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Sarah McMenemy is an illustrator based in London who began by illustrating many of the beautiful houses in the city. Her portfolio now contains an abundance of painterly work depicting stunning architectural works around the world. Sarah McMenemy’s work has appeared in a range of magazines which have covered finance, beauty, architecture and home decor. If you would like to see more of Sarah McMenemy’s sophisticated colour palettes and characterful illustrations, please visit her portfolio.
On October 27, 2005, two French youths of Tunisian and Malian descent died of electrocution in a local power station in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. Police had been patrolling their neighborhood, responding to a reported break-in, and scared that they might be subject to an arbitrary interrogation, the youngsters decided to hide in the nearest available building. Riots immediately broke out in the high-rise suburbs of Paris and in hundreds of neighborhoods across the country.
After yesterday's post about my 1982 concept painting called "Skysweepers," I thought I'd post a checklist for things to consider to give your scene a backstory, a feeling that the world has been lived in. This is a good post to bookmark for future reference.
A painting of a futuristic world should provide evidence of what happened in the period of time leading up to the moment you’re showing. For example, some of the vehicles and buildings might be new, but others might be holdovers from an earlier period in your world’s history. I went around and took some photos and found some samples to suggest the kinds of effects we're talking about.
Here are 25 tips to help give your scene that convincing “lived-in” look.
1. VEHICLE MAINTENANCE Instead of always showing imaginary vehicles in perfect repair, why not show them in the shop? Most train yards have a side track for discontinued designs or ones in need of repair.
2. FACTORY FINISH In both digital and painted renderings, surfaces usually come out looking pristine and new, so adding wear and tear takes deliberate effort. Leave some parts of it looking almost perfect, and then add dirt, dust, cracks, chips, creases and bent corners to the parts that get the most handling or exposure to the elements.
3. CORROSION Most metals except gold corrode when exposed to air or water. Corrosion is a chemical reaction where the metal combines with oxygen. Each kind of metal has a characteristic color. Iron corrodes to a red-orange, copper to a dark brown, bronze to a blue green, and aluminum to a white powder. Thin outer surfaces corrode first, especially if they’re exposed to salt. A colored stain often stains downward following the path of water runoff.
4. DENTS AND SCRATCHES The dents and scratches in a vehicle tell the story of a series of misfortunes. Traffic impacts are often at bumper height; aircraft often get nicks on the leading edge of the fuselage and wings. Industrial designers usually plan for breakable forms like light covers and windows to be set back from the outermost edge of the form. This Cousteau submersible vehicle has a scratches, dents and paint chips missing from its many voyages.
5. STREET TRAFFIC WEAR Vehicles also wear down the surfaces they contact in very particular ways. Asphalt surfaces are prone to potholes and lateral cracks, as well as indentations under the wheels from the weight of heavy vehicles, especially at intersections. You can imply the passage of large vehicles by putting scrape marks under bridges or guard bars around delicate forms (such as those guarding the cooking oil barrels behind this fast food restaurant).
Detail of Spaceport Bar by James Gurney from Imaginative Realism
6. FLYING VEHICLE WEAR Airport tarmacs have skid marks from tires on touchdown. Spacecraft would probably need some sort of launch apparatus, which would endure abuse from the propellants. Large spacecraft in docking bays might use some kind of flexible fenders like those that shield docks from ship impacts.
7. PAINT CHIPS Paint doesn’t adhere well to sharp edges or corners, so it chips off there first. Nor does it hold on if water vapor gets trapped underneath, so it will often peel at the base of a wall near the ground. Paint will crack with a particular geometry, with the cracks usually meeting at right angles.
8. CRACKS Rigid materials bend a certain distance before they break. Brittle materials, like masonry or cement, will crack in lines perpendicular to the direction of expansion or bending. Pre-scoring sidewalks reduces cracking. Trees push up on paving surfaces around their root systems. This kind of cracking and heaving is accelerated in subfreezing weather. Window glass tends to crack in radiating lines from the point of impact.
9. VANDALISM AND GRAFFITI People deface things for a variety of reasons. Pyromaniacs might burn a parked car or an abandoned building. Bored kids might break windows. Many regard graffiti as vandalism, but people often do it in the name of art. A lover might use graffiti as a declaration of love, or a gang member might use it as a proclamation of group identity. In a totalitarian society, protestors often deface the visage of a despotic dictator. Most graffiti has looping or curving shapes because it follows the radius of arm movements.
10. DEBRIS Small windblown street debris includes such things as paper wrappers, leaves, or cigarette butts. It collects in corners or against curbs wherever there’s no person or machine to actively clean it. Futuristic societies could have robot drones doing the job. Junk debris also collects wherever people leave it: on counters, in stairway landings, or on rooftops. In this scene of a rooftop workshop (above) there are tools and parts on the counter, a dented screen against the wall, and larger machine parts outside.
12. WORN COSTUMES Old clothing tells the story of the owner’s life. In the case of this asteroid miner, he has evidently worked for a variety of different corporations, including one called “Western,” and has toiled away for a time on Neptune. The American flag on his shoulder is tattered, and his jacket is as creased as his forehead.
12. GRAPHICS Letterforms can be made from paint, stick-on vinyl, neon, or translucent plastic. You can contrast hand-lettering with machine lettering to suggest a society with an extreme class division. Consider what technology your society will use for changing information, such as announcing that a business is “Open” or “Closed.” You might show the system failing in some way, such as having some of the letters not lighting up.
13. LEAKS AND STAINS Cooking oil must be vented from a kitchen, and it invariably plasters the wall with a black stain that drips downward. All vehicles use lubricants which drip from the engine in places where the vehicle stays stationary or where it hits a bump in the road. Every vehicle needs access points for refueling or lubrication. Drips form below these points.
14. LABELS AND LICENSES In young societies, there often isn’t much regulation of vehicle traffic or commercial activity. But as a society ages and gets more crowded, vehicle owners have to show that they’ve met legal requirements for registration and inspection. Vehicle labels include license plates, inspection stickers, theft warnings. Because alcohol and drugs are usually regulated, you often see a lot of stickers near the entrances of bars.
15. CONDUIT CLUTTER To make a dwelling or vehicle receptive to wireless signals, it needs antennas or parabolic dishes. Anything that needs a direct flow of electrons, fluids or light pulses needs wires or pipes or fiber optic cables. In old stone structures, these are often run along the outer walls. Large scale cable corridors typically follow railroad right-of-ways. Obsolete cables, antennas, or satellite dishes are often not removed after they become obsolete.
16. IMPROVISED REPAIRS Fixing something properly is expensive. If you can’t afford to repair that car window with factory parts, why not use a little duct tape and plastic sheeting? Junkyard parts generally don’t match, as seen in this sketch of an old Buick. In the photo of a car’s front end, the owner has held the parts together with rope. In our world, modernistic buildings are sometimes draped with tarpaulins to keep their roofs from leaking.
17. OLD PEOPLE, OLD TECH Old people tend to be reluctant adopters of new technology, and they generally keep on using tech that served them when they were younger. In this photo of a pet shop counter, the fax machine and security camera monitor are at least 20 years old.
18. POST-FASCIST UTOPIAS Your world doesn’t have to look decrepit or dystopian. You might show a city that had once been ruled by an authoritarian central government that is now in the hands of a vibrant local economy; think of Le Corbusier’s severe worker houses taken over by people who love flowers in window boxes.
19. CUSTOMIZING You might want to show how individuals customize a standardized environment. In a high-tech corporate future, people might be issued a uniform work cubicle, vehicle, or housing unit. But people don’t leave it standard-issue for long. Cab drivers in Jordan hang religious images from the rear view mirrors. Animators festoon their computers with cool collectibles. A pack rat will transform any workspace with eccentrically organized clutter.
20. RECYCLED TECH What happens if a low-tech society inherits a world from a machine age? They might have no idea how the mechanical parts function, yet they would use whatever parts they find for other purposes. You might have a low-tech society reusing the parts of abandoned spacecraft for animal-drawn vehicles, or a robot made up of recycled parts
21. RETROFITTING AND REPURPOSING A classic design strategy is retrofitting, modifying existing technology with updated elements, usually to adapt the system for modern uses. You are retrofitting if you stick an outboard motor on a rowboat, tape a GPS unit on your dashboard, or, in the case of this photo, use a steel ship cabin as a guardhouse near the entrance of a scrapyard.
22. REPAIR AND CONSTRUCTION Many science fictions worlds in film and video games are shown being destroyed. But few are shown being fixed afterward. If there have been battles in your world’s past, surely there will be work crews fixing the damage. Apart from battle damage, there’s the normal decay and wear which requires constant maintenance. At actual construction sites, take note of the way pedestrian and vehicular traffic is rerouted around the construction.
23. DECORATIVE HOLDOVERS Remember that for most of the history of design, people have used decorative elements to evoke a civilization’s past glories. This explains hood ornaments, ship figureheads, and the Venetian bucentaur. Functional elements often get absorbed into a design, where they serve a decorative function in the later stages of design evolution. Examples include running boards, which appeared on cars even when they were no longer useful.
24. DISTORTED FORM Wood, like many other organic materials, tends to warp if it is exposed to heat or moisture. Plastics and metals bend or melt when they are heated or stressed. Even masonry goes out of alignment, especially if it is subjected to seismic stresses. These effects play out on older buildings, which rarely remain on plumb.
25. INVASIVE PLANTS In any temperate or tropical climate, a structure that’s not actively maintained quickly gets overwhelmed by plants, but too often dystopian futures show a denuded planet. Invasive plants can get started in the smallest cracks near the ground or even high up on a structure. In the end, nature returns and swallows up the fleeting efforts of humankind. ----- You can find some of my dystopian world-building in Dinotopia: First Flight (signed copies on our web store, also available from Amazon). For more tips on creating realistic imaginary worlds, check out my book, Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist which you can also get from Amazon.
Today we learned about Russian architecture and ‘onion domes,’ as depicted in St. Basil’s Cathedral.
We used sharpie markers on watercolor paper to make our drawings permanent. Then we added watercolor paint and salt. The salt separates the water in a beautiful pattern. They turned out SO original! This technique is always a parent favorite, and the kids always love to paint.
Here are some examples of our final art:
Onion Domes by Katie, age 7
Onion Domes by Vivian, age 5
Onion Domes by Emilia, age 6
Onion Domes by Jeffrey, age 7
Onion Domes by Samantha, age 7
Onion Domes by Anne, age 6
We also sampled some delicious Russian Tea Cakes and I’ve included the recipe below. These are easy to make with kids!
Russian Tea Cakes (no nuts)
Butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, flour, salt
1 cup softened butter/margarine
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
optional – chopped nuts
How to Make Russian Tea Cakes:
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix butter powdered sugar & vanilla in a large bowl.
Stir in flour, salt & nuts (optional). Mix & knead until dough forms.
Shape dough into small balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Nina Cosford’s work is charming and playful. Her vibrant use of color and expressive mark-making fill everyday scenes with beauty and intrigue. Her illustrations appeal to children and adults alike and easily translate across advertising, education, and publishing.
Not long after she graduated from Kingston University, Cosford’s love of travel and architecture led to a series of pop-up accordion travel guides with Walker Books. Meanwhile, HBO noticed one of Cosford’s personal projects inspired by their hit television show Girls and commissioned her work to promote the show’s next season. Since, she has worked with the Scouts, The Foundling Museum, and Nokia while her work as been in publications as varied as Bloomberg Businessweek and Marie Clare.
Frances Lincoln Publishers released Cosford’s most recent book series on May 7. The first two illustrated biographies of exceptional females—Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen—will be followed by an additional title on Coco Chanel in September.
See more of Nina Cosford’s illustrations on her website.
Everything in the natural world has structure – from the very small, like the carbon 60 molecule, to the very large such as mountains and indeed the whole Universe. Structure is the connecting of parts to make a whole – and it occurs at many different levels. Atoms have structure. Structures of atoms make molecules, structures of molecules make tissue and materials, structures of materials make organs and equipment and so on up a hierarchy of different levels as shown in the figure. Within this hierarchy of structure, man-made objects vary from the very small, like a silicon chip to the very large like a jumbo jet. Whereas natural structures have evolved over aeons, man-made structures have to be imagined, designed and built though our own efforts.
Many people, including much of the media, attribute this activity solely to architects. This is unfortunate because architects rely on engineers. Of course the responsibilities are close – it is a team effort. Architecture is the devising, designing, planning and supervising the making of something. Engineering is the turning of an idea into a reality – it is about conceiving, designing, constructing operating and eventually decommissioning something to fulfil a human need. The fact is that engineers play a critical creative role in making structural forms that function as required. They should be given at least equal credit.
Your personal structure is your bones and muscles – they give you form and shape and they function for you as well – for example bone marrow produces blood cells as well as lymphocytes to support your immune system. Your musculoskeletal system also includes all of your connecting tissue such as joints, ligaments and tendons which help you move around. On it are hung all of your other bits and pieces, such as your heart, brain, liver etc. Without structure you would just be a blob of jelly – structure supports who you are and how you function.
In a similar way the structure of a typical man-made structure, like a building, will have beams and columns together with all of the connecting material such as joints, slabs, welds and bolts which keep it together. On it are hung all of the other parts of the building such as the equipment for heating, lighting, communication and all of the furniture, fixtures and fittings. Without structure a building would just be a random pile of components – the function of structure is to support all the other functions of the building.
We can think of the form of a structure from two different points of view – I’ll call them architectural and functional. If you were a building, then the architect would decide your gender, what you look like, your body shape and appearance. However the architect would not decide what is necessary to make the various parts of your body function as they should – that is the job of various kinds of engineer. In other words the architectural form concerns the sense and use of space, functional occupancy by people, symbolism and relationship to setting. It can be decorative and sculptural. The role of an architect is to understand and fulfil the needs of a client for the ways in which a building is to be used and how it will look – its overall form, appearance and aesthetic effect. But the architects who design buildings are not engineers and rarely have the level of scientific knowledge required of professionally qualified engineers. So for example structural engineers must design a structural form that has the function of making a building stand up safely. Indeed engineering safety dominates the design of large structures such as sky-scrapers, bridges, sports stadia, dams, off-shore platforms, fairground rides, ships and aeroplanes.
So what happens when the best architectural form and the best structural form are different – which takes precedence?
Safety and functionality are important necessary requirements – but of course they aren’t sufficient. We need more than that and herein lies the issue. Functionality is often taken for granted, assumed and dismissed as not needing an artistic, creative input – requiring ‘mere’ technique and ‘known’ science. But that is a misreading of being innovative and creative – engineers often do breathtaking complex things that have never been done before. Scientific knowledge is necessary but not sufficient for inspirational engineering – many assumptions and assessments have to be made and there is no such thing as zero risk. Engineering requires practical wisdom.
Some argue that form should follow function – another way of saying that the ends determine the means. However the original meaning, by the American architect Louis Sullivan in 1896, was an expression of a natural law. He wrote ‘Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work horse … form ever follows function, and this is the law …’
The philosopher Ervin Laszlo pointed out the difference between form and function does not exist in natural structures. So nature shows us the way. Form and function should be in harmony. We should recognize that good architecture and good engineering are both an art requiring science – but aimed at different purposes. Their historical separation is unfortunate. If an architect specifies a structural form which (whether for artistic/aesthetic reasons or through incompetence) is unbuildable or unnecessarily expensive to build then the final outcome will be poor. The best and most successful projects are where the architects and engineers work together right from the start and given equal credit. At the most mundane level good structural design can leverage orders of magnitudes of savings in costs of construction.
Michel Virlogeux, the French structural engineer responsible for a number of big bridges including the Millau Viaduct in France, says that we design beautiful bridges when the flow of forces is logical. A good architect welcomes the engineering technical discipline to create form through structural art and intelligence and a good engineer welcomes architectural conceptual discipline to create form through aesthetic art and intelligence.
Natsko Seki collages lively, saturated scenes of urban life from her own drawings and photographs. Begging to be explored, each illustration is populated with human activity and contains clues left by a moment in time that—if only yesterday—is now lost. Iconic architecture stands as a grandiose reminder that Seki’s people are living in the shadows of history and are unknowing participants in the writing of their city’s centuries. Seki’s interest in architecture, fashion, and contemporary urban life has landed her commissions with Transport for London, Royal Historic Palaces, The Guardian, Bloomsbury, and Hermès. In 2013, Louis Vuitton published a book of Seki’s London illustrations as part of their travel books collection. Seki grew up in Tokyo and studied illustration in Brighton, UK. She now lives in London.
In 1935, Arthur Guptill demonstrated a sequential method frequently used by architectural illustrators for painting a window.
Guptill first draws the subject in pencil, giving careful attention to the perspective.
He rules the lines of the shutters very evenly. Then he lays down a warm wash in watercolor over the wall and the curtains, and sets up variegated flat colors for the stonework. He washes in the shutters in green.
The dark interior spaces are painted over the mullions, but not the sash. The dull orange color of the interior gives a feeling of depth and transparency.
Next come the shadows cast on the curtains and the shade from the sunlight coming from the upper left. He then adds the darks of the mullions and the outer moldings with a ruling pen. If you're not familiar with a ruling pen, it's a tool for drawing a line of constant width, usually guided by a ruler that's raised a bit off the surface. It has two sharpened metal tips that taper together. The spacing of the gap between the tips governs the width of the line.
That gap is controlled by an adjustable wheel on the side. Ink or watercolor, applied by an eyedropper, sits in the gap and flows by capillary action.
Guptill then draws mullions with the ruling pen filled with opaque white watercolor, slightly yellowed. The consistency has to be just right. Too wet and it puddles out; too dry and it won't flow at all. When a ruling pen works well, it's a joyful feeling. ----- Arthur Guptill's classic book about rendering architecture in watercolor is called Color in Sketching and Rendering. .
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Here's a video that I made while painting a row of shopfronts in Huntington, Indiana. (Direct link to video)
My first step is to first measure out a reasonably accurate perspective drawing in pencil. I cover the surface with a light ghost wash.
Then I place the watercolor tones with a flat brush. I start with the idea of doing a sepia sketch, but decide to bring in a cerulean/light red combination.
As time runs out, I switch to a brown fountain pen to describe the small, fine linear accents.
Since the fountain pen is water soluble, I can't add further watercolor washes without dissolving the lines. The reason for adding the penwork at the end of the process is that I was more interested in using the pen for selective small accents rather than for boundary lines.
1. Encourage students to examine the differences between architecture and engineering. How do these two fields depend on each other? What is unique about each field? What do architects contribute to building a structure? What do engineers contribute? For a simplified breakdown of the duties of an architect and an engineer, the New School of Architecture + Design has a clear infographic.
2. Have students in small teams research a well-known structure in their community, city, or state (such as a museum, performing arts center, or place of worship). Who built it and when? For what is the structured used? Where is it located? What is it made of? Why were those materials used? What is special about the design? What challenges did the architect have in creating this structure? In addition to online and print resources, students can interview someone who works at the structure, if possible. After research is complete, students can create a model of the structure, design a poster advertising it to tourists, or write and present a report on the structure to the class.
3. Ask students to imagine that they are architects assigned to design a new school. Describe the materials you will need and what the building will look like. As you think about the design and materials needed, consider the types of spaces children in the school will need to learn, read, eat, study; what you will need to make the building safe and sturdy; and what will make it an attractive place in which to learn.
4. Set up a hands on, or sensory, station with materials from home or a local hardware store that are used to build structures. Examples could be a wood spoon for wood, a cooking pot for steel, etc. Have students touch and record the characteristics of each sample material. Why might an architect use steel instead of wood, or bamboo instead of concrete? Students can make a chart of popular building materials to compare the advantages and disadvantages of each. Have students study the physical characteristics (based on sight, touch, sound, and even smell) of brick, wood, bamboo, clay, concrete, steel, glass, iron, rock, straw, recycled materials, and more. For advanced or older students, topics to compare include cost of the material, availability, resiliency in natural disasters, typical lifetime, flexibility and ability to shape the material, environmental friendliness, and beauty/appeal.
5. Have students study the roles that appeal/beauty, safety, and function/purpose play in the design of a structure. Is one preferable over the other? Why? Do these factors all work together or can they be in conflict with one another? Students can look at one specific structure to see how the architect addressed each of these issues. If possible, ask a local architect or professor from an area college to discuss these factors.
6. Watch PBS’s “Building Big,” a five-part miniseries on bridges, domes, skyscrapers, dams, and tunnels. Each one-hour program explores the different type of structures and what it takes to build them. An educator’s guide of activities from PBS is available online.
7. Lead students in a step-by-step activity to create their own geodesic dome, sandcastle, toothpick structure, or floor plan. Instructions can be found online at the archKIDecture website.
Jill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
Hugh Ferriss was an architectural illustrator known for his dramatic renderings of early skyscraper designs. He sketched from observation, but he also worked from imagination when commissioned to visualize proposed structures.
Here's an example of a rendering of a proposed building, the Convocation Tower designed by Goodhue in 1924. The building rises up like a rocket ship into the night from a flood of light at the base.
How did he achieve such accurate perspective, but also such a sense of drama and atmosphere?
"The first stage is a rough layout of the streetscape and the foreground traffic." (According to Drafting Room Practice by Eugene Clute, 1928, quoted in the blog Beyond Illustration). Note that important details of the building at far left are still unresolved.
"The second image shows a general defining of the forms by establishing values throughout."
"The third image shows the final rendering with the various tonal areas detailed. The rendering was produced with carbon pencil on a fairly smooth drawing board. As you can see he drew and erased as needed to get the needed effect."
Ferriss made this drawing of an existing building, the magnificent Venetian-styled Madison Square Garden, before it was torn down in 1925. Note the unified dark tones of the foreground, and the counterchange from light-against-dark at the base of the tower to dark-against-light at the top.
To celebrate World Book Day 2015 and to support the work of Book Aid International, I’ll be spending most of Thursday 5 March 2015 creating utter chaos in my home, using hundreds of our books to build the largest book den I can.
As a reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m utterly passionate about children’s books and doing crazy things inspired by them. It’s what gets me up in the morning. But building a large scale book den out of books is wackiest thing I’ve yet tried to do. I haven’t done a recent book count, but I reckon I’ve got about 3000 to play with, so that gives you some sense of the scale of the challenge.
It’s going to be pretty disruptive, probably physically knackering and quite possible a challenge to the laws of gravity so please donate to Book Aid International to make it all worthwhile! You can donate securely online here:
In sub-Saharan Africa 151 million people are illiterate. 72 million children still do not got to school, and most people simply cannot afford books of their own. But without literacy people are not able to access education or healthcare, their work opportunities are limited as are their opportunities for participation in the social, economic and political decisions which affect their lives.
Each year Book Aid International sends 500,000 brand new and carefully selected books to libraries in communities, schools, universities, prisons, cities and refugee camps and more. They also provide grants for purchasing books locally (especially those in local languages), and training and advice to ensure that books are targeted to the right groups of people and are well used.
When it comes to donations…
£2 will send one book to sub-Saharan Africa
£10 could send five dictionaries to a university library in Tanzania
£24 could send 12 health books to a community library in rural Eritrea
£60 could send 30 books to a refugee camp in Kenya
£100 could help purchase 70 HIV/AIDS awareness books for children
£380 will send a starter collection of 200 books to a community library
I’m aiming to raise £500.
I’ll be tweeting my progress throughout the day on March 5 (@playbythebook), and will then blog about it once the den is built and habitable. You can donate any time (before, during or after the build).
Every campus has one, and sometimes more than more: the often unlovely and usually unloved concrete building put up at some point in the 1960s. Generally neglected and occasionally even unfinished, with steel reinforcing rods still poking out of it, the sixties building might be a hall of residence or a laboratory, a library or lecture room. It rarely features in prospectuses and is never – never ever – used to house the vice chancellor’s office.
“Isaacson takes the reader on a leisurely, respectful tour of buildings around the world: churches, houses, museums, lighthouses, all kinds of structures, from the humble to the magnificent. In simple, straightforward prose he discusses various architectural concepts such as the impact of building materials, the interplay of light and color, and the significance of roof shape. His stunning photographs turn even the roughest earthen hut into a work of art. His lyrical text helps us see in the pictures what we might otherwise have missed:
‘These buildings are part of the Shaker Village at Sabbathday, Maine. On an afternoon in late winter they are warm and creamy, but in December, shadows thrown at them make them look haunted. A building only a few yards away fades into the land on a hazy morning.’”
Round Buildings, Square Buildings was edited by my first boss in publishing, the great Stephanie Spinner. It was near completion by the time I came on board; I don’t think I did much more than look over galleys and jacket copy, and probably put through the request for Mr. Isaacson’s author copies. It’s one of those books I sat at my desk reading, unable to believe my good fortune: This is my job now; I’m getting paid to read.
Before Round Buildings I hadn’t done much real seeing of architecture. There were buildings I loved: the sandstone administration building (formerly a convent) of my first college, Loretto Heights, with its red tower soft-edged against a blue sky, and inside, a gorgeous mosaic floor—tiny tiles set into place by wagon-training nuns, so the story went. But even there, I was drawn more to story than to form. Most of the buildings that captured my imagination, pre-Isaacson, lived in books: Green Gables, the House o’ Dreams, Jane’s Lantern Hill house with its “lashings of magic.” The Muskoka cabin. (No one does houses better than Montgomery.) Plumfield. Juniper’s cottage. Miss Suzy’s tree-house with its acorn cups. Vicky Austin’s grandfather’s house-in-a-converted-stable with the stalls full of books. A great many English houses in a great many English novels.
But most of the time, my eye was drawn more to nature than to man’s edifices. I had next to no vocabulary for understanding architecture. Isaacson changed that in a paragraph with his description of the creamy walls of the Taj Mahal changing colors as the sun moved across them—the very passage I read with Beanie and Rose this morning. He writes about harmony and you find yourself looking for it everywhere you go. He made me see my world differently—just as John Stilgoe’s Outside Lies Magic changed how I looked at just about everything else: power lines, rain gutters, a sculpture garden, the line at the DMV. The way Betty Edwards’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain changed the way I see faces.
Clicking through these old posts, I see I’ve made a connection between these three books before. They’re transformative, all three.
Funny also to see in the old Stilgoe post I linked above, “Way Leads on to Way,” that I’d been reading Fifty Famous Stories Retold* to Beanie that year—in March, 2008, when she was seven years old. And now here’s Rilla seven, and I’m reading it to her. (Today’s tale: Androclus and the Lion. It drew cheers, and a narration with gusto. Because LION.) I have to laugh: way doesn’t just lead on to way; sometimes it leads right back full circle. I didn’t choose Round Buildings for the older girls and Fifty Famous Stories for the seven-year-old at the same time—again—on purpose; I guess it’s just that I’ve been doing this long enough now that I know what works for us, and these things have worked time and again. It did strike me this morning, reading the Isaacson, that the Stilgoe might be a satisfying read for Jane and Rose right about now.
So, in my last post I showed you some food from our trip to Oaxaca, and here I wanted to show you a little of the town and surroundings. Excuse me if I’m a little picture happy. It was hard to choose.
Above is a street in Oaxaca, to give you an idea of the town. This street happens to be a pedestrian only zone, though I guess bench-sitters get a pass, too. Hey, if I could sit on a comfy pink bench on this street right now, I would.
And I’ve fallen hard for the church’s stone walls. The subtle color variations (and size variations, which you can see less well) are making me so, so happy. I think I’m going to have to use that colorway and grid pattern somewhere.
Up next, a convent-turned-hotel. The walls are literally three feet thick. It’s a total dream. I have a thing for thick walls and courtyard gardens.
Here and there, on the former convent walls, you’ll see little bits of painting:
And lastly, just outside Oaxaca are the pyramids of Monte Alban. From the top, the view of the area is breathtaking.
I’d love to show you some of the handicrafts Oaxaca is famous for, but I think I’ll have to show you after Christmas, since several that I bought are gifts for others.
Up next, hopefully I’ll have time to post a few Christmas-themed items. I’ve been trying to be really nose-to-the-grindstone on my writing projects. Back to work for me! Be well.
A week or so ago I rubbed shoulders with some of Kids’ Lit most illuminating talents at the Book Links’ QLD (The Centre for Children’s Literature) third Romancing the Stars event. The objective of these evenings is to meet and listen to as many authors and illustrators wax lyrical about their latest publication as possible in a frenzy of succinct deliveries and rotations – rather like speed dating, but with books and ultimately more satisfying.
Amongst them was, rising star, Andrew King. I first met Andrew and Engibear, both instantly likeable fellows, last year when Andrew and I were amongst the ‘daters’. I confess the first time I laid eyes on his non-typical picture book, I baulked at the complexity of its design and presentation. Perhaps it is the poor mathematician in me, but there seemed too many labels and numbers and graph grids! The detail overwhelmed me and the thought, ‘too much’ flickered through my mind like an wavering light bulb.
But Andrew’s compelling fervour for his work convinced me to look more closely. So I did, and fell in love with what I saw. Engibear’s Dream is neither too busy nor over-detailed, but rather a masterfully thought out and delivered tale of simplicity and perseverance. Engibear’s life is too full to pursue both his dreams and work. He needs help and being a clever engineer like his creator, sets out to design a Bearbot to help him achieve more. But grand schemes are rarely realised first time round. It takes Engibear several attempts to ‘get it right’ but he never gives up on himself or his Bearbot.
More than just a cute rhyming counting book about the rigours of planning and design, Engibear’s Dream covers the themes of sustainable living, finding balance in a world of progress and change and being innovative and tenacious in the face of failure. Mighty issues for small minds, but ones they will assimilate as they follow Engibear’s attempts to succeed, all superbly illustrated both schematically and in explosive colour, by qualified architect Benjamin Johnston.
I needed to find out more about the man behind the bear, behind the robot. So this week I have a bona fide, qualified engineer behind the draft table. Here’s what he had to say…
A 48 year old mixed bag: self, husband, dad, son, brother, relative, friend, engineer, co-worker, band member, aspiring author, committee member, community member, etc…
Fortunately, from my perspective, I have been very lucky and the mix has been good to me – I am trying to be good back.
Q Describe your 10 year old self. Did you have any concept then of what you wanted to do or be when you grew up? If so, what?
A 10 year old mixed bag – just a bit less in the mix – son, brother, relative, friend, school student, footballer, etc…
Fortunately (again) I had a very pleasant and carefree childhood. So carefree that I don’t think I had any real idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up. Interestingly though, I remember that a friend and I were writing and illustrating small books of jokes back in grade 6 and trying to sell them (for about 2 cents each). It has been more than 30 years since I last tried but I am now trying to write and sell books again.
Q Writing for children is not your first chosen occupation. Why take up the challenge now?
Kelly and I have been writing and drawing with our kids for years. We ended up developing characters like Engibear and the Bearbot and writing about their adventures in Munnagong. A few years ago my daughter, Marie-Louise, suggested that we should write a book.
Q Engibear’s Dream is your first picture book for children. What are you trying to impart with this book and why choose the picture book format?
The book started as a way of making engineering more accessible to young children. However, we wanted to make the book something more than an instruction manual. Therefore, we included a storyline (in this case a story about perseverance) and tried to include humour. We have also added numbers so that it can be used as a counting book.
To me drawing is a very powerful communication tool. The combination of words and pictures used in engineering drawings is a particularly useful way to communicate design ideas. The opportunity to include these types of diagrams and images of Engibear and the Bearbot meant that the book had to include pictures.
Q What sets Engibear’s Dream apart from other picture books currently on the shelves?
Engineering – in two ways.
Firstly, having a character that is an engineer, there are very few engineers in children’s literature. To me this is surprising as children seem to be very interested in the things that engineers do. Engibear provides a “friendly face” of engineering and therefore a way to introduce engineering to young children at the right level.
Secondly, including detailed engineering drawings. Ben Johnston is an architect who is used to working with engineers. Ben has created loveable characters and has also been able to contrast them with fantastically detailed design drawings of Munnagong, Engibear’s house and workshop, the Bearbot and its working parts. I think this combination of drawing styles allows children to enjoy the characters and the story and then also spend time thinking about how things work and making things (engineering).
Q How long from conception to publication did it take to realise Engibear’s Dream?
Building Bearbot was an early family story that is about 10 years old and was the basis for Engibear’s Dream. It sat in the cupboard for a long time. However, once we decided to write a book and chose this story it took about three years to get to publication.
Q It takes Engibear up to 10 types from prototype to final version before he engineers the perfect Bearbot. Does it take engineer Andrew the same number of attempts to design something new before getting it right?
If it is a book, yes – easily!
Depending on the complexity of the project I think engineering design can also take a lot of work. However, engineers have developed systems such as standards, computer modelling and design reviews to help make the design process robust.
Q Engibear’s dream is to have a life less strenuous with more time for enjoying the simple pleasures. What’s the one thing on your non-writing wish-list you’d like to tick off /achieve / produce?
I would like to read more fiction.
Q Do you have other writing dreams you’d like to fulfil?
I have a series of Engibear books planned. Munnagong is a busy place; there is a lot of engineering going on and a lot to write about.
Q Engibear is written in quatrain rhyming verse. As a first time author, did you find this difficult to pull off? Why did you choose to tell the story in this way?
We wrote the book in quatrain rhyming verse because this is how we made up verses when my children were younger – it just seemed to be a natural way to rhyme. However, while this worked for family stories, it was very difficult to do it properly. As an engineer I have some technical writing skills but I had to learn a lot about writing verse. Therefore, I did a course with Dr Virginia Lowe at Create a Kids Book and Virginia then mentored me.
Q You chose to publish your book via a partnership publishing company (Little Steps Publishing). Why? What other publication avenues did you explore if any?
I did contact some traditional publishers and received very polite rejections. I thought that rather than keep going down that route it would be better just to get on with it – self publishing seemed to be the answer.
Q What is on the design board for Andrew? What’s your next ‘writing’ project?
We have been making models of the characters in Engibear’s Dream and we have created a rsk based engineering game. I am also working on the next planned Engibear book “Engibear’s Bridge”. This book is about construction of an iconic “green bridge” near Munnagong State School which will be opened as part of the Munnagong Festival.
Brilliant Andrew! You know I can’t wait to meet your new characters and see their designs.
Like the most enthralling kids’ movies, Engibear’s story doesn’t just end with a ‘happily ever after’ moment. Keep page turning and be fascinated by full page project drawings of BBT-10, the Final Version, resplendent with some side-splitting specifications. My young miss could not go past the line drawn end pages detailing Munnagong, home of Engibear either. A fascinating read.
Designed for 3 – 8 year olds. Also riveting for boys, those with inquisitive minds, budding designers and anyone who likes to dream big.
Here's a painting of a door in Friburg by Pennsylvania artist Charles E. Dana (1843-1924). He studied architecture in Munich, and then went to Paris to learn from Gérôme and Bonnat.
The iron grille in the window, with rectangular mullions behind it, would have taken considerable patience and skill to record in the subtractive medium of transparent watercolor.
A 1915 article described him "as a student always, living much in the past, searching out the works of old craftsmen. It is only natural that his subjects should have been for the most part along the lanes and by-paths where these interests led him. So we find his work quite removed from that of the painter of moods, and his pictures depicting and recording certain real things which were in themselves the expression of the artist-craftsmen of a bygone period."
We were thrilled to see the announcement this week that architect Shigeru Ban has won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, one of architecture’s most important awards. Ban is notable not only for his inspired and gorgeous designs but for his humanitarian work using innovative architecture and renewable resources to help refugees and those affected by both man-made and natural disasters. Take a look at his paper tube school in China, featured in our book Dreaming Up:
Teachers and students helped construct this temporary school out of plywood and recycled heavy-duty paper tubes after an earthquake destroyed many buildings in China’s Sichuan Province. Dreaming Up author and illustrator Christy Hale shares why she chose to include Shigeru Ban’s work in her book:
In selecting the architects and structures featured in Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building I began by considering children’s building play. What materials do they use? Children do not need prepackaged toys; they can build from whatever is at hand. In fact using recyclables encourages two qualities enormously important in creativity: resourcefulness and flexibility—essential for the problem-solvers of tomorrow. After developing my list of children’s construction activities, I then looked for architects working with visually similar materials and design challenges. This is how I made my pairings.
The new Pritzker Architecture Prize-winner, Shigeru Ban said, “Anything can be building structure material.” Ban creates elegant designs from humble materials. He is famous for upcycling industrial strength paper tubes, shipping containers, and even tea bags!
I thought my young readers would particularly like his Paper Tube School in Chengdu, a temporary school built in 2008 with the help of teachers and students after an earthquake destroyed many buildings in China’s Sichuan Province. I also wanted to showcase Ban for his humanitarian work. His architecture efficiently serves the pressing needs of disaster victims while simultaneously honoring them with beauty.
Shigeru Ban’s approach to architecture makes a great entry point when introducing young people to the art form. Use these teaching resources along with Dreaming Up to inspire next generation of architects:
This painting of the Grand Canal in Venice by Richard Parkes Bonington (1801-1828) looks immensely detailed and at first it looks like it would have taken a long time to paint.
But he used a time-saving method that works really well for both plein-air and studio paintings of architecture.
The trick is to paint the large areas of the building fronts in opaque paint with big bristle brushes. Then let that dry completely. This might take 24 hours or several days, depending on whether there's a drying agent in the paint, such as Liquin or a drop of cobalt drier.
On the second day's session, you can go back over those big areas with a smaller brush to subdivide the building fronts. A straightedge can help you find the vanishing points and keep the horizontals in perspective and the verticals true. Note that underneath the vertical strokes of the big windows above, he lightly marked the spacing of the windows in burnt sienna before actually painting them.
Not all of the strokes are dark. You can also pick out some light accents, such as the light stones and the insides of the windows catching light on the brown building at left.
Here's another Venetian painting by Bonington. This one is on millboard, 14 x 18 inches, and was painted on location in 1826. It uses a similar technique—and it's also similar to the technique used by the master of Venetian architecture, Canaletto. You can read more about this image and about Bonington at the website of the Kimbell Art Museum, which owns this painting.
If you're painting on location in oil, these two-day paintings take some planning, and you have to be staying somewhere for a while. You can start several paintings one morning, then put them aside and go back to that spot a day or two later to finish them up. But if you're painting in gouache, acrylic, or casein, you can use this method all in one sitting. The mantra is "Large shapes first, small shapes last."
It comes as a surprise to many people that landscapes can be designed. The assumption is that landscapes just happen; they emerge, by accident almost, from the countless activities and uses that occur on the land. But this ignores innumerable instances where people have intervened in landscape with aesthetic intent, where the landscape isn’t just happenstance, but the outcome of considered planning and design. Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner Calvert Vaux coined a name for this activity in 1857 when they described themselves as ‘landscape architects’ on their winning competition entry for New York’s Central Park; but ‘landscape architecture’ had been going on for centuries under different designations, including master-gardening’, ‘place-making’, and ‘landscape gardening’. To avoid anachronism, I’m going to call the entire field ‘landscape design’. The ‘top ten’ designers that follow are those I think have been the most influential. These people have shaped your everyday world.
André Le Nôtre (1613 –1700). France’s most famous gardener was employed by Louis XIV to create, at the palace of Versailles, the most extensive gardens in the Western world. Le Nôtre brought the Renaissance style, based upon symmetry and order, to its zenith. Versailles was copied, not only by the designers of other princely gardens, such as those at La Granja in Spain, the Peterhof near St. Petersburg or the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, but by city planners who appropriated its geometry of intersecting axes. The most surprising example is the influential plan for Washington D.C. produced in 1791 by the French engineer Pierre-Charles L’Enfant, who had grown up at Versailles.
The palace of Versailles gardens
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716 –1783). Lancelot Brown is credited with changing the face of eighteenth century England. From humble origins, he become the most sought-after landscape designer in the country, undertaking over 250 commissions, including Temple Newsam in Yorkshire, Petworth in West Sussex and Compton Verney in Warwickshire. He swept away many formal gardens to create the naturalistic parkland which subsequently become an icon of Englishness. The style has been emulated worldwide: Munich has its Englischer Garten, while Stockholm has the Hagaparken and Paris the Parc Monceau.
Compton Verney gardens, Warwickshire
Thomas Jefferson (1743 –1826) Yes, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States was also a landscape designer. Not only did he lay out the grounds of his own property at Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia as an ornamental farm, but he also created the influential masterplan for the campus of the University of Virginia. However, his greatest impact upon the American landscape, for better or worse, was his advocacy of the grid for the subdivision of territory and for rational town planning.
Drawing of Pavilion III, The Lawn, University of Virginia campus
William Wordsworth (1770-1850). The poet might seem an unlikely selection, but Wordsworth designed several gardens, not just for his own houses, but also for those of friends. However, my principal reason for including him in this list is that he wrote the Guide to the Lakes, first published in 1810, which was notionally a travel guide, but was just as much a design guide, full of thoughtful advice about how to build – and when not to build – in a sensitive cultural landscape. Wordsworthian values were a significant influence upon the founders of the National Trust and continue to inform thinking about landscape conservation.
Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) Olmsted is often seen as the founding father of the landscape architecture profession. He thought that the creation of pastoral parks within teeming cities could counteract the adverse effects of industrialization and urbanization. In addition to Central Park, New York City, he was the designer of Prospect Park in Brooklyn and the system of linked parks in Boston known as the ‘Emerald Necklace’. His plan for the residential community of Riverside, Illinois, became the template for innumerable suburbs, not all of the same quality. He was also prominent in the campaign to preserve scenic landscapes, such as the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove from development and commercial disfigurement.
The 1894 plan for the Emerald Necklace Park System in Boston, Massachusetts
Thomas Dolliver Church (1902-1978)When a style becomes ubiquitous, we sometimes forget that someone pioneered it. Church was a Californian designer who created elegantly functional ‘outdoor rooms’ for a sybaritic West Coast lifestyle. Those curvaceous, free form swimming pools that appear in American movies and TV shows from the 1950s onwards are Church’s principal contribution to cultural history, but he was an important figure in the rise of Modernist landscape design in the mid twentieth century.
Ian McHarg (1920-2001) Scottish-born McHarg was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania when he wrote Design with Nature, published 1969, the most influential book ever written by a landscape architect. McHarg’s thesis was that we should design our environment in harmony with natural forces, rather than in opposition to them. He pointed out the foolishness of such practices as building houses on floodplains. His advice seems ever more prescient as the world begins to cope with the consequences of climate change.
Peter Latz (1939 -) Landscape designers in many countries have been involved in the reclamation of derelict industrial sites. Latz’s office recognized that reclamation does not need to mean the complete erasure of all history. Instead it can recognise the value of what remains. Most famously, Latz turned a rusting Ruhr valley steelworks into the Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord, where gardens flourish in former ore bunkers, rock-climbers practice on old concrete walls, and scuba-divers plunge into pools created within onetime gasholders. This approach to reclamation, which works with memory and aims to preserve as much of the existing site as possible, is rapidly becoming mainstream.
Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord
James Corner (1961 -) English-born Corner is now Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and principal of the New York based practice, Field Operations. He is perhaps the world’s most celebrated landscape architect, following the extraordinary success of the High Line project on Manhattan, which turned an abandoned railway viaduct into a linear park, visited by around four million people per year. Field Operations are also working on the Freshkills Landfill on Staten Island, transforming it into one of the world’s biggest urban parks.
Kongjian Yu(1963-) Educated at Beijing Forestry University and Harvard Graduate School of Design, Professor Yu now heads the innovative Turenscape practice which has created many remarkable new landscapes in China, including the Zhongshan Shipyard Park, a reclamation project similar in philosophy to Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord. Turenscape makes use of vernacular features of the Chinese agricultural landscape, such as paddy fields and irrigation channels, to create striking new urban parks. Many of Yu’s park designs, such as the Floating Garden at Yongning River Park, demonstrate an ecological approach to flood control.
Ian Thompson is a Chartered Landscape Architect and Reader in Landscape Architecture in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at Newcastle University. He worked as a landscape architect from 1979 to 1992, mostly on work related to environmental improvement, derelict land reclamation and urban renewal, before taking up a lecturing post at Newcastle University. He is the author of many books including Landscape Architecture: A Very Short Introduction.
For those of you not familiar with the amazing work of Stephen Biesty, be sure to read my review ofInto the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea and Air, written by Stewart Ross. Sadly, most of Biesty's cross section books are now out of print, but his work shines even brighter when he pairs with other authors, as in Into the Unknown, and now The Story of Buildings,
Power and memory combined to produce the Deccan Plateau’s built landscape. Beyond the region’s capital cities, such as Bijapur, Vijayanagara, or Golconda, the culture of smaller, fortified strongholds both on the plains and in the hills provides a fascinating insight into its history. These smaller centers saw very high levels of conflict between 1300 and 1600, especially during the turbulent sixteenth century when gunpowder technology had become widespread in the region. Below is a selection of images of architecture and monuments, examined through a mix of methodologies (history, art history, and archaeology), taken from our new book Power, Memory, and Architecture: Contested Sites on India’s Deccan Plateau, 1300-1600.
Raichur. Kati Darwaza gateway (as reconstructed c. 1520)
When an important fort changed hands in the early modern Deccan, victors often gave its gates “face-lifts” to publicize their possession of the site. When Krishna Raya of Vijayanagara seized Raichur from Bijapur, he erased features of this gate that were associated with Bijapur and stamped it with architectural markings of his own dynasty.
In the mid-16th century the sultanate of Bijapur made notable advances in gunpowder technology, marking in some respects a local “Military Revolution”. This is seen in the crude adaptation of the idea of small swivel cannons to very large guns that were placed on high bastions and could be maneuvered both laterally and vertically.
Hyderabad: southern portal of the Char Kaman ensemble (1592)
Though conventionally thought to have been patterned on “Islamic” models of urban design, Hyderabad was actually modeled on the Kakatiya capital of Warangal, indicating that dynasty’s lasting memory. Thus, four portals were positioned around the famous Charminar just as four toranas had been positioned around Warangal’s cultic center, the Svayambhu Shiva temple (see first image).
Warangal Fort: Panchaliraya temple, assembled by Shitab Khan (16th c.)
In 1504 Shitab Khan, an upstart local chieftain, seized the city of Warangal from its Bahmani governor and at once associated himself with the memory of the illustrious Kakatiya dynasty, which had ruled from this city two centuries earlier. To this end, he made several architectural interventions, including assembling this temple from reused structural elements dating to Kakatiya rule.
Like their Vijayanagara rivals to the south, the sultans of Bijapur also revered the memory of the imperial Chalukyas. This is seen in the twenty-four reused Chalukya columns that, in the early 16th century, they inserted in the citadel’s entrance courtyard, their capital’s most prominent site.
Vijayanagara: two-storeyed hall at the end of Virupaksha bazaar
To identify themselves with Chalukya glory, rulers of Vijayanagara in the 16th century inserted into this hall’s lower storey finely polished reused Chalukya columns, carved from blue-green schist. By contrast, the hall’s less visible upper storey exhibits columns in the style of Vijayanagara’s own period, crudely carved from nearby granite.
Kuruvatti. Bracket figure from the Malikarjuna temple, ca. 11th c.
Just as the memory of Roman imperial splendor inspired Europeans for centuries after the collapse of Rome, the memory of the Deccan’s prestigious Chalukya dynasty (10th-12th c.), preserved by material remains such as this stunning sculpture, inspired actors four or five centuries later to identify their own regimes with Chalukya glory.
Warangal fort: Remains of the Tughluq congregational mosque
Architecture and power are interwoven in the remains of this mosque, built in the former capital of the Kakatiya dynasty. Foreground: rubble of the temple of the Kakatiyas’ state deity, Svayambhu Shiva, destroyed in the early 14th century by armies of the Delhi Sultanate. Background: one of the temple’s four majestic gateways (torana) that the conquerors preserved in order to frame the mosque.