Marking time on architecture
Recalling the view across St Mark’s Square
I’ve been reading Carrying off the palaces: John Ruskin’s lost Daguerreotypes, a book by Ken and Jenny Jacobson about Ruskin’s use of photography for observing and analysing the architecture of Venice.
The book reveals the deep scholarship the Jacobsons have applied to a box of 188 Daguerreotypes they bought at an auction sale in 2006. This box contained a significant set of photographs collected, commissioned or taken by John Ruskin in the 1840s and ’50s. I’m making slow and pleasant progress through the text, the photographs, and the copious footnotes.
I’m just back from spending a few days in Sydney, staying in one of my favourite houses. A friend has been the owner, resident and custodian for a long time, and I have enjoyed many visits there.
When it was built around 1905 Ruskinian was a typical middle-class Sydney suburban house. A hundred and ten years later you can still see many houses like it around the older Sydney suburbs, but hardly any with such a collection of intact original features as this one—turned verandah posts, tuck-pointed brickwork, richly ornamented plasterwork finished in distemper, coloured and patterned glass, wood-grained joinery, linoleum floor coverings… .
But this will be my last visit. My friend is moving and the house is to be sold. I took some photographs to remember it by.
I admire the polite care sometimes taken in Europe, when historic buildings are being repaired, to maintain the quality of public spaces nearby. It’s not always done, but I have seen fine examples where scaffolding has been shrouded in screens printed with images of the facade behind. People in the streets are protected from the dirt and distraction of the building work, and they can still see (at least a simulation of) the architecture.
Richard Rogers on heritage and architecture
Here’s a little video in which the noted European architect talks about designing new buildings while taking account of their historical settings.
Climbing Brunelleschi’s cupola
In Florence, at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, tourists are welcome to climb to the top of the dome. The other day we joined the horde queueing in the piazza outside, bought tickets and threaded our way through a turnstile and along passages and up stairs. Many, many stairs. Stone stairs spiralling up inside the walls until I was giddy. Stone stairs stepping up the curve of the inner dome. Stone passages low and narrow, patinated with the sweat of visitors accummulated since the completion of the dome in 1436, and decorated with mundane graffiti.»more»
Uses for a mobile phone
In my little box of 19th century prints is a steel engraving of a drawing by Thomas Allom of the interior of the Panthéon in Paris. It’s not especially rare or valuable, but I like it for the quality of the print and the connection with my former architectural partner Richard Allom (distantly related to Thomas).
I wanted to ‘re-photograph’ the scene that Thomas Allom drew, so I needed a copy for reference. A google search turned up a print-dealer’s online catalog with an image of the Panthéon print, which I copied to my phone. With this in my hand, I found the right spot to stand. I can vouch for the general accuracy of the drawing, with a proviso. I think it is based on a properly set-up perspective drawing, but using a point of view outside the building—impossible, in other words, because this view is blocked by the front wall of the building.
With my widest lens (Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L on EOS 5D), and with my back against the wall, I could not get all the parts of the ceiling that Allom showed into the picture. Not, that is, unless I tipped the camera up and caused the columns to topple, and that would never do.»more»
I had somehow forgotten how many older London buildings are built of the lovely Portland stone. Yesterday was a day for visiting Sir Christopher Wren’s churches, each of them built of Portland stone by the barge load. Lucy and I started with St Paul’s Cathedral where, for the first time, I climbed to the top of the dome. My legs are sore still—this was a climb equivalent to three very tall lighthouse towers stacked one on top of another. I am sad that I have no photos of the interior of St Paul’s—cameras are forbidden there, so the sanctity of the place is not degraded nor the quiet meditations of the visitors intruded upon.»more»
Tim Bennetton on the web
My architect friend and neighbour Tim Bennetton has quietly launched his new website. It’s clean, it’s readable and it lacks the inscrutable puff that’s often found on architects’ websites. Bravo!»more»
Design for extreme places
This article, describing a design to support habitation in Antarctica, reminded me of the living quarters built into the 1878 lighthouse on North Reef, off Gladstone in north Queensland.»more»
Welcome to the web, Rex Addison
Rex Addison, notable Queensland architect (and a friend of mine), is about to launch himself on the web.»more»
The grand tour: travelling the world with an architect’s eye
In this pleasing and quirky book Harry Seidler lays out a collection of his travel photographs. He has been an ardent traveller, photographer and observer of architecture since he was a student.
My photographer brother, Marcell (1919-1977) gave me simple advice when I started to record architectural sites “Only use Leica cameras and Kodachrome film, which is archival”. I have adhered to this in taking all images in this book, some over 50 years ago.»more»
John Ruskin’s Daguerreotypes?
From an article in the UK Telegraph newspaper yesterday:
A small country firm of auctioneers has been left embarrassed but elated after selling a box of photographs it valued at £80 for £75,000.»more»
Hundertwasser: the musical
Artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000) has inspired Hundertwasser: das Musical, staged in the German city of Uelzen.
How many architects have been cast as theatrical heroes? Could this be the start of a new genre? Perhaps Marquis-Kyle: the restoration comedy.»more»
Houses on permafrost
Houses on stumps
Old houses in Queensland are supported on tall stumps, with a space underneath where you can walk without bumping your head. At least, here in southern Queensland we call them stumps. North Queenslanders call them blocks. You sometimes hear people call them stilts, which goes to show that they are rude, ignorant, and probably from down south.»more»
A parcel from Thailand
Writing about last month’s special place sent me casting the net for the books of Dr Jaroslav Poncar. There is one at the State Library of Queensland (hidden away in the stacks), and another in the Queensland University of Technology Library (at a campus on the other side of town).»more»
On the night of 9 November 1938 terror attacks were made on Jewish synagogues and stores in Germany. Kristallnacht ( ‘night of broken glass’) was the start of the Nazi campaign against the Jews.»more»
Small multiple skyscrapers
I’m grateful to Christina for pointing out the SkyscraperPage, a site with a collection of thousands of scaled images of tall buildings. You can select and sort them by location, height or age, and line them up for inspection. I think it’s a delightful use of small multiples, as Edward Tufte calls this form of display:»more»
The fine arts are five in number, namely: painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and architecture, the principal branch of the latter being pastry. [Antonin Carême (Marie-Antoine Carême) (1783-1833)].
Found among the pastry quotes on the Food Reference Website.
The Hedmarks Museum in Hamar is one of the oldest archeaological sites in Norway yet contains many examples of extraordinarily sensitive modern architecture.
Timo Arnall has a series of panoramas made with digital camera images informally stitched together. The pictures, the buildings, and the place, are all full of interest.
Tourists destroy stave church
The Oslo newspaper Aftenposten carries this disturbing story:
Tourists are destroying Norway’s stave church in Eidsborg with a craving for souvenirs. So much of the church has been pocketed that holes are beginning to appear in the structure.
Australian architect Glenn Murcutt will receive the Pritzker Architectural Prize in Rome next Monday. The jury chairman said
Glenn Murcutt occupies a unique place in today's architectural firmament. In an age obsessed with celebrity, the glitz of our ‘starchitects,’ backed by large staffs and copious public relations support, dominate the headlines. As a total contrast, our laureate works in a one-person office on the other side of the world from much of the architectural attention, yet has a waiting list of clients, so intent is he to give each project his personal best. He is an innovative architectural technician who is capable of turning his sensitivity to the environment and to locality into forthright, totally honest, non-showy works of art. Bravo!
And from me too, bravo!»more»
A Neutra house destroyed
I wrote to Elsa Dorfman, asking if she minded my using her photo on this site. She kindly agreed, and added …but have to tell you that you must read the article in today’s nytimes magazine about the destruction of a wonderful richard neutra house in california. it is a heartbreaking story… I found the article here (free registration required). Don’t miss the linked slide show which has colour photos by Julius Schulman. Thanks Elsa.»more»
Zanzibar in Dublin
When I wondered yesterday what does a themed bar look like when it’s in Ireland?, I should have known the answer would be on the web: The theme is African/Middle Eastern and thankfully there’s not too much wood. Lots of marble effect, big paintings and drapes. A huge place with a very high ceiling, it can hold around 1,500 people. A most impressive pub. And as for the women…hey, hey, party on.»more»
Around here a lot of hotel bars are turning Irish. It seems you can pull in more drinkers by calling your bar Molly O'Somebody's Irish Pub and laying on draught Guinness and fake wooden beams. This piece from Dublin makes me curious; what does a themed bar look like when it's in Ireland?:»more»
The BBC’s E-cyclopedia: the words behind the headlines explains a new British use of pebbledash as a term indicating suburbia. Pebbledash people is spin doctor's shorthand for a social group.
Thought to be Tories' paradigm target voter, numbering 2.5 million in 178 target seats. Derives from “pebbledash subtopia”, one of 52 postcode categories employed by market research specialists Experian. Average household income: £25,000; likely to read Daily Mail; not very neighbourly; keen on DIY.»more»
Synchronous lateral excitation
This is a sequel to my piece no longer wobbly about the Millennium Bridge in London. The design engineers have produced this website to explain their diagnosis of the problem—synchronous lateral excitation, a sideways sway caused by walkers’ footfalls. Dampers to stop the bridge getting excited were the solution.»more»
It’s not a joke, Peter
I got an email from Russell Hall, architect of the wonderful column featured in my Ironic column logo. He objects to what I said about his work, and insists he was not being ironic.»more»
No longer wobbly
Hugh Pearman has written a readable piece for The Sunday Times, Wobbly no more: testing Foster’s Millennium Bridge, about live testing of London’s newest pedestrian bridge after repairs. During a charity walk soon after it was opened, the bridge had a sickening sway. It was closed while the engineers sorted out the problem, at a cost of 20 months and £5 million. Pearman enjoyed taking part in the test:»more»
World Trade Centre: the Mecca connection
This piece points out the architect Minoru Yamasaki’s connections with the Saudi royal family, and with major Saudi building projects. On top of the World Trade Centre’s standing as an icon of global capital, here are some other reasons for Osama Bin Laden to hate the place.
From The New York Times a sad report: A wing of the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine erupted in flames yesterday morning…»more»
I was reminded of my old interest in the architect Le Corbusier by the website of the Fondation Le Corbusier.»more»
The RAIA has a new website. It presents a clean and appealing look, to go with a new database-driven back end. The old Australian Directory of Architects and Building Designers find an architect database is there with a fresh face. People can enter their location and the sort of services they need — the system displays a random list of architects and their details.»more»
Memorialising the World Trade Centre
Metropolis Magazine has an interview with Yale University architectural historian and critic Vincent Scully about the destruction of the WTC. In the past, Scully was no fan of the twin towers.
As you know, very few of us really liked the World Trade towers. They seemed too big, dumb, and inarticulate. When they got hit, all the associations changed. All of a sudden, instead of looking inordinately tall, they looked heartbreaking. Now I love them. It’s a little like how our associations changed regarding New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. I have never been a big fan of Giuliani, and now I love Giuliani.
The article is worth reading for its observations about memorials to great tragedies—Maya Ying Lin’s Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC gets a mention.