Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Top Hat 1935

Previewing Top Hat (RKO Pictures, 1935) on my way home, I noticed that the opening credits use the same font as noted on yesterday's posting. This Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film is a candidate for a lecture on Art Deco in Hollywood. The sets include a stylized classical hotel and a Venetian fantasy. The Gay Divorcee (RKO Pictures, 1934) is another possibility. The dynamics of the fonts in Top Hat are complemented by the sudden movement of the camera (as soon as the credits are finished) that reveals an actual person wearing the hat above. The next calligraphic delicacy is a zoom into a sign hanging on a wall: "SILENCE must be observed in the Club Room." The fonts here are traditional and Gothic and set a foil to Fred Astaire's uncontrollable desire to break the silence through dance.

Being a bit silly on my late train ride, I considered how my name would look like if I was an RKO actor in the 30s and a protagonist in Top Hat. Not very attractive:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Franklin Field Illustrated 1920s

Franklin Field, the stadium at the University of Pennsylvania, was designed by Charles Klauder. The stadium opened in 1922, a few years before Klauder was given the commission for Franklin & Marshall's Master Plan. I was the University of Penn bookstore last night, browsing potential readings for my 1930s seminar in the Spring. I was reviewing, for instance, tales by H. P. Lovecraft, E. L. Doctorow's novel World's Fair: A Novel (1985), and James Mauro's new popular book, Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, and Murder at the 1939's World's Fair at the Brink of the War (2010). But what caught my attention was a 2011 sports calendar illustrating 19th- and early-20th century posters from Franklin Field Illustrated. Two posters from 1924 and 1927 utilized the above font, which I love. One pen stroke is dramatically thicker creating cinematic jazzy excitement. Although Franklin Field is Georgian in style (like Klauder's F&M master plan), the font of the era is progressive. I had to transcribe it. Contrast the font above with the font used in 1919, which is a stylized Roman font, stately and traditional (although equally attractive):

Thursday, November 18, 2010

1930s Domestic Fetus Burial in Los Angeles

I haven’t had much time to do anymore research on “Fleshing Out the Byzantine House,” the paper that I presented at the Byzantine Studies Conference in October, but a news story from Los Angeles makes me ponder diachronic issues on domestic fetuses burials. Three months ago, a woman clearing out the basement of an apartment building (left) found a locked trunk that contained the mummified remains of a fetus and a full-term baby from the 1930s. The mother, who presumably buried her children in the trunk, was Janet Mann Barrie (1897-1994). Although not confirmed, Barrie may have been related to James M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. The apartment building was located at MacArthur Park, a glamorous neighborhood during the 1930s. Forensics has not been able to determine the cause of death, but this is clearly a case of infant burial in a domestic context. The associated goods in the trunk, moreover, provide an interesting archaeological assemblage:

“In mid-August, two women cleaning the basement of an apartment building in a historic neighborhood bordering MacArthur Park found a dusty steamer trunk and broke its lock with a screwdriver. Inside were two doctor’s bags, each containing the delicate, flaking corpse of a baby wrapped in issues of The Los Angeles Times from 1933 and 1935 … The trunk held diamond and pearl necklaces and wedding photographs in other drawers. One picture shows Ms. Barrie in a dark coat with white fur trim beside a shiny automobile with the scrub-brush hills of Southern California behind her (left). Near the bodies were antique books, two tickets stubs from the 1932 Olympics and a certificate for the Peter Pan Woodland Club with ‘Jean Barrie’ written at the top.” Rebecca Cathcart, “Mysteries of Tiny Bodies from 1930s Will Linger,” The New York Times, Nov. 17, 2010, A19)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cram's Curve

Ralph Adam Crams' Walled Towns (1919) is a fascinating fantasy from the pen of America's most resolute medieval revivalist. Crams has been relegated to the "uninteresting" category of architectural theorists a favorite of quaint antiquarians, seminarians and reactionaries. Cram never tackled modernity's principle problems (technology, mechanization, labor) and, therefore, offered no viable solutions. Compared to manifestos like Towards An Architecture by LeCorbusier (1923), Walled Towns seems marginal. But I would argue that it needs to be re-read and we need to look at Cram not as a reactionary but as a radical. Consider his pseudo-social-scientific graph above that tries to prove that monasticism is an accurate register of civilization. This is fabulous stuff.

A nice essay that situates Cram in the history of architectural history is Peter Fergusson, "Medieval Architectual Scholarship in America, 1900-1940: Ralph Adams Cram and Kenneth John Conant," in The Architectural Historian in America (Washington, D.C., 1990), 127-139. The volume rose out of a symposium held at the National Gallery to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Society of Architectural Historians. As a collection of essays, it is not entirely comprehensive -- for instance, there is little attention on the German refugees of the 1950s -- nevertheless, it is a great primer on the history of architectural history in the U.S.

Fergusson summarizes Cram's social agenda as follows:

"Reactionary as this sounds [Cram's critique of democracy and endorsement of Jacobean monarchy], Cram's utopian views reveal a figure who was much more a rebel than a reactionary, a passionate critic of the status quo. These qualities explain other causes he pushed with equal ardor. Some appear directly antithetical to his monarchist views, like the strong advocacy of 'socialist ideas,' as he recalled them. If The Decadent examined this theme at the start of Cram's career, at least five books dealt with it during his middle years, their pitch discernible from such titles as The Nemesis of Mediocrity (1917) and The Sins of the Fathers (1918); he returned to it again in his last book at the close of his life, The End of Democracy (1937). All of these volumes are marked by a pervasive pessimism and a sense of imminent cultural crisis. Democracy has failed, big government is evil, bureaucracy intolerable, modernism corrupting, Roosevelt imperial. The short-term solution lies in the amendment of the American constitution through the reconfiguration of the then forty-six states into five or six provinces or commonwealths. The long-term ideal remains a constitutional monarchy, complete with orders of knighthood. These prolonged forays into political theory are particularly hard to digest today. But they are important." (131).

This is crazy cool stuff (crazier than the Tea Party). And we must remember, Cram was not a political theorists, but one of America's most productive architects that also happened to publish dozens of books. Fergusson reminds us that, unlike utopian medievalists like Philip Morris, Cram had no personal fortune to rely on. The early interest on churches was driven by "an entrepreneurial opportunism" and his writing was surely profitable.

My 1930s seminar will read Cram and make up its own mind. The chart from Walled Towns may have absolutely no relevance to the 21st-century student. In my architectural history classes, I often start the discussion of monasticism with an image from 1969 (left), showing three F&M students bidding farewell to single-sex education. The students have here set up a tombstone for "Monas T. Cism, 1787-1969," right next to Old Main (where Nevin unveiled his radical liturgy). The college's seminarian roots make monasticism relevant. The joke was understood in 1969, but when I ask my students about monasticism in class, most have no idea at all. Cram would place 2010 at the bottom of the cultural/monastic curve, but I would hope that he places 1969 at the top.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Demuth & Williams No. 5

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.

Charles Demuth, The Figure 5 in Gold (1928), Museum of Modern Art, New York
William Carlos Williams, "The Great Figure," Sour Grapes (1921)

Friday, November 05, 2010

Five House Thoughts

In the spirit of Bill Caraher's Friday Quick Hits, I will list five inspiring ideas that emerged last week from lectures and readings

1. Housing Refugees in Lancaster

The Ware Institute for Civic Engagement at Franklin & Marshall has become one of my favorite connectors. One of the Ware Institute's initiatives is to engage F&M students with refugees living in our community, many placed in housing next to our college. This week's Common Hour was organized by the volunteers who assist these refugees and it was very inspiring. I have decided to add a component of architectural analysis on the construction of transient dwelling by these community and engage students in my architectural history classes on first-hand investigations, interviews, analysis, etc. I have been brainstorming with Ware Institute dir. Susan Dicklitch on the right recipe for such a project or internship. Common Hour convinced me of the amazing potential of a refugee architectural angle. In my Spring seminar, Lancaster: Architecture of Faith, I hope to explore new cultural identities in Lancaster through places of worship. In other words, I hope to focus part of the seminar on the role of faith in contemporary transient communities like our Iraqi and Burmese refugees right on College Avenue. I've started to read up on the architecture of camps, see Charlie Hailey, Camps: A Guide to 21st-Century's Space (2009) and I've been following the horrendous refugee housing issues in Greece for a few years.

2. Housing College Women

The third installment of the lectures series that I organized at F&M was devoted to the architecture of women's colleges in Victorian England and the United States: Margaret Vickery "Buildings for Bluestockings: Architectural Design Strategies for Women's Colleges in the 19th Century." Women's colleges stressed a domestic architectural identity and tried hard not to resemble the monastic paradigms of male colleges. While men's colleges were designed around cloisters with free access to individual bachelors, women's colleges were heavily monitored by corridors. Vickery's lecture gave us an opportunity to think about contemporary notions of domesticity in our College House system. Those interested in these issues should read Vickery's The Architecture and Social Space of Women's Colleges in Late Victorian England (1999) and Smith College: The Campus Guide (2007).

3. Housing the Accumulation of Objects

Thanks to the New York Times Home and Garden section, I have discovered a new favorite photographer. Corine May Botz has been photographing the collection of stuff in people's homes. For her M.A. thesis, she photographed the houses of agoraphobics. Monacelli Press has just published another project devoted to Haunted Houses (2010). Botz's most current work explores The Secret Life of Objects and can be previewed in her blog. For the introduction to Botz's work, see Penelope Green, "Documenting Accumulation and Its Discontents," NYT (Nov. 3, 2010). I was thrilled to see reference to architectural historian Anthony Vidler, whose work on the Uncanny has heavily inspired my last paper "Fleshing Out the Byzantine House." My friend Michael Clapper, who works on houses and the ordinary art that people habitually collected (including Kincaid) will surely love Botz, too. Maybe we can invite her to speak at F&M.

4. Housing in Global Highrises

Domestic vistas--psychotic or voyeuristic--also come through global perspectives. Take a peak at the Highrise Project. Click here and see Katerina Cizek's "Out My Window," 360 degrees of vertical domesticities across the world.

5. Writers' Windows

Matteo Pericoli is well known for his long architectural drawings of Manhattan. Pericoli began a new series featuring views out of the windows of well known contemporary writers throughout the. Four installments have been published in the New York Times, views out of the apartments of Orhan Pamuk in Istanbul, Daniel Kehlman in Berlin, Andrea Levy in London, and Ryu Murakami in Tokyo.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Blog Archive

Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States