Tag Archives: architectural history

“Inside Modern Texas” Opens This Thursday!

A new exhibit, “Inside Modern Texas: The Case for Preserving Interiors,” opens April 10th at 6 pm at The University of Texas at Austin’s Architecture & Planning Library.

“Inside Modern Texas” offers insight on interior design during the period 1945 to 1975, touching upon the development of the profession and the issues faced today in historic preservation. Texas interiors from this period serve as case studies to illustrate emerging ideas in design and practice.

The exhibit includes photographs, original drawings and printed materials from the Alexander Architectural Archive and the Architecture and Planning Library. Featured architects and interior designers include George L. Dahl, Harwell Hamilton Harris, Karl Kamrath, Howard R. Meyer and John Astin Perkins.

Emily Ardoin, a graduate student in the School of Architecture’s Historic Preservation program, curated the exhibit through a new program developed with the School of Architecture.  Head Librarian Beth Dodd hopes that collaborations such as this will provide graduate students with more opportunities to use the archives to produce new scholarship.

“We are always looking for ways to enhance the student experience, and curating an exhibit is an incredibly rigorous process that demands thorough research, careful selection and interpretation of materials, and exhibit design,” says Dodd.  “The endowment created by the late Professor Blake Alexander now enables us to offer our students this funded internship.”

Mid-twentieth-century buildings are gaining widespread acceptance as candidates for historic preservation, but few retain their original modern interiors. Because they are so closely connected to human activity, interiors can be especially important conveyors of historic significance, but they are highly vulnerable to changing tastes and functional requirements. The perceived impermanent nature of interior design components, and historic preservation legislation which often focuses on building exteriors, further complicates preservation efforts.

Repositories such as the Alexander Architectural Archive provide opportunities to study the history of design. “Because interiors are so vulnerable to change, teaching and research rely on libraries and archives for historic documentation,” notes Dodd.  “In this first exhibit, Emily had to dig deep to discover material in the collections of architects who were only starting to recognize interior design as a distinct profession.”

The exhibition will be on display in the Architecture and Planning Library reading room in Battle Hall through September, and is free and open to the public. The opening reception will be held April 10 at 6:00 p.m. in conjunction with the Society of Architectural Historians 2014 Annual Conference.

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.


Karl Kamrath’s Stamp Left on Books Throughout the Library (Literally)

Throughout the past few weeks, I’ve been on a search for all 176 of Karl Kamrath’s books from the collection his children donated to the Architecture & Planning Library, with the goal to add a provenance note to each item’s record in the catalog (so all of you checking out books can know that it belonged to an influential architect!). At first, the project seemed just like just another task to complete – but it’s become so much more.

It’s amazing how much you can learn about an architect’s primary influences through the books he or she possessed. A hearty library is like a trophy for architects, and books are indispensable tools for practice. Karl Kamrath was immensely influenced by his friend Frank Lloyd Wright, and his dedication to creating organic modern architecture is what made him such a key player in Texas modern architectural history.

A little background: Karl Kamrath grew up in Austin and received his Bachelor of Architecture from The University of Texas in 1934. Upon graduating, he moved to Chicago, where he worked for Pereira and Pereira, the Interior Studios of Marshall Field and Co., and the Architectural Decorating Company. In 1937, he and another graduate of The University of Texas, Frederick James MacKie Jr., opened their own architectural firm, MacKie and Kamrath in Houston. MacKie and Kamrath were among the first Houston architects to follow a modernist approach to design for which they received national recognition.

Shortly after his 1946 return from a stint as a captain in the Army Corps of Engineers, Kamrath met Wright and immediately became an advocate of Wright’s Usonian architecture style. Kamrath became a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1939 and was elected to fellowship in the institute in 1955, and at various times served in an adjunct capacity at the University of Oklahoma, The University of Texas, Texas A&M University and the University of Oregon. He was also a founder and served on the board of the Contemporary Arts Museum from 1948 to 1952.

The fact that books owned by successful architects are circulating every day is a phenomenal asset of the Architecture & Planning Library. Other great collections include those of William Storrer, another Frank Lloyd Wright scholar, and Drury Blakeley Alexander, the namesake of the Alexander Architectural Archive, to name a few. I may be a little biased, but Karl Kamrath’s collection might be my favorite, mainly because of the diversity of publications and his signature ‘stamp’ that is found within the covers of most of his books.

Here are few that I’ve come across:

Perhaps my personal favorite, Kamrath drew his logo directly within Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature red box, found on most publications documenting his work. It’s clear just how influential Wright was on Kamrath.
Kamrath’s stamp can be found on a number of pages in some of his books. I thought this placement was especially unique.
Though faint, a raised stamp often accompanies many of Kamrath’s books with his logo, name, and FAIA association.
In addition to books with Kamrath’s personal stamp, many can be found with the joint MacKie and Kamrath firm logo.

Stamps aren’t the only thing you’ll find within the books of former owners. Notes or correspondence between friends and other practitioners is fairly common, and sometimes can leave you star struck.

Yep, that’s THE Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright! This was taped on the back cover of The Grady Gammage Auditorium, call number NA 737 W7 A4 1964, within special collections.

Want to see some of these stamps and inscriptions for yourself? Here are a few that are circulating in the general collection:

Writings on Wright, Call Number NA 737 W7 W76, Copy 2
Frank Lloyd Wright: An Annotated Bibliography, Call Number NA 737 W7 S84, Copy 2
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Masters of World Architecture Series, Call Number NA 1088 M65 D7, Copy 4

The next time you check out a library book, keep an eye out for any markings on the front cover or amidst the pages; you might find a trace of its previous ownership. There’s hidden gems all over this library – it’s like a treasure hunt!

In addition to an extensive library with books in the general collection, special collections, and storage, The Alexander Architectural Archive possesses an incredible archival collection dedicated to the work of Karl Kamrath and the MacKie and Kamrath firm, including over 940 drawings, 530 black and white photographic prints, and even drafting tools. I’m a total sucker for hand drafted architectural renderings, and Kamrath produced some of the most beautiful that I’ve seen! If you have serious interest in viewing this collection, make an appointment with Nancy Sparrow to take a peak.

Why Digital Research Matters: An Insight into Open Access

When I arrived at work on Monday, I performed tasks as usual, including monitoring our Twitter feed to promote any articles that were pertinent to the clientele that we serve here at the Architecture & Planning Library. However, with the commencement of Open Access Week 2013, I was particularly searching for commentary that reflected the importance of open access in research. That’s why when my eyes skimmed over the following 140-character headline, I couldn’t click the associated link fast enough:

Hours of research went into this one — UT is naming more buildings after donors, less after faculty than ever before: http://bit.ly/1azwbsh

The above is a feature by The Daily Texan‘s Bobby Blanchard, and one that was immediately captivating, largely because of its relevance to architecture as a viable tool for marketing and promotion.

Though the topic is certainly contentious, Bobby’s article highlights just how much information can be extracted from sources that are openly accessible to the public. I briefly messaged Bobby to see where he obtained most of his information, and he referred to the Texas Exes website and subsets of the University of Texas at Austin site. He also checked out a book from PCL – Brick by Golden Brick by Margaret C. Berry (also available in our Reference Collection here at the Architecture & Planning Library) – to piece each building together into a cohesive collection. It’s incredible that the digital connectivity in our world – a connectivity that is almost passive because of its prolific nature – can give us the ability to gather a conclusive set of information and, in turn, create a new set of data that becomes readily accessible as well.

A screen grab from Bobby’s article shows how his research was translated into a visual form of communication.

Though most of Bobby’s digital resources were not scholarly publications on an open access platform, his findings give insight into how digitally accessible information has the potential to be monumentally influential in the field of research. Bobby’s article could easily serve as an excellent base for an intensive research venture focused on how philanthropy affects college campuses across the nation, and lead into comparative studies between public and private institutions. The ability for this information to be presented in an online article that can be accessed with the click of a mouse across the world is a staggering thought, a modern-day ability that would have only existed in a dream world no more than a few decades ago.

I firmly believe that the library in its most historic form will never become obsolete. And I fully recognize the inherent credibility issues with open-access platforms, which are displayed and discussed in another article by The Daily Texan. However, the overarching goal of open access research – “the practice of providing unrestricted access via the Internet to peer-reviewed scholarly research” (via Wikipedia) – is one that keeps up with our fast-paced, time-restrictive, and increasingly digital world. With Bobby’s article as a student example, information that’s a click away has the potential to spur research that affects myriad disciplines across the world.

You can access Bobby’s original article here.
If you’re a Twitter-a-holic like the rest of us, you can follow Bobby at @bobbycblanchard and The Daily Texan at @thedailytexan. 

The University of Texas Libraries are only halfway through their week-long celebration of Open Access! Find out which campus events you can still attend here.

Interested in learning more about the history of the UT campus? Titles with content similar to Brick by Golden Brick include The Texas Book, The Texas Book Two, and The University of Texas at Austin: An Architectural Tour.

Treasures from the Weinreb Architectural Collection

In 1968, a proxy working on behalf of the University of Texas Libraries walked into book dealer Ben Weinreb’s London shop and purchased his entire stock. There was no catalog and many copies existed in duplicate or bulk. In 1970, a visitor to the university noted that these materials were still in boxes, but eventually over 50,000 books, journals, drawings and papers were assumed into the architectural book collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center where many volumes remain available to scholars and independent researchers.

In the late 1980s, HRC, University of Texas Libraries and Architecture and Planning Library staff began discussing the possible transfer of Weinreb duplicates from the HRC to the Architecture and Planning Library’s special collections. This would lead to the infusion of over 5,900 of what Weinreb felt “were ordinary working books of value for the information they contained rather than their antiquity, rarity, or fine printing into the Architecture and Planning Library’s collection, increasing holdings by 15%.

Unusual among the architect and educator libraries stored in the Architecture and Planning Library special collections, the Weinreb Architectural Collection expresses no discrete professional or academic vision. Rather, Weinreb, who has been described as an “incorrigible buyer of bulk,” was an accidental architectural enthusiast whose “restless ambition to fortify [himself] with [a warehouse] full of stock” eventuated the assembly of both rare and ubiquitous volumes on architecture in English, Dutch, French, German and Italian. These materials address a range of topics including hospital and asylum architecture, the history of interior design, ornament, plumbing, metalwork and design theory. In addition, several monographs for great residential palaces complement other such folios held in special collections.

Stay tuned for more from the Weinreb Architectural Collection!



Le Premier Tome de l’Architecture de Philibert de l’Orme

de l’Orme, Philibert. Le premier tome de l’architecture de Philibert de l’Orme. Paris: Fédéric Morel, 1568.

Collection: Paul Philippe Cret Library

The first of two planned volumes on architecture, Philibert de l’Orme’s Le premier tome de l’architecture celebrates the presence of a tradition in building and design that is specifically French. While de l’Orme acknowledges the influence of antiquity in contemporary French architecture, he deconstructs its contributions—specifically its long canonized orders—in an effort to demonstrate the French innovation of a design expression distinct from Italian idioms. To that end, the book examines the basic geometry, spaces and architectural elements that might combine in a building, establishing a somewhat prescriptive design and construction methodology. In addition, de l’Orme outlines basic approaches to certain professional considerations (e.g. how to determine building cost, the type of character employees should possess, where to discover the best materials, etc.) uniting profession, process and product in the domain of architecture.


Library of Congress call number: NA 2515 D4 1568



I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura

Palladio, Andrea. I quattro libri dell’architettura. Venice: D. de’Franceschi, 1570.

Collection: Paul Philippe Cret Library

Published in four volumes beginning in 1570, I quattro libri dell’architettura is a treatise on architecture that outlines a systematic approach to building design and construction. This watershed tome, penned by Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), is exemplary of the Renaissance preoccupation with antiquity, drawing heavily from extant Roman architecture and Vitruvius’ De Architectura to establish nine sets of rules that would guide design and construction. In the four books, Palladio addresses rules for construction and/or design according to type of architectural object and the role of that object in the system that would comprise the building whole. These objects serve to organize the text, with walls, ceilings, stairs, columns, doors, windows, frames, roofs and details receiving direct treatment as the architect prescribes appropriate material, function and style for each.

Library of Congress call number: NA 2515 P25 1570

Les Dix Livres d’Architecture de Vitruve

Vitruvius. Les dix livres d’architecture de Vitruve. Paris: J. B. Coignard, 1684.

Collection: Paul Philippe Cret Library

In 1684, French anatomist and architect Claude Perrault published a corrected edition of his 1673 translation of Vitruvius’ De Architecture, a fragmented copy of which resides in the library of Paul Philippe Cret. This second edition deviates only slightly from the original publication, functioning to amend minor errors and provide augmented documentation of the ideals established by Vitruvius in his ten books. More importantly, this volume reaffirms a preoccupation with codifying an historicizing mode of architectural expression. Yet, while Perrault, whose design for the Louvre represents a rigorous transcription of 16th century classicism, exhibits a clear reverence for his Roman forebear, he also attempts to locate the trajectory of French architecture within the classical tradition. To that end, Perrault assumes Vitruvius into a specifically French discourse on architecture, constructing an explicitly French text that largely eschews the use of Latin or Italicizing verbiage and improves upon the copyists’ attempts to assign exemplary renderings to passages within the text. In this manner, Perrault establishes French classicism as a mode of architectural representation that is at once historicizing and nationalist.

Library of Congress call number: NA 2517 V85 1684