Category: Surreal Estate

New Century Global Center in Chengdu resembles WALL-E dystopia

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I’m fascinated by the utopian, highly mediated character of the New Century Global Center in Chengdu captured in this promo video. It’s ripe for some postmodernist deconstruction; it’s also a perfect clip for analyzing the ideology of globalization. The video’s animation situate the complex in a highly idealized, clean climate, but the reality is far different (check out the footage of the haze-covered Chengdu). Indeed, it’s hard to imagine what the ecological footprint of the world’s largest building might be; moreover it would seem to be an exaggerated escape pod from a degraded ecology in the surrounding environs. I can’t help but notice the uncanny parallel between the New Century Center and the dystopian shoppingmall spaceship in WALL-E that houses the last remaining humans in the universe (see clip below).

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The future through a corporate looking glass

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I read sci-fi with the understanding that it’s really about how present contradictions will play out down the line. This is unlike how technology companies visualize the future. They tend to ignore current contradictions by exacerbating everything that is wrong about the present. Here Corning dips its toe into the future stream by promoting what glass technology may look like in daily life. What I find amazing about this video is how it unselfconsciously promotes the integration of consumerism and marketing into everyday life as if it should be totally normal and desirable. Aside from representing an idealized bourgeois family that has somehow survived the current financial and ecological crisis, they seem to enjoy the absolute mediation of their lives without realizing that it is undermining the very future they desire.

Remember, friends, if we don’t envision a future, someone else will do it for us. I’d prefer if it weren’t Corning.

AT&T horror film trailer

If you can’t see the video, click here.

Is it a horror film trailer? Or an AT&T commercial? Think about it. America is strangled by a genetically engineered vine that seeks to replace all ecosystems with its own hybrid strain of radioactive mind parasite.

If you can’t see the video, click here.

This is the real AT&T ad they didn’t want you to see.

If you can’t see the video, click here.

And this one too.

Towering inferno

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

As the joke goes, denial ain’t a river in Egypt. With the global economy and polar icecaps in meltdown, Dubai has become a World System inferno that continues to draws moths to its flame. In what could have been scripted in a JG Ballard novel, Dubai’s latest fly trap is the monstrous tower, Burj Khalifa, twice the size of the Empire State Building, which apparently defies physics: the bottom floors are ten degrees hotter than the top ones. I guess there is evidence for heaven and hell after all.

Laura Flanders has a nice polemic to welcome it into the world (see above, or click through to read the transcript below the snip):

The engineering marvel was constructed in the desert heat by low paid immigrant workers, mostly Indians and Pakistanis, paid 5-20 dollar a day. (It’s a state secret how many lost their lives in the process.) While the state-owned construction operation suppressed worker demands and banned unions from the site, it catered to consumer fantasy with equal extravagance. The tower features 144 apartments and a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani, the Italian designer. In what’s been dubbed the “super-scraper,” the super-affluent can live and vacation without leaving the brand, or the building.

Click here for the whole transcript.

Update: I added the MSNBC report at the top because of its striking imagery. “Inferno” and “flame” were metaphoric devices, but upon seeing the video, they are quite literal. It’s striking imagery when compared to 9/11. It’s hard not to look at the Dubai tower’s exploding fireworks without remembering starker images of 2001. Who ever said that irony was dead after the WTC attack was clearly wrong.

For what it’s worth, as I wrote these words, it occurred to me that search engine bots would take my terms out of context. So to be clear, what ever robo-filters are slogging up blog posts about world affairs, none of these keywords are to suggest or advocate any acts of destruction against private property. I cannot help but sense the panoptic presence of internet surveillance. Privilege, it would seem, belongs to those who can “properly” or officially contextualize the symbolic order.

Koyaanisqatsi postscript

No doubt, Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi wasn’t the final word on cinematography’s powerful capacity to depict the environmental consequences of our modern world. With Manufactured Landscapes comes Jennifer Baichwal’s depiction of photographer Edward Burtynsky‘s stunning images of industry in China. If it’s true that what is not mediated doesn’t exist, we can say now that at least one frightening slice of the world, albeit a pretty massive slice, is here for us to behold. Blink at your own risk.

Captive audience


Is the War on Terror really an advertising conspiracy? From Security Point Media:

Alternative Media for a Captive Audience: Guaranteed message delivery in an environment of heightened awareness.

Visit the Website for more surreal euphemisms.
Media Life Magazine – Your client’s face up at airport security:

“This is about the novelty of the space. It allows us to get our message across visually. Our 3-D campaign has the ad kind of jumping out at you, to put a little Zappos in your day. When I’m coming through security I know that it can be frustrating and this is to provide a little lightheartedness.” – Andy Kurlander, senior marketing manager for

Houston: we have a wormhole

Architecture and Design · Inversion Tunnel House | Looking Back:

Dan Havel and Dean Ruck called this tunnel “Inversion” and saw it as a celebration of the old space that had once housed art classes. Just before these houses were demolished to clear the site for a coffee house, they peeled off the exterior wood and recycled it into this awesome art installation. Locals knew the buildings and the classes they’d housed, but suddenly the sight drew in more attention. Kids and adults climbed in from off the streets to get lost in the stunning vortex of wood scraps.

Babble on

In the Information Age, the flow of IP (Internet Protocol) data between locations is nearly ubiquitous. Globe Encounters visualizes in real time the volumes of Internet data flowing between New York and cities around the world. The size of the glow on a particular city location corresponds to the amount of IP traffic flowing between that place and New York City. A greater glow implies a greater IP flow.

A beautiful hyperreal depiction of telephone and IP (Internet Protocol) data flowing between New York and cities around the world, visualized by the art project, New York Talk Exchange (produced by MIT’s Sensible City Lab). The project wants to know: “How does the city of New York connect to other cities? With which cities does New York have the strongest ties and how do these relationships shift with time? How does the rest of the world reach into the neighborhoods of New York?”

Truth is, like a robin attracted to shiny objects, I was magnetized by the stunning imagery. But as I look at the project’s goals, it’s not clear to me what the benefit of this visualization is other than to reinforce the notion that NYC is the communications hub of the world and that people, ho-hum, make long distance calls. But there is this little tidbit:

As Columbia University Professor Saskia Sassen, author of the book “Global Cities,” details in the NYTE project catalog, “The striking piece of evidence coming out of this project is that global talk happens both at the top of the economy and at its lower end. The vast middle layers of our society are far less global; the middle talks mostly nationally and locally.”

PS Note the sponsor (AT&T). Hmmm, makes all that spying seem like an innocent mistake.

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Trashing the subprime market

trashed house
An interesting sign that resistance to control remains a persistent trait of humans, even when all seems lost.

AlterNet: Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace: Can’t Pay Your Mortgage? Trash Your House and Leave.:

On the lookout for disturbing trends? Here’s one for your pile: According to a recent article in Fortune, there has been a noticeable increase in not just fraud but arson that has kept pace with the housing depression. Professionals in the insurance and lending industry are bracing themselves for all manner of similar situations, as homeowners either trash, or simply leave their trash lying around their houses, often taking off without even claiming their furniture. This is already a dirty problem in the housing business, with owners, lenders and banks having to figure out a way to stick each other with the check when tenants destroy their property on their way out the door. Woe is the person left behind to clean up the chaos.

Virtual Africa: more real than we think

A fantastic article explores the real world parallels of Africa with the virtual world of Second Life. It concurs with my belief that cultures that developed outside of the Western world that are not conditioned by print literacy will be the future operators of the information economy because they are more flexible and capable of understanding the interconnectedness of things.

Second Life: Platform or Sieve for Africa? « Africa in Virtual Worlds:

So it stands to reason: Social networks can learn a lot from African communities – at its roots, in its practices. We have seen this ‘connectedness’ in our development programmes when sixty (60) enthusiastic members of a community can mobilise more than 10 000 to inform a particular development process, at the drop of a hat with mobile and grapevine word-of-mouth street meetings.

Yet! Africa is still very much excluded in developing a global (networked) relationship economy. Resources from Africa used to build the developed world are not yet returned in the form of social and technical capital; and a scaled effort is needed to set up sufficient infrastructure and access – not only to virtual worlds (hear this please!) but to digital networks that could benefit greatly from local intelligence and could in return add much to refine local solutions.

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Waterworld for a drying planet



The Cool Hunter reports:

Atkin’s Architecture Group recently won the first prize award for an international design competition with this stunning entry. Set in a spectacular water filled quarry in Songjiang, China, the 400 bed resort hotel is uniquely constructed within the natural elements of the quarry. Underwater public areas and guest rooms add to the uniqueness, but the resort also boasts cafes, restaurants and sporting facilities.

The lowest level runs with the aquatic theme by housing a luxurious swimming pool and an extreme sports center for activities such as rock climbing and bungee jumping which will be cantilevered over the quarry and accessed by special lifts from the water. With a stunning visual presentation as shown here, it’s no wonder this project took home the first prize. This is a fine example of an ultra modern facility co-existing amongst its natural environment.

Perhaps it’s inevitable that with modern surreal estate– the combination of entertainment, architecture and media that defy traditional notions of place– that irony threatens to undermine the utopian nature of these projects, but then again “utopia” does mean “no place.” Built into a quarry– or an Earth gouge– it’s impossible to ignore the dam-like resemblance of China’s Waterworld hotel and resort design– that, or the space-colony look of it (reminds me a little of images from the Mars Trilogy). In light of the Three Gorge Dam project in China–designed to quench the country’s increasing energy thirst– Waterworld invites inspection as water is turned into an entertainment spectacle. For a model on how to do this, look no further than Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, water levels in China’s reservoirs are dwindling and the Yangstze is at its lowest. Maybe reality will insert it’s own plans, transforming the project into Desertworld and becoming one of those strange artifacts of the past like those now-decaying cities rotting in the periphery of the old Soviet Empire.

Update: More evidence of China’s thirst for drying water.

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Virtual slumming

During the ’80s and ’90s you really had to watch your back in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Alphabet City, the Bowery and LES were known more for their crack than hipster cafes and bars. But like the mucky swamp bottom that nourishes the lotus, the LES also became a haven for anarchists, punks and street artists. It’s still one of the best places to photograph street art. But now if you want to live there and spend $3,000 a month for a closet, probably the only way you could do that is by working for MTV. Lo and behold, MTV has now spawned a virtual LES that is probably the only way chaps such as myself could afford to hang out there. Why the site uses a rat for its logo is beyond me. Why not use a spent syringe instead?

The above intro video begs all sorts of questions of a philosophical sort, but I will close with just one: who programmed those avatar dance moves?

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Chlorofilia uber allas

Here’s an interesting vision of how future architecture transforms society into a chlorophyl-based system. My only complaint is that in the fictional narrative (it’s presented as a documentary from the future) a single architect takes credit for the transformative idea. To me this violates the principle of social change, which is more based on emergent, distributed knowledge that is developed collectively. It’s time for people to get over the hero trope. Neo is not coming to save the world. Still, I like speculative architecture because it stimulates future research and ideas, and this is certainly an intriguing proposition.

Go to Xefirotarch to see more.

Urban collectables


I was trying to figure out how to justify a thread featuring Urban Collectable from chinnychinchin when I realized that with the Internet it’s possible to market anything to anybody. The model car reminds me of my first night living in Brooklyn when the local car thieves torched a vehicle in the street, which sent a shock wave through my loft’s windows. But for those of us who have spent any time in New Mexico, we would agree that burnt cars are a distinct, if not charming, part of the landscape, so much so an old friend of mine wanted to to do a pin-up girl calendar with models posing with discarded vehicles called, “Arroyo Girls.” Another friend wants to make a drive in movie theater where you can hang out in a junker and watch flicks. In any case, there is an aesthetic appeal of burned out cars. These models, the manufacturer claims, are all hand torched. A nice touch, epecially considering that each one costs $49.95. There are three models:

  • The Minivan/Insurance Scam
  • The Petrol bombed Jeep
  • The Joy ridden 2-door Hatchback

As for the political significance of these gifts, you will have to be the judge of that.

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Megacities: development, evolution?

The above clip (which I saw over at BoingBoing (via Africa Unchained)) is an intriguing portrait of Lagos, Nigeria. It demonstrates some of the trends of expanding megacities that characterize the so-called “global south.” My main objection to the segment is the recycled and uncritical use of the term “developing world.” African critics have long contended that this term is Eurecentric because it implies that they (non-Europeanized societies) are primitive versions of the central model of civilization. Are Nigerians supposed to develop into clones of us? Should Lagos become the “London of the future?” It’s an absurd proposition because London is a wealthy city predicated on the poverty that is distributed locally and across the globe. When Nigerians in the documentary hope that Lagos will become the next London or New York, they have internalized this Eurocentric view. But it’s not surprising given the role that global media corporations play in defining the ideals of the world. Who can fault them for not wanting the privileges afforded the global elites?

I think it’s better to think of places like Lagos and Mexico City as interconnected nodes. The reality may be that Lagos is really a microcosm of the world as a result of capitalist “evolution.” I qualify the term “evolution” because we often think that to evolve means to build better and more efficient solutions, but that is not always the case. For example, we may think of Western civilization as “evolved,” but it is in fact contrived. It is the result of many deliberate and planned decisions mixed with a bit of accident and synchronicity. Throughout history human agents have made conscious decisions about how to shape or respond to their environment. Some are more successful than others. The thing about “our” civilization, that is, the one that primarily inhabits the technological bubble, is that in the end we may not be so wise. That all depends on us, of course. This is why it is better not to think of Lagos as “their” reality. We are all interconnected.

I believe the documentarians intentions were good; they wanted to showcase a situation outside many of our normal reality, but that’s the problem of creating something as difference, i.e. they are different because they are not us. Frankly, I wish Current had actually asked local filmmakers to document their own city. Why do we need a white guide to interpret the place when a local one would be a lot more insightful and also supportive of the local economy? I doubt a local filmmaker would think of their environment as “fantastic” (in the fantasy sense) or bizarre. Black magic is not bizarre, and is probably mislabeled in this segment since the magic they speak of is designed to actually pacify bad people through nonviolent means. Maybe a Nigerian should come to London or San Francisco and make a report of the “black magic” that is seen every 10 minutes on television, something we call advertising.

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Theocons of the universe

Air Force Academy chapel, Colorado Springs, CO
Cylon Resurrection Ship, somewhere in outer space

In case you haven’t seen Sci-Fi network’s Battlestar Galactica (I highly recommend that you do), the premise of the story is that a race of robots created by humans decides to destroy their creators. The cyborgs, called Cylons, have developed a theistic construct of the universe, believing in a single God (the humans are polytheists who warship something akin to the the Greek pantheon). It’s one of the more interesting twists in the series plot lines. The Cylons eventually believe they are doing “God’s” work, so instead of simply destroying the fleshy heathens they decide to invade and occupy a human colony in order to convert them to their cybernetic lord (sound familiar?). In the process of the occupation the Cylons torture, detain and kill the humans without a hint of irony (again, sound familiar?). The hint that perhaps the Cylons are stand-ins for fundamentalists comes with their ability to “resurrect” their consciousness into cloned bodies whenever one of their advanced humanoid models is killed. The “resurrection ship” (pictured above) contains fresh cyborgs that can be downloaded with the consciousness of terminated or killed Cylons.

The religious pursuits of the Cylons obviously have their real world analog, and is a sophisticated commentary on the nature of fundamentalist religion. In it I find echoes of my own sense that monotheism is a bit like a dangerous thought virus that has no logical basis in reality, yet has a way of repeating and transferring itself from one generation to another. Thus I was intrigued to discover the similarities of the Air Force Academy chapel (the first image) with the resurrection ship. Since we know Cylons are not modernists (as the chapel was made in the 1960s and is clearly inspired by modernist architecture), it’s probably a clue that Battlestar Galactica’s writers do in fact view the Cylons as a type of fundamentalist culture which is militaristic, dogmatic and homogeneous. After all, one of the key reasons the Cylons initially attack the human race is that they are viewed as sinful and impure. All these elements happen to be aspects of what is transpiring at the Air Force Academy– and the US military in general– which has become a fierce fundamentalist conversion center, thereby combining high tech with militancy and intense faith. Things get a little loopy, however, when it turns out that it’s tied to the ministry of Ted Haggard (you know, the preacher guy who apparently loved speed and hard (male) bodies).

According to David Antoon, who writes about the academy in a scary article about Christina fundamentalism in the US military:

The Christian supremacist fascism first reported at the Air Force Academy is endemic throughout the military. From the top down, there has been a complete repudiation of constitutional values and time-honored codes of ethics and honor codes in favor of religious ideology. And we now have a revolving door between Blackwater USA, which is Bush’s Praetorian Guard, and the U.S. military at every level. The citizen-soldier military dictated by our founding fathers has been replaced with professional and mercenary right-wing Christian crusaders in control of the world’s most powerful military. The risks to our democratic form of government cannot be overstated.

It’s expedient for the warmongering neocons to encourage fundamentalist militancy in the armed forces because it gives them a hardcore base to execute their goals for economic domination of Muslim controlled oil fields. But like the Cylons, the danger of cultivating such a class of “theo-cons” is that they ultimately may not be controllable and will put forward their own agenda of apocalypse and rapture, something Bush apparently believes in, although I find that to be an excuse at best, and a deadly ruse to hide more nefarious goals. The connection between the mercenary army, Blackwater, and Christian supremacy is an example of the kinds of bad things that happen when you let the tiger out of the cage. In the end, by deploying its private fundamentalist army in the heart of Iraq, the White House may have ultimately undermined its mission. It’s hard to put a smily face mask on extremists in the age of transparent global media. So we may be saved from a Cylon attack after all.