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Sutherland Lyall on websites

Archi-anarchists

Here's one to keep an eye on: www.modernarchitecture.com. The last posting was in January so maybe the people that set it up have run out of steam, or, perhaps because they are students, they have all been busy in front of their college VDUs. The site's entirely virtuous aims include: 'We want to link the architecture community, without fear of being sent to Amazon through some "more information" link without warning. We loathe flashing ads. We believe that the design community holds a different ethic than most people. We don't want information given to us by someone who wants to sell us more on a CD.' In a month when big information providers have started to attempt to cash in on formerly free content, that has to have a nice, anarchic web-friendly ring.

Structures gallery

On the other hand, there is the here and now Cardiff University architecture resource centre site, especially its guide to image sites at www.cf.ac.uk/infos/information/subject/architecture/image.html. It is really helpful, although there are surprisingly few accessible architectural image sites in existence. It must be something to do with photographers' copyrights. So there was a little flutter of excitement when the site Structurae emerged from the electronic Matmoss at http:/ /www.structurae.de/en/index.html. It claims to be a database and gallery of structures. Unless they are boring old motorways, you really want to have a look at new structures, preferably with three or four images and maybe a plan and section, so the word gallery was exciting. Hope springs eternal.

Although there are 1646 structures in the database, there are only 560 images and sometimes there are a couple of pictures per structure. Thinking this may be an engineer thing, I checked the website of a brilliant local engineer. I won't name him, because the website of this most visual of engineers doesn't have any images on it either.

Non-existent Yeang

I was going to take a long look at the TR Hamzah & Yeang website, but there doesn't seem to be one. As a bloke, Ken Yeang is universally liked, although in London the Gower Street/Hoxton Square nexus views his headlong enthusiasm with a certain reserve - and it has difficulty (which is to say envy) with his exuberant output. Whatever, it's a sort of crime against architecture that this powerhouse isn't represented on the web. Presumably, some marketing person suggested that, with more than 500 Google (the search engine) references to Yeang, Ken, who needs a web site? Well, probably the shadowy TR Hamzah.

Rogers' oeuvre

Out of luck with Yeang, I've plumped for Richard Rogers Partnership's site at www.richardrogers.co.uk. The opening page is in various shades of blue with a silhouette of the Millennium Dome. Shades of blue form the colour scheme of subsequent pages. Odd that. Mike Davies designed the dome and for ever he's worn only red, including shoes. So you wonder if obscure internal office colour politics have been at work here. Still, there is a big, momentary band of red on the home page before single random images slowly drift into focus. Whatever, the site is nicely rambling with the occasional obligatory mission statement here and there and a nice little, slightly delayed, choof sound after you've moved your cursor over buttons.

There are four main sections: practice overview, projects, environment and case studies. You immediately go for projects, which are arranged in decades. Trouble is, you can inspect only one or two in each decade. In the meantime, flashing on and off at the bottom of the screen, are colour images you'd really like to look at in a bit more detail, or at least find out what they are. But no, they seem condemned to flash anonymously on and off for an electronic eternity. So you click on case studies. There, a series of thumbnails flash past at a speed ranging from demented to quite slow, depending on how close you move the cursor to them. It's quite a lot of fun gauging when you can pounce and click, but even dull researchers won't get irritated because, once you've got your bearings, you realise there are only three to look at. So, here is a site that is strangely anally retentive about its oeuvre. I can think of a lot of practices that should be. But not Rogers.

Genetic engineering

The big thing this month is, apparently, genetic algorithms (GAs). GAs are behind computer programs that generate nice shapes. In the old days, you read the AR and some of the other monthlies and ripped off/paid tribute to the great form givers who appeared in these glossy pages by using bits from their designs and brazenly declaring them your own. Now, you can be completely original - or your computer can be via GA applications. Even if you still believe that creativity can come only out of the end of a 6B, you might like to take a look at the enemy. Genetic algorithms are widely understood in other fields, such as artificial intelligence, neural networks and self-organising computer systems, so it's nice to know that a few people are working on architectural/design applications. One such individual is Peter Testa, whose rather solemn site at MIT is at http://web.mit.edularch/edg/about.htm, and there is quite a thoughtful general paper on the topic at www.cs.unr.edu/-sushil/papers/thesis/the-sishtml/node2.ht ml. But the really sexy site is www.sodduarchitects.com. It has some fascinating GA images to download, plus a series of papers mostly by Celestino Soddu. No, it s not 1 April.

Sod houses

And so to the sod houses site at http://websteader.com/wbstdsdI.htm. This comfortable site is an illustrated essay on the American pioneer sod house, the soddie of south-western Minnesota and western Nebraska, which 'was common from the earliest days of settlement to the early years of this century'. Worth a visit if you're into sods.

Sutherland Lyall is at sutherland.lyall@btinernet.com
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Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2001
Words:1020
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