Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter



Oxford Street fills me with dread - as though something terrible is about to happen. Perhaps because it still echoes with the footsteps of prisoners who walked its length on their final journey from Newgate Prison to the Tyburn gallows. By the shivers in my water, I'd guess the gallows were around the back of KFC, or perhaps on the current site of the popcorn fountain at the Odeon multi-screen complex.

Either way, the heart of any condemned man couldn't help but be momentarily lifted by the spectacular explosion of Oxford Streets Christmas lights snaking eastwards towards Centerpoint.

This years lights were turned on by All Saints, and then serenaded by Jordan and Peter Andre - a couple who have been surrounded by cartoon extravagance since Jordan lifted her wedding dress to release half a dozen doves. And the lights look touched by the very same hand of stylized romance grown in influence to an urban scale.

The street has been reconfigured as a two-mile long ballroom by a canopy of chandeliers. The large chandeliers - around 3 metres in diameter - use a mesh of small lights to define their form like a point cloud render. The sparkle of the lights simulates the effect of crystal. At their lower rim, they sprout a crown of curved arms holding electric candles. These details - along with their accurate shape - provide significant realistic detail to suggest that there really are heavy, elaborate chandeliers hanging above the tarmac. A series of smaller chandeliers are formed with frames studded with LEDs bent into elaborate outlines. Both are set amongst mesh swags of golden sparkles. The chandeliers glow with a strange almost ultraviolet blue that suggests they are surrounded by a misty haze.

At first glance, the chandeliers possess that contemporary design trope of historical reference made through contemporary means: The economy of representation, the transfer of material and technology are both present. However, the blank, empty nihilism of designer irony is replaced by a sentimental cuteness that makes a direct appeal to ones gooey soft centre.

The transformation of objects from light reflecting to light emitting is part of the displays surreal wonder. Arranged in bands with variations in size and number creating a repeating rhythm, the display creates a dense canopy when viewed along the length of the street. It is surprising how something so light and ephemeral takes its civic role so seriously.

The trees that are unfortunate enough to grow along Oxford Street have been hung with the strange fruit of golden baubles and cloaked with sparkling light. Behind the trees, shop frontages assume another layer of decoration. The entire street has become a strip of pulsing lights. Electricity constantly chases and blinks in an unsettling, nervous shuddering anticipation of consumption. Imagine a romantic winterscape plotted by an ECG monitor.

This nervous excitement and titillating expectation is heightened by the shop dummies who line the street like wanton Caryatids in cut-price party dresses. Their promiscuous poses - somewhere between Mannequin and Eyes Wide Shut - hint at office party decadence as yet undreamed.

The effect of the decoration turns the street into a tunnel of festivity. Entrances to shops become openings into caverns of festivity - the cave mouths lined with ridges of faux fir and cascades of blue-white lights. It is as though the surface of the street folds in on itself. One could imagine the inside-outside flow being mapped like a nativity version of Giambattista Nollis plan of Renaissance Rome that showed interior spaces of buildings as part of exterior public space. Though here, the street is dressed as interior, the interiors as exteriors. Roadway becomes becomes floor, exterior walls become interior, sky becomes ceiling.

More inversion: looking into shop windows from outside feels like looking out over a landscape: At Selfridges a topiary night scene, at the Disney Store a polystyrene snow scene, at Adidas, pale and misty silver birch forests.

Interior and exterior tumble together in confusion. Hard-edged buildings seem to vanish as brightness and darkness short-circuit my eyes rods and cones. Just as a moth flies toward a flame because it perceives greater darkness behind the light, stone facades fade and the infinite space of the night sky becomes solid black behind the blinking lights. My Travelcard might say 'Zone 1' - my eyes seeing something else.

There is so much snow-covered landscape, and it's all been arranged by the first week of November. This artificial winter scenography is not just incredible in its intricacy and depth, but it's also at ironic odds with 'real' winter.

Climate change research shows autumn and spring are eroding either end of winter. Many European plants flower a week earlier than they did in the 1950s and lose their leaves 5 days later. Biologists report that many birds and frogs are breeding earlier in the season. The spring ice thaw in the Northern Hemisphere occurs 9 days earlier than it did 150 years ago, and the autumn freeze now typically starts 10 days later.

North of forty degrees north latitude, the growing season for vegetation has increased by several days. The ice cap is thinning. The artic is becoming greener and could become ice-free during summer months by 2060. Father Christmas might think about trading in his sled for a 4x4.

Winter is shrinking. Meanwhile, we extend our artificial version in a frenzy of decoration and experiences. Harrods opens its Christmas shop in August, mince pies are on the supermarket shelves in September, and Christmas singles are plotted in spring. The festive season creeps across the calendar like an icy inkblot.

Maybe it's because there are fewer real snowflakes that we feel the need to manufacture decorative ones. Perhaps it's guilt and fear made palpable through tinsel and fiber optics. An attempt to salve a loss that we can't quite yet comprehend. Perhaps it is preparation for a future where winter simply doesn't occur naturally anymore.

In the Alps, average temperatures have risen by up to 3 degrees over the last century during the winter months at 1800 meters. Lack of snowfall in some regions has caused problems to the skiing industry. Even the snow canons, which blast artificially created snow over the pistes to augment natural precipitation can't fix it when temperatures are above zero. Winter wonderlands are starting to look very different.

Ironically, our representations of these wintry scenes become stronger, denser and more hysterical just as their reality is threatened.

Each winter you can skate - just as you can in many other locations - on a temporary ice rink at Somerset House. What's different in this case is that it is just yards away from the old banks of the Thames. Since the construction of the new London Bridge and the Embankment, the rivers increased speed has stopped it freezing over. 200 years previously, this stretch of the Thames was the site of the Frost Fairs, which took place on the frozen river. The idea still persists as a simulated echo as you skate across ice frozen by a grid of pipes pumped through with brinewater cooled to -9 degrees by evaporating Freon. You might call this 'architecture of the sureally tempered environment'.

Landscapes are as much about imagination as they are geography. The landscapes we draw and make of winter are not illustrations but a fictionalized view of the world. These winter wonderland scenes freeze moments when the world looks new and fresh: coated with overnight snow; icicles glistening in the winter sun; the crystalline patterns of snowflakes. That freshness is a brief glimpse of what we imagine nature could be, or once was. The myths of Eden and Arcadia served previous generations as visions of the world before the fall. Frosty the Snowman does the same thing for us. Nativity scenes, shop window displays, and seasonal blockbusters provide a static point to fix our gaze upon in an attempt to avoid motion sickness as the environment shifts and swells in flux.

Simulations of future climate change are running on the computer systems of university research departments. Equations represent the physical processes of the climate, calculations chart possible future versions of the earth. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that global temperatures will rise an additional 1.6 to 5.5 degrees Celsius by the century's end. What these winters will look like is probably not part of these simulations. What new meanings will we attach to winter? What new significance will it gain?

Perhaps these super scaled festive installations will escape their manmade habitats and begin to fill the voids of winter-depleted landscapes. Perhaps we will see forests of white fiber optic trees planted over the slopes of Bavarian mountains, colour-cycling through the warm nights. Or perhaps sparkling neon snowflakes will be suspended in flocks over a scorched North Pole. Maybe armies of set-dressers will squirting spray-on-snow over pine needles. Perhaps these installations will become an artificial Narnia - permanent monuments to a season that is disappearing.

Back on Oxford Street, I'm mistaking the jingle of Hare Krishnas for sleigh bells, but I've made it to Tottenham Court Road. Below-ground infrastructure has never been quite so appealing. Heading down into the tube station is escape from the shrill and jittery sci-fi faux-landscape into the dull embrace of the earth. My advice? Don't re-surface till January the 6th.



Posted by anothersam at November 18, 2006 11:57 PM.

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Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

Other:

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