It’s All a Sham! 21 Urban Structures & Facades That Aren’t What They Seem

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[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

The cities of the world have a lot to hide, and while some of those things might be top secret government operations, others are as unremarkable as an ugly ventilation shaft, an electrical substation, a failing and vacant downtown area or just a sad, blank wall that needs some fake windows to improve its looks. Our urban surroundings are full of faux details, from facades and doors to massive hyperrealistic architectural murals, all trying to convince us that these structures are nicer, newer, livelier or more innocent than they really are.

NSA Building Hiding in Plain Sight

In retrospect, maybe New Yorkers should have known that this vaguely evil-looking, almost entirely windowless monolith of a building was secretly owned by the National Security Administration. It was apparently disguised as an AT&T building for over a decade, and it’s built like that to withstand a nuclear blast. Located at 33 Thomas Street, the 1974 Brutalist structure functions (surprise!) as a surveillance hub.

False Facades in Leinster Gardens, London Hiding Train Tracks

There are no real telltale signs that the houses at 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens in London are anything other than ordinary – until you take a walk along the street behind them to see the back of the faux facade and the hollow space it hides, as captured in these images by Urban 75. The actual houses that once stood in this spot were demolished to build a tunnel connection two London Underground stations; this void is actually the top of a ventilation shaft.

Parisian Ventilation Tower with Trompe L’oeil Facade

Casual passersby might not look up to examine the windows of this structure on Rue Quincampoix in Paris. If they did, it probably wouldn’t take them too long to notice that they’re actually painted on, some permanently open to billowing curtains and dimly-lit rooms beyond. The mural helps disguise yet another urban ventilation shaft.

Toronto’s Camouflaged Substations

Many a seemingly elegant building in Toronto is not what it seems. Disguised among the city’s historic structures are a number of electrical substations, designed to blend in with their environments. While expanding the power grid in the early 20th century, Toronto Hydro, established in 1911, hired a team of architects whose sole purpose was to hide what would otherwise be unsightly metal structures. You can spot them by their ‘Keep Out!’ ‘Danger!’ signs posted to the doors. The Glengrove substation at 2833 Yonge Street is a prime example.

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42 Buried Buses Form North America’s Largest Underground Nuclear Fallout Bunker

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[ By WebUrbanist in Destinations & Sights & Travel. ]

Composed of dozens of school buses surrounded with concrete, there may not be room for two of every Earthly animal in this “Ark Two” but there is space for around 500 humans (kids and adults) to cohabitate through a moderate apocalypse.

Located in Horning’s Mills (in case you need to get there in an emergency) on the edge of Toronto, Canada, this remarkable shelter features 10,000 feet of subterranean space. The resulting mega-structure is the largest known private fallout shelter on the North American continent.

Bruce and Jean Beach, a local couple, live on adjacent land and built their underground bunker to last, encasing a series of interconnected buses in solid concrete. As it turns out: a derelict bus is cheap, costing just a few hundred dollars, but its reinforced steel frame makes it a strong candidate to be used for a mold. The buses are carefully aligned to create sequential spaces serving different key functions.

And it wasn’t just built for the pair of them: it is equipped with a well and plumbing, kitchen and laundry areas, even spaces dedicated for doctors and daycare centers (complete with emergency and surgery rooms). The couple constructed the place decades ago, not so much as a space for immediate survival but an outpost from which the world could be built in a post-nuclear age.

The complex doesn’t have a permit, which has landed its builders in court on more than one occasion, but officials seem largely content to let them be at this point. Meanwhile, Cold War or not, the dedicated couple (now well into their 80s) continue to build up supplies and prepare the space for uncertain futures. It may yet pay off.

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[ By WebUrbanist in Destinations & Sights & Travel. ]

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Petroleum Pets: Coalinga’s Vanishing Iron Zoo

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[ By Steve in Culture & History & Travel. ]

Painted pump jacks with plenty of personality put the “pet” into petroleum at the venerable and vanishing Iron Zoo in and around Coalinga, California.

Formerly known as “Coaling Station A”, the town of Coalinga in Fresno County hitched its wagon to a different type of fossil fuel once the Coalinga Oil Field was discovered in the late 1880s. The subsequent oil boom peaked in the 1910s with pump jacks and steam injectors gradually replacing derricks. By the late 1960s one couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a pump jack… sparking a brainstorm in one Coalinga-area resident who wondered how the ubiquitous “nodding donkeys” could work for the greater good. Or at least, for her greater good.

Jean Dakessian Jones and her husband owned a motel that – due to the recent opening of Interstate 5 – was vacant more often than not. Jones knew she had to find some way to attract more traffic (literally) to their motel. Inspiration struck in the form of the pump jacks, whose form & function lent itself to artistic modification. “I had never seen oil pumps like those,” recounted Jones, “and my imagination saw them as all kinds of creatures. I thought that if people came off the freeway they would see a painted pump, go a little farther to see the next one, and on and on until they made it to Coalinga and saw our wonderful and inviting motor lodge. It worked!” And with that, the “Iron Zoo” was born.

Many of Jones’ painted pump jacks are off the beaten path with the most-photographed example – the zebra – being the most accessible. The images above were snapped by Flickr members Emerald Wu (whiteskylight) and 1Flatworld in 2013 and 2007, respectively. Note the ominous confluence of warning signs… it may be smelly but this is definitely not your average zoo!

Pumpjack Pennywise

To say the Iron Zoo had humble beginnings would be an understatement – it started with a single painted pump jack. Of course, the pump jacks weren’t Jones’ property and trespassing laws are rigorously enforced both for the safety of the public and to protect the companies from legal liability. Flickr member David Cohen (zampano!!!) captured this somewhat disturbing clown (aren’t ALL clowns somewhat disturbing?) in December of 2007.

Refuel Refugees

Jones played by the rules and in 1971 she contacted Marshall Newkirk, site manager for Shell Oil in Coalinga. To her surprise and delight, she found an ally in Newkirk. “After I painted the first one,” explained Jones, “he ran it by the head office and they gave me the green light to continue.”

Not only did Shell approve of Jones’ plan, they even chipped in to cover the cost of the paint – no small expense considering the company owned 23 pump jacks. By mid-1973, Jones had painted all of Shell’s pump jacks… and boy, were her arms tired. Flickr member Arlette captured the above bobbing goat in September of 2009.

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Edible Art: 32 Amazing Food Designs & Sculptures

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Natural-Edge Glassware: Curvy Vases Blown into Organic Wood Forms

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[ By WebUrbanist in Design & Furniture & Decor. ]

Resin is often used creatively to fill in the gaps wooden shapes, but these vases take the opposite approach and employ sliced logs with waned edges as a framing device rather than making it the primary focus of the work.

Los Angeles artist Scott Slagerman worked with Jim Fishman on this Wood & Glass collection, in which each vase is blown into a wooden void.

Naturally, each creation requires careful planning and execution, involving hot materials coming in contact with flammable ones. Some of the works are clear, but reds, purples, greens and oranges playfully compliment and contrast with the woods employed as well, ebbing and flowing as hues do in nature.

Slagerman “has always been captivated by glass – how it is transformed from a fragile, yet unyielding solid state to molten fluidity and back again; and how this mutable substance, through a process that is both delicate and dangerous, can create objects both essential and esoteric.”

He is “fascinated by the role that glass plays in architecture, as well as in the everyday objects that we find around us.” Glassblowing is a an art of speed and dexterity, all the more so when working with something that could catch fire and itself be reshaped by the glass being blown.

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As We Are: Giant 3D LED Screen Head Takes Selfies to the Next Level

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[ By SA Rogers in Art & Photography & Video. ]


Seeing what your face looks like 14 feet tall and enlarged hundreds of times in a public forum might sound like a nightmare to some people, but to others, it’s a fun way to interact with other visitors at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. ‘As We Are’ is a permanent sculptural installation made of 23 ribbons of LED screens wrapping around a vaguely head-shaped base on a podium. Walk around to the back, and you’ll find the entrance to a photo booth inside.

Have your photo taken simultaneously by twenty-nine cameras, which are capable of stitching together a three-dimensional likeness, and then step outside to see your face displayed on the screens, which are powered by over 850,000 LEDs. For artist Matthew Mohr, the experience is about exploring the relationship between self and representation of self, “asking the subject of the portrait to reconsider presence through magnification.”

“It is intended to provide amusement and evoke larger discussions around the phenomena of social media, diversity, and the power dynamic of public art,” he says. “‘As We Are’ focuses on the now commonplace act of documenting one’s existence in an effort to connect with others. It considers how self-representation has evolved by confronting the idea of self, and recognition of what we seek in and from other people.”

“An underlying theme in my work is technology in service of communication. It runs through my practice and my teaching. Without substance, technology is either a tool or a parlor trick.”

DCL, the fabricator that collaborated with Mohr to manufacture the sculptural object, calls it “the ultimate selfie machine.” Would you give it a try?

Photos by Ellen Dalagher

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Underwater Castle: 3,000-Year-Old Ruin Discovered in Turkey’s Largest Lake

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[ By WebUrbanist in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

Deep in Turkey’s biggest body of water, Lake Van, a secret fortress lay dormant for thousands of years, discovered recently by a team of university archaeologists following local rumors of a submerged structure.

Headed by Tahsin Ceylan, a group from Van Yüzüncü Yil University discovered this Iron Age marvel spanning over a half-mile deep below the surface, with walls stretching up to 13 feet above the bed of the lake.

What remains is a mixture of fallen stone piles and persistent structural surfaces dating back around 3,000 years to a time when the lake’s surface would have been hundreds of feet lower.

Overtime, the lake levels rose and the regional kingdom that existed as far back as the eight century BCE was to presumed to have been based in this area, and possibly this building compound.

In the wake of this discovery, researchers aim to revisit the site and begin to dig below the subsurface sediment in order to learn more about the kingdom and see just how deep this mystery really goes.

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[ By WebUrbanist in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

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New Network of Ice Age Caves Found Beneath the Streets of Montreal

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[ By SA Rogers in Travel & Urban Exploration. ]

Manually chipping away at rock for hours, two cave explorers have discovered a massive, previously unknown system of prehistoric caves beneath the streets of Montreal. Estimated to be around 15,000 years old, the Ice Age cave network was found about 30 feet beneath the city’s Pie-XII Park adjacent to the St. Léonard cave already popular with residents and visitors. These shafts tunnel almost 700 feet into the earth – most of their depths filled with water, and thus, pretty hard to fully explore.

Cavers Daniel Caron and Luc Le Blanc say they’ve suspected the existence of these caves since 2014, and spent much of 2017 exploring St. Léonard, which is already mapped, to find potential openings. They came across a narrow opening in the rock face that looked promising, but it was too small to enter, so they stuck a camera inside and took some photos of the chamber on the other side.

The cave explorers used hammers and cordless drills to break the wall down and get inside, finding a cavern with impressively high ceilings that leads to an underground lake. According to the Quebec Speleogical Society, Montreal was built right over this entire system without anyone ever realizing it was there, and Caron and Le Blanc may be the first humans ever to enter the newly-discovered areas.

Many cities all over the world are built right atop underground wonders, from quarries and catacombs to bunkers and smuggling tunnels, but the foundations of many others remain a mystery. Many of us likely walk over secret worlds every day without ever realizing it.

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Step Into a Pop-Up Book: 11 Furnishings, Rooms & Houses That Fold Up Flat

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[ By SA Rogers in Design & Furniture & Decor. ]

Does the same childlike awe and sense of infinite possibility you felt when looking at pop-up books as a kid translate to adult-sized versions of pop-up furniture, rooms and even entire houses today? These transforming objects dramatically expand from a flat package just by pulling on one end, revealing themselves to be surprisingly strong and usable three-dimensional objects.

Pop-Up Interactive Apartment

This ‘pop-up interactive apartment’ by students at TU Delft adapts to inhabitants’ needs by constantly changing functions, bending and sliding folding polypropylene panels to offer chairs, beds, desks and other furniture or fold up out of the way. The result is an apartment that transforms to use a single room for many functions, without requiring any physical effort on behalf of the people who use the space.

Folding Flat-Pack M.A.Di House

This flat-pack house comes in a folded sheet with connected roof panels that pop up into an A-frame with the help of a crane. Once the easy-to-transport 5-foot-tall package is onsite, it takes less than a day to install, and it comes in several different sizes from a 495-square-foot studio to a 904-square-foot family home. The profile and hinges are made of steel, while much of the rest of the home is made of strong and durable cross-laminated timber (CLT) making the whole structure earthquake-resistant.

De-Dimension Furniture by Jongha Choi

Take this two-dimensional geometric wall art down, unfold it in one swift motion, place it on the floor and you’ve got a piece of furniture. ‘De-Dimension’ is a series of pop-up flat-pack furniture by designer Jongha Choi representing his ideas about perspective. “If our perception of an object is not different on a plane image and an actual subject, isn’t it possible to substitute the two with each other?”

Pop-Up Shelf by Meike Harde

How much bookcase do you really need? Maybe you could use a full-height storage piece, or maybe you want it to be shorter to fit beneath a window. German designer Meike Harde’s ‘Stockwerk’ shelf comes as a flat-pack item and easily expands without the need for tools, with pieces that fit together like a puzzle.

Slinky-Style Accordion Chairs That Stretch and Bend

Like a slinky, the Flexible Love Sofa and Chair start out tightly packed into a small package and then expand to surprising lengths when you pull on either end. The furniture series is made from 100% recycled paper, yet the sofa can hold up to 4,232 pounds when fully expanded, and snap back to a mere 5 inches in width when contracted.

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Shipping Shapes: Perspective Drawing Lines Form Containerized Landscapes

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[ By WebUrbanist in Art & Drawing & Digital. ]

Anyone who has seen stacks of shipping containers and the huge cranes that move them at big ports knows they can make for a marvelous sight, but what happens when you overlay those rigid geometries on other landscapes?

Artist Mary Iverson, who lives near one such port in Seattle, combines paint and photographs to explore the results of globalization, intersecting natural and built environments with bright geometric cargo container boxes, ships and infrastructure.

“In following my interests and working to resolve an artistic dichotomy within myself,” she explains of her work, “between my love and nature and my fascination with the shipping industry, I came upon a visual solution that metaphorically echoes what we are facing in the world today.”

Architectural drawings often leave behind traces of perspective, hinted at in pencil before final forms are inked in pen. In her work, Iverson leaves those construction lines in place, then fills in gaps selectively to form containers.

“My paintings are colorful abstractions that spring from the theme of the industrial shipping terminal. The canvases feature mass accumulations of shipping containers and container cranes in various perspectives. My work employs a network of searching perspective lines and layers of interlocking, colorful planes and rectangles that suggest both deep space and flat surface.”

In both artificial and organic landscapes, the boxes introduce depth and scale, juxtaposing existing spaces with perspectives that align with new grids.

Iverson received her MFA in Painting from the University of Washington in 2002 and currently teaches painting and drawing at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, WA as a tenured faculty member. (via Colossal).

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Lean & Learn: Oblique Earthquake-Proof Bookshelf Doubles as a Climbing Wall

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[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

No ladders are required to get all the way to the top of this floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in a Japanese home, built into a specially designed oblique exterior wall for both easy access and earthquake resistance. Shinsuke Fujii Architects rose to the challenge of a tight lot with a smart design that uses a high ceiling, split levels and climbable surfaces to make the best possible use of every square inch of space.

First of all, that wall. From the outside of the home, you can see that the neighboring home on the right is awfully close, and taking up the maximum amount of living space on the lot would have been a tight fit. The architects leaned this wall of the home toward the neighbor at the top, leaving a wide space at the base for the front entrance, which is protected from rain. There are no windows on this side, eliminating privacy concerns that would normally arise from being right across from each other. The home is also perched over a small carport that’s sized just right for the client’s compact car.

Inside, this angle creates the perfect surface for a super-tall bookshelf that’s easy to climb, making it possible to use the entire wall for storage. Plus, the grid of the bookshelf makes the wall more structurally stable, and the bookshelf won’t collapse onto the interior in the event of a quake. Books, magazines and storage boxes easily slot into the deep niches while the extra-wide shelves double as steps.

Stairs lead from the bookshelf up to a lofted living area, which gazes out onto views of the city rather than the neighboring houses. An outdoor terrace doubles as a giant skylight, and the ceiling of the kitchen below becomes a surface for a table, with additional storage set into the wall. It’s a great example of thinking outside the box to create a home that feels spacious, airy, private and well-lit without sacrificing storage space, even on a tiny urban parcel.

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