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.”
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.
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.
In Volume 5, Resilience and Adaptability, of the periodical Interventions/Adaptive Use, published by the Rhode Island School of Design, editors Markus Berger and Liliane Wong bring together a series of essays suggesting “that from the perspective of design, resilience has to be a central concern of the future of material making but it can also open up more creative ways of thinking about world making” (pg. 4). Because the natural world evolves so much, the editors argue, the built world must be resilient and adaptable to survive.
Featuring articles on a wide range of places and topics, Resilience and Adaptability pulls together somewhat disparate threads to create a cohesive compilation that argues for building long-lasting, sustainable structures. For example, Iris Mach’s article “Japan’s Architectural Genome: Destruction as a Chance for Renewal” explores how “Japan has developed a building culture that embraces, rather than shuns, decay and destruction as an integral part of its system” (pg. 26). Additionally, Japan has always been open to adopting foreign expertise and technology into their own practices, meaning that the country consistently uses the most cutting-edge building technology. Through this state of mind, Japan has become a fine example of the resilience and adaptability the editors argue for. Another article, “Lessons From Queensland For Viable Futures” by Naomi Hay and Tony Fry, discusses how Australian architects are adapting buildings for a changing climate. With the weather in Queensland changing drastically in recent years due to climate change, architects and other design experts are “pre-empting and designing for future risk as an opportunity for redirective development strategy, as well as one that can build a culture of resilience and adaptability” (pg. 64). Due to Queensland architects’ forward thinking, Queensland and Australia are beginning to think more long term about the effects of climate change and how to better plan for the dramatic weather changes to come.
“Japan’s Architectural Genome” and “Lessons From Queensland For Viable Futures” are just two of the articles in Resilience and Adaptability – there are numerous others that argue the importance of the two titular features in architecture and design. The book as a whole creates a sense of urgency about looking more towards the future of building and potential future needs, and less about simply the needs of the present. Resilience and Adaptability also makes an important point about the lack of permanency of architecture. Almost everything manmade will eventually crumble to dust, especially if what humans build is not meant to last for years or is not cared for. With drastic changes coming in the Earth’s climate, and continuous new advancements in building technology and practices, it is more important than ever that architects look to the past, present, and future in their work. Combining the history and examples of long-lasting structures, the needs of the present, and anticipating the needs of the future will allow architects and their buildings to be more resilient than ever.
New to the Library this week is Monica Penick’s new book, Tastemaker: Elizabeth Gordon, House Beautiful, and the Postwar American Home. Penick explores the impact of Elizabeth Gordon on the changing tastes and ideas in American design during the decades following World War II through her editorship of the monthly magazine House Beautiful.
Elizabeth Gordon gained fame (or infamy, depending on who you ask) with the publication of her 1953 editorial “The Threat to the Next America.” A short piece, the essay exemplified the essence of the Cold War: Gordon accused major institutions of promoting “bad modern,” a “‘totalitarian’ design promoted as the International Style,” while Gordon herself pushed for “‘good modern’…a line of ‘home-grown,’ ‘democratic’ design called the American Style” (pg. 1). Even buildings could not escape the dichotomy shaping up between communism and democracy. With these few pages, Gordon brought about “the ultimate architectural conflict of the decade” (pg. 1). What Penick does so successfully in this book is explore how Gordon used House Beautiful as almost a form of propaganda to advance her “American Style” and promote architects she felt embodied that style, such as Frank Lloyd Wright. Gordon managed to tie the American Style to the nation’s fate. Penick uncovers Gordon’s somewhat repressive childhood, her time at the University of Chicago, and her ambition, which led her to defy her family’s wishes and move to New York to become a reporter, believing it to be a career that would “constantly expand her knowledge, and that of others” (pg. 5). Her doggedness and her passionate beliefs led her to become an unstoppable force in journalism when she started House Beautiful. As editor, she carefully crafted a narrative and built alliances with architects like Frank Lloyd Wright to build the case for the American Style.
Elizabeth Gordon’s “The Threat to the Next America” essay remained controversial for years after its publication, so much so that it overshadowed her rather remarkable career and achievements. In Tastemaker: Elizabeth Gordon, House Beautiful, and the Postwar American Home, Monica Penick recognizes these achievements. Gordon’s strong-willed, dominating personality shines in the book, as well as her apt leadership of a major architectural and design magazine, House Beautiful. For decades, Elizabeth Gordon has been remembered as the woman who ignited a vicious debate over the future of the American home and the role of architecture in ensuring American dominance in the Cold War. This earned her both severe criticism and adulation. But Penick’s book restores personality and humanity to Gordon, demonstrating the depth and contributions of a woman who has long been reduced to the words she once wrote on a few pages of paper.
Come by the Library to see what else is new this week!
Mary Louise Mossy Christovich and Roulhac Bunkley Toledano explore New Orleans’ French gardens in Garden Legacy. Christovich and Toledano discuss “the history of settlement, battles with the natural world, plant exchanges, politics, [and] economics…all [of which are]…pertinent to understanding a forgotten world of New Orleans gardens and landscape design” (pg. 8). Making use of archival drawings and other primary sources, the authors discover and embrace the essential Frenchness of New Orleans culture and the importance of gardens in the city’s history.
Garden Legacy uses records and documents in The Historic New Orleans Collection to piece together the gardens around New Orleans and provide detailed descriptions. Christovich and Toledano use specific mansions, properties, and plantations as examples that together illuminate what these gardens would have looked like. For example, in the case of the Lombard Plantation, a drawing by Joseph Antoine Pueyo, a well-known artist, “captured the essence of a petit early nineteenth-century French landscape” through his drawing of the Lombard plantation (pg. 141). In the drawing are fruit trees, crepe myrtles, evergreens, and unknown flowers that are visible in many drawings of the era and seem to be typical of French gardens. In the architectural plans, the gardens are not visible, so the authors used the drawings to create a fuller image of the Lombard Plantation. The property is still in existence and has gone through a major restoration to preserve the house and to recreate the gardens as best as possible. These gardens were meant display the wealth of the plantation owners, much like the home they built, and to represent their French roots. Additionally, the the garden featured berry bushes, sixteen different kinds, in fact. There were “citrus and pomegranates…, muscadine grapes, along with raspberries and blackberries…in front of the kitchen house,” providing easy access (pg. 141). Every example in Garden Legacy, of which there are many, features similar fascinating information about properties in and around New Orleans.
Christovich and Toledano have successfully made a strong case for the importance of French gardens in early New Orleans. Garden Legacy is truly exemplary historical work because of the authors’ significant efforts in carefully researching the gardens, sometimes having to use numerous sources to recreate gardens in a meaningful way. The French remain well-known for their gardens – the gardens at Versailles are a major attraction when tourists visit the palace – but New Orleans, despite its French roots, is not associated in any way with beautiful gardens. Garden Legacy changes that. While New Orleans is today a city filled with diverse influences and a great deal of cultural mixing, early New Orleans was distinctly French. These gardens demonstrate how some aspects of French influence were retained while others, such as the gardens, were quickly forgotten. As one of the most famous and important cities in the American South, New Orleans is a city of music, food, tradition, and culture. Christovich and Toledano have recovered an essential part of its early French culture by examining the city’s lost French gardens, capturing the essential Frenchness of a city of many cultures.
John Joe Schlichtman, Jason Patch, and Marc Lamont Hill’s book, Gentrifier, explores the complex issue of gentrification from the perspective of the “gentrifier.” The authors identify themselves as gentrifiers, “middle-class people who moved into disinvested neighborhoods in a period during which a critical mass of other middle-class people did the same, thereby exerting economic, political, and social pressures upon the existing community” (pg. 4).
The personal narratives of the authors adds greatly to the effectiveness of the book. Schlichtman, Patch, and Hill seek to understand the underlying causes behind gentrification, finding race, economic disparity, and overall cultural tensions to be dominating factors. And though they provide no long-term solutions, they do “illuminate the place we strongly believe it must begin” (pg. 202). They acknowledge the complexity of gentrification and its factors, but advocate a simple start to a solution: engagement and cross-cultural interaction. Coming from the perspective of those who have moved en masse to up-and-coming neighborhoods, Schlichtman, Patch, and Hill sympathize with the “discontent” of those whose neighborhoods have been “invaded” by people like the authors (pg. 108). Overall, Gentrifiers provides fascinating insights into gentrification from all perspectives, as well as identifying several important causes, if no solutions. It succeeds in making the reader thinking about the issue more deeply, and the engagement they strongly advocate is certainly an excellent beginning step in finding a solution.
Recently, “gentrification” has become something of a cultural and political buzzword. Politicians, architects, builders, city planners, and communities use it to oversimplify a complicated issue with matters of race, gender, and economic inequality at play, to only scratch the surface. “Revitalization” is another common buzzword. It is exciting when a neighborhood is “revitalized,” because it means better homes, better schools, better investment in the area as a whole. But “revitalization” is arguably just a synonym for “gentrification,” just with a positive spin that avoids that dreaded g-word. Revitalization is defined as “the action of imbuing something with new life and vitality” (according to Google Dictionary). This implies that the life and vitality before was inconsequential. And therein is the rub: how can you claim to care about a community while pushing out its residents? Why does revitalizing a community have to mean bringing in a new, richer, and (most likely) whiter community instead of catering to the existing community? For example, in Memphis, Tennessee, an old art deco Sears Crosstown building has sat empty for decades after numerous businesses tried to do something with the massive building. Finally, it was purchased by developers who wished to see the building in use again. Over the course of the project, the developers have remained aware of the looming danger of gentrification of the Crosstown neighborhood surrounding the building, especially after watching the process occur in the nearby Cooper Young District of the city. Still, despite all this awareness, the cost of living (especially the price of homes) in the Crosstown area have risen, and the Sears building is not even open. The process of gentrification has begun, though it is not as pervasive as what was seen in the Cooper Young project – yet.
Such failed or failing instances raise questions about the probability of revitalization without gentrification. Gentrifier adds to this narrative with a surprisingly optimistic thesis and an important perspective that leaves the reader cautiously hopeful, because they better understand the complexity of the underlying causes of gentrification and the difficulty of finding solutions. Still, come August 19, 2017, Sears Crosstown, now known as Crosstown Concourse, will be bustling with Memphians eating MemPops popsicles, drinking craft beer, and shopping at the numerous businesses in the gigantic renovated atrium. Down the block from Crosstown, other Memphians will be packing up the house they have called home for 30 years, because the building down the street (which had sat empty longer than they had lived there) has made it impossible to stay.
New this weekis Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader, edited by Jos Boys. The book is somewhat interdisciplinary, “exploring the interconnections between disability, architecture and cities…[with contributions from authors in the field of] architecture, geography, anthropology, health studies, English language and literature, rhetoric and composition, art history, disability studies and disability arts and cover personal, theoretical and innovative ideas and work” (Pg. 1). There is no one argument throughout the book, but rather it seeks to provide an overarching, innovative perspective on disability and how spaces are viewed through that lens.
Disability, Space, Architecture examines the nature and experience of disability itself, and pays particular attention to contrasting it with ability, when appropriate. Several of the authors are themselves disabled in some form, and the insights they provide to how they view the world and architecture, particularly, differently from others. The book is organized by themes, including “Theory and Criticism,” “Education,” and “Projects and Practices,” each of which provides an important element for thinking about disability and architecture. Of particular note is the part on “Projects and Practices” exploring ongoing or planned projects that adapt to the needs of the able and disabled, as well as what could improve in standard practices to better insure inclusivity. One chapter examines the Ramp House, a home designed by a couple (both architects) for their wheelchair-bound daughter, Greta. The house is an example of how a space can be disability-friendly without feeling so. A friend of Greta’s, who is not disabled, explained that the house “is really thoughtful, it doesn’t feel unusual that it has a big ramp instead of stairs and it’s very well designed because it has everything that Greta needs and all the equipment she needs, but it’s not in the way…it’s really bright and spacious…and colorful” (Pg. 261). The essay goes on to argue that designing a home around a disabled child drastically changes the home and can improve the lives of the family – when a child can do things for themselves, it is less stressful for parents and the child feels more self-sufficient. The house becomes more inclusive to all and can even make the surrounding community far more aware of the accessibility of spaces. This essay exemplifies in many ways the stories and other articles in Disability, Space, Architecture, as the article explores a range of issues and features personal stories and experiences that greatly add to the value of the piece. Many of the essays contain similar aspects, but there is something meaningful about “The Ramp House” piece that makes it stand out among the pieces.
Boys’ and the contributors’ work on the relationship between disability, ability, and architecture is groundbreaking. Disability, Space, Architecture seeks to view the world through the eyes of disabled individuals, and to reveal the privilege of the able-bodied in something as simple as moving about their home. When spaces are designed to be inclusive, it undoubtedly improves the quality of life and experiences of everyone, whether disabled or not. A disability impacts not only the person who is blind, deaf, or wheelchair-bound: it affects everyone around them, particularly family and friends. To create a space that is welcoming to those with disabilities sends a strong message, especially in a world where moving around a house in a wheelchair can be difficult, or trying to navigate a city as a blind person can be nearly impossible. The word “disabled” itself can imply that some places or activities are off-limits. Disability, Space, Architecture seeks to change that. When spaces, and especially architects, are conscious of the needs of people with disabilities or special needs, the spaces becomes more open and inherently more welcoming. It is possible, with a little sensitivity, consideration, and a good architect, to turn this inability and disability into an ability.
Come by the Architecture and Planning Library to see the other new books we have this week!
New this week at the Library is Colin Philpott’s 2016 book Relics of the Reich: The Buildings the Nazis Left Behind, a fascinating analysis of Nazi architecture, examining “the physical legacy of the Nazis, their buildings, their structures, and their public spaces” (Pg. x). The Nazis were strategists, everything carefully calculated to serve their ambitions and hopes of a master race, and this included their buildings, everything from the Reichstag to Berchtesgaden to Dachau Concentration Camp. Philpott’s book emphasizes just how critical the physical spaces were to the Nazis’ success in maintaining power and committing genocide.
Philpott explores themes in Nazi architecture, including what he calls “establishing the faith,” “enforcement,” “showing off to the world,” “future fantasies,” and “downfall.” Within each theme he discusses specific buildings that served that purpose. For example, “showing off to the world” focuses primarily on the 1936 Olympics, the 1937 World’s Fair, and other locations international visitors passed through, such as airports. Similarly, “future fantasies” discusses the future plans of the Nazis that never came to be due to the escalation of World War II, including a vast plan to forever alter Berlin and rename it “Germania.” Hitler planned “for Germania as Welthaupstadt (World Capital) of a trimphant Germany…[to represent German] world domination” (Pg. 113). Philpott describes the plans as being so grand and megalomaniacal as to be absurd. Through these plans, it becomes clear that Hitler had become consumed by his desire for power, and so confident in his control over Germany and ability to dominate other countries by 1939, that these self-aggrandizing plans to essentially renovate the whole of Berlin seemed realistic and inevitable. But of particular interest is Philpott’s theme on “Holocaust.” Not only does Philpott highlight the physical spaces of the Holocaust, but he also discusses the ways those spaces and the horrors which took place there have been commemorated. Philpott points out that some of these memorials were self-serving, especially those built while Germany was split between the Allied powers; the Russians sought to paint Communism as a liberating force that freed victims from Nazi rule, while the American side of Germany produced monuments after facing pressure from survivors to do so.
Countless books have been written on the Third Reich, the genocide it perpetrated, and the lasting impact of a regime that committed unmatched horrors. There is a tendency to focus on the terrors of the Holocaust, and rightly so, but to better understand the Holocaust, one must also seek to understand other aspects of what the Nazis sought to achieve. Adolf Hitler and his colleagues hoped to build a master race, eliminating Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and the mentally disabled in order to build the Aryan society of which they dreamed. Thus, the systematic murder of six million people became a priority for the Nazi regime. But the development of this master race also included building, as well as destruction and murder. It required the building of concentration camps to house the people they planned to murder, the construction of ghettos before Jews were forced into train cars like cattle, they had to build the gas chambers and the crematoriums, and there had to be new government buildings to symbolize the new era. This physical, architectural element was crucial to the Third Reich’s plans for their “Final Solution” and the world they tried (and failed) to build. Everything they did, everything they built was coldly calculated to serve those interests.
The systematic murder of six million people is an atrocity that remains somewhat incomprehensible. For all the books, the studies, and the conversations, there is something about understanding the Holocaust that remains elusive because of the sheer scope of it. The questions that keep recurring involve the unanswerable: why? Why did Hitler and the Reich murder millions of people? Why did so many Germans do and say nothing? We have some answers to these questions, but they will never be complete, and they will never be enough to make up for the six million lives taken. But by examining what the Nazis built, and the careful planning required to carry out their Final Solution, Philpott’s Relics of the Reich provides more answers – and more questions. The Holocaust, if possible, becomes worse in a way because of the cruelty and coldness evident in the planning of the gas chambers, crematoriums, and concentration camps, as well as the callous and narcissistic ways in which the Third Reich planned Germany’s future as it carried out mass murder. And so, we have more “whys.” Why did the Nazis feel so little empathy and so little respect for human lives (those who did not fit their vision of the Aryan race) that they felt compelled and justified in committing genocide? Why did no one speak out when the crematoriums were built, especially when locals could smell the burning bodies? Why would they plan to renovate the whole of Berlin while millions were dying in the gas chambers? You can ask “why” over and over and over again. There will never be an answer, at least not a satisfactory one, but the answer is nonetheless worth the seeking. And, perhaps surprisingly, the physical spaces built by the Nazis play an important role in discovering answers to the mysterious, tragic “whys” of the Holocaust.
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