New: High-Fi Radio Podcast – Eight

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For your listening pleasure…

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The Chemosphere: John Lautner’s Space Age Wonder

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The Malin House (Chemosphere) in the Hollywood Hills.

The Malin House (Chemosphere) in the Hollywood Hills.

If you had to choose one building to represent the most Modern of iconic Modern designs, you might well choose the Malin House (Chemosphere) in the Hollywood Hills. An octagon perched atop a twenty-nine-foot high, five-foot-wide concrete column like a flying saucer on a stick, the Chemosphere is recognizable even to those who know nothing else about mid-century architecture.

It was designed by groundbreaking architect John Lautner for Leonard Malin, a young aerospace engineer with a steeply sloping lot and $30,000 to spend on a house that would somehow perch upon it. Thanks to Lautner’s ingenious design and sponsorships by companies like Chem Seal (who provided experimental coatings and was rewarded by the building’s name), Malin got his wish. Malin and his wife raised four children in the house.

A Room With A View

A Room With A View – This innovative mid century modern home was featured in the Brian De Palma thriller, Body Double.

The one-story building is reached by a funicular and a concrete patio connects one side of it to the steep, lushly vegetated hillside. The bulk of the building hovers in an unlikely fashion above the hill, with windows on all sides to provide an astounding view of the San Fernando Valley.

Chemosphere Living Area - Mid-Century Modern Fantastic

Chemosphere Living Area – Mid-Century Modern Fantastic

Chemosphere Bedroom With A Different View

Chemosphere Bedroom With A Different View

Today this architectural wonder is owned by TASCHEN book publisher, Benedikt Taschen.

All photos by Julius Shulman / Getty Images
Sources: Los Angeles Conservancy and Vintage Los Angeles.

The M65 – Not The Spiral Galaxy, The Atomic Cannon

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Operation Upshot-Knothole – 25 May 1953

The M65 Atomic Cannon, often called Atomic Annie, was a towed artillery piece built by the United States and capable of firing a nuclear device. It was developed in the early 1950s, at the beginning of the Cold War, and fielded by 1953 in Europe and Korea.

On May 25, 1953 at 8:30am, the Atomic Cannon was tested at Nevada Test Site (specifically Frenchman Flat) as part of the Upshot-Knothole series of nuclear tests. The test — codenamed Grable — was attended by then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Arthur W. Radford and Secretary of Defense Charles Erwin Wilson; it resulted in the successful detonation of a 15 kt shell (W9 warhead) at a range of 7 miles. This was the first and only nuclear shell to be fired from a cannon.

The Grable mushroom cloud with the Atomic Cannon in the foreground.

The Grable mushroom cloud with the Atomic Cannon in the foreground. (Photo courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration/Nevada Field Office)

After the successful test, there were at least 20 of the cannons manufactured at Watervliet and Watertown Arsenals, at a cost of $800,000 each. They were deployed overseas to Europe and Korea, often continuously shifted around to avoid being detected and targeted by opposing forces. Due to the size of the apparatus, their limited range, the development of nuclear shells compatible with existing artillery pieces (the W48 for the 155mm and the W33 for the 203mm), and the development of rocket and missile based nuclear artillery, the M65 was effectively obsolete soon after it was deployed. However, it remained a prestige weapon and was not retired until 1963.

Of the twenty M65s produced, at least eight survive on display.

The How And Why Wonder Book Of Atomic Energy (With Cool Illustrations)

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This 1970 publication for young people is actually pretty good. It’s good for anyone, of any age, who would like to understand the workings of atomic power/energy.

Click on the book above to open a small reader. Clicking on that one will get the full screen view. Just hit escape on your keyboard or tap the arrows at the lower right of the screen to return to the page.

Vespa – Ça c’est formidable! (It’s Great!), 1955. Way Cool Poster via @intlposter

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Vespa - Ca c'est formidable (It's Great!), 1955. Artist: D Ambrose

Vespa – Ca c’est formidable (It’s Great!), 1955. Artist: D Ambrose

In 1955, the high-energy French actor and singer Gilbert Becaud released the hit song titled C’est Formidable! (That’s Great!). It was a perfect marketing opportunity for Vespa to create a hip poster campaign. The poster shows the singer nimbly mounting the scooter as if it were a skateboard (a recently minted pastime itself, at the publication of this poster). The background was equally hip, with Vespa’s patented pastel colors in asymmetrical, intersecting shapes that echo Mid-Century furniture design. Fantastique!

Vespa, or Wasp in English, was named in 1946 for its narrow waist, high-pitched engine and antenna-like handlebar. The product was perfectly suited for the war-torn country, where consumer budgets and poor roads made larger vehicles impractical.

In 1952, the vehicle’s popularity skyrocketed when Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck teamed up on a Vespa in Roman Holiday. By 1956, 1 million Vespas had been sold. The Vespa survives today as one of the most fun products on two wheels.

Image and description via, International Poster Gallery.