Floating Concrete

Although it sounds like an oxymoron, floating concrete structures have been around for at least the last seventy years.  Of course I’m thinking of the Mulberry Harbours used on the Normandy beaches during the Second World War.  There are probably numerous other historical examples from before this time (the harbours were essentially giant caissons) but the shear scale of these structures (some up to five stories high!) mark them out as a significant achievement.  Essentially the Mulberry Harbours were hollow concrete rafts which were towed into position and sunk where needed, allowing roadways to be constructed for the military machinery and supplies to get easily from ship to shore.  Below is a photograph of a Mulberry Harbour in action which I found on a very informative page, here.

Mulberry Harbour

The use of polystyrene filled chambers to create the buoyancy of floating concrete structures has been in use since at least the early 1970’s and can be seen at many a marina or other waterside development.  Usually they are rectangular blocks which are anchored but allowed to rise and fall with the tide, while connecting walkways and mooring bays.

I could talk about the much maligned material that is concrete, and how it’s reputation was scarred by third rate architects producing prefabricated tower blocks in the 60’s and 70’s – but that is another story.  There have always been designers who saw the potential in the material and have created objects of great elegance and beauty – I only need to mention the stunning TWA Terminal (New York) design by Eero Saarinen in 1962 as an example.

TWA Terminal

TWA Terminal by Eero Saarinen

I know, I’m getting off the point a little.  But Saarinen’s designs prove that concrete is not just a leaden weight, a grey lump resulting in poorly designed and decaying flats – when used imaginatively it can float, even when it’s on land.

One use of floating concrete I came across recently was Floaty by AB Concrete Designs in Germany.  I am assuming they use the polystyrene filled chamber technique and they use it to create a range of curvaceous pebble-like floating islands.  These can be moored just about anywhere and provide stylish rest points for swimmers.

This is just one of many examples of an attractive, small scale and practical use for concrete.

Floaty 1

Floaty 2

Floaty 3

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Oz The Great and Powerful (2013) a film by Sam Raimi

Oz The Great and PowerfulOz The Great and Powerful is essentially a prequal to the events in L. Frank Baum’s first Oz book and partly to the 1939 film, also called The Wizard Of Oz.

I’m sure I don’t need to say anything about the 1939 film, unless of course you haven’t seen it – then shame on you!  This new film describes how the fairground con-man, Oscar Diggs (or Oz as he’s known, played by James Franco) is transported (by tornado) to the magical land of Oz and is mistaken for the great Wizard of the prophesy.  It is also how even a conniving con-artists can redeem himself as Oscar Diggs does by the end of the film when he finally becomes the titular Wizard.

There are many nods to the 1939 film including the start which certainly has the feel of the older film.  We enter a circus in black and white and the pre-widescreen ratio of 4:3 (or Academy Ratio), before the film transforms into 2.35:1 widescreen and full colour on arrival in Oz.  Other references include a brief scene with a cowardly lion, the scary flying monkeys (or baboons in this film, although there is a friendly flying monkey which befriends Oscar Diggs) and the sleep inducing poppy field, amongst others.

Unlike the 1939 film, Oz The Great and Powerful is not a musical – thankfully, I don’t think it would have worked, it would have been too much of a homage and I doubt could have lived up to the ‘classic’ Oz film.  One criticism I would suggest, which to some people may sound a little odd,  is that the Witches are just a little too beautiful.  Mila Kunis, as stunning as she is, looks too much like a catwalk mannequin, whereas Rachel Weisz is more convincing and doesn’t let her looks do all of the work.

To tell the truth I was very wary about seeing this film, I had read that the Production Designer (Robert Stromberg) had previously worked on Tim Burton’s dire Alice In Wonderland (2010) and I dreaded seeing the world of Oz turned into a digital acid coloured nightmare.  Thankfully he actually did a great job on this film, which has a wonderful combination of real sets and digital artistry.  I don’t mind digital manipulation at all, but there is nothing worse than an excessively blue screened film (just watch Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland!).

I also saw this film in 3D and it is the only film in 3D that was actually satisfying.  I think this was largely due to the huge London IMAX screen I saw it on – usually I find 3D unimpressive and a waste of the extra money, but the size of the screen certainly does seem to make a difference.

I would definitely recommend seeing this film, Sam Raimi has handled the directing well and ensured it has a lovely feel to it.  I don’t think it was just from my sense of relief, but the film possesses a good balance of the light and dark aspects of the story and includes both humour and pathos in just the right amounts.