our library-goers to do the same.
This past Sunday morning, a short but strong earthquake gave the Bay Area a rude awakening. Measuring at a magnitude of 3.5, the tremor jiggled San Francisco’s buildings and bookshelves for several seconds at 8:41 a.m.
But there are only so many ways that San Franciscans can get ready for liquefaction, a terrifying seismic-induced event for which huge swaths of the city are at risk. In liquefaction zones, during the violent shaking of an earthquake (generally with a magnitude of 5.5 or above), “saturated sand and silt take on the characteristics of a liquid,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey. What seemed like solid ground turns into something like gooey cake batter, and buildings and power lines give way in the wake.
In April, the California Geological Survey (CGS) updated its Seismic Hazard Zone map, showing in stark relief which Bay Area communities are most prone to liquefaction and other quake-triggered phenomena, such as landslides. Many well-known SF neighborhoods are at risk, including the Marina, the Financial District, most of SOMA, Treasure Island, and Ocean Beach, as well as chunks of the Mission, the Castro, and the Haight. Virtually the entire shorefront of the East Bay—and two miles inland—is also at risk.
More earthquake terror: Read the journalist Geoff Manaugh's article in Wiredmagazine about the scientists mapping a previously unknown fault system near the Nevada-California border that rivals the San Andreas Fault.
Fire burn and cauldron bubble
The extent of Scotland’s centuries-long actual witch hunt is now on the map, thanks to pioneering students and historians at Edinburgh University. CityLab’s Feargus O’Sullivan reports on the bloody legacy of Scotland’s age of persecution. From the mid-16th to the early 18th century, nearly 4,000 people—the vast majority of them women—were tried for witchcraft, resulting in execution for as many as two-thirds of that number.
The student mapping project brings a wealth of details about the lives of individual victims, which ties into a recent movement in Scotland to grapple with its past and honor the victims, O’Sullivan writes:
Official belief in witchcraft drained away in Scotland in the early 18th century, until the witchcraft acts were repealed in 1735. In recent years, there has been a rediscovery of this bloody history—and a determination to commemorate more fully its victims. The skeleton of Lillias Adie, one of the few accused whose body was not burned after her death in prison in 1704, is due to be returned to a burial site reimagined as a memorial.
There are also plans to reconstruct a historic lighthouse as a national monument to victims of witch persecutions. In the meantime, Scots have use this new map as a way to reckon with this wave of cruelty that happened not just in a vaguely misty faraway time, but in places they know, in some cases just around the corner.
Can’t see me: Google Maps is rolling out an “incognito mode” for navigation. (Gizmodo) ♦ Virgin territory: Waymo, Google’s autonomous car-making sister company, is mapping L.A. streets in preparation for possible vehicle testing there. (CNBC) ♦ Plastic, not fantastic: How Reuters visualized the literal mountains of waste generated daily by disposable water bottles. (Reuters) ♦ Lightning only strikes once, but this one was weird: How scientists mapped a “rogue” bolt that struck Washington, D.C. this summer. (Washington Post) ♦ LIDAR, but for archaeology: A scholar discovered unknown Mayan ruins using free online digital maps. (New York Times) ♦ Mapping memories: A teenager finds a way to bond with her recently departed mother through a dusty old subway map. (CityLab)
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