What’s inside a bullet

And other recent highlights from the Ideas blog

(Sabine Pearlman)

Some things lose their vitality when seen up close. A bullet, it turns out, is not one of them. Austrian photographer Sabine Pearlman has created a series of photographs of cross sections of ammunition. In the debate over guns, it is easy to lose track of precisely what we are talking about, and the photographs make it unmistakable: Bullets are precisely designed, amazingly diverse in their composition, and intensely purposeful. Even a modern bullet is constructed like a tiny version of a cannon you might once have seen in a museum: an outer casing, gunpowder in the rear, and something deadly to be shot out the front. Pearlman’s photographs are mesmerizing, and give ammunition life apart from all the things that people do with it.

Alternative jobs for parking meters

Technology moves fast, but urban infrastructure doesn’t—it’s hard to build new things, and expensive to remove old ones. Coin-operated meters coexist with modern parking kiosks, which themselves are becoming obsolete thanks to mobile payment technology.

What if those aging systems aren’t a problem, but an opportunity?

(Reprogramming the city)

That’s the premise of an exhibition opening this week at the Boston Society of Architects’ BSA Space gallery. “The city holds a vast amount of untapped potential and ability within its infrastructure,” says Scott Burnham, director of the show. “By rethinking the function and creating a new use for it, the city becomes a platform for new possibilities.”

The exhibition, “Reprogramming the City: Opportunities for Urban Infrastructure,” contains 30 examples of creative and functional reuse from cities around the world. In Lima, engineers have equipped a skyscraping billboard with a water-harvesting system that collects moisture from the humid air and turns it into 25 gallons of potable water daily. In Umea, Sweden, north of Stockholm, dark winter days promote seasonal depression—so city officials have installed phototherapy lights in bus shelters.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a parking kiosk, donated by the City of Boston. These kiosks—though still fairly new in cities like Boston—are already being supplanted by smartphone apps in some European cities like Amsterdam. Burnham worked with designer Mayo Nissen to reprogram the donated kiosk so that instead of printing dashboard receipts, it spits out information about traffic conditions, Red Sox scores, and updates on repairs to local infrastructure problems like potholes and broken street lights (though of course these are all things that smartphones can do, too). The exhibit also includes a space for
visitors to suggest their own kiosk reprogramming ideas; a similar idea was recently explored by New York City in its “Reinvent Payphones” contest.


With their quirks and aging infrastructure, cities are inherently nostalgic places, but, as “Reprogramming the City” demonstrates, they’re inherently forward-looking places, too.

“Reprogramming the City” runs from June 25 to Sept. 29 at BSA Space, 290 Congress St. Suite 200.


Kevin Hartnett is a writer who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. He can be reached at