All posts by Katie Jakovich

New Books: The Fire Station Charleroi

Charleroi Fire Station - CoverSamyn, Philippe, Alain Sabbe, and Hugues Wilquinn. The Fire Station Charleroi. Tielt: Lannoo, 2016. Print.

Philippe Samyn, the architect behind the Charleroi Fire Station in Charleroi, Belgium, partnered with Alain Sabbe and Hugues Wilquinn to write The Fire Station Charleroi.  The book explores the life led by firemen, the design competition for the building, the plans, the design versus the reality, and the sustainability and artistic nature of the project.

The authors begin by describing the life and work of firefighters. The long hours, the dangers they face, and the different rooms in firehouses.  This builds context for the design of the firehouse and the inspiration behind designing such a grand, beautiful space for these hard-working individuals.  With commentary from the architect throughout, the process of designing the firehouse for the competition is described, as well as the changes made during construction.  The firehouse is unique in its shape – the building is circular.  The selection committee “complained of the maneuvering difficulties fire engines and other emergency vehicles would have due to…insufficient space” (pg. 39).  So, Samyn and his colleagues recommended the circular form, with folding doors to allow easy, quick access in and out of the fire station.  Everything about the station, from its location to its shape to the colors selected are meant to provide comfort and easy accessibility.  Throughout the book are photos and drawings which demonstrate the look, functionality, and details of the Charleroi Fire Station.

Oftentimes, fire stations are small buildings, leading to cramped conditions and difficulty in maneuvering firetrucks in and out of the station.  The Charleroi Fire Station presents an alternative to this: a massive, open facility meant to service firefighters’ needs.  These individuals put their lives on the line every day they go to the station – do they not deserve the very best spaces?  Additionally, the circular garage allows for faster departure times for trucks, and the location of Charleroi on a hill provides easy access to roads, leading to a faster response.  In other words, this beautiful space actually produces improvements in job performance, cutting down on time, which can literally be the difference between life and death for an individual.  While projects like Charleroi are expensive and time-consuming, the impact of the project proves that building high quality, functional, beautiful fire stations improves the experience of firefighters and helps them to save lives – is that not worth every penny?

New Book: Architecture and Justice

Simon, Jonathan, et al., editors. Architecture and Justice: Judicial Meanings in the Public Realm. 2013. New York, Routledge, 2016.

Architecture and Justice - CoverSimon and his co-editors explore the architecture related to the judicial system and the connection between justice and architecture to “examine the effects that architecture has on both the place of justice and on individual and collective experiences of judicial processes” (pg. 1).  The book is organized to transition from individual, intimate stories, to more broad commentary.

The first part discusses prisons and prison cells, including their design and the experience of living in prison.  The authors note that the simple lines, the utilitarian austerity give prisons a contemporary feel.  Prisons are naturally boxy places, due to the presence of square cells, and the architecture often reflects the seriousness of the place, adding to the sensation of being trapped. Next, the courthouse and courtroom are explored, including an essay on a “Virtual Court Pilot” in the United Kingdom, which would allow cases to be heard quickly and efficiently.  Courtrooms, like prisons, are meant to convey a sense of seriousness, but without the austerity of prisons; instead they strive to also demonstrate the importance and morality of the judicial system.  The two remaining parts of the book cover more general topics and explorations of justice and architecture, including articles on the spatial aspects of justice and the role of architects and justice in Athenian dramas. This section examines theoretical and big-picture subjects, ending the book on universal themes connecting architecture and justice.

Almost every city in the United States has a local courthouse or city hall, some place where civic duties take place.  It is a place some people hope to never enter.  Beautiful, imposing buildings that remind us of the laws we abide by.  Or in the case of prisons, boxy, modern buildings that warn us against breaking the code.  The architecture itself is meant to express the grandiosity of the justice system, creating an indelible if subtle connection between justice and the architecture representing it.

Friday Finds: Ancient America

Leonard - CoverJonathan Norton Leonard’s Ancient America (from the series Great Ages of Man: A History of the World’s Cultures) provides a historical overview of the lives and architecture of Native American tribes in South America.  Leonard calls the tribes “a race of master builders” and highlights such achievements as stone cities and Machu Picchu (pg. 43).

In the Introduction by the Peruvian Ambassador to the United Nations, the pre-Spanish history of South America is summarized, providing geographical and historical introduction for the reader that provides background to Leonard’s more detailed writing.  He makes use of primary and secondary sources, as well as his own knowledge and experience, to create a full cultural picture of ancient South America.  Featuring photographs of artifacts and sites in South America, Leonard explores the art, architecture, lives, and cities of these tribes, from their earliest known years to the European conquests. Leonard demonstrates the Aztec, Inca, and Mayan ingenuity in building their cities.  For example, he highlights that Aztecs “soon learned to increase the area of their island by filling marshes with dirt and rocks and by building chinampas, islets made by anchoring wickerwork enclosures to the bottom of the lake and piling them with silt mixed with reeds and refuse” (pg. 64).  Such creativity is what allowed the tribes of the South American world flourish and build some of the most miraculous and mysterious sites in the world, such as their pyramids and Machu Picchu.

Leonard shows great respect and appreciation for the culture and accomplishments of Native Americans in South America, an attitude Leonard - Pageunique in its time.  Ancient America was published in 1967, when the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution was still felt, paranoia about the spread of Communism was at an all-time high, and the superior attitude of the United States’ “Good Neighbor Policy” remained strong.  This era was a time when the field of history began to shift from being completely Eurocentric to thinking globally.  Leonard himself was a longtime correspondent on South American events for TIME Magazine, and even married a Peruvian woman, giving him greater appreciation and admiration for South America than that of many Americans at the time.

Much of modern South American culture is dominated by European (particularly Spanish and Portuguese) influence.  Leonard supplies a much-needed and deserved celebration of pre-European South America.  While today Spanish architecture and social hierarchy remain major aspects of South American culture, the achievements and history of Native American tribes are only just beginning to be recognized.  Leonard celebrated this past in Ancient America when South Americans themselves were just beginning to appreciate it. And how could they not?  They are descendants of the people who built pyramids (the construction of some of which still baffles historians), plowed grandiose patterns in the fields without an aerial view to guide them, and they achieved what was thought impossible and built Machu Picchu, a literal city among the clouds, securing a place of honor for Latin American Native Americans in the canon of master builders.

New Book: World of Malls

Lepik, Andres, and Vera Simone Bader, eds. World of Malls: Architectures of Consumption. Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2016. Print.

World of MallsAndres Lepik and Vera Simone Bader’s World of Malls: Architectures of Consumption explores the relatively recent development of shopping malls.  With other contributing authors, Lepik and Bader examine examples of malls around the United States, with a focus on their architecture, the connection to consumerism, and the future development of malls.

Bader notes that “as an independent building typology, the shopping mall has not yet gained entry into the history of architecture…[despite] shap[ing] cities worldwide” (pg. 12).  The shopping mall appeared a mere 60 years ago, making it a recent archetype, but one which has spread quickly.  The authors note that malls typically are within an urban area, or just outside the limits, bringing people in to participate in a particular consumer experience.  But do all malls feel and look the same on the inside?  What about the outside?  These are the kinds of issues which World of Malls explores, becoming the first study on malls from an architectural perspective.  One author even makes the argument that “in our increasingly fragmented culture, shopping, which consists of strolling through zones of consumption dotted by occasional purchases, is one of the last conventions we experience as a community” (pg. 237).  Scattered throughout are profiles of malls, featuring photos and descriptions. The book concludes with a piece on the future of malls, advocating for the repurposing of malls which are abandoned, as the buildings are often large and adaptable.

Most people have been to a mall at some point.  They have become central aspects of every day life, serving as a means of consumerism and a form of exercise or entertainment.  Featuring stores for shopping and restaurants for eating, the mall is a social place as much as it is consumerist.  Yet little attention is paid to the buildings and design of these places, as well as how common they have become.  With the advent of online shopping, are malls becoming irrelevant?  What will happen to the buildings if, or when, malls become obsolete?  World of Malls begins exploring such important questions.  But, for now, throngs of people will continue their weekly pilgrimage to their local mall to participate in what has become an American pastime.

 

Friday Finds: A Plan for Bath

A Plan for Bath - CoverIn A Plan for Bath: The Report Prepared for the Bath and District Joint Planning Committee, Sir Patrick Abercrombie, John Owens, and H. Anthony Mealand provide a plan for the city of Bath, England, to rebuild and repair the city immediately following World War II.  The plan discusses the growth of Bath over time, a general description of the area, the population, and the history, including images and drawings throughout to provide the reader with imagery to better understand Bath as it was and the authors’ vision for the city.

A Plan for Bath goes into great detail on everything from the water supply and sewage to traffic to schools and how the authors propose to improve them.  They note that “war damage in Bath…has not laid waste such continuous tracts as it has in some other towns…[but] A Plan for Bath - Page 2the upheaval of population directly caused by the war and the cessation of normal growth for five years, have drawn attention to all phases of civic life and have created the desire for a comprehensive plan to meet a new set of conditions” (pg. 19).  On the “Architectural Treatment of Bath,” the plan highlights that the “planner, by perspective and model, must show great new buildings in juxtaposition with famous old ones,” and continue to use Bath stone, “which makes for continuity and stability in Bath” (pg. 22-23). Overall, the plan proposes preparing Bath for population growth and adaptation to modern needs (such as railways and cars).  Such changes, the planners argue, will restore Bath as a resort town while still providing space for local industry.

Today Bath is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Great Britain.  The Circus and the Royal Crescent are easily recognizable and well-known architectural landmarks in the city.  As much as the creators of A Plan for Bath hoped to blend the old with the modern, it is the historic buildings which are most visited and noticed.  So while the authors did not succeed in returning Bath to its days as a getaway for British elites, their protection of its architectural heritage did pay off.  Bath has become known as much for the natural spring waters in the Roman baths as for its unique architecture and beautiful setting.  A A Plan for Bath - PagePlan for Bath is a perfect example of the immense impact of city planning and architectural preservation on cities’ reputations and personalities, even if not in the way intended.

New Book: On Stage!

Zibell, Barbara, et al., editors. On Stage!: Women in Landscape, Architecture, and Planning. Berlin, Jovis, 2016.

Barbara Zibell, Doris On Stage!Damyanovic, and Eva Alvares present a series of portraits of architects from around the world based on exhibitions on the subject in Hanover, Valencia, and  Vienna.  According to the editors, “On Stage! is an international women’s and gender studies project which aims at making female architects and planning experts visible” (pg. 9).  Architecture as a profession has long been dominated by men, so the project aims to give these women a platform from which to promote themselves, their work, and bring more women into the field.

The authors interviewed numerous women who participated in the three exhibitions, asking them about their personal lives, their perspectives on architecture before and after studying it, and about the experience of being a woman in the field.  For example, Agata Dzianach from Poland explained that “‘the most stressful for me was when I had to control the construction works, as the workers treated me like “the young girl who doesn’t know anything”‘” (pg. 79).  In comparison, her superior also had children and so allowed her to work from home and split her time between home and the office following the birth of Dzianach’s daughter.  Dzianach argues that “architecture is not just a building…architects should spend more time with the people, integrated to the society…with a goal to serve the people,” while also bettering the quality of their buildings by considering both women’s and men’s needs (pg. 81).

On Stage! discusses many of the main issues facing modern women in architecture.  The interviews often broach the topic of balancing work with family, a dilemma with which many women around the world are familiar and which is an ongoing political debate, as well. The jobs of architects can be demanding – even more so when construction workers, landscape architects, or designers question the capability or authority of female architects.  So how does one combat these attitudes?  On Stage! and its interviewees suggest one thing: produce work of such high quality that you cannot be ignored by your peers or history.

On Stage! is just one of the fascinating books we received this week – Come by to check out this one or anything else – we are at your service!

Friday Finds: The Octagon Library

The 1927 Volume I of The Octagon Library of Early American Architecture focuses on Charleston, South Carolina.  The volume is Octagon Library Coveredited by two notable Charleston architects, Albert Simons and Samuel Lapham, Jr., and goes into thorough detail on the architecture and history of Charleston.

In the preface, Samuel Gaillard Stoney introduces Charleston as a place that “preserved the tradition of the classic, with its intellectual freedom, its moral tolerance, its discipline in matters of etiquette, its individualism, and the spirit of logic which elsewhere largely perished in the romantic movement” (pg. 11).  Typical of the 1920s South, Stoney refers to “systematized negro labor” and explains that “malaria made the negro the agricultural laborer exclusively,” thereby blatantly ignoring the realities of slavery (pg. 11-12).  He concludes his brief history of Charleston with an explanation that “if these people did nothing else worthy of memorial, they set up in their city records of a society and a civilization, drawn from an older time” (pg. 13).

Simons and Lapham’s study moves chronologically from the founding of Charleston in 1670 to the ante-bellum Octagon Library City Planperiod and includes many photographs of local buildings, sectional drawing plans, and city plans for Charleston.  Despite the French Hugeunot presence in early Charleston, “it is difficult to point out anything that is indisputably Gallic, for what is not English has rather more of a Dutch character” (pg. 17).  The staple crops of the area were rice and indigo, and many in the area amassed fortunes as planters.  Following the American revolution, during which Charleston was heavily damaged as a focal point of the fighting, there occurred “the erection of a considerable number of religious, philanthropic, and social institutions, as well as commercial and domestic buildings” (pg. 103).  There also was more French influence in the architecture, as well as English, and greater ingenuity in the designs (for example, in the oval drawing-rooms, and a focus on size rather than detail).

Of equal interest is a note on the title page of the book from one of the authors: “To the successors of Paul P. Cret from Albert Simons in grateful appreciation of our Cher Maitre.”  Simons also signed the book right above his name.   Cret was the architect of the Tower and campus at UT Austin, drawing an interesting connection between two figures who greatly influenced the cities of Charleston and Austin.

The Octagon Library: Charleston, South Carolina is more pictures and drawings than writing, but the images demonstrate the elements the authors mention and give a better sense of Charleston’s architecture.  Charleston has grown in popularity over recent years, and become renowned for its Octagon Library Doorway Detailwell-preserved buildings, history, and Southern charm.  While other Southern cities have failed to protect their historic homes and buildings, Charleston has capitalized on them. The city also beautifully shows how historic events shape the identity of a place.  The destruction of Charleston during the American Revolution followed by a fire and heavy artillery damages during the Civil War have resulted in Charleston placing an emphasis on protecting its buildings.  Many cities could learn from Charleston’s example.  The inclination toward tearing down old homes to make room for businesses may seem  practical, but integrating those old buildings into the fabric of local society and industry has been financially rewarding for Charleston.  So, why invest in protecting historic buildings?  Just ask Charleston – it’s on fire again, just not that kind of fire.

New Books: Colonial Delhi

Jain, A.K. Colonial Delhi: Imperial and Indigenous. New Delhi: Kaveri Books, 2015. Print.

Colonial Delhi: Imperial and Indigenous by A.K. Jain delves into the history of Delhi, paying particular attention to the work of the Delhi Improvement Trust (DIT) to improve the city.  Jain writes that “whereas Imperial Delhi was for the ruling class and the Britishers, the schemes of DIT were mainly concerned with the improvement of Jain - Coverthe indigenous city…[and] acted as the bridge between New and Old Delhi” (pg. 6).  Within Delhi, Jain argues, there are two cities: one British and one Indian.  They “had an altogether different perspective, politics, purpose, paradigm, and planning approach” (pg. 8).  It is these two cities Jain focuses on, shedding light on the physical and cultural divides between colonizer and colonized.

Jain goes into great detail on Delhi’s past, covering the city’s founding as Shahjahanabad before splitting the remainder of the book into two parts, one on imperial Delhi and one on indigenous Delhi.  He makes use of primary sources, including numerous images and transcripts of reports and other documents.  He analyzes some of the most significant and notable British buildings and explores how they reinforce British superiority and imperialism.  The section on DIT is much longer, and discusses the major population growth of Delhi and the extensive efforts of the DIT to improve Delhi.  Citizens applied for improvements to an area or building, so long as “it was ‘too badly arranged’ or [had] ‘any other sanitary defects'” (pg. 219). Different commissions would then work on the projects. Occasionally the DIT would seek out improvement projects in the city, depending on the approval of occupants.

Jain provides fascinating primary sources which demonstrate the different ways of thinking between the British and the DIT, as well as the differences and changes in Delhi’s planning.  Adding his own interpretation and analysis, Colonial Delhi: Imperial and Indigenous presents a case study which reveals the complicated dichotomy between an empire and the people and places it colonizes.

New Book: Unfinished Places

Selim - Cover 1Selim, Gehan. Unfinished Places: The Politics of (Re)Making Cairo’s Old Quarters. New York: Routledge, 2017. Print.

Gehan Selim’s Unfinished Places: The Politics of (Re)Making Cairo’s Old Quarters explores efforts throughout the 20th century to rebuild Baluq Abul Ela, a 16th-century Ottoman quarter in Cairo.  Selim examines these efforts through a political and historical lens, studying state policies towards the reshaping of Baluq Abul Ela and the impact of the changes on everyday citizens of Cairo.

Selim writes that “the urban landscape of historic Cairo significantly shaped its inhabited core and characterized the city’s principal identity and popular traditional urban patters” (pg. 2).  Baluq Abul Ela “was not an extension of Cairo’s urban growth or even a suburb; it was an independent spatial entity with its own configuration and patters, which may or may not have matched those of Cairo” (pg. 6). Bulaq underwent major transformation in the 20th century as the district became more modern, with high-rise buildings and hotels, and more heavily populated, leading to deterioration.  Selim examines the changes across Cairo as a whole, and the effects of globalization on the city.  She questions how well urban spaces are being preserved, as well as the effectiveness of the Egyptian government’s efforts in Cairo.  Selim argues that architects and preservationists must be attuned to Cairo’s history and culture, as well as the history of particular districts, to successfully remake the historic districts.

True to the Egyptian joke of “Cairo Time” (where time moves quickly and slowly at the same time – buses do not stop to pick up people, but instead simply slow down, because they must keep moving in order to sit for hours in the Cairo traffic) city and national officials have attempted to move quickly to revitalize historic areas yet these projects have floundered or even hastened deterioration.  Cairo is itself a megacity, but within it are diverse and divided cultures.  This diversity and history is exactly what gives Cairo its identity.

Over one thousand years old, Cairo is one of the largest and most historically and culturally rich cities in the world.  I have been privileged enough to visit Cairo.  A haze forever hangs over the city, hiding the hustle and bustle from those outside. At the Pyramids of Giza, a mere 14 miles from Cairo, the haze provides the illusion of complete isolation.  The sounds of traffic and life never cease, no matter the hour of day or night, except for when the call to prayer (Adhan) rings out five times a day – it is the only time when Cairo actually stops.  The buildings are mostly unfinished (as property is not taxed until construction is complete) and many are in poor condition. People fill the streets: shouting, talking, smoking.  Many would call Cairo dilapidated compared to the grandiosity of European cities.  But it is in this that Cairo’s iconic status lies – its history and culture is written on its buildings, and there is no illusion of perfection.  The new high rises, as Selim says herself, look modern and impressive, but do not blend with the rest of Cairo.  No one who visits Cairo remembers the high rises, instead they feel out of place, like the city is trying to hide its gritty reality.  But it is that grit that demonstrates Cairo’s true greatness.  The rebar sticking up from roofs, crumbling ancient buildings, the constant haze hanging above, and the crowds of people are what I remember most about Cairo; it was those features that convinced me that Cairo remains one of the greatest and most beautiful cities in the world.

Friday Finds: Church Bells

ToThe Art of the Church Coverday’s Friday Find is H. B. Walters’ Church Bells, from The Arts of the Church, a book series focusing on “the various arts which have clustered round the public worship of God in the Church of Christ” (pg. vii).  This volume in particular focuses on church bells, how they are made, their decoration, care, and their melodies.

Walters begins with a brief history of bells and their use in churches. He writes that “ancient bells were invariably dedicated with elaborate ceremonies, and were baptized with the name of the saint or other person after whom they were named…so as to be set apart from all secular uses” (pg. 6).  Walters then explains the process of casting a bell, the different kinds of big bells, uses and customs of bells, and specifically the history of bells in England.  The description of the decoration and inscription of bells is especially fascinating – he points out that “we [the English] do not as a rule find them as highly ornamented as foreign bells…but to some the greater soberness of the English method may seem preferable” (pg. 105).  This kind of national pride is present throughout the book.  Walters’ assertions of British superiority are hardly surprising when considering that Art of the Church - Page 1 when the book was originally published in 1908, the influence of the British Empire was beginning to wane and be challenged.

The use has grown beyond churches – bells can be heard on college campuses, in clock towers, and some even hold great historical significance (e.g. the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). They do not hold the same solemnity and religious association that they held when Walters wrote Church Bells, but they are no less iconic and recognizable an architectural feature.  The inclusion of bells in architecture makes a statement about the building too – it is meant to be heard from a distance, to draw people in as they hear the bells. The bells add an audial component to architecture, a primarily visual art; in a fashion, it is the architect and the building inviting those nearby to enjoy the beauty of the sights and sounds.