The Slideway People Mover


Of all the aspects of Heliopoli, the nexus, the catalyst, the encapsulation of the entire city resides in the Slideway People Mover.

Nowhere else in the city can one find the sense of progress, of modernity, of forward progression (yes, literally), of comfortableness, of sussurant silver contemporary grounding in a promised future more than in the Slideway People Mover.

And there is always light at the end of the tunnel.


Photos: ACF


Heliopoli_Full_EX126_OvaliaThere are some things one can find in the world that embrace and embody the design of Heliopoli, even if not found in Heliopoli itself — though, if you asked the chief archivist, he would say they originated in that city and escaped before it was shut down, leaving no examples behind.

Be that as it may, the Egg Chair, or Ovalia, is one such object. Designed by Henrik Thor-Larsen, it was exhibited for the first time at the Scandinavian Furniture Fair in 1968. The chair was sold up to 1978 and was in demand throughout the world. It was relaunched with a few improvements in 2005.

Though owing much to Eero Aarnio’s 1963 Ball Chair, Ovalia deserves its place in the history of furniture design in the Heliopoli mode. Touted on its website as a “chair with a lot of attitude,” the Ovalia embraces encapsulation, self-containment, the geometricism of its time, and spaceship (regrettably retro) aesthetic. It begs to be fitted out with stereo speakers.

No wonder the designer is pictured at such ease in his chair. One cannot doubt the optimism of the future whilst sitting in it. One cannot do other than move forward in time.

With Ovalia, one has landed. One has arrived.

The chief archivist will take an orange one, please.

Designer Henrik Thor-Larsen sits in his Egg Chair
Designer Henrik Thor-Larsen sits in his Egg Chair

Images: press photos from

Sunrise, Sunset

A recent episode of the television series “Nova” revealed that scientists are only confident of one celestial alignment present at Stonehenge, dismissing all the claims in recent years of the structure being some sort of celestial observatory. Stonehenge’s main axis, a straight line through the entrance, points directly to sunrise on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. This means that the back part of the axis points to sunset during the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. But what does this say about why Stonehenge was built?

Archaeologist Michael Parker Pearson studied burial practices in Madagascar, where stone monuments are built to the dead. There, it is believed that stone belongs to the ancestors. The realm of the living belongs to perishable materials, like wood.

Pearson invited an archaeologist from Madagascar to visit Stonehenge. He immediately saw the monument as a meeting place to connect with the ancestors. The stones were linked to the ancestors and, indeed, the so-called blue stones, the smaller stones, had been transported from Wales, monuments to the dead, perhaps, that the people took with them when moving from Wales to the area around Stonehenge. But where was the place for the living?

Two miles north of Stonehenge are the remnants of another henge, this one made of timber. It is identical in size to Stonehenge. The post holes were found where timbers were placed. On the morning of the winter solstice the front axis of the timber circle aligns to the rising sun, while at the end of that day the back of Stonehenge frames the setting sun. During the summer solstice, the front of Stonehenge aligns with the sunrise while the rear axis at the timber circle aligns with sunset. Cremated remains have been found at Stonehenge. At the timber circle, there is evidence of a yearly celebration. One circle is for the dead; the other is for the living.

Beyond giving the chief archivist the heebie-jeebies for one more mystery of the world to be so logically solved — why did that photo of the Loch Ness Monster have to turn out to be a hoax? and wasn’t it already so completely obvious from the footage that it was the skin of the Hindenburg that so rapidly spread the fire? — what does this mean for Heliopoli, which is oh-so-similarly a monument to a belief system long dead, whose buildings stand sentinel over a past we cannot grasp?

Heliopoli has no alignment to the solstices, but it is telling that the Sun Disk Monolith rotates slowly throughout the year so that it is always aligned with the sunset. There are perhaps two kinds of people in the world, those who prefer sunrise to sunset, and vice versa. But there can be no denying the power of sunset in Heliopoli when standing in the Central Plaza and the amber, autumnal light comes shattering down the avenues to ring against the bronze disk in the monolith.

The buildings are blue with coming twilight, sparkling and bright. The surface of the plaza shines for one last time in the day. There is a chill in the air. The sunset delivers — mysteriously, curiously — a devastating form of homesickness.

But the question remains: Was Heliopoli built for the living … or the dead?





Did I mention that Heliopoli was a circular city?

Did I mention that it is ringed and trisected by the monorail?

Did I mention that the pedways create a symbol that can only be seen from above?

Yes — yes, I did.


Just wanted to make sure.

The Balloon Ferry

Heliopoli_Full_EX42It is rumored that the excavation of the city of Heliopoli will cease operations on Oct. 4, 2009, exactly two years after its start. Though I can’t confirm this, it is true that nearly all the major structures have been unearthed and described, excepting the Lightworks,the Slideway Shopping Mall and the Museum of Futoria. There are plenty of details to explore, however, so it is hard to say whether this record will merely change slightly at that time, or become its own archeological artifact (and we have wandered from our course occasionally anyway). Certainly there is a great amount of cataloging to be done given the amount of mood rings, Uncandles, Fidgets, fiber-optic lamps, and bean-bag chairs that have been found, not to mention the necessity to pay tribute to the color lime green.

At any rate, more major structures might be uncovered as the excavators redouble their efforts, or merely stumble upon them. Take the Balloon Ferry, for instance.

As mentioned before, Heliopoli is a circular city that never lacked in transportation. It is ringed and trisected by the monorail and honeycombed underground by the Metro. It sports slideways and pedways, and its citizens make use of the ubiquitous uniped single-wheel transport. So why would the city need a Balloon Ferry?

At opposite ends of the city lie platforms that are now known to be stations for hot-air balloons. These were at first thought to be unfinished monorail stations until excavator Theronomous Moon wandered past the city into the desert and found sprays of color just under the sandy surface. These proved to be buried portions of hot-air balloon fabric. The rest fell into place.

As a transportation system, hot-air balloons would be quite efficient; as an aesthetic experience, unparalleled. One floats above the city; there is no wind, since one is traveling with it. This aerial view can make one appreciate the city’s design like never before. The city’s own citizens can then apprehend its circularity, its aesthetic aplomb, its radial symmetry, its shining wonder; and there is evidence that the pedways surrounding the Central Plaza create a certain pattern, a symbol, that can only be ascertained from above. Besides, to travel from one end of the city to the other could not be achieved faster than by hot-air balloon.

But no. The theory doesn’t work.

The gondolas that have been found attached to the balloons can hold at most two people. This is hardly an efficient transportation system, or cost-effective for any other purpose — if the purpose was to carry people.

So now we know, and know that there can be other reasons for the city’s need for a Balloon Ferry than just what lies at the surface:

The balloons of Heliopoli were not for looking down from but for looking up at.

There would be at least two or three balloons aloft at any given time. Carrying only one or two attendants, they decorated the air with a looking up, a striving to.

At any hour of the day, a good portion of the citizens of Heliopoli were shading their eyes and gazing into a rainbow sky.


It’s Official

I have been duly chastised by the excavators for neglecting an element of Heliopoli that if not included in the city’s description would be like trying to make seawater without salt, or to deny a firmament its shining stars.

There is no proper classification for this thing. It is not just a color or a cloth or a pattern, and its interpretation has changed over time. I am further hampered by not being able to find a photo I have permission to use as an example, and any samples in the city itself have so degraded with time that they are useless, so I have used different, though appropriate, images instead. This thing is locked in its own time anyway — its proper time — so its image is always brighter in memory than anything even a digital photo can reveal.

You might have been introduced to tie-dying in someone’s backyard, with buckets of dye and rubber bands and white T-shirts. The method has to be taught, can’t be learned from a book, like making tallow candles or blowing glass. Tie the rubber bands around the T-shirt, tighten it up, thus and so. There were some who knew how to make certain patterns, methodical, while others just waited to see; but when the rubber bands were taken off the shirt after being dipped in this dye and that, it was always a surprise; you never really knew what you were getting, and that was part of the fun —

a sunburst, always — or a star —

Then in the 1980s we got the manufactured kind, made in a factory, always the same stupid spiral, they all looked the same — which was never the point — and it became a fashion, a self-conscious referent, a wry wink to the past gabbled by New York types through their rectangular, black-framed glasses, snarkily summarizing culture — we are only observers — and stuffing all into a box labeled “Retro.”

That was never the point. And now it can never again be what it once was. We are all too self-conscious for that. It will never again be sunshine backyards amid grass clippings — the smell of cut grass — or “arts ‘n’ crafts” or rainbow colors hanging on a clothesline to dry. It will never again be a surprise sunburst. It will never again be a surprise. It is premade now, hanging in a store.

Wryness is death to surprise. Cynicism destroys optimism.

Snark kills voice.

Did you think we were stupid? Yes, we knew it was about psychedelia and where that came from — you were never taught how to tie-dye from a non-hippie, were you? — but it didn’t matter. We ignored that part. It was just cool. And fun.

For its sunburst and its infinite colors; for its encapsulation of creative and otherwise freedoms; for its obeisance, we see now, to chaos theory’s fractals and never-repeating iterations; for its dark genuflection to drug culture we can ignore; for its bright bursting optimism —

for its representation of an unself-conscious act now turned to stone —

the official something of Heliopoli is —

the tie-dye T-shirt.