All posts by Katie Jakovich

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.

New Books: Place

Harney, Marion. Place-Making for the Imagination: Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill. Burlington: Ashgate Limited, 2013. Print.

Pasic, Amir, Borut Juvanec, and Jose Luis Moro, eds. The Importance of Place: Values and Building Practices in the Historic Urban Landscape. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2016. Print.

Among the new books this week, there were several focusing on the theme of “place.”  Notably, Marion Harney’s Place-Making for the Imagination and The Importance of Place, edited by Amir Pasic, Borut Juvanec, and Jose Luis Moro.

In Place-Making for the Imagination, Harney CoverHarney explores the history, landscape, architecture, and intellectual background of Horace Walpole’s villa, Strawberry Hill.  She evaluates “the villa and the landscape…as an entity” and argues that “Strawberry Hill embodies an entirely different set of ideas [from nineteenth-century Gothic Revival] to which the key lies in the cultural pursuits and theories of imaginative pleasure that Walpole engaged with” (pg. xiv).  Harney makes use of Walpole’s writing and the historical context to alter conceptions of Walpole’s inspiration for Strawberry Hill, as well as to consider the setting of the villa as a crucial component of its architecture and identity.

The Importance of Place features articles presented at the fifth International Conference on Hazards and Modern Heritage held in Sarajevo, called “The Importance of Place.”  The conference Importance of Place Coverdiscussed “the relationship of places to each other, their architecture, and their experience with memory” and “the position of contemporary architecture in the historic urban landscape” (pg. ix).  The articles themselves cover a wide array of subjects, including management strategies for urban areas, innovation in Italian architecture in the twentieth-century, conservation, and case studies.  Almost all directly discuss Sarajevo or Bosnia and Herzegovina, creating an ideal environment for the attendees to discuss and consider the challenges of Sarajevo in particular: a fifteenth-century city ravaged by war from 1992-1995, now adapting and seeking to blend its history with modern needs.

Both Place-Making for the Imagination and The Importance of Place contemplate the history and settings of architectural features. The interaction between setting and architecture is a crucial component of what makes a place.  Architecture is influenced by the setting, and the setting is forever changed by the architecture.  The landscape is a place in its own right, as is the building, but only when taken together can the totality of the place become clear.

New Book: Global Undergrounds

Dobraszczyk, Paul, Carlos Lopez Galviz, and Bradley L. Garrett, eds. Global Undergrounds: Exploring Cities Within. London: Reaktion, 2016. Print.

Global Undergrounds: Exploring Cities Within, edited by Paul Dobraszczyk, Carlos Lopez Galviz, and Bradley L. Garrett features short pieces from the authors and other experts discussing the world beneath cities.  True to the title, the book explores cities from Los Angeles to Pyongyang and everywhere between.

In the preface, Geoff Manaugh highlights that “we live amid interpenetrating systems of space, knotted topologies that do not immediately reveal Global Undergrounds Cover 4themselves but, instead, lurk in the shadows, under streets, below grade” (pg. 9).  He adds “sometimes the space itself is the heritage…it is history from below” (pg. 12).  From there, Global Undergrounds launches into discussion of how these underground spaces were used as homes and places of safety, as well as the representation in literature, and underground metro systems around the world.  For example, Alexandros Tsakos writes of the Cairo Metro: “[it] is now infused with fear of civil unrest, political violence, and revolution…the metro is notorious for its sexual discrimination…were these underground spaces truly a refuge from the turmoil above ground?” (pg. 217).  Tsakos highlights that while the underground world in Cairo is distinct from the city above, the problems and dangers above permeate the tunnels too.

Global Undergrounds provides a fascinating exploration of the spaces beneath cities around the world.  Everyday people walk past or even on covered manholes, sewage pipes, and storm drains, but many never think about the world beneath their feet.  They know it is there, but the attention remains on the high-rise buildings reaching for the sky above.  Little thought is given to the vast world below and the intrigues it holds.

Friday Finds: Architecture, Nature, and Magic

As always, part of the joy of Fridays are Friday Finds! In the hot seat today is W.R. Lethaby’s Architecture, Nature, and Magic.  The book was originally published in 1892 under the name Architecture, Mysticism, and Myth, though Lethaby rewrote (and renamed) it in 1928 for The Builder. Lethaby - Cover Page This book is a 1956 compilation of the articles from The Builder.  Lethaby writes that “at the inner heart of ancient building were wonder, worship, magic, and symbolism,” forming part of his main thesis that “nature…was the source of much of what is called architectural decoration…[and] thought of magical properties generally had a very wide and deep influence on the development of ancient building customs” (pg. 16).

Architecture, Nature, and Magic is organized geographically, with close attention paid to chronology, as well.  For example, in the chapter on the Far East, Lethaby traces the history of the tope, “a circular monument like a half sphere, or taller, usually having a spire-like erection on the top” (pg. 66-67).  Originally, “topes were either erected to the celestial Buddha or over relics and sacred sites,” while “later topes in farther Asia are understood to be the imitations of the celestial mountains” (pg. 67-69).  Lethaby then moves chronologically and intertwines cultural mythology with the architecture of the region, as well as the evolution of architectural features.  He follows this essential formula in the other chapters, including discussions of Egypt, Western influences, temples, palaces, and more.

Lethaby concludes that “all the arts had their origin in efforts to satisfy the needs of the body and the mind…the greater buildings were not Lethaby - pageonly for ritual purposes, but they themselves were embodied magic” (pg. 147).  He makes a fascinating argument that without this magical element, humans would have been satisfied with architecture only serving their immediate physical needs.

What inspired people to build beautiful structures when a simple one would suffice?  For all its practicality, there is an artistry and focus on aesthetics in architecture that goes beyond the utility of the structure.  This desire for beauty is a human phenomenon, spanning time and geography.  Why?  There is likely no one answer, if indeed there are any at all.  Maybe there is something inexplicable that drew early architects to aim for more than functionality – perhaps their ideas needed just a touch of magic.

New Book: The Ten Most Influential Buildings in History

Unwin, Simon. The Ten Most Influential Buildings in History: Architecture’s Archetypes. New York: Routledge, 2017. Print.

Unwin - Book CoverDr. Simon Unwin’s newest book, The Ten Most Influential Buildings in History: Architecture’s Archetypes, identifies ten architectural archetypes that have influenced and inspired architects for centuries.  The ten archetypes are standing stone, stone circles, dolmen, hypostyle, temple, theatre, courtyard, labyrinth, the vernacular, and ruin.

Unwin writes in the introduction that “this book is about architecture’s ancient underpinnings…[and] brings the past (in some cases the very ancient past) into the present to find ideas that have influenced architects through history and explore how those archetypal ideas remain relevant now” (pg. 5).  He begins with a brief overview of the basic elements of architecture before devoting the remainder of the book to the ten archetypes.  In these sections Unwin goes into great detail on the architecture, history, and present day applications of the archetypes.  For example, in his chapter on hypostyle halls, Unwin discusses the architectural purpose of the columns to support the ceiling before explaining that the “hypostyle is an analogue of the forest…[and] a place without hierarchy,” as well as a place for wandering without any specified direction (pg. 97).  He gives examples of Egyptian and Persian hypostyle halls, describing the functionality and style of the halls, followed by some examples of architectural work today inspired by the hypostyle.

Unwin highlights these ten archetypes that have stood the test of time.  He succinctly covers vast amounts of architectural history and provides analysis, explanation, and drawings to highlight the influence and importance of these archetypes.  Unwin provides the necessary foundation for architects to be knowledgeable and think critically about the architectural features from the past on which they sometimes rely for inspiration.

Drop in to the library to see more of this week’s new books!

Friday Finds: Pencil Points, Vol. XV

Pencil Points - Cover SheetIt’s Friday again, and that means it’s time for Friday Finds!  Today’s featured player from Special Collections  is Pencil Points Volume XV from 1934.   Pencil Points was published monthly from 1920-1943 and became one of the premier architectural journals, including plans, sketches, articles, and letters from architects in the United States and Europe.

The article topics range from architectural history to appraisal instructions.  Recurring segments appear, such as “Ripley’s Recipes” by Hubert G. Ripley, which discusses recipes for cocktails and food alike, as well as “New York and Its Plans” by Francis S. Swales.  “New York and Its Plans” analyzes the layout and architecture of New York City.  Swales makes the argument that “New York was not planned to be a great or beautiful city, but as the biggest land subdivision on earth,” and that changes must be made to the city in order to adapt it to current needs (pg. 353).

In addition to the beautiful etchings and plans, the historical context of 1934 makes the issues particularly fascinating.   Approximately one year after President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, the recovery Pencil Points - Detail Drawingfrom the Great Depression remained slow but persistent. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies are very much present in Pencil Points.  The Sketch Club of Chicago wrote a piece recommending improvements to the National Industrial Recovery Act, including proposing that “the minimum rate of pay for designers, draftsmen, specification writers, superintendents, and other technical employees shall be not less than $15 per week of 35 hours” (pg. Pencil Points - Watercolor46).   Another piece includes an interview of James A. Moffett, Administrator of the National Housing Act, another staple  of the New Deal, which focuses entirely on the impact of the Act on architects.  Moffett told the editors that “‘the success of the whole undertaking may be fairly said to depend on how active the architects are in furthering the movement to modernize existing buildings and build new houses'” (pg. 373).

Through this historical lens, the importance of architects in bringing back the American economy and jobs becomes clear, as a major aspect of the New Deal was building projects.  With the beginning of the recovery depicted in these 1934 journals, the importance and creativeness of architects (as well as the push to modernize) shine; there is a palpable excitement about the growing job opportunities and potential influence of architects in changing American homes and cities that permeates the 1934 Pencil Points.Pencil Points - Venice

 

 

New Book: Architecture and Urbanism in the British Empire

Bremner, G. A., ed. Architecture and Urbanism in the British Empire. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Bremner CoverDr. G. A. Bremner presents the first comprehensive resource on architecture and urban planning in the British Empire in this companion to the Oxford History of the British Empire.   The survey spans from thematic elements of imperial and colonial architecture to the specific implementation of those plans, as well as the “local variation” of architecture across the Empire.  Bremner writes in the introduction, “colonialism was all but impossible without the buildings and spaces that articulated its presence…this naturally has consequences for how any post-colonial nation state imagines both its past and future” (pg. 1-2).

While not complete in its overview, Architecture and Urbanism in the British Empire serves as an introduction to the major themes of imperial and colonial architecture and planning.  The contributors cover a wide range of topics, including the planning of colonial cities, the use of monuments to establish dominance and authority, and close studies of British imperial architecture in colonies (North America, India, Australia, and Africa, among others).

Bremner and the contributors highlight the British use of urban planning and architecture to assert control over the empire, and many of those buildings remain standing today, revealing the permanence of British influence through its architecture.  This raises a fascinating, perplexing question – did the sun ever truly set on the British Empire?

Come by the library to check out this book or any of the others that arrived this week!