Thursday, March 24, 2011

Flat-pack Philosophy

The scene is China in the Northern Song Dynasty; the year is 1097. With central-government spending soaring, senior mandarins are united in the view that the people are worried more about the deficit than about floods or famine or invasions by northern barbarians. Emperor Zhezhong is determined to rein in expenditure and balance the budget. In of his reforms, Li Jie from the Directorate of Construction is instructed to codify state architecture.

This would have made a good Kai Lung story but it's hard to write in the Kai Lung style for extended periods. I will settle for it becoming the subject of the next sweeping wuxia film from the Chinese cinema industry, preferably casting Jet Li to mix sword-play with bureaucracy in the role of Li Jie.

Li Jie defined a modular system of eight categories of official buildings, and standardised units for the construction elements that could thus be stockpiled and production could be matched to demand. He budgeted costs and wages for each category to prevent local officials from rorting the system and padding the budget to feather their nests (or even vice versa).

This of course led immediately to the great Building Code Revolt, when rogue architect Shan Tien raised the banner of rebellion (aided by the depraved Ming-Shu), proclaiming that Zhezhong had forfeited the Mandate of Heaven. Peasants died in their myriads in the ensuing civil strife, and the northern barbarians invaded again, though no-one particularly cared by then. It did not help that Zhezhong had also cut the army budget by 50% and introduced a policy of paying wages to government employees.
Assembling the flat-pack temple looked so simple in the instructions, but these bracket-arm sets (supporting an eave board and a cushioned purlin) are trickier than they look. I farfed around for a while until the pieces slid accidentally into the Lament Configuration and the air temperature dropped by 10º while the Cœnobites arrived.* They would have torn my body into small fragments and my soul into even smaller ones, but fortunately they became side-tracked exploring the self-mutilatory potential of a 4-mm Allen key.

Then someone re-opened the old argument whether IKEA should have stuck to Futura for all their branding instead of the switch to Verdana, and it all ended in angry silences and slammed doors. It has been a wearisome day but there is Bornholm Akvavit in the fridge.

* Pronounced with a hard 'c', thankyou.


fish said...

Ikea would have been more successful in China had they been more willing to produce siheyuan in red instead of insisting that green was the new "in" color.

77south said...

Akvavit makes everything better. Or at least harder to remember, which for bad things can almost be like making them better.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

77 South beat me to it.

We are already drinking in an effort to improve BDR's health.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber said...

"I forgot the Lincoln Logs"
"That's all right- I've got an Erector Set"
"Show off!"
"Throw a towel over it!"
"Do some push-ups,Pablo- it'll go away!"

For great Firesign VPR justice

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

With central-government spending soaring, senior mandarins are united in the view that the people are worried more about the deficit than about floods or famine or invasions by northern barbarians

The Kenyan born emperor wished to institute a tax based on the length of one's fingernails, but the mandarins shot it down.

Substance McGravitas said...

senior mandarins

Wu Yam of Orange?

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I don't FEEL helped.

Nice post title though. Always liked the Buzzcocks.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Actually, very lovely diagrams, even if they are not technically wood cuts.

WV is ching, which offends me as a liberal.

ckc (not kc) said...

...the memories of hypertensive, oath-filled Xmases past evoked by your cruel "easy assembly" diagram will not soon fade.

Smut Clyde said...

I also thought about writing the post in the style of Bridge of Birds, to see what Number Ten Ox and Master Li do with a book of building standards, but was prevented by a slight flaw in my character i.e. LAZY.

ckc (not kc) said...

You know, I could italicize Things and talk about Indexed Farm Animals and miscellaneous People, too, but it doesn't make me any less flawed (just LAZIER).

ckc (not kc) said...


...if this were linked, I wouldn't click it - isn't it wonderful how hyperlinks are just begging to be ignored?

tigris said...

Huh, I thought of Bridge of Birds, too. WooOOOOoooOOOoOOOooo!

Captcha is wingem, which is just mean.

Smut Clyde said...

Actually, very lovely diagrams

From Else Glahn's article in the May 1981 Scientific American (brought to mind by the buildings in Lijiang and Dali).

Smut Clyde said...

One of Doktorling Sonja's friends has just asked if she can borrow Bridge of Birds so I haz a happy.

mikey said...

Dr. Dre has a big retractable robotic proboscis. I blame Smut Clyde. Although it could be that there are other explanations.

In the final analysis, a bridge of birds is no more effective than a bridge of popcorn.

Do you see the critical shortcoming?

No, 'sokay, I'll wait...

W/V is just fuckin with me now: cawkred

Is not!

fish said...

LAZIER: a laser that refuses to get excited.

Smut Clyde said...

I reject Bezier curves and demand the BEZIEST.