random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

maps links

this is just a set of links i thought i’d post—some of them are well known resources, a few have been flying under the radar, and some of them just came to my attention the last couple of weeks (warning: they are all over the place).

if you love architecture history and you love maps, this is an excellent resource: mmj and prakash’s global history of architecture’s wiley link. click to download a google earth file which contains most of the sites in the book. warning: some sites were located when satellite images were blurry, and have slightly moved. still, pretty awesome. for more historical maps, see here, and go here for a great resource on the history of maps.

what? you call yourself a map fan and don’t know about david rumsey’s historical map collection? shame on you! my favorite is this map of st. petersburg from 1753. the library of congress also a good map collections page. more maps? here’s mit’s recommendations (overlap).

open street map is an open source map that in many instances is more complete than google—although i have to admit i love google maps. for a cool twist, you can look at the names without the maps in damon zucconi’s fata morgana. more interactive goodness is coming by way of polymaps, which looks fantastic—although i need more web expertise to play with them.

i don’t necessarily agree with the whole list but here are ten maps that may or may not have changed the world all that much. if you’re feeling a bit postcolonialist, go ahead and look at some upside down maps. and for something completely different, here are frank jacobs’s strange maps.

maps for the fellow archinerd: openbuildings recently launched so it is on baby stage, but looks very promising. other existing architectural databases that have been geotagging their sites in hopes of offering something similar soon. there’s also mimoa, more europe-based, and the archi-tourist, which is a wiki and also has more links. 

if you want some reading, bruno latour likes maps… and kazys does too (both suffer from benjamitis, though, but who am i to judge?). if you want to go big picture, try nato thompson’s experimental geographies, although i should confess i haven’t read it yet. other recommendations i can actually back up:

louis marin, “the city in its map and portrait,” in on representation (stanford: stanford university press 2001)

j.b. harley, “maps, knowledge, and power,” in denis cosgrove, the iconography of landscape (cambridge: cambridge university press, 1988).

jorge luis borges on maps (you knew it was coming): del rigor en la ciencia

finally, if you’re tired of maps, go look at the earth itself—great nasa footage

ps. we make money not art’s book review on the map as art, contemporary artists explore cartography by katharine harmon


Filed under: ., maps,

on 1790

Filed under: ., kant,

on towers and bases

in looking for images of som’s banco de bogota, i ran into this nice set of images of early skyscrapers in bogota, colombia, both finished and during construction (apparently the original source is not working).

so what i originally meant to post was this comparison between som’s lever house (1952) and one of its lesser-known siblings, the banco de bogota (1958-1963), the product of a collaboration between som, lanzetta pinzon, and martinez cardenas (curiously, the banco de bogota has a slightly more recent building also by som according to wikipedia).

more interesting than the similarities between these buildings are their differences: note the taller base in bogota, and the covered ‘soportal’ or covered walkway configuration typical of south american cities (a distant relative of the parisian arcades). through small differences, these buildings show us attention was paid to their specific urban sites.

in bogota, som gives the base a taller ground floor and adds three floors on top, in a street that at the time did not have many tall buildings. hence the base tries to relate to its surroundings before turning into the tower. however, it still seems to be too tall to work efficiently as a soportal, that is, as a cover from sun and rain: compare with the soportal of the neighboring building. in contrast, lever’s base is lower both in total height and in sidewalk-coverage height, but the atrium inside loosens the edge of the sidewalk, so that the lower ceiling is overextended horizontally.

despite their problems, both buildings show that som was trying to address the problem of the urban nature of towers, rather than isolating them in the middle of deserted space… something some might argue mies did across the street. but as we know the seagram works precisely as an exception, not as a rule, since the plaza gets its well-defined edges thanks to its neighbors. note also that while the lever tower is perpendicular to park ave., creating slivers of space in the tight nyc landscape, the banco de bogota tower is parallel to the main avenue, playing up the reverse condition of emptiness. so actually both buildings are trying to address their different site conditions, despite their superficial similarities.

in addition to som’s adventures in south america, i found some very nice images of colombian 1960s and 70s buildings in construction, particularly the banco ganadero from 1972-3 (hernando vargar rubiano):

those pointy floor plates look pretty nice, but you can see how they are being covered up in the lower floors… doesn’t look very promising. in contrast, the naked floor plates remind me of mies’s famous skyscraper project (the pointy one, not the curvy one, just to be formally consistent).the core configuration is promising but seems ruined by the excessive paneling. finished images and plans can be found here, further linking it to the mies project.

note, however, the ground floor plan, where the ‘figure’ pointy plan intersects to the back of the lot with a reverse ground condition that fills in to the edges of the lot. this is perhaps what marina waisman referred to when she said we have no need for colin rowe’s collage city in south america, as we already have an existing collage condition. in this case, both figure and ground.

additionally, the interesting thing about 60s and 70s skyscrapers in south america is that they were built in very dense downtowns, and were forced to deal with smaller, but very regular grids. the 60s were also the decade concrete hit south america along with oil money, thus changing the landscape of downtowns across the continent. more on that later, maybe.

Filed under: ., cities,

zapotec ball court

ball court in monte alban

zapotec ball court at monte alban, oaxaca, mexico. 450-500 ce

3d laser scan action:


Filed under: ., ruins, stadiums,

on inclusiveness

looking at architecture journals from the 1930s, i was recently struck by how important the ‘letters to the editor’ section was. getting a letter published by the journal was a way of participating in the conversation, and the only requirement was that your letter be interesting and relevant—according to the standards of each journal of course.

compare with two recent pieces of architecture news that have recently generated conversation in the blogosphere [i am annoyed by this word but i can’t explain why and can’t think of an alternative]: bruce nussbaum’s piece on design imperialism [see design observer’s digest of the conversation here] and vanity fair’s world architecture survey, countered by architect magazine’s lance hosey’s g-list survey [green, get it?], countered by christopher hawthorne’s critique of the critique.

what interests me here is not the content of these conversations, but the fact that they can take place in the first place. the most common critique of blogs is usually their immediateness—posts are unstudied, un-researched, off-the-cuff observations. well, perhaps some of them are, but it’s worth clarifying that blogs come in all shapes and sizes. while some are as ephemeral as a shallow vanity piece on a flavor-of-the-month architect, others allow conversations like the ones above to take place. furthermore, these are only two very high-profile examples of some very popular media sites—fast company and vanity fair are hardly ‘blogs.’ in this sense a much better example of cross-archi-blog dialogue is the excellent mammoth book club [confession: i haven’t participated because i haven’t read the book]. but in all cases, the advantage is the open nature of conversation. not only can i choose to comment on any of these conversations, i can also comment with a link to a longer blog post. i can, as it where, include myself into the conversation. who knows, if my post is particularly insightful someone might respond [comment moderation filters out the chatter that deters dialogue in forum discussions].

what does this mean for architecture critique? a wider net is cast for voices from different parts of the globe, for information to be shared, but most importantly, for a share in the conversation. although i’m not being naive about the great disadvantages large areas of the world still have in terms of access to bandwidth, web conversations do have a greater reach than paper journals, which ultimately are prohibitively expensive outside of a certain range, and are still limited by print schedules. it is the web’s openness to dialogue that i find ultimately the most exciting opportunity for architecture. as opposed to a themed journal, where authors do not read each others submissions until the release, blog conversations can grow and change: they can be immediate, but they can also last, fall asleep for a while, and wake up again—sometimes even years later.

finally, and regarding inclusiveness: the lamentations for the loss of print often forget the exclusionary nature of material objects [i mean, i thought we’d all read benjamin by now—given how many complain about his work of art text being over-read, i’m amazed at how many people seem to plain not get it]. the materiality of objects comes with a high price tag: i don’t care if your journal is free there, i will not be able to read it here. that is great for you, but your conversation will remain local, or regional, or limited to the global few who can afford you—it’s your loss. the nostalgia for objects ignores their exclusive nature. the digital does not have such limitations. people who can afford to, can keep lamenting the waning of objects. the rest of us will download as much information as we can.

Filed under: ., rant,

i tweet here

i flickr here