Last month, Disney announced its plan for a series of branded communities in the United States, with the first community sited in the arid Coachella Valley. This got us thinking about other efforts to build communities from scratch in the American desert. Las Vegas is arguably the most recognizable example, but many others have set out to architect their dream city in the desert, from Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti to the Salton Sea “Riviera”. We are especially fond of the wild story of the London Bridge of Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
Lake Havasu City, population 57,000, was founded in the 1960s by businessman Robert P. McCulloch who had a vision of developing a landmark city in the Arizona desert. Conveniently, the City of London, England had decided to sell the 140-year-old London Bridge to help fund its replacement — a worthy centerpiece for this new city. McCulloch purchased the bridge for $2.46 million USD and had the carefully deconstructed granite brickwork shipped to California and taken by truck to Arizona. A concrete shell of the bridge was built over scalloped mounds of dirt and used as a mold. The brickwork was then painstakingly put into place by masons, following instructions sent from London. Once finished, space was dug out under the bridge to allow part of the Colorado river to be diverted underneath.
The bridge is promoted as a tourist drawcard — a way to bring residents and tourists to this strange manufactured oasis. Disney’s future city has its branded experiences, Vegas has its casinos, and Lake Havasu City has the London Bridge. However, while utopia means “no place,” the desert is very real. If you drive through California and Arizona’s desert backroads, you’ll see the scattered remnants of the many oasis towns that didn’t make it, undermined by the realities of dried up reservoirs, insufficient infrastructure, or interpersonal dysfunction. You can check out the bridge in its current habitat on this livestream, or watch this BBC video about the whole mind-boggling construction of the city and its bridge.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~7% of opens) was a guide to making cryogenic multi-layer insulation shields at home. In the Members' Slack, Spencer shared a breakdown of what the fees support, which includes over $20k paid to guest writers for Monday issues. As always, if you're interested in writing for The Prepared, we'd love to hear from you.
Planning & Strategy.
- To help address the housing crisis facing many countries, examples are starting to emerge where innovative building and funding methods are helping to increase supply while minimizing construction costs. In New Zealand, a retirement savings fund and property developer have teamed up to build 10,000 homes over 10 years to rent out at affordable prices. The $5 billion NZD project uses efficient concrete and brick building techniques and minimizes waste during the building and contracting process. In California’s Bay Area, high construction costs were the motivation behind Factory OS, a company founded by long-time affordable-housing developers to increase the efficiency of multi-unit housing construction with modular off-site building methods (and union labor). Time will tell if the ambitious claims of a 20-40% reduction in construction cost play out in the messy, complex reality of Bay Area development.
Making & Manufacturing.
- This stunning photo essay tracks the full printing process of Marlon James’ book Moon Witch, Spider King from prepping the printing plates to binding. The scale is huge — printing 40,000 copies requires 360 kg rolls of paper, a 39 m press, and a tremendous amount of glue.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- Massive yachts tend to serve not only as floating palaces for the world’s ultra wealthy, but also as powerful symbols of ill-gotten wealth and extreme inequality. Jeff Bezos’ massive new yacht, code-named Y721, is nearing completion in a Dutch shipyard. In order to reach the ocean, it must navigate past Rotterdam’s landmark steel bridge, De Hef. Even at its full expansion, the bridge isn’t tall enough for the yacht to pass under, so the city has agreed to temporarily dismantle it. While the yacht building company will foot the bill, the disruptive operation highlights the fact that private wealth can affect public infrastructure.
- A new archeology project in the UK’s New Forest will excavate a former Romani compound alongside the descendents of the people who once lived there. Community archaeology offers an intriguing alternative to the extractive and colonial practices that define much of the field’s history.
- Nashtifan in northeastern Iran is home to an array of ancient vertical axis wind turbines, which have been capturing the region’s strong winds to grind grain for 1000 years. The clay, straw, and wood windmills are likely a similar design to the earliest recorded windmills, invented in around 500 CE. Their blades rotate about a vertical axis, and are pushed by the wind similar to the way water flows over a water mill. The future of Nashtifan’s windmills is uncertain. They are currently kept and maintained by elderly guardian Mohammad Etebari, who has no apprentice.
Distribution & Logistics.
- The QR code made a real — and surprising — comeback in many countries during the pandemic, including in the US and New Zealand where we live. Both of us have been scanning QR codes regularly over the past two years, and for quite different purposes. In the US, they’ve been widely deployed for contactless menus in restaurants and bars. In New Zealand, businesses and workplaces must display an official QR code for people to “scan in” to support contact tracing efforts, and the county’s vaccine pass is QR code-based. The QR code was invented in 1994 by Masahiro Hara of Japanese firm Denso Wave, inspired by the rows of counters on a Go board. It was designed for use in the auto industry, to keep track of increasing numbers of car components, as 1D barcodes had reached their information storage limit. While Denso holds a number of patents for the QR code, there are a broad range of tools that let you make your own QR code, including libqrencode, a free command line tool that supports ISO 18004 (and is super handy if you’re putting together a scrappy manufacturing line, as Spencer attests).
- When cargo ship Felicity Ace caught on fire near the Azores Islands a couple of weeks ago, the crew quickly evacuated and the still-burning vessel and its cargo of luxury cars was left at sea for a savage company to extinguish and deal with. Maritime salvage is a complex business and easy to mythologize, as in this vintage Wired story about a hotshot salvage crew. The US Navy Salvor’s Handbook gives insight into the types of operations — from patching hulls to refloating entire ships — and the material expertise required in this high risk / high reward work.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- Every year there are around 30,000 table saw injuries in the US, 10-15% of which are amputations (depending on how you read the research) — around 10 per day. Various safety innovations have been introduced or proposed over the years, although none have yet proven to be the magic bullet. Plastic blade guards are a simple and common protective addition, but they have limited utility because no one uses them (and they must be removed to perform certain cuts). SawStop, designed by physicist Steve Gass, prevents amputations with a safety brake (as seen in this legendary video). The SawStop works by running a very weak electrical current running through the blade of the saw, so when human flesh touches the blade it siphons off some of the current, inducing a sensor to fire off a powerful brake and stop the saw in its tracks. SawStop saws, however, are more costly than regular table saws (although less expensive than your insurance premiums going up after a jobsite amputation) and despite their clear benefits they have still not received full adoption.
- Do you know who uses the paper and plastic you recycle? Or how many feet above sea level you are? The Big Here Quiz aims to elevate awareness and literacy about the greater environment in which you live. It made us realize how little we actually know about the direct physical surroundings we inhabit every day (and made us want to find out more).
p.s. - We’d love to hear how you went on the Big Here Quiz, and anything you were particularly surprised about. Send us an email here.
p.p.s. - We care about inclusivity. Here’s what we’re doing about it.