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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A Lincoln Lark

The Sage of Kettering and I have been on another day trip, this time to Lincoln. We have also visited a mystery town I shall leave you to guess below, and also at Stow-by-Lindsey, a tiny village west of Lincoln, with a now incongruously large Minster, Anglo-Saxon in origin, having been added to over the years.

It also claims to have the earliest known Viking graffito in England, a carving of a long ship. It is not clear if this was a marauder or a merchant, but he presumably came up river to here, the Humber is not far away.

It also has a curious face on the font.

And an austere interior, perhaps barer than in its glory.

→ Continue reading: A Lincoln Lark

Zaha Hadid Architects thrives

One of the more significant libertarians on Planet Earth just now is Patrik Schumacher, whom I have mentioned here before, several times.

Until recently Schumacher was the Number Two at Zaha Hadid Architects. But following the death of Zaha Hadid, he is now the Zaha Hadid Architects Number One. So, an important question for libertarians is: Can Zaha Hadid Architects keep going successfully, without Zaha Hadid herself, under Schumacher’s leadership? Given the dominant political attitudes within the architecture-and-design world these days, there are surely a lot of people now hoping that the answer will turn out to be: No.

A report, complete with dramatic pretend-photos, that you can read and see here, courtesy of the Daily Mail, of a new concert hall that Zaha Hadid Architects will be building In Yekaterinburg, give cause for optimism.

With concert halls, everything depends on the acoustics. It can look like the Palace of Versailles, but if it sounds wrong it’s a turkey. But acoustic science is now such that I am optimistic that this will be judged a successful concert hall, sounding good as well as looking stylish in a Zaha Hadid sort of way:

The point of this posting is that if Zaha Hadid Architects continues to thrive as it seems to be thriving now, that will be a win for libertarianism, because it will be such a very big personal win for Patrik Schumacher. Comment away all you like, of course – can’t stop you, wouldn’t want to. But whether you personally like the look of this new concert hall is beside my main point here.

As the late Chris Tame used to say: we need our people everywhere, and architecture-and-design is an important somewhere. Schumacher reminds me of the late Peter Bauer. Bauer was in a minority of about one in the world of foreign aid, back when he was alive and arguing. Schumacher is likewise something of a lone voice in his world in an equally significant way.

Listening to Patrik Schumacher

Podcasts don’t suit everyone. Simply, for many, they tend to take too long to make their points. They have an additional drawback for me, which is that I love to listen to classical music, i.e. the sort of music which can also demand a lot of time to make its various musical points.

This morning, for instance, I was happily listening to one of the very longest symphonies of all, Mahler 3.

But, I paused it. I paused it because my Twitter feed had told me about a podcast. I am listening to this podcast now. The guy asking the questions is someone American whose name I didn’t catch from the Centre for Innovative Governance Research, and the Podcastee, so to speak, the man answering the American guy’s questions, is Patrik Schumacher. Patrik Schumacher is the boss of one of the world’s most formidable architectural practices, the one founded and bossed, until she recently died, by the formidable Zaha Hadid.

Like classical music, the design of architecture, and especially of urban environments on a larger scale, seems to encourage dirigiste habits of mind and of action, politically as well as aesthetically. City planners tend to assume that cities have, so to speak, to be conducted (the German word for conductor being dirigent). Conducted, that is, by them. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? Schumacher challenges these kinds of assumptions.

The American guy asking the questions has been very badly recorded. But it’s mostly Schumacher, and Schumacher, thank goodness, mostly sounds somewhat better. I am learning a lot about how Schumacher thinks and about what he does. You might too. The podcast lasts a bit over an hour.

Mahler 3 will have to wait.

Up on my roof

I am always on the lookout for elevated platforms, natural or artificial, to look out over London from, and to take photos from. And as luck would have it, one of my favourite such platforms is one that I live directly under. Yes, if I go up to the roof of my block of flats, I can see, and I can photo, things like this:

That thing being the MI6 Building, made famous by the Bond movies. In the Bond movie that they were showing on Brit TV earlier this very evening, this building suffered an explosion. Dame Judi Dench looked on, aghast.

Another entertaining thing to be seen from this spot is the new US Embassy, now nearing completion just up river, as luck would have it, from the MI6 Building. Those peculiar structures sticking out to the side, on both sides as we look in the photo below, intrigue me. Officially they are sunshades. So, nothing to do with stopping people from eavesdropping? Absolutely not. Never crossed their minds. Mind you, there won’t be any such structure on the windows facing us, so maybe this is true. But, I prefer to believe otherwise:

All around this new US Embassy there is a huge building boom in progress. That Special Relationship that people keep saying is about to end remains pretty special, I would say.

Whereas the cranes working away around the above building are there to build it, the crane in this next picture is there to dismantle the big block of a building that we see. This is “New” Scotland Yard. The Metropolitan Police have already moved out, to an even Newer Scotland Yard, nearer to the river.

Next up, the two familiar towers attached to the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and …, you know, … the other one. On the far side of the river but directly in line, The Wheel.

Finally, here are two snaps of how the same bit of the skyline was looking last night, just after midnight. I had guests with me last night, and after we had counted in the new year while watching these fireworks on the telly, I suddenly realised that we could see these same fireworks for real, if we just ran up a few staircases, and provided the fireworks kept on going for a bit. Which we did and they did:

Such is the quality of the cameras on mobile phones these days that several of my guests were also able to take photos.

In the above picture, The Wheel is totally blotted out, but in this final picture, you can clearly see it:

All of this was in aid of everyone wishing everyone else a Happy New Year, and I wish that to all my fellow Samizdatistas, and to everyone else who reads this.

New EU headquarters

This explains a lot:

The European Union is moving into a new headquarters in Brussels, which features a huge glass atrium enclosing a bulging, lantern-like structure.

See an earlier posting here from way back about Parkinson’s Other Law.

LATER: Parkinson explains.

Patrik Schumacher on solving the housing crisis

Incoming, from a libertarian friend whose views I always pay attention to:

Have you seen article about Patrik Schumacher of Zaha Hadid on Dezeen? Uncompromising libertarian attitude to solving housing crisis. Worth linking to …

Yes I have seen it, but have not yet read it (or watched it). I was definitely already going to attend to this, and now I definitely will. But, no need for me to do that before mentioning it here. Read and watch here.

Earlier Samizdata Patrick Schumacher posting here.

Schumacher will also be speaking, at this Adam Smith Institute event in early December, about “Governing private cities”. I already have my ticket.

Why don’t they just knock it down?

In central London there is an clapped-out old building. One option would be to demolish it and replace it with something nice in steel and glass. Another option, as Michael Jennings likes to point out, would be to demolish it and replace it with tarmac. The building in question stands bang in the middle of two major thoroughfares causing a huge bottleneck.

So, what do our politicians think should be done? Well, they’re not thinking in terms of steel, glass or tarmac. They’re not even thinking of demolition. They think that £5bn of taxpayers’ money should be shelled out on its restoration. Which means it will be at least £10bn by the time they’re finished. If we’re lucky. You could build a lot of hospitals for that kind of money.

You may be familiar with the building in question:

london_parliament_2007-1

Now I accept that for the time being we have a state and that representative democracies are usually better than the alternatives. I also accept that it is probably difficult to do politics online so Parliament needs some kind of physical location. But where?

Luckily there is a place that seems to cover all the bases. It is easy to get to. There is plenty of land for development. It would take politicians out of the metropolitan bubble. And it would gently remind them of the consequences of over-regulation. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the location of the new Mother of Parliaments:

Milton Keynes.

Have they brought back the window tax?!?!

If you type “window tax” into google, and click on “images”, you get images like this one:

BrickedUpWindows1

That being the first image that wikipedia shows you, in their entry on the Window tax.

Says wikipedia about this tax:

The window tax was a property tax based on the number of windows in a house. It was a significant social, cultural, and architectural force in England, France, Ireland and Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries. To avoid the tax some houses from the period can be seen to have bricked-up window-spaces (ready to be glazed or reglazed at a later date). In England and Wales it was introduced in 1696 and was repealed in 1851,

London, and presumably all the other cities of Britain, still contain many such bricked-up windows, that date from this time.

But yesterday, I saw a new block of flats, still in the process of being constructed, just a few dozen yards from my own front door.

The front of which looks like this:

BrickedUpWindows2

Let me be clear. There is a vertical row of bricked-up windows there, in between the real windows. And you can clearly see that this is a brand new building, not even yet occupied.

Here is a close-up shot of an individual bricked-up window:

BrickedUpWIndows3

I have long known the bare outlines of this window tax story, as I guess most of my fellow Brits do also, especially if they live in towns or cities. Windows were taxed, so people filled the windows in, to avoid paying the tax.

So, my first – outraged and spasmodic – reaction to this new building, when I saw these non-windows was: My God, have they brought back the window tax?

But, on further reflection, I further guess that this is isn’t the first time that recent property developers have created bricked-up windows, or what look like bricked-up windows, to create, pretty cheaply, the suggestion of antiquity in an otherwise blandly modern building.

When I see other bricked-up windows, I will no longer assume that they date from the time of the window tax. Maybe they merely allude to this time.

But, am I missing something? Is there a more practical purpose to such non-windows? Is it helpful to create windows that can later be un-bricked-up (bricked-down?), at some future date? Does it help to think about maybe wanting a window that you don’t want now, beforehand, just in case?

Is this a mere part of the construction process. Will these bricked-up windows all turn into real windows very soon, before anyone even moves in?

Or are there quite different reasons for making a new bricked-up window, which I am unaware of? Perhaps so. In fact, probably so. And if so, I hope that commenters will perhaps enlighten me.

Patrik Schumacher – architect and libertarian

One of my daily internet visits is to a site called Dezeen. Here I learn about lots that bores me, involving designers making small buildings shaped like boxes rather than ornamented, and about lots that interests me, including such things as much bigger and (to me) much more interesting buildings that are being dreamed of, built and celebrated.

On the matter of Brexit, Dezeen reported that the the overwhelming majority of “creatives”, in London and in the world generally, favoured and still favour Remain. These creatives were very angry when they learned that a majority of British voters did not share their views.

But Dezeen also had a recent link to a creative who sings a very different sort of ideological song to that sung by most of the kind of creatives whose work and opinions Dezeen reports on. I give you Patrik Schumacher:

PatrikSchumacher

Patrik Schumacher has written an opinion piece for Archinect, with these words at the top of it:

Brexit: a chance to roll back the interventionist state and unleash entrepreneurial creativity …

I have very little in common with the arguments of the Leave Campaign, and in particular reject the anti-immigration thrust of the Campaign. However, I welcome Brexit as offering an enhanced ability and chance to experiment with new policies that dare more economic freedom.

Later on in the piece, we read stuff like this:

I am convinced that the next prosperity potentials of our civilisation can only be explored and discovered if the straight jacket of the nanny state is gradually loosened and dismantled. (The bigger the scale of a country or block, the easier it becomes for the state to expand its scope. That’s why I favour small countries: they must keep their state action small in scope and cannot afford to erect trade barriers or impose heavy tax and regulatory burdens.) It’s time to roll back the state and for us to take the risk of giving more freedom and self-responsibility to us all, unleashing entrepreneurial creativity, organisational experimentation as well as individual aspiration and empowerment.

It’s those particular sorts of libertarian phraseology that I find so intriguing. “Roll back” the “interventionist state”. “Unleash entrepreneurial creativity”. “Nanny state”. “Heavy tax and regulatory burdens”. Above all the simple: “Economic freedom”. This guy is one of us. There really can be no doubt about it. He has been reading the same kind of stuff that Samizdata readers have read, in among training to be an architect and then working as an architect. Any libertarians who doubt the ability of libertarian ideas to spread beyond the confines of mere libertarians should read this piece, and rejoice.

Patrik Schumacher works for Zaha Hadid architects. The recently deceased Zaha Hadid was rumoured to be a very “difficult” woman to work for. Bossy. Opinionated. Highly individual in her behaviour and in her designs. I don’t know much about Hadid other than noticing when she recently died (at far too young an age for an architect). But if Patrik Schumacher was the sort of man she hired to do her bidding, I am starting to suspect that she too may have been some sort of libertarian, maybe in the closet, but maybe of the in-your-face variety.

There’s lots more I could say about this, but my basic point is: how interesting, and how encouraging.

Cheap 3D printing is getting better

I receive emails from Google about, among other things, 3D printing. These 3D printing emails link to pieces that mostly confirm my current prejudice about 3D printing, which is that it is an addition to the technological armoury of current manufacturers rather than any sort of domesticated challenge to the conventional idea of manufacturing being done by manufacturers. Far from making manufacturing less skilled, 3D printing is, as of now, making manufacturing more skilled. Which is good news for all rich countries whose economic edge is provided by being able to deploy an educated rather than merely industrious workforce.

Here is the kind of story that these emails link to:

my colleagues and I have found a way to print composite material by making a relatively simple addition to a cheap, off-the-shelf 3D printer. The breakthrough was based on the simple idea of printing using a liquid polymer mixed with millions of tiny fibres. This makes a readily printable material that can, for example, be pushed through a tiny nozzle into the desired location. The final object can then be printed layer by layer, as with many other 3D printing processes.

The big challenge was working out how to reassemble the tiny fibres into the carefully arranged patterns needed to generate the superior strength we expect from composites. The innovation we developed was to use ultrasonic waves to form the fibres into patterns within the polymer while it’s still in its liquid state.

The ultrasound effectively creates a patterned force field in the liquid plastic and the fibres move to and align with low pressure regions in the field called nodes. The fibres are then fixed in place using a tightly focused laser beam that cures (sets) the polymer. …

The patterned fibres can be thought of as a reinforcement network, just like the steel reinforcing bars that are routinely placed in concrete structures …

In earlier pieces I have done here about 3D printing, commenters have compared the current state of domestic 3D printing with the state that domestic 2D printing had reached in the days of the dot matrix printer. Remember those? Maybe not. They disappeared from common view quite a while ago now.

The above description of miniature reinforcing rods makes me think that something like a 3D printing analogue to the 2D domestic laser printer may be about to emerge. Laser printers supplied, once their price had fallen to something domestically tolerable, unprecedented clarity and flexibility to domestic computer users. The process described above, and all the other 3D printing advances that those google emails tell me about, will, if all develops well, supply unprecedented internal strength, and hence just all-round quality, to cheaply printed 3D objects.

None of which means that specialised 3D printing by specialisers in all the various different sorts of 3D printing that are now coming on stream will cease to be a way to make a living, any more than specialised 2D printing experts have all now been run out of business by amateurs in their homes. (Quite the opposite – that link being just one for-instance of a hundred that I might have picked – I just happen to have particularly noticed taxis covered in adverts.) It is merely that, in the not too distant future, domesticated 3D printing may actually become seriously useful to people other than hobbyists and 3D printing self-educators.

However, even as supply gets ever cleverer, when it comes to domestic 3D printing there remains the problem of demand. As I asked in this earlier posting here (commenter Shirley Knott agreed): What 3D printed objects will be demanded domestically in sufficient quantities, again and again with only superficial variations (in the way that black-on-white messages on paper are now demanded) to make domestic 3D printing make any sense? No answer was supplied in those comments three years ago, and I have heard no answer since. So the above ultrasound-arranged reinforcing rods trick will almost certainly turn into just another manufacturing technique for old-school manufacturers to apply to their old-school specialist manufacturing businesses. Which means that this posting becomes just another Samizdata Ain’t Capitalism Great? postings. Which is fine. On the other hand, few can see killer apps coming, until suddenly they come. So maybe a future beckons, which sees us all eating out, but making other, inedible stuff in our kitchens.

The reinforced concrete reference also makes me even more eager than I long have been to see how 3D printing impacts on the world of architecture, architecture being another enthusiasm of mine. Postings like this one at Dezeen make it clear that this is a question that lots of others are wondering about also.

My 2015 in pictures

Like Michael Jennings, I end my 2015 blogging efforts here at Samizdata with a clutch of pictures. Unlike Michael, I haven’t managed to do anything like this for every one of the last ten years. I did do something similar two years ago, but this time last year my retrospective attention was concentrated on the speakers at my monthly meetings, without any pictures of them.

I began my 2015 in France.

→ Continue reading: My 2015 in pictures

3D printed glass!

One of the dominant themes of architectural development of the last few decades, and never more so than right now, is the architectural use of glass. Architectural glass used to be a means by which Architectural Modernists could fry, freeze and embarrass the lower orders, in the name of Architectural Modernism. Transparency, “structural honesty”, blah blah. But in the last few decades architectural glass has got hugely better and more varied, and architectural modernity has gone from ugly and clunky to really quite stylish, at least when they are trying.

And now, here is favourite-website-of-mine Dezeen, reporting on what the fact of and the possibilities of 3D printed glass are and might be:

Designer and researcher Neri Oxman and her Mediated Matter group at MIT Media Lab have developed a technique for 3D-printing molten glass, meaning that transparent glass objects can be printed for the first time …

Cool. Metaphorically speaking.

Oxman’s team have used the technique to produce a range of vases and bowls, but Oxman said that the new glass-printing technology could be used at an architectural scale.

Which is what gets Dezeen’s juices flowing, because they are very big on architecture, as am I.

The process, for which a patent application has been submitted, can create an infinite variety of glass forms, just like a traditional 3D printer.

“The additive manufacturing of glass enables us to generate structures that are geometrically customisable and optically tunable with high spatial resolution in manufacturing,” Oxman told Dezeen. …

“Because we can design and print outer and inner surface textures independently (unlike glass blowing) we can control solar transmittance.”

By the look of it, the early uses of this kit will not be for building. They’ll be for making weird bowls and drinking glasses and lighting kit and jewellery and the like, and to begin with only for people with money to burn. But, that’s all part of how start-up and R&D costs are paid. Capitalism soaks the rich, and thereby eventually brings wonder-products to the mass market, in the form of cheap stuff that the most rapacious monarchs of the past could only dream of possessing.

Another use for this sort of technology might be for such things as solar panels, including quite small ones. The phrase “solar transmittance” certainly suggests that this thoughts like that have not escaped Neri Oxman and her collaborators. My techy friends are telling me that solar power is nearing economic viability. 3D-printed glass can surely only help with that.

Yet another reason why I would really like to live to the end of the next century, instead of only half way through it this one if I’m very lucky.