Pitchfork   The Dissolve   Festivals: Chicago | Paris

It's a misconception that all ghost towns were once thriving cities. The traditional narrative of the ghost town, in wich cities are suddenly emptied by war, economic pressure, or an environmental catastrophe, now includes new varieties with bizarre political backstories.

Pyramiden, a remote coal mining city was built by Sweden in 1910 on Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago next to Greenland. The city, sold to the Soviet Union 17 years after its construction and shuttered in 1998, now stands preserved with its full basketball courts and schools completely empty. It has inspired at least one album by a member of Peter Bjorn and John. And Efterklang went so far as to record an album there.

In Angola, Kilamba New City is a massive real estate development built by a state-owned construction company from China, and paid for with oil exchanges. Currently, it's largely unoccupied, but has the capacity to house half a million residents and boasts 750 apartment buildings. 

Head to i09 for photos of more deserted places.

The pop star who once proudly told us she was a material girl, now stands for global freedom of expression. This month, she launches her Art for Freedom, an online initiative to further change via artistic creation. The project, created by Madonna herself and curated by VICE, will be distributed by BitTorrent—that's right, one of those file-sharing networks where one used to be able to nab bootlegs from the Virgin tour.

Madonna's secretprojectrevolution film, a 17-minute film she co-directed with Steven Klein, will be distributed as a BitTorrent Bundle on the network. The film, plus bonus content, is free to download beginning September 24 at 2pm EST at bittorrent.com

"I hope my film and other submissions to Art For Freedom will be a call-to-action and give people a place to voice their own creative expression to help fight oppression, intolerance, and complacency," says Madge.

The global, digital platform won't just be for Guy Ritchie's exes, however. Creative members of the public will be able to submit to the Art For Freedom platform by uploading original artwork or tagging their posts #artforfreedom. In other words, most content will be crowd-sourced, with VICE presumably pushing the good bits to the top. 

Is this platform made to last; is it going to amount to anything at all? It's hard to say—we'll check again post-launch.


The cell phone industry has always been one of the more rigid sectors of the electronics world. Subsidized phones tied to contracts somehow make repairs pricey or nearly impossible. The Phonebloks concept is an idea for a more user-oriented device that can be repaired or customized with a system of removable and replaceable components. The logic is that when a single component of a cell phone breaks, users will simply replace that part instead of scrapping the entire phone. Replacing individual parts would mean much less e-waste, and the ability to prioritize features like battery life or storage space. 

Apparently a lot of people are interested in the concept. In only 48 hours, the company's introduction video has over 4.6 million views. 

Best Made Co shop

Best Made Co. already had our attention with an iron-clad concept—releasing one new product a week in its online catalog, usually something basic, essential, low-tech, and no-bullshit. Best Made's axes caught on, for example, with DIY cabin-dwellers and weekenders with a strong interest in chopping and hacking things. As of today, fans of Best Made can make a pilgrimage to the epicenter of all things lasting and durable, Best Made's flagship shop at 36 White Street, NYC. The brand has also released a front-loading metal toolbox this week that we'd like to get to know better.

Best Made Co. hosts an axe restoration class at 36 White Street, NYC on May 18.

Moving downtown from last year’s inaugural exhibition inside a Humboldt Park warehouse, the Chicago Design Museum, a month-long pop-up exhibition opening June 1, won't lose any of its curatorial edge this year.  

For 2013, ChiDM’s sharp yet eclectic lineup unites different disciplines of art and design under the theme of "play," and seeks to "speak to an underlying discussion in the design community about whether design is art, designers are artists, and if either a pursuit to create work that was personal (content self-generated) or commercial (content from/for a client) could be deemed a nobler pursuit than the other," according to design director Jim Thomas.

(Images below are meant to showcase the work of some of the featured artists; they may not be included or displayed at the museum)


"Hemlock," Marian Bantjes

Featured designers for this year's exhibit include: Vancouver-based Marian Bantjes, a graphic artist whose kinetic typesetting led Stefan Sagmeister to call her “one of the most innovative typographers working today”; local ad-world icon John Massey, who worked at Container Corporation of America and the Center for Advanced Research in Design (CARD) and made these amazing Chicago posters; New Wave Swiss typographer and graphic designer Wolfgang Weingart; and Michael C. Place, founder of Build and a former member of Designer’s Republic, the seminal Sheffield studio responsible for many famous record designs for labels like Warp.

John Massey, Flag

“The board members of ChiDM talked a lot about designers who experimented with creating new ways to present visual information,” says Thomas, “whether it be through simplifying elements to include only those that communicate the intended message, like John Massey, or pushing the limits of new technology (or old technology used in new ways), like Wolfgang Weingart. We also have two designers in the exhibition, Marian Bantjes and Michael C. Place, who quit established practices to create work that was more personal to them, both in content and context. These second two are still very much in the prime of their design practice and we are excited to watch where their experimentation will lead them, and the design community, in the years to come.“

Urbanized poster by Build

The museum, which opens at Block 37 in Chicago's loop, will also showcase its own curated exhibition of new work, Re/view, based around the theme of optical illusions.

“Pieces in Re/view play with the idea of illusions as something that takes more than one look and multiple vantage points,” says Reina Takahashi, special exhibits curator. “Artists pushed this in a number of different ways—pieces that make you step back, look closely, stand on a specific point in the room, or even turn the viewer into the subject of an illusion. Interpretations of the theme varied from those that took a historical look back at the traditional optical illusion, to those that incorporated their own personal narrative.”

The Chicago Design Museum will be open June 1–30, and host a variety of special events. On June 6, 6-8pm, Pop-up Art Loop will host a First Thursday's Gallery Walk. Marian Bantjes will give a design talk on June 8 from 2-4pm. The museum’s kick-off reception will be held in the ChiDM space June 10 at 7pm. Adobe will host a Create Now event, showcasing new developments with the Adobe Creative Cloud on June 18. Visit ChiDM online for more information.

One might assume the struggling former coal mining town of Rugeley, Staffordshire might adore its new role as home to an Amazon fulfillment center. Roughly the size of nine soccer fields, the new facility has brought a lot of jobs to the area. But photographer Ben Roberts and journalist Sarah O'Connor, on assignment for the Financial Times, seem to find mixed reactions from the locals in the incredible photo series "Amazon Unpacked." Although Prime Minister David Cameron has rolled out the welcome mat, the online retailer has gotten a skeptical welcome in the UK from those concerned about the vanishing high-street shops. Still the Internet giant has invested billions in a UK expansion and promised thousands of jobs.

Visit Ben Roberts online, where his photos and O'Connor's captions tell a nuanced story of Amazon in Rugeley.


The ISA Chair is available now at unbrandeddesigns.com

Early last year, Unbranded Designs co-founder Sameer Dohadwala thought it would be easy to build his own custom desk. After a process he jokes was a miserable failure—all that was left were Home Depot receipts and a “pile of wood and broken dreams”—he sought out independent designers to help finish the job. That's when he had an epiphany. With co-founders Samer Saab and Max Greenblatt, he could create a better way to bring well-designed furniture to the masses. 

That spark led to Unbranded Designs, a new online design community and furniture manufacturing concern in Chicago.  Dohadwala met with independent designers and found that most had amazing prototypes and renderings in their studios, unrealized and unseen by the masses. “Their work was much more interesting than the mass-designed pieces we had been looking at,” said Dohadwala. “I wanted all of them in my apartment.”

These designs didn’t reach fruition, the Unbranded team learned, because designers lacked a combination of seed money, manufacturing know-how, and marketing and sales savvy to begin production. This inspired the trio’s concept, a kind of Threadless for furniture, which aims to provide technical and logistical support and a ready network of local and regional artisans and manufacturers. Users submit designs, such as Philip Royster’s R2 table (pictured above) which boasts a unique curved pattern built with fishing wire. Comments and feedback are exchanged and the more popular, unique pieces get built in small custom runs and sold by Unbranded. The catalog boasts over a dozen pieces, constantly cycled in and out; currently, the site’s offering the angled ISA chair by School of the Art Institute grad student Adele Cuartelon, built by DKE Design.

Business interest has been growing—Unbranded won the Chicago Lean Startup Challenge last fall and is finishing a new round of seed funding—and the startup now runs out of 1871, a tech space inside Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, itself an iconic building and a center of furniture and design. It’s a fitting home for a new type of manufacturing and design. “I think it’s as practical as it is symbolic,” says Dohadwala. “We’re at a place where we’re trying to disrupt the industry with technology.”

Have a design in mind? Bring it to unbrandeddesigns.com