St. Pancras and Kings Cross Stations

I’ve always loved those 19th century train stations – and dismissed modernist scoffers who think that there’s a disjunction between the function of the shed and the decoration of the station and hotel – this shot from Flickr shows the kind of thing that sets some critics off.

There’s a very positive review of the renovations at St. Pancras at Times Online

Once you get past the humdrum of getting from A to B, travel is about the exotic, about possibility. Architecture is the same. Once you get past building a structure that stays up, it is architecture’s purpose to take you higher. Gilbert Scott and Barlow didn’t just build a mechanism for fast travel – revolutionary enough though that was in the 1860s – they built one whose very shape fast-tracked the imagination. The commuter, the ordinary Joe, had never been treated to such finery. King’s Cross next door, London Bridge across the Thames, old Euston or the new underground railway were pure Victorian utilitarian.

St Pancras, though, was romantic – Neo-Gothic, but from a time when Neo-Gothic wasn’t just nostalgic. Combined with high technology of iron and glass, it was weirdly (to our modern eyes) futuristic too, despite the fact that most Victorian architects at the time were still dithering over whether iron was respectable enough to be out in polite society, let alone combined with godly Gothic.

The combination created architecture of fervency, height, breadth and adrenalin. Think of John O’Connor’s 1884 painting From Pentonville Road Looking West: Evening, the fiery, polluted, Victorian sky pricked by St Pancras’s towering pinnacles. Has smog over a grimy neighbourhood ever looked more visionary?

No bones about it, Barlow and Gilbert Scott made St Pancras to be the greatest station in the land. No, not a station – a cathedral, its Gothic pointed shed, the widest single-span arch of its age, apeing lofty medieval Gothic naves, and piled high with allusive decoration to stoke the imagination, and gird the loins for the adrenalin rush of newly fast travel and the future.

Stripped of soot, all this is back with a mighty bang. It’s like digitally remastering a crackly 78, or retouching scratchy Victorians in colour. St Pancras is bright. The shed’s immense glass roof is dazzlingly clear, shedding light on to the platforms below. Its metal girders are painted what was found to be the original baby blue – demanded, no less, by its first stationmaster, who requested an artificial sky to replace nature’s original. The brick and stone of Gilbert Scott’s architectural casing is, again, almost orange bright.

The carvings are crisp: you will never see more wrestling dragons on a building. The details, right down to the mammoth Addams Family brackets and drainpipes out of a medieval torture chamber, are lavish. Whole new walls, arches and arcades, never intended by Barlow and Gilbert Scott, have been built but so dedicated has been the mimicry that you’d be hard-pressed to spot them. The building sings. And what a sweet note.

Go read the rest! St. Pancras was one of the great triumphs of early historic preservationism, and a legacy of Sir John Betjeman’s Victorian Society.

Atmospheric change on our side

The falling oxygen level ended the reign of the giant bugs!

Insects carry oxygen to cells differently from humans. Instead of a single breathing tube, bugs have several pairs of holes known as spiracles along their bodies.
These holes connect to tubes called tracheae, which transport oxygen to cells and remove carbon dioxide.
The x-ray scans revealed that as beetles become larger, tracheae take up proportionally more room in their bodies because they need to be longer and wider to deliver enough oxygen. This, in turn, inhibits growth by crowding other organs.

(well, it was 300 million years ago, but I’m still happy to know there won’t be any 2 meter millipedes, except in horror movies)


Gosh I hate Microsoft Word. Why do all the endnote/footnote references sometimes change to Roman numerals? Have you EVER in you whole life seen Roman numerals used for that in a book? What would note xxxiv look like in print? Why is it even an option, let alone one which imposes itself on my work?
So, while trying to print a clean copy (with CENTERED titles) of everything I’ve done in public since 2002 here’s what iTunes is shufflin’ up for me:
“Two Star” – Everything But The Girl, Amplified Heart, 1994
“Mea Culpa” – Enigma, Love Sensuality Devotion: The Greatest Hits
“The Folks Who Live on the Hill” – Nina Simone, A Single Woman, 1993
“Indra” – Thievery Corporation, The Mirror Conspiracy, 2000
“East St. Louis Toodle-oo” – Steely Dan, A Decade of Steely Dan, 1985
“No One In The World” – Anita Baker, The Best Of Anita Baker
“Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy Baby” – Bootsy Collins, Bootsy Collins Anthology, 2001
“Age Of Consent” – New Order, Power, Corruption & Lies, 1985
“The Selecter” – The Selecter, This Are Two Tone
“Tzazae” – Cheb Mami, Dellali, 2001
And then for my sins, fairly quick in the rotation was “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” You know, I am a dancin’ fool of the early 80s, but Bonnie Tyler is beyond the pale. Can you dance to that song without making wiggly finger gestures in space? Luckily for me, Houston cult band of my youth The Judys “Guyana Punch” came up to cleanse my mind.

There’s a strange one in the jungle
And I think I hear him calling my name
There’s a strange one in the jungle
And he’s offering death without pain
Freshen up, freshen up, freshen up
There’s a strange one in the jungle
And he says that death need not hurt
There’s a strange one in the jungle
He’s got something to quench your thirst
Freshen up, freshen up, freshen up
Freshen up, freshen up, freshen up
Guyana punch, uh-oh, uh-oh-oh
Guyana punch, uh-oh, uh-oh-oh
Guyana punch, uh-oh, uh-oh-oh
Guyana punch, uh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ooooh

Reference styles

I was talking to my sister last night and mentioned that I was cleaning up footnotes (and trying to figure out how to refer to a manuscript diary from the archives). She pointed out that my experience of reference styles is unusual – I’ve always been in school, more or less. She has a B.A. and two masters. Each time in school separated by several years. She was annoyed to find out this last time (2005-06, was it?) how reference styles have changed.
I have to admit, it can be annoying. I recently broke down and bought a 15th edition Chicago Manual of Style. My old copy was 12th, and things have changed. You know, like the whole INVENTION of the Web.
The general principle of making-it-possible-for-readers-to-find-your-reference-for-themselves hasn’t changed, but the way we go about doing that sure has.
I hate inline citation because I like chatty footnotes. Oh, well.

The Coming Ice Age

Something is deeply wrong with the info feed.
I check weather via a little thingie on the top bar of my screen called WeatherDock. It picks up its information from the Weather Channel.
The current icon shows a snowflake coming from a cloud. I clicked. I saw:
Light Snow Shower, 74˚F
Wind: 6 mph, direction N
Pressure: 29.92 in, steady
Humidity: 73%, Dew point: 64˚F
Visibility: 0.5 mi, UV-index: 0, Low
Get that? Light Snow Shower.
I’m leaving.

A new Pugin book

Here’s an interesting review of a new book on A.W.N. Pugin, one of the most interesting of the Gothic Revival architects. The review starts:

IN THE SUMMER OF 1852 A 40-year-old man was in a secure room in Bethlem Hospital for the Insane; he recognised no one, not even his wife; his head had been shaved, and he had become what was described as “very dirty in his habits”. This was the man who, six months before, had designed the clock tower now known as Big Ben. His name was Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin.

Yes, there was always something a little over the top about Pugin – maybe more than a little bit. His book Contrasts is one of my favorite examples of both Gothic Revivalism and architectural polemic on behalf of any style. He offers the viewer side-by-side views of England before the Reformation and as she was in the 1840s – and it isn’t pretty. Dickens makes a nice comparison (one the reviewer draws).

Here’s one pair – the Chapel Royal, Brighton and St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. Pugin means every bit of it, down to the choice of nomenclature. A ‘chapel royal’ puts more stress on the royal family – and the personification of royal immorality, George IV, since we’re talking Brighton – than on the company of the saints. Pugin also means us to see the contrast between the stage decoration of Brighton – look at the curtains above – and the perpendicular style ceiling at Windsor as the difference between meretriciousness and truth: truth to materials produces truth to style – and is intimately tied to truth in Religion. Pointed Architecture, which is how Pugin mainly designated Gothic, is Christian Architecture.

And here’s a more Dickensian point – Contrasted Residences for the Poor – the Panopticon vs. the Almshouse. Did you know there are still almshouses? My friend at sent me a link to one she visited once – where she received a pilgrim’s badge! The Hospital of St Cross, near Winchester. Click and then follow the link for Brothers to see the badge-men (click, click on ‘badge,’ scroll to definition #4 – or search for badge-man). Now go back to Pugin’s vision of an almshouse. I’m willing to bet cash money that the outfits the pensioners at St Cross wear now are in fact a mid-19th century revival, not a continuous survival.

I’m working on an article on Richard Upjohn, an English immigrant to America who revolutionized architecture here – both by bringing a rigor to the practice of Gothic Revival and by founding the American Institute of Architects. Upjohn had copies of at least 5 Pugin books, including True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture. That fun fact comes from a handy article by Judith Hull, “The ‘School of Upjohn’: Richard Upjohn’s Office,” about Upjohn’s work as an architectural educator in the days before schools of architecture in America, the first of which (MIT) opened in 1866.

The Victorian architects inspired a lot of derision in the early 20th century, but Pugin inspires devotion today – there’s a Pugin Society, devoted to, among other things, saving Pugin buildings.

Click here and see the Pugin pictures (including a great view of Big Ben) from the Gothic Revival group on Flickr. The altar above is a Pugin from the group.

Fun facts to know and tell . . .

While I continue to put together my – um – case, it occurred to me to ask my friend the Acting Librarian how many books I had ordered for the Library. She can with the flick of a key or two answer the question for life since 2002, when we started using the current computerized system – and with Library of Congress headings!
I got to these Colleges (as did my friend the Acting Librarian) in the fall of 1999. Since the 2002/03 fiscal year, this is the breakdown:
B – Philosophy, Psychology, and Religion: 87
C – Auxiliary Sciences of History: 5
D – History: General and Outside the Americas: 40
E – History: United States: 1
G – Geography: 3
H – Social Sciences: 13
J – Political Science: 2
N – Fine Arts: 81
P – Language and Literature: 29
Q – Science: 1
R – Medicine: 1
T – Technology: 1
U – Military Science: 3
Total: 267
Luckily, she attached a list – the one Q book is Bede, The Reckoning of Time, (De temporum ratione) tr. Faith Wallis. Interesting, hunh, that N is not the largest category, despite my appointment in the Art department. After all, my own dissertation got cataloged in the Ds at Emory. Interdisciplinarity, thy name is “Michael C. Tinkler.”

What to do with Nazi castles?

Historic preservation has a moral side to it – how do you preserve Nazi monuments without encouraging Neo-Nazis to visit and enjoy their surroundings? If you museum-it-up, will they stay away?
Spiegel Online has an interesting example (with a great photo essay) – the NS-Ordensburg Vogelsang (Vogelsang National Socialist Castle), which was a school for men in their late 20s groomed to be party officials.

Volker Dahm, who designed the Obersalzberg museum [at Hitler’s vacation house] and heads a board of advisors on the Vogelsang project, said: “Many people are afraid to visit concentration camps but are less afraid to go to a place like Obersalzberg, and are prepared to be informed when they’re there.”
“You need a mix of victims’ and perpetrators’ sites to be able to build a historically accurate culture of remembrance.”

That’s an interesting purpose, building “a historically accurate culture of remembrance.” So where do Neo-Nazis come in? Wouldn’t they want to remember?

“If you want to attract Nazis to a site, put barbed wire around it and board it up, then they’ll get interested and think they can find secrets there,” said Dahm.
“You have to open it, make it transparent, return modern and normal life there and reflect its history with a serious museum, then the place becomes uninteresting to neo-Nazis because it desecrates it in their eyes.”
On the Obersalzberg, for example, the number of neo-Nazi visitors has gone down drastically since the museum opened in 1999, Dahm said.
But anonymous worshippers still occasionally place candles around the few remaining ruins of Hitler’s nearby chalet, the “Berghof,” especially around his birthday on April 20.

That’s a very interesting idea, that explanation and display desecrate. They certainly desacralize – hanging religious objects on off-white walls makes it very hard to see them as religious tools any more. Preserving whole environments, though – I’m not sure that a visitors center is enough.

It’s coming – the Disestablishment of the Universities

Stanford University spends $76 million on undergraduate financial aid, a sum that sounds generous but amounts to a mere 0.5 percent of the value of its endowment. The university spends just 4 percent of its $14 billion endowment toward operating expenses. If the 5 percent payout rule required Stanford to spend another 1 percent of its endowment, and that money was directed toward financial aid, students would enjoy $211 million in additional support. That is precisely the cost of letting all 6,600 Stanford undergraduates attend tuition-free.
The University of Texas’ nine campuses enroll 147,576 undergraduates who each pay on average $5,903 in tuition. All of U.T.’s undergraduates could attend school tuition-free if the system spent half the amount the university’s endowment grew just last year.

That’s Lynn Munson at Inside Higher Ed.
It’s a good article. I didn’t know that we were exempt from the 5% rule! That explains a lot. Click and read.
via Prof. Soltan, who, being a critic of 20th century literature, reaches for Freud. Me, my favorite analogy is the disestablishment of the monasteries and its analogues on the continent. Imperfect, but suggestive.