Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular? New to our humble little abode this week is Philip Steadman’s Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular? And Other Essays on Geometry and Architecture. Bringing together “a dozen of Philip Steadman’s essays and papers on the geometry of architectural and urban form, written over the last 12 years…[with] two larger themes: a morphological approach to the history of architecture, and studies of possibility in built form” (pg. i). Steadman explores a number of different topics in the book, including different types of buildings (e.g. penitentiary, department store buildings, multi-story garages), the role of energy and urbanism in the built form, mapping the built world, and architectural theory. For our purposes, the most interesting question posed in the book, one which is discussed in many architecture classes at UT’s School of Architecture, is “why are most buildings rectangular?” It is a simple enough question with a complicated answer.
At the beginning of this titular essay, Steadman explains that what he means by asking “why are most buildings rectangular” is “why is the geometry of the majority of buildings predominantly rectangular?” (pg. 3-4). He also asks why buildings are vertical, reasoning that a good deal of this “has much to do with the force of gravity…[since] floors are flat so that we, and pieces of furniture, can stand easily on them” (pg. 4). Steadman lists three main hypotheses that he received from his mathematician and architect colleagues as to why buildings tend to be rectangular: the first suggests that architectural instruments “make it easier to draw rectangles than other shapes,” and the same is true of more ancient tools, though Steadman notes that buildings were rectangular even before these tools were invented, so the explanation is inadequate; the second theory is that the answer lies in “western mathematical conceptions of three-dimensional space – with the geometry of Euclid, and with the superimposition onto mental space of the orthogonal coordinate systems of Descartes,” but again, Steadman questions “what about all those rectangular buildings produced in non-western cultures…who had absolutely no knowledge of western geometrical theory?”; and the final theory argues that “the cause is to be found yet deeper still in our psychology, and has to do with the way in which we conceptualize space in relation to the layout, mental image and functioning of our own bodies” and our creation of two axes of vision, the same way our eyes, legs, arms, and ears have “bilateral symmetry” (pg. 5). Steadman calls this last hypothesis “very hypothetical,” but acknowledges that, if true, it would explain the human preference for rectangular buildings throughout time and space, unlike the other two (pg. 6).
Steadman next explores examples of non-rectangular architecture, including Mongolian yurts, Mandan earth lodges, and Neolithic Japanese shelters. Additionally, many religious structures are not wholly rectangular, but feature some kind of circular plan in the midst of it, or it comes to the shape of a cross. Similarly, ships are not rectangular. Steadman notes that the idea of buildings as being rectangular is shifting, frequently referring to Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, describing it as more “free-form.” But, Steadman concludes, in “certain classically planned buildings with many rectangular rooms…there can be spaces deep in the interior, such as central halls, whose plans are circular, polygonal or elliptical” (pg. 9). So even though spaces blend different geometric shapes, it often comes out to the same thing: a rectangle. Steadman also examines the impact of “packing,” where shapes are stacked together, like squares among rectangles or octagons. By considering the geometry of these patterns, Steadman argues that the flexibility of the rectangle as a shape in fitting with other shapes is likely part of why it is a fundamental part of architecture.
Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular? concludes with Steadman pondering why homes transitioned from primarily circular one-room spaces to rectangles. He notes the easy construction of circular homes and their self-supporting nature as assets. But, Steadman argues, ” with increasing wealth there would be a change, at some point in time, from single-room to multi-room houses,” making the circular home less practical (pg. 17). Though rectangular structures make the tight packing of spaces efficient and easy (perfect for more urban settings), Steadman predicts that more architects will drift away from rectangularity. To them, “the rectangular discipline imposed by the necessary constraints of the close packing of rooms…to be an irksome prison, and they try to escape from it” (pg. 17). Instead, many architects lend their talents to designing spaces that can be treated more creatively, more “sculpturally,” allowing them to play more with geometry than they could otherwise (pg. 17).
Steadman’s answer to “why are most buildings rectangular” is both philosophical and mathematical. He questions how much of it has to do with human So, is rectangularity such a bad thing? Is it good? Or is it just tradition? Perhaps modern architecture is moving away from rectangularity towards a more geometrically open style. And yet blending and playing with geometric shapes is nothing new: ancient churches feature ovals and octagons as well as rectangles, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello features octagons and triangles within its rectangular frame. But architects are challenging rectangularity in structures in new ways and adapting to new technologies and societal needs. As the built world continues to expand and change, we can expect to see architects having more fun with geometry than ever before.
We have a slight problem, though it is the best kind of problem for a library to have: this week’s batch of new books are simply too good to pick from, so we’ll cheat and highlight several! We have been getting some fantastic books lately about the intersection and symbiotic relationship between culture and architecture, but we’ve also noticed a lot of more philosophical and historical texts coming into our collection. So here’s a few of the new books that are coming into the Library this week that emphasize these themes, and a few that don’t.
“Building from Tradition examines the recent resurgence of interest in the handmade building and the use of local and renewable materials in contemporary construction. In the past, raw materials were shaped to provide shelter and to accommodate the cultural, social, and economic needs of individuals and communities. This is still true today as architects, engineers, and builders turn once again to local resources and methods, not simply for constructing buildings, but also as a strategy for supporting social engagement, sustainable development, and cultural continuity. Building from Tradition features global case studies that allow readers to understand how building practices—developed and refined by previous generations—continue to be adapted to suit a broad range of cultural and environmental contexts. The book provides: a survey of historical and technical information about geologic and plant-based materials such as: stone, earth, reed and grass, wood, and bamboo; 24 detailed case studies examining the disadvantages and benefits to using traditional materials and methods and how they are currently being integrated with contemporary construction practices.”
“New Islamist Architecture and Urbanism claims that, in today’s world, a research agenda concerning the relation between Islam and space has to consider the role of Islamism rather than Islam in shaping – and in return being shaped by – the built environment. The book tackles this task through an analysis of the ongoing transformation of Turkey under the rule of the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party. In this regard, it is a topical book: a rare description of a political regime’s reshaping of urban and architectural forms whilst the process is alive. Defining Turkey’s transformation in the past two decades as a process of “new Islamist” nation-(re)building, the book investigates the role of the built environment in the making of an Islamist milieu. Drawing on political economy and cultural studies, it explores the prevailing primacy of nation and nationalism for new Islamism and the spatial negotiations between nation and Islam. It discusses the role of architecture in the deployment of history in the rewriting of nationhood and that of space in the expansion of Islamist social networks and cultural practices. Looking at examples of housing compounds, mosques, public spaces, and the new presidential resident, New Islamist Architecture and Urbanism scrutinizes the spatial making of new Islamism in Turkey through comparisons with the relevant cases across the globe: urban renewal projects in Beirut and Amman, nativization of Soviet modernism in Baku and Astana, the presidential palaces of Ashgabat and Putrajaya, and the neo-Ottoman mosques built in diverse locations such as Tokyo and Washington D.C.”
“Producing Non-Simultaneity discusses how the processes of modernization, driven by globalization and market forces, change the political, economic, and technological conditions under which architecture is realized. The book looks beyond the rhetoric of revolutionary innovation, often put forward by architects and engineers. It shows how technological change during the last 200 years was only possible because traditional skills and older materials persisted. The volume argues that building sites have long been showcases of non-simultaneities. Shedding light on construction of the past and exploring what may impact construction in the future, this book would be a valuable addition for students, research and academics in architecture, architectural history, and theory.”
“As a response to the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale challenging theme, Portugal presented a site-specific pavilion occupying an urban front in physical and social regeneration at the island of Giudecca. The pavilion exhibited four notable works by Alvaro Siza on Social Housing – Campo de Marte (Venice); Schilderswijk (The Hague); Schlesisches Tor (Berlin); and Bairro da Bouca (Porto) – revealing his participatory experience with the local inhabitants, and his peculiar understanding of the European city and citizenship. Those projects have created true ‘places of neighborhood,’ an important subject of the current European political agenda, towards a more tolerant and multicultural society. This book reveals the curatorial experience that supported the display of those works in the Venice Biennale, including unusual images of Alvaro Siza’s recent visits to those four neighborhoods; but also the major social and urban changes which took place in there: processes triggered by immigration, ghettoization, gentrification, and touristification of cities.”
“Architects are used to designing visually. To help them expand their basic design tools, this book explores the interactions between sound, space, hearing, and architecture. To this end, the author uses contemporary and historic buildings and projects, but also fictional, philosophical, and theoretical approaches – the idea is not only to define sound as a source, but also as an instrument of architectural space. By further introducing a meta-theory of critical listening, the author encourages designers to acoustically test their projects and contribute to their designs with auditory input from the very first stages of the design process.”
“An understand of architects’ character traits can offer important insights into how they design buildings. These traits include leadership skills necessary to coordinate a team, honest and ethical behavior, being well educated and possessing a life-long love of learning, flexibility, resourcefulness, and visionary and strategic thinking. Characteristics such as these describe a successful person. Architects also possess these traits, but they have additional skills specifically valuable for the profession. These will include the ability to question the use of digital media, new materials, processes, and methods to convey meaning in architectural form. Although not exhaustive, a discussion of such subjects as defining, imaging, persuading, and fabricating will reveal representational meaning useful for the development of an understanding of architects’ character. Through the analogies and metaphors found in Greek myth, the book describes the elusive, hard-to-define characteristics of architects to engage the dilemmas of a changing architectural landscape. Building the Architect’s Character: Explorations in Traits examines traditional and archetypal characteristics of the successful architect to ask if they remain relevant today.”
“This book is about trajectories of urban conflict and peace in the politically polarized cities of Jerusalem and Belfast since 1994 – how sometimes there has been hopeful change while at other times debilitating stasis and regression. Based on extensive research, fieldwork, and interviews, Scott Bollens shows how seeking peace in these cities is shaped by the interaction of city-based actors and national elites, and that it is not just a political process, but a social and spatial one that takes place problematically over an extended period. He intertwines academic precision with ethnography and personal narrative to illuminate the complex political and emotional kaleidoscopes of these polarized cities. With hostility and competition among groups defined by ethnic, religious, and nationalistic identity on the increase across the world, this timely investigation contributes to our understanding of today’s fractured cities and nations.”
The star of this week’s Friday Finds is The City is the People by Henry S. Churchill. Published in 1945, the short book explores the history of city planning, as well as its future. The author emphasizes the need to adapt to changing needs of the people, as well as how cities were planned in the past, noting that “if we are to re-plan our cities we must know what it is that changes and why” (pg. 1). The book was published in the aftermath of World War II, when Europe was beginning to rebuild its cities.
Churchill begins with a discussion of ancient city planning, especially the influence of trade and the role of planning in “maintaining social, political, and economic order among large groups of people living in close proximity” (pg. 3). He points out that “once the streets and other public places are determined…nothing short of catastrophe or revolution will change the pattern radically,” especially since cities, both ancient and contemporary tend to be highly organized (pg. 4). Churchill goes from ancient cities on to medieval towns, exploring trends, paying particular attention to the “change of scale in the plan of the city and of the architecture” during the medieval era, using Gothic architecture (with smaller features and overall size) and Renaissance architecture (larger and grander in scale) to exemplify the vast architectural changes occurring during this time (pg. 13). In the following chapters, Churchill focuses on American Revolution-era New England and later American architecture in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York, especially. Within these chapters, Churchill examines the city planning and how the cities have adapted to population growth and industrialization. He concludes with a discussion of the challenges faced by London and other European cities facing the task of re-planning. As Churchill puts it, the “two great planning problems [faced by these cities are:]…how to restore livability and financial soundness to their cores; how to develop the peripheral land so as to maintain a sound balance with the centers and prevent over-expansion and undue neighborhood obsolescence” (pg. 158). In this final chapter, Churchill synthesizes the history of city planning and the specific examples he cited in order to develop recommendations for the redevelopment and re-planning of European cities like London.
Considering the damage done to Europe by persistent bombing, and especially to London and the United Kingdom during the Blitz in 1940 and 1941, it makes sense that 1945 (at the conclusion of the war) would be an appropriate moment to consider city planning, as Europe rebuilt itself. In that context, it is logical for Churchill to consider the history of urban planning and its future, so as to adapt European cities to contemporary needs after the devastation of World War II. The bombing attacks by the Germans during the war proved ruinous for major cities like London, with massive piles of rubble replacing what were once cobblestone streets and stone buildings. However, London had a history of rebuilding after disaster. In 1666, a fire spread across London, burning nearly everything in its path, as most of the structures in the city were made of wood at the time. The Great Fire of London became the impetus for rebuilding the city of stone, instead of wood. With this history in mind, it makes sense that Londoners, in particular, would be able and willing to re-plan the city for improvement rather than a mere replica of what stood before the Blitz.
Churchill concludes in The City is the People that “zoning, master plans, surveys – these are instruments, not ends…the end is a livable city, suited to modern technologies of living” (pg. 186). This is a current throughout the book: Churchill goes beyond the simple plan and design of the city and considers the purposes it serves to those who live there. Those purposes and the available technology are constantly changing, which is why Churchill sees the aftermath as an opportunity for cities in Europe. The destruction caused by events such as the Blitz in London was devastating, but it also meant that London had to adapt to the contemporary needs of its citizens. Churchill also argues that re-planning efforts created the possibility of fixing some of the social ills that had developed, such as overcrowding, poverty, and improved maintenance and cleanliness. According to him, “a city plan is the expression of the collective purpose of the people who live in it, or it is nothing” (pg. 186). The city of London understood the process of reconstruction better than most because of the 1666 Great Fire. They also knew to look at the destruction during World War II as an opportunity to further improve their city and adapt it to the needs of its citizens in 1945. Churchill understood that a city is not simply a sea of buildings, but that its true character is in the people who live within those buildings. Cities should be a reflection of that character, and Churchill recognized the need to update the city of London to represent its ancient past, the present needs of its citizens (in 1945), and its future as a metropolis.
Hello y’all! Katie (2.2) here. I admit that Battle Hall Highlights has not been quite as active on the blog front from the Library compared to other years – apologies for that, but it was for a very good reason! The University of Texas at Austin Libraries have been working on implementing Omeka as a platform for publishing digital collections and exhibits from UT institutions. Our own Katie Pierce Meyer (the Librarian here at the Architecture and Planning Library) was instrumental in bringing Omeka to UT, and APL is proud to now have three exhibits available via Omeka. As GRA for the Library, I spent the majority of my semester migrating content from our website, which was housed and designed via Drupal 6, to UT’s Omeka. The three exhibits on Omeka now are “Our Landmark Library: Battle Hall at 100,” “Their Maya Story: George and Gerrie Andrews,” and “Eugene George: Architect, Scholar, Educator, Photographer.” Each exhibit posed unique challenges in migrating the content, and have provided invaluable experience in creating exhibits via Omeka.
So, what is Omeka? It is a free, open-source platform for publishing digital collections and exhibits. Developed and updated by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, Omeka has several iterations (Omeka S, Omeka.net, and Omeka Classic), but originally started out as a platform designed for small institutions with limited resources.
Omeka is meant to be easy to use and simple to upkeep, especially for those with limited technological know-how (e.g., me). So, with some persistent encouragement from Katie Pierce Mayer, UT eventually decided to install Omeka as a platform for the UT Libraries to upload digital collections and exhibits. So only our three exhibits, and one about South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Books, are available via Omeka. There are various reasons Omeka has not gained traction: it is necessary to first have a digital collection about which to build an exhibit which takes a great deal of time, it has been time consuming to try to coordinate with the UT Data Asset Management System (DAM) to develop a metadata standard, and, simply, Omeka is not perfect.
Where other exhibit builders (such as Scalar) are more image-focused, Omeka is quite metadata-heavy. This is evident in the limited theme options (basically, themes are the design layout, or style, of the exhibit) currently available on UT’s Omeka, which tend to be text-based with smaller images. Hopefully, as more institutions digitize items and see the existing exhibits on Omeka, the site will grow in popularity as a platform for UT’s Libraries to share more of their unique collections.
In late December of 2017 to early January of 2018, all Omeka content was migrated from Omeka.org to Omeka.net. What the Libraries and the IT team decided to do was host content via Omeka servers rather than host it themselves. This created the opportunity for each institution to have their own independent Omeka site that they control. When we worked in Omeka.org (the homepage of which is pictured below), everything was in the same bucket, so to speak. At that point, two of our exhibits were completed, and the Architecture Library and the South Asian Pop Culture Collection were the primary users of Omeka. Now, the South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Books has its own site, and we have our own website now (which you can see here: http://utlibrariesarchitecture.omeka.net/) that we can customize to fit our needs as an institution. The site is still a work in progress, as we are working on adding more content, but we now have three exhibits (all discussed thoroughly below) publicly available for everyone to enjoy and explore!
Battle Hall at 100: Our Landmark Library
Pros: Learned how to import items one at a time
Cons: Took three to four months to complete, took a while to standardize metadata (had to go back and change early entries), and there was a lot of trial and error (in both uploading items and in building the exhibit and making it look well-done)
Theme: Thanks, Roy (the fullsize image display is rather small, as are the thumbnails, menus are confusing because Omeka menu is on left and exhibit menu is on right of the text, and the metadata page is text-heavy with a thumbnail image at the very bottom, nice galleries of images, though)
The first of the three exhibits I migrated was Our Landmark Library: Battle Hall at 100. This one was migrated “by hand,” if you will, meaning I moved each item individually, entering in the metadata and adding the image files myself. The main takeaway? This method of importing items is slow. Containing approximately 140 items, there was a lot of trial and error (mainly human error) in migrating Our Landmark Library. Namely, it took time to find the best standard for the metadata, because I wanted to be sure to include all the information included in the old exhibit on Drupal. Eventually, I found a standard, wrote it down, and followed it for the remainder of the items, before going back and changing the ones I had already uploaded. So uploading the items was the first phase of this project. The second phase was reconstructing the exhibit in Omeka. I
wanted to maintain the original order of the exhibit, which was simple enough. The hardest part of building the exhibit was putting together the galleries, which were pretty big in this exhibit. Formatting the exhibit to have a nice flow to it (no big gaps or spaces between what are called “blocks” on Omeka, a means of separating and formatting parts of a page), keeping the images in the correct order, and writing captions for each image was not challenging so much as time-consuming. Even though this exhibit took a long time to complete because of the method of uploading each image myself, I am glad I had the experience. I became intimately familiar with how Omeka works, and the rhythm you can get into when uploading every item and formatting an exhibit. I definitely have a great appreciation for how long building a digital collection can take. I did not have to digitize any of the items or create original content for the exhibit, but it still took a long time to move everything. If it took three, almost four, months for me to migrate an exhibit of only 140 items, I can only imagine how long it would take for large collections. for the metadata, because I wanted to be sure to include all the information included in the old exhibit on Drupal. Eventually, I found a standard, wrote it down, and followed it for the remainder of the items, before going back and changing the ones I had already uploaded. So uploading the items was the first phase of this project. The second phase was reconstructing the exhibit in Omeka. I wanted to maintain the original order of the exhibit, which was simple enough. The hardest
part of building the exhibit was putting together the galleries, which were pretty big in this exhibit. Formatting the exhibit to have a nice flow to it (no big gaps or spaces between what are called “blocks” on Omeka, a means of separating and formatting parts of a page), keeping the images in the correct order, and writing captions for each image was not challenging so much as time-consuming. Even though this exhibit took a long time to complete because of the method of uploading each image myself, I am glad I had the experience. I became intimately familiar with how Omeka works, and the rhythm you can get into when uploading every item and formatting an exhibit. I definitely have a great appreciation for how long building a digital collection can take. I did not have to digitize any of the items or create original content for the exhibit, but it still took a long time to move everything. If it took three, almost four, months for me to migrate an exhibit of only 140 items, I can only imagine how long it would take for large collections.
Their Maya Story: George and Gerrie Andrews
Pros: Quick with CSV import, less trial and error, building the exhibit only took two days; Easy metadata standardization when done in Excel ahead of time
Cons: Figuring out the CSV import (must be done very quickly or it has to be started all over again); Mapping elements (sometimes difficult to match column headings with element names for DublinCore metadata)
Theme: Neatscape (nice display of the images, and large, easy-to-read text, the menu at the bottom is the only downside, only available in Omeka.org); Big Picture (current display in Omeka.net, large image display, allows easy navigation between items in galleries and between pages in the exhibit)
After (finally) finishing the Battle Hall at 100 exhibit, I moved on to the George and Gerrie Andrews exhibit, Their Maya Story. This exhibit Katie Pierce Meyer and I imported into Omeka via a CSV (Comma Separated Value) file that had been generously created for us. When importing a CSV file, you choose “elements” of metadata that align with the columns in the file (e.g. the “Title” column matches to the “Title” element in Dublin Core, or the “Geographical Location” column might match to the “Spatial Location” element); it is important to note that not all column headings have a corresponding element to match to, so it helps think about this somewhat beforehand. After a mishap during which Katie and I took too long matching columns to elements, we successfully uploaded all 116 items to Omeka in less than two minutes, complete with metadata and attached image files. I then began to build the exhibit in Omeka. I again wanted to be faithful to the original exhibit. I wanted to try a different theme this time, so I chose the theme called “Neatscape,” which does not permit any customization or changes to the display the way some other themes do. The only
problem I have with Neatscape as a theme is that the menu for the exhibit is at the very bottom of the page, so you have to scroll through the whole page in order to reach the menu. One of the perks of Omeka is that it allows users to change themes without changing the content or layout of the
existing content of the exhibit. We decided to go with Neatscape so that we have an example of what it looks like as an exhibit, though we may change it in the future if we find a theme that works well for our content. A major asset of Neatscape is that the metadata pages for individual items does include a small thumbnail immediately to the right at the top of the page, meaning that (unlike in the Thanks, Roy theme in the Battle Hall at 100 exhibit) users do not have to scroll all the way down the page to see only a small thumbnail image that, when clicked on, then leads to a larger image. Building the exhibit was much the same as before, only this took merely two days, between using the CSV import and having had the experience of building an exhibit. It is amazing how much time the CSV import cut out, so I definitely learned that it is necessary to have all the metadata standardized in a CSV file in order to make the process much easier and more enjoyable.
After the migration from Omeka.org to Omeka.net, the Neatscape theme was no longer an option, so I chose to use the Big Picture theme, which emphasizes images. The thumbnails for the galleries are large, and the images displayed when a user clicks on an item is larger than any of the other themes. We still have not figured out how to add zoom functionality to our exhibits. That is a task that the Library’s new Digital Initiatives GRA, Zach, is going to be working on in the coming months. So the Andrews exhibit required a little bit of tweaking after the migration from Omeka.org to Omeka.net, but we wound up with a better outcome because of it. The Big Picture theme is currently my favorite among the three I have tried so far because of the large image display, which is preferable for some of the items we might include in future digitization efforts.
Pros: More theme options because of the move to Omeka.net, quick because of CSV import, nice to have the exhibit ready to go whenever the CSV file was done so that all that remained was to add images and galleries; took only one day to complete the exhibit
Cons: Harder to build an exhibit without the images ready to go in, quite a bit of wait time due to the migration of all Omeka content from UT’s servers to Omeka.net
Theme: The Daily (there is a nice menu that scrolls down alongside the content to navigate between pages, large text, large image display)
This exhibit about Eugene George was done in a slightly different order from the others: instead of importing the items and then building the exhibit, I built the exhibit first since our CSV file was not ready to import. So I copied over all the text from the exhibit, and created blocks of text and galleries to mimic the original order of the exhibit. We had to wait on the CSV import until after the migration from Omeka.org to Omeka.net, which took longer than expected, but in early February, we received the go-ahead to import items into the new site. Katie, Zach, and I sat together and worked on standardizing the metadata in the CSV file before importing it into Omeka, which mostly consists of renaming columns and copying
over the desired metadata content. After several failed attempts at importing the CSV file, we realized that because our website is now a legacy site (http://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/apl) that the links included to connect the JPEG images with their respective metadata would not work. So, we changed those links to include “legacy” before the link, and
the CSV import worked perfectly! With those items now in Omeka.net, I was able to add them into the pre-built exhibit. I then went back and made sure that the galleries and text looked nice, made the necessary edits, and the exhibit was ready to go! For this one, I chose The Daily as the theme. Overall, the theme looks nice, with large text, large image display within the exhibit. The menu that scrolls along beside the content allows for quick and easy navigation among the pages of the exhibit. The pages where item metadata is displayed are less text-heavy than in the Thanks, Roy theme used for the Battle Hall exhibit (and feature the image at the top of the page instead of a thumbnail at the bottom), but the image displayed is not as large as that in the Andrews exhibit.
By the time I built the Eugene George exhibit, I had a far greater understanding of how Omeka works and how long it might take. With the CSV import and the exhibit pre-built, this exhibit took only one day to complete. This means that just one day of intensive work is needed to build an exhibit when the CSV import is used to add the items, versus nearly four months doing an item-by-item import for the Battle Hall exhibit. It is easier to build the exhibit as you go, as I did with the Andrews exhibit, rather than having it already built. I found it far easier to make changes as I went along building the Andrews exhibit than to have to go back afterwards as I did with Eugene George.
In spite of my limited technological expertise and lack of knowledge about Omeka, I found the platform very easy to use. Exhibits and importing items (whether individually or via CSV file) takes time and patience. For collections less than 50 items, importing items one-by-one is fine, but for larger collections, the CSV import saves a great deal of time. It is intensive to create a CSV file with all the pertinent metadata, but it is preferable to having to individually import 200 items and type in metadata for each. With a CSV file, the standardization is done before the items ever make it into Omeka.
In terms of Omeka.org versus Omeka.net, in terms of the Administrator side of things, not much has changed. However, it is nice to have our own site to manage and customize. Since the change to Omeka.net, we have been able to play with the website and are working toward making it exactly what we want. It is still a work in progress, but it looks pretty sharp! The ability to manage our own content, look, and navigation is something we never could have achieved through Omeka.org. Once the Libraries adds links to the UT Libraries website to reach all of the Omeka sites (the South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Books site, the Benson’s site), it will allow users to easily access the incredible digital collections that are forming on Omeka. Additionally, Omeka.net provides more options in terms of themes than Omeka.org. Though some do not translate between the two, the increased options have allowed us to try different themes for each exhibit to see what is the best display and format for Architectural exhibits. Hopefully Zach or someone with more technical coding expertise can find a way to add zoom functionality to our images, something that will increase the usability of our items.
Overall, working with Omeka was an enriching experience for me. Coming from a library/archives background, getting to do a project like this was incredibly rewarding. With a free platform like Omeka, anything is possible. Even a relative luddite like myself can use it to build digital collections. For the most part, I am handing off the reigns of digital projects to Zach, but I’m proud of the work I have done on these three collections. They are not perfect, but I learned so much about building digital collections from the experience of migrating this content. And currently the Architecture and Planning Library is paving the way for other UT institutions in using Omeka as an exhibit platform, about which we are extremely excited. Please explore our Omeka site and enjoy the exhibits as much as I enjoyed building them! Signing off for now, your Friendly Neighborhood Omeka Semi-Guru.
Hiya! I’m Zacharia (Zach if you’re feeling friendly) and I’m the new Digital Initiatives GRA here and APL. I’m going to be in charge of making sure you wonderful people will still be able to find our online exhibits once the sites have gone offline.
So I thought I’d give you a little how-to guide about how you can access our old exhibits while they’re in migration. So without further ado let me introduce you to our new best friend: The Wayback Machine!
The Wayback Machine is a delightful little site hosted by the Internet Archive that is dedicated to archiving the entire internet forever (give or take a few hundred thousand versions). Today I am going to walk you through how to access the old APL legacy site and all the associated content.
Step 1: Accessing the Site
The Wayback Machine works by automatically scraping webpages, creating exact replicas of the site on a given day which can be accessed from the main interface. These are stored versions of a site at the time of scraping, and will not reflect any changes made to the site following the date of scraping. Think of it as visiting a historical site.
The url for our old site is https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/apl. So we’re going to copy that and paste into The Wayback Machine, which should look something like this: (Please note that the images are best viewed in full screen so don’t fret if you can’t quite make out specific text, just click on the image.)
Now I have already scraped the legacy site as of January 31 and February 6. The next screen you see should contain the url you just entered and a series of calendars with the dates January 31 and February 6 highlighted. These represent specific “images” or captures of the site as it looked on those days. There shouldn’t be any difference between the two so pick your favorite date!
Step 2: Navigation
Now those of you familiar with the old site should recognize a lot of what you see, with the exception of the Wayback Machine interface, which will look like this:
This is the Wayback Machine navigation bar. From here you can navigate between different captures of the site at will and see a timeline of their development. Now the navigation of the old site works the same as it once did, however when you select a link you may see this image:
The Wayback Machine archives each webpage individually, and must redirect and access different versions when you go to a new web page. What that means is that when you click on a link you are redirected to the Wayback Machine’s most recent or closest temporal capture of the webpage that is being linked.
Step 3: Accessing the old Online Exhibits
My work at APL primarily revolves around making sure you fine folk can still access all of our old online content, so let’s see if we can’t access one of our old exhibits: The Architectural Legacy of Herbert Greene. As we are still on the main web page we will need to move over to the Works and Projects page. Before moving on I would like to point out that the entire legacy UT Libraries site is not fully accessible on the Wayback Machine, just these exhibits which I have manually captured. So keep that in mind as we go forward.
In any case, the Works and Project page should look like this:
If your screen does not look like this please select the “Works + Projects” button. All of our exhibits are housed under Exhibits and Curated Resources, but all the other pages found here are fully accessible so feel free to look around.
Once you’re looking at the Exhibits page, select the hyperlinked text Online Exhibits and Curated Resources to find the list of old online exhibits. Fun fact, you can also access this delightful blog from here and see all the archived posts!
The Architectural Legacy of Herbert Miller Greene is the first item on the list. If you click on it should take you to:
There is a chance that the images or other script may not load. This is a result of a problem with the given date of capture. If you are having this issue, access a different capture from the navigation bar (such as January 31) to see the full site.
Ta-da! It’s like the site was never taken down! You can freely explore the exhibit to your heart’s content.
All of old exhibits will be available in new formats on the new libraries site, but in the meanwhile (or if you’re feeling nostalgic) you can use The Wayback Machine to find all of your favorite content just the way you liked it.
I’m looking forward to sharing our progress on the new site as time goes on, and I’ll be back real soon with more awesome stuff to show you!
Gillian Naylor’s 1971 book The Arts and Crafts Movement: A Study of Its Sources, Ideals and Influence on Design Theory explores theory and purposes of the Arts and Crafts movement. According to Naylor, “its motivations were social and moral, and its aesthetic values derived from the conviction that society produces the art and architecture it deserves” (pg. 7). This is, in part, what Naylor seeks to understand. By placing the Arts and Crafts movement in its historical context, as well as demonstrating how the movement fits in the larger field of design.
Starting from Britain and moving into other European countries and the United States, the Arts and Crafts movement had a profound influence on design. The movement encouraged the consideration of society in design, as architecture and popular designs are the product of the society in which they are created. Also, one aspect of the movement encouraged the making of products by hand, rather than by machine. This was most particular to Britain, where there “was the conviction that industrialization had brought with the total destruction of ‘purpose, sense and life'” (pg. 8). So the encouragement of handmade products became a major aspect of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Taking the reader through the history of the movement, and even the figures and events which led to the movement, from Pugin and Ruskin to William Morris to the guilds, so that Naylor concurrently provides a history of design. She explores design and the changes in trends through the designs and lives of the major figures who made the Arts and Crafts Movement possible.
In fact, The Arts and Crafts Movement is considered one of the early seminal texts on the history of design. Published in 1971, the book was written in the midst of a challenging time in Naylor’s career, as she sought to shift from writing popular magazine articles to more scholarly endeavors. Naylor became one of the first female writers at Design magazine in 1957, run by the Council for Industrial Design (COID). As such, such was assigned pieces related to “women’s interests.” Through this position and the pieces she wrote for Design, Naylor gained expertise in the field of design and design history. After giving birth to her son (having a child, her contract with Design dictated, meant she had to resign her position), she did some freelance writing for Design, but ultimately focused on writing scholarly works on the history of design and architecture, eventually becoming a professor of the subject. At a time when women were still forced to leave their jobs after becoming mothers, Naylor managed to continue to pursue her passion for design history and become one of the foremost experts on the topic, writing several texts which remain some of the most influential in the field of design, including The Arts and Crafts Movement (Pavitt, Jane. “Gillian Naylor (1931-2014).” Journal of Design History, Volume 27, Issue 2. 2014.).
Arguably, the life of Gillian Naylor was just as fascinating and important as the book she wrote is influential. Not only did she write one of the defining texts of design history, but she also wrote two major books about the Bauhaus (The Bauhaus in 1968 and The Bauhaus Reassessed in 1985). Naylor serves as a reminder of the many challenges and hurdles women faced in building careers as recently as the 1960s. She was relegated to “women’s topics” as a writer at Design and yet went on to become one of the most respected scholars on design history in Britain. A member of a panel which awarded Naylor an honorary doctorate in 1987 noted that, “‘If Sir Nikolaus Pevsner is the father of design history, then Gillian Naylor is its favorite aunt.'” Examining the career of Gillian Naylor, though, it is clear that she is far more than a favorite aunt of design history. As an art historian, especially of architecture, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner is a critical figure in developing the line of scholarship through which the history of architecture and design is viewed. But, Sir Nikolaus had little to do with design history, specifically; he certainly does not deserve the label of “father.” In truth, Naylor is more the mother of the history of design than anything else, and displayed a true and rare passion for the subject. It would have been easier for her to find another job with a magazine that did not require her to resign once she became a mother, but instead she chose to continue writing about design history. That kind of love for the history of design and perseverance through challenges warrants a far higher honor than the label as the “favorite aunt” would suggest.
Hello again, this is Processing Archivist Kathleen Carter with more information on progress of the Alofsin archive.
As the processing of this collection comes to a close (things are nearly complete!) I’ve been at work on two standout areas of the collection: Anthony Alofsin’s student work from his years studying architecture at Harvard University and Columbia University and his professional work as an architect. In step with materials I’ve already processed, both contain a wealth of information and a large number of stunning visual materials. These are also the areas of the collection that contain the largest number of drawings by Alofsin, which currently fill a flat file cabinet.
Alofsin attended the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) from 1978-1981 and began researching the history of the GSD and design pedagogy there (which eventually led to his book on the history of the GSD, The Struggle for Modernism, published in 2002). The archive includes his course notes and design work, including architectural sketches and drawings and a model built as one of his first projects for the school. The Alofsin archive also includes notes and work created during his time at the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, where he received Master of Philosophy and Ph.D. degrees. It was there that Alofsin began his research on Frank Lloyd Wright, and his doctoral dissertation was on Wright’s connections to Europe.
After completing his education and in addition to his teaching position with the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin, Alofsin worked professionally as an architect. He designed his own residences, including a house and condominium in Austin, Texas, in addition to building homes for clients. This year he was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), the highest membership honor reserved for architects who have made substantial contributions to the field.
Architectural plans as well as reports and documentation from every stage of the design process are included in the Alofsin archive. As with previous materials, I have carefully rehoused and inventoried all of the materials regarding Alofsin’s professional work. Both his student work and his professional work are organized and have been described in the finding aid of the collection to be available to researchers.
With these parts of the archive rehoused and inventoried, the project is getting close to completion! Remaining are some of Alofsin’s personal correspondence and administrative documents from his work as professor with the School of Architecture.
Gordon Home’s The Romance of Londonhighlights “how many of these architectural links with the centuries long past still exist in London” in hopes of encouraging citizens to care about the futures of these historic places (pg. 2). Published in 1910, The Romance of London includes illustrations of the iconic buildings around London and seeks to tell the story of the city through these buildings.
Home explores early London (namely as it was under the Romans and the Saxons), the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Guildhall, and other landmarks. The chapters on each structure are short histories that help to contextualize the buildings, though Home includes little about their contemporary (in 1910) uses. In the case of the Tower of London, one of the most famous buildings in the city, there is only a brief mention at the end of the chapter of how the building has served many purposes, as a “castle, a royal palace, and a prison, and is now an arsenal and one of the most popular show-places in London” (pg. 17). Home spends a great deal of time exploring London’s churches, including Westminster Abbey (which constitutes the longest chapter in the book), St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the chapter on “Some Old London Churches.” Together, the three emphasize the role of the Church, both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, in London’s history. As the center of politics in England, London was also the seat of power for religious figures in the nation. Home discusses the construction of Westminster, particularly; with its Gothic architecture and long history, Westminster remains the most prominent church in the city, host to the coronation of every monarch since 1066, royal weddings, and other major British events. Where Westminster Abbey is distinctly Gothic, St. Paul’s Cathedral is Roman and Corinthian in style, though the original St. Paul’s (destroyed in the fire of 1666) was also Gothic. The new St. Paul’s contains elements of Gothic and Roman architecture, thereby paying homage to England’s history as a Roman occupied territory and the popularity and frequency of Gothic architecture in England. The golden dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral remains an iconic part of London’s skyline as a representation of a blend of much of England’s past.
When the book was published in 1910, England had just come through a major constitutional crisis, leading to a sudden general election early in the year. There was a desire to restore regular order to the nation, and London most particularly, as the seat of government. After such a tumultuous moment in Britain’s history, it is understandable that Home would wish to look back on the monuments to British greatness in one of the world’s most splendid cities. And yet this ignores the majority of Londoners’ experience. Most of the city’s inhabitants did not enjoy the benefits of London’s palaces, or have the privilege of moving among the most elite of British society who would have been at Westminster Abbey for the coronation of a new monarch. In truth, many of London’s citizens lived a very different life from the world portrayed by Home; there were no castles or royal jewels or grand Elizabethan Halls in their lives. To them, London was teeming with carts and carriages, grime, and suffragette protests, a social context which is ignored in The Romance of London. Much of what Home espouses as London was inaccessible to the average citizen in the city.
The Romance of London portrays only specific parts of the history of the city. Home is true to the title of his book: it is little more than a romanticized history of London and its buildings. London is undoubtedly a romantic city, full of cobblestone streets, stone buildings, and tributes to the grandness of the British. Humans have a tendency to record in history that which is favorable to themselves, often to the detriment of the average person. Those ordinary stories, equally as valuable as those Home tells about Kings and Templars and religious leaders, are hidden or ignored. This is not at all unusual, but nonetheless lamentable. London’s history is partially written in its famous buildings, and though Home briefly mentions the Italian and English workers who built Westminster Abbey, they possess rich stories of their own that are not told. Likely, those stories are lost forever, and the architectural history of these buildings is the poorer for it. For all the wealth of Britain’s social elite and the richness of London’s past, Home’s telling of its history ignores the average Londoner, whose experience of London was not the romantic, idealized version of he portrays.
Irene here with a post about a trip to the Buckeye State, Ohio! In early October, several members of the Alexander Architectural Archives attended the 40th anniversary conference of the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) in Cincinnati, Ohio. If you wish to learn more about the processing of the SCA collection, please read my previous post. Along with educating the organization about the processing portion, we were also there as an outreach measure for both monetary and archival material donations. My supervisor, Stephanie Tiedeken, Archivist for Access and Preservation, and I co-presented on the project during the paper sessions. Beth Dodd, Curator of the Alexander Architectural Archives, also attended the conference. Along with presenting, we were also fortunate to participate in tours focusing on the history of Cincinnati and the surrounding area.
We arrived on Wednesday, October 4th for the opening reception at the Washington Platform Saloon & Restaurant. After dinner, those brave enough to climb several hundred feet below the surface visited lagering cellars that exist below many structures. Cincinnati had a very active brewing business in the 1800s until the Prohibition Era. The tour guide noted that Cincinnati is thought to have the largest underground system of these cellars in the United States.
The next day consisted of a tour of Cincinnati. We toured the Carew Tower, which was the tallest building in Cincinnati until 2010. We were treated with wonderful views of the surrounding area.
After, we loaded up on the buses and visited one of Cincinnati’s historic neighborhoods, Over-the-Rhine. As mentioned before, the city had an active brewing economy mostly due to the large amount of German immigrants that came into the area. The tour consisted of us walking around the neighborhood and learning about the influence of German immigrants in society and the local economy. Additionally, architecture is a big theme with SCA. Walking around Over-the-Rhine provided an interesting way to see first-hand the evolution of architecture from then to now. We also visited more underground lagering cellars.
We also stopped at a restaurant where the owner had covered the outside facade and lawn area with neon signs. The one below is one of my personal favorites of the whole trip.
The best part of Day 2 was the 40th anniversary dinner at the American Sign Museum. Along with the wonderful food (including a tasty mac and cheese bar!), Tod Swormstedt, a former SCA board member, gave a very detailed tour of the space. The ambiance coming off the lights really created a wonderful atmosphere to celebrate the 40th year of SCA. Check out all of the fantastic neon signs.
Friday was the presentation of the papers. I had never presented at a conference before, so the nerves were quite high. Stephanie and I were in the third session of papers, The 20th Century Roadside in the 21st Century. The two other paper sessions were Exploring the History of Cincinnati and the Buckeye State, and History and Preservation of the American Roadside. Each presenter was allotted 20 minutes to present with a 20 minute Q&A after each paper session. I am happy to report that our presentation went very well. I tried to slow down and focus on positive faces on the crowd. We received a lot of questions about the SCA collection from the audience. Following the paper sessions, Neon, a documentary covering the history of neon in the United States was shown.
The focus of Day 4 was a tour of the Dixie Highway, one of the first major highways in the United States. We loaded up on the buses at 8 am and began our travels to Lima, Ohio. Along the way, we stopped at various regional mom-and-pop shops including Kewpee Hamburgers for a late lunch. We also stopped at businesses with interesting signs as seen below. The day concluded with the closing dinner at the Mecklenburg Gardens for a German dinner.
The context for why we attended this conference was centered on acquiring additional SCA archival material, but also educating others about what the Alexander Architectural Archives does as an archive. Many times I have had to explain what an archive does and how archivists operates within such an institution. The opportunity to speak directly to SCA members, the individuals donating their material, about the SCA collection was education for both groups. We actually came home with new acquisitions including posters and towels for a conference in Miami during the early 80s.
The opportunity to present at the SCA conference was a highlight of my fall semester. Among my classmates, I have been one of the few to have had the opportunity to present at a conference for their job. I also learned more about the amount of preparation needed to create a professional level presentation, which is always needed! Stephanie and I created a nice PowerPoint presentation, which we both practiced numerous times including one final run on the day of paper sessions. On a more personal level, I have become quite knowledgeable about the history of SCA. It was wonderful and slightly bizarre to actually meet the individuals featured in the collection. I was starstruck a few times. I am very grateful for the opportunity to present on a project that has been a passion of mine. Next time you see a neon sign or a diner, stop and take a look around! You won’t regret it!
Hello! This is Irene Lule, Graduate Research Assistant for the Alexander Architectural Archives (AAA), with information about our most recent processed collection, the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) records. Formed in 1977, the Society for Commercial Archeology is a nonprofit organization focused on the 20th century built environment. Its collection at the Alexander Architectural Archive documents the activities and business of the organization from its inception to the present. From diners to neon signs, SCA publishes a quarterly newsletter, Road Notes, and a journal, SCA Journal along with organizing tours and conferences for its members. The value of any collection is always dependent on the user. For myself, the processor, learning more about processing archival collections, how an organization functions, and a look into commercialism from the mid-20th century are three of the most important. The following blog post will discuss some of the challenges and highlight some of the true gems in the collection.
The overall goal of any processing project is to establish physical and intellectual control over a collection. Measuring at 9.42 linear feet and with over 900 photographic materials, the SCA collection can be called an artificial collection, which is “a collection of materials with different provenance assembled and organized to facilitate its management or use.” During the first two accessions (the act of acquiring/transferring archival materials to a repository) in 2016 and 2017, a vast majority of the material came from former SCA board members including the Alexander Architectural Archive’s curator, Beth Dodd. Combing the records of different board members to create one cohesive collection is a difficult task mostly because everyone has a different way of organizing their individual records. The way one person files their documents will not be the same as the next person. In this case, we attributed many of the folders to their original creator. For example, Beth Dodd was one of the co-organizers of the SCA’s conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in September 2008. Since many of the records contain her personal notes, we made sure to attribute the proper folders to her. Bringing together the records of former board members is critical in creating the SCA collection, but it is also important to attribute the individual creators when appropriate.
Other challenges with the collection include privacy and photographic materials. Since many of the records are from a single individual, names, addresses, emails, and phone numbers are found throughout. As archivists, we have a code of ethics which speaks directly to protecting the privacy of the individuals in a collection. For SCA, each folder with personal information was labeled as “Restricted” This label serves as a warning to Nancy Sparrow, who is in charge of public services for the Alexander Architectural Archives. To be clear, the “Restricted” label does not necessarily mean the material will not be available for research. The label notifies Nancy to go through the material and determine the best course of action including redaction of sensitive information. Redaction is “the process of editing text for publication.” All of these measures are used to ensure the privacy of the individuals featured in the collection.
Photographic material in any collection is always challenging due to its specialized housing needs. In the case of SCA, a portion of photographic material was found in envelopes. As archivists, we have to determine the best way to rehouse these items while also maintaining the original order and provenance. In many cases, I rehoused the photograph in a four-flap enclosure and attached the original letter using a plastic paper clip, which is much less harmful than metal paper clips since metal may rust and stain. This tells others that these items are meant to be together. I also included a small note on the top of the enclosure indicating where the photograph came from as a secondary measure.
One of my personal favorite features of the SCA collection is the material documenting the publication of the quarterly newsletter, SCA News (now known as Road Notes) from 1994-1999. We were fortunate to acquire the records of its former editor Gregory Smith. As editor, Greg received correspondence, letters, and clippings from SCA members and the general public about the current events in the commercial built environment. A vast majority of our photographic material comes from this section of the collection including some wonderful photographs of neon signs.
Additionally, the SCA collection documents the various events of the organization. Particularly active in the 1980s, tours and conferences featuring diners to quirky cities like Wildwood, New Jersey provide a glimpse into the past activities of the organization. These events served the purpose of bringing together individuals with shared interests.
Along with these two features, SCA also contains the minutes, agendas, and various administrative records of the organization. Given its status as an artificial collection, there are some gaps we are hoping to fill through outreach. We recently attended the SCA’s 40th anniversary conference in Cincinnati, Ohio where we presented on the project and also sought archival material donations. We are expecting to receive future accruals. I often think of the SCA collection as a living collection. After I leave the Alexander Architectural Archives, someone else will continue to work on integrating both legacy and current materials into the collection. As long as SCA exists, this collection will continue to grow.
The Society for Commercial Archeology collection has a very special place in my career. As the largest and most complex collection I have ever processed, I have taken away a lot of lessons about rehousing, description, arrangement, and project management along with educating me about a quirky and unique part of the built environment. I am grateful to Stephanie, Beth, and Nancy for this wonderful opportunity. Please feel free to schedule an appointment with Nancy Sparrow if you wish to view the SCA collection. We are currently wrapping up the final edits of the SCA finding aid, which will be made available on Texas Archival Resources Online and ArchiveGrid.
 “Artificial Collection,” Society of American Archivists, accessed November 20, 2017.
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