Lewis Martin

Secret Cities come with Kitchens

This 1945 photograph shows the giant 44 acre K-25 plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the uranium for the first atomic weapon was produced.

An exhibition Secret Cities will start 3rd May at the National Building Museum in Washington. The Manhattan project sites where Americas Nuclear program built the first atomic bomb are now national monuments read about them here, also a great essay or two about the building of the secret cities that had to be built alongside.

The Building of the city to support this effort is fascinating, the scale of it required immense planning and of course prefabrication so these projects give an early glimpse into the way buildings more and more are conceived now. Looking at the floorplans from them the only thing really that looks out of place with a contemporary plan is that the kitchens are separate from the living and dining spaces.

In 70 years the typical housing layout of kitchen, dining and living room as separate rooms has given way to the open plan living space where all of these spaces are in a single space, kitchens in most Finnish new builds are open. It is through the Kitchen that we see the most change over time in the design of homes and it’s through the kitchen I think we learn the most about our ancestors, Though maybe things will change?

Week Update 18.10

MIT releases A/V lecture material for a bunch of courses including Architecture. A new 6 storey high vertically stacked school by Hayball in South Melbourne looks great with other community services in the ground floor this is the way many better designed schools end up looking at the moment, like community hubs. Rent an Architect designed house at Living Architecture (via things). Some awards have been handed out for 2018 Balkrishna Doshi wins the Pritzker prize this year, the first Indian to do this. Peruvian Architect Sandra Barclay is Woman Architect of the Year and Gloria Cabral from Paraguay is emerging Woman Architect of the Year a nice summary of their work can be found here.

Treet Tower

The tallest timber framed tower in the world (just now).

Treet or Tree in Norwegian is a 14 storey apartment block in central Bergen. At 49 meters its the tallest timber framed building in the world, although there are a few on the drawing board that if built would dwarf it.

The higher cost of the structure in wood as opposed to concrete and steel was able to be offset by the quicker and easier erection time, four storeys per 3 days and it also meets passive house standards. The building was erected in modules of 4 the already completed apartments slotted into the wooden framework as it was erected.

The exposed glulam structure front and back really makes this project, instead of hiding the structure at the ends they are on front and back elevations infront of the glazed balconies providing a striking feature for the building and also for the inhabitants of the tower.

all photos by ARTEC

Further reading:

Reimagining The Olympics

Pyeongchang, South Korea, built a brand new Olympic stadium to host the Winter Games this year. The 35,000-seat stadium cost $109 million to build. And it will be used just four times before it’s demolished. -(Vox)

This is an appalling waste of money, but still cheaper than the cost of maintaining a useless stadium for years after the Olympics have gone. This stadium had been designed to be dismantled but it’s story points to an interesting history and future for the Olympic Games.

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Center for Systems Biology by Heikkinen-Komonen Architects

I have been a fan of Heikkinen and Komonen Architects for a while. As one of the few Finnish practices with an International profile, they practice a form of Finnish Rationalism in which clear forms and grids are often juxtaposed in compositions betraying a deep understanding of the program.  Their ability to create forms  and describe them with clear structures that are simultaneously modern are not at all cold.
The Centre for Systems Biology in Dresden finished in 2017 is a beautiful study in a three dimensional grid in which objects are offset within producing deep, comprehensible, and poetic spaces, even accounting for the fact the building is a laboratory. It follows their Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, also designed by them in 2001 also in Dresden.

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Cities are not Computers

We must also recognize the shortcomings in models that presume the objectivity of urban data and conveniently delegate critical, often ethical decisions to the machine. We, humans, make urban information by various means: through sensory experience, through long-term exposure to a place, and, yes, by systematically filtering data. It’s essential to make space in our cities for those diverse methods of knowledge production. And we have to grapple with the political and ethical implications of our methods and models, embedded in all acts of planning and design. City-making is always, simultaneously, an enactment of city-knowing — which cannot be reduced to computation. -Shannon Mattern, “A City Is Not a Computer,” Places Journal, February 2017. Accessed 31 Jan 2018. https://doi.org/10.22269/170207

A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh. (Amazon us/uk).

Welcome to the world of the Burglar, its a different one from the world we live in. To them the buildings we live in and use as we are supposed to are full of possibilities, treasure, secret entrances, underground exits, alternative uses.

A Burglar’s Guide covers a historical spread of daring heists, the exploits of George Leonidas Leslie, The hole in the ground gang, and the Roofman1 to name a few. It looks at the art of lock picking, talks to burglars who know the fire codes so well they can read the apartments inside from looking at the fire escape stairs.

“burglars are idiot masters of the built environment, drunk Jedis of architectural space.”
― Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar’s Guide to the City

We also see the people pitted against the burglars, from the LAPD helicopter patrol pilots, the designers of saferooms, the burglar trap houses built by the British Police, and in the process we get a flavour of the ever evolving game of cat and mouse they play.

This book could neatly be placed alongside Mike Daviss’ City of Quartz,  Hollow Land by Eyal Weizman, Ground Control by Anna Minton, and theorists from the Situationists onwards and its a punchy and worthy addition to this reading list.

Geoffs insight is that with Architecture comes the Burglar and also those that try to prevent burglars. This ‘misuse’ of Architecture is also another way to see design and the built environment. Its a fun snapshot of many interconnected ideas and it could be another way to explore and think of  the city for all of us.


  • webcast of Geoff talking about the book.
  1. I particularly like the Roofman as he breaks into MacDonalds Restaurants using his knowledge of their layouts and procedures. As MacDonlads follows the same formulae in every place he can make the same burglary again and again! His burglaries are Simulacrae of the perfect Macdonlads burglary that would work in every MacDonalds on the planet maybe? []

Cricket Bread

Last November Finland updated the regulations covering food preparation to allow for insects also, a few days later at our lunch restaurant a bowl of cricket popcorn was served. It actually tasted really good, though I might have had my eyes closed to eat it! There are plenty of reasons why societies that otherwise have social taboos about eating bugs might want to start to change. The moral questions around animal husbandry and slaughter, the environmental effort for the same amount of protein, about 12 times less, makes it attractive as a foodstuff, it’s easy to see why the UN recommended it.

Meanwhile Fazers, Finlands largest Bakery group came out with a bread that had powdered crickets added. Crickets in Finnish is Sirkkä, and so Sirkkäleippä was born. Although the breads rollout is limited to major urban centers in Finland right now due to cricket supply I bought the bread last week and I can say we all tried it and it tasted just like bread! There are about 70 crickets per loaf it just tastes like normal, good quality bread. Crickets as a food is of course not a new thing but powdering it and adding it in a hidden way is a clever idea to get around our western squeamishness and adding a lot of protein to an otherwise normal product.

Further Reading: