George Cram drew this Diagram of the Principal High Buildings of the Old World in 1897. The obelisk at the back of the picture is the Washington Memorial which perhaps hardly qualifies as 'Old World' - but fair enough, as Cram was based in Chicago we can allow the poetic licence. The colourblocking indicates the material used, with stone as the light yellow and gold as the more intense, darker yellow tone. Pink is granite, although why the Pantheon is classified as granite is anyone's guess. On the right hand side, the central transept of the Crystal Palace looms large, so large in fact that it could clearly contain the dome of the Pantheon. The comparison between St Peter's (Rome) and St Paul's (London) in the centre of the image is also striking, with the London dome looking significantly smaller than its Vatican counterpart. However, the real comparison should be between St. Peter's and Brunelleschi's dome - which, on the right hand side, is just as large but less squat, although its total height is considerably less due to the high drum of St. Peter's. And, on the other hand, St. Paul's is larger and wider than the dome of the Paris Ste Genevieve appearing here on its immediate right; the French dome is a copy of the British original squeezed almost to lantern-like proportions. But perhaps the nicest thing about this drawing is the way Cram, well, crams an array of Gothic cathedrals in the background, making only their spires peek out of the profile of the pyramids. The result here is way more than the sum of the parts and to be honest rather than a diagram we should properly call this a capriccio.
Viollet Le Duc restored this donjon in the mid-1800s - the original dated back, probably, to the reign of Enguerrand VII at the end of the 1300s. Viollet made it popular (and accessible) although his method might, today, be frowned upon - in any case, we owe to him this delightful set of plans and section. The massive base of the tower gives way to a filigree of gothic arches towards the top, It is a weird hybrid of Scottish castle and French cathedral which, tectonically, makes perfect sense.
The tower was destroyed by the German army during the first World War, in 1917. It took 28 tons of cheddite to blow it up for no better reason than they could just do it and that it would shock people. People were suitably shocked and declared the ruins a monument against barbarism. 99 years afterwards, the story is forgotten, and we still act surprised when we hear that cultural heritage has been destroyed as act of warfare. In fact there's nothing new about it. The Chateau de Coucy has become another cute picture on Pinterest, filed under 'poche plan', 'thick walls', or 'quirky old buildings' - right where one day we'll find all the contemporary acts of destruction that might, one day, be forgotten.
I am not sure if this is a sour story, or if it is sweet - as architecture, form, and beauty did prevail after all.
The Tower of the Winds is a timepiece in the form of a building. Vitruvius names Andronicus of Cyrrhus, an expert of astronomy hailing from Macedonia, as its author. Andronicus is recorded as the author of other sundials, including that of the Sanctuary of Poseidon on the island of Tinos, and is probably an actual historical figure who doubled here as architect and technical consultant. Varro writes about the tower around 50 BCE but it is not clear when exactly it had been completed; if it dated to that period, it would mean it belonged to the building programme of the new Roman colonial agora. If we have to agree with Hermann Kienast, who places it about a century earlier, it would have, interestingly, predated the Roman project. All authors however agree on its purpose; the Tower worked as sundial and was topped by a triton-shaped weather vane. Its octagonal plan is a reference to the eight main winds embodied by wind-gods in Greek mythology. The building still stands, but as it has been reused for different purposes in the last 2000 years, it is impossible to reconstruct its original interior and the waterclock that occupied it. In The Antiquities of Athens (1762) the section shows an empty, rather blank space, and only in the plan we see a hint of the machines that would have occupied it originally. It is indeed thanks to this book that the Tower became a popular example of classical architecture; until then, most architects based themselves on Italian examples. John Stuart and Nicholas Revett were the first to publish an extensive report on Greek ruins and the pages they dedicated to the Tower are still compelling today for their clean graphics and fascinating subject matter.
The partnership of Revett and Stuart is the stuff of picaresque novels: while Nicholas Revett (1720-1804) was your typical British gentleman amateur on the Grand Tour, John Stuart's origins were anything but aristocratic. He was in fact the son of a sailor, gifted with unique visual talents; a former painter of fans, he eked out a living in Italy as tourist guide until the fateful meeting with Revett. Eventually, the two would return home to publish their opus magnus and Stuart, nicknamed 'Athenian', would enjoy a couple of colourful decades dividing himself between prestigious design commissions and a rowdy private life (it seems its love of booze and young wenches often stood in the way of completing lucrative jobs). In any case, the book is still today a source of delight: in the case of the Tower of the winds, they represent the building with crisp architectural projections - plan, section, and elevation - without its context. The elevation emphasizes the contrast between the ornate upper part of the tower, and the plainness of its smooth pentelic marble bottom half.
In the elevation one can also see the sundials etched below the frieze. While the interior presents doric features, the exterior is corinthian. However, the choice of representing plan section and elevation is also symptomatic of the fact that here Revett and Stuart are not simply portraying the building, but rather attempting a reconstruction following literary sources such as Varro and Vitruvius. By the mid-1700s, in fact, the porticoes did not exist anymore, and neither did the bronze weather vane. The authors of the Antiquities show us the actual conditions of the buildings in a perspective view that is a more faithful depiction of the building at the time of their visit.
Vitruvius' obsession with the link between time and space, architecture and calendars, is well known; in Book 1 of De Architectura Andronicus is mentioned with the implicit understanding that he was an unrivalled maestro of clock-building, but Vitruvius also discusses other examples closer to home, including one in Rome, a tower with 12 sides instead of 8, to match a different system of categorization of winds.
After the publication of Revett and Stuart's antiquities, the tower became a popular archetype and was widely copied - there is, for instance, an almost literal copy in Oxford, along with many variations and versions throughout the continent.
An astronomer, an adventurer, and an aristocrat: ironically, none of the men who built this tower and gave it a second life was an architect.
Caecilia Metella, as all Roman matrons of good family, did not have a name - but she did get one of the most magnificent mausoleums ever built to perpetuate her memory. Or, rather, the memory of her as pure dynastic locus of the merger between the clans of her father, consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus, and her husband, quaestor Marcus Licinius Crassus. Roman women did not have a praenomen, and were only identified by their father's nomen (representing the gens or clan) and cognomen (the bit that specified to which family, or sub-branch of a clan, one belonged). So you see, this lady did not have a real proper praenomen (let's say, Jane Caecilia Metella, or something), but only the two standard surnames. Men also had a right to a fourth name or agnomen, theoretically a nickname, but in fact a third surname that made the kinship structure even clearer. In any case, her mausoleum dominates a hill along the Appian Way since the first century BC, having been built approximately some time between 25 and 10 BC. The mausoleum is basically a huge tumulus, a drum made out of earth and clad in stone. Still today it looks both imposing and scarily simple, just a very large static mass. However, Piranesi's plate above shows how this building without an interior is far from being a one-liner.
The facade above cannot express the actual size of the building; the diameter is 30 m, the height 20 m. The scale of the stones used is very large, making the image look deceptively normal. In fact, the mausoleum was so big that throughout the middle ages it was used as a fortress, and it had a second life between 1300 and 1500 as centre of the headquarters of the Caetani family. It might not be obvious, but building something this large, even if it is (almost) only a sculpture implies some major engineering challenges.
The section is in fact rather inaccurate as the tomb is built on top of a layer of concrete almost 1 m thick laid on top of the existing hill which is made out of volcanic and tuff rock. Although obviously in Piranesi's time analysis techniques were not developed enough to know this, it is still rather surprising to see such a sketchy foundation section as throughout the Roman Antiquities Piranesi is almost more interested in the foundations than in monuments themselves. Still, the section shows the interior of the tomb, with the tapering, tall cella, which would have culminated with an oculus on the roof that was a simple grass-covered mound. This kind of mausoleum was quite popular and Hadrian's tomb - today Castel Sant'Angelo - follows the same model. Perhaps, the mound is a nod to Etruscan tradition?
Caecilia Metella might have never rested in the building - burial customs varied during the centuries of Rome's hegemony and at that point the deceased were most often cremated. Outside of the city walls, the first miles of the Appian Way were bordered by a series of tombs, memorials, cenotaphs, as it was impure to bury the dead in an urban area. In fact some, if not most, of these monuments did not actually mark a burial place but they simply ensured maximum visibility to the family of the deceased. The road was one single monumental space where citizens (and in some case rich freedmen) represented their status. Caecilia Metella's tomb would have stood out also in antiquity, not only for its scale, but for its higher topographic position. Although the tomb has almost no function, and almost no interior, it is still a rather awesome piece of architecture that contains many interesting details, both hidden, and visible.
As a footnote, if you are wondering what's the use of the agnomen or third Roman surname, let us say that this Caecilia Metella could have definitely used one - if only to distinguish her (daughter of Metellus Creticus) from Caecilia Metella (daughter of Metellus Celer). While our Metella was a real lady who only made the news in case of the proverbial 'hatch, match, and dispatch' (so much so that we know nothing at all about her), Metella Celer was a notorious socialite of the 1st century BC. Celer means fast, and indeed Metella Celer was not one to waste time as she happily ignored her own husband to help Dolabella cuckhold his wife. A wife who just happened to be Cicero's daughter... which as you can imagine did not help this Caecilia Metella get the best press. Then again, if the wife was as boring as the father, who can blame Dolabella?
Long story short: don't believe what they tell you about a Roman lady. As they didn't have a proper name and surname, you never know whether you're really talking about the right person.
Jacques-Francois Blondel's architecture handbook does not exactly make the most inspiring of reads. The full title, Cours d'architecture ou traité de la décoration, distribution et constructions des bâtiments contenant les leçons données en 1750, et les années suivantes is already indicative of the rather pedantic character of the book. Moreover, the title also seems just plain wrong in terms of its very 'architecture', of its logical structure (decoration, distribution and construction? give me Vitruvius any day of the week... Blondel should get his priorities straight...). And in fact the structure of the book is a bit all over the place. But, it has to be said, the virtue of these tomes is to be, if nothing else, full of examples - some, again, uninspiring, some amazing, some average, some unexpected. The drawing above is the plan of the Church of Saint-Marie-de-la Visitation in Rue St. Antoine, Paris. The church was originally part of a convent; it still exists today and is known as the Temple du Marais as it operates as protestant church. The plan definitely stands out from what is Blondel's rather monotone collection, and in fact, this is a work by none other than Francois Mansart. What is more, the church dates to 1632, which means it is really a rather original project and not a rip off of Italianate models as one might have thought. In fact, if we consider that Borromini wouldn't get his San Carlino commission until 1634, the use of the core church space as a shell that creates a poche-non-poche circulation ring is quite unique in such an early project.
See the plan of San Carlino:
The facade of this Mansart church is also very interesting - here's the elevation from Blondel:
There is something rather bizarre in this façade that juxtaposes two equally strong elements - a dome and a portal - without really establishing a hierarchy between the two. The portal itself is a thing of beauty, with just a hint of a gigantic order in the flattened mock-pillars, and two rather small columns flanking the main door and sticking out in full, 360 degrees detail from the wall (apparently Mansart was a fan of Michelangelo). The large oculus offset by a rather ironic curved cornice is the only decoration of a façade that stands out for the amount of blank wall it offers to the eye. Blondel also reproduced the portal in a second illustration, as a standalone piece - probably ready for his students to poach - see below.
Kopfkino happens when 'it's all in your head'. It's head-cinema in German, literally. It is supposed to relate to something negative - ie imagining bad things that might never happen. However this photo of Kisho Kurokawa's National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka (1973-77) seems to portray exactly that kind of stepped, mineral-landscape-y project that has starred in our Kopfkino for some years now. And yet, it really exists! Have a good weekend all of you, and see you next Friday @ AA for the Architecture and Labour symposium.