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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.
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.
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.
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,
“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.
"There is nothing in machinery, there is nothing in embankments and railways and iron bridges and engineering devices to oblige them to be ugly. Ugliness is the measure of imperfection," wrote H.G. Wells. One gets the feeling that Oregon master bridge builder Conde McCullough read Wells and took his exhortation to heart, because Conde didn't [...]
When I was 12 years old, Aunt Sophie gave me my first book on architecture: Sir Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method. I think Aunt Sophie liked it because it was elegant and English. I liked it because it had 3,500 drawings. Originally published in 1896, running to 20 editions (Aunt [...]
In architecture and design schools, it's common to hear the claim that "golden mean" geometry was used in the design of ancient buildings, especially the Parthenon.
According to mathematician Keith Devlin of the Mathematical Association of America, this is a groundless myth, with no basis in fact whatsoever.
The golden mean (also known as the golden ratio or the divine proportion) refers to the relationship of 1:1.618..., an irrational number also known as "Phi." The ratio is found in nature, and has been championed in the last two centuries, but many other claims are unfounded. Although Greek mathematicians knew about Phi, there is not a shred of evidence that any Greek architect used such a system as a design principle. Euclid's study of Phi occurred long after the Parthenon was already finished. Devlin says:
"The oft repeated assertion that the Parthenon in Athens is based on the golden ratio is not supported by actual measurements. In fact, the entire story about the Greeks and golden ratio seems to be without foundation. Numerous tests have failed to show up any one rectangle that most observers prefer, and preferences are easily influenced by other factors. As to the Parthenon, all it takes is more than a cursory glance at all the photos on the Web that purport to show the golden ratio in the structure, to see that they do nothing of the kind. (Look carefully at where and how the superimposed rectangle - usually red or yellow - is drawn and ask yourself: why put it exactly there and why make the lines so thick?)"
In the examples above, the placement of the golden rectangle doesn't agree from one diagram to the next. In the top example, the sides of the rectangle hug the columns, and in the next, they're touching the edges of the pediment. In some, the bottom of some rectangles correspond to the bottom of the columns, while in others, they're several steps down the base. In the middle example above with the white lines, the source photo itself seems to be stretched vertically by about 15%.
According to University of Chicago math professor Phil Keenan, it doesn't matter how you arrange the diagram, because the lines in the Parthenon aren't straight or parallel anyway due to entasis and other factors. He says:
"One cannot define an exact rectangle on the front or back faces of the Parthenon. Even though the Parthenon is built to extremely accurate specifications, its curvature precludes rectangular measurements of any greater precision than about 1%. This built-in error precludes finding any Golden Mean rectangles, since the required accuracy is simply not attainable."
George Markowky elaborates:
"The dimensions of the Parthenon vary from source to source probably because different authors are measuring between different points. With so many numbers available a golden ratio enthusiast could choose whatever numbers gave the best result."
Keenan points out that, "the presence of the Golden Mean in the Parthenon was postulated by Adolf Zeising in the 1850s, and appears nowhere in ancient Greek architectural treatises." Devlin concludes: "I am not convinced that the Parthenon has anything to do with the Golden Ratio."
Anticipating some questions and comments: Does the golden mean appear in nature? Yes, and I'll get to that later in the series. Is it a useful tool for composition or analysis? Sure, if it works for you. Busting this myth doesn't take away anyone's candy. Do contemporary architects use it? Bauhaus training has reinforced both the myth and the practice.
After considering the Parthenon and Leonardo Da Vinci, let's see if we can continue taking a rational look at the claims about "phi," (or the "golden mean" or "golden ratio") that has been so popular with artists.
The story gets more complex in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as artists begin to consciously adopt it in their work, and so it gets harder to separate fact from fiction. Let's start with what we know for sure.
One of the nineteenth century champions of the golden mean was German psychologist Adolf Zeising (1810-1876) who found the golden mean in nature, especially in branching patterns, leaves, and seed patterns. These manifestations of the ratio are acknowledged by even the most skeptical scientists.
Over the years scientists have found other places where the golden mean turns up. In 2010, the journal Science published a paper about how these numerical patterns appear in crystals at the atomic scale.
The golden mean appears most often in terms of numerical relations, such as the Fibonacci numbers that appear in flowerheads, seeds, and shells.
Zeisler promoted the idea that the golden mean could be found in the Parthenon and the works of Leonardo. He made broad claims that the golden ratio was:
"the universal law in which is contained the ground-principle of all formative striving for beauty and completeness in the realms of both nature and art, and which permeates, as a paramount spiritual ideal, all structures, forms and proportions, whether cosmic or individual, organic or inorganic, acoustic or optical; which finds its fullest realization, however, in the human form."
Whether or not Zeisler's ideas had a solid grounding in observable fact, they caught on with artists and mystics.
A group of painters led by Jacques Villon and called "Section d’Or," (French: “Golden Section”) held exhibitions in Paris between 1912 and 1914. They included Juan Gris, Robert Delaunay and Giro Severini and several others, though not all used the mathematical principles. Later artists such as Salvador Dali also claimed to use golden mean principles.
Golden mean principles were adopted in extremely different quarters in the twentieth century. Many readers of this blog are acquainted with them in the context of contemporary realist ateliers.
The methods were also embraced by the Bauhaus school (literally "House of Construction"), founded by Walter Gropius in Germany between World War I and II, and run by influential architects such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
The Swiss architect Le Corbusier, who championed the international style of building design, used the golden ratio and the Fibonacci series as a central tenet of his teaching. He described the patterns as:
"rhythms apparent to the eye and clear in their relations with one another. And these rhythms are at the very root of human activities. They resound in man by an organic inevitability, the same fine inevitability which causes the tracing out of the Golden Section by children, old men, savages and the learned."
Many Bauhaus teachers emigrated to America, where their ideas about the golden section became incorporated in university art educations, where they are taught to this day.
The Flintstones have been duly celebrated throughout the years, but one part of the Hanna-Barbera series that hasn’t received much attention is its iconic architectural setting: those brilliantly appealing and organic circular ranch houses topped with pancaked granite slabs.
The designer of the prehistoric Flintstones universe was a man named Ed Benedict (1912-2006), the same man who designed the show’s characters.
Benedict dreamt up the Flintstones homes almost entirely from imagination. He was once asked if he used any reference to design them. He replied, “No, with the exception of on the interior of one of the samples I made, I did look up some prehistoric stuff—cave paintings. I just looked up in there and got the old typical buffalo looking thing running across a wall, just to get the flavor of it.”
Benedict had had a bit of practice with this kind of work. He had designed cavemen and cavehomes once before for the 1955 Tex Avery short The First Bad Man:
The cave homes in The First Bad Man, built into the sides of rock formations, look uncomfortable compared to the domesticated setting of the Flintstones, replete with garages, front yards with flower beds, swimming pools and living rooms with couches. Benedict probably didn’t come up with the original idea of allowing the Flintstones all the creature comforts of suburbia, but the credit for making the idea work visually belongs to him.
The Flintstones designs in the image gallery below were created by Benedict for the original network presentation. These pieces established the general look and feel of the Flintstones universe and served as a guide for the layout artists who were charged with building out the world in each episode. A rare photographic print set of these drawings is currently being auctioned on HowardLowery.com.
I need to tell a little story about the pictures in this blog's header, particularly the one on the right. When I first selected it from a collection of pins on Pinterest marked "Libraries", I did not realise that each pinned picture in the collection corresponded to a whole article on the library in the picture.
Hale, Christy. 2012. Dreaming Up: A celebration of building. New York: Lee and Low.
As a youth services librarian in a public library, I don't have the same type of interaction with children as a teacher or school media specialist might. I see more preschool than school-aged children, and though my goal is to "teach" the love of reading and the power of information, children and parents often come to the library seeking pleasure and entertainment. Teaching and learning moments are offered in the form of story time programs, book clubs, or crafts.
That's why a book like Dreaming Up is so perfect! Imagine a book that "teaches" architecture, concrete poetry, design, and the power of imagination. Now imagine that book is suitable for preschoolers up to grade 4, that it sparks opportunities for imaginative play, that it is factual (Architecture, DDC 720), that it is properly sourced, that it is multicultural, and yes - it's attractive, too! On the page facing each illustrated poem is a photograph of the famous or architecturally significant structure which inspired the poem. Featured buildings are from locations around the globe and include the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. Back matter includes information on each of the fifteen structures as well as biographical information on each building's architect.
No need to dream; there is such a book and it's Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building. Go. Read it. Share it. Get out some boxes, and blankets, and pillows, and playing cards, and Popsicle sticks and building blocks. Encourage the young people you know to "dream up."
The first-ever comprehensive exhibition of the landscape paintings of Martin Rico y Ortega (Spanish, 1833-1908) is currently on exhibition at the Meadows museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
The exhibit features 106 works of art, including paintings, drawings, and sketchbooks, with sparkling views of Paris, Venice, and Madrid. According to the museum, "Rico championed the technique of painting en plein air, famously painting while stationed in gondolas throughout the Venetian canals."
In the late-1930s, Walt Disney enlisted German architect and industrial designer Kem Weber to design a state-of-the-art animation studio from scratch. Weber oversaw every detail of the new Burbank studio from the exterior architecture of the buildings to the Streamline Moderne design of the furniture, desks, and appliances, to the custom typeface used on the studio’s signage.
The Burbank studio wasn’t the smashing success that Walt had envisioned, however. It felt cold and sterile to the artists who were accustomed to the cramped and comfortable charms of their old Hyperion digs. Animator Fred Moore complained to Ward Kimball one afternoon shortly after moving into the Burbank studio, “No distinction in the rooms.”
But more than the lack of charm, the Burbank studio’s ostentatious in-your-face luxuriousness suggested a certain tone deafness on Walt Disney’s part. It rankled the hundreds of artists who were struggling to get by on $15-per-week salaries, and who now realized that the company cared more about its films than the well-being of its rank-and-file employees. It hardly mattered to the artists that Walt had had to borrow money from the banks to pay for the construction of the studio. Labor tensions began to escalate just months after artists moved into the studio, and within 18 months, the nasty Disney strike that threatened to destroy the entire studio had begun.
Walt had miscalculated the desires of his artists. He thought they wanted a state-of-the-art facility to create animated films. The average Depression-era artist, however, would have been happier with a few extra bucks per week so that he/she could afford food and housing. Managing the competing interests of studio owners and artists is still a struggle in today’s animation industry, which is why the construction of Disney’s Burbank studio remains an especially instructive moment in the art form’s history.
Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building
by Christy Hale
Lee & Low Books Inc., 2012
The reviewed received a copy of the book from the publisher.
The winners of the 2013 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards were announced recently. The nonfiction winner this year was Electric Ben. Two books were name nonfiction honor books: Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building and Hand