Jan 242012

Wired has a great story on Urban eXperiment in Paris titled The New French Hacker-Artist Underground. I’ve heard little bits about Untergunther through other stories via Urban Exploration, but Jon Lackman gives a fresh narrative to the information.

UX’s most sensational caper (to be revealed so far, at least) was completed in 2006. A cadre spent months infiltrating the Pantheon, the grand structure in Paris that houses the remains of France’s most cherished citizens. Eight restorers built their own secret workshop in a storeroom, which they wired for electricity and Internet access and outfitted with armchairs, tools, a fridge, and a hot plate. During the course of a year, they painstakingly restored the Pantheon’s 19th- century clock, which had not chimed since the 1960s. Those in the neighborhood must have been shocked to hear the clock sound for the first time in decades: the hour, the half hour, the quarter hour.

It reminded me how shocking it is to learn the reactions to much of their work, and how it parallels work and reactions by others. Instead of being celebrated for their good deeds, they are villainized. In the case of the clock, it ends up almost being a case of spite:

… the administration later decided to sue UX, at one point seeking up to a year of jail time and 48,300 euros in damages. Jeannot’s then-deputy, Pascal Monnet, is now the Pantheon’s director, and he has gone so far as to hire a clockmaker to restore the clock to its previous condition by resabotaging it. But the clockmaker refused to do more than disengage a part—the escape wheel, the very part that had been sabotaged the first time. UX slipped in shortly thereafter to take the wheel into its own possession, for safekeeping, in the hope that someday a more enlightened administration will welcome its return.

Reading the article one gets the sense that a lot of the flak they take is because they are exposing incompetence, but I wonder if there is also an element of mistrust for altruism. Either way, it means much of their work goes on in secret.

Jan 132012

The Examiner notes that this is the year work starts on a large number of changes to 25th street in Golden Hill, San Diego. I am looking forward to seeing the changes when completed, it will give the street much more pedestrian and tree-lined feel. The largest change looks to be a traffic circle instead of a 4 way stop on B Street. If done right it could make a lot of sense, I quite enjoy the changes made to Birdrock after the traffic circles there – the traffic flows better and it is a whole lot nicer to look at.

Aug 202008

Last night a generous coworker gave us tickets to the opening night preview of Spring Awakening at the newly renovated Balboa Theatre. The theatre has been in a state of neglect for a very long time and somehow survived being turned into parking lot and/or condos during downtown San Diego’s many changes. Thankfully some people have put a lot of time (Steve Karo) and money (Balboa Theatre Foundation) into restoring the theatre. They have done an amazing job; it looks fantastic now. Many of the design elements have been fully restored, like the great old neon sign out front and the interior of the main hall. Do yourself a favor and check out this wonderful venue.

Nov 262007

The Guardian has good news on the fascinating Untergunther group in Paris:

Four members of an underground “cultural guerrilla” movement known as the Untergunther, whose purpose is to restore France’s cultural heritage, were cleared on Friday of breaking into the 18th-century monument…

For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panthéon’s unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid “illegal restorers” set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building’s famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves.

Since the 1990s they have restored crypts, staged readings and plays in monuments at night, and organised rock concerts in quarries. The network was unknown to the authorities until 2004, when the police discovered an underground cinema, complete with bar and restaurant, under the Seine. They have tried to track them down ever since.

But the UX, the name of Untergunther’s parent organisation, is a finely tuned organisation. It has around 150 members and is divided into separate groups, which specialise in different activities ranging from getting into buildings after dark to setting up cultural events. Untergunther is the restoration cell of the network.

Aug 162006

It is almost that time of year again, The GreenBuilt Tour 2006 is set for September 16-17. The tour features 14 sites of varying shades of green. Some sites are almost self contained and built green from the ground up with straw bales or adobe. Other sites are water friendly landscaping and some solar panels. Either way, we need a whole lot more of it in San Diego.

Voice of San Diego has a related article on their site today:

The Greener House – Like many Ocean Beach residents, Charles Roberts loves the sun. But unlike some Obecians, Roberts loves it for more than its mood-lifting, hair-bleaching, skin-darkening effects — his house is powered almost entirely by the photovoltaic cells on the south side of his roof.Roberts, an architect, studied energy-efficient development in his graduate work at the University of Oregon. Not one to preach a message of “green” building without practicing it himself, Roberts has spent the last few years incorporating alternative energies in his grey-and-white cottage on the corner of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and Long Branch Street. His roof is made out of recycled tennis balls with a latex acrylic component.

Roberts is one of several homeowners in San Diego who’ve reacted to evidence of global warming, escalating energy prices and environmental concerns by applying some micro-strategies close to home. But San Diego resident Chuck Angyal, who was on the founding board of directors for the United States Green Building Council, said the region has a long way to go before it catches up with some other metropolitan areas.

Dec 222005

(This is an older post that I never got around to publishing)

I certainly can’t fault Jim Kunstler’s view of recent development in Calgary“..archetypal city of immense glass boxes in a sterilized center surrounded by an asteroid belt of beige residential subdivisions.”

It is sadly, very true. The last 15 years of Calgary growth have been all sprawl and generic suburbs. I moved to Calgary in 1996. Our house (once rented, now Colan owns) was not far from downtown, only about a 10 minute drive, or 20 minute bus & train ride. To the east and north of our house there were several farmer’s fields. Full of hay, horses, and gophers. Only the gophers are left. Ten years later, the house is surrounded by big box suburban malls and business parks. Chili’s, BestBuy, and every other store you find in every other suburb in North America.

The growth further away was even more dramatic. Hour long commutes from the south or north ends of Calgary are no longer uncommon. We used to joke that the new McMansions looked like a landfill – the same 3 house colors, and no trees. Turns out they still look like crap, but now traffic is worse.

Oct 142005

I learned here that Ninjalicious, the guy behind infiltration.org, has released a book: Access All Areas – A User’s Guide to the Art of Urban Exploration. However, I also learned this bit of sad news:

Access All Areas is a fitting — and final — testament to his passion. Having been diagnosed with cancer last year, Jeff spent much of his time finishing and publishing this book. He died about a month after seeing it in print and debuting advance copies at the annual gathering of urban explorers in Montreal.

You can hear Ninjalicious in these round-table discussions on Canada’s Urban Exploration Radio Station Infiltration.org will still keep going strong, and there are other urban decay and exploration folks out there doing great work.

Urban Exploration Resource (uer.ca) has some great information, forums, and a location database. I have always wondered why there so many Canadian urban explorers. Less people to stop you, or perhaps the boom bust cycle of a trade dependent nation creates more places to explore.

Opacity.us – Has some great photos of urban ruins, and even boat graveyards

Urban-Resources.net has a lot of information on urban architecture and exploration from around the world. Closely related to Urban-Resources.net, Zone-Tour is a database of urban exploration sites. It also has movies from a few locations.

Standing But Not Operating – pictures and history about amusement parks that are standing but not operating

You can see links to other sites by using the ‘Exploration’ category on my blog.

Jun 092005

Prefab and you don’t want to do much work? Target might have something for you. Actually, it looks like the work (done by Christopher C Deam) might just be a “modern trailer park“. Somehow I think a wall of glass is going to sell less well in an actual trailer park, vs. someone who bought an acre of land out in the boonies.

Ready Made Mag had Edgar Blazona (of modular dwellings fame) make them a back yard shack for $1500. They have full plans in their store. This is structure is designed to be a low cost extra room for the backyard. As a result there is of course no plumbing, electrical, or insulation. The structure would make a fantastic office, studio, or guest house. If you need full amenities, he has also designed a nifty granny flat named the MD280.

Usually in prefab, massive chunks are constructed at the factory and assembled at the build site. Master fit takes a different approach. Smaller pieces, everything is numbered, everything fits. The goal is to allow unskilled people to be able to easily put up a frame. The materials are more expensive than usual, but you will save on labor. The frame also ends up being stronger because of the fit.

If you really want to get involved in building your own house, you can go the straw bale route. Here is a site of a guy building one in Baja, and here is a site for a woman who built one in San Diego county (Ramona). The one in SD was featured on the Green Built tour. Reading through the sites you will notice some very different building experiences between them. In the US there is a lot more red tape and bureaucracy. As an example, in SD they won’t let you use straw as load bearing walls (despite their strength and earthquake resistant nature). Instead, you have to put in posts and beams for the roof.

Straw bale not out there enough for you? Fine. How about a tree house? Perhaps one made of books?