Daniel Ostroff notes in his introduction, “With the Eames files taking up more than 120 linear feet at the Library of Congress, the collected Writings of Charles and Ray Eames could easily fill 40 volumes. To make their writings as accessible as possible, I made the decision to limit my choices to a comprehensive selection that would fit one volume” (pg. xvi). Ostroff limited his collection both chronologically and thematically. The chronological frame is set between 1941 and 1986 with Ostroff identifying 1941 as a significant date for Charles and Ray Eames (pg. xvi). The selection of material also revolves around the theme of process. Ostroff writes, “This book is a guide to the Eames process: how, in their own words, they did what they did” (pg. xiii). Included in the anthology is both published and unpublished material as well as photographs, illustrations, and reproductions of letters and notes. My favorite reproduction is of a rebus for Lucia Eames, which begins with a drawing of a deer (pg. 199). You will have to stop in to see it!
Two short articles, one by Hans Kolhoff and the other by Christoph Rauhut, are offered by way of introduction in which the authors seek to situate the importance of Expression in architectural history. Kolhoff writes:
The Expressionists believed in a modernity that emerged from tradition but without rupture and which denied all forms of the purely stylistic; this was how they were able to achieve their own style. For us they represent ‘another Modernism’, that was intuitively opposed to that kind of white Modernism before it was ever celebrated as the International Style. (pg. viii)
Most of the book is dedicated to creating a record of Expressionism in Berlin, consisting primarily of photographs accompanied occasionally by a drawing, whether plan, section, or elevation. Lehamann and Rauhut write:
The surviving fragments are witnesses of an avant-garde that gave expression to a new society through architecture: the buildings are built utopias. (Preface)
The book itself is thus an attempt to bear witness to the surviving fragments.
Last week I encountered Thomas Sharp through his work, Cathedral City: A Plan for Durham (1945). I discovered that Special Collections houses several more of his proposals for English cities, to include Exeter, Oxford, Salisbury, Chichester, and Taunton. As I am not a planner or historian of modern architecture, I am unfamiliar with Sharp and his legacy. K. M. Stansfield attests to his influence:
He also produced The Anatomy of the Village (1946), which became a classic on the subject of village design, despite almost being suppressed by the ministry. In it Sharp for the first time consciously developed the concept of townscape, then almost unknown and still widely misunderstood, as a counterpart to landscape. It was a dramatic vision of the quality of urban space which he perfected, in outstanding analyses of historic towns, in his post-war plans—notably those for Durham, Oxford, Exeter, Salisbury, and Chichester, between 1943 and 1949. (Stansfield, “Sharp, Thomas Wilfred (1901–1978).”
As a medieval historian I connect with his approach to recognize the special character of each city and his desire to balance the needs of a modern city with its historic fabric, which was evident in his proposal for Exeter. He writes in Exeter Phoenix:
The planner’s first approach to his task is to sum up the personality of the city which has been put under his care. A city has the same right as a human patient to be regarded as an individual requiring personal attention rather than abstract advice. The second is that abstract principles of town planning do not in themselves produce a good plan. The good plan is that which will fulfil the struggle of the place to be itself, which satisfies what a long time ago used to be called the Genius of the Place. (pg. 11)
Sharp was faced with the challenge of not simply modernizing the fabric of Exeter but also rebuilding parts of the city due to both “blight and blitz” (pg. 82, 87). This challenge prompted Sharp to pose the question: Restoration or renewal? (pg. 87). He argues for “sympathetic renewal” –
It is one thing to attempt to save, and adapt to modern use, buildings which have actually survived from the past: it is quite another thing deliberately to imitate those buildings in new work. Such imitation must inevitably fail. It must fail because buildings are made of the spirit of their time as well as as of brick and timber and stone: and the spirit of the past cannot be recaptured… To attempt to rebuild 20th-century Exeter with mediæval forms would be the work of a generation that is visually blind and spiritually half dead.
…All things point, then, to the necessity for observing an appropriateness of scale and pattern in the renewal of the historical city. The sympathetic treatment of the surviving old buildings requires it. Sound planning for modern conditions of living requires it. It is upon this concept of renewal, in a way that is sympathetic to but not imitative of the old city, that this present plan for the rebuilding of central Exeter is based. (pg. 87-89)
Stansfield, K. M. “Sharp, Thomas Wilfred (1901–1978),” rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004. Accessed 12 June 2015. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/31673.
Thomas Sharp examines the challenges of and provides solutions for developing a plan for an historic city. The title of the work itself, Cathedral City, suggests that Sharp was keenly aware of the historic fabric and history of the city of Durham, England. He writes:
Even amongst those who use their eyes the mistake is often made of thinking of landscape as though it were an affair of trees and fields- nothing to do with the town. This is quite false. The error got currency from the fact that landscaping started in the parks of the great landowners. Actually the town landscape is just as interesting and important. When the ordinary street scene is thought of as a landscape surprising visual possibilities are opened up. In this case the Cathedral does what a cliff or mountain would do in a countryside, and the Georgian houses of the Bailey demonstrate once again what a magnificent foil they make for it. They are so to speak the stream that meanders at the base of the cliff. It can be seen at once how false is the popular idea of town planning as being the widening and straightening of streets and the “opening up” of historic buildings. The illustrations in this book have been chosen partly to demonstrate that Durham provides potentially the most dramatic urban landscape in England. (pg. 85)
I am unfamiliar with Knutsford, England, but then I have not read Cranford either. Thus, it was not my familiarity with the town itself that attracted me to the work but rather the presentation of the plan. The tiny spiral of the binding made me pull the book off the shelf. This plan, however, provides an interesting comparison to that of Durham, as it faced a different set of challenges. Despite the different challenges, the authors seem to be equally concerned with the relationship between the built environment and landscape. According to the authors:
Three maxims have been kept constantly in front of them by the five expert architect-planner and the committee who have consulted with them on the Knutsford Plan- that in a town, as in a nation, freedom must be balanced with the responsibility, work with leisure, and life in the home with a sense of good community….
The Master Plan for Knutsford, therefore, sets out deliberately to attack the notion that bricks and mortar mean either confinement of the individual spirit or dreariness and meanness in physical shape. The idea has been to show how the freedom and grace which are the essence of the surrounding country can be induced to flow through the town, and, at the same time to demonstrate how landscape well handled enhances urban architectural dignity and beauty, to produce a result that is urbane in the very truest sense of the word. (Knutsford: The Master Plan)
I selected Old Charleston, because the book cover was visually appealing but without knowing anything about the contents except that it contained a collection of plates, which were likewise graphically appealing. The book is signed and numbered (928/1500) by Charles W. Smith.
Quickly looking through the plates, (whose titles and captions were not placed with them), I saw the architecture or cityscapes and the play between void, line, and solid. And reflected on why this book might be in our Special Collections.
Reading the preface by Charles W. Smith and Herbert Ravenel Sass’s “Introduction,” however, recontextualized the plates for me.
Smith writes of his experience depicting Charleston:
And I found that all I had read and all I heard was true. As I walked the quiet streets, passed the formal gardens, the gateways, and the attractive homes, I realized that these old houses grew as an external expression of the life that was led in the leisurely days of the old-time South- a life of ease, grace, and dignity. (preface)
Sass writes of his city:
Passing that question by, the fact remains that Charleston and the Carolina plantations, which formed with her almost a city-state, were for thirty years or more the leaders of a determined effort to to preserve an ideal which was finally submitted to the trial of war, and in that trial was defeated and expelled from the American scheme of things. And now, after a long time and a long experience of the opposite and victorious ideal, the things in and of Charleston which appear most handsome are things that have come down from that earlier time and that earlier philosophy. That is a fact which surely must have some significance and may even be of great practical importance in face of the problems confronting us today. (Introduction)
These remarks made me keenly aware that this work is a reflection of the culture (the time and place) in which it was produced and must be examined within that context. Returning the plates, I began to reflect more carefully and critically about the representation of Charleston. Whose Charleston was it? Who or what had been included or excluded? Whose point of view was present?
If you would like to see more of Charles W. Smith’s work, the Richmond History Center has additional works and a brief biography of the artist available on its website.
Reckoning with Colin Rowe is a collection of essays or interviews regarding his influence. Robert Maxwell, Anthony Vidler, Peter Eisenman, O. Mathias Ungers, Leon Krier, Rem Koolhaas, Alan Colquhoun, Robert Slutzky, Bernhard Hoesli, and Bernard Tschumi all make contributions. According to Emmanuel Petit, the guiding theme of the essays is as follows: …each one of them intersected with Rowe’s ideas and initially used them as a stepping-stone, only to then resolutely swerve from his ideological orbit and create new concepts for the discipline. (Petit, “Rowe After Colin Rowe,” 5)
Robert Slutzky, for example, recounts the course of his relationship with Rowe, including their appointment to the School of Architecture at the University of Texas, Austin. Slutzky narrates:
The worldly problems just mentioned were somehow bracketed, enabling us to put our entire efforts into this pedagogical change without having to act on problems that were much more palpable in the big cities in America. In the big cities, the newspaper headline was always in front of you and the anxiety was always there. Austin was pacific, sedated, and we could concentrate more clearly. That was an important part of the Texas experiment. This was the frame that made our experiments possible. (Robert Slutzky in conversation with Emmanuel Petit, “To Reason with One’s Vision,” 116)
For whatever reason, I am particularly attracted to the publications associated with the 2014 Biennale. This work contains essays by Philip Ursprung, Alex Lehnerer, Savvas Ciriaidis, and Sandra Oehy, Quinn Latimer, Irene Meissner, Uta Hassler and Korbinian Kainz, and a photo essay of the pavilion by Bas Princen. Ursprung writes of Ciriacidis and Lehnerer’s pavilion:
Lehnerer and Ciriacidis have created a situation where we can experience first-hand the tension between two spatial regimes and where, in that exhibition context, we can cross from one temporality into another. (Philip Ursprung, “The Phantom of Modernism: The Chancellor’s Bungalow in the Belly of the German Pavilion,” 14)
Frank D. Welch recounts his journey of becoming to include his childhood, education, travels, and the people he met along the way. A major influences was O’Neil Ford, who with Arch Swank designed Little Chapel in the Woods, the current subject of the exhibit. He writes of Ford:
Most important for me, I would, from the exposure to Ford, become an architect with a template: a model that guided me. From him, I learned how to put building parts together in a direct, logical manner…. Throughout my career, I would repeatedly think to myself, “How would Neil do it?” (pg. 79)
The work is highly illustrative with personal photos and his built works. I enjoy his descriptions, anecdotes, and honest and straightforward tone. Welch writes:
I was too young and eager and anxious to analyze or foresee anything. But in retrospect, there was a rough symmetry to it: I had lived over a quarter century elsewhere in Texas and would, with my family, spend another twenty-five years in that flat, empty part of the state. It is an area that possess its own special, minimalist beauty and hold on the imagination. “Wear out one pair of shoes,” they say, “and you’re a native.” (pg. 99)
Brantley Hightower both graduated from and taught at the University of Texas Austin, School of Architecture. He is a founding partner of HiWorks. He was also asked to speak on our current exhibit, To Better Know a Building: Little Chapel in the Woods.
Hightower graphically represents the forms and documents the history of the Central Texas Courthouses from 1870 to 1970, Kendall County Courthouse to Zavala County Courthouse. I rather liked one his concluding remarks:
As compelling as the courthouses of central Texas may be, they are products of a time and a culture that no longer exists. In the century between when construction began on the courthouse in Kendall County and when the new courthouse in Zavala County opened its doors, Texas evolved from a patchwork of poor and widely dispersed agricultural communities into a wealthy, high-tech economy centered in a few sprawling metropolises. This transition was not painless. The conflicting values of the state’s rural past and its urban future continue to spur cultural as well as legislative debate. (pg. 147-148)
Hannah Stamier recently blogged about the Bon Marché and Émile Zola on ARTstor’s blog, highlighting images from their collection- which I remembered when I happened across some books on a similar topic. ARTstor is of course an excellent resource; however, I would also encourage you to explore the works in Special Collections on department stores and store fronts, if this topic is of interest. I pulled four books today as examples—
English Shop-Fronts is both a history of the building type and advice for designing anew. The first chapter discusses the history of early shop fronts, while chapter two, modern ones. The final chapter is a discussion of the practical aspects of the front: materials, glazing, lettering, lighting, and entrances, for example. Dan includes 52 plates, primarily from England and Scotland.
Geo. L. Mesker & Co. Store Fronts. Evansville, IN: The Company, 1911.
Unlike the other works that I selected today, Store Fronts is a catalog, produced by Mesker & Co. of Evansville, Indiana, from which a proprietor could select the design of a store front or other architectural details and materials. The catalog includes designs for concrete, brick, and galvanized iron fronts along with cornices, stamped steel ceilings, and elevators.
Curious about the company itself, I found the website, Mesker Brothers, maintained by Darius Bryjka of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. The site includes a discussion about the facades, the company catalogs, and documentation of the store fronts by state.
Following a brief introduction, Modern French Shop-Fronts and their Interiors consists of 54 large plates. Herbst writes:
Our opinion is that a shop front should be sober and be composed almost exclusively of a dressing of its own pillars, or of a covering which dissimulates blinds, gratings, and lighting fixtures. It should, however, provide ample space for the sign and lettering which are important from the advertising point of view, yet everything should be subordinated to the merchandise itself- which should occupy the largest space and be displayed under a judicious lighting arrangement so as to focus the attention of the public. (Introduction)
For an example of Herbst’s work, see plate 17 from Magasins & Boutiques.
Magasins & Boutiques is a collection of 36 plates of store fronts and interiors in Paris. Lacroix includes stores, boutiques, shops, and restaurants or bars. A very brief description accompanies the plates along with the name or the architect or decorator; however, dates have not been provided.
Mostafavi and Binet examine with an architect’s eye the eight London churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor built after 1711. With a brief introduction, the focus is squarely on the churches themselves. They include historical drawings and maps, short descriptions, black and white photographs, and “a series of newly commissioned drawings.” (pg. 13) Mohsen Mostafavi writes:
It is through the precision of these photographs that the churches, these methodical imaginings of the architect, are represented as architecture and as construction. You look up and see the way in which the parts of St George’s, Bloomsbury come together, its various geometries resolved and juxtaposed against the columnar ziggurat of the spire rising above the building. You see how a column touches the ground, how a building turns a corner, and how the plasticity of a wall is developed. (pg. 13)
Steps make uneven terrain convenient for humans. They are pathways and destinations for climbing and descending, for sitting and standing. As pathways, steps create processional routes toward and within cities and sanctuaries; as destinations, they serve as grandstands for viewing and participating in communal events. Some steps imply movement, while others suggest static behavior. In fact, the dimensions of steps express a direct relation to body posture, so that we can often tell whether their users were sitting, standing, or walking. By examining monumental steps in ancient Greek architecture, we can derive behavior from architectural form, and trace interactions between human activities and the built environment. (pg. 3)
Hollinshead arranges her study chronologically by century, to include the fifth to second centuries. She also includes an appendix addressing Hellenistic Italy. The book is arranged in three parts: the lenses with which Hollinshead uses to examine steps (“physical, theoretical, and contextual”); the chronological discussion; and the catalogue and plates. (pg. 7)
Martin Bressani has written a new and rather extensive biography of Viollet-le-Duc. He argues:
Yet, like Proust, he [Viollet-le-Duc] sought to fuse into some redemptive unity the disparate fragments of a temporal and cultural dislocation. Through a dynamic identification process, he summoned up his own memories to re-embody his country’s past. The present work seeks to unravel this process. It traces Viollet-le-Duc’s development, mapping the attitudes he adopted toward the past in sequence, attitudes that formed the stages of a self-reconstruction. Through his life journey, we follow the route by which the technological subject was born out of nineteenth-century historicism. (pg. xxiv-xxv)
His work is arranged in five parts: Restoration and Loss; The Gothic Reborn; The Gothic Disseminated; The Gothic as Will; and Transgressions into Modernity.
Blog from the University of Texas Architecture and Planning Library