Ptolemy Dean, Surveyor of the Fabric of Westminster Abbey . . .

Ptolemy Dean, Surveyor of the Fabric of Westminster Abbey.  It sounds like a young adult book title, almost, but he really is the 19th Surveyor of the Fabric of Westminster. Who names a child Ptolemy? Parents who are sure their little darling will grow up to be someone interesting!

He’s got plans for Westminster Abbey, too – we might be able to get up into the triforium (the gallery between the arches of the nave arcade and the visible stained glass windows above) soon!

*sigh* damp spot on the living room carpet

A new colleague asked why I hadn’t included my building in the possible rental list if, as I told her, there were vacancies.

Well, the 7-month saga of the living room ceiling is not over yet — I came home to look for a book (which at least I found, Lara!) and stepped barefoot into a damp spot on the living room carpet.

Within 3 minutes the sound of a drip from 11 feet up hitting the bottom of a plastic bucket confirmed my worst suspicion — the leak is NOT fixed.

*tock* There’s another!

That’s why I didn’t include The Pulteney in my list. I think a lot of us feel the same way — we love the building and our apartments, but would consider not moving here in the first place if we had it to do over again, sad to say.

Further: This morning every seam in the ceiling was wet and dripping. I’m at the office and back at my place they’re cutting an even bigger hole into the ceiling than before.

Another Paul Rudolph dodges the wrecking ball

Paul Rudolph buildings come under a lot of pressure from people who want to replace them. Accepting the name “Brutalist” for the substyle of Modernism doesn’t help the cause any.

This country government center in the Hudson Valley (Orange Country) may end up changing its use, but it won’t be destroyed. It certainly expresses a useful point to its users about government, even local government!

Preserving a bridge at Letchworth

Letchworth State Park
Not far west of Geneva the Genesee River flows through a spectacular gorge now called Letchworth State Park. One of the standard sights of the park is an active railroad bridge. Norfolk Southern wants to build a modern bridge and take it down, not preserve it as a pedestrian bridge. They’re budgeting $1 million to take it down. The preservationists think it might cost $1-2 to preserve it. The views of the bridge are spectacular (that’s not my picture, by the way – I’ve only been once and can’t find my pictures!). Some folks, as the article tells us, are crazy enough to dodge trains and walk out ON the bridge. I went to Flickr to see if I could find any of those views, but my cursory search didn’t turn up any.
I have to say I was a skeptic about the Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga, but that’s been a wonderful thing. On the other hand, the Walnut Street Bridge is in the middle of town, and this is off in the country. There’s no way enough individual donors in Upstate New York will raise money for the restoration, and the state certainly can’t afford it. It will be a very great pity to see this bridge go.
I was interested by the aesthetic reaction of some of the people at the preservation meeting. When shown renderings of the current bridge with the new concrete bridge 75 feet away they thought it just wouldn’t feel right to have the old bridge remain.
Terrifying last sentence: “The current bridge was built in 53 days, 10 years after the Civil War ended.” 53 days? Yikes!
What do you think, Bruce?

Parodic Historic Preservation

Preserve that chain link fence!
No, really.
Here’s a fundamentalist speaking:

“I think those are interesting houses,” said Al Cox, historic preservation manager in Alexandria’s Department of Planning and Zoning. They are relatively unadorned, two-story brick houses built right after World War II. They represent a side of Alexandria that’s different from the Federal, Georgian and Greek Revival homes closer to the river.

In other words, if you don’t like your unadorned house with its chain link fence, you can sell it. Don’t change it!

Mussolini’s Fascist Mosaics

Making a Monumental Sculpture

One of the panels from the Foro Italico showing trades or crafts (or maybe we should think of them as everyday activities in the Fascist Syndicalist state?) – this one with artists making a monumental figure like one of these.

The black and white mosaics in the Foro Italico (formerly the Foro Mussolini – and only the street signs changed) show all kinds of things — Black-shirt Squadristi rolling in trucks through Italy shouting battle cries as they battle Socialism, hard-working peasants tilling the soil, grateful Ethiopians (and lions!) giving the fascist salute, and the above. There are lots of idealized athletes doing ideal, athletic things.
I’ve mentioned that one of the things that’s going on with the style is an explicit imitation of Roman black and white mosaics. Here’s an angry looking bull from the Baths of Caracalla (circa AD 215). See? One of the major excavations prosecuted during the 1930s was extending the archeological area at Ostia Antica, where they were turning up lots of this stuff. Unfortunately, the only picture I’ve posted of athletes from Ostia is a little artistic, but if you blow up the image from the Caupona of Alexander you may see more of what I mean.
Fascism elevates violence and hypermasculinity to an unreal level. There is a weird tension, though, between the glorification of the athletic body, something clearly represented as participating in individual activities in these mosaics (I’m trying to think if there are any team sports – surely there’s soccer!) and their lack of individuation in the art. They’re all as ideally grim and unrevealing as the monumental nude sculptures surrounding the stadium next door.
We tried to explain this tension as somehow characteristic of Mussolini’s state. I think the eclecticism in architecture styles — there was never a decision on a single Official Fascist Style in Italy the way there was in Stalin’s Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany — is as good a way to see that as any, but this works, too.

Before and After — 21st Century Interventions in Rome

Before and After

Originally uploaded by Michael Tinkler.

On the left you see what Rome looked like to me before the Jubilee of 2000 – dingy, ochre, and a little run-down. The right half shows what Rome is starting to look like – much snappier! On the Corse Vittorio Emmanuele II some of the buildings are even blue, now!

I took a long walk yesterday through Prati (Prati di Castello), the post-unification neighborhood to the north of Castel Sant’Angelo, which eventually turned into the Quartiere della Vittoria (I think when I crossed into P Mazzini). I saw some great stuff — but Piazza Mazzini was one of the highlights. Italo Insolera (Roma moderna, around p 99) identifies this piazza and its quarter as one of the best laid-out in post-1870 Rome, especially as concerns its traffic circulation (something Romans could certainly have thought more about before they built!).

Historic Preservation – NIMBYism over, you know, historic importance

Oak Park, IL, trying to have some interstate off-ramps declared historic landmarks.

Local landmark status could block the Illinois Department of Transportation’s future expansion plans, Oak Park officials say.
“What we’re trying to do is build as many layers of protection in as possible,” said Chris Morris, chairwoman of the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission.

Talk about the perversion of meaning! Makes me think vulgar words.

Nazis, Fascists, and Architects — and then add Historical Preservationists!

The German Pavilion in Venice’s Giardini Publici is used for exhibiting German art at the big Biennale. The original building was put up in 1909 and then hastily Nazified in 1938 and then superficially (i.e., removing swastikas and busts of Hitler and Mussolini) in 1945.
Some architects want it replaced, since “It creates an image of Germany that has nothing to do with the reality of today.” Others want to preserve it, of course.

Ms Gaensheimer, who is also the director of Frankfurt’s Museum for Modern Art, claims that demolishing the building would be futile. “You can’t change history by demolishing architecture. But we can use architecture to preserve our consciousness of history,” she said. “Fantastic works of art have been shown in the German pavilion and that is what represents this country,” she added.

Go read.

Yet another fundamentalist checks in

You see, brick sewers from the 1850s must be preserved!

A move is under way to save huge brick arches found under the rubble of a three-story building that collapsed in downtown Keokuk last summer.
Chuck Mitchell of the Keokuk Historic Preservation Society believes the historic remains are a look into Keokuk’s historic sewer system, “miles of brick sewers one could row a boat through,” and should be preserved.
“Are we going to designate this site as a piece of irreplaceable history, as an example of the extraordinary underground 19th century masonry on which the city is built or are we going to destroy it and cover up the evidence?” he asked.

I love his vision of a brat in the future Keokuk Grotto Bistro . . . but just remember, if your brat had the price of removing all the rubble by hand (no backhoes! their weight might cause the historic sewer arches to collapse!) rolled into it the tourist trade available for Keokuk, Iowa, might not supply enough demand.
But that’s just heartless ol’ me talking. Go ahead – haul the rubble out in wheelbarrows. It’s not “build it and they will come,” but “don’t destroy it and they will come.”

“Charming” in a new context.

I don’t think “charming” means what Christopher Gray is trying to say in this New York Times article about preserving a particularly anonymous Modernist building in New York City. Here are some bits from the article.

The new Donnell had a facade of Spartan simplicity, about as warm as a jail cell. Above a high ground floor of plate glass and square granite columns rise three stories of plain square limestone panels interrupted only by rectangular windows without frames, divisions or other detailing; they might have been cut out with a keyhole saw. The front could be one of those strange walls with empty windows in the paintings of de Chirico or Dalí.
Writing in his column in The New Yorker in 1956, Lewis Mumford likened it to the careful, ordered facade of a high Renaissance palazzo, but one “cleansed of ornament.” For Mumford that was not necessarily a negative, but he found the “cheerless” Donnell a design of “assiduous anonymity.” The library, he wrote, “has very little to say, and is content with not saying it.”
[Now there’s an epigram for Modernism! Or perhaps an epitaph.]
For decades the Donnell has otherwise escaped commentary,
[Web searches did nothing for him – and I don’t have a detailed NYC architecture guide at home to check any print myself] an architectural black hole opposite the lively modernism of MoMA’s marble facade.
. . .
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is not interested in designating the Donnell Library, and only a micro-community of preservationists
[I like that!] seems to care. Among them are Michael Gotkin and John Jurayj, co-chairmen of the Modern Architecture Working Group, which is active in preservation matters.
. . .
Indeed, examined through that lens
[by making some comparisons to surviving examples of similarly blank Scandinavian façades] the enigmatic Donnell seems much more comprehensible, even charming — a Renaissance palace reimagined, instead of just a leftover packing box. The second-floor windows are extra-large, just like those on the piano nobile of a building in Renaissance Florence. It’s a neat trick. [The big windows on the piano nobile were big because those were the public rooms for the family, by the way. What was going on here? Unless there’s a functional reason for the window-scaling I think that should automatically disqualify it as an example of Modernism, then!]

You’ll have to click to see the pictures – truly banal. In the tradition of architectural historians and architectural commentators everywhere, he includes a unbuilt version of the building – which is so little different you may have to look twice, but merely including it proves that this is serious. Everyone knows the UNBUILT version would have been more interesting!
Telling point – the article is from the Real Estate section, not the Arts and Design. This was never more than a branch building for a public library system – knocked out by in-house architects. Tear it down.

Cologne Finial

Cologne Finial

Originally uploaded by Michael Tinkler.

This is a nice decorative touch – in front of Cologne Cathedral is a giant finial – the same size as the two atop the spires. Click on the picture to see those!

Cologne Cathedral was notoriously slow – started in the early 13th century and finished only in 1880 in an act of architectural nationalism, claiming the Gothic for the newly united Germany. Hard to imagine a nation raising that much cash for a building now, especially a church.

Corbusier Chair from above – less comfortable version

We had an optional field trip to visit one of the great shrines of Modernist Architecture today – and was I going to pass that up?

We went to the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart (about 2 hours away). The housing complex was built as a demonstration of Modernist housing for varying income levels. The museum is in a duplex built by Corbusier – the concrete version of his LC2 arm chair, more usually executed in steel and leather, is out in the garden. There are also buildings by van der Rohe, Ouds, and a bunch of lesser known Modernists.

I really found the Corbusier house spatially interesting, but I don’t think I want to live with a kitchen that is “pedagogical,” to quote our guide.