Disk ≠ Image: Creative Solutions to Issues in Born-Digital Processing

Hello. It’s Abbie again, back with another installment on processing and publishing the Volz & Associates, Inc. collection. I recently had the opportunity to present on this collection at The University of Texas’ 2019 Digital Preservation Symposium, where I discussed some of my solutions to born-digital access and preservation issues.

In the course of processing this collection, some of the most significant roadblocks were related to problematic disk images and metadata generation. These revolved around two distinct media types: zip disks and CDs. The collection contains 85 inventoried zip disks. When these were imaged and analyzed in BitCurator, the report came back riddled with error messages. Even though the disk images had been generated successfully, something was keeping fiwalk from generating the correct metadata. This made it impossible to determine necessary information like disk extent, content, and the presence of possible PII or malware.

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Results for the zip disk analysis. Not what you want to see!

When processing CDs, I noticed a group of about a dozen disks each had the exact same metadata. While some similarities are expected, I thought it was strange that that many disks from different projects could each have identical specs. I analyzed the disk images and physical disks and found that they were all CDs of photos processed by the same company. The original content of the disks had been overwritten by the company’s built-in structural and technical metadata, making the disk images virtually useless for research purposes. However, when these disks were mounted in FTK Imager, a write-blocked environment, it became clear that the original images were still extant – they just weren’t being picked up in the disk images.

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Optical disks with identical metadata.

In both of these cases, I knew that the original content could be reached but didn’t know how to access it while adhering to the best practices set up by both the digital archiving community and the resources at my disposal. The disks with these issues amounted to nearly 1/5 of the imaged collection, and many hours of research and testing were put into how I could reprocess this information. Ultimately, I found myself faced with a choice – I could either preserve inaccurate representations of the disk by retaining the existing disk images or preserve inaccurate representations of the metadata by extracting extant files instead of preserving a disk image. The issue with preserving the metadata as it stood was that it was wrong to begin with, and the resources at hand didn’t provide a solution.

When thinking about how best to reprocess this information, I was drawn to this quote from a study undertaken by Julia Kim, the Digital Assets Manager at the Library of Congress:

“Most of the researchers emphasized that if it came to partially processed files or emulations and a significant time delay in processing, they would take unprocessed and relatively inauthentic files. Access by any means, and ease of access were stressed by the majority.”

“Researcher Interactions with Born-Digital: Out of the Frying Pan and into the Reading Room,” saaers.wordpress.com

While we certainly don’t want to prioritize patron opinion over archival standards, this quote made me question whether sacrificing access and preservation to retain imperfect metadata could truly be considered “best practice.”

Working closely with the UT Libraries Digital Stewardship department, I created a workflow whereby I extracted files using FTK Imager and generated SIPS and a bulk_extractor report using the Canadian Center for Architecture’s Folder Processing Tool in the BitCurator environment. The only impact on the metadata was a change in the “Date Modified” field, which now showed the date the files were extracted and could be amended to reflect the most recent date in the file tree. While this is an unconventional approach to digital preservation, the resulting AIPs and DIPs are better representations of the original disks and will allow us to provide more comprehensive data for future researchers.

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The amended workflow.
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Our new results.

After my presentation, I had the opportunity to talk to a digital archivist about this workflow. We discussed how best practice is ultimately not about perfection, but about preserving and providing access to our materials and documenting the process. While somewhat contrasted from the theoretical approaches I’d both learned in class and adapted from online resources, this approach seemed more natural to me. It affirmed both my processing decisions and the opinions I’ve developed about what best practice in the archival community is and should be. This process has shown me how vital the user is to the archive, especially when developing workflows for digital materials.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I love having opportunities to exercise creativity and problem solving in this position. It’s even better when those opportunities lead to breakthroughs that help me grow professionally and enhance the data we provide patrons. I’m excited to see new developments in our born-digital workflow as we get closer to making this collection available to patrons. Check back soon for a (final?) update from me – I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about the behind-the-scenes work of born-digital archiving.

Consider the Floppy: Exploring Access Issues with the Volz & Associates, Inc. Collection

A black 3.5 inch floppy disk with a label reading "RJA: Geomsn.zip"
A floppy disk from the Volz & Associates, Inc. collection.

Hello! This is Abbie Norris, back with an update on the born-digital Volz & Associates, Inc. collection. For those who haven’t read my previous blog post, I am the digital archives Graduate Research Assistant at the Alexander Architectural Archives. I’m currently working on the Volz & Associates, Inc. collection, which documents the work of a historic preservation firm based in Austin, Texas.

When I published my previous post, the collection was in the midst of being processed. I’m happy to report that processing for this collection is complete – all 813 floppy disks, CDs, zip disks, and flash drives of it. Processing is one of the first major stages of getting a collection from the donor to the public. It’s when the bulk of archival preservation happens. In this case, as in many born-digital collections, “processing” involved imaging (essentially, copying) the disks, capturing metadata like disk size and file types, and recording everything for documentation in the finding aid. We’re now able to determine the size of the collection, the types of files, and what we need to provide access to them.

One of the things I love about born-digital archiving is the problems that arise that require creative solutions. This is especially true for an archive’s pilot born-digital collection, as is the case for Volz. Items like CDs and floppy disks degrade at a faster rate than paper materials, meaning that sometimes you try to open a disk that physically appears fine, and it won’t show any of your files. One major question people have is, “If all of the information is stored on a CD, why do you have to copy the contents in a disk image? Why can’t you just continue opening the CD to access the contents?” Luckily, the answer is simple.

Imagine you have a 13th century codex and a 1990s floppy disk. Which one is easier for you to read? With the codex, all you have to do is open it. It will be fragile and you might not know the language in which it’s written, but much of the information held in the book will be visible to you. Now, consider the floppy disk. When was the last time you used one? Does your computer still have a floppy disk drive? More than likely, the answer is, “No.” Even if it does, think about the files on that disk. Can you still open a WordPerfect document from 1992?

Given that the Volz collection dates between 1980 and 2009, the types of files present on the disk vary widely. Some, like .txt and .tif files, are still widely accessible and are projected to remain active filetypes in the future. Others, like .jpeg, are still accessible but are not recommended for preservation because of their lower quality and the potential for their use to cease. Finally, there are the files that you try to open with modern software…and nothing works. These files can be either old versions of proprietary software and discontinued software.

This is where creative solutions come in. There are a variety of tools, many borrowed from the criminal forensics world, that allows us to look at files from twenty years ago. Because the digital archive field is still developing and many of the projects use open access tools, the software an archive uses to read and provide access to old files can resemble a patchwork quilt. Now that I know exactly what types of files are in the collection, I love exploring access solutions and finding answers to questions that have persisted since I began working here.

In many ways, finishing processing feels like finishing the first segment of a relay race. I feel accomplished for finishing a major task, but there is still a long way to go. Now that processing is complete, we have to finish writing the finding aid and establish methods for researchers to access the collection. It’s going to be an exciting few months, so check back here to learn about what providing access to a born-digital collection looks like at the Alexander Architectural Archives.

Volz Materials Collection Capstone Project

Hello, people of the Battle Hall Highlights Blogosphere!  I reached the conclusion of my final semester at the UT School of Information in December, and my capstone project was to create a metadata schema and standard of description for the materials portion of the Volz & Associates, Inc., Collection here at the Architecture & Planning Library and Alexander Architectural Archives.

Donated by the Austin-based historic preservation and interior design firm Volz & Associates, Inc., to the Library in 2017, the collection marks the beginning of the Library’s materials collection.  What makes the Volz Collection unique among materials collections is that it includes both historic artifacts, and sample contemporary materials to replace the historic ones.  This, along with the rest of the collection being in the Alexander Architectural Archives (be sure to read my colleagues’ blog posts about the exciting happenings in the AAA regarding this collection!), presents unique challenges and opportunities for describing materials that are not present in other materials collections.

A screenshot of the University of Houston Materials Research Collaborative online database.
A screenshot of the University of Houston Materials Research Collaborative online database.

The first part of this project involved studying other materials collections and the metadata included to describe them.  The Field Supervisor of this project, Dr. Katie Pierce Meyer, Head of Architectural Collections, recommended contacting Jen Wong at the Materials Lab at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture (UTSOA), Johanna Kasubowski at the Materials Collection at Harvard Graduate School of Design, and Mark Pompelia at the Visual + Materials Resource Center at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).  Ms. Wong at UTSOA and Ms. Kasubowski at Harvard were successfully reached.  In the course of researching materials collections, I found University of Houston’s Materials Research Collaborative (MRC), and after hearing about the MRC from Donna Kacmar, a Professor of Architecture at University of Houston who oversees the MRC, I selected the MRC as the other primary example of a materials collection for the purposes of this project.  Marybeth Tomka, Head of Collections at the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory (TARL), was also consulted on the project.  TARL could potentially serve as an example of thinking about project (e.g. the roof of a building being one project, and the interior of the same building being another project) versus site (e.g. the property or the built work).

The second part of the project was to study the Volz Collection itself, to determine where there was overlap with other materials collections and where the collection’s metadata needs differed.  Due to the historic nature of many of the materials, the collection is not only of interest to materials scientists, but also to architectural historians and historians, so the metadata about the different projects is also crucial to their understanding of the collection.  In the materials collections at other institutions studied for this project, the focus of the metadata is on the scientific and chemical metadata, which is also applicable to the Volz Collection.  The more historic and project-focused metadata for the Volz Collection is unique among materials collections.

The final schema retains some metadata elements of more conventional materials collections (so as to be recognizable to patrons who are accustomed to using materials collections) while other elements are designed to correspond with how the Alexander Architectural Archives (AAA) is organizing the analog and digital materials, including project documentation and drawings from the Volz collection.  The AAA finding aids are mostly organized by project, rather than built work.

A screenshot of UTSOA's Materials Lab database.
A screenshot of UTSOA’s Materials Lab database.

After studying the collections at Harvard, University of Houston, UTSOA, and TARL, elements from each were pulled from the collections to build a schema that works for the Volz collection.  The final schema includes terminology from the various collections, and combines the traditional metadata in materials collections (e.g. form, process, properties, etc…) with the project metadata that connects the materials collection with the Alexander Architectural Archive.  Most of the metadata is also easily transferable to Material Order, should the Architecture & Planning Library decide in the future that the database is the appropriate online point of access for the collection.  Below is the planned schema.

  • Artifact/Item
    • Material Type (Metal, Polymer, Ceramic, Natural Material, Glass, Hybrid)
      • Based on the University of Houston database’s broad categorization
    • Condition
      • Overall condition of the object
      • This is a field not present in the materials collections studied, but which is often present in archival collections
    • Composition
      • Ceramics (Concrete, Cement, Ceramic Tile, Porcelain, Clay Plaster of Paris, Terracotta, Silicon); Hybrids (Glass Fiber/Fiberglass, Engineered, Plywood, Particleboard, Oriented Strand Board, Shape Memory Alloy, Shape Memory Polymer); Metal (Steel, Aluminum, Copper, Brass, Zinc, Bronze, Iron, Tin); Natural Material (Paper, Wood, Mineral & Stone, Cotton, Resin, Leather, Grass, Silk); Polymer (Polyester, Polyvinylchloride, Polyamides, Polyethylene, Polypropylene, Polymethyl methacrylate, Polycarbonate, Cellulosics); Glass (Silica, Soda Lime Glass, Borosilicate Glass, Glass Ceramic, Lead Glass)
        • In UT’s database, this provides more detail on the material type
        • One of the major categories of description used by UT’s Materials Lab and Harvard
        • We do not have all this information for all the items at this point, but this can be added later as more students at UTSOA do work to determine the chemical composition of items in the collection
        • Applicable to Material Order
    • Form
      • Includes such descriptions as “fixture,” “flooring,” “paver,” and “trim”
      • Still determining applicable categories – this will become more fleshed out as the collection is studied
        • One of the major categories of description used by both UT’s Materials lab and Harvard
    • Dimensions
      • Length, width, height, and weight of artifact
        • This information is standard across materials collections
    • Application/Use
      • The basic function of the item
    • Date of Production (for the artifact)
      • This information is not standard in materials collections, but it is specific to the Volz Collection since it crosses a wide time span of both historic materials and contemporary, and it relates the archival parts of the collection, where dates matter and are frequently included
    • Project Metadata/Title
      • Site/Built Work
        • See project list and project numbers
      • Date of Project
        • The date when the particular project to which the artifact belongs took place
      • Geographical Location
        • The geographical location where the project took place
        • For now this will be as simple as “Austin, Texas,” but this could be a future GIS project
      • Typology
        • A basic classification of the kind of project it is
        • Still in-progress
A photograph of storage space at TARL.  Similar to UTSOA's Materials Lab, TARL includes open shelving and barcodes for each item (for inventory purposes).
A photograph of storage space at TARL. Similar to UTSOA’s Materials Lab, TARL includes open shelving and barcodes for each item (for inventory purposes).

Future issues facing the Volz & Associates, Inc., Collection include accessibility, whether or not to make the collection available via Material Order, storage, and the identification of materials.  The Architecture and Planning Library can turn to collections like the UTSOA Materials Lab, the University of Houston’s MRC, Harvard’s Materials Collection, and TARL for solutions to some of these issues.  Harvard is one of the institutions working on Material Order, a materials database that will make materials collections at Harvard, the RISD, and Parsons accessible online, and develop a new metadata standard for materials collections.  Material Order is one possible answer to the issue of accessibility.  The Materials Lab and TARL could serve as examples of circulating teaching collections, where items are checked out by students and professors at the Materials Lab, and TARL serves as a teaching collection for UT Austin archaeology students, where they can perform tests on items.  In a pilot test in the Spring of 2018, items from the Volz Collection were checked out to Senior Lecturer Fran Gale for testing in one of her architectural conservation courses.  The results were shared with the Library, and prove that this collaborative work with students at UTSOA could prove mutually beneficial – they gain experience working with materials and identification of items, and the Library can incorporate those results into the metadata for the item.  The metadata schema developed for this project is but one small part of the work to be done on the Volz Collection, but it provides the overarching framework for that work to continue.

Through researching other materials collections, it became clear that the Volz & Associates, Inc., Collection is unique for its blend of historic artifacts and contemporary building samples.  This meant that though there is overlap with the other major materials collections at Harvard, University of Houston, and UTSOA, there is also overlap with the TARL in terms of handling historic items; these differences and the need for the materials portion of the Volz Collection to correspond with the holdings in the Alexander Architectural Archive led to a blended metadata schema and standard of description that combines elements of other materials collections with the project-based organization that the Alexander Architectural Archive is following in the rest of the Volz Collection.image015

THE BROAD- An Art museum Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

More than a century ago LA was known for its freeways than its architecture; with its urban expansion directed by the automotive infrastructure. Though still a place defined by its traffic woes, LA is fast assuming the status of an architectural hub with a new centrality in Grand Avenue. Lined with Walt Disney Concert hall and MOCA (Arata Isozaki represent), The Broad and Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the Grand Avenue is now considered the cultural center of the city. This book as the name suggests, goes into the depth of The Broad right from the inception of the idea by Eli and Edythe Broad to the site selection, its cultural significance in the Grand Avenue to the engineering and design of its free-standing complex “Veil”.

The broad
The Broad’s Veiled facade

The book is ‘broad’ly divided into four sections. It begins with an extremely detailed photo essay by Iwaan Baan, with bonus photos of the storage rooms and other spaces which are inaccessible to the public.It then moves on to cover the Roundtable discussion by Eli Broad (the founder), Elizabeth Diller (Chief architect of the DS+R) Paul Goldberger (Architecture critic of Skyline) and Joanne Heyler (Director of the Broad), where they give insider information about the building.The third segment of the book discusses in depth the very nature of the Broad as an institution and how it is reflected in the building program which is further steered into a more concrete vision by the architects. This is followed by detailed plans and photographs during the construction. The book finally ends with a zoomed-out view of the urban infrastructure surrounding the art gallery with emphasis on the Grand Avenue and The Broad’s significance and relation to its neighbors.

The facade
The facade’s Oculus framing steel fabrication

 

“In case of The Broad, that understatement is deftly strategic – its abstracted column-free acre has a conceptual pedigree, or an intellectual “site-specificity”, unique among southland museums.” This “white cube” hosts in itself an intricate mechanics of art collection which “help shape how Los Angeles and California are viewed by the rest of the world.”

The Broad in the context with its neighbors on Grand avenue

Volz & Associates Collection: The Analog Edition

Hello Battle Hall Enthusiasts! We may not have met yet, so I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Mandy Ryan and I’m a Graduate Research Assistant at the Alexander Architecture Archives. I’m currently in my second year at the School of Information at The University of Texas and I’m about to finish my MSIS with a focus in archives. My position with the Alexander has been an incredible experience and I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about working in an academic archive and particularly with an architecture collection. In addition to being the processing archivist for analog materials, I’m also the resident facilities monitor and pest identifier. If you’re ever wondering what that creepy bug is in your office, I’m your go-to person.

Field Sketches for the St. Patrick’s Cathedral completed approximately 1994. This was part of an initial condition assessment that outlines potential issues to be addressed during renovations.
Field Sketches for the St. Patrick’s Cathedral completed approximately 1994. This was part of an initial condition assessment that outlines potential issues to be addressed during renovations.

The Volz & Associates, Inc. collection contains the construction documents, field sketches, and historic finishes for some of Texas’ most notable buildings and homes. This architecture firm specializes in historic preservation and the collection details the rehabilitation and remodeling of several Texas landmarks, such as the Gonzales County Courthouse and the Governor’s Mansion.

Historical research on The Allcorn House compiled by Volz & Associates, Inc approximately 1995. Historic preservation requires in-depth research into the building and can even mean pulling historical photos or land deeds to ensure accurate revisions and preservation. The above photo shows photographs provided by Jane Barnhill that show original structure of the Allcorn House, plus scanned copies of the original land deeds from1834-1841 and 1878-1888.
Historical research on The Allcorn House compiled by Volz & Associates, Inc approximately 1995. Historic preservation requires in-depth research into the building and can even mean pulling historical photos or land deeds to ensure accurate revisions and preservation. The above photo shows photographs provided by Jane Barnhill that show original structure of the Allcorn House, plus scanned copies of the original land deeds from1834-1841 and 1878-1888.

The analog materials are comprised of over 4,860 sheets of drawings, 192 linear feet or 187 boxes of papers, 20 boxes of historic building artifacts and samples, and 152 project binders filled with photographs and slides. Combined they document over 300 architectural projects undertaken by the Volz & Associates firm from 1987 to 2008.

I absolutely love working in the archives and processing is my favorite part because you never know what you’ll find in the collections. Working with the Volz & Associates, Inc. collection has been truly fascinating due to the sheer diversity in papers and documents contained in each box. In the course of my inventory, I’ve discovered everything from tile chips to field sketches.

Field sketches and wood samples from the Garten Verein in Galveston collected between 1995 and 1996. The wood samples from the window frames and roof line were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Product Laboratory to be studied for traces of fungus that could cause rapid decay.
Field sketches and wood samples from the Garten Verein in Galveston collected between 1995 and 1996. The wood samples from the window frames and roof line were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Product Laboratory to be studied for traces of fungus that could cause rapid decay.

It is remarkable to see the work and planning that goes into every project and to be able to read through the details from start to finish. Each project begins with historical research which documents the original drawings and construction notes and even includes the original paint colors or light fixtures used.

As of right now, the biggest part of my job is ensuring that we know as much information as possible about the collection, so that we can make it easier for our patrons to access all of the project materials.

Part of my role has been to conduct a large-scale, item level inventory of the collection. On the screen is a detailed spreadsheet that allows me to take notes about the box, folder, and items discovered. I can provide relevant dates, preservation notes, and details that will help with the overall arrangement of the collection.
Part of my role has been to conduct a large-scale, item level inventory of the collection. On the screen is a detailed spreadsheet that allows me to take notes about the box, folder, and items discovered. I can provide relevant dates, preservation notes, and details that will help with the overall arrangement of the collection.

I’m currently halfway through completing a large-scale inventory of the collection materials and drafting an appraisal report and preservation plan. The inventory and the plan will ensure that all of the materials are properly housed and preserved, while still allowing our faculty, students, and general researchers the opportunity toview it. This collection is truly one of a kind and I’m so grateful to be a part of it!

Against simplification – Mark Foster Gage: Projects and Provocations

Cover photo Mark Foster Gage

New to our collection is this monograph on Mark Foster Gage and his ideologies especially “Object Oriented Ontology” and “Speculative Realism”. Gage can be called an anomaly as he started off at the University of Notre Dame learning classical architecture and turned into a leading avant-garde architect of the present day.

The book features an afterword by Peter Eisenman and divided into seven chapters that is loosely based on a particular theme. These are cut across by transcribed texts from interviews and conversations between the biggies in Architecture. I HIGHLY recommend reading the one in honor of Zaha Hadid along with Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Deborah Berke and MFG.

For people who aren’t into extensive texts and reading (meh!) the book also offers a excellent collection of 3D visualized images that gives an insight into the architect’s mind. A cursory look at them is enough for us to understand what his design philosophy is all about. “The Tower for New York’s 57thstreet with mouth like balconies on giant wings or a retail space bedecked with a hundred faceted mirror, Gage’s work at once challenges expectations of what architecture might be and as well frequently fills one with a sense of excitement.”

Tower for New York's 57th street.
Tower for New York’s 57th street.

P.S: Did I tell you he 3D printed Lady Gaga’s outfit in collaboration with Nicola Formichetti in 2011?

Lady Gaga’s dress 3D printed by Mark Foster Gage.

This book is excellent if you love visual fodder, new design philosophies or Lady Gaga.

Medieval Mondays: Alhambra

Plans, Elevations, Sections and details of the Alhambra: From drawings taken on the spot in 1834.

This is one of those rare books that will be placed in a capsule for the future along with Monalisa and Klimts’ if the civilization is about to end.  Its cultural importance and documentation that follows military precision are the key factors as to why this book is forever in our special collection.

It covers the design and details of the Alhambra fortress and palace complex in Spain. This is a two-volume publication, with complete translations of the Arabic inscriptions and historical notice of the kings of Granada, Spain. It also consists of a detailed history from the conquest of the city by Arabs to the expulsion of the Moors. The second volume consists of detailed lithographs by Owen Jones and Jules Goury.

More importantly this is a book about friendship.  In 1834, after staying in Granada for 6 months, Jules fell victim to Cholera while documenting this book. Devastated by the loss, Ar. Jones took over to the publication of the project and further archived the palace.  Impressions of every ornament is meticulously taken either in plaster or unsized paper. These casts have been tremendously important for preparing drawings for this publication.

Plan of the Alhambra
Plan of the Alhambra

The site plan of the Alhambra shows the most significant spaces in the palace like the Court of Lions, Court of the Fish pond and the Hall of the Two sisters.


 

The Court of Lions

 This perfect portion of the palace is a parallelogram surrounded by portico with small pavilions at each end. This space consists of a hundred and twenty-eight columns. Due to the restoration works undergone by the court from time to time, the walls are defaced with several layers of whitewashing, beneath which it is still possible to see traces of the original coloring.

Details in the Court of Lions
Details in the Court of Lions

 

Court of the Fish Pond

Court of Fish pond
Court of Fish pond

This lithograph shows the view of the Fishpond from the Hall of the bark

Hall of the two sisters

This is a view taken from the Hall of the Two Sisters, looking towards the garden and a portion of the corridor which separates the Ventana from the Hall. “The lattice window gives light to the upper corridor, leading to the apartments appropriated to the women. It was through these lattices that the dark-eyed beauties of the Hareem viewed the splendid fetes in the hall below, in which they could only participate as distant spectators.”

The intricate details in the Hall of the two sisters.
The intricate details in the Hall of the two sisters.

 

Frets:

The most common pattern that crops up in several halls are the interlacing lines done in plaster. It is remarkable both for their variety of designs and for the simple means by which they are produced. They are formed by two principles exhibited in the diagram.

"Because the fret is one of the simplest and most natural of decorative forms, it is one of the most widely spread, found from early times in most art forms and on all continents"-Britanicca encyclopedia.
“Because the fret is one of the simplest and most natural of decorative forms, it is one of the most widely spread, found from early times in most art forms and on all continents”-Britanicca encyclopedia.

To review this massive book, make an appointment with our special collections department of Architecture and Planning Library.

New Books: January Edition

New books newsletter is back a second time this month! Surprisingly, both the books kind of belong to a similar category: Social Design. These books give an in-depth look into designing, especially, addressing social issues of  our times.

Design Solutions for Urban Densification by Sibylle Kramer

Design solutions coverStudies show that about 3 million people move to the cities every week! Apart from the privilege of having SoulCycle at every corner, cities provide better education, infrastructure and more importantly, culture. Therefore, getting our cities right should be the order of the day. There are two ways to do this, one is getting on to the suburban craze of “sprawl” (ugh! Boring!) or retrofitting our inner cities to suit the incoming populace. This book deals with the latter.

This essentially means that “even the smallest building gaps are closed, peripheral block buildings are complemented, small buildings are replaced by larger ones, living spaces are created by reuse, plots are divided and inner courtyards are used for construction.” If you’re good at Tetris, you will probably be good at this urban retrofitting thing. One such example is the Cordoba-Reurbano Housing building in the historical La Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. As a part of an urban recycling initiative, it adds on a succession of terraces and built residential volumes on top of a historic building.

Design Solution for Urban Densification presents 41 outstanding projects of urban redensification that illustrate the different approaches adopted by architects and planners to build for the cities today. Explore a range of amazing and surprising unconventional buildings and creative solutions across the entirety of the book with graphical plans and detailed sections and of course lots of beautiful photo spreads.


 

Social Design: Participation and Empowerment by Claudia Banz, Michael Krohn and Angeli Sachs

Social design coverSocial Design talks about designing for the society… with the society, addressing complex social issues of our times through the perspective of interdisciplinary design. It addresses 25 international projects that represent unique solutions and tackle the redesign of social systems. The projects range a wide breadth of topics from creating human scale neighborhoods in China  to sustainable weaving communities in Ethiopia. These are framed by three essays that talk about Social design in the past and present, it’s job in education/ research and the concept of plan making  in shaping socially conscious societies.

Paper emergency shelters for UNHCR Shigeru Ban. Byumba Refugee camp, Rwanda
Paper emergency shelters for UNHCR Shigeru Ban. Byumba Refugee camp, Rwanda
Antonio Scarponi's Teh Campo Libero (The innocent house) was designed for Italian organization, Libera. This mobile, self sufficient and reversible pavilion is a tool in this process.
Antonio Scarponi’s Teh Campo Libero (The innocent house) was designed for Italian organization, Libera. This mobile, self sufficient and reversible pavilion is a tool in this process.

Some of the feature projects include Fairphone, 10,000 Gardens for Africa (Slow Food Foundation), Paper emergency shelters for UNHCR by Shigeru ban among a few.

Friday Finds! The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses

Eyes of the the skin- cover“A meaningful architectural experience is not simply a series of retinal images. the ‘elements’ of architecture are not visual units or Gestalt; they are encounters, confrontations that interact with memory.”

We see an architectural marvel and the first thing we do is record it. We sketch, we take pictures, we remember how it looks. But do we feel it? Sense it? Smell it? “The inhumanity of contemporary architecture and cities can be understood as the consequence of the neglect of the body and the senses, and an imbalance in our sensory system.” This book challenges the hegemony of vision and the ocular-centrism of our generation. Pallasmaa calls it the violation of the eye, he goes to the extent of calling it the Narcissistic and Nihilistic eye.

Above: The eye of the camera, detail from the film, The man with a movie camera.  Below: Regardless of our prioritization of the eye, visual observation is often confirmed by our touch. Caravaggio, The incredulity of St.Thomas.
Above: The eye of the camera, detail from the film, The man with a movie camera.
Below: Regardless of our prioritization of the eye, visual observation is often confirmed by our touch. Caravaggio, The incredulity of St.Thomas.

As if we actually need to convince you to read this book. We are sure most of you have already read it. And if not, you are missing out on realizing architecture to its full potential. This polemic book on architectural philosophy and teaching, was first published in 1996 as an extended essay to Questions of perception: Phenomenology of Architecture written by Steven Holl, Pallasmaa, and Alberto Pérez-Gómez. The eyes of the skin is broken down into two neat essays, the first runs us through the historical development of ocular-centric paradigm in western culture, starting from the Greek civilization and its effect on the architecture today. Part two examines the function and presence of our other senses in experiencing architecture and how they could potentially bring us to building spaces that are integrated and personable.

Now imagine the picturesque ancient towns of Croatia and the busy, dense streets of Malta. Compare it to the function-first, grid-locked planning of New York or Chandigarh. Yes, there is a reason why most people choose the former for vacations. These are the spaces of intimate warmth, of participation and integration, catering to all the senses of the body; smell, taste, touch, sound and of course vision.  “The authenticity of architectural experience is grounded in the tectonic language of building and the comprehensibility of the  act of construction to the senses. We behold, touch, listen and measure the world with our entire bodily existence, and the experiential world becomes  and articulated around the centre of the body.”

Above: Le Corbusier’s proposed skyline for Buenos aires – a sketch from a lecture given in Buenos aires in 1929. Below: The hill town of Casares in southern Spain.
Above: Le Corbusier’s proposed skyline for Buenos aires – a sketch from a lecture given in Buenos aires in 1929.
Below: The hill town of Casares in southern Spain.

We highly recommend it if you just started getting into the whole architectural philosophy readings. It is a particularly interesting book to start off with and debate over as well as most don’t really accept this idea of Pallasmaa’s. A good book to get some really romanticized quotes about architecture and planning for your class essays.

New Books: A newsletter

Meeting nature Halfway: Architecture interfaced between Technology and environment by Multiple Authors

Meeting nature halfway cover
“Architecture, as design of artifacts, buildings, landscapes, cities and organizations, is the central battlefield where new relationship to nature is established”

New in our stacks is this little book on sustainability focusing on research of synthetic ecosystem particular to the Alpine region of Innsbruck. It is written by various trailblazers in the field of experimental architecture and showcases a few of their breakthrough projects. All the projects covered are linked back to the Institute for Experimental Architecture of University of Innsbruck and gives an overview of their design and research culture.

Preparation of the FrAgility show, an agile robotic fabrication methods with fragile materiality.
Preparation of the FrAgility show, an agile robotic fabrication methods with fragile materiality.

“The book shows different approaches united through a shared interest in developing a new relationship between architecture and nature. “

It is cleverly classified into three categories based on the classes of camera lenses. Wide angles, to give an inclusive and expansive view of the research. Portrait, to highlight and isolate the subjects from potential noisy background. Lastly, Macro lenses, to focus on smaller details or prototypes.  From adaptive self-regulatory ecologies that build based on collective interaction between buildings, to self crystallising ice structures, the future of architecture 2.0 is imagined and reimagined throughout the book.

 

In Statu Quo: Structures of Negotiation edited by Ifat Finkelman, Deborah Pinto Fdeda, Oren Sagiv, Tania Coen Uzzielli.

 In statu quo cover“The combination of historical events, myths and traditions has created a multiplicity of conflicts between competing religions, communities and affiliations regarding the ownership and rights of use of places and monuments. In turn these conflicts have led to the formation of an extraordinary concentration of intricate spaces, fragmented and stratified both historically and physically”

Love reading about Architecture, religion and politics? Then this is a book for you! Published as a part of the Israeli Pavilion at the 16thAnnual Biennale in Venice, the book traces the complex and delicate mechanism of co-existence, established in the 19thcentury, called the Status Quo. This has been described by chronicling five Holy sites situated in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron. The five featured sites being, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall Plaza, Ibrahimi Mosque, Rachel’s Tomb and Mugrabhi Ascent.

Panoramic view of the Western Wall, the Temple Mount with mosques of Omar and Al Aqsa and Mt. Scopus int he background on Jerusalem day, Old City, Jerusalem, 1971.
Panoramic view of the Western Wall, the Temple Mount with mosques of Omar and Al Aqsa and Mt. Scopus int he background on Jerusalem day, Old City, Jerusalem, 1971.

Rife with pictures, sketches and newspaper articles, the book sets the mood by detailing their history, rise of religious conflicts, controversy and the resulting ad hoc political solutions that redefined these spaces. More importantly the reading allows us to look at architecture beyond its order, form, immutability it usually stands for, to making it a palimpsest charged with the status of “permanent temporariness”

 

 

Art Deco Chicago: Designing Modern America edited by Robert Bruegmann

 Art Deco: “Works that Art Deco Coverembrace naturalistic, geometric or abstract surface decoration, and those that have no surface decoration but whose forms are themselves decorative”

What does Metropolis and The Great Gatsby have in common? The stunning portrayal of visual style during the time, Art Deco. As the name suggests the book consists of architectural and design entries, each belonging to a broad current of Art Deco style that originated in the early 20thcentury focusing in the Chicago area. The book consists of carefully curated pictures and illustrations of architecture, industrial, fashion, product and graphic designs that embraced Art Deco expression. The book explores architects and designers beyond Sullivan, Wright and Mies to underdogs like interior designers Marion Gheen, Rue Carpenter and forgotten Industrial designer John Bollenbacher.

The exuberant lobby decorations at One North LaSalle embody classic Art Deco style. Architects: Vitzhum and Burns.
The exuberant lobby decorations at One North LaSalle embody classic Art Deco style. 

The heart of the book consists of 101 “Key Designs” commissioned, designed, distributed in the Chicago region between 1910 to 1950, the peak of Art deco movement. It also includes five thematic essays detailing the development and particular character of Art Deco in Chicago, to the way Chicagoans rediscovered the work that we now call Art Deco.

Blog from the University of Texas Architecture and Planning Library