Takes the mind-blowing qualities of its inspirations, Edwin Abbott Abbott's classic Flatland and Charles Hinton's "An Episode of Flatland," and takeTakes the mind-blowing qualities of its inspirations, Edwin Abbott Abbott's classic Flatland and Charles Hinton's "An Episode of Flatland," and takes them to the next level. (Sorry. Couldn't resist.) Instead of generally exploring worlds of lesser and greater dimensionality than our own, Dewdney seeks to create a two-dimensional world with internally consistent rules of physics, chemistry, biology, and technology, and succeeds admirably. That he is also able to tell a funny, touching story about the computer science professor and his students who discover this alien world just adds to the enjoyment. Highly recommended for those who like expanding their minds, and especially for those seeking to create their own fictional worlds....more
I developed a love-hate relationship with this author when I worked at San Francisco's A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for Books. I loved her because sheI developed a love-hate relationship with this author when I worked at San Francisco's A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for Books. I loved her because she had the audacity to create unwieldy books that would not fit on any standard-sized bookshelf, and I hated her for the very same reason.
Turns out that not only are these books nearly impossible to shelve, but their design "innovations" also make them challenging to read, particularly in the case of the current book, which is around the same size as a dorm room poster. So the outrageous design is strike one against this book. (Admittedly, the big doors comprising the front cover provide an interesting, and somewhat literal, entrée into the world of religious architecture, but the user-unfriendliness of the design overwhelmed its cleverness.)
It also seems that more effort was spent on designing the book than obtaining photographs and writing text, because the book, while enormous, didn't contain nearly enough imagery, and the text was less than inspiring. (The main review describes the writing as "lively"? Compared to what, I wonder? The book of Leviticus?) Two more strikes against the book.
The selection of churches (all Christian, by the way, if your definition of "Christian" is broad enough to include Mormons, Unitarians, and Christian Scientists; religious architectural awesomeness like the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, IL, was omitted) seemed pretty arbitrary, as did the order in which they were presented. You have masterpieces like Hagia Sophia, Chartres Cathedral, and even Unity Temple alongside forgettable monstrosities like Church on the Water. I would love to know how Dupré selected the churches she included.
Finally, the introductory interview with a contemporary church architect was so tedious and filled with art-babble (e.g., praising hideous architecture and elevating it to Chartres status) that I almost quit reading this book before I made it past the preamble. Maybe I should have taken the hint....more
I'm not usually one for arguing that artistic types should be constrained by "practical" considerations, but as Silber repeatedly points out, architecI'm not usually one for arguing that artistic types should be constrained by "practical" considerations, but as Silber repeatedly points out, architecture is an "applied," rather than a "fine," art. In part this distinction means that, for architects, working within constraints, whether fiscal, physical, or aesthetic, is a part of the job description. Or at least, as Silber argues, it should be. As someone who has worked for almost a decade with and around professors of architecture, I found Silber's attitude refreshing, particularly his willingness to call bullshit on the high-fallutin' vacuity of what he calls "Theoryspeak," in which arbitrary (and too often out-of-place) design elements are given post hoc justifications by means of intelligent-sounding obfuscation. ...more
This might be my favorite Macaulay book yet. It answers so many of my questions about how the ancient Egyptians were able to build such a technologicaThis might be my favorite Macaulay book yet. It answers so many of my questions about how the ancient Egyptians were able to build such a technological marvel, and doesn't once bring up out-of-place modern technologies or pseudo-divine extraterrestrials in the process. One of many details—the use of water-filled ditches as levels—blew my mind!...more
In Cathedral David Macaulay showed the world how a medieval cathedral was constructed. Here Macaulay shows how Cathedral itself was constructed, asIn Cathedral David Macaulay showed the world how a medieval cathedral was constructed. Here Macaulay shows how Cathedral itself was constructed, as a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of its publication....more
The idea of deconstructing and "unbuilding" a skyscraper like the iconic Empire State Building is pretty compelling. Alas Macaulay does himself a dissThe idea of deconstructing and "unbuilding" a skyscraper like the iconic Empire State Building is pretty compelling. Alas Macaulay does himself a disservice by couching the explanations in a dated satire about OPEC (here called the Greater Riyadh Institute of Petroleum, "GRIP" for sure) and the absurdly named Saudi Prince Ali Smith. (The satire is dated in the sense that it makes implicit reference to the gas crises of the 1970s. In the sense that it discusses dismantling skyscrapers in response to tighter energetic and economic realities, it doesn't seem so dated; I think of the writings of James Howard Kunstler and wonder if it might even be prescient. Speaking of prescience, I found it very eerie to read on p. 13 the Prince suggesting that he would be willing to pull down the twin towers of the World Trade Center—as a goodwill gesture!) ...more
This book didn't seem that interesting until I realized the book's alternate title could be "Factory." Fictional case study of the evolution of a smalThis book didn't seem that interesting until I realized the book's alternate title could be "Factory." Fictional case study of the evolution of a small, Rhode Island mill-town provides an in-depth look at the Industrial Revolution in terms of the built environment. ...more
David Macaulay's Underground was a wonderful book, but his City tops it by showing the same sorts of infrastructural accomplishments (e.g., public wDavid Macaulay's Underground was a wonderful book, but his City tops it by showing the same sorts of infrastructural accomplishments (e.g., public water works, plumbing, sewers, etc.) only here set in classical antiquity! Macauley's masterful illustrations and clear text provide ample evidence of the "civilizing" (literally, "urbanizing") skills and talents of the Roman people whose arts, according to the Aeneid, "are to be these:"
To pacify, to impose the rule of law, To spare the conquered, battle down the proud. (6.1151-1154)
For, as Macaulay notes in his introduction (p.5), "[t]he Romans knew that well planned cities did more to maintain peace and security than twice the number of military camps." Fascinating stuff here, and not just for kids!...more
Another reviewer commented that this book is not as interesting as Macaulay's other work on cathedrals, pyramids, etc., because the subject matter inAnother reviewer commented that this book is not as interesting as Macaulay's other work on cathedrals, pyramids, etc., because the subject matter in this book is too contemporary. My thoughts are almost diametrically opposed. I think castles, pyramids, etc., while definitely fascinating, are interesting insofar as they are irrelevant to 21st century existence. As for the mundane marvels detailed in this book, though, we would be lost without them, and Macaulay reminds us of that uncomfortable fact. For example, where does the water come from when we turn on the tap, and where does our waste go when we flush the toilet? What is going wrong when the street in front of our house backs up with rain water? And when Mom gets to work on the subway, just where is she traveling? All these unbeautiful, taken-for-granted, and all-too-essential aspects of modern urban existence are hidden out of view deliberately, yet this doesn't mean they are any less wonders of the built environment than the more ostentatious engineering achievements of humankind. This book literally shows the reader why....more
The editor of this volume is a genius, in addition to being a friend and colleague. (Full disclosure: I was honored to proofread David's introductoryThe editor of this volume is a genius, in addition to being a friend and colleague. (Full disclosure: I was honored to proofread David's introductory essay, footnotes and all.) His genius comes across in his selection of the font on the cover of the book, the title of which is printed in cursive. Dr. Hays selected a cursive font for the cover precisely because reading and writing in cursive are no longer required ("essential") in most elementary school curricula, being replaced in most instances by the more obviously "essential" skill of keyboarding; thus cursive, this "insessential" skill, this apparently outmoded form of embodied and shared knowledge, is here rendered utterly essential for those who wish to make sense of the title. Graphically Hays brings to the fore the question of what is essential and what inessential, what is cutting-edge and what outmoded (and whether or not it is possible for one to know which is which except in retrospect) in the study and practice of architecture in times of increasing contingency and potentiality.
Alas, you cannot judge a book by its cover (at least not entirely), and as I don't belong to the intended primary audience for this volume (architects and architectural educators), I don't feel I can judge much else besides the cover. That said, the layout and four-color artwork are great, and David's choice of outmoded, analog tools like the slide rule (and Professor Stephen Sears' circle template) as illustrations again foregrounds the question of what is "essential" in uncertain times and/or times of rapid change. I enjoyed several of the essays and artworks in the volume immensely, particularly engaging with Ellen Hartman's "Savior City" (which draws on the writings of a personal favorite, John Michael Greer, particularly his work on, of all things, geomancy!) I thought that (too) many other essays bogged down in the tedious jargon of academic discourse, referencing notions of "gesture" and "space" rooted in critical theory and stultifying to this non-specialist. Lots of the contributors' illustrations didn't make a lot of sense to me, but they were all colorful and visually interesting.
In short, while much of this was lost on me, architects, designers, educators, and futurists should find much food for thought, as well as intriguing, geeky eye-candy, in this collection. ...more
Urbana, Champaign, and the University of Illinois all have some really interesting architecture. Within a mile of our house are many of the modern houUrbana, Champaign, and the University of Illinois all have some really interesting architecture. Within a mile of our house are many of the modern houses listed in this book. I wish the author had given more information on some of these homes, but this book is definitely a good start on the interesting architecture of these unassuming twin cities on the prairie. It was also pretty cool to discover that one of the homes I have loved for years was designed and built by someone with whom I now work....more
I was very early in life inoculated against the triumphs of technology and imprinted instead with a respectful hypersensitivity for its implications..
I was very early in life inoculated against the triumphs of technology and imprinted instead with a respectful hypersensitivity for its implications.... [and] this conditioning has led me much later in life to take an extremely skeptical view of what is commonly regarded as "progress." By an odd coincidence, I have also found myself later in life in a society that is crumbling under the weight of its investments in technology (and tortured by the unintended consequences and diminishing returns of these investments), not to mention the agony of its ongoing fantasies about a technological rescue from the very predicaments already spawned by the misuse of technology. (pp. 243-4)
If you find yourself resonating with any of those sentiments, you may want to check out this collection of informed rants by the author of The Long Emergency and the "World Made By Hand" novels. Many of the topics will be familiar to readers of his blog—peak oil, peak finance, the cultural cul de sac of Happy Motoring, the bankruptcy of modern architecture and urban planning, the implications of climate change, the failure of contemporary party politics, the future of race relations in the US, and the sorry implications of the ubiquitous tattoo. He even has a chapter on Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity, which Kunstler sees (with some good reason) as a sort of religion. Not much of the information here is new, and I don't always agree with Kunstler, but the book is decently written and oftentimes pretty funny. ...more
My dad made his living as a draftsman, designer, and fabricator of sheet metal. In addition he was, and remains, a devout Christian for whom the BibleMy dad made his living as a draftsman, designer, and fabricator of sheet metal. In addition he was, and remains, a devout Christian for whom the Bible is literal truth. For decades, he has combined these two interests in sketch after sketch in which he attempts to capture the exact proportions and dimensions of such esoteric structures the as Ark of Noah or the New Jerusalem.