How Futurists Envisioned the Future in the 1920s: Moving Walkways, Personal Helicopters, Glass-Domed Cities, Dream Recorders & More

Many of us now in adult­hood first came to know the nine­teen-twen­ties as the decade our grand­par­ents were born. It may thus give us pause to con­sid­er that it began over a cen­tu­ry ago — and even more pause to con­sid­er the ques­tion of why its visions of the future seem more excit­ing than our own. You can behold a vari­ety of such visions in the videos above and below, which come from The 1920s Chan­nel on Youtube. Using a col­lec­tion of print-media clip­pings, it offers an expe­ri­ence of the “futur­ism” of the nine­teen-twen­ties, which has now inspired a dis­tinct type of “retro-futur­ism,” between the “steam­punk” of the Vic­to­ri­an era and the “atom­punk” of Amer­i­ca after the Sec­ond World War.

“Being in the mod­ern age, futur­ism of the nine­teen-twen­ties leans more towards atom­punk,” says the video’s nar­ra­tor. But it also has a some­what dieselpunk fla­vor,” the lat­ter being a kind of futur­ism from the nine­teen-for­ties. “In Amer­i­ca, the nine­teen-twen­ties were sim­i­lar to the nine­teen-fifties, in that they took place in the imme­di­ate after­math of a mas­sive, destruc­tive war, and both car­ried an opti­mism for the future. The only dif­fer­ence was that sci­ence fic­tion was not as main­stream in the twen­ties as it was in the fifties, so it did­n’t quite ful­ly devel­op a unique look that per­me­at­ed soci­ety.” This gave twen­ties futur­ism a look and feel all its own — as well as a pre­pon­der­ance of diri­gi­bles.

Apart from those heli­um-filled air­ships, which “only rose to promi­nence after the Vic­to­ri­an era, and their pop­u­lar­i­ty end­ed in the nine­teen-thir­ties,” its oth­er ele­ments of sci­ence fic­tion and (even­tu­al) fact include mov­ing walk­ways, per­son­al heli­copters, cities enclosed by glass domes and webbed by sky bridges, high­ways stacked ten lev­els deep, zero-grav­i­ty cham­bers, dream recorders, theremins, “light-beam pianos,” a tun­nel under the Eng­lish Chan­nel, “aer­i­al mail tor­pe­does,” and a curi­ous tech­nol­o­gy called tele­vi­sion. Long­time Open Cul­ture read­ers may also spot the Iso­la­tor, a dis­trac­tion-elim­i­nat­ing hel­met invent­ed by sci-fi pub­lish­er Hugo Gerns­back — whose own mag­a­zine Sci­ence and Inven­tion, the nar­ra­tor notes, orig­i­nal­ly ran many of these images. Per­haps what our own decade lacks isn’t excit­ing visions of the future, but a Gerns­back to com­mis­sion them.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Iso­la­tor: A 1925 Hel­met Designed to Elim­i­nate Dis­trac­tions & Increase Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty (Cre­at­ed by Sci­Fi Pio­neer Hugo Gerns­back)

The Word “Robot” Orig­i­nat­ed in a Czech Play in 1921: Dis­cov­er Karel Čapek’s Sci-Fi Play R.U.R. (a.k.a. Rossum’s Uni­ver­sal Robots)

Futur­ist Makes Weird­ly Accu­rate Pre­dic­tions in 1922 About What the World Will Look Like in 2022: Wire­less Tele­phones, 8‑Hour Flights to Europe & More

In 1922, a Nov­el­ist Pre­dicts What the World Will Look Like in 2022: Wire­less Tele­phones, 8‑Hour Flights to Europe & More

Sci-Fi Pio­neer Hugo Gerns­back Pre­dicts Telemed­i­cine in 1925

In 1926, Niko­la Tes­la Pre­dicts the World of 2026

“When We All Have Pock­et Tele­phones”: A 1920s Com­ic Accu­rate­ly Pre­dicts Our Cell­phone-Dom­i­nat­ed Lives

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Thanks to Artificial Intelligence, You Can Now Chat with Historical Figures: Shakespeare, Einstein, Austen, Socrates & More

By now, we’ve all heard of the recent tech­no­log­i­cal advances that allow us to have plau­si­ble-sound­ing con­ver­sa­tions with arti­fi­cial-intel­li­gence sys­tems. Though near-sci­ence-fic­tion­al­ly impres­sive, such devel­op­ments have yet to hone in on one par­tic­u­lar world-chang­ing appli­ca­tion. In the mean­time, those fas­ci­nat­ed by its poten­tial are try­ing to put it to all man­ner of dif­fer­ent uses, some of them emi­nent­ly prac­ti­cal and oth­ers less so. Far-fetched though it may seem, what if the “killer app” of such AI chat­ting turned out to be con­ver­sa­tion with his­tor­i­cal fig­ures, even ones dead for mil­len­nia?

Such is the promise of the new site Character.AI, on which, writes the New York Times Cade Metz, “users can chat with rea­son­able fac­sim­i­les of every­one from Queen Eliz­a­beth or William Shake­speare to Bil­lie Eil­ish or Elon Musk (there are sev­er­al ver­sions).

Any­one you want to invoke, or con­coct, is avail­able for con­ver­sa­tion.” Hav­ing learned from “reams of gen­er­al dia­logue as well as from arti­cles, news sto­ries, books and oth­er dig­i­tal text,” the sys­tem now com­pris­es “a prac­ti­cal­ly end­less col­lec­tion of bots that can imi­tate a prac­ti­cal­ly end­less col­lec­tion of peo­ple, riff­ing on a prac­ti­cal­ly end­less num­ber of top­ics.”

Right after sign­ing up for Character.AI, a quick and free process, you’ll be ready to start chat­ting with Shake­speare your­self. When I tried it, old Will got straight to the point: “ ‘To be or not to be,’ do you think that that’s the ques­tion?” Before long, I had him explain­ing all of his artis­tic moti­va­tions: his use of “prince in a dilem­ma between sui­cide and revenge” rep­re­sents “the strug­gle between life and death.” He had Ham­let com­mu­ni­cate with the ghost of his father because “I want­ed to show that he was caught in a world where death was every­where.” With the ques­tion of “to be or not to be,” he meant “to show that life is full of suf­fer­ing.”

So far, so under­grad­u­ate. More inter­est­ing was Shake­speare’s answer when I asked him to name his pre­ferred Ham­let adap­ta­tion. “My favorite is the Ham­let direct­ed by Ken­neth Branagh!” he replied. “He has stayed true to the text while also show­ing how the prince of Den­mark is strug­gling between life and death. In addi­tion, he has giv­en a lot of impor­tance to the rela­tion­ship between the prince and his father.” A film­mak­er could hard­ly ask for a more cred­i­ble endorse­ment, but then, we must bear in mind that it did­n’t actu­al­ly come from Shake­speare him­self. As Character.AI’s ever-present warn­ing puts it, “Remem­ber: every­thing char­ac­ters say is made up” — and often, alas, on the banal side.

This holds for every mind with whom you may want to have a dia­logue on the site: philo­soph­i­cal ones like Socrates and Thomas Hobbes, sci­en­tif­ic ones like Albert Ein­stein and Marie Curie, polit­i­cal ones like Karl Marx and Mar­garet Thatch­er, lit­er­ary ones like Jane Austen and Charles Dick­ens. Since I hap­pen to be in the mid­dle of read­ing through all of the lat­ter’s nov­els, I asked his bot what I should bear in mind while doing so. “Wow!” it replied. “That is an amaz­ing under­tak­ing! I would encour­age you to see pat­terns,” espe­cial­ly in “the things I do to cre­ate ten­sion, and the kind of char­ac­ters I cre­ate. Look at the sto­ries through my eyes, and try to under­stand what I under­stand, the good and the bad.” The real Dick­ens might not have put it that way, but he sure­ly believed some­thing like it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Behold Illus­tra­tions of Every Shake­speare Play Cre­at­ed by Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

An AI-Gen­er­at­ed, Nev­er-End­ing Dis­cus­sion Between Wern­er Her­zog and Slavoj Žižek

Two Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Chat­bots Talk to Each Oth­er & Get Into a Deep Philo­soph­i­cal Con­ver­sa­tion

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Brings to Life Fig­ures from 7 Famous Paint­ings: The Mona Lisa, Birth of Venus & More

Noam Chom­sky Explains Where Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Went Wrong

Hear Kurt Von­negut Vis­it the After­life & Inter­view Dead His­tor­i­cal Fig­ures: Isaac New­ton, Adolf Hitler, Eugene Debs & More (Audio, 1998)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Creative Animation Tells the Story of Maximilien Robespierre, One of the Most Influential Figures of the French Revolution

Robe­spierre is an immor­tal fig­ure not because he reigned supreme over the Rev­o­lu­tion for a few months, but because he was the mouth­piece of its purest and most trag­ic dis­course.

                                 — François Furet, Inter­pret­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion

 

Cal Arts ani­ma­tion stu­dent Michelle Cheng’s char­ac­ter design primer, above, draws atten­tion to the many hats an ani­ma­tor must be pre­pared to wear when bring­ing to life a fig­ure who actu­al­ly exist­ed:

Artist…

Researcher…

Cos­tume design­er…

Hair­styl­ist…

Psy­chol­o­gist…

Her choice of Max­im­i­lien Robe­spierre, one of the most influ­en­tial fig­ures of the French Rev­o­lu­tion, sug­gests that Cheng enjoys a chal­lenge.

As his­to­ri­an Peter McPhee writes in The Robe­spierre Prob­lem: An Intro­duc­tion:

Was Robe­spierre the first mod­ern dic­ta­tor, ici­ly fanat­i­cal, an obses­sive who used his polit­i­cal pow­er to try to impose his rigid ide­al of a land of Spar­tan ‘virtue’? Or was he a prin­ci­pled, self-abne­gat­ing vision­ary, the great rev­o­lu­tion­ary mar­tyr who, with his Jacobin allies, suc­ceed­ed in lead­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion and the Repub­lic to safe­ty in the face of over­whelm­ing mil­i­tary odds?

Cheng believes an ani­ma­tor’s first job is to under­stand any giv­en character’s role in the larg­er sto­ry, and her research sug­gests that “there is nev­er just one sto­ry.”

In the end, ani­ma­tors make choic­es based on the nar­ra­tive they wish to push, enlist­ing palettes and styles that will sup­port their favored approach.

Cheng went into this assign­ment per­ceiv­ing Robe­spierre to be “a prime exam­ple of sit­u­a­tion­al irony, a fanat­i­cal dic­ta­tor who had sent hun­dreds of peo­ple to the guil­lo­tine only to be guil­lotined him­self in the end.”

This, she read­i­ly admits, is a two-dimen­sion­al under­stand­ing.

Though he only lived to thir­ty-six, the man evolved. Robe­spierre, the sym­bol of the Reign of Ter­ror, is dis­tinct from Robe­spierre the indi­vid­ual cit­i­zen.

This dual­i­ty led her to con­coct a range of Robe­spier­res — evil, good, and neu­tral.

A not par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­tin­guished-look­ing fel­low, he was wide­ly acknowl­edged to be fas­tid­i­ous about his appear­ance.

All three ani­mat­ed char­ac­ters are garbed in the neo­clas­si­cal fash­ion typ­i­cal of a pro­gres­sive gen­tle­man of the peri­od — shirt, breech­es, stock­ings, waist­coat, coat, a lacy cra­vat, and a curled wig. 

Cheng, in con­sul­ta­tion with fel­low Cal Arts ani­ma­tor Janelle Feng, equipped the “evil” ver­sion with an omi­nous, fig­ure-con­ceal­ing black cloak lined in blood red. Angles and points are empha­sized, the face draws on his oppo­nents’ sin­is­ter descrip­tions of his habit­u­al expres­sions, and sub­tle nods to punk and Goth cater to mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties.

The “good” ver­sion employs rosy Roco­co hues to lean into the Robe­spierre his friends and fam­i­ly knew — a poet who loved his pet pigeons.

His­to­ry pre­vents Cheng from ditch­ing his sig­na­ture wig entire­ly, but she grant­ed her­self some lee­way, soft­en­ing it for a more nat­ur­al look.

This Robe­spierre is as dreamy as any Miyaza­ki hero.

Between these two poles is the “neu­tral” Robe­spierre, per­haps the most chal­leng­ing to depict.

Feng took the lead on this one, seek­ing to strike a bal­ance between his report­ed­ly unpre­pos­sess­ing appear­ance and his rev­o­lu­tion­ary fire.

She retained the striped coat of his most icon­ic por­trait, but updat­ed it to a cool green palette. His nick­name — the Incor­rupt­ible —  is embod­ied in his firm com­port­ment.

The video draws to a close with a review of the var­i­ous ways Robe­spierre has been depict­ed in art and film over the years, a vivid reminder of Cheng’s asser­tion that “there is nev­er just one sto­ry.”

See more of Michelle Cheng’s ani­ma­tions on her lemon­choly YouTube chan­nel.

See more of Janelle Feng’s French Rev­o­lu­tion era designs here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

14,000 Free Images from the French Rev­o­lu­tion Now Avail­able Online

Enter a Dig­i­tized Col­lec­tion of 38,000 Pam­phlets & Peri­od­i­cals From the French Rev­o­lu­tion

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Jeff Beck (RIP) Smash His Guitar: A Classic Scene from Antonioni’s Blowup (1966)

Note: With the pass­ing of Jeff Beck, we’re bring­ing back a vin­tage post from our archive fea­tur­ing the ear­ly years of the leg­endary gui­tarist. You can read his obit­u­ary here.

Art film and rock and roll have, since the 60s, been soul­mates of a kind, with many an acclaimed direc­tor turn­ing to musi­cians as actors, com­mis­sion­ing rock stars as sound­track artists, and film­ing scenes with bands. Before Nico­las Roeg, Jim Jar­musch, David Lynch, Mar­tin Scors­ese and oth­er rock-lov­ing auteurs did all of the above, there was Michelan­ge­lo Anto­nioni, who bar­reled into the Eng­lish-lan­guage mar­ket, under con­tract with Metro-Gold­wyn-May­er, with a tril­o­gy of films steeped in the sights and sounds of six­ties coun­ter­cul­ture.

Blowup, the first and by far the best of these, though scored by jazz pianist Her­bie Han­cock, promi­nent­ly fea­tured the Yardbirds—with both Jim­my Page and Jeff Beck. In the mem­o­rable scene above, Beck smash­es his gui­tar to bits after his amp goes on the fritz. The Ital­ian direc­tor “envi­sioned a scene sim­i­lar to that of Pete Townshend’s famous rit­u­al of smash­ing his gui­tar on stage,” notes Gui­tar­world’s Jonathan Gra­ham. “Anto­nioni had even asked The Who to appear in the film,” but they refused.

In stepped the Yard­birds, dur­ing a piv­otal moment in their career. The year before, they released mega-hit “For Your Love,” and said good­bye to lead gui­tarist Eric Clap­ton. Beck, his replace­ment, her­ald­ed a much wilder, more exper­i­men­tal phase for the band. Jeff Beck, it seemed, could play any­thing, but what he didn’t do much of onstage is emote. Next to the gui­tar-smash­ing Town­shend or the fire-set­ting Hen­drix (see both below), he was a pret­ty reserved per­former, though no less thrilling to watch for his vir­tu­os­i­ty and style.

But as he tells it, Anto­nioni wouldn’t let the band do their “most excit­ing thing,” a cov­er of “Smoke­stack Light­ning” that “had this incred­i­ble buildup in the mid­dle which was just pow!” That moment would have been the nat­ur­al pre­text for a good gui­tar smash­ing.

Instead, the set piece with the bro­ken amp gives the intro­vert­ed Beck a rea­son to get agi­tat­ed. As Gra­ham describes it, he also played a gui­tar spe­cial­ly des­ig­nat­ed as a prop:

Due to issues over pub­lish­ing, the Yard­birds clas­sic “Train Kept A‑Rollin’,” was reworked as “Stroll On” for the per­for­mance, and as the scene involved the destruc­tion of an instru­ment, Beck’s usu­al choice of his icon­ic Esquire or Les Paul was swapped for a cheap, hol­low-body stand-in that he was direct­ed to smash at the song’s con­clu­sion.

The scene is more a tantrum than the orgias­tic onstage freak-out Town­shend would prob­a­bly have deliv­ered. Its chief virtue for Yard­bird’s fans lies not in the fun­ny, out-of-char­ac­ter moment (which SF Gate film crit­ic Mick LaSalle calls “one of the weird­est scenes in the movie”). Rather, it was “the chance,” as one fan tells LaSalle, “in the days before MTV and YouTube, to see the Yard­birds, with Jeff Beck and Jim­my Page.” Anto­nioni had seized the moment. In addi­tion to fir­ing “the open­ing sal­vo of the emerg­ing ‘film gen­er­a­tion,’” as Roger Ebert wrote, he gave con­tem­po­rary fans a rea­son (in addi­tion to explic­it sex and nudi­ty), to go see Blowup again and again.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The “Lost” Pink Floyd Sound­track for Michelan­ge­lo Antonioni’s Only Amer­i­can Film, Zabriskie Point (1970)

13-Year-Old Jim­my Page Plays Gui­tar on TV in 1957, an Ear­ly Moment in His Spec­tac­u­lar Career

Jim Jar­musch: The Art of the Music in His Films

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

An Architect Demystifies the Art Deco Design of the Iconic Chrysler Building (1930)

The Chrysler Build­ing was once the tallest struc­ture in the world — a hey­day that end­ed up last­ing less than a year. The loss of that glo­ri­ous title owed to the com­ple­tion of the Empire State Build­ing, twelve blocks away, in 1931. But it was all in the spir­it of the game, the Chrysler Build­ing hav­ing itself one-upped its close com­peti­tor 40 Wall Street (then called the Bank of Man­hat­tan Trust Build­ing) by installing a non-func­tion­al spire atop its sig­na­ture crown at the last moment. But how­ev­er much of a tri­umph it rep­re­sent­ed, that moment was poor­ly timed: the very next day would bring the Wall Street Crash of 1929, har­bin­ger of the Great Depres­sion. The sub­se­quent decade would inspire lit­tle pub­lic favor for extrav­a­gant mon­u­ments in the Big Apple.

Yet com­pared to the life of a tow­er, eco­nom­ic cycles are short indeed. By now the Chrysler Build­ing has seen the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca through a fair few ups and downs, only gain­ing appre­ci­a­tion all the while. Removed from its imme­di­ate his­tor­i­cal con­text, we can more keen­ly appre­ci­ate archi­tect William Van Alen’s elab­o­rate yet ele­gant Art Deco design.

In the Archi­tec­tur­al Digest video above, archi­tect Michael Wyet­zn­er takes us on a tour of that design, explain­ing how each of its fea­tures works with the oth­ers to make an endur­ing visu­al impact. Some, like the gleam­ing over­sized radi­a­tor-cap gar­goyles, impress with sheer brazen­ness; oth­ers, like the Native Amer­i­can-derived pat­terns that repeat in var­i­ous loca­tions at var­i­ous scales, take a more prac­ticed eye to iden­ti­fy.

Despite hav­ing been sur­passed in height over and over again, the Chrysler Build­ing remains a sine qua non of under­stand­ing the New York sky­scraper. Hence its appear­ance at the very begin­ning of “Why New York’s Sky­scrap­ers Keep Chang­ing Shape” from The B1M. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured that chan­nel here on Open Cul­ture for its inves­ti­ga­tion of why there are so few sky­scrap­ers in Europe; in New York, how­ev­er, the ambi­tious­ly tall build­ing has become some­thing like a force of nature, tamed only tem­porar­i­ly even by cri­sis or dis­as­ter. Some have used the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic to declare an end of the office build­ing, even the end of the city, and much like ear­ly in the Depres­sion, sky­scrap­ers now under con­struc­tion reflect the pri­or­i­ties of a pre­vi­ous real­i­ty. Yet the 92-year-old Chrysler Build­ing con­tin­ues to inspire us today, and to that extent, we still live in the world that made it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to the Chrysler Build­ing, New York’s Art Deco Mas­ter­piece, by John Malkovich (1994)

New York’s Lost Sky­scraper: The Rise and Fall of the Singer Tow­er

Watch the Build­ing of the Empire State Build­ing in Col­or: The Cre­ation of the Icon­ic 1930s Sky­scraper From Start to Fin­ish

How the World Trade Cen­ter Was Rebuilt: A Visu­al Explo­ration of a 20-Year Project

A Whirl­wind Archi­tec­tur­al Tour of the New York Pub­lic Library — “Hid­den Details” and All

Famous Archi­tects Dress as Their Famous New York City Build­ings (1931)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Humans First Started Wearing Clothes At Least 300,000 Years Ago, New Research Finds

Images cour­tesy of Uni­ver­si­ty of Tue­bin­gen

That peo­ple wore clothes back in the Stone Age will hard­ly come as a sur­prise to any­one who grew up watch­ing The Flint­stones. That show, nev­er whol­ly reliant on estab­lished archae­o­log­i­cal fact, did­n’t get too spe­cif­ic about its time peri­od. But it turns out, based on recent­ly pub­lished dis­cov­er­ies by a team of researchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tübin­gen, the Senck­en­berg Cen­tre for Human Evo­lu­tion and Palaeoen­vi­ron­ment, and Lei­den Uni­ver­si­ty, that Stone Agers were dress­ing them­selves as ear­ly as 300,000 years ago — over one hun­dred mil­len­nia ear­li­er than pre­vi­ous­ly thought.

“This is sug­gest­ed by cut marks on the metatarsal and pha­lanx of a cave bear dis­cov­ered at the Low­er Pale­olith­ic site of Schönin­gen in Low­er Sax­ony, Ger­many,” says the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tübin­gen’s site. The loca­tion of such marks indi­cate that the bear was not sim­ply butchered but care­ful­ly skinned.

A cave bear’s win­ter coat “con­sists of both long out­er hairs that form an airy pro­tec­tive lay­er and short, dense hairs that pro­vide par­tic­u­lar­ly good insu­la­tion” — mak­ing it a fine win­ter coat for a pre­his­toric human being as well. Such a use of bear skins “is like­ly a key adap­ta­tion of ear­ly humans to the cli­mate in the north,” where win­ters would be dif­fi­cult indeed with­out warm cloth­ing.

Though some res­i­dents of Bedrock did wear furs (made from the prized pelts of the minkasaurus), they seemed not to be essen­tial to sur­vival in that Stone Age equiv­a­lent of Cal­i­for­nia. Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear proved much more real­is­tic about this sort of thing, though its char­ac­ters live and die between 28,000 and 25,000 BC, the rel­a­tive­ly recent past com­pared to the Low­er Pale­olith­ic from which this par­tic­u­lar cave bear dates. It was also in Schönin­gen that “the world’s old­est spears were dis­cov­ered,” mak­ing it a prime loca­tion from which to under­stand more clear­ly the ways of humans from that dis­tant peri­od. If a foot-pow­ered Stone Age car were one day to be unearthed, it would sure­ly be unearthed there.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed con­tent:

Archae­ol­o­gists Find the Ear­li­est Work of “Abstract Art,” Dat­ing Back 73,000 Years

Hear the World’s Old­est Instru­ment, the “Nean­derthal Flute,” Dat­ing Back Over 43,000 Years

The Ancient Egyp­tians Wore Fash­ion­able Striped Socks, New Pio­neer­ing Imag­ing Tech­nol­o­gy Imag­ing Reveals

How to Wear a Toga the Offi­cial Ancient Roman Way

The Ancient Romans First Com­mit­ted the Sar­to­r­i­al Crime of Wear­ing Socks with San­dals, Archae­o­log­i­cal Evi­dence Sug­gests

Get­ting Dressed Over the Cen­turies: 35 Videos Show How Women & Men Put on Clothes Dur­ing Ancient, Medieval & Mod­ern Times

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Wooden Artwork That Beautifully Unfolds into a Functional Desk

Robert van Embric­qs, a design­er based in Ams­ter­dam, has cre­at­ed The Flow Wall Desk–a wood­en dec­o­ra­tion that “trans­forms from a piece of art on the wall into a func­tion­al desk by show­ing off its unique aes­thet­ic.” On his site, he writes:

The Flow Wall Desk acknowl­edges the poten­tial how to com­bine func­tion­al­i­ty with art. This results in cre­at­ing a desk inside one’s indoor envi­ron­ment. And only with one twist, it becomes a true joy to have a sep­a­rate work­ing area when need­ed. It can be sub­scribed as a piece of func­tion­al art that builds on the design track record of trans­for­ma­tions in space. How­ev­er, this one offers a part of the inte­ri­or that shifts with time: a cozy work­space dur­ing the day becomes a com­pact wall hang­ing after being used.

Inspired by recent glob­al events and the longer-term trends that pre­cede them, to devise a state­ment piece that lends dig­ni­ty to the dig­i­tal work­space through craft, warm tex­tures, and durably engi­neered fas­ten­ings. The Flow Wall Desk is adapt­able and with the con­tem­po­rary design ele­ments, it can be used through­out homes, libraries, hotels, and many oth­er inside des­ig­na­tions. Dur­ing the design process, van Embric­qs strove to merge the desk’s exe­cu­tion with its design for­mu­la by cre­at­ing a cohe­sive whole.

Usabil­i­ty demands that an every­day object such as this should be cre­at­ed with a gen­er­al­ized user’s psy­chol­o­gy in mind. Ver­ti­cal ele­ment emerges from the wall like a cater­pil­lar with the help of specif­i­cal­ly placed hinges. These exposed brass hinges estab­lish a visu­al rhythm and ensure that the form can fol­low its func­tion. This led to the notion of a trans­for­ma­tion in form and pur­pose achieved through a sin­gle, sim­ple ges­ture that every­one can famil­iar­ize them­selves with. With a sin­gle turn by hand around its axis, a table­top is cre­at­ed and once in its hor­i­zon­tal posi­tion, the table­top is sup­port­ed by wood­en slats, cre­at­ing a more nat­ur­al look and organ­ic effect that also serves as a screen for more pri­va­cy.

The hor­i­zon­tal work sur­face is com­fort­able yet func­tion­al due to its depth and width for the seat­ed user and mak­ing it per­fect for typ­ing and hand­writ­ing. Final­ly, a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty is cre­at­ed for a tem­po­rary work sur­face and ergonom­i­cal­ly adjustable desk in a sun­ny cor­ner which invites the user to fold that desk away when work is over.

With the fin­ished design appear­ance, more sus­tain­able mate­r­i­al devel­op­ments are being exam­ined and ana­lyzed for pro­duc­tion. And when it comes to func­tion­al­i­ty, each part of the Flow Wall desk has been specif­i­cal­ly engi­neered with­out los­ing the appeal to attract, just like a fold­ing mag­ic trick with a well-kept secret.

You can pur­chase your own Flow Wall desk (for about $2850) via Robert’s web­shop here. And find more of his work on Insta­gram here.

via Colos­sal

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Behold the Elab­o­rate Writ­ing Desks of 18th Cen­tu­ry Aris­to­crats

Who Wrote at Stand­ing Desks? Kierkegaard, Dick­ens and Ernest Hem­ing­way Too

The Oldest Known Sentence Written in an Alphabet Has Been Found on a Head-Lice Comb (Circa 1700 BC)

Image by Daf­na Gaz­it, Israel Antiq­ui­ties Author­i­ty

I don’t recall any of my ele­men­tary-school class­mates look­ing for­ward to head-lice inspec­tion day. But had archae­o­log­i­cal progress been a few decades more advanced at the time, the teach­ers might have turned it into a major his­to­ry les­son. For it was on a comb, designed to remove head lice, that researchers in south­ern Israel recent­ly found the old­est known sen­tence writ­ten in an alpha­bet. Invent­ed around 1800 BC, that Canaan­ite alpha­bet “was stan­dard­ized by the Phoeni­cians in ancient Lebanon,” writes the Guardian’s Ian Sam­ple, lat­er becom­ing “the foun­da­tion for ancient Greek, Latin and most mod­ern lan­guages in Europe today.”

The comb itself, dat­ed to around 1700 BC, bears a sim­ple Canaan­ite mes­sage: “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.” As Sam­ple notes, “ancient combs were made from wood, bone and ivory, but the lat­ter would have been expen­sive, import­ed lux­u­ries. There were no ele­phants in Canaan at the time.”

Despite its small size, then, this comb must have been a big-tick­et item. The New York Times’ Oliv­er Whang writes that these facts have already inspired a new set of ques­tions, many of them not strict­ly lin­guis­tic in nature: “Where was the ivory comb inscribed? Who inscribed it? What pur­pose did the inscrip­tion serve?”

As our lice-com­bat­ing tech­nol­o­gy has evolved over the mil­len­nia, so have our alpha­bets. From the Canaan­ite script “the alpha­bet con­tin­ued to evolve, from Phoeni­cian to Old Hebrew to Old Ara­ma­ic to Ancient Greek to Latin, becom­ing the basis for today’s mod­ern Eng­lish char­ac­ters.” And that was­n’t its only path: Korea, where I live, has a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent alpha­bet of its own, but one that caught on for the same rea­sons as its dis­tant cousins else­where in the world. The key is sim­plic­i­ty, as against old­er writ­ing sys­tems in which one char­ac­ter rep­re­sent­ed one word or syl­la­ble: “Match­ing one let­ter to one sound made writ­ing and read­ing far eas­i­er to learn,” Whang writes. Not that some stu­dents, even today, would­n’t sub­mit to the lice comb rather than prac­tice their ABCs.

via Smith­son­ian

Relat­ed con­tent:

How to Write in Cuneiform, the Old­est Writ­ing Sys­tem in the World: A Short, Charm­ing Intro­duc­tion

The Evo­lu­tion of the Alpha­bet: A Col­or­ful Flow­chart, Cov­er­ing 3,800 Years, Takes You From Ancient Egypt to Today

How Writ­ing Has Spread Across the World, from 3000 BC to This Year: An Ani­mat­ed Map

The Atlas of Endan­gered Alpha­bets: A Free Online Atlas That Helps Pre­serve Writ­ing Sys­tems That May Soon Dis­ap­pear

An Ancient Egypt­ian Home­work Assign­ment from 1800 Years Ago: Some Things Are Tru­ly Time­less

What the Roset­ta Stone Actu­al­ly Says

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

« Go BackMore in this category... »
Quantcast
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.