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5 Amazing Projects That Were Never Built

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Architects are some of the world’s best thinkers. Without new ideas, society cannot progress and evolve. They’re there to push the boundaries and test new concepts—which sometimes work.

But often, the architects' projects are cut off by monetary constraints, or by governments and planning committees who aren’t quite as progressive as they are. That means that an awful lot of innovative ideas for buildings, towns and cities fall by the wayside, left in drawers as paper plans and polystyrene models. Here are five amazing projects that were never built—examples of what could have been, rather than what was.

1. Motopia

Things Magazine

In the 1960s and '70s, Britain was buoyed by the Pilkington company's newfound ability to produce large plate glass. The company formed a new group, called the Glass Age Development Committee, to promote the use of glass as a building material. One of the committee's prized plans was Motopia, a car-based city designed by Geoffrey Alan Jellicoe. The cars, and all the roads, were to be placed on top of large glass buildings, leaving the ground for relaxation, greenery, and pedestrianized parkland. It would've been a stark contrast to today, where roads rule the ground. But ultimately, it was never built, and sketches are all that remain.

2. LAX’s giant dome

Fabrik LA

LAX already has unique architecture; its Theme Building looks like a giant spaceship rising up into the sky. But architects Pereira & Luckman’s original 1952 plans for the airport were even more outlandish. They wanted to encase the airport under a giant glass dome, with palm trees reaching up to the roof of the circular central hub building, from which the terminals would branch off.

3. Hotel Atraccion, New York

Wikimedia Commons

Edward Carlton, a hotelier, was a fan of Antoni Gaudi’s unique architectural designs. So in 1908, when Carlton wanted to build a new hotel for the superrich in Lower Manhattan, he travelled over to Spain to meet the architect and artist to commission him to design the building. The Hotel Atraccion would have been more than 1000 feet high and towered over New York, had Gaudi not abandoned the project a year later.

4. The Manhattan Dome


Even today, the allure of living under a protective bubble is strong—and it certainly was in 1960, when Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao suggested encasing Manhattan in a 3.3km-wide dome made of shatterproof, one-way glass. Today the idea seems way too outlandish to be considered, but back in the 1960s promise and potential were freer.

5. The Green Bird, London

Skyscraper Page

The people of London narrowly escaped a blush-worthy error in judgment when the Green Bird tower was trashed in 1990. Architects Future Systems suggested building an 83-floor tower 1450 feet high in Battersea, London that would curve over the city. The only problem was, well…it had an unfortunate shape that would never have escaped endless ridicule.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]