Saturday, December 31, 2016

Race and Racism


Lord Ganesha getting his groove on
Happy New Year!
Time to ring it in by discussing something we can't agree on. In fact, something we can't even seem to agree to disagree on. The white elephant in the room (I know, why does it have to be 'white'?): Race

Of which I will provide the following personal definition:

"The widely held, persistent, self-propagating, socially constructed delusion of significant and meaningful physiological differences in human beings that is the proper object of rational scrutiny and categorization."

Stated in simpler terms: Race = Delusion

What Exactly are we Talking About?

There are many ways that people choose to differentiate themselves that lie outside of physiological classification. Religious or political belief, nationality, language, and culture are but some examples. Gender differences are of course physiological although not considered racial by most. Nevertheless, perceived commonalities and differences of family, blood, heredity, physiology, etc. seem to be the key to the concept of race.

As applied to physiological commonalities among people, 'race' enters the English lexicon rather recently (16th century), being derived from the Italian 'razza', holding related meanings such as 'common stock, lineage, breed, family, etc.' Familial correspondence, commonality: sounds harmless enough, downright warm and friendly even. For example I look like mom and dad, no denying me! (Although they may wish to after this latest post)

Of course many of the concepts that the word 'race' seems to frequently elicit, extend much further back in time and are hardly limited to Italy and England. An extreme interpretation would be the early 20th century German 'Herrenrasse' or 'Master Race' campaign that prompted the coining of 'racism' in our own English vocabulary to aptly describe the Nazi ideology of purported Aryan and Nordic commonality and brotherhood which in reality exercised a far greater and violent emphasis on human physiological differentiation.

Don't Deny Difference!

There are people who have dark skin, there are people with light skin. There are people with straight hair, there are others with curly hair. On and on it goes. Sure, even children pick up on these types of superficial differences pretty soon even without prompting.  So how can I deny these and others as real, physiological differences?

Short answer: I don't

In fact, I would put forward that individual human differences are quite real and extend far beyond the limited concept of race with its broad categorizations. Upon a moment's reflection it becomes quite apparent that we are all different from each other; every one of us is physiologically particular. Furthermore, internally every one of us, our literal bodies are in a state of constant physiological change. We are quite literally not the same person we have been. Therefore, continual change and difference is applicable to every one and every when. This dynamism is really at the heart of what life is all about.

I suppose I could contrast this with the myriad of meaningful commonalities healthy humans all share. Two arms, two legs, dexterity, ability to reason, love of donuts, innate perception of space and time, blah, blah, blah. I don't have time, it's practically endless. You can reflect on it though. It's one of our shared abilities.

Doubling Down on our Delusions

Ah yes, speaking of shared abilities...delusion. A couple of examples from an especially American fixation:

Black Lives Matter
What does it mean to be black?

White Silence is Violence
What does it mean to be white?

I'm yet to hear a rational explanation for either. Not that folks haven't tried. After all, race is a matter of skin color, as simple as black and white, right?

Wrong it would seem. Apparently, it is much 'deeper' than that. Such as the music I listen to, the clothes I wear, the way I talk, yada yada ad infinitum.

So if I exhibit those and other behaviours I will be black or white? Or if I don't exhibit those behaviours I can't be black or white? Is grey an option? How about just Patrick Webb, is that an option? What happens if you call me Peter by mistake?

Any deep consideration of 'race' reveals the utter absurdity of the concept. Yet, folks will contend that racism and its corollary racial discrimination are real. Yes, they are. However, not as an ontologically objective reality in the world, that is to say there is no physical thing you can touch or point to. Racism is 'real' as a social pathology, a psychosis out of harmony with physiological realities. The continuance of this collective mental illness requires massive, voluntary participation from almost everyone. Not just individuals either. Churches, social movements, educational institutions and governments by their rhetoric and policies perpetuate racial difference; all affirming a nebulous absurdity that defies definition. One pathetic example from the federal government: http://www.census.gov/topics/population/race/about.html

Ouroboros
This amounts to a circular problem, a snake eating its own tail. By acknowledging racial differences so you can combat racism, you affirm the fallacy that is the root of the discrimination in the first place. Better to diagnose it as the pathology it is and get treatment. So, why do we do this to ourselves?

I'm not entirely sure but I have some thoughts. For an individual to deny their own particularity, to essentially annihilate part of themselves to conform to an arbitrary group seems odd, yet we do it all the time. It may be at least partly attributable to a coping mechanism for having to operate socially in a world larger than we're comfortable with. It is impossible to truly know or be known by the many, many people we inevitably come into contact with in a city e.g. If humans have existed as familial groups in small tribes or in villages for millennia, how are we to now cope with the thousands of interactions pressed upon us annually in the civilised world? How do we assess the potential threats that arise from unfamiliarity and present an image of ourselves that others can quickly identify? Perhaps by willfully placing ourselves in artificial categories, so-called 'race' prominent among them.

At bottom, I think we might be terribly afraid to truly be ourselves, how lonely that might really be.


Contributed by Patrick Webb

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Tuscan Order


Villa Giulia, Rome
In many of the 'canons', that is to say the widely accepted treatises of Renaissance architecture, there are given five 'orders' of Classical architecture, the Tuscan order typically presented first among them. The very adoption of the term 'Classical' itself in referencing all things of Greco-Roman antiquity appears to be a 17th century French approbation of the Latin classis that historically referred to things 'called out' or 'set aside', with notable reference to the orders or divisions of taxation established by the pre-Republican Roman monarchy. Today we have the common use of the related word 'class' as a division of students set aside for specific education and again 'classical' in the setting apart of things generally recognised as truly excellent, Greco-Roman or otherwise.

In architectural academia there has persisted controversy over whether or not the Tuscan should really be regarded as a distinct order or if it is nothing more than a stripped down or simpler version of the Doric order. A similar argument is made regarding the Composite or so-called Roman order, that has conversely been claimed as just a more elaborate version of the Corinthian order. Certainly all of the Roman orders share a familial resemblance and of course are referential to the Greek orders from which they were developed. However, I'll take the position here that there are in fact enough differences to justify a separate classification of the Tuscan order beginning with a brief historical overview.

The Etruscans

The Tuscan order is ostensibly referential to the architecture of the Etruscan people who dominated the Italic peninsula until Rome was finally able to overcome them in the 4th century B.C. Temples presented the highest expression of Etruscan architectural refinement. As temple foundations were built in stone we have a very good understanding of how they were organised in plan. The precise composition of the elevations is less clear although some idea can be gleaned from pictorial depictions such as found on ostraca (decorated potshards), sarcophagi as well as frescoes.
Etruscan temple at Orvieto

A few Etruscan tectonic characteristics were definitely distinct from the Greeks and would be adopted by the Romans for all of their architectural orders. Whereas the single cella or inner sanctum of a typical Greek temple was surrounded by a stylobate (series of steps) and peripteral colonnade (the columns being present along the entire perimeter of the building), the Etruscans lifted their temples upon a podium with a stair leading to the entrances of three cellae. Columns were only used at this entrance, placed in a double row underneath a large portico whilst the cellae walls extended to the exterior. Timber members for the entablature allowed for greater intercolumniation (spacing of the columns) than was feasible for the stone architecture of Greece.

Model courtesy of Istituto di Etruscologia e di Antichita Italiche, Universita di Roma

Tuscan capital? Colosseum
However, the Tuscan order as presented in the treatises of the Renaissance and arguably expressed in Roman architecture itself is not precisely antique Etruscan. Additionally, there are certainly commonalities between the Renaissance Tuscan and Roman Doric orders. So how might one make a distinction? Following are three tools, lenses or perspectives that might prove useful when used in conjunction with one another.





A System of Proportion

Elevation of the Five Orders of Architecture
Claude Perrault, 1683
One characteristic of all of the Renaissance treatises was that the orders were presented as highly rationalised systems whose fundamental unit of measurement was derived from the base radius or diametre (the module) of the given order. The elevations of the column, entablature, optional pedestal etc., as well as intercolumniation were all  proportional relationships derived from this base module. Whereas some authors leaned heavily upon the Roman architectural treatise of Vitruvius, others drew their justification on more archeological grounds either from what they considered an archetypal exemplar or a weighted average of various examples. All of these authors seemed to temper such authority from antiquity with their own judgement and reason. What they generally concluded was that the orders progressed proportionally in attenuation from the rather solid (if not squat) Tuscan to the comparatively slender Composite.

Granted, even in theory there was a wide range of interpretation available and more so in practise. The various authors were not always in agreement. In arguably the first major treatise of the Renaissance containing engraved plates, Sebastiano Serlio presents a very squat Tuscan order whose base diameter to column height ratio was 1:6. Vincenzo Scamozzi and Claude Perrault would subsequently present comparatively slender Tuscan orders at a ratio of 1:7½. Likewise a wide variety is seen in proportions of entablatures and pedestals in relation to the module. What remained consistent was that as the orders progressed they would become proportionally more attenuated with the Tuscan order always being the most solid amongst them.

Comparitive Tuscan Orders. Robert Chitham, 1985


An Anthropomorphic Model

Jacques-François Blondel
circa 1771
Another way to imagine an architectural order is anthropomorphically, that is to say attributing human qualities to inanimate objects. The 1st century B.C. Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius certainly did this by offering origin myths and relating column to human proportions to indicate their appropriateness for temples dedicated to a particular god or goddess. The Doric order was to express a robust masculinity, reflecting the proportions of a warrior or demi-god such as Hercules. At the other extreme, the Corinthian being considerably slender was to reflect the figure of a young maiden.

Palazzo Davia Bargellini, Bologna


Rather than seeking anatomical precision, these myths and comparisons continue to serve as entertaining and helpful memory aids regarding the character and proportions of the various orders. Architects of the Renaissance, the Baroque, all the way into the Beaux Artes period picked up and expanded upon these anthropomorphic associations. What interpretation remained for the Tuscan? Rough and tumble for sure. That of a Titan, an Atlas who carries the burden of the building quite literally on his back!






Elements and Enrichment

As a general rule the Tuscan exhibits less refinement than the other orders. Although there are superficial differences between the Tuscan and Doric, an often distinguishing feature are the shafts of the columns. Tuscan columns are always either smooth or rusticated whereas the Doric are typically fluted. Likewise the Tuscan tends to have less elemental subdivisions and has proportionally chunkier elements in the pedestal, base, capital, and entablature. Also, a fully expressed Doric will have geometrically ornamented elements throughout the frieze and richly sculpted enrichments in the metopes between tryglyphs. By contrast the Tuscan is almost always plain profile throughout its entablature. Modillions or brackets are seldom utilised in the cornice and if so they are very simply wrought.

Radcliffe Camera, Oxford
If ornament is applied, typically it will be carved in high relief to be placed in the spandrels of an arcade or the the tympanum of the pediment, in notable contrast to the sparse or even rough character of the façade. It is very common to find the Tuscan order highly rusticated. Often times the Tuscan is solely implied at the ground storey by its relative proportion and heavy rustication (without the use of columns) in buildings where ashlar masonry and more refined orders are used above.

Although the Tuscan often gets berated as being a 'made up' order or just a stripped Doric, it really has its own distinct character and bears more consideration and study, particularly as it continues to be the most commonly specified of the Classical orders in residential architecture today.

Contributed by Patrick Webb

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Sensual Experience of Lovers


Pygmalion and Galatea - Jean-Léon Gérôme
This essay at its heart is about knowing and being known. As a younger man I would create distance between myself and those who made gestures of intimacy towards me generally, if not outright sexual advances. "You already have access to the most interesting aspect of my being, my mind", was my defence. As it turns out that was very likely not the case.

Seeing and Being Seen

To undress one with the eyes. Well okay, there is that obvious low hanging fruit. However, I would say sight is the most untrustworthy of the senses when it comes to matters of love. We lie as a matter of course in the visual presentations we offer. How we choose to dress, walk, smile, run our hands through our hair are so often charades, little lies and false constructions that we hope will deceive, often effective because we're all playing the same silly games. Nevertheless, the eyes may very well be the window into the soul. Maintain eye contact with someone for even a relatively brief moment and then extend it. You're likely to initiate a deep connection, to see and be seen. It can be equal parts exhilarating and terrifying, comforting as much as it is unnerving.

Please Listen to Me

Speech is almost as untrustworthy as one's appearance. Certainly we're sensitive to the cant and tone of those we speak with. However, there are other, perhaps more revealing sounds to be heard: swoons, moans, the soft parting of moistened lips. Closer intimacy affords a heartbeat, the breath and the gurgling of the innards. In these respects your lover can begin to know you in ways more intimate then you can know yourself. My personal favourite is the giggle. Laughter can be affected, it's hard to fake a giggle.

I'm Touched

It's one thing to be seen and heard, quite another to be felt. The first touches are electric. Layers of isolation are peeled away like skins of an onion as one maps out every curve, every texture of their lover. The pressing of the soft breast, the roughness of a day old beard. Comfort, warmth, relief. Unlike the visual presentation or the spoken word, touch is less effective at carrying symbolic meaning. What you feel is most often what there is, an approach to intrinsic knowledge of the other and a revelation of yourself in turn. These tactile sensations are visceral, primal and not easily forgotten.

You Taste as Good as You Smell

Full disclosure. Mutual intoxication with only a tether to conscious thought. Smell and taste generate reflexes as unavoidable as striking your knee with a rubber mallet. They are the most intimate form of sharing, a literal transfer of oneself to another. They betray and confess the deeply irrational nature of love itself. We encounter the truth: there is no reason to love.

Mamma Mia

Madonna and Child - Pompeo Batoni
Lest you think the aforementioned is merely an exploration of sexual fantasy, I'll contend that it widely describes the intimacy of all lovers, including that of mother and child, one that most of us have personally experienced at a very profond level. As the intellectually undeveloped infant we drew comfort from being sensually known. The concentrated attention of mother watching over us, staring into our eyes, singing to us, giggling with us, embracing us, holding us dear to her bosom, showering us with kisses, tasting us, smelling us as we breathed her in. Make no mistake mother and child are the deepest of lovers.

The very best of life, the things most human are not be apprehended or understood rationally. They just have to be experienced to be known and that is especially true of love.   

"A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge." - Thomas Carlyle


Contributed by Patrick Webb

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Sparta Ascendant over Athens

"So it was that Liberty succame to slumber and the whole world fell to ruin..."

The embers of revolution are long extinguished. We have been exchanging liberty for comfort and security for some time now. No longer an active citizenry engaged in all areas of civic life and the struggle for democracy. Rather, we have become languid, passive and dependent; we have become quite literally the gross domesticated product.

Autocracy

I hear people softly complain about "the government", focusing their complaints on the only remaining civic institution that retains a vestige of democracy. Our other institutions: banking, academic and commercial e.g. are unvarnished autocracies and oligarchies. Unapologetic tyrannies under which our will, our youth and our bodily strength are wholly subjugated while they dictate the development of our mind and how we might live. No, you don't get a vote. You don't imagine you even have a right to expect one. This is now it happens, how enlightenment succumbs to darkness, how men cease to be men, perpetually kept in a state of immaturity. 

Athens vs Sparta

This temperament of violence and subjugation that has grabbed onto us by a choke hold be it physical, psychological or economic is what I would describe as Spartan. A hard people like their hard god of war, Ares, all too willing to make the tough decisions. Fear, terror and discord are the progeny of Ares and the values of a Spartan people.

There is another opposing temperament, the Athenian temperament of plurality, democracy and civic engagement. It would appear the Athenian ideal has fallen in retrograde, the Spartan temperament ascends and a former citizenry is reduced to intimidated helots. What is oft forgotten was that Athena too was a goddess of war, if slow to anger, calm, just and wise.

So I say to the hard Spartans that masquerade as citizens among us that when striking out against the goddess one must be sure to land the death blow; otherwise you've only drawn out her anger and roused her people from their slumber. What I am witnessing is an awakened populace, perhaps a citizenry, just perhaps one whose temperament is Athenian whose virtues are culture, solidarity and democracy and whose goddess is also the capable warrior when called upon. Ares is not our patron. As democratic citizens we live in the pivotal moment to drive out this brutish Spartan temperament of autocracy and fear mongering from our institutions whilst reaffirming our commitment to Liberty, to reestablishing the conditions where individual engagement as citizens and true human flourishing for our fellowman are possible.



Contributed by Patrick Webb

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Existential Craftsman


Image courtesy of Scott Nelson
From time immemorial people have contemplated the nature of being and likewise the concept of origins or the coming into existence. Such contemplations have often coalesced into the core structure of religious systems of belief and correspondingly within the branch of philosophy known as ontology or "the study of essence". Existentialism is a relatively recent focus within ontology that centers around the human individual's concept of being and becoming. Prevalent themes are authenticity and individual creation of meaning, themes that find resonance with traditional craftsmanship. Craftsmen are typically concerned with the authenticity of their creations, whether or not the crafted objects truly retain the expression of their will, as an artifact of their touch. Similarly, there exists a trepidation that their work might be viewed as inauthentic or worse still, meaningless. I would like to consider if there is any potential for intrinsic meaning in craft, how craftsmen use symbolic meaning, and a particularly modern dilemma threatening craft, the absurd.

Intrinsic Meaning

Let's begin by an illustration of a flower. What does it mean? "Well, it doesn't mean anything, it just is!", one might reasonably reply. A flower certainly doesn't mean something else, it doesn't refer to anything. However, I wouldn't hastily conclude that a flower is meaningless. Perhaps we could consider whether a flower has inherent meaning or stated another way, the flower is its own meaning. As humans we're well adapted to this qualitative, inherent meaning of the natural world. A flower will elicit sensual responses of sight, smell, feel and sometimes even taste (with or without further hallucinogenic effect). In this way flowers are intuitively sensible to human beings, even by very young children. Contrast this naïve, direct, visceral sensibility with the literal meaning of a flower as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary: "The reproductive structure of angiosperms, characteristically having either specialized male or female organs or both male and female organs, such as stamens and a pistil, enclosed in an outer envelope of petals and sepals."

So the "literal" meaning of flower becomes quite complicated and contingent on other literal meanings whilst our direct experience of a flower remains simple and accessible. Would a botanical that is to say scientific analysis of a flower reveal further or perhaps deeper meaning? We've been at the classification of flowers in general and particular for some centuries now with infinitely greater means of dissection from the cellular, to the DNA, to the now subatomic level with promising theories to take us even further. So it is that a single flower is now classified amongst the most complex things in the universe composed of levels of complexity ad infinitum. We lament the  complexity of the material world losing sight of that fact that we're the ones who keep cutting it to pieces. Flowers are simple yet rich in meaning. However, ascribing meaning to them in artificial, closed, conventional systems of literal and scientific terms has made them unintelligible to the point of absurdity. How does one ever feel at home in a world like that?

Hundisburg, Saxony-Anhalt
Last summer I had opportunity to work on a project of traditional masonry in the small village of Hundisburg, Germany. What do traditional, handcrafted villages like this and others mean? They don't refer to anything outside of themselves yet you just feel that the village itself is rich in meaning, it's authentic. What is physically embodied in my Hundisburg example is successive generations of human intention and attention, humans being humane. The oaks of the timber framing from adjacent fields cleared for cultivation. The stone from the local quarry now the summer swimming hole. The bricks and terra cotta tiles from a clay deposit up on the hill. Crafting a community with our neighbors from materials readily available around us is an eminently human activity, nothing absurd about it.

Symbolic Meaning

There is of course meaning that refers to something outside of itself. In fact, that this is how the term "meaning" is most often used and understood. One way for a craftsman to express symbolic meaning is with ornament, alternatively called enrichment. There are a number of methods for achieving this: carving, scratching, moulding, painting to name a few.

Image courtesy of Plâtres Vieujot
We appreciate that artistic representation is only a symbol, a reference of something else. Ornament's power lies in human sympathy. The craftsman draws upon the fractal attributes of say, a flower to select a handful of attributes, the essence of the thing to convey in the selected medium. And so when you or I look upon the ornament we "get it", otherwise stated we sympathize with the process. If we have familiarity with the medium we might even begin to imagine ourselves doing the carving, painting or what have you. Likely it heightens our appreciation for the craftsman's imagination and skill. Yet just having fulfilled human beings as embodied in the example of the craftsman are of tremendous benefit to a community. Furthermore, when these investments in intrinsic and symbolic meaning are made in the shared public realm (church, high street, piazza, etc.) as they customarily were, than an inheritance is established for everyone, an enriched community that loves itself, that feels at home.

The Absurd

The kind of life that established traditional villages around the world, many of which still remain for our enjoyment, seem like an impossibility today, a eutopian fantasy. What is the absurd? How has meaning been undermined by civilized society?

Coercion

In its most virulent forms we find enslavement and serfdom. Great works of beauty like the Parthenon celebrate idealized human perfection, overlooking a city that was the birthplace of democracy. And yet much of this was built on a foundation of war, misery and exploitation. There is an unresolved tension between the rich symbolic meaning of many such cities and monuments of antiquity and the inhumane treatment, the destruction of the intrinsic meaning and worth of the individual. The skilled craftsman reduced to a tool himself to express the will of monsters.


Dishonesty

Nothing corrupts meaning like a lie. The McMansion puts its dishonesty on display like a proud peacock. It pretends to use local, traditional materials; all materials are industrial from a factory far away. It pretends to be finely crafted; it extracts the cheapest labor from the most vulnerable in society. It promises you health and status; it delivers toxicity, debt and mediocrity.

Subversion

A very visible manifestation of subversion is irony, typical of  so-called Postmodernism. Often a form is taken an exemplar of tradition and hand crafted refinement. The proportions are changed,  the function inverted, traditional materials and methods are replaced with the latest in construction tech. To its credit Postmodernism doesn't lie. Rather, it ridicules intrinsic meaning as an impossible joke.


Existentialism has been interpreted by some as an individualistic philosophy, described as isolating or inward looking. However, I would contend that being an individual has no meaning independent of others any more than individuality is possible without the air you breathe. It is modern civilization that is isolating with its increasing manifestations of coercion, dishonesty and subversion: the absurd. Two main tenets of existentialism that I did not develop here were that the individual is free and is responsible. This is very empowering. We can choose to reject absurdity, instead embracing lives of intrinsic and symbolic meaning. Perhaps it is in this time of crisis for humanity that our living a life of individual meaning can have the greatest impact on intrinsic meaning for human society at large.


Contributed by Patrick Webb

Thursday, September 8, 2016

TradArch




"TradArch" is short for "Traditional Architecture".  In the context of this essay, it refers to a listserv hosted by the University of Miami that carries the following description:

"Prof. Richard John runs an electronic mailing list from the University of Miami devoted to discussion of the theory and practice of traditional architecture. The list is an open forum for all topics related to this topic, including the posting of images of historic buildings and photographs of list members' own work. It is affiliated with the Certificate in Classical Architecture at the University of Miami School of Architecture."

I joined about three years ago and have really benefited from the perspective of architects, academics, historians, town planners, craftsmen, preservationists, students and laymen. Here are a few of the characteristics of TradArch that I feel contribute to it's success:

Uncensored - The moderators have an extremely light hand. I've not heard as much as an admonishment let alone someone getting banned. Granted the subscribers are by and large well behaved. Naturally (and beneficially I'd add) there is disagreement but for the most part this is kept on a professional level.

Democratic - There is no agenda. Folks post about their interests and what catches the interest of others gets discussed. It might also be thought of as a back channel for members of organizations and academic institutions to be able to compare, contrast and refine their approaches to traditional architecture outside the strictures of stated missions and manifestos.

Diversity - The listserv is open to anyone interested in traditional architecture. There are those with many years of practical experience, others might have a more academic pedigree. There are members still in school or just getting started in their careers. Some members are principals of large, well established firms while others are simply concerned individuals. Participation is entirely voluntary. Whether you read all of the threads or choose to actively participate is entirely up to you.

One of the criticisms leveled against the TradArch listserv was that it was a lot of talk behind virtual closed doors and no action. There was some validity to the charge. About the same time a couple of years ago, the tone on the listserv was getting noticeably irritable. Increasingly, comments were edging closer to personal attacks. Feelings were getting hurt. It was decided something had to diffuse the tension. A Garden Party!

TAG

The intention of the organizers was to create a gathering that was a reflection of the listserv and the aforementioned characteristics that made it unique and vibrant.

TAG 2015, image courtesy of David Brussat
The inaugural TradArch Gathering was held in Charleston, SC in April 2015. It began with a cocktail reception at the College of Charleston, followed by a day of sessions at The American College of the Building Arts and concluding with a day of touring infill construction in the historic district as well as the nearby I'on suburb developed according to New Urbanist principles. Despite prognostications of doom and fears of fisticuffs, everyone seemed to have a great time. Folks that had been on the listserv for years were able to meet for the first time face to face and communication noticeably improved. 

To my surprise there was renewed interest to do it again! This year it will be held in Historic Oakwood Raleigh, NC. Members of the Oak City Preservation Alliance in particular are doing the heavy lifting in playing hosts to what we're calling TAG2. Interested in attending? Join the list, join the conversation!
TradArch listserv

Below is a description of the event:

The TradArch gathering is based on 3 simple concepts in the spirit of keeping the event a reflection of the listserv itself, essentially a democratic forum for folks either independent or closely allied to organizations:

1. Non-discriminatory: Everyone on the listserv is welcome
2. No hierarchy: We're all professionals. A meeting of equals. Inspiration
can come from any of us
3. No preconceived agenda: With open session scheduling you can bring your
own ideas. If its got popular support it will be the subject of discussion

There has been feedback for improvement for our upcoming event including:


  • 2 days of sessions
  • An area for project displays open to the public 
  • Public evening presentations
  • A more structured agenda
  • Time for strategy
 
We've been working to incorporate all of these suggestions. The first three were easily adopted. The question arose as to how an open, democratic spirit while accommodating a preconceived agenda. Here's what we came up with:

  • Maintaining the first morning session for spontaneous open session scheduling as previously
  • Predetermining together, on the listserv beforehand the other topics we would like to take up for Friday afternoon and Saturday morning sessions. **Individuals may lead a discussion but no lectures PPT presentations etc. without unanimous consent
  • Concluding with a strategy session Saturday afternoon where manifestos, plans of action etc. can be addressed

The schedule for October 13 - 16:

304 Oakwood Ave., Raleigh, NC 27601

Thursday , Oct 13      
4:30 PM - 6:00                
Tour of Historic Oakwood led by resident architectural historian Matthew Brown. Matthew is a historian for the state of North Carolina and extremely well informed and interesting. We will include the house that caused the ruckus.

6:00 PM - ?                     
Cocktail party/heavy hors d'oeuvres at home of Carter Skinner, local traditional residential architect. His home is in Historic Oakwood and is a great example of the architecture. He and Chapman are looking forward to having you as their guests. They actually canceled an amazing trip to host for us.

112 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh, NC 27601

Friday, Oct 14            
8:30                               Breakfast in hall, provided by OCPA

9:00 - noon                    Closed sessions

                                
10:30 - 11:30                 Andy Petesch

                                
noon - 1:30                     Lunch

                                
1:30 - 5:00                     Closed sessions


6:00                                Public evening sessions:

Dan Morales  
"A Gift to the Street: How to Speak about the Importance of Architectural Beauty"  

Tom Low  
"City Transformations"

Saturday, Oct 15        
8:30                                Breakfast in hall, provided by OCPA 
                                
9:00 - noon                     Closed sessions
                                
noon - 1:30                     Lunch
                                
1:30 - 5:00                      Closed sessions
6:00                                Public evening sessions:
 
Nir Buras
"The Pleasure of Beauty and the Pain of its Absence"  

Anthony James (panel)
"Additions to Historic Buildings and New Design in Historic Districts"

Sunday, Oct 16          
12:00                              Tour of Duke Chapel



Contributed by Patrick Webb

Saturday, August 27, 2016

On Pattern Design in Architecture


Spaceship Earth
As a traditional craftsman, particularly in my experience as an ornamental plasterer, I often find my work lies at the intersection of two distinct approaches to design: pattern and architectural. I've observed that in contemporary architecture there is a great deal of confusion as to how the two different thought processes can be brought to bear on an unified architectural scheme. Today they are very often simply conflated, an effect quite detrimental to architecture as I will seek to illustrate.

Pattern Design

With three centuries of advances in industrial printing and weaving processes and the late 20th century move from analog to digital graphic technology, pattern design has asserted a dominance unmatched at any previous time in human history. Nevertheless, the fundamental basis for pattern design has remained unchanged: the articulation of space. By space I mean to imply that which is free, unbounded, infinite, spiritual, heavenly...Space.

The Singularity

The point: in concept, location without dimension. By extension from the source, the origin we have emanation, expansion. The germinating seed, an all encompassing unity. In ornamental design, this has been traditionally represented in imitation of nature: the flower, the star, the all seeing eye.

Private Residence
In much of modern architecture we can see this tendency to apply pattern design to the entirety of the building itself, the building as a giant ornament or manifestation of pattern. The geodesic dome pictured above provides an example of a deliberate intention to create a sense of something from space. Both the shape and choice of highly refined metallic cladding convey a perfect yet alien quality. In more pedestrian contexts spheres are expensive to construct, difficult to live or work in so more often we see built the hyper-rectilinear equivalent, the cube or orthotope. A spatially isolated, unbounded, self-contained unity situated in a 3D Cartesian matrix. 
The Ray

The line introduces concepts of dimension, direction, polarity, duality, separation. Left/right, above/below, inside and out. With the line comes the potentiality of repetition, whereas carried to an extreme results in monotony. Much commercial architecture today takes on this graphically linear aspect not unlike ruled paper, horizontal lines suspended in space, unbounded and framing nothing, the eye seeking in vain for resolution.


The Plane

With surface comes the ability to manifest texture, interlace and interlock becomes most evident and  a second dimension allows the formation of webs and nets. The plane is the bread and butter of graphic design: wallcoverings, rugs, textiles, tiles, wrapping papers to name a few. For decades we were subjected to the most boring, unrelenting glass boxes of government and commerce. We didn't know how good we had it. Today's buildings are typically "jazzed up", pushing windows in and out, switching up sizes and orientations, or spacing them randomly. The façade is viewed as nothing more than a canvas for various decontextualized textures constrained within a rectilinear grid wallpapered onto the same old boxes.

The Tessellation

For pattern design, the third dimension represents the pinnacle of spatial mastery. A clear comprehension of mass and void, light and shadow as well as the ability to fill three dimensions volumetrically with regular pattern is undeniably special. It's understandable to imagine applications in the field of architecture. Modern architecture has taken this in two basic directions. There is the undefined mass that actually rejects overall pattern, lacks any definable boundaries and features only a minuscule, localized surface pattern that will morph to any contour. Also common is the mash up of all the previously mentioned misapplications of pattern design to architecture. Extruded orthotopes are piled up seemingly at random, a mercilessly incessant tangle of lines and grids.


For all of the faux pas' of the recent past, I would contend that pattern design is both compatible with architectural design and has much to contribute. To do so we should consider how architectural design differs and how pattern design has and can continue to perform a very successful supporting role.

Architectural Design

The tectonic or constructive aspect of architectural design has been for millennia and ought to remain primarily about gravity. Secondarily, limits are set while possibilities encouraged by climate (temperature), weather (humidity and precipitation) and terroir (local soil and materials). Granted we're crisscrossing the globe with materials nowadays so perhaps we can temporarily ignore the use of local materials (to our increasing peril). Yet gravity is unrelenting, she imposes and restricts form and structure so that architecture must be grounded in the material and quite literally in the Earth. Attempts to circumvent this are only an affected style, one that is incongruent with reality and thus disturbing. Pattern design ought always be subordinate, not in extreme and defiant aesthetic conflict with the gravitational, earthbound nature of architectural design.

Mondoñedo Cathedral
Points, circles and spheres inevitably become concentrated areas of focus. They draw us to the center. It's only fair that the viewer should be rewarded upon arrival. The rose windows of Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals provide stunning examples of placing the finest handwork, most delicate arrangements of carving and color right where we're most apt to look. Notwithstanding, they're not overly insistent. The gaze can easily withdraw and the window will comfortably fit into the overall architectural composition.

The Lincoln Memorial is a Classic example of the mastery of linear pattern applied to architecture. The repetition of vertical lines of the columns gives a clear indication of stability and support. The incised flutes only serve to bolster the feeling. Between stylobate and the capitals the lines of the columns are clearly bounded. Richly ornamented, the horzontal bands of the entablature and attic hold visual interest; however, they are also contained within a series of bounded frames that permit the eyes to rest and once again establish a unified composition.


Drawing on long established vernacular traditions, Arts & Crafts homes such as the Red House designed by Philip Webb for William Morris avoid rationalizing the exterior and naturally arrive at a façade filled with variety and visual interest. The surface is not reliant on any jarring tricks to stimulate the senses. Rather the restrained aesthetic is filled with similar details at a range of scales. Even the materials selected are textured and lively, notably the bricks laid in common bond with English corners.



Saint Petersburg Mosque
I think the absolute mastery of tessellation applied to architecture without contest belongs to Islamic architecture. The muqarnas of palaces and mosques are simply breathtaking. Islamic architecture in general is rich in color and pattern. The underlying philosophy purposefully utilizes point, line, plane and 3D tessellations to express the infinitude of the divine. It is important to note that what makes all of this exuberance coherent and comprehensible is Islamic architecture's expert use of framing and boundaries. Even this apparent superabundance of pattern remains subordinate to the architectural design.

Despite having a great love for pattern design and using it extensively in my own work, I believe architectural design taught essentially as a rationalized discipline of the articulation of space has been very damaging. We don't live in space. Our collective architectural heritage is clear evidence that pattern and architectural design are not necessarily antagonistic. Quite to the contrary, we need architectural design to reassert its position at the forefront of design in our built environment. An architecture rooted in nature and the earth that pattern loving craftsmen like myself can support with our hands and our hearts.


Contributed by Patrick Webb

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Center for Traditional Craft


Image courtesy of Savannah Tech
The future of trades education has been the main topic of debate and concentrated focus among highly skilled traditional craftsmen the past few years. The interest in traditional crafts and demand for qualified tradesmen has been increasing steadily alongside a parallel resurgence in traditional architecture and urbanism. While there are good paying jobs available in the traditional building trades that contribute in a constructive way to our economy and built environment, the educational infrastructure needed to produce capable tradesmen lags far behind. This gulf between demand and supply of skilled craftsmen translates into opportunity.

Currently, there are only a handful of accredited higher education programs in the US that include even a component of hands on traditional craft education. Many of these are dependent on a single instructor. None of them are integrated into a larger program of Historic Preservation or of Architecture. What we need is a model, a replicable model for craft education. I'm encouraged by what I've personally seen under development recently at Savannah Technical College.

Department of Historic Preservation & Restoration

Savannah Tech offers an Associates of Arts in Historic Preservation & Restoration. It's an extraordinarily practical program, 57 of the 69 required credit hours are dedicated to occupational courses. The program was founded in 2009 and is accredited by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Students learn to work with a variety of traditional building materials including wood, glass, iron, brick, stone, ceramics, plaster and gilding. The department is looking to expand its degree program beginning with masonry in 2017 followed by a plaster program in 2018. Beyond the aforementioned, here's what really excites me about the program:

Former student, current employee of the
Coastal Heritage Society
*Students can and are entering the marketplace debt free!
Grants are available that will pay for 100% of tuition and books for in state residents qualifying for financial aid that do not yet hold a bachelor's degree.

*Savannah Tech is part of the Technical College System of Georgia which has already established learning objectives for their students and clear benchmarks for determining learning outcomes.
  
*Interning students and graduates being placed in their field due to determined collaboration between the administration, the department head and partners in the private sector.

The immediate success of the program and evident benefits to young people and the local community led to interest from the private sector to support a plan that would both enhance the impact of the state program and expand educational opportunity to professionals and the general public. That plan became The Center for Traditional Craft.

The Center for Traditional Craft

Officially founded in 2014, the primary objective for The Center for Traditional Craft is to underwrite educational opportunities that enrich the curricula and extend educational opportunities to the professional community and general public through private endowment. Additionally, the Center in conjunction with Savannah Tech has been host to recent gatherings of the National Council for Preservation Education in 2014 and the International Trades Education Symposium in 2015. Below are a couple of the programs the Center has instituted and is in the process of developing further:

Visiting Artist Series
The series funds highly skilled craftsmen, experts in fields as diverse as glass blowing, ornamental plastering, timber framing, brick making and dry stack masonry to spend a week or more of intensive instructions with students. 

Historic Homeowners Academy
In addition to the many locals in Savannah interested in caring for their beautiful homes, traditional craft workshops have been well attended by professionals such as architects, preservationists, contractors and tradesmen. A long term program is currently being considered for lectures, drawing and hands on study of Classical Architecture, a certificate granting program for students that would qualify for continued education units for architects and designers.

Historic Homeowners Academy - Plaster Workshop

One of the Center's goals is to have a privately funded independent brick and mortar building (perhaps quite literally) for the Center, a state of the art facility dedicated to traditional craft education. More information on Savannah Tech's Historic Preservation Program and The Center for Traditional Craft can be found here: http://www.savannahtech.edu/academics/all-programs/historic-preservation/


The Whitehill Report on Professional and Public Education for Historic Preservation

Image courtesy of Savannah Tech
Although today largely forgotten, the Whitehill Report was a very important document for historic preservation. The committee was formed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation shortly after the National Historic Preservation Act was enacted into law in 1967. Among its findings was that there was a need to fund both schools of historic preservation as well as restoration, i.e. hands on traditional craft skills. Historic preservation schools were to be associated with established architecture programs. The importance of a living tradition of craft and architecture was repeatedly stressed. Preservationists were essentially to be architects who received training that would qualify them to sensitively work with historic buildings as well as design new traditional buildings.

Although academic preservation programs did and continue to receive government funding as a result of the report, the particular suggestions of the report were not closely implemented. Certainly comparable funding for traditional craft and restoration training never came through. Nevertheless, I see the findings of the report itself well thought out and mostly valid even almost 50 years later. They  outline a necessary level of support that would help programs like Historic Preservation and Restoration at Savannah Tech and the handful of other similar programs to flourish and spread, providing meaningful, well paid work for an entire generation of young people. It's high time for a revised report on Professional and Public Education for Historic Preservation!

You can find a copy of the original Whitehill report in its entirety below:
http://ptn.org/whitehill-report


Contributed by Patrick Webb