All posts in Transportation
Accelerating the modern world
A thrilling journey through the history of the car is on show in London
The automobile—a long-time fetish object of architects, the car is arguably the object that defines the 20th Century and one that has perhaps sent us crashing us into the 21st. The development of the car was once fuelled by optimism, able to set people free to go where they wanted, when they wanted. Today, however, its image has been tainted by its contribution to the climate crisis. The car is both personal and global, shaping lives, cities and nations, and it is the subject of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) latest exhibition: Cars: Accelerating the Modern World.
There’s no Lamborghini Countach, no Citroen DS or Aston Martin DB5 here, this isn’t that kind of show. Cars is a critique of the automobile and its impact. Expect instead to find posters about workers rights relating to Fordist assembly lines, maps tracking global oil production, the world’s first commercial car designed using wind tunnel testing (the Tatra 77), and Graham, the viral, life-sized latex figurine born from the Transport Accident Commission of Australia that shows how humans could evolve to survive a car crash.
Tucking the exhibition into the new AL_A-designed Sainsbury Gallery at the V&A in London, curators Brendan Cormier and Lizzie Bisley have, through a welcome variety of mediums, given audiences a thrilling ride through the history of the car that’s full of unexpected turns.
With regards to architecture, we’re given Prussian-American architect Albert Khan’s plans for the Henry Ford’s Highland Park plant, the place where assembly lines were first used for industrial production. Next to it is a model of Italian architect Giacomo Mattè-Trucco’s Fiat Lingotto factory in Turin, complete with rooftop test track. But nearby is something more sinister—a letter from a Highland Park factory worker’s wife to Mr Ford. “The chain system you have is a slave driver! My God!” it reads, detailing the perils of the factory conditions.
It comes as no surprise to learn that Ford was a control freak. In 1926 he purchased land in Amazon Rainforest to produce his own rubber. Brazilian workers were banned from smoking, drinking alcohol and playing football, while American customs such as square-dancing in community halls and working in the sun, as well as hamburgers in the canteen, were introduced. The workers revolted and “Fordlandia”, as it was known, was abandoned in 1945.
Factory revolts and angry letters to bosses may be fewer and far between now, particularly as machines usurp humans in factory line production. A lengthy and eerily slow panning projection of the inside of the BMW Group Plant in Munich duly demonstrates this. Here machines do the heavy lifting while humans keep watch.
Cars also delves into the wider spatial implications of the automobile. Le Corbusier, who was as obsessed with the car as any architect (maybe more), designed the Maison Citröhan (1922)—named in the car manufacturer’s honor—to be as efficient as the car. Tire manufacturer Michelin, meanwhile, carried out an exhaustive photographic study of dangerous roads in America in the 1930s, highlighting the need for urgent improvement, and an array of photos from this shows just how poor America's roads once were. Missing, however, is Frank Lloyd Wright’s conception of the garage. The car’s impact on suburbs, roadside architecture (notably the work of Denise Scott-Brown), along with highways and freeways and drive-in cinemas is also amiss, but these do all feature in the exhibition’s accompanying book, which has been beautifully produced.
“In the end we ran out of space,” Cormier told AN. More important to the curators was to expose the rush for oil extraction the car created and the devastating effect this is having on the environment, which is understandable.
Throughout the exhibition, visitors are continually exposed to visions of a future which will never exist. One example: adverts and sci-fi films from 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s show many men in many cars, but none are stuck in traffic. By analyzing the automobile through the rear-view-mirror, Cars highlights how the car and modernity have failed to deliver on many promises. That hasn't stopped the industry, though. In the last room is 'Pop.Up Next', a concept from Italdesign which combines an electric car and a drone that is able to clip onto the pod-like vehicle—or rather, another attempt at a flying car, a never-realized fantasy of old which, like its predecessors, may be destined to forever belong in a museum.
Cars: Accelerating the Modern World runs through 19 April 2020.
Just Floating an Idea
Oakland councilwoman proposes converting cruise ships into homeless housing
New Urbanist Gingerbread for Transit Oriented Teens
Museum of Architecture’s 2019 Gingerbread City explores transportation
Robbie Makinen, the head of the KCATA, estimated that 20 percent of bus riders already ride for free, as rides are offered to both veterans and high school students. For everyone else, fares are currently $1.50 per ride or $50 for a monthly pass. Makinen believes that making the entire system free would cost about $12 million a year, and the city council has approved $8 million for the project so far. But the Kansas City metro area is large—seven counties and two states. The new system would only be applicable to buses originating and returning to Kansas City, Missouri, meaning residents could ride free in some areas but not in others. U.S. cities offering free rides on certain lines or within certain areas are not new, but Kansas City would be the first to offer a universal system. Fourth District Councilman Eric Bunch, who co-sponsored the effort, said according to KCUR, “I don’t want to do it for any sort of national recognition, I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do, I believe that people have a right to move about this city.”
The City Council just took a monumental, unanimous step toward #ZeroFareTransit – setting Kansas City up to soon become the first major metropolitan city with free public bus service.https://t.co/BtkZtXDbwP— Mayor Quinton Lucas (@MayorLucasKC) December 5, 2019
Get On Your Bikes And Ride
CoMotion 2019 brought the future of urban mobility to the fore in L.A.
Preferred Street Promenade
Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade will undergo transformative master plan
Infrastructure Bites Back
Internet-infamous, truck-decapitating bridge will finally be raised
In the case of the Can Opener, the NCRR is undertaking a “Rehabilitation of NCRR bridge over Gregson Street in Durham to increase the roadway clearance from 11 feet, 8 inches to 12 feet, 4 inches for the purpose of improving safety and reducing damage to NCRR infrastructure from vehicle strikes,” according to their list of capital improvements. What took the NCRR so long? According to 11foot8, the railroad company had installed a crash bar to mitigate damage to the bridge, and lowering the road would be prohibitively expensive due to the sewer main that runs right below the span—thus placing the upgrade on the backburner, as the crashes weren’t impacting NCRR service. As Mel Magazine laments, the raising of the overpass marks a blow to collective internet meme-making and schadenfreude-based binge-watching. When one hits play on an 11foot8 video, they know exactly what they’re getting into, no matter how fast or slow the approaching truck tries to sneak under. Still, just because the bridge is getting raised doesn’t mean the “fun” is over; as numerous online commenters have pointed out, the maximum allowable height of a truck in North Carolina is 13 feet, 6 inches. 11foot8 might live on after all.
The North Carolina Railroad Overpass at Gregson Street (The 11'-8" Bridge) will be closed to all through traffic 24/7 from October 23 to Nov 5 in order to raise the 11’-8” Railroad Overpass. 1/4 pic.twitter.com/120XzikVbl— Durham Transportation Department (@movesafedurham) October 18, 2019