Carter’s Ancient Buildings

John Carter. Specimens of Gothic Architecture and Ancient Buildings in England; comprised in one hundred and twenty views, drawn and engraved by John Carter. London: E. Jeffery and Son, 1824.

Continuing with my theme of tiny, pocket-sized books, I selected Carter’s Ancient Buildings in four volumes, which are 12cm x 9cm. John Carter (1748-1817) wrote extensively on the medieval buildings of England as an advocate for “Gothic” as the national style and the conservation of these monuments, primarily in Gentleman’s Magazine (J. Mordaunt Crook, ‘Carter, John (1748–1817)’). J. Mordaunt Crook writes of John Carter:

Carter’s contribution to the Gothic revival was neither academic, nor, strictly speaking, archaeological, nor even antiquarian. It was essentially inspirational…. In Carter’s career we sense a fundamental shift of taste: the birth pangs of Victorian Gothic; the changing sensibility of a whole generation focused through the eyes of one man- England’s first ‘architectural correspondent’. By the end of his life he had become almost a living document; a link between the world of Strawberry Hill and the world of A. W. Pugin. (J. Mordaunt Crook, John Carter and the Mind of the Gothic Revival, 59-62)

The volumes are arranged alphabetically by county, and one can imagine an antiquarian or enthusiast slipping the tiny volume into his pocket as his guide to English architecture. The northern regions of York, Durham, and Cumbria, however, are neglected. Carter documented a wide variety of buildings: cathedrals, chapels, castles, palaces, gates, kitchens, hospitals, barns, and monastic buildings. Each plate includes either a description of the work or a brief history of the site. Perhaps the most surprising inclusions, despite the “Ancient” in the title, are Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor.

Crook, J. Mordaunt. John Carter and the Mind of the Gothic Revival. London: The Society of Antiquaries of London, 1995.

J. Mordaunt Crook, ‘Carter, John (1748–1817)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 30 Jan 2014].

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Posthumous Contribution: An Icon of a City

While searching for all of the items in Karl Kamrath’s Collection last semester, I was directly exposed to the vast depth and diversity of a successful architect’s personal library. From Alden Dow to Katherine Morrow to Richard Neutra, Kamrath’s collection spanned decades and encompassed elements of major movements and achievements in the 20th century.

While his collection contains some quintessential readings that were quite prolific (such as Louis Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats and Other WritingsHassan Fathy’s Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egyptand Frank Lloyd Wright’s The Future of Architecture), there are also some limited publications of several design projects that Kamrath and his firm were associated with. As I sifted through special collections to find these professional reports, one caught my eye before I even noticed the Kamrath Collection stamp on the cover: The Monona Basin Project.

My interest directly stems from the report’s subject: a schematic master plan for the city of Madison, Wisconsin. As a University of Wisconsin graduate who spent five years in Madison, I was immediately intrigued by the possibility of being able to compare my visual of Madison with a plan dating back to 1967.

For anyone that’s either been a resident of the greater Wisconsin-Illinois area or happens to be a Frank Lloyd Wright buff, you know that Wright’s career began in Madison as a student at the University of Wisconsin. Though he never completed his engineering degree, he went on to realize many significant projects in Madison and the surrounding area, including the Robert M. Lamp House, Unitarian Meeting House, and Taliesin in nearby Spring Green, one of his most famous projects. However, Monona Terrace likely possesses one of the most interesting timelines of all of Wright’s works – and I’m here to share that story with you all!

Wright originally envisioned a “dream civic center” for the city of Madison as early as 1938. Situated along the shores of Lake Monona – one of Madison’s largest lakes – and within walking distance from the state’s Capitol building, his initial plan called for a rail depot, marina, courthouse, city hall, and auditorium. However, the County Board turned down his proposal with a single vote.

In 1941, approval for a municipal auditorium was passed, and Wright presented a modified version of his Monona Terrace plan to the board yet again. However, instead of another rejection, a different conflict intervened – World War II. That very same inhibitor proved to be a catalyst for Wright’s project after the end of the war, as the economy boomed; Wright was ultimately selected as the architect for the project in 1954. He was quoted as saying his appointment of project architect for the Monona Terrace by the voters of Madison meant more to him than any other award at the time.

In 1959, Wright completed his last rendering for the project. Later that year, he passed away in August – followed by the opening of the iconic Guggenheim Museum in New York City in October. Scholars have noted the striking curvilinear similarities in form and intent between the Guggenheim and Wright’s plans for the Monona Terrace – similarities tat would not be realized until decades later.

In 1966, the site of the Monona Terrace project was revisited, and Taliesin Architects were recruited to develop a master plan for the site and the city. This schematic proposal, which became known as The Monona Basin Project, is outlined in Kamrath’s copy of the same name.

The renderings and drawings within the pages of this proposal are absolutely stunning. Full of both organic and geometric shapes and careful, sinuous line work, the pages seem tinged with the memory of Frank Lloyd Wright.

For those of you that have never visited Madison or studied the Monona Terrace, you may think this is the end of the story, right?

False. This elaborately documented proposal – which included three miles of shoreline; the redevelopment of Olin Park, located across the lake from the Monona Terrace; and the beginning phases of a 2,500-seat performing arts center – was excessively over budget and subsequently halted by the mayor! I know, I know – the rate at which I’m curating this story makes it seem like it was a imaginative project and never completed. But I promise, it’s real.

Throughout the 1980s, several proposals for a new civic center in Madison were submitted by developers – but all of them failed. In the early 1990s, the then-mayor heavily lobbied for the support of reviving Wright’s original 1959 proposal and turning his vision into a reality.

Finally, between 1992-1994, funds were allocated from a number of sources, and the construction on Wright’s civic center began. Its interiors were redesigned by the Taliesen architect Tony Puttnam, and in 1997, the Monona Terrace was opened to the public – 59 years after the original inception of the project and 38 years after Wright’s death.

Today, the Monona Terrace is a hub for cultural events, weddings, professional conferences, and more. As a frequent visitor during my Madison days, I can confirm that Frank Lloyd Wright’s contributions to the project are highly celebrated and integrated into nearly every facet of the user experience; for example, the grand hallway from the main entrance functions almost as a gallery of Wright’s work, lined with photographs of projects spanning his entire lifespan. This posthumously-built icon of a city, full of a tumultuous and contested history, is one of my favorite Wright-influenced works, and gives a glimpse into the incredible complexity behind the ideation and completion of an architectural project.

Searching for all of the books in Karl Kamrath’s collection has proven to be one of my most educational experiences. I have learned more about the cities I love – Madison, Chicago, Austin, and more – and delved into the sources of inspiration of a successful architect. Stay tuned for another blog post on a similar proposal involving Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., also from Kamrath’s collection. These behind-the-scenes stories are so fun to tell!

Interested in exploring the Monona Basin Project in detail? The title discussed above is housed in our Special Collections under the call number -F- NA 9127 M33 T35 1967.

The Observer’s Book of British Architecture

John Penoyre and Michael Ryan. The Observer’s Book of British Architecture, written and illustrated by John Penoyre and Michael Ryan, describing and indexing the development of building in Britain from Saxon times to the present day. Foreword by F. R. S. Yorke. London: Frederick Warne & Co. LTD., 1951. The Special Collections edition was gifted by Howard Meyer, FAIA.

Architecture implies building beautifully and well. Great architecture can be profoundly moving, can stir us more deeply than any other of the visual arts, for it is a three-dimensional art into which the beholder may enter and of which he may feel himself an integral part. Architecture is not an application of beautiful detail to a building; to aspire to the name of architecture the building itself must not only be well built but must truly fulfill its purpose and at the same time delight the beholder (pg 9).

The Observer’s Book of British Architecture was designed as an easily carried reference book on British architecture from the Saxon Period to the twentieth century. According to the authors: Primarily, this is a reference book, designed specifically to give the observer the information he wants in a form easily remembered (pg 9). In order to aid the observer, Penoyre and Ryan reduced the built environment to generalized forms, color coded the architectural periods, arranged the works chronologically, and added helpful diagrams that identify architectural terms or building techniques. They also included a Visual Index: Its purpose is to group together certain features (doors, columns, etc.) in such a way that the observer, when faced with a building for identification, may note for himself its peculiar elements, compare them to the their equivalents or approximate equivalents in the Visual Index, and then refer to the text as indicated (pg 10). The last section of the book is a place for the observer to  make notes; however, Mr. Meyer did not record any.

As the series is intended  for the layman, the authors have greatly simplified the complexity of the building tradition in Britain. F. R. S. Yorke notes in his foreword: In this stimulating and extraordinarily well-balanced book Penoyre and Ryan have traced quite clearly- so clearly that I found it possible to understand the text without the diagrams- the development of English architecture from Saxon times, and have provided just enough background that the observer needs to help him follow, without confusion or bogging down in unnecessary detail, the development of building, planning, and technique through the centuries; and that should help, too, to get rid of some of the misgivings he may have about the architecture of today (pg 5). Despite the sweeping statements and the simplification, the images make the guide a handy text for those who need a quick reference while traveling around Britain while the diagrams are quite helpful for those who have not had a survey course. Moreover, the illustrations are delightful with their bold color blocking.

For more information regarding the publisher Frederick Warne, please visit Penguin Books. For the Observer’s Pocket Series, there is a Collector’s Society.

Westminster Abbey & W. R. Lethaby

W. R. Lethaby. Westminster Abbey and the Antiquities of the Coronation. London: Duckworth, 1911.

W. R. Lethaby. Westminster Abbey & The King’s Craftsmen: A Study of Medieval Building. London: Duckwork, 1906.

While in Special Collections today, I came across a couple of works by W. R. Lethaby (1857-1931) on Westminster Abbey. His name always causes a moment of reflection.  I first discovered his writing in an undergraduate class on the Building of London, which examined the city from its ancient beginnings to the Great Fire of 1666.  While I had been dabbling in the medieval throughout my undergraduate career, this class firmly cemented my  academic studies within this period, though it was probably Beowulf and the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial that ensured I would not stray too far from the British Isles. Though Lethaby’s works have not played a role in my research, whenever I come across one of his works I am momentarily transported back to that class. I rediscovered Lethaby and others like him on the shelves of my graduate school library. They would pop up now and then, while I was searching for something else.  I could not help but pause, pull them off the shelf, and thumb through with a smile. I have always enjoyed the serendipity of finds while browsing the stacks.

In the Building of London, I also was introduced to the Westminster Retable. I often find it difficult to identify my favorite building, medieval or not; however, the Westminster Retable is perhaps one of my favorite art works from the Middle Ages. The central architectural frame contains Christ flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John.  To the viewer’s left are scenes depicting the Miracles of Christ, and at the end is the figure of St. Peter with his key. The detail that I have found so captivating all these years is the tiny globe of the world held by Christ (a detail is linked here).  The abbey itself remains a touchstone within my research, though not the present incarnation but rather Edward the Confessor’s church, the first built in the Norman style in England.

Plan of the Confessor’s Church, c.1066 (From Westminster Abbey and the Antiquities of the Coronation)


The Glasgow School

Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Glasgow: Haus eines Kunstfreundes. Preface by Hermann Muthesius. Darmstadt: Alex Koch, [ca. 1902].

Some of my fondest memories of Scotland are my  MackintoshMacdonald days.  Whenever I am overseas on my research trips, I always set aside one day to visit their works and take high tea in The Willow Tea Rooms. I first discovered The Glasgow School as a graduate student living in Glasgow.  I wandered into The Hunterian Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow and was enchanted by The Mackintosh House. I was struck by the use of line, curve, light, and color. I loved the details of the rose, repetitive tiny squares, & distinctive lettering. The ephemeral figures were haunting. No space was left undesigned and everything felt designed for that space. A gesamtkunstwerk. Whenever I am asked what is a must see on a trip to Scotland, The Mackintosh House, The Glasgow School of Art, and The Willow Tea Rooms are always on the top of my recommendation list.

I was thus delighted today to come across by chance Mackintosh’s entry for the Haus eines Kunstfreundes competition of 1901 (though the 1991 reprint issued by The Fraser Press, Glasgow). It was a treat to study the drawings made by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh.

If it be folly to try and interpret art, by the inexpressive medium of words, this must be especially the case with an art of such elusive qualities as that of the young Scottish designers. It has been laughed at and ridiculed by many who could discover no sense in it; but when one considers that this is the normal reception which the world accords to all new and import an art movements, the circumstances may be regarded rather as a tribute to their power than the reverse. The comprehension of their style cannot be communicated by the medium of words….And thus it is that we find suddenly in this Glasgow school something like an excess of individuality, and almost oppressively rigid style.  Hermann Muthesius, “Mackintosh’s Art Principles,” 1902.