Tag Archives: architecture

Oplontis, atrium 5, east wall. Photo Paul Bardagjy. ©The Oplontis Project

Oplontis: A Digital Humanities Success Story from the University of Texas

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. 


 


 

When speaking of digital humanities and the field of art history, cautioners of “digital art history” argue that using digital tools is useful only if those tools facilitate an actual rethinking about an object as to its identity and purpose.[1] Certainly, applying quantitative digital methods to an art history project sometime fails to hit the mark for one reason or another. For example, network diagramming, first used with text-based DH projects, does not always successfully transfer to the study of the visual. See the map created in 2013 for the entry to MOMA’s “Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925”, which has been criticized for not providing much insight into the events surrounding the rise of Abstraction (https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2012/inventingabstraction/?page=connections). Or in another case, the wonderfully ambitious 2012 project “Mapping Gothic France” (http://mappinggothic.org/) that was originally financially supported by the Mellon Foundation, now languishes because of lack of funding and the untimely death of one of the project’s two creators.

Website of The Oplontis Project.
Website of The Oplontis Project.

However, successful digital humanities/art history efforts are happening; one being “The Oplontis Project” (www.oplontisproject.org) impressively initiated 14 years ago, in 2005, here at UT Austin by faculty members, Dr. John Clarke and Dr. Michael Thomas.

This is a mind-bogglingly large project involving numerous specialists’ studies of a villa (Villa A) and a commercial complex at Oplontis, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Torre Annunziata, near Pompeii.

Aerial view of Oplontis site with superimposed plan of actual and hypothetical remains. Drawing Timothy Liddell. © The Oplontis Project
Aerial view of Oplontis site with superimposed plan of actual and hypothetical remains. Drawing Timothy Liddell. © The Oplontis Project

Still going strong, this project involves a growing database for sharing; a website, promoted through Facebook to reach a wider audience (https://www.facebook.com/pg/TheOplontisProject/photos/?tab=album&album_id=335748659810305);  and eventually, 4 volumes of born digital, open access, e-books devoted to the Oplontis Villa A. The 1st volume of this e-book series, on the ancient setting and modern rediscovery of the villa, was published in 2014 (See https://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b8986409~S29). The 2nd volume, which traces the decorations, stucco, pavements and sculpture, will appear this spring 2019. This second volume, alone, contains 2700 high resolution images, a feat that could never be realized in print format. In addition, the e-book format allows for quick links to other material like excavation notebooks.

With the help, among others, of UT’s own Texas Advanced Computer Systems (TAC) (https://www.tacc.utexas.edu/special-report/corral/archeology), members use digital photography and 3-D laser scanning and modeling of wall paintings, mosaics, and sculpture to layer what exists today with digital visualizations that allow the modern viewer to navigate through the rooms as if they were guests in the original villa.  In addition, the site’s gardens were replanted based on pollen and seed analyses; and marble fragments have yielded information about ancient trade routes.

3D model of Oplontis.
3D model of Oplontis.

I think the success of this digital humanities project can be attributed to several factors. Notably, questions about chronology, function, social structure and landscape that have guided the research at this site, were posited from the very beginning. The huge team of involved specialists firmly grasp how to use digital and scientific tools in the service of research questions for the purpose of yielding new ways of looking at this site and it material culture. Ongoing funding has also been crucial.  And finally, there is the way in which this DH project’s findings have been and will continue to be disseminated.  As John Clarke says, “The 3D model, linked with the database will allow us, and future generations, to find material easily by clicking on find-spots; scholars will be able to share in our work and even add to the information in our database. The model complements the e-book and because the ACLS[2] has graciously offered to make the Oplontis Project publications open access, scholars and laypersons worldwide can benefit from the work of our 42 contributors, coming from a wide range of scientific and humanistic disciplines.”[3]

For more information about Oplontis and other surrounding sites see:

Leisure and luxury in the age of Nero : the villas of Oplontis near Pompeii, 2016, https://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b9138737~S29

“The Villa of Oplontis”, in Preserving complex digital objects, 2014, https://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b8960178~S29

Tales from an eruption : Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis : guide to the exhibition, 2003, https://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b5889687~S29

The natural history of Pompeii, 2002, https://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b5389520~S29


[1] See Johanna Drucker, Is There a “Digital” Art History , Visual Resources, v. 2

[2] The American Council of Learned Societies Humanities E-book series is the publisher of The Oplontis E-book volumes

[3] See the John Clark interview https://notevenpast.org/new-digital-technologies-bring-ancient-roman-villa-to-life/

 

 

Collection Highlight: Karl Kamrath Collection

Karl Kamrath (architect). Farnsworth & Chambers Office Building, Houston, Texas. Undated. Pencil, colored pencil and crayon on trace paper. 11 7/8 x 25 1/8 in. Karl Kamrath Collection, Alexander Architectural Archives.

Houston architect Karl Kamrath had an opportunity to meet Frank Lloyd Wright when he visited Taliesin in June of 1946. The encounter had a profound effect on Kamrath’s architectural designs as he began creating Organic architecture, integrating human habitation with the natural environment.

Kamrath’s collection — which resides in the Alexander Architectural Archives — includes business papers, project records, correspondence, original architectural design drawings, photographs, prints and ephemera.

Karl Kamrath.
Karl Kamrath.

The archive provides insight into the prolific Texan’s work, much of whose modernist design aesthetic paid homage to Wright, and includes some of Kamrath’s award-winning projects such as the Kamrath residence of 1939, Temple Emanu-El in Houston, the Houston Fire Alarm Building, M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute, and the Contemporary Arts Association in Houston. The archive also includes a number of volumes from Kamrath’s personal library that shed further light on his influences.

Karl Kamrath grew up in Austin and earned his bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas. In 1934, he moved to Chicago, where he worked for the architectural firm Pereira and Pereira, the Interior Studios of Marshall Field and Co. and the Architectural Decorating Company.

In 1937, he and another former graduate of the university, Frederick James MacKie Jr. opened their own architectural firm, MacKie and Kamrath in Houston, Texas. MacKie and Kamrath were among the first Houston architects to follow a modernist approach to design for which they received national recognition.

Kamrath left the firm from 1942 to 1945 to serve as a captain in the Army Corps of Engineers. Shortly after his return in 1946, Kamrath met Wright and immediately became an advocate of Wright’s Usonian architecture style.

Kamrath became a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1939 and was elected to fellowship in the institute in 1955, and at various times served in an adjunct capacity at the University of Oklahoma, The University of Texas, Texas A&M University and the University of Oregon. He was also a founder and served on the board of the Contemporary Arts Museum from 1948 to 1952.

Bexar County Courthouse by James Riely Gordon

Bexar County Courthouse rendering, undated Bexar County, Texas. James Riely Gordon Drawings and Papers. Alexander Architectural Archive. University of Texas Libraries. The University of Texas at Austin.
Bexar County Courthouse rendering, undated Bexar County, Texas. James Riely Gordon Drawings and Papers. Alexander Architectural Archive. University of Texas Libraries. The University of Texas at Austin.

James Riely Gordon (1863-1937) was an architect who practiced in both San Antonio and New York City, best-known for his Richardsonian Romanesque designs of public buildings which accommodated a natural ventilation system so essential in the hot, Texas climate.

Gordon excelled at the design of public buildings and constructed 16 county courthouses in Texas alone. Among his designs for courthouses in Texas include the example above in Bexar County (1891-1896), as well as structures in Victoria County (1892), Ellis County (1895) and McLennan County (1901). 

His collection at the Alexander Architectural Archive contains 6,500 drawings, 13 linear feet of architectural records, and 1,600 photographs representing more than 300 buildings and documenting both the Texas and New York phases of Gordon’s career (1890-1937). 

Gordon’s public works across the state are cataloged in the book James Riely Gordon: His Courthouses and Other Public Architecture by Chris Meister (Texas Tech University Press, 2011).

Texas Oilmen and Coastal Architecture

Sid Richardson residence photograph of exterior corner, undated. San Jose Island, Texas. O'Neil Ford collection, Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.
Sid Richardson residence photograph of exterior corner, undated. San Jose Island, Texas. O’Neil Ford collection, Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Along with providing invaluable resources for myriad scholarly and research inquiries, the Libraries collections can also occasionally become a sole source for needs of journalistic enterprise, as well, especially in the form of those unique items that are part of the Libraries’ special collections.

That was the case in a current three-part series by reporter Alan Peppard of the Dallas Morning News that looks at two small islands off the Texas coast that served as recreational and power centers for a pair of the richest oilmen in the state’s history.

“Islands of the Oil Kings” examines the islets of Matagorda and San Jose near Port Aransas. A significant portion of the former was purchased by Clint Murchison Sr., and the entirety of the latter was acquired by his lifetime best friend, Sid Richardson, both of the properties becoming retreats where the oilmen could both relax and play host to the most influential of guests, magnates of business and current and future leaders, including Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and a then-aspiring senatorial candidate named Lyndon Johnson.

Richardson’s San Jose sanctuary featured a house designed by esteemed Texas architect O’Neil Ford that married the sophistication of European modernism with the simplicity of the Texas ranch style. Being located in a place that was consistently the red zone for hurricanes, the building had to also be constructed with the strength to withstand the worst that nature could offer. When completed, Ford claimed that the structure was “tight enough to strum,” and, indeed, when Category 5 Hurricane Carla hit the Texas coast in mid-September 1961, the house survived with a mere broken window in the kitchen.

In pulling together resources for Part 2 of this excellent long-form article featuring engaging complementary multimedia components, Peppard leaned on the Alexander Architectural Archive (AAA) — part of the Architecture and Planning Library in historic Battle Hall — to provide photography of Ford’s design work on the Richardson compound.  AAA maintains the collections of numerous notable Texas architects and designers, including a comprehensive archive of O’Neil Ford’s career with papers, plans, photographic prints and negatives, slides, exhibit boards, drawings and sketches that are preserved for use by students, scholars, researchers and architecture aficionados.

See more images of the Richardson home from the O’Neil Ford collection below.

Escape to Book Mountain

Book Mountain in the Netherlands.

Though we often focus our thoughts and attention on the changing nature of libraries, it’s good to occasionally be reminded that our “storied” past is also part of the present.

Nearly ten years in the making, a new library recently opened outside of Rotterdam that is a monument to the book.

A pyramidal structure of wood, glass, stone and steel contains what may be the world’s largest bookcase, “Book Mountain” – a structure of staircases, pathways and terraces surrounded by some 50,000 books that spirals upward to a reading room and café at its peak.

And despite its remarkable design by Dutch architectural firm MVRDV, the building is more function than form, as it is set amongst a community of government housing complexes where the population has a 10% illiteracy rate.

See more photos here, and a report by the BBC, here.

Blake Alexander (Feb. 4, 1924 – Dec. 11, 2011)

Blake Alexander

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Drury Blakeley Alexander, whose namesake Alexander Architectural Archive in the Architecture & Planning Library is the premier collection of architectural resources in Texas.

Blake was a champion for the education, documentation, and preservation of Texas’ architectural heritage. He was also a pioneer in recognizing the importance of archiving architectural records. The Alexander Architectural Archive grew out of his personal collection and stewardship. The resources he collected continue to play an important role in the restoration of many of Texas’ most important buildings and continue to support the education and scholarship of American architectural history.

To learn more about Blake’s life and legacy, please see:

Art in Architecture

More Than Architecture

The Fine Arts Library is participating in AIA Austin’s month-long austin x design program to “celebrate design in both the built and natural environments and demonstrate the ways that design can shape and improve daily life.”

From October 2 – 30, members of the Austin architecture and design community will display their creations alongside the permanent art collection of the Fine Arts Library (FAL) in the exhibit “More Than Architecture.”

An opening reception will be held Friday, October 7, from 5-8 p.m. at the Fine Arts Library, (DFA 3.200).

Artists participating in the show include:

Items in the exhibit include sculpture (large and small), house model, photographs, furniture, glass, paintings, and decorative pieces, with 40 works from over 20 designers and artists.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Digital renderings of the Home Research Lab at the Pecan Street Project.

Environmentally, that is. Fortunately, the university has faculty like Matt Fajkus to solve complex problems so that being green will be easier in the future.

The University of Texas Libraries second installment of Research + Pizza features Fajkus, who is Director of the School of Architecture’s state-of-the-art Facade Thermal Lab. He’ll talk about sustainable architectural design strategies, focusing on his research into building envelopes and efficient facade systems.

Fajkus’s research informed his part in the collaborative design of the Home Research Lab, built as part of the Pecan Street Smart Grid experiment to integrate scientific research into the sustainable living community at the Mueller Development.

You can catch Research + Pizza with Matt Fajkus on Wednesday, Oct. 5 at noon in the Perry-Castañeda Library.

Free Pizza (while it lasts) generously provided by program supporter Austin’s Pizza.

In Memoriam

Hal Box, one of our Libraries Advisory Council members and a former Dean of the School of Architecture has passed away.  The University of Texas Libraries has lost a dear friend and advocate, and we join with our colleagues across the University in mourning his passing.

Among his many honors and awards, Hal was also recognized by the University of Texas; The Hal Box Endowed Chair in Urbanism was established at the university in 1999 and the Texas Exes Alumni Association bestowed on Box its highest honor, the Distinguished Alumnus Award, in 2003.

Memorial services are pending. Visit Box’s online memorial page.