Category Archives: library

Volz Materials Collection Capstone Project

Hello, people of the Battle Hall Highlights Blogosphere!  I reached the conclusion of my final semester at the UT School of Information in December, and my capstone project was to create a metadata schema and standard of description for the materials portion of the Volz & Associates, Inc., Collection here at the Architecture & Planning Library and Alexander Architectural Archives.

Donated by the Austin-based historic preservation and interior design firm Volz & Associates, Inc., to the Library in 2017, the collection marks the beginning of the Library’s materials collection.  What makes the Volz Collection unique among materials collections is that it includes both historic artifacts, and sample contemporary materials to replace the historic ones.  This, along with the rest of the collection being in the Alexander Architectural Archives (be sure to read my colleagues’ blog posts about the exciting happenings in the AAA regarding this collection!), presents unique challenges and opportunities for describing materials that are not present in other materials collections.

A screenshot of the University of Houston Materials Research Collaborative online database.
A screenshot of the University of Houston Materials Research Collaborative online database.

The first part of this project involved studying other materials collections and the metadata included to describe them.  The Field Supervisor of this project, Dr. Katie Pierce Meyer, Head of Architectural Collections, recommended contacting Jen Wong at the Materials Lab at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture (UTSOA), Johanna Kasubowski at the Materials Collection at Harvard Graduate School of Design, and Mark Pompelia at the Visual + Materials Resource Center at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).  Ms. Wong at UTSOA and Ms. Kasubowski at Harvard were successfully reached.  In the course of researching materials collections, I found University of Houston’s Materials Research Collaborative (MRC), and after hearing about the MRC from Donna Kacmar, a Professor of Architecture at University of Houston who oversees the MRC, I selected the MRC as the other primary example of a materials collection for the purposes of this project.  Marybeth Tomka, Head of Collections at the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory (TARL), was also consulted on the project.  TARL could potentially serve as an example of thinking about project (e.g. the roof of a building being one project, and the interior of the same building being another project) versus site (e.g. the property or the built work).

The second part of the project was to study the Volz Collection itself, to determine where there was overlap with other materials collections and where the collection’s metadata needs differed.  Due to the historic nature of many of the materials, the collection is not only of interest to materials scientists, but also to architectural historians and historians, so the metadata about the different projects is also crucial to their understanding of the collection.  In the materials collections at other institutions studied for this project, the focus of the metadata is on the scientific and chemical metadata, which is also applicable to the Volz Collection.  The more historic and project-focused metadata for the Volz Collection is unique among materials collections.

The final schema retains some metadata elements of more conventional materials collections (so as to be recognizable to patrons who are accustomed to using materials collections) while other elements are designed to correspond with how the Alexander Architectural Archives (AAA) is organizing the analog and digital materials, including project documentation and drawings from the Volz collection.  The AAA finding aids are mostly organized by project, rather than built work.

A screenshot of UTSOA's Materials Lab database.
A screenshot of UTSOA’s Materials Lab database.

After studying the collections at Harvard, University of Houston, UTSOA, and TARL, elements from each were pulled from the collections to build a schema that works for the Volz collection.  The final schema includes terminology from the various collections, and combines the traditional metadata in materials collections (e.g. form, process, properties, etc…) with the project metadata that connects the materials collection with the Alexander Architectural Archive.  Most of the metadata is also easily transferable to Material Order, should the Architecture & Planning Library decide in the future that the database is the appropriate online point of access for the collection.  Below is the planned schema.

  • Artifact/Item
    • Material Type (Metal, Polymer, Ceramic, Natural Material, Glass, Hybrid)
      • Based on the University of Houston database’s broad categorization
    • Condition
      • Overall condition of the object
      • This is a field not present in the materials collections studied, but which is often present in archival collections
    • Composition
      • Ceramics (Concrete, Cement, Ceramic Tile, Porcelain, Clay Plaster of Paris, Terracotta, Silicon); Hybrids (Glass Fiber/Fiberglass, Engineered, Plywood, Particleboard, Oriented Strand Board, Shape Memory Alloy, Shape Memory Polymer); Metal (Steel, Aluminum, Copper, Brass, Zinc, Bronze, Iron, Tin); Natural Material (Paper, Wood, Mineral & Stone, Cotton, Resin, Leather, Grass, Silk); Polymer (Polyester, Polyvinylchloride, Polyamides, Polyethylene, Polypropylene, Polymethyl methacrylate, Polycarbonate, Cellulosics); Glass (Silica, Soda Lime Glass, Borosilicate Glass, Glass Ceramic, Lead Glass)
        • In UT’s database, this provides more detail on the material type
        • One of the major categories of description used by UT’s Materials Lab and Harvard
        • We do not have all this information for all the items at this point, but this can be added later as more students at UTSOA do work to determine the chemical composition of items in the collection
        • Applicable to Material Order
    • Form
      • Includes such descriptions as “fixture,” “flooring,” “paver,” and “trim”
      • Still determining applicable categories – this will become more fleshed out as the collection is studied
        • One of the major categories of description used by both UT’s Materials lab and Harvard
    • Dimensions
      • Length, width, height, and weight of artifact
        • This information is standard across materials collections
    • Application/Use
      • The basic function of the item
    • Date of Production (for the artifact)
      • This information is not standard in materials collections, but it is specific to the Volz Collection since it crosses a wide time span of both historic materials and contemporary, and it relates the archival parts of the collection, where dates matter and are frequently included
    • Project Metadata/Title
      • Site/Built Work
        • See project list and project numbers
      • Date of Project
        • The date when the particular project to which the artifact belongs took place
      • Geographical Location
        • The geographical location where the project took place
        • For now this will be as simple as “Austin, Texas,” but this could be a future GIS project
      • Typology
        • A basic classification of the kind of project it is
        • Still in-progress
A photograph of storage space at TARL.  Similar to UTSOA's Materials Lab, TARL includes open shelving and barcodes for each item (for inventory purposes).
A photograph of storage space at TARL. Similar to UTSOA’s Materials Lab, TARL includes open shelving and barcodes for each item (for inventory purposes).

Future issues facing the Volz & Associates, Inc., Collection include accessibility, whether or not to make the collection available via Material Order, storage, and the identification of materials.  The Architecture and Planning Library can turn to collections like the UTSOA Materials Lab, the University of Houston’s MRC, Harvard’s Materials Collection, and TARL for solutions to some of these issues.  Harvard is one of the institutions working on Material Order, a materials database that will make materials collections at Harvard, the RISD, and Parsons accessible online, and develop a new metadata standard for materials collections.  Material Order is one possible answer to the issue of accessibility.  The Materials Lab and TARL could serve as examples of circulating teaching collections, where items are checked out by students and professors at the Materials Lab, and TARL serves as a teaching collection for UT Austin archaeology students, where they can perform tests on items.  In a pilot test in the Spring of 2018, items from the Volz Collection were checked out to Senior Lecturer Fran Gale for testing in one of her architectural conservation courses.  The results were shared with the Library, and prove that this collaborative work with students at UTSOA could prove mutually beneficial – they gain experience working with materials and identification of items, and the Library can incorporate those results into the metadata for the item.  The metadata schema developed for this project is but one small part of the work to be done on the Volz Collection, but it provides the overarching framework for that work to continue.

Through researching other materials collections, it became clear that the Volz & Associates, Inc., Collection is unique for its blend of historic artifacts and contemporary building samples.  This meant that though there is overlap with the other major materials collections at Harvard, University of Houston, and UTSOA, there is also overlap with the TARL in terms of handling historic items; these differences and the need for the materials portion of the Volz Collection to correspond with the holdings in the Alexander Architectural Archive led to a blended metadata schema and standard of description that combines elements of other materials collections with the project-based organization that the Alexander Architectural Archive is following in the rest of the Volz Collection.image015

THE BROAD- An Art museum Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

More than a century ago LA was known for its freeways than its architecture; with its urban expansion directed by the automotive infrastructure. Though still a place defined by its traffic woes, LA is fast assuming the status of an architectural hub with a new centrality in Grand Avenue. Lined with Walt Disney Concert hall and MOCA (Arata Isozaki represent), The Broad and Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the Grand Avenue is now considered the cultural center of the city. This book as the name suggests, goes into the depth of The Broad right from the inception of the idea by Eli and Edythe Broad to the site selection, its cultural significance in the Grand Avenue to the engineering and design of its free-standing complex “Veil”.

The broad
The Broad’s Veiled facade

The book is ‘broad’ly divided into four sections. It begins with an extremely detailed photo essay by Iwaan Baan, with bonus photos of the storage rooms and other spaces which are inaccessible to the public.It then moves on to cover the Roundtable discussion by Eli Broad (the founder), Elizabeth Diller (Chief architect of the DS+R) Paul Goldberger (Architecture critic of Skyline) and Joanne Heyler (Director of the Broad), where they give insider information about the building.The third segment of the book discusses in depth the very nature of the Broad as an institution and how it is reflected in the building program which is further steered into a more concrete vision by the architects. This is followed by detailed plans and photographs during the construction. The book finally ends with a zoomed-out view of the urban infrastructure surrounding the art gallery with emphasis on the Grand Avenue and The Broad’s significance and relation to its neighbors.

The facade
The facade’s Oculus framing steel fabrication

 

“In case of The Broad, that understatement is deftly strategic – its abstracted column-free acre has a conceptual pedigree, or an intellectual “site-specificity”, unique among southland museums.” This “white cube” hosts in itself an intricate mechanics of art collection which “help shape how Los Angeles and California are viewed by the rest of the world.”

The Broad in the context with its neighbors on Grand avenue

Against simplification – Mark Foster Gage: Projects and Provocations

Cover photo Mark Foster Gage

New to our collection is this monograph on Mark Foster Gage and his ideologies especially “Object Oriented Ontology” and “Speculative Realism”. Gage can be called an anomaly as he started off at the University of Notre Dame learning classical architecture and turned into a leading avant-garde architect of the present day.

The book features an afterword by Peter Eisenman and divided into seven chapters that is loosely based on a particular theme. These are cut across by transcribed texts from interviews and conversations between the biggies in Architecture. I HIGHLY recommend reading the one in honor of Zaha Hadid along with Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Deborah Berke and MFG.

For people who aren’t into extensive texts and reading (meh!) the book also offers a excellent collection of 3D visualized images that gives an insight into the architect’s mind. A cursory look at them is enough for us to understand what his design philosophy is all about. “The Tower for New York’s 57thstreet with mouth like balconies on giant wings or a retail space bedecked with a hundred faceted mirror, Gage’s work at once challenges expectations of what architecture might be and as well frequently fills one with a sense of excitement.”

Tower for New York's 57th street.
Tower for New York’s 57th street.

P.S: Did I tell you he 3D printed Lady Gaga’s outfit in collaboration with Nicola Formichetti in 2011?

Lady Gaga’s dress 3D printed by Mark Foster Gage.

This book is excellent if you love visual fodder, new design philosophies or Lady Gaga.

New Books: January Edition

New books newsletter is back a second time this month! Surprisingly, both the books kind of belong to a similar category: Social Design. These books give an in-depth look into designing, especially, addressing social issues of  our times.

Design Solutions for Urban Densification by Sibylle Kramer

Design solutions coverStudies show that about 3 million people move to the cities every week! Apart from the privilege of having SoulCycle at every corner, cities provide better education, infrastructure and more importantly, culture. Therefore, getting our cities right should be the order of the day. There are two ways to do this, one is getting on to the suburban craze of “sprawl” (ugh! Boring!) or retrofitting our inner cities to suit the incoming populace. This book deals with the latter.

This essentially means that “even the smallest building gaps are closed, peripheral block buildings are complemented, small buildings are replaced by larger ones, living spaces are created by reuse, plots are divided and inner courtyards are used for construction.” If you’re good at Tetris, you will probably be good at this urban retrofitting thing. One such example is the Cordoba-Reurbano Housing building in the historical La Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. As a part of an urban recycling initiative, it adds on a succession of terraces and built residential volumes on top of a historic building.

Design Solution for Urban Densification presents 41 outstanding projects of urban redensification that illustrate the different approaches adopted by architects and planners to build for the cities today. Explore a range of amazing and surprising unconventional buildings and creative solutions across the entirety of the book with graphical plans and detailed sections and of course lots of beautiful photo spreads.


 

Social Design: Participation and Empowerment by Claudia Banz, Michael Krohn and Angeli Sachs

Social design coverSocial Design talks about designing for the society… with the society, addressing complex social issues of our times through the perspective of interdisciplinary design. It addresses 25 international projects that represent unique solutions and tackle the redesign of social systems. The projects range a wide breadth of topics from creating human scale neighborhoods in China  to sustainable weaving communities in Ethiopia. These are framed by three essays that talk about Social design in the past and present, it’s job in education/ research and the concept of plan making  in shaping socially conscious societies.

Paper emergency shelters for UNHCR Shigeru Ban. Byumba Refugee camp, Rwanda
Paper emergency shelters for UNHCR Shigeru Ban. Byumba Refugee camp, Rwanda
Antonio Scarponi's Teh Campo Libero (The innocent house) was designed for Italian organization, Libera. This mobile, self sufficient and reversible pavilion is a tool in this process.
Antonio Scarponi’s Teh Campo Libero (The innocent house) was designed for Italian organization, Libera. This mobile, self sufficient and reversible pavilion is a tool in this process.

Some of the feature projects include Fairphone, 10,000 Gardens for Africa (Slow Food Foundation), Paper emergency shelters for UNHCR by Shigeru ban among a few.

Friday Finds! The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses

Eyes of the the skin- cover“A meaningful architectural experience is not simply a series of retinal images. the ‘elements’ of architecture are not visual units or Gestalt; they are encounters, confrontations that interact with memory.”

We see an architectural marvel and the first thing we do is record it. We sketch, we take pictures, we remember how it looks. But do we feel it? Sense it? Smell it? “The inhumanity of contemporary architecture and cities can be understood as the consequence of the neglect of the body and the senses, and an imbalance in our sensory system.” This book challenges the hegemony of vision and the ocular-centrism of our generation. Pallasmaa calls it the violation of the eye, he goes to the extent of calling it the Narcissistic and Nihilistic eye.

Above: The eye of the camera, detail from the film, The man with a movie camera.  Below: Regardless of our prioritization of the eye, visual observation is often confirmed by our touch. Caravaggio, The incredulity of St.Thomas.
Above: The eye of the camera, detail from the film, The man with a movie camera.
Below: Regardless of our prioritization of the eye, visual observation is often confirmed by our touch. Caravaggio, The incredulity of St.Thomas.

As if we actually need to convince you to read this book. We are sure most of you have already read it. And if not, you are missing out on realizing architecture to its full potential. This polemic book on architectural philosophy and teaching, was first published in 1996 as an extended essay to Questions of perception: Phenomenology of Architecture written by Steven Holl, Pallasmaa, and Alberto Pérez-Gómez. The eyes of the skin is broken down into two neat essays, the first runs us through the historical development of ocular-centric paradigm in western culture, starting from the Greek civilization and its effect on the architecture today. Part two examines the function and presence of our other senses in experiencing architecture and how they could potentially bring us to building spaces that are integrated and personable.

Now imagine the picturesque ancient towns of Croatia and the busy, dense streets of Malta. Compare it to the function-first, grid-locked planning of New York or Chandigarh. Yes, there is a reason why most people choose the former for vacations. These are the spaces of intimate warmth, of participation and integration, catering to all the senses of the body; smell, taste, touch, sound and of course vision.  “The authenticity of architectural experience is grounded in the tectonic language of building and the comprehensibility of the  act of construction to the senses. We behold, touch, listen and measure the world with our entire bodily existence, and the experiential world becomes  and articulated around the centre of the body.”

Above: Le Corbusier’s proposed skyline for Buenos aires – a sketch from a lecture given in Buenos aires in 1929. Below: The hill town of Casares in southern Spain.
Above: Le Corbusier’s proposed skyline for Buenos aires – a sketch from a lecture given in Buenos aires in 1929.
Below: The hill town of Casares in southern Spain.

We highly recommend it if you just started getting into the whole architectural philosophy readings. It is a particularly interesting book to start off with and debate over as well as most don’t really accept this idea of Pallasmaa’s. A good book to get some really romanticized quotes about architecture and planning for your class essays.

New Books: A newsletter

Meeting nature Halfway: Architecture interfaced between Technology and environment by Multiple Authors

Meeting nature halfway cover
“Architecture, as design of artifacts, buildings, landscapes, cities and organizations, is the central battlefield where new relationship to nature is established”

New in our stacks is this little book on sustainability focusing on research of synthetic ecosystem particular to the Alpine region of Innsbruck. It is written by various trailblazers in the field of experimental architecture and showcases a few of their breakthrough projects. All the projects covered are linked back to the Institute for Experimental Architecture of University of Innsbruck and gives an overview of their design and research culture.

Preparation of the FrAgility show, an agile robotic fabrication methods with fragile materiality.
Preparation of the FrAgility show, an agile robotic fabrication methods with fragile materiality.

“The book shows different approaches united through a shared interest in developing a new relationship between architecture and nature. “

It is cleverly classified into three categories based on the classes of camera lenses. Wide angles, to give an inclusive and expansive view of the research. Portrait, to highlight and isolate the subjects from potential noisy background. Lastly, Macro lenses, to focus on smaller details or prototypes.  From adaptive self-regulatory ecologies that build based on collective interaction between buildings, to self crystallising ice structures, the future of architecture 2.0 is imagined and reimagined throughout the book.

 

In Statu Quo: Structures of Negotiation edited by Ifat Finkelman, Deborah Pinto Fdeda, Oren Sagiv, Tania Coen Uzzielli.

 In statu quo cover“The combination of historical events, myths and traditions has created a multiplicity of conflicts between competing religions, communities and affiliations regarding the ownership and rights of use of places and monuments. In turn these conflicts have led to the formation of an extraordinary concentration of intricate spaces, fragmented and stratified both historically and physically”

Love reading about Architecture, religion and politics? Then this is a book for you! Published as a part of the Israeli Pavilion at the 16thAnnual Biennale in Venice, the book traces the complex and delicate mechanism of co-existence, established in the 19thcentury, called the Status Quo. This has been described by chronicling five Holy sites situated in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron. The five featured sites being, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall Plaza, Ibrahimi Mosque, Rachel’s Tomb and Mugrabhi Ascent.

Panoramic view of the Western Wall, the Temple Mount with mosques of Omar and Al Aqsa and Mt. Scopus int he background on Jerusalem day, Old City, Jerusalem, 1971.
Panoramic view of the Western Wall, the Temple Mount with mosques of Omar and Al Aqsa and Mt. Scopus int he background on Jerusalem day, Old City, Jerusalem, 1971.

Rife with pictures, sketches and newspaper articles, the book sets the mood by detailing their history, rise of religious conflicts, controversy and the resulting ad hoc political solutions that redefined these spaces. More importantly the reading allows us to look at architecture beyond its order, form, immutability it usually stands for, to making it a palimpsest charged with the status of “permanent temporariness”

 

 

Art Deco Chicago: Designing Modern America edited by Robert Bruegmann

 Art Deco: “Works that Art Deco Coverembrace naturalistic, geometric or abstract surface decoration, and those that have no surface decoration but whose forms are themselves decorative”

What does Metropolis and The Great Gatsby have in common? The stunning portrayal of visual style during the time, Art Deco. As the name suggests the book consists of architectural and design entries, each belonging to a broad current of Art Deco style that originated in the early 20thcentury focusing in the Chicago area. The book consists of carefully curated pictures and illustrations of architecture, industrial, fashion, product and graphic designs that embraced Art Deco expression. The book explores architects and designers beyond Sullivan, Wright and Mies to underdogs like interior designers Marion Gheen, Rue Carpenter and forgotten Industrial designer John Bollenbacher.

The exuberant lobby decorations at One North LaSalle embody classic Art Deco style. Architects: Vitzhum and Burns.
The exuberant lobby decorations at One North LaSalle embody classic Art Deco style. 

The heart of the book consists of 101 “Key Designs” commissioned, designed, distributed in the Chicago region between 1910 to 1950, the peak of Art deco movement. It also includes five thematic essays detailing the development and particular character of Art Deco in Chicago, to the way Chicagoans rediscovered the work that we now call Art Deco.

New Books: The Art of Bar Design

Art of Bar Design_CoverIn this week’s batch of new recruits to the collection is this gem of a book, The Art of Bar Design, featuring a forward by  Natali Canas del Pozo and stunning photographs of each of the highlighted bars.  The book identifies four types of bars and the distinct styles within each category: cocktail bars, restaurant bars, nightclubs, and breweries and wine bars.

In the forward, Canas del Pozo writes about how “bars have historically been (even more so than The Art of Bar Design_The Abysschurches) the main interior spaces for people to gather and meet,” and bars must be physically inviting and be comfortable to people who are there for a variety of reasons (pg. 004).  The bars discussed in the book are located all over the world, from Hong Kong to Munich to Seattle.  There is a brief analysis written about each bar, but mostly Canas del Pozo lets the pictures have the final word.

Starting with cocktail bars, comfort and a sense of intimacy seem to be crucial to a good bar design.  It’s comfortable, where people can sit for hours during an evening out, but the finishes are also key.  The location is also key in designing some of those finishes, as in the case of the Blue Wave Cocktail Bar in Barcelona, which sits on the edge of the water in Barcelona’s port, and the backsplash behind the bar appropriately mimics seashells.  Similarly, restaurant bars are The Art of Bar Design_Opheliadesigned to have a welcoming warmth to them that blends in with the rest of the restaurant.  Everything here goes along with the meal experience, rather than the bar being the center of everything as in cocktail bars and nightclubs.  Some of the most opulent bars are at nightclubs. where the bar is frequently a statement piece that occupies much of a room.  One example in particular stands out: Ophelia in Hong Kong, where the decor features peacock feathers.  The nightclub as a whole is a spectacle and the photographs are stunning.  Finally, breweries and wine bars are places where the alcohol itself is highlighted.  The atmosphere is frequently laid back and epitomizes the culture of the brewery or winery.  Patrons are there purely to enjoy and sample the drinks, rather than socialize in the same way as at a nightclub.  And the bars at breweries and wine bars reflect that through their focus on the process of brewing and making wine (e.g. through display of wine barrels and the ability to see the brewery from the tap room).

This is a really interesting look at spaces that people often do not consider when out at restaurants and bars.  Depending on the purpose of the space, the location and size of the bar varies.  The bar is the heart of a nightclub and a cocktail bar, where people often go to socialize, whether with friends or to meet new people, and the bar must be reflective of that.  While at a restaurant or a brewery, the bar itself is an important part of the eating and drinking experience, but one that is not at the heart of the experience.  All the same, the design of the bar says a lot about the business, its culture, its audience, its taste, and what people do while there.  So next time you go out, whether to a club or a bar or a restaurant, notice how the bar is designed.  How well does it fit with the rest of the business?  Where is it located within the space, is it at the center of all with comfortable stools, or is it an aside where there is only space to stand?  What are the finishes like?  What kind of statement does it make about the space and the people who work and frequent there?  You’ll probably never look at a bar quite the same way again.

Southern Architect and Building News Project Update

Hello, People of the Blogosphere!  We’ve been very busy working on a number of projects this summer, one of which has been the Southern Architect and Building News digitization project.

Part of what’s so neat about this project is that we get to collaborate with other wonderful folks around the UT Libraries.  The downside of this is that it means we have to coordinate and make decisions together about the workflow, standards, and overall goals.  This does make it take a bit longer than if all the work were happening in-house here at the Library.

IMG_5243
Picking up digitized volumes of SABN!

So far, we have sent several batches of about 10 volumes over to our friends in Digitization Services to be scanned and ingested into the Data Asset Management System (DAMS).  They have input some metadata for us, but part of what we have to decide here at the Library is what our metadata schema will look like.  There is a lot of information we could include in our metadata, so we have to make some choices about what will be most meaningful to our end users and how much information it is realistic to enter for each item.

IMG_5257
Packed to go to PCL!

The last batch of Southern Architect has been sent to PCL to be digitized, which is pretty exciting!  Once this is finished we will pick them up and they will join the rest of Southern Architect to await metadata entry!  Currently all the already digitized copies of Southern Architect are back at the Library, so once the paged content issues with the DAMS are fixed, we should be ready to go all-in on metadata!   

We’re slowly working our way through some of the issues with the DAMS.  This project is for the long haul, so it is going to take some time to get Southern Architect and Building News digitized and available online.  But, we also known what a special publication it is and how fascinating it is and its value to architectural history!  We can’t wait to keep working to make sure every one can see for themselves what makes Southern Architect so special and important!

New Books: Constructing the Patriarchal City

Constructing the Patriarchal CityOne of our exciting New Books this week is Constructing the Patriarchal City: Gender and the Built Environments of London, Dublin, Toronto, and Chicago, 1870s into the 1940s by Maureen A. Flanagan.  Bringing together societal gender norms and architecture, Flanagan explores how gender dynamics influenced the primarily male-built environments in four cities, London, Dublin, Toronto, and Chicago.  The book examines the contrast between the more feminine private sphere and the male public, and how men made intentional efforts to design public spaces to limit women’s ability to maneuver outside the home.

Split into two parts, Flanagan uses Part I to cover the history of city planning and gender boundaries and norms.  Importantly, for much of history, women were considered the property of their fathers or husbands, and thus could not own property in their own right.  Yet, slowly, a “new urban single woman [emerged]: working in a factory by day, spending her money by night, unescorted and dancing with unfamiliar men” (pg. 47).  But there were also men who were becoming more mobile, and less attached to traditional views of masculinity, the “hardworking male who supported his family and obeyed the law” (pg. 47).  Tracking such shifts in society as well as the resulting changes in the architecture in London, Dublin, Toronto, or Chicago.  Housing was one of the major areas where gender dynamics were at play.  In one interesting example, a woman named Octavia Hill from London devoted her time to improving housing conditions in the city, focusing “on how a building was used by its residents and how people lived in the city, rather than how a building was designed, [which] clashed with the ideas of men building the model tenements” (pg. 33).  So, Flanagan shows how women contributed to architecture, even if many of those ideas were never implemented by the men who actually designed cities.

In Part II, Flanagan does in-depth case studies of the main gender-driven divides in London, Dublin, Toronto, and Chicago.  For example, in London, public toilets were a point of conflict, because “vestries had furnished public toilets for men, but most of them refused to do so for women,” or women had to pay fees for entering the facilities (pg. 124).  There was fierce opposition to women’s public toilets because it “would symbolize women’s right to be wherever, and whenever, they wanted in the city…[and] expressions against that…were gendered notions of women’s appropriate behavior,” and appropriate behavior did not include freedom in public spaces (pg. 125).  Even something as fundamental to human function as restrooms were used to control women’s movements around London.  Similar stories are included in the other case studies, showing how such intentional decisions by men were influenced by and reinforced gender stereotypes to ensure that women remained primarily in the private sphere.  Flanagan concludes that “the built environments of London, Dublin, Toronto, and Chicago have been historically and continuously reconstructed to exclude or obstruct women from equal movement into and through the city’s public spaces and to contain them as much as possible in the private place of the home” (pg. 262).  She also encourages architects, urban planners, politicians, and others involved in urban planning processes to acknowledge these patriarchal spaces and work to better include women’s voices in the efforts to reshape and adapt cities to contemporary needs.

For as long as the profession has existed, architecture has been one of the “good ole’ boy” clubs.  What is unique about Flanagan’s Constructing the Patriarchal City is that she shows how this ever-persistent patriarchy has been written into the built world, too.  Not only have women in the field of architecture often been granted limited opportunities for input (if any at all), but by shutting them out of the designing of cities, urban spaces are designed almost exclusively by and for males rather than as inclusive spaces.  In recent years, architecture and related professions have made an effort to increase their diversity, a worthy ambition, especially in light of Flanagan’s analysis of just how pervasive the patriarchy is in architecture.  When women, and other groups that have been shut out of the city planning process, are given the opportunity to influence architecture and planning, patriarchal cities become more navigable and inclusive to all.

New Books: Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular?

Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular?Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular?  New to our humble little abode this week is Philip Steadman’s Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular?  And Other Essays on Geometry and Architecture.  Bringing together “a dozen of Philip Steadman’s essays and papers on the geometry of architectural and urban form, written over the last 12 years…[with] two larger themes: a morphological approach to the history of architecture, and studies of possibility in built form” (pg. i).  Steadman explores a number of different topics in the book, including different types of buildings (e.g. penitentiary, department store buildings, multi-story garages), the role of energy and urbanism in the built form, mapping the built world, and architectural theory.  For our purposes, the most interesting question posed in the book, one which is discussed in many architecture classes at UT’s School of Architecture, is “why are most buildings rectangular?”  It is a simple enough question with a complicated answer.

At the beginning of this titular essay, Steadman explains that what he means by asking “why are most buildings rectangular” is “why is the geometry of the majority of buildings predominantly rectangular?” (pg. 3-4).  He also asks why buildings are vertical, reasoning that a good deal of this “has much to do with the force of gravity…[since] floors are flat so that we, and pieces of furniture, can stand easily on them” (pg. 4).  Steadman lists three main hypotheses that he received from his mathematician and architect colleagues as to why buildings tend to be rectangular: the first suggests that architectural instruments “make it easier to draw rectangles than other shapes,” and the same is true of more ancient tools, though Steadman notes that buildings were rectangular even before these tools were invented, so the explanation is inadequate; the second theory is that the answer lies in “western mathematical conceptions of three-dimensional space – with the geometry of Euclid, and with the superimposition onto mental space of the orthogonal coordinate systems of Descartes,” but again, Steadman questions “what about all those rectangular buildings produced in non-western cultures…who had absolutely no knowledge of western geometrical theory?”; and the final theory argues that “the cause is to be found yet deeper still in our psychology, and has to do with the way in which we conceptualize space in relation to the layout, mental image and functioning of our own bodies” and our creation of two axes of vision, the same way our eyes, legs, arms, and ears have “bilateral symmetry” (pg. 5).  Steadman calls this last hypothesis “very hypothetical,” but acknowledges that, if true, it would explain the human preference for rectangular buildings throughout time and space, unlike the other two (pg. 6).

Steadman next explores examples of non-rectangular architecture, including Mongolian yurts, Mandan earth lodges, and Neolithic Japanese shelters.  Additionally, many religious structures are not wholly rectangular, but feature some kind of circular plan in the midst of it, or it comes to the shape of a cross.  Similarly, ships are not rectangular.  Steadman notes that the idea of buildings as being rectangular is shifting, frequently referring to Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, describing it as more “free-form.”  But, Steadman concludes, in “certain classically planned buildings with many rectangular rooms…there can be spaces deep in the interior, such as central halls, whose plans are circular, polygonal or elliptical” (pg. 9).  So even though spaces blend different geometric shapes, it often comes out to the same thing: a rectangle.  Steadman also examines the impact of “packing,” where shapes are stacked together, like squares among rectangles or octagons.  By considering the geometry of these patterns, Steadman argues that the flexibility of the rectangle as a shape in fitting with other shapes is likely part of why it is a fundamental part of architecture.

Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular? concludes with Steadman pondering why homes transitioned from primarily circular one-room spaces to rectangles.  He notes the easy construction of circular homes and their self-supporting nature as assets.  But, Steadman argues, ” with increasing wealth there would be a change, at some point in time, from single-room to multi-room houses,” making the circular home less practical (pg. 17).  Though rectangular structures make the tight packing of spaces efficient and easy (perfect for more urban settings), Steadman predicts that more architects will drift away from rectangularity.  To them, “the rectangular discipline imposed by the necessary constraints of the close packing of rooms…to be an irksome prison, and they try to escape from it” (pg. 17).  Instead, many architects lend their talents to designing spaces that can be treated more creatively, more “sculpturally,” allowing them to play more with geometry than they could otherwise (pg. 17).

Steadman’s answer to “why are most buildings rectangular” is both philosophical and mathematical.  He questions how much of it has to do with human So, is rectangularity such a bad thing?  Is it good?  Or is it just tradition?  Perhaps modern architecture is moving away from rectangularity towards a more geometrically open style.  And yet blending and playing with geometric shapes is nothing new: ancient churches feature ovals and octagons as well as rectangles, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello features octagons and triangles within its rectangular frame.  But architects are challenging rectangularity in structures in new ways and adapting to new technologies and societal needs.  As the built world continues to expand and change, we can expect to see architects having more fun with geometry than ever before.