AI “Completes” Keith Haring’s Unfinished Painting and Controversy Erupts

The celebri­ty graf­fi­ti artist Kei­th Har­ing died in 1990, at the age of 31, no doubt hav­ing com­plet­ed only a frac­tion of the art­work he would have pro­duced in a life a few decades longer. Upon first see­ing his Unfin­ished Paint­ing of 1989, one might assume that his ear­ly death is what stopped him from fin­ish­ing it. In fact, paint­ing only about a quar­ter of the can­vas was his delib­er­ate choice, intend­ed to make a visu­al com­men­tary on the AIDS epi­dem­ic that had claimed so many lives, and, not long there­after, would claim his own. Pre­sum­ably, it nev­er occurred to any­one to “fin­ish” Unfin­ished Paint­ing — not before the age of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, any­way.

“Last sum­mer, artist Brooke Peach­ley … post­ed a pho­to of the work on X” — the social media plat­form for­mer­ly known as Twit­ter — “along­side a prompt ask­ing oth­ers to respond with a visu­al art piece ‘that nev­er fails to destroy [them] every time they see it,’ ” write Elaine Velie and Rhea Nay­yar at Hyper­al­ler­gic. “Over six months lat­er, anoth­er user respond­ed to the orig­i­nal post with a gen­er­a­tive AI image that ‘com­plet­ed’ Haring’s pur­pose­ly half-paint­ed work, writ­ing, ‘now using AI we can com­plete what he couldn’t fin­ish!’ ”

One might, per­haps, sense a jok­ing tone in that post, though the many incensed com­menters it con­tin­ues to draw seem not to take it that way. “The post swift­ly caught the ire of the X com­mu­ni­ty, with users describ­ing the action as ‘dis­re­spect­ful,’ ‘dis­gust­ing,’ and a ‘des­e­cra­tion,’ ” says Art­net News. “Some praised the pow­ers of A.I. for ‘show­ing us a world with­out AIDS,’ while oth­ers deemed the tweet excel­lent ‘bait’ on an Elon Musk-led online plat­form that new­ly rewards out­rage with engage­ment.” As often these days — and very often when it comes to appli­ca­tions of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence in pop­u­lar cul­ture — the reac­tions to the thing are more com­pelling than the thing itself.

“The A.I.-generated image doesn’t appear to be faith­ful to Haring’s style, which often includ­ed images of human fig­ures,” writes Julia Bin­swanger at “These kinds of fig­ures are vis­i­ble in Haring’s orig­i­nal piece, but the image gen­er­a­tor wasn’t able to repli­cate them.” The algo­rith­mi­cal­ly filled-in Unfin­ished Paint­ing may be with­out aes­thet­ic or intel­lec­tu­al inter­est in itself, but con­sid­er how many view­ers have only learned of the orig­i­nal work because of it. Nev­er­the­less, stunts like this (or like zoom­ing out the Mona Lisa) ulti­mate­ly amount to dis­trac­tions from what­ev­er artis­tic poten­tial these tech­nolo­gies may actu­al­ly hold. A.I. will come into its own not by gen­er­at­ing images that Har­ing or any oth­er artist could have cre­at­ed, but images that no human being has yet imag­ined.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Demys­ti­fy­ing the Activist Graf­fi­ti Art of Kei­th Har­ing: A Video Essay

A Short Biog­ra­phy of Kei­th Har­ing Told with Com­ic Book Illus­tra­tions & Music

Kei­th Haring’s Eclec­tic Jour­nal Entries Go Online

Behold the World’s First Mod­ern Art Amuse­ment Park, Fea­tur­ing Attrac­tions by Sal­vador Dalí, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kei­th Har­ing, Roy Licht­en­stein & More (1987)

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

An AI-Gen­er­at­ed Paint­ing Won First Prize at a State Fair & Sparked a Debate About the Essence of Art

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.

The Cool Science of Snowflakes in 4 Minutes, with Brian Cox


From the Roy­al Soci­ety comes a short primer on snowflakes. Nar­rat­ed by physi­cist Bri­an Cox, the video explains how they form, and why no two snowflakes have the exact same dimen­sions. It also recounts how Johannes Kepler devel­oped a ground­break­ing the­o­ry about the hexag­o­nal shape of snowflakes in 1611–one proved right 400 years lat­er. And then comes the kick­er: snowflakes aren’t actu­al­ly white; they’re clear.

Along the way, Cox ref­er­ences the first pho­tographs of snowflakes. You can find our post on those 1885 pho­tographs here.

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!

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The First Pho­tographs of Snowflakes: Dis­cov­er the Ground­break­ing Micropho­tog­ra­phy of Wil­son “Snowflake” Bent­ley (1885)

Johannes Kepler The­o­rized That Each Plan­et Sings a Song, Each in a Dif­fer­ent Voice: Mars is a Tenor; Mer­cury, a Sopra­no; and Earth, an Alto

Prof. Bri­an Cox Has a Mad­den­ing Con­ver­sa­tion with a Cli­mate Sci­ence-Deny­ing Politi­cian

Ten Magnificent Historical Libraries (That You Can Still Visit Today)

When we first trav­el some­where, we see noth­ing quite so clear­ly as the usu­al cat­e­gories of tourist des­ti­na­tion: the mon­u­ments, the muse­ums, the restau­rants. Take one step deep­er, and we find our­selves in places like cafés and book­stores, the lat­ter espe­cial­ly hav­ing explod­ed in touris­tic appeal over the past few years. Take Por­to’s grand Livraria Lel­lo, which bills itself as “the most beau­ti­ful book­store in the world” — and has arguably done so too suc­cess­ful­ly, hav­ing drawn crowds large enough to neces­si­tate a cov­er charge. Per­haps we’d have a rich­er expe­ri­ence if we spent less time in the livrarias and more in the bib­liote­cas.

That, in any case, is the impres­sion giv­en by the Kings and Things video above, which presents “Ten Mag­nif­i­cent His­tor­i­cal Libraries,” two of them locat­ed in Por­tu­gal. Stand­ing on a hill­top over­look­ing Coim­bra, the Bib­liote­ca Joan­i­na “is sump­tu­ous­ly dec­o­rat­ed in Baroque fash­ion,” and “con­tains intri­cate­ly carved fur­ni­ture and book­shelves made of exot­ic woods as well as ivory, and is embell­ished with cold and chi­nois­erie motif.” As for the cen­turies-old vol­umes on those shelves, they remain in excel­lent con­di­tion thanks to the Bib­liote­ca Joan­i­na’s being one of only two libraries equipped with “a colony of bats to pro­tect the books from insects.”

The oth­er is in Lis­bon’s, Mafra Palace, which “con­tains what is arguably one of the world’s most beau­ti­ful libraries.” Com­plet­ed in 1755, it’s decked out with book­shelves “dec­o­rat­ed in the Roco­co style.” The stretch of the aes­thet­ic spec­trum between Baroque and Roco­co dom­i­nates this video, all of its libraries hav­ing been built in the eigh­teenth and nine­teenth cen­turies. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, most of them are in the Old World, from the Saint Gall Abbey in Switzer­land to the Library of Trin­i­ty Col­lege Dublin to the Nation­al Library of France (the Riche­lieu site in the thir­teenth arrondisse­ment, not the mod­ern François-Mit­ter­rand Site decried in W. G. Sebald’s Auster­litz).

Instra­gram­ma­ble though they may have become in this day and age, these ven­er­a­ble libraries all — unlike many tourist-spot book­stores, where you can’t hear your­self think for all the Eng­lish con­ver­sa­tions going on around you — encour­age the spend­ing of not mon­ey but time. They wel­come the trav­el­er look­ing not sim­ply to hit twen­ty cap­i­tals in a dozen days, but to build a long-term rela­tion­ship with a place. And not just the trav­el­er in Europe: the video also includes a des­ti­na­tion in the Unit­ed States, the “cathe­dral of books” that is Bal­ti­more’s George Peabody Library. The true con­nois­seur will, of course, fol­low a vis­it to that august insti­tu­tion by tak­ing the Sil­ver Line north to hit up Nor­mals Books & Records.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Rise and Fall of the Great Library of Alexan­dria: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion

Behold 3,000 Dig­i­tized Man­u­scripts from the Bib­lio­the­ca Palati­na: The Moth­er of All Medieval Libraries Is Get­ting Recon­struct­ed Online

How to Read Many More Books in a Year: Watch a Short Doc­u­men­tary Fea­tur­ing Some of the World’s Most Beau­ti­ful Book­stores

What Was Actu­al­ly Lost When the Library of Alexan­dria Burned?

The Last Book­store: A Short Doc­u­men­tary on Per­se­ver­ance & the Love of Books

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.

Bertrand Russell & Buckminster Fuller on Why We Should Work Less, and Live and Learn More

Why must we all work long hours to earn the right to live? Why must only the wealthy have access to leisure, aes­thet­ic plea­sure, self-actu­al­iza­tion…? Every­one seems to have an answer, accord­ing to their polit­i­cal or the­o­log­i­cal bent. One eco­nom­ic bogey­man, so-called “trick­le-down” eco­nom­ics, or “Reaganomics,” actu­al­ly pre­dates our 40th pres­i­dent by a few hun­dred years at least. The notion that we must bet­ter ourselves—or sim­ply survive—by toil­ing to increase the wealth and prop­er­ty of already wealthy men was per­haps first com­pre­hen­sive­ly artic­u­lat­ed in the 18th-cen­tu­ry doc­trine of “improve­ment.” In order to jus­ti­fy pri­va­tiz­ing com­mon land and forc­ing the peas­antry into job­bing for them, Eng­lish land­lords attempt­ed to show in trea­tise after trea­tise that 1) the peas­ants were lazy, immoral, and unpro­duc­tive, and 2) they were bet­ter off work­ing for oth­ers. As a corol­lary, most argued that landown­ers should be giv­en the utmost social and polit­i­cal priv­i­lege so that their largesse could ben­e­fit every­one.

This scheme neces­si­tat­ed a com­plete rede­f­i­n­i­tion of what it meant to work. In his study, The Eng­lish Vil­lage Com­mu­ni­ty and the Enclo­sure Move­ments, his­to­ri­an W.E. Tate quotes from sev­er­al of the “improve­ment” trea­tis­es, many writ­ten by Puri­tans who argued that “the poor are of two class­es, the indus­tri­ous poor who are con­tent to work for their bet­ters, and the idle poor who pre­fer to work for them­selves.” Tate’s sum­ma­tion per­fect­ly artic­u­lates the ear­ly mod­ern rede­f­i­n­i­tion of “work” as the cre­ation of prof­it for own­ers. Such work is vir­tu­ous, “indus­tri­ous,” and leads to con­tent­ment. Oth­er kinds of work, leisure­ly, domes­tic, plea­sur­able, sub­sis­tence, or oth­er­wise, qualifies—in an Orwellian turn of phrase—as “idle­ness.” (We hear echoes of this rhetoric in the lan­guage of “deserv­ing” and “unde­serv­ing” poor.) It was this lan­guage, and its legal and social reper­cus­sions, that Max Weber lat­er doc­u­ment­ed in The Protes­tant Eth­ic and the Spir­it of Cap­i­tal­ism, Karl Marx react­ed to in Das Cap­i­tal, and fem­i­nists have shown to be a con­sol­i­da­tion of patri­ar­chal pow­er and fur­ther exclu­sion of women from eco­nom­ic par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Along with Marx, var­i­ous oth­ers have raised sig­nif­i­cant objec­tions to Protes­tant, cap­i­tal­ist def­i­n­i­tions of work, includ­ing Thomas Paine, the Fabi­ans, agrar­i­ans, and anar­chists. In the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, we can add two sig­nif­i­cant names to an already dis­tin­guished list of dis­senters: Buck­min­ster Fuller and Bertrand Rus­sell. Both chal­lenged the notion that we must have wage-earn­ing jobs in order to live, and that we are not enti­tled to indulge our pas­sions and inter­ests unless we do so for mon­e­tary prof­it or have inde­pen­dent wealth. In New York Times col­umn on Rus­sel­l’s 1932 essay “In Praise of Idle­ness,” Gary Gut­ting writes, “For most of us, a pay­ing job is still utter­ly essen­tial — as mass­es of unem­ployed peo­ple know all too well. But in our eco­nom­ic sys­tem, most of us inevitably see our work as a means to some­thing else: it makes a liv­ing, but it doesn’t make a life.”

In far too many cas­es in fact, the work we must do to sur­vive robs us of the abil­i­ty to live by ruin­ing our health, con­sum­ing all our pre­cious time, and degrad­ing our envi­ron­ment. In his essay, Rus­sell argued that “there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is vir­tu­ous, and that what needs to be preached in mod­ern indus­tri­al coun­tries is quite dif­fer­ent from what has always been preached.” His “argu­ments for lazi­ness,” as he called them, begin with def­i­n­i­tions of what we mean by “work,” which might be char­ac­ter­ized as the dif­fer­ence between labor and man­age­ment:

What is work? Work is of two kinds: first, alter­ing the posi­tion of mat­ter at or near the earth’s sur­face rel­a­tive­ly to oth­er such mat­ter; sec­ond, telling oth­er peo­ple to do so. The first kind is unpleas­ant and ill paid; the sec­ond is pleas­ant and high­ly paid.

Rus­sell fur­ther divides the sec­ond cat­e­go­ry into “those who give orders” and “those who give advice as to what orders should be giv­en.” This lat­ter kind of work, he says, “is called pol­i­tics,” and requires no real “knowl­edge of the sub­jects as to which advice is giv­en,” but only the abil­i­ty to manip­u­late: “the art of per­sua­sive speak­ing and writ­ing, i.e. of adver­tis­ing.” Rus­sell then dis­cuss­es a “third class of men” at the top, “more respect­ed than either of the class­es of the workers”—the landown­ers, who “are able to make oth­ers pay for the priv­i­lege of being allowed to exist and to work.” The idle­ness of landown­ers, he writes, “is only ren­dered pos­si­ble by the indus­try of oth­ers. Indeed their desire for com­fort­able idle­ness is his­tor­i­cal­ly the source of the whole gospel of work. The last thing they have ever wished is that oth­ers should fol­low their exam­ple.”

The “gospel of work” Rus­sell out­lines is, he writes, “the moral­i­ty of the Slave State,” and the kinds of mur­der­ous toil that devel­oped under its rule—actual chat­tel slav­ery, fif­teen hour work­days in abom­inable con­di­tions, child labor—has been “dis­as­trous.” Work looks very dif­fer­ent today than it did even in Rus­sel­l’s time, but even in moder­ni­ty, when labor move­ments have man­aged to gath­er some increas­ing­ly pre­car­i­ous amount of social secu­ri­ty and leisure time for work­ing peo­ple, the amount of work forced upon the major­i­ty of us is unnec­es­sary for human thriv­ing and in fact counter to it—the result of a still-suc­cess­ful cap­i­tal­ist pro­pa­gan­da cam­paign: if we aren’t labor­ing for wages to increase the prof­its of oth­ers, the log­ic still dic­tates, we will fall to sloth and vice and fail to earn our keep. “Satan finds some mis­chief for idle hands to do,” goes the Protes­tant proverb Rus­sell quotes at the begin­ning of his essay. On the con­trary, he con­cludes,

…in a world where no one is com­pelled to work more than four hours a day, every per­son pos­sessed of sci­en­tif­ic curios­i­ty will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint with­out starv­ing, how­ev­er excel­lent his pic­tures may be. Young writ­ers will not be oblig­ed to draw atten­tion to them­selves by sen­sa­tion­al pot-boil­ers, with a view to acquir­ing the eco­nom­ic inde­pen­dence for mon­u­men­tal works, for which, when the time at last comes, they will have lost the taste and capac­i­ty.

The less we are forced to labor, the more we can do good work in our idle­ness, and we can all labor less, Rus­sell argues, because “mod­ern meth­ods of pro­duc­tion have giv­en us the pos­si­bil­i­ty of ease and secu­ri­ty for all” instead of “over­work for some and star­va­tion for oth­ers.”

A few decades lat­er, vision­ary archi­tect, inven­tor, and the­o­rist Buck­min­ster Fuller would make exact­ly the same argu­ment, in sim­i­lar terms, against the “spe­cious notion that every­body has to earn a liv­ing.” Fuller artic­u­lat­ed his ideas on work and non-work through­out his long career. He put them most suc­cinct­ly in a 1970 New York mag­a­zine “Envi­ron­men­tal Teach-In”:

It is a fact today that one in ten thou­sand of us can make a tech­no­log­i­cal break­through capa­ble of sup­port­ing all the rest…. We keep invent­ing jobs because of this false idea that every­body has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, accord­ing to Malthu­sian-Dar­win­ian the­o­ry, he must jus­ti­fy his right to exist.

Many peo­ple are paid very lit­tle to do back­break­ing labor; many oth­ers paid quite a lot to do very lit­tle. The cre­ation of sur­plus jobs leads to redun­dan­cy, inef­fi­cien­cy, and the bureau­crat­ic waste we hear so many politi­cians rail against: “we have inspec­tors and peo­ple mak­ing instru­ments for inspec­tors to inspect inspectors”—all to sat­is­fy a dubi­ous moral imper­a­tive and to make a small num­ber of rich peo­ple even rich­er.

What should we do instead? We should con­tin­ue our edu­ca­tion, and do what we please, Fuller argues: “The true busi­ness of peo­ple should be to go back to school and think about what­ev­er it was they were think­ing about before some­body came along and told them they had to earn a liv­ing.” We should all, in oth­er words, work for our­selves, per­form­ing the kind of labor we deem nec­es­sary for our qual­i­ty of life and our social arrange­ments, rather than the kinds of labor dic­tat­ed to us by gov­ern­ments, landown­ers, and cor­po­rate exec­u­tives. And we can all do so, Fuller thought, and all flour­ish sim­i­lar­ly. Fuller called the tech­no­log­i­cal and evo­lu­tion­ary advance­ment that enables us to do more with less “euphe­mer­al­iza­tion.” In Crit­i­cal Path, a vision­ary work on human devel­op­ment, he claimed “It is now pos­si­ble to give every man, woman and child on Earth a stan­dard of liv­ing com­pa­ra­ble to that of a mod­ern-day bil­lion­aire.”

Sound utopi­an? Per­haps. But Fuller’s far-reach­ing path out of reliance on fos­sil fuels and into a sus­tain­able future has nev­er been tried, for some depress­ing­ly obvi­ous rea­sons and some less obvi­ous. Nei­ther Rus­sell nor Fuller argued for the abolition—or inevitable self-destruction—of cap­i­tal­ism and the rise of a work­ers’ par­adise. (Rus­sell gave up his ear­ly enthu­si­asm for com­mu­nism.) Nei­ther does Gary Gut­ting, a phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Notre Dame, who in his New York Times com­men­tary on Rus­sell asserts that “Cap­i­tal­ism, with its devo­tion to prof­it, is not in itself evil.” Most Marx­ists on the oth­er hand would argue that devo­tion to prof­it can nev­er be benign. But there are many mid­dle ways between state com­mu­nism and our cur­rent reli­gious devo­tion to sup­ply-side cap­i­tal­ism, such as robust demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ism or a basic income guar­an­tee. In any case, what most dis­senters against mod­ern notions of work share in com­mon is the con­vic­tion that edu­ca­tion should pro­duce crit­i­cal thinkers and self-direct­ed indi­vid­u­als, and not, as Gut­ting puts it, “be pri­mar­i­ly for train­ing work­ers or consumers”—and that doing work we love for the sake of our own per­son­al ful­fill­ment should not be the exclu­sive pre­serve of a prop­er­tied leisure class.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Charles Bukows­ki Rails Against 9‑to‑5 Jobs in a Bru­tal­ly Hon­est Let­ter (1986)

Bri­an Eno’s Advice for Those Who Want to Do Their Best Cre­ative Work: Don’t Get a Job

Hear Alan Watts’s 1960s Pre­dic­tion That Automa­tion Will Neces­si­tate a Uni­ver­sal Basic Income

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

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How to Learn Data Analytics in 2024: Earn a Professional Certificate That Will Help Prepare You for a Job in 6 Months

We’re liv­ing in the age of data. Every sec­ond, mas­sive amounts of data are being gen­er­at­ed, processed, ana­lyzed and, yes, mon­e­tized. Com­pa­nies, gov­ern­ments, and individuals–they’re all awash in data and try­ing to make sense of it. That makes Data Ana­lyt­ics a valu­able skill for pro­fes­sion­als of all ages.

Enter Google, which has launched a pro­fes­sion­al cer­tifi­cate in Data Ana­lyt­ics–one that will “have you job-ready in less than 6 months.” Offered on the Cours­era plat­form, the Data Ana­lyt­ics Pro­fes­sion­al Cer­tifi­cate con­sists of eight cours­es, includ­ing “Foun­da­tions: Data, Data, Every­where,” “Pre­pare Data for Explo­ration,” “Data Analy­sis with R Pro­gram­ming,” and “Share Data Through the Art of Visu­al­iza­tion.” Over­all this pro­gram “includes over 180 hours of instruc­tion and hun­dreds of prac­tice-based assess­ments, which will help you sim­u­late real-world data ana­lyt­ics sce­nar­ios that are crit­i­cal for suc­cess in the work­place. The con­tent is high­ly inter­ac­tive and exclu­sive­ly devel­oped by Google employ­ees with decades of expe­ri­ence in data ana­lyt­ics.”

Upon com­ple­tion, students–even those who haven’t pur­sued a col­lege degree–can direct­ly apply for jobs (e.g., junior or asso­ciate data ana­lyst, data­base admin­is­tra­tor, etc.) with Google and over 150 U.S. employ­ers, includ­ing Deloitte, Tar­get, and Ver­i­zon. You can start a 7‑day free tri­al and explore the cours­es here. If you con­tin­ue beyond the free tri­al, Google/Coursera will charge $49 USD per month. That trans­lates to about $300 after 6 months, the time esti­mat­ed to com­plete the cer­tifi­cate.

Explore the Data Ana­lyt­ics Cer­tifi­cate by watch­ing the video above. Learn more about the over­all Google career cer­tifi­cate ini­tia­tive here. And find oth­er Google pro­fes­sion­al cer­tifi­cates here.

Note: Open Cul­ture has a part­ner­ship with Cours­era. If read­ers enroll in cer­tain Cours­era cours­es and pro­grams, it helps sup­port Open Cul­ture.

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The Incubator Babies of Coney Island: How an Early 1900s Boardwalk Attraction Saved Thousands of Premature Babies Lives

Step right up, folks!

Shoot the Chutes!

Thrill to the Fire and Flames show!

Ride an ele­phant!

See the Beard­ed Lady!

Ear­ly in the 20th cen­tu­ry, crowds flocked to New York City’s Coney Island, where won­ders await­ed at every turn.

In 1902, the Brook­lyn Dai­ly Eagle pub­lished a few of the high­lights in store for vis­i­tors at Coney Island’s soon-to-open “elec­tric Eden,” Luna Park:

…the most impor­tant will be an illus­tra­tion of Jules Verne’s ‘Twen­ty Thou­sand Leagues Under the Sea’, which will cov­er 55,000 square feet of ground, and a naval spec­ta­to­ri­um, which will have a water area of 60,000 square feet. Beside these we will have many nov­el­ties, includ­ing the Riv­er Styx, the Whirl of the Town, Shoot­ing the White Horse Rapids, the Grand Canyon, the ’49 Min­ing Camp, Drag­on Rouge, over­land and incline rail­ways, Japan­ese, Philip­pine, Irish, Eski­mo and Ger­man vil­lages, the infant incu­ba­tor, water show and car­ni­val, cir­cus and hip­po­drome, Yel­low­stone Park, zoo­log­i­cal gar­dens, per­form­ing wild beasts, sea lions and seals, caves of Capri, the Flori­da Ever­glades and Mont Pelee, an elec­tric rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the vol­canic destruc­tion of St. Pierre.

Hold up a sec…what’s this about an infant incu­ba­tor? What kind of name is that for a roller coast­er!?

As it turns out, amid all the exot­i­ca and bedaz­zle­ments, a build­ing fur­nished with steel and glass cribs, heat­ed from below by tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled hot water pipes, was one of the boardwalk’s lead­ing attrac­tions.

Anti­sep­tic-soaked wool act­ed as a rudi­men­ta­ry air fil­ter, while an exhaust fan kept things prop­er­ly ven­ti­lat­ed.

The real draw were the pre­ma­ture babies who inhab­it­ed these cribs every sum­mer, tend­ed to round the clock by a capa­ble staff of white clad nurs­es, wet nurs­es and Dr. Mar­tin Couney, the man who had the ideas to put these tiny new­borns on display…and in so doing, saved thou­sands of lives.

Couney, a breast feed­ing advo­cate who once appren­ticed under the founder of mod­ern peri­na­tal med­i­cine, obste­tri­cian Pierre-Con­stant Budin, had no license to prac­tice.

Nor did he have an md.

Ini­tial­ly paint­ed as a child-exploit­ing char­la­tan by many in the med­ical com­mu­ni­ty, he was as vague about his back­ground as he was pas­sion­ate about his advo­ca­cy for pre­emies whose sur­vival depend­ed on robust inter­ven­tion.

Hav­ing pre­sent­ed Bud­in’s Kinder­bru­tanstalt — child hatch­ery —  to spec­ta­tors at 1896’s Great Indus­tri­al Expo­si­tion of Berlin, and anoth­er infant incu­ba­tor show as part of Queen Vic­to­ria Dia­mond Jubilee Cel­e­bra­tion, he knew first­hand the pub­lic’s capac­i­ty to become invest­ed in the pre­emies’ wel­fare, despite a gen­er­al lack of inter­est on the part of the Amer­i­can med­ical estab­lish­ment.

Thus­ly was the idea for the board­walk Infan­to­ri­ums hatched.

Claire Pren­tice, author of Mir­a­cle at Coney Island: How a Sideshow Doc­tor Saved Thou­sands of Babies and Trans­formed Amer­i­can Med­i­cine, writes that “many doc­tors at the time held the view that pre­ma­ture babies were genet­i­cal­ly infe­ri­or ‘weak­lings’ whose fate was a mat­ter for God.”

As word of Couney’s Infan­to­ri­um spread, par­ents brought their pre­ma­ture new­borns to Coney Island, know­ing that their chances of find­ing a life­sav­ing incu­ba­tor there was far greater than it would be in the hos­pi­tal. And the care there would be both high­ly skilled and free, under­writ­ten by pay­ing spec­ta­tors who observed the oper­a­tion through a glass win­dow. Pren­tice notes that “Couney took in babies from all back­grounds, regard­less of race or social class:”

… a remark­ably pro­gres­sive pol­i­cy, espe­cial­ly when he start­ed out. He did not take a pen­ny from the par­ents of the babies. In 1903 it cost around $15 (equiv­a­lent to around $405 today) a day to care for each baby; Couney cov­ered all the costs through the entrance fees.

The New York­er’s A. J. Liebling observed Couney at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flush­ing, Queens, where he had set up in a pink-and-blue build­ing that beck­oned vis­i­tors with a sign declar­ing “All the World Loves a Baby:”

The back­bone of Dr. Couney’s busi­ness is sup­plied by the repeaters. A repeater becomes inter­est­ed in one baby and returns at inter­vals of a week or less to note its growth. Repeaters attend more assid­u­ous­ly than most of the patients’ par­ents, even though the par­ents get in on pass­es. After a pre­emie grad­u­ates, a chron­ic repeater picks out anoth­er one and starts watch­ing it. Dr. Couney’s prize repeater, a Coney Island woman named Cas­satt, vis­it­ed his exhib­it there once a week for thir­ty-six sea­sons. Repeaters, as one might expect, are often child­less mar­ried peo­ple, but just as often they are inter­est­ed in babies because they have so many chil­dren of their own. “It works both ways,” says Dr. Couney, with qui­et plea­sure.

It’s esti­mat­ed that Couney’s incu­ba­tors spared the lives of more than 6,500 pre­ma­ture babies in the Unit­ed States, Lon­don, Paris, Mex­i­co and Brazil.

Despite his lack of bonafides, a num­ber of pedi­a­tri­cians who toured Couney’s infan­to­ri­ums were impressed by what they saw, and began refer­ring patients whose fam­i­lies could not afford to pay for med­ical care. Many, as Liebling report­ed in 1939, wished his board­walk attrac­tion could stay open year round, “for the ben­e­fit of win­ter pre­emies:”

In the ear­ly years of the cen­tu­ry no Amer­i­can hos­pi­tal had good facil­i­ties for han­dling pre­ma­tures, and there is no doubt that every win­ter many babies whom Dr. Couney could have saved died. Even today it is dif­fi­cult to get ade­quate care for pre­ma­ture infants in a clin­ic. Few New York hos­pi­tals have set up spe­cial depart­ments for their ben­e­fit, because they do not get enough pre­ma­ture babies to war­rant it; there are not enough doc­tors and nurs­es expe­ri­enced in this field to go around. Care of pre­ma­tures as pri­vate patients is hideous­ly expen­sive. One item it involves is six dol­lars a day for moth­er’s milk, and oth­ers are rental of an incu­ba­tor and hos­pi­tal room, oxy­gen, sev­er­al vis­its a day by a physi­cian, and fif­teen dol­lars a day for three shifts of nurs­es. The New York hos­pi­tals are mak­ing plans now to cen­tral­ize their work with pre­ma­tures at Cor­nell Med­ical Cen­ter, and prob­a­bly will have things orga­nized with­in a year. When they do, Dr. Couney says, he will retire. He will feel he has “made enough pro­pa­gan­da for pre­emies.”


Lis­ten to a Sto­ryCorps inter­view with Lucille Horn, a 1920 grad­u­ate of Couney’s Coney Island incu­ba­tors below.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Lit­tle Albert Exper­i­ment: The Per­verse 1920 Study That Made a Baby Afraid of San­ta Claus & Bun­nies

Why Babies in Medieval Paint­ings Look Like Mid­dle-Aged Men: An Inves­tiga­tive Video

– 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. She greet­ed 2024 with thou­sands of oth­er New York­ers, tak­ing a polar bear plunge at Coney Island. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

51 Propaganda Techniques Explained in 11 Minutes: From Cognitive Dissonance to Appeal to Fear

The con­cept of pro­pa­gan­da has a great deal of pow­er to fas­ci­nate. So does the very word pro­pa­gan­da, which to most of us today sounds faint­ly exot­ic, as if it referred main­ly to phe­nom­e­na from dis­tant places and times. But in truth, can any one of us here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry go a day with­out being sub­ject­ed to the thing itself? Watch the video above, in which The Paint Explain­er lays out 51 dif­fer­ent pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques in 11 min­utes, and you’ll more than like­ly rec­og­nize many of the insid­i­ous­ly effec­tive rhetor­i­cal tricks labeled there­in from your recent every­day life.

You won’t be sur­prised to hear that these man­i­fest most clear­ly in the media, both offline and on. The list begins with “agen­da set­ting,” the “abil­i­ty of the news to influ­ence the impor­tance placed on cer­tain top­ics by pub­lic opin­ion, just by cov­er­ing them fre­quent­ly and promi­nent­ly.”

Scat­tered through­out the news, or through­out your social-media feed, adver­tise­ments bring out the “beau­ti­ful peo­ple,” which “sug­gests that if peo­ple buy a prod­uct or fol­low a cer­tain ide­ol­o­gy, they, too will be hap­py or suc­cess­ful” – or, in its basest forms, oper­ates through “clas­si­cal con­di­tion­ing,” in which “a nat­ur­al stim­u­lus is asso­ci­at­ed with a neu­tral stim­u­lus enough times to cre­ate the same response by using just the neu­tral one.”

In the even more shame­less realm of pol­i­tics, the com­mon “plain folk” strat­e­gy “attempts to con­vince the audi­ence that the pro­pa­gan­dis­t’s posi­tions reflect the com­mon sense of the peo­ple.” When “an indi­vid­ual uses mass media to cre­ate an ide­al­ized and hero­ic pub­lic image, often through unques­tion­ing flat­tery and praise,” a pow­er­ful “cult of per­son­al­i­ty” can arise. And in pro­pa­gan­da for every­thing from pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to fast-food chains, you’ll hear and read no end of “glit­ter­ing gen­er­al­i­ties,” or “emo­tion­al­ly appeal­ing words that are applied to a prod­uct idea, but present no con­crete argu­ment or analy­sis.” You can find many of these strate­gies explained at Wikipedi­a’s list of pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques, or this list from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia of “pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques to rec­og­nize” — and not just when the “oth­er side” uses them.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed con­tent:

Han­nah Arendt Explains How Pro­pa­gan­da Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Moral­i­ty: Insights from The Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism

A Field Guide to Fake News and Oth­er Infor­ma­tion Dis­or­ders: A Free Man­u­al to Down­load, Share & Re-Use

An Archive of 800+ Imag­i­na­tive Pro­pa­gan­da Maps Designed to Shape Opin­ions & Beliefs: Enter Cornell’s Per­sua­sive Maps Col­lec­tion

“Glo­ry to the Con­querors of the Uni­verse!”: Pro­pa­gan­da Posters from the Sovi­et Space Race (1958–1963)

The Red Men­ace: A Strik­ing Gallery of Anti-Com­mu­nist Posters, Ads, Com­ic Books, Mag­a­zines & Films

Sell & Spin: The His­to­ry of Adver­tis­ing, Nar­rat­ed by Dick Cavett (1999)

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.

Watch a 106-Year-Old Wizard of Oz Book Get Magically Restored … By Cutting the Book’s Spine, Washing Pages & Recoloring Illustrations

Author, edu­ca­tor and book restora­tion expert Sophia Bogle is in a con­stant race against time. Her mis­sion: to res­cue and restore ill-treat­ed books before their lam­en­ta­ble con­di­tions can con­sign them to the land­fill.

To the untrained eye, many of these vol­umes appear beyond repair, but Bogle has nerves of steel, preter­nat­ur­al patience, sur­gi­cal pre­ci­sion, and over thir­ty years of expe­ri­ence.

In the Wired video above, she uses a 106-year-old first edi­tion of Frank L. Baum’s The Lost Princess of Oz to demon­strate some of the steps of her craft — from cut­ting open an old book’s spine and wash­ing dirty pages to repair­ing tears and recol­or­ing illus­tra­tions.

Pri­or to tak­ing the final step, she scrawls a hid­den mes­sage on the back­ing mate­r­i­al of the spine:

I do love the fact that there’s the sto­ry in the book, there’s the sto­ry of the restora­tion of the book, there’s the sto­ry of who has owned the book and now, I’m just in there just a lit­tle bit more.

This play­ful bit of hard-won license is a far cry from some shady restora­tion prac­tices she men­tions in an inter­view on the Wel­come to Lit­er­ary Ash­land blog, in an attempt to arm the gen­er­al pub­lic with tools for spot­ting poten­tial fraud:

I am not sure that there is any­thing in the world that can­not be twist­ed with evil intent…Swapping out pages with pub­lish­ers infor­ma­tion in order to make the book appear to be a more valu­able edi­tion. Scratch­ing out/removing num­bers or words for the same pur­pose. And last­ly, swap­ping out pages to insert the author’s sig­na­ture. None of those things can be done with­out intent to defraud and it is the intent that mat­ters most. 

Bogle plies her trade using all sorts of spe­cial­ized pro­fes­sion­al equip­ment — two sewing frames, a job backer, a gold fin­ish­ing stove, a nip­ping press, a Kwikprint stamp­ing machine and draw­ers full of stamps and dies — but she also offers free and low-cost vir­tu­al book repair cours­es to those whose binderies have yet to be estab­lished.

One reward for Kick­starter back­ers who helped her pub­lish Book Restora­tion Unveiled: An Essen­tial Guide for Bib­lio­philes was a bind-it-your­self print­able pdf of the book.

Reat­tach­ing a paperback’s cov­er or deodor­iz­ing a musty old book may rep­re­sent the extent of your hands on impulse.

Book lovers who have both the time and the tem­pera­ment for book­bind­ing, as well as Bogle’s pas­sion for pre­serv­ing cul­ture one book at a time, might con­sid­er apply­ing for a Save Your Books schol­ar­ship.

See more of Sophia Bogle’s book restora­tions on her Save Your Books YouTube chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

How to Res­cue a Wet, Dam­aged Book: A Handy Visu­al Primer

How Obses­sive Artists Col­orize Old Pho­tographs & Restore the True Col­ors of the Past

The Art of Restor­ing a 400-Year-Old Paint­ing: A Five-Minute Primer

Watch the Painstak­ing and Nerve-Rack­ing Process of Restor­ing a Draw­ing by Michelan­ge­lo

– 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.

Hear the Dying Whistled Language of Laos, Featured in a New Short Film, “Birdsong”

Even by the stan­dards of south­east Asia, Laos is a lin­guis­ti­cal­ly inter­est­ing place. As a for­mer French colony, it remains part of la Fran­coph­o­nie, yet iron­i­cal­ly, French is not its lin­gua fran­ca; that would be Lao, spo­ken native­ly by just over half the pop­u­la­tion (as well, in anoth­er dialect, by many more Thais on the oth­er side of the west­ern bor­der). And that does­n’t even get into the 90 oth­er tongues spo­ken in the var­i­ous regions of Laos, many of which sound noth­ing like the major lan­guages in use. Ven­ture far from Vien­tiane, up into the coun­try’s north­ern high­lands, and you’ll even hear a lan­guage com­posed entire­ly of whis­tles.

You’ll hear it if you’re lucky, any­way. As con­veyed in Omi Zola Gup­ta and Sparsh Ahu­ja’s short doc­u­men­tary Bird­song, this lan­guage has pre­cious few remain­ing native speak­ers — or, in the case of one arti­san who com­mu­ni­cates through a kind of tra­di­tion­al bam­boo bag­pipe called the qeej, play­ers. They hail from Long Lan, a vil­lage inhab­it­ed by the Hmong peo­ple (who in the Unit­ed States became known as an immi­grant group thanks to Clint East­wood’s film Gran Tori­no).

“Hmong peo­ple are roman­tics because we live in the moun­tains, sur­round­ed by the sounds of the birds and the rodents, the winds and mead­ows of flow­ers,” says one of them. “The insects and birds are still singing in the for­est,” adds anoth­er, “but we don’t hear them in the city any­more. And with­out the birds, how can we tell the sea­sons?”

Like oth­er whis­tled lan­guages (includ­ing the Oax­a­can, Turk­ish, and Canari­an ones we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture), that used by the vil­lagers of Long Lan does not belong to the urban world. As Lau­ra Spin­ney writes in the Guardian, some 80 such lan­guages still exist in total, “on every inhab­it­ed con­ti­nent, usu­al­ly where tra­di­tion­al rur­al lifestyles per­sist, and in places where the ter­rain makes long-dis­tance com­mu­ni­ca­tion both dif­fi­cult and nec­es­sary — high moun­tains, for exam­ple, or dense for­est.” Though all of them are now endan­gered, “whis­tled lan­guages have come into their own in sur­pris­ing ways in the past. They have often flour­ished when there has been a need for secre­cy,” as when Papua New Guineans used theirs to evade Japan­ese sur­veil­lance in World War II — or, as one of Bird­song’s inter­vie­wees remem­bers, when he had things to say meant for his girl­friend’s ears alone.

via Messy­Nessy

Relat­ed con­tent:

Speak­ing in Whis­tles: The Whis­tled Lan­guage of Oax­a­ca, Mex­i­co

Dis­cov­er the Dis­ap­pear­ing Turk­ish Lan­guage That is Whis­tled, Not Spo­ken

The Fas­ci­nat­ing Whis­tled Lan­guages of the Canary Islands, Turkey & Mex­i­co (and What They Say About the Human Brain)

How Lan­guages Evolve: Explained in a Win­ning TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion

The Rarest Sounds Across All Human Lan­guages: Learn What They Are, and How to Say Them

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.

Why Caspar David Friedrich’s Painting Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818) Is a Romantic Masterpiece, Evoking the Power of the Sublime

When Cas­par David Friedrich com­plet­ed Der Wan­der­er über dem Nebelmeer, or Wan­der­er Above the Sea of Fog, in 1818, it “was not well received.” So says gal­lerist-Youtu­ber James Payne in his new Great Art Explained video above, which focus­es on Friedrich’s most famous paint­ing. In the artist’s life­time, the Wan­der­er in fact “marked the grad­ual decline of Friedrich’s for­tunes.” He with­drew from soci­ety, and in 1835, “he suf­fered a stroke that left the left side of his body effec­tive­ly par­a­lyzed, effec­tive­ly end­ing his career.” How, over the cen­turies since, did this once-ill-fat­ed paint­ing become so icon­ic that many of us now see it ref­er­enced every few weeks?

Friedrich had known pop­u­lar and crit­i­cal scorn before. His first major com­mis­sion, paint­ed in 1808, was “an altar­piece which shows a cross in pro­file at the top of a moun­tain, alone and sur­round­ed by pine trees. Hard for us to under­stand now, but it caused a huge scan­dal.” This owed in part to the lack of tra­di­tion­al per­spec­tive in its com­po­si­tion, which pre­saged the feel­ing of bound­less­ness — over­laid with “rolling mists and fogs” — that would char­ac­ter­ize his lat­er work. But more to the point, “land­scape had nev­er been con­sid­ered a suit­able genre for overt­ly reli­gious themes. And of course, nor­mal­ly the cru­ci­fix­ion is shown as a human nar­ra­tive pop­u­lat­ed by human fig­ures, not Christ dying alone.”

It’s fair to say that Friedrich did not do things nor­mal­ly, both philo­soph­i­cal­ly — break­ing away, with his fel­low Roman­ti­cists, from the mech­a­nis­tic Enlight­en­ment con­sen­sus about the world — and aes­thet­i­cal­ly. The Wan­der­er (fur­ther ana­lyzed in the Nerd­writer video just below) presents a Weltan­schau­ung in which “land­scape was a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a divine world order, and man was an indi­vid­ual who watch­es, con­tem­plates, and feels much more than he cal­cu­lates and thinks.” To achieve his desired effect, Friedrich assem­bles an imag­ined vista out of var­i­ous ele­ments seen around Dres­den, pre­sent­ing it in a man­ner that com­bines char­ac­ter­is­tics of both land­scapes and por­traits to “cre­ate a pow­er­ful sense of space” while direct­ing our atten­tion to the lone uniden­ti­fied fig­ure right in the cen­ter.

The “curi­ous com­bi­na­tion of lone­li­ness and empow­er­ment” that results is key to under­stand­ing not just the pri­or­i­ties of the Roman­tics, but the very nature of the aes­thet­ic sub­lime they rev­er­ent­ly expressed. To be sub­lime is not just to be beau­ti­ful or plea­sur­able, but also to exude a kind of intim­i­dat­ing, even fear­some vast­ness; how it feels to enter the pres­ence of the sub­lime can nev­er be ful­ly repli­cat­ed, let alone explained, but as Friedrich demon­strates, it can effec­tive­ly be evoked. Hence, as Payne points out, the ten­den­cy of cur­rent media like movie posters to crib from the Wan­der­er, in ser­vice of the likes of Dunkirk, Obliv­ion, Into Dark­ness, and After Earth. Deter­min­ing whether those pic­tures live up to the ambi­tions evi­dent in Friedrich’s artis­tic lega­cy is an exer­cise left to the read­er.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to the Paint­ing of Cas­par David Friedrich, Roman­ti­cism & the Sub­lime

The Oth­er­world­ly Art of William Blake: An Intro­duc­tion to the Vision­ary Poet and Painter

How the Avant-Garde Art of Gus­tav Klimt Got Per­verse­ly Appro­pri­at­ed by the Nazis

Bri­an Eno on Cre­at­ing Music and Art As Imag­i­nary Land­scapes (1989)

Great Art Explained: Watch 15 Minute Intro­duc­tions to Great Works by Warhol, Rothko, Kahlo, Picas­so & More

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.

How This Chicago Skyscraper Barely Touches the Ground

The very first sky­scraper went up in 1885 in Chica­go. It’s only nat­ur­al that such a brazen­ly ambi­tious form of build­ing would spring forth (or rather, up) from not just the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, but from that most aes­thet­i­cal­ly Amer­i­can of all metrop­o­lis­es. And though near­ly every world city now has high-ris­es on its sky­line (some of them only grudg­ing­ly tol­er­at­ed) the art of the sky­scraper has con­tin­ued to advance in the cap­i­tal of the Mid­west. Take 150 North River­side, fea­tured in the video above from Chica­go-based archi­tec­ture Youtu­ber Stew­art Hicks. Since its com­ple­tion in 2017, that 54-sto­ry tow­er has not just received crit­i­cal acclaim, but also the awe of onlook­ers to whom it seems like it should­n’t be able to stand at all.

“At its base, it’s almost like the tow­er’s been eat­en away, leav­ing its core behind,” Hicks says of its unusu­al shape. “You might think that this would make the entire build­ing struc­tural­ly unsta­ble — and you’d be right, if this fea­ture was­n’t com­pen­sat­ed for in the design and con­struc­tion process.” The engi­neer­ing involves mak­ing the arms of the Y‑shaped low­er lev­els “entire­ly out of steel. These ele­ments pre­car­i­ous­ly spring out of the con­crete core and trans­fer all of the loads of the out­side floors above. The forces are so great, these steel mem­bers are the largest I‑beams ever made,” spe­cial­ly designed and man­u­fac­tured for this project.

On the oth­er end sits a “tuned mass damper, which, fun­da­men­tal­ly, is just a giant con­crete water tank at the top of the build­ing.” When wind blows against the tow­er, caus­ing it to bend slight­ly, the water slosh­es around in response. “But the water moves slow­er than the build­ing does, so its weight is back over the orig­i­nal cen­ter of grav­i­ty,” which keeps the struc­ture from bend­ing too far. Though I’ve nev­er vis­it­ed 150 North River­side, I’ve seen a sim­i­lar mech­a­nism at work at the top of Taipei 101, the Tai­wanese cap­i­tal’s star sky­scraper, whose own tuned mass damper — enor­mous, spher­i­cal, and pen­du­lum-like — has become a favorite pho­to spot among tourists.

Hicks’ video also brought back an even ear­li­er mem­o­ry: that of Rainier Tow­er, a nine­teen-sev­en­ties office build­ing in Seat­tle whose taper­ing base impressed me in child­hood. Archi­tect Minoru Yamasa­ki (design­er, ear­li­er that decade, of the World Trade Cen­ter) used it in order “to main­tain as much free space at the base as pos­si­ble,” though it does tend to chan­nel winds with a Chica­go-like inten­si­ty. As for 150 North River­side, its per­ilous­ly tiny-look­ing foot­print result­ed from its lot, which offered a mere 35-foot-wide build­able space hemmed in by train tracks on one side and the Chica­go Riv­er on the oth­er. 150 North River­side stands, desir­ably, at the con­flu­ence of the river’s north and south branch­es — but also at the con­flu­ence of archi­tec­tur­al inge­nu­ity and the Chicagoan mon­ey­mak­ing spir­it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How a 1930s Archi­tec­tur­al Mas­ter­piece Har­ness­es the Sun to Keep Warm in the Win­ter & Cool in the Sum­mer

Why the Lean­ing Tow­er of Pisa Still Hasn’t Fall­en Over, Even After 650 Years

The Sto­ry of the Flat­iron Build­ing, “New York’s Strangest Tow­er”

Good­bye to the Nak­a­gin Cap­sule Tow­er, Tokyo’s Strangest and Most Utopi­an Apart­ment Build­ing

Amaz­ing Aer­i­al Pho­tographs of Great Amer­i­can Cities Cir­ca 1906

10-Sto­ry High Mur­al of Mud­dy Waters Goes Up in Chica­go

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.

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