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Friday Finds: Founders and Frontiersmen

Robert G. Ferris’ 1967 book Founders and Frontiersmen: Historic Places Commemorating Early Nationhood and the Westward Movement, 1783-1828 explores the early years of the United States, providing a history and analysis of how more can Founders and Frontiersmenbe learned about the men and the nation from the architecture.  Ferris seeks to provide a survey of historic sites in the U.S., and hopes “that citizens will use the volumes in this series to seek out and visit sites of interest to them” in order to help encourage preservation (Pg. xii).

Ferris begins the book by providing historical context to better understand the sites he uses as examples in the second part of the book.  The historical overview is crucial for making readers understand why the sites Ferris discusses are important and worthy of preservation.  The vast majority of the book is spent on the sites themselves, with some attention to what is learned from each one and how it contributes to American history, as in the case of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in Maryland.  Ferris gives a broad and short description of the history, as well as explaining the park itself and the surrounding area.  Interestingly, Ferris leaves out some important elements from the story of Harpers Ferry: he denounces John Brown as only a man “who conceived himself as an instrument of providence…[and] led a violent raid on the town that helped goad the Nation closer to civil war” (Pg. 162).  While what Ferris said isn’t untrue, it leaves out important parts of the story.  John Brown did believe he was given divine permission to murder, specifically he believed it was time to bring the struggles over slavery to a head. Brown was, in fact, a fierce abolitionist who then turned to murder to try to achieve his goals.  There are some instances like this throughout Founders and Frontiersmen, where Ferris provides his own interpretation without presenting the full story.  This is less surprising, especially in the case of Harpers Ferry, when considering the book was published at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and fear of similar violence over race reached a zenith.  But overall, Ferris’ overviews are useful and provide that information which best adds to his argument for preservation.

Founders and Frontiersmen makes a compelling argument for the importance of these historic places, and thereby argues effectively for their continued preservation.  Ferris provides a fantastic overview, showing that the early United States was chaotic – a young nation finding its way in an experimental form of government, freshly broken away from the superpower of the day.  Many colonists fought for independence and the promise of a greater destiny in the American Revolution.  Ferris explains how that destiny then translated into the idea of Manifest Destiny: the notion that the United States was meant to expand westward.  But despite all this spirit and belief in American greatness, some of the architecture, particularly that of the capital city, is inspired by foreign buildings, a fact which Ferris hints at but never fully states. Greek elements are clear in the Capitol building, as well as in Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.  Yet there are uniquely American elements to each building, too.  The octagonal shape of Monticello  is distinctive and representative of Jefferson’s own tastes.  How did Americans go about adapting and developing their own architectural styles? Did the idea of Manifest Destiny aid in this? What role did climate, materials, and social needs play in developing frontier architecture?  Ferris never satisfactorily answers these questions, and he never fully admits that Americans have a habit of borrowing and building upon the work of others.  The idea of democracy itself was originally Greek, but the Founding Fathers adapted it to a new situation; the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution borrowed ideas from British philosophers John Locke and Thomas Hobbes.  But in spite of this, no one would say that the Constitution or the Declaration are anything but American documents.

In the popular musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton says at one point, “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot.”  Though Hamilton is a piece of historical fiction intended for Broadway, there is some truth to this statement. The Founding Fathers and the frontiersmen had to be, if not young, then at least “scrappy” and “hungry.”  These were men who took on the British army and (after many losses) won and then built a nation.  Frontiersmen faced harrowing experiences themselves while seeking to fulfill the idea of Manifest Destiny – starvation, an unyielding geography and climate, or Native Americans who were understandably mistrustful of Americans – yet they kept moving West until they hit the Pacific Ocean.  The early United States took elements of other nations’ architecture, culture, philosophy, and made it their own, so much so that now democracy, the Capitol, and the frontier house are strongly associated with the narrative of the United States. The Founding Fathers and the frontiersmen refused to throw away their shot: they adapted and created buildings, governments, and ways of thinking about American destiny that, though perhaps not entirely American in origin, are now closely intertwined with the American consciousness.  Today, Americans are known for their creativity, tenacity, and innovation, in part because of United States history and belief in itself; contemporary generations have shown themselves to be just as scrappy, just as hungry, and just as unwilling to throw away their shot at shaping the American narrative, landscape, and destiny as those who came before.

New Books for Winter Reading

First, I would like to call attention to William Allin Storrer’s two new books on Frank Lloyd Wright that just arrived – Frank Lloyd Wright: Creating American Architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright: Designing Democratic America. Storrer notes in both works, “It is, too, a personal memoir and distillation of what my 66 years ‘with Frank Lloyd Wright’ has come to mean to me” (Designing Democratic America, IV; Creating American Architecture, III). Each work focuses on domestic architecture – Creating American Architecture specifically on Wright’s Prairie architecture and Designing Democratic America on his Usonian designs.

Storrer, William Allin. Frank Lloyd Wright: Creating American Architecture. With D. Dominique Watts and Rich Johnson. Traverse City, MI: WineWright Media, 2015. Storrer, William Allin. Frank Lloyd Wright Designing Democratic America. Traverse City, MI: WineWright Media, 2015.

The other two books I selected to share pertain to cities – Chicago and Florence, though they will be of interest to  historians, architects, and urban planners.

Betancur, John J. and Janet L. Smith. Claiming Neighborhood: New Ways of Understanding Urban Change. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2016.

betancurBetancur and Smith examine Chicago as a case study for understanding the history and future of neighborhoods. They write:

We argue that current theories – the tools used by academics and policy makers to explain how and why neighborhoods change – limit our ability to interpret what is actually happening while at the same time advancing in a veiled form a specific position or point of view and mandate. In particular, long-standing assumptions about what a neighborhood is and its importance in our lives rely on an image from the past that never existed and ignores or hides the realities on the ground. (pg. vii)

Atkinson, Niall. The Noisy Renaissance: Sound, Architecture, and Florentine Urban Life. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University, 2016.

I am particularly excited about Niall Atkinson’s book on Renaissance Florence.  While I was not anticipating his work, I find medieval and Renaissance Florence incredibly engaging and it is always one of my favorite sections to teach. I am curious how The Noisy Renaissance will either act as a companion piece to Marvin Trachtenberg’s Dominion of the Eye: Urbanism, Art, and Power in Early Modern Florence by enhancing our understanding of Renaissance Florence or perhaps challenge Trachtenberg’s interpretation of the city experience. Atkinson writes:

The Renaissance city was by no means a quiet place. In a variety of ways atkinsonit spoke directly to its inhabitants, who, irresistibly, were drawn to speak back. With its buildings and spaces, walls and gates, doors and windows, it facilitated and obstructed the flow of information, the dissemination of official messages, the telling of stories, the performance of music, the rhythm of prayer, the trade in secrets, and the low-frequency murmur of rumors, lies, and gossip. The built environment was not a stage upon which a discordant urban drama played out, but the very medium that gave that drama form, shaped its meaning, and modulated its towns. The city expressed the most compelling aspects of its design when people danced on its surfaces, crowded its spaces, poked holes in its walls, and upended its hierarchical organizations. And it is through these exchanges that we can learn a great deal not only about how contemporaries understand the buildings and spaces that surrounded them, but how they participated in a collective dialogue that continually reinforced, undermined, and reconfigured architectural meaning (pg. 4).

Explore UT at the Architecture and Planning Library

Explore UT,  that carnival of an open house, that invasion of miniature wide eyed students and their exhausted parents,  whose scale rivals the world’s fair, will be held on campus one month from today on Saturday March the 5th.  In order to do our part to help recruit some new students for the university and the School of Architecture, we at the Architecture and Planning Library have prepared a few quasi educational sideshows. There will be materials for coloring, a game to test your knowledge of fictional architecture, and a clown who will show you how to make a simple book. The activities will be held in the library’s reading room in Battle Hall from 11-5, except the book making which will be held from 12-3.  If you don’t care for activities, then the classical beauty and grandeur of Battle Hall should be reason enough to pay us a visit, and should also be far more compelling to an impressionable young student than any game could be. Come explore our library!

 

 

 

Stuff and Things: Bethlehem Steel

Bethelem_SpecialCollectionsWhile in Special Collections last week, I happened to look up and I caught sight of the word “Bethlehem” on one the supporting beams.  And then I got super excited, which may not be everyone’s reaction.

Prior to the Architecture and Planning Library, I worked at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. Whenever I told people that I lived in Bethlehem, their reaction was usually: Oh like Mad Men.

If you are familiar with the episode, New Amsterdam (Season One), you might remember that Bethlehem, PA was home to Bethlehem Steel.  And I am madly in love with the factory ruins. The history of the steel mill is complicated, and I am an outsider. However, I care very deeply about the town and the factory. BSteel_LogoI recognize, however,  that my appreciation for the site comes from a different place than those that worked at the steel mill and lived in Bethlehem while it was in operation.  Whenever the weather was good, I would  walk home from the university and cross the New Street Bridge to the north side of town. I often would pause for moment, captivated by stacks. Occasionally, they would be artfully illuminated at night and would glow the like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz.

If you are intrigued by the photos, Lehigh University Libraries has two projects that seek to document the history associated with the steel mill and Bethlehem, PA. The first is Beyond Steel: An Archive of Lehigh Valley Industry and Culture. The second is Still Looking for You: A Bethlehem Place + Memory Project. Or feel free to stop by and chat about the projects and the site.

Online Exhibit Coming Soon

APL  and the Alexander Architectural Archives are working on a mini online exhibit to highlight some of the travel watercolors produced by Charles W. Moore. The exhibit will be hosted here on Battle Hall Highlights.  As part of the exhibit, we would like to include current SOA faculty and student work as it relates to your travel experiences. A submission might include a drawing, sketch, excerpt from a travel journal, watercolor, or photograph.

If you would like to contribute to the exhibit please send the image with your name, year if you are a student, and caption as you would like it to appear to jaberle[@utexas.edu]. The deadline for submission is August 14, 2015. By submitting your work, you are granting APL the right to publish your work on Battle Hall Highlights.

Friday Finds: Store Fronts

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—

Dan, Horace. English Shop-Fronts, Old and New; A Series of Examples by Leading Architects, Selected and Specially Photographed, Together with Descriptive Notes and Illustrations, by Horace Dan, M.S.A. and E.C. Morgan Willmott, A.R.I.B.A. London: B. T. Batsford, 1907.

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.

Herbst, René. Modern French Shop-Fronts and their Interiors. with a Forward by James Burford. London: John Tiranti & Company, 1927.

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.

Lacroix, Boris J. Magasins & Boutiques. Paris: C. Massin [194-?].

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.

To Better Know A Building: Voting is Open

Our current To Better Know a Building Exhibit on Little Chapel in the Woods by Ford and Swank is up until August 31, but we at the library and archives have already started thinking about the next exhibit. And we need your input!

If you enjoy the series, please do vote. Voting is open until Friday May 8, 2015 with two options. Either stop by the Reading Room and cast a paper ballot or pop over to the digital survey.

Here are the choices for the fall exhibit:

  1. Geraldine Building, 1891, New York City
  2. Blackstone Theater, 1910, Chicago
  3. UT Hogg Auditorium, 1932, University of Texas, Austin
  4. UT Main Building, 1934, University of Texas, Austin
  5. Lipshy Residence, 1950, Dallas
  6. Birtcher Residence, 1941, Los Angeles
  7. Temple Emanu-El, 1957, Dallas
  8. Intercontinental Motors, 1962, San Antonio
  9. Charles Moore’s Residence, 1962, Orinda
  10. Smith-Young Tower, 1928, San Antonio (Now, Tower Life Building)
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“TO DESIGN = TO DRAW = TO MAKE ARCHITECTURE”

 

As an architecture student, working in the archive allows me to think back 30 or 40 years when hand drafting skills determined one’s worth as an architect.  While sifting through rolls of bluelines and sepia prints, pink from chemical decay and red from revisions, I occasionally find architectural treasures.  This semester I have been working primarily on drawings from Bill Hersey and John Kyrk, two draftsmen who worked for Charles Moore.

One note scribbled in the margin of one of the drawings eloquently stated Hersey’s view on hand drafting:

IMG_20150327_084024_843

In Hersey’s day, drafting was completely different than today’s digital modeling tools.  While architects now can whip out a complex form and look at it from every angle, hand draftsmen worked line by line on a single perspective.  Slower, yes, but with it’s own benefits, not to mention the romantic zen of hand drafting.  When you draw with pencil on paper, the image suddenly emerges from a series of smaller decisions, like a connect-the-dots for adults.  3D modeling simply cannot capture the same process of intuition and discovery.  While software is powerful, it lacks nuance and character and tempts designers to limit their focus to what fits on screen.  Not that digital software doesn’t have creative value, just not likely the kind that will make future archivists drool.

 

Battle Hall Conservation Study

 

Sample_Izabella and Sarah
GRA’s Izabella Dennis (left) and Sarah Hunter (right)

The Battle Hall Architecture and Planning Library at the University of Texas at Austin was designed by architect Cass Gilbert in 1911, setting the stylistic tone for future academic architecture and shaping the distinguished Texas university campus. In preparation for a preservation and improvement campaign of the University of Texas’ first architectural masterpiece and its later extension, West Mall Building, a Facilities Condition Report was produced by an outside consultant in 2011 to identify measures to restore the building. Several building elements required further investigation to determine original finishes, best methods for cleaning and treating historic materials, and recommendations for restoration. The UT Office for Campus Planning and Facilities Management provided support and funding for the remaining studies to be carried out through the UT Architectural Conservation Lab under the supervision of Senior Lecturer and Conservation Scientist Frances Gale.

Masonry Testing in the UTSOA Architectural Conservation Lab
Masonry Testing in the UTSOA Architectural Conservation Lab
Marble Cleaning
Marble Cleaning Tests on the Battle Hall Staircase

Graduate Research Assistants Izabella Z. Dennis and Sarah B. Hunter from the UT School of Architecture Historic Preservation program had the opportunity to participate in this materials conservation study. The work included laboratory analysis of finish samples from ornamental metals, exterior wood building components, the interior wood reading room ceiling and interior plaster finishes. Cleaning tests were performed on interior marble, and protective treatments were evaluated for the exterior limestone veneer. The study involved archival research of the original construction documents and subsequent renovations of Battle Hall, on-site condition assessments and sample collection, and both laboratory and on-site testing. Based on the findings, recommendations were made to help restore original finishes to metal, wood and plaster elements of Battle Hall during its proposed renovation.

Finish Sample Statigraphy
Finish Sample Statigraphy

After documenting original finishes, including linseed oil paints and lead pigments, practical recommendations were developed using contemporary materials. This project involved close collaboration with Facilities Services in accessing hard-to-reach building components, conducting interior marble cleaning tests and exploring practical preservation solutions.

Happy Birthday, Blake Alexander

Blake Alexander in his UT office
Blake Alexander in his UT office

Blake Alexander, namesake of the Alexander Architectural Archive, was born on February 4, 1924 in Paris, Texas. He was a longtime architectural educator at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture as well as a dedicated force in the education, documentation and preservation of Texas heritage.

Professor Alexander first started the collection that today is known as the Alexander Architectural Archive in 1958 when he adapted an assignment for his architectural history course at UT to follow the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) format. This required students to measure and document historic Texas structures. The documentation collection quickly outgrew his office and began to collect in a small storage room, dubbed “Alexander’s Closet”.

Blake Alexander with Ty Cox at Winedale's Lewis Place (Stagecoach Inn)
Blake Alexander with Ty Cox at Winedale’s Lewis Place (Stagecoach Inn)

During the 1960’s, a student brought Professor Alexander large paper sacks full of water-damaged drawings that had survived the 1900 Galveston hurricane. The drawings were from prominent local architect Nicholas Clayton, and sparked the idea to welcome the donation of original drawings by Texas architects that deserved to be preserved. In 1979, The University of Texas Libraries began to collect these drawings in “The Architectural Drawings Collection”.

The “Architectural Drawings Collection” was renamed the “Alexander Architectural Archive” in 1998 after the Texas Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians launched a campaign to honor the archives founder and recognize Professor Alexander’s pioneering contribution to the preservation of our architectural history. Today, the archive contains over 200,000 drawings and over 61 linear feet of papers, photographic materials, models and ephemera representing projects from Texas and beyond. The archive and Professor Alexander’s efforts have been an invaluable resource for restoring some of Texas’ most important and beloved buildings.

Happy Birthday, Blake Alexander!