Monday, December 10, 2012

Thinking Architecture

Taking advantage of the student "reading days," the period between the end of classes and the beginning of finals, I have been reviewing some new books that might be used as textbooks for introductory classes. Although, teaching free for a whole semester as I go on sabbatical, I am capitalizing on the teaching buzz of this semester to plan my capstone seminar in Fall 2013. This browsing period has proven to be extremely productive in that I have found two brilliant new books that I would wholeheartedly recommend to any novice or teacher of architectural history.

During the 1960s, teaching architectural history witnessed its greatest calamity when two academic disciplines bifurcated. Schools of Architecture and Departments of Art History decided to part ways, a rather unfortunate divorce for architectural historians who served both communities. In the 1980s, the golden decade of post-structural theory, School of Architecture took a dive into deep theory. The same can be said about art historians dealing with visual texts. But architectural historians that had no relationship to contemporary architectural practices did not. Interestingly enough, both are now in crisis. The high theorists of architecture our spinning their wheels, while the positivists art historians are losing their audience by the minute. 

Colin Davies has written the first textbook that has successfully bridged the gap between the anti-historical theorists and the anti-theoretical historians. Thinking about Architecture: An Introduction to Architectural Theory (London, 2011) is a phenomenal accomplishment. In just 150 pages and organized around eight themes, Davies has interjected history with the passion of its internal hermeneutic tradition but has also tamed the seemingly incomprehensible "architecture speak" (or theory light) still dominant in schools of design. Each chapter is divided into coherent sections with obvious primary sources for the student and a very economical number of monuments that most efficient illustrate the point. I have embraced the book for its clarity and sophistication and its classroom-friendliness. 

Another new book that I absolutely adore is a little collection of essays on the architecture of the home. Edwin Heathcote is the architecture critic for the Financial Times and his essays originate from those pages. His little book, The Meaning of Home (London, 2012), takes the reader through a philosophical tour of every nook and corner of a home. Each essay is a few pages long but rich with evocations on historical meanings. It makes an ideal textbook for a class on the philosophy of houses if supplemented by an investigation of the textual comparenda that it brings to the reader (literature, philosophy, film, etc.) But it also makes an inspiring read for anyone interested in the cultural power of houses. This book fits well in Christmas stockings (but beware of ugly cover).

I also reviewed Alexandra Lange's, Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities (New York, 2012). The book is intended as a handbook on writing contemporary criticism. It takes six classic texts of criticism and analyzes them as strategic documents. The texts are Lewis Mufmord's "House of Glass," Herbert Muschamp's "The Miracle of Bilbao," Michael Sorkin's "Save the Whitney," Charles Moore's "You Have to Pay for the Public Life," Frederick Law Olmsted's "Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns," and Jane Jacob's "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." The collection is a wonderful idea and I can imagine how it could be used for a writing seminar on criticism. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out any other objectives and found it difficult to incorporate it in any classes that I teach. Lange gave a seminar at Queens College this last semester on What to Do with an Art History Degree. I would have loved my students to attend since, outside of New York or Los Angeles, few consider a career in architectural criticism.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Greece: The Art of Archaeology (ART 374)

Franklin and Marshall College will be offering a summer program in Greece combining studio arts and archaeology. 


May 14-30, 2013
Professors Kostis Kourelis & John Holmgren

An introduction to the visual culture of Greece and an exploration of artistic methods in archaeological recording. We will survey and photograph architectural remains from Greece’s rich cultural history and will introduce students to contemporary problems of heritage management and environmental deterioration in a global context.


The intensive two-week summer program in Greece is a hands-on introduction to the art and architecture of Greece from antiquity to the present. It immerses students into a physical engagement with monuments that have never been studied before. The students will apply old and new methodologies to document cultural artifacts from buildings to landscapes. In contrast to a traditional model of passive site-seeing, the class will immerse the students into a diverse microcosm from the most rural to the most urban. Three distinct case studies will introduce the technical challenges of studying the past, as well as, the contemporary realities that intersect with the management of cultural heritage from environmental degradation to the globalization of labor. We will document ancient walls, medieval castles and nineteenth-century houses in the sites of Lidoriki, Athens and Corinth. Co-taught by a photographer and an architectural historian, the class will reveal the intimate partnership between studio arts and the construction of history.


1. Lidoriki is a pastoral village nestled in the remote mountains of central Greece. Occupied since antiquity, Lidoriki contains a microcosm of Greek history. We will survey the acropolis of ancient Kallipolis, which was converted into a castle during the Middle Ages and we will document the beautifully preserved church of Taxiarches. Through drawing and photography, we will produce a complete visual record of decorative arts and traditional stone architecture. During the 1960s, the three rivers that met in Lidoriki were dammed to create a reservoir to water Athens. Beginning in the 1990s, the mountains of Lidoriki were also aggressively mined for the extraction of bauxite, an ingredient in the production of aluminum. Mining and damming have produced an extreme lunar landscape that places modernity into direct confrontation with Lidoriki’s pastoral traditions. The juxtaposition of antiquity and modernity makes Lidoriki a fascinating region. We will stay in the village and collaborate with the local community, as well as, with a consortium of scholars from the Polytechnic University of Athens and Maryville University. The experience will give the students powerful lessons in the complexities of cultural resource management in the intersection of local, national and global forces.

2. Corinth. Excavated by American archaeologists since 1893, Corinth is microcosm of archaeological periods and methods. Its rich archive of old photos and drawings offers a rare glimpse in the intersection of fine art and excavation. Here we will reverse the process of investigation that we learned in Lidoriki. Rather than applying drawing and photography on standing monuments, we will use drawings and photographs from the 19th and early 20th centuries to reconstruct an excavated monument that does not exist anymore. Using historical photographs and the excavation records, we will create a 3-dimensional model of Saint John, an important church that was removed in 1937.

3. Athens. We will conclude our trip in Athens, Greece’s largest and most historical city. We will visit the major museums to investigate ways by which the past has been represented at a metropolitan setting. Turning our attention on the urban fabric, we will execute a number of visual works that capture the overlapping layers of history, including the most recent chapter of the financial crisis. Joining our team from the Polytechnic University, we will hold a final review session in the university’s historical building.


May 15 Departure from Philadelphia International Airport (11 am)
May 16 Arrival at Venizelos International Airport, Athens (9 am)
May 17 Lidoriki
May 18 Lidoriki
May 19 Itea, Naupaktos
May 20 Lidoriki
May 21 Lidoriki
May 22 Lidoriki
May 23 Lidoriki
May 24 Lidoriki
May 25 Lidoriki
May 26 Corinth
May 27 Corinth
May 28 Corinth
May 29 Athens
May 30 Athens
May 31 Departure from Venizelos International Airport, Athens (9am)
             Arrival at Philadelphia (3pm)

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Monday, December 03, 2012

Zeppelin Archaeology

A couple of years ago, we began the Punk Archaeology project which will culminate in a day-long conference, performance and all-around happening in Fargo this February (see here). The revival of this collaborative (it would be punk sacrilege to call it "community") helps me return to one of the issues raised in the project, namely the relationship between punk and house form. I had pondered on this before, see The House of the Rising Sun, The Clash squatting, Iggy Pop's trailer home in Ypsilanti,. As Barack Obama honors Led Zeppelin in the 2012 Kennedy Center awards today, I am thinking about the contrast between two domestic utopias, between punk's post-industrial arcadia of urban ruins and rock's pre-industrial utopia of the idyllic countryside. During the 1970s, two antithetical bands, The Clash and Led Zeppelin congregated in radically different dwellings. Both were extreme expressions of belonging and both were off the grid -- neither had electricity nor water. Joe Strummer began his musical career in 1974 by forming The 101ers, who took their name from 101 Walterton Road, London, where the band squatted. The row house was part of a bombed out World War II neighborhood that the government eventually demolished in 1975. The band then squatted at 36 N Luke Rd in a West Indian neighborhood, which explains punk's Ska connections. Through The Clash and other bands like them, punk was conceived inside the domestic ruins of 19th-century cities.

At the same time, Led Zeppelin retreated to the British countryside, inhabiting an 18th-century cottage in Wales. Bron-Yr-Aur, made famous by an instrumental track by the same name, belonged to Robert Plant's family, who took used it as a vacation house in the 1950s. Although rooted in the American blues, Led Zeppelin taps into a medieval sense of organicity that is deeply seated in the foundations of the British psyche. This is clearly evident in the band's fin-de-siecle logotype. While Plant and Jimmy Page were writing Zeppelin III at Bron-Yr-Aur, Raymond Williams was historicizing the British myth of the country in a landmark of Marxist historiography, The Country and The City (1973). Williams argued that the British began idealizing the countryside at the very moment that they were destroying it (the enclosure movement, aristocrats turning to capitalist landlords, etc.) Unbeknownst to Williams, Plant and Page were in the process of transforming the myth of rural England into a powerful acoustic aura to be replicated in ordinary homes through high-fidelity record players. The Bron-Yr-Aur house (photo below) represents the specific architectural origins of this transformation. Zeppelin's genius (which is why they are honored by the White House) is to invisibly translate these very stone walls into an aural structure that bears no resemblance to its vernacular origin.

PS. I did the sketch of Zeppelin above Sunday morning, sitting in the kitchen of my sister and brother-in-law (who is spending his sabbatical in Washington, D.C.), waiting for other to wake up, reading The Washington Post. When my niece came down, she was extremely curious why I was drawing people from the newspaper. Then she disappeared to return with a concocted notebook that resembled mine, but made up of cardboard, tape and paper. For the rest of the morning, we learned how to copy cartoons and photos. She's a natural.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Joseph Reynolds Papers

During the last two weeks, I have been stealing moments from my busy days to hide in the microfilm room at the Shadek Fackenthal Library, where I have been browsing through the Joseph Reynolds Papers, borrowed from the Smithsonian Institute's Archive of American Art. The image on the left are just from my visual notes. I am stunned by the volume of archival data on Reynolds stained glass windows, which seems reversely proportional to the scholarship on such Arts-and-Craftsmen of Twenties America. Reynolds grew up in Rhode Island, went to RISDI and apprenticed with the founder of the medieval stained glass movement in America Charles Connick. Coalescing around a circle of Boston aesthetes, these craftsman have accumulated the reputation of traditionalists. This might explain the scholarly disinterest. Although working within a revivalist idiom, their reputation is misleading. Douglas Shand-Tucci's biography of Ralph Adams Cram illustrates how radical this circle actually was, spinning from the Ruskinian aestheticism of Harvard's fine art program. Shand-Tucci argues that the Gothic was simply a "Trojan horse" for a more radical agenda. Reynolds firm, Reynolds, Francis and Rohnstock, designed some of the most important stained glass windows in America from the National Cathedral in Washington to Princeton's Memorial Chapel.

In 1925, Reynolds designed the windows of the Lancaster Theological Seminary. The Seminary of the German Reformed Church had been part of Franklin and Marshall College. But in 1893, it crossed College Avenue to a new Romanesque Revival building. Just one generation later, however, the Seminary sought to Gothicize its Romanesque space by commissioning a set of stained glass windows. The renovation was intended to coincide with the Centennial Celebration of the seminary (1825-1925). When Charles Connick published his Adventures in Light and Color (1937) he listed Lancaster Seminary as one of the most noteworthy stained glass windows. Interestingly enough, he credits Zantzinger, Borie and Medary as the architects for the renovation. This in itself is a great discovery, as the architects for the renovation have been forgotten by the seminary. Zantzinger, Borie and Medary was one of the most notable architectural firms in Philadelphia. To have found an example of their work in Lancaster is truly sensational.

My dark journey in the archive of Reynolds has been acutely enjoyable, perhaps the highlight of my semester. I have discovered all kinds of historical evidence that I look forward to publishing in the near future. Here is a mind-blowing detail, for example. In the Martin Luther window, King Charles V holds a spectre that contains a bright red piece of glass. That red piece of glass is an original work of the 13th-century French Gothic. Reynolds notes that the piece of glass was actually taken directly from Rouen Cathedral. The seamless inclusion of a medieval relic in a medieval revival work begs all kinds of questions regarding reference and referent, the aura of the original and its relationship to the imitation in which it is encased.

A year after working on the Lancaster Seminary, Reynolds also designed the windows for Mercersburg Academy Chapel designed by Ralph Adam Cram. Mercersburg was the home of Marshall College from 1836 to 1853 before it merged with Franklin College to form Franklin and Marshall. Once the college left, Mersersburg became a preparatory school. The Mercersburg Theology is a famous theological movement associated with our college hence Reynolds commissions between the two places are critical. As a preparatory school, the Mercersburg Academy was the brainchild of William Mann Irvine. He was a professor at Franklin and Marshall that became the Academy's headmaster in 1893. The Mercersburg Chapel was dedicated in 1926 to honor the alumni that had died during World War I.

I am also very much interested in the stained glass windows that Reynolds, Francis and Rohnstock designed for the Princeton Chapel because they related to my research of Corinth architects and Princetonites like Richard Stillwell. Reynolds designed the Great Windows at the North and South Transept of the Princeton Chapel. The North Window, in particular, has "Scholarship" as its theme and it was paid by Robert Garrett who financed Howard Crosby Butler's archaeological expeditions to Syria, where Stillwell received his archaeological training. The South Window, whose theme is "The Triumph over Suffering" features an unexpected character, Cardinal Mercier, among Joan of Arc and Thomas Becket. Mercier was a Belgian cardinal made famous for his resistance against the German invasion in 1914. As has been noted by other scholars, the Gothic Revival of the 1920s, which is acutely Francophile, has much to do with the American experience in World War I. Faced by the horrors of an industrial war and massive death (37 million), the medieval past offered a return to chivalry and honor. There is another connection between Princeton and Mercersburg. William Mann Irvine received his PhD in political science from Princeton, where Woodrow Wilson had just joined the department of government. Irvine's vision for Mercersburg might have been, thus, flavored by a common Wilsonian vision of internationalism.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ruskin Mountain

This boot remembers the irregular surfaces of mountain that it has traversed. Once you leave the last cultivated contour, where even the thinnest accumulation of soil hosts some kermes oak, you ascend on pure rock. From the perspective of the hiker, the mountain is not a solid  pyramidal form but a surface of shattered chips, a scattering of unstable fragments that crunch under the boot and destabilize any expectation of shore footing. This most visceral experience of Greek mountains came to mind as I read Ruskin's introduction of the fifth chapter of The Stones of Venice, the Wall Veil. I have to quote the passage in full because I have never found the words to describe that sensation of stepping on a land-mass whose own ruin crumble under your feet.

The slope of the rocks is covered two feet deep with their ruins, a mass of loose and slaty shale, or a dull brick-red colour, which yields beneath the foot like ashes, so that, in running down, you step one yard, and slide three. The rock is indeed hard beneath, but still disposed in thin courses of these cloven shales, so finely laid that they look in places more like a heap of unmitigated surprise, as if the mountain were upheld by miracle; but surprise becomes more intelligent reverence for the great Builder, when we find, in the middle of the mass of these dead leaves, a course of living rock, of quartz as white as the snow that encircles it, and harder than a bed of steel.

Ruskin is describing the north-west slopes of Matterhorn in the Alps, where he developed an early theory of place and geological stratigraphy, of principal lines and striation. Here, in the borders between Switzerland and Italy, between pure landscape and pure culture, Ruskin became a premier mountain theorists. In my search for Ruskin's influence in Greece, I have found the earliest translation in the avant-garde journal To Trito Mati (1935), three essays from Ruskin's Modern Painters including "The Mountain." An earlier conversation between the Alps and the Greek mountains took place in 1907, when Swiss photographer Fred Boissonans came to Greece to climb Mount Olympus and staid to produce the most eloquent record of rural Greek culture.

Ruskin's passage from The Stones of Venice reminded me of another representation of  the mountain's tactile fragmentation, the Dream Garden mosaic of Maxfield Parrish commissioned by the Edward Bok of the Curtis Publishing Company in 1916. Parrish's mountain in fragmented by the virtue of the pieces manufactured by the Tiffany Studios. My photo above is from a recent visit with fellow art historian Michael Clapper and Parrish expert.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Furness Steel Beam Drawing

Frank Furness is one of the first architects to push the steel beam out of the invisible interiors of engineering and into the public exteriors of architectural expression. In earlier posts, I had began tracing a steel-beam vernacular as it developed in the Philadelphia area, courtesy of Furness's wider influence during the 1870s.

This Thanksgiving, I am incredibly thankful for having seen the earliest graphic manifestation of the marriage between traditional masonry and steel construction. This is a drawing by Frank Furness and George Hewitt of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts building showing a section through the antique galleries. The drawing (no. 1876.6.26) is currently on view at PaFA. It is the Mother Drawing of steel beam vernacular.

My sketch here copies the relevant juncture. Furness used violet to mark the poche of a section, following a Beaux-Arts convention. His choice to demarcate the steel in blue ink, however, is new. One can only speculate on Furness's reasons for blue, but I cannot help to consider the synesthetic connotations of temperature and cold neutrality.

As my collaborators in Greece know, I have also been tracing the emergence of a steel-beam vernacular in the "traditional" architecture of Greece, which I hope to argue was wonderfully receptive of modernity before academic Modernism. There is no causal connection between steel beam vernacular in Philadelphia and rural Greece, but both represent a fascinating and undocumented phenomenon of unofficial integration.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Violet Furness

While looking for architectural manifestations of John Ruskin, most typically turn to William Butterfield's All Saints Margaret Street or Dean and Woodward's Oxford University Museum of Natural Science. But I turn a little closer to home in the work of Frank Furness. Thanks to his intellectual and geographical distance, Furness captures a most vivid Ruskinian aesthetics. The same can be said of a few H. H. Richardson buildings, like Trinity Church at Copley Square.

The year 2012 has been the year of Frank Furness, as many Philadelphia institutions commemorate his genius. For a complete list of "Furness: Inventing Modern," see here. I have been doing the rounds in Furnessiana relishing in all the original drawings from Furness and Hewitt's office and have taken some notes.

VIOLET. The Beaux Arts tradition (from Richard Morris Hunt's atelier) is evident in the use of violet ink to demarcate the poche in plans and sections. In the tradition of the Analytique, we also have plans overlapping elevations, the former differentiated by violet. My sketch replicates a detail from the granite double-shafts in the exterior of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (No. 1876.6.20). Overlapping the column cylinder, you see the column plan. Between the black lines of the elevation and the violet lines of the plan, we can reconstruct the three-dimensional column.

Another discovery in the Furness/Hewitt drawings was the interplay between drafting and free hand. All horizontal and vertical lines are drafted, but all curvilinear lines are done free-hand and this is not limited to the ornate sculptural capital but to every piece of moulding. This is noticeable only if you study the actual drawing, but the line thickness of free hand is evident in the variation of the inked line.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ruskin: The Virtue of Creativity (Genesis)

Following a global ecology in The Quarry (ch. 1), Ruskin defines some criteria in The Virtues of Architecture (ch. 2) in The Stones in Venice. If order for the evaluation of architecture to be universal, "of all the world and of all time," Ruskin needs to articulate some criteria, a "plumb-line" according to which we can pronounce whether a building is perpendicular. He calls them Virtues and they are three. Architecture must 1. Act well, 2. Speak well, and 3. Look well. The first virtue refers to the buildings structural integrity and economy that can be rationally evaluated. Interestingly enough, it aligns perfectly with Viollet-le-Duck structural rationalism, one of Ruskin's French foils. The second virtue is about the communicative message that the building contains that can only be evaluated by fully understanding the expectations, assumption and world-view of the civilization that produced it. In other words, the second virtue defines the job of the Panofskian positivist art history, the discipline of reconstructing historical intentions. Ruskin flat out rejects this as an evaluative principle. In a rather postmodern turn, Ruskin argues that it is impossible to enter the subjectivity of the original builder or user. The social historian might as well give up before starting. If the first virtue can be assessed technocratically and the the second virtue is inaccessible, Ruskin makes the third virtue as the most important plumb-line, which is a pure unmitigated enjoyment by the viewer. A good building can, thus, be aesthetically evaluated purely by the pleasure it give the viewer and requires no historical referentiality.

Ruskin, of course, has something a lot more specific in mind for his most important evaluative principle of aesthetic pleasure. At surface value, Ruskin's notion of beauty is steeped in Christian theology, "the right thing to be liked is God's work, which He made for our delight and contentment in this world. And all noble ornamentation is the expression of man's delight in God's work." For Ruskin, art is a human inquiry into genesis. The craftsman creates and in the process shares in the contemplation of universal creation. Once we remove the theological language, however, we find an even more profound conception of aesthetics. Ruskin's ecology implies that beauty resides in the natural landscape (whether created by God or not). Nature teaches us the fundamentals of aesthetic experience. Here Ruskin depends on Enlightenment aesthetic theory, such as Edmund Burke's contrast of the sublime and the beautiful, where aesthetic principals are rooted in natural principles. But this makes sense even without explicit Enlightenment theories, cognitive development depends on the ordering of natural elements (light, space, duration, extent, series, number, infinity, etc.) Thus, we do not need artifacts for beauty. It is not constructed by culture, but perceived or oriented through natural experience.

If beauty resides in the state of nature, then the architects job is to articulate the inherent difficulty of shaping nature (Genesis in capital letter) into an object (genesis in small letter). A good work of architecture exhibits the process of production, the process of making, the process of genesis. Aesthetic beauty is not the copying of conventions, but the articulation of struggle. This performative overcoming of nature becomes the basis of expressing our relationship with nature. Ruskin says it a lot better than me:

"I wish the reader to note this especially; we take pleasure, or should take pleasure, in architectural construction altogether as the manifestation of an admirable human intelligence; it is not the strength, not the size, not the finish of the work which we are to venerate : rocks are always stronger, mountains always larger, all natural objects more finished ; but it is the intelligence and resolution of man in overcoming physical difficulty which are to be the source of our pleasure and subject of our praise."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ruskin: Global Ecology

John Ruskin's conception of architectural agency is wonderfully global and, thus, just as relevant for the 21st as for the 19th century. In order to eradicate "the pestilence of the Renaissance" and the monopoly of "Classicalism" in western culture, Ruskin develops a global ecology of influence. Architecture becomes the total synthesis of multi-regional influences that are both cultural and environmental. When Ruskin published The Stones of Venice, scholars knew almost nothing about the chronology of medieval buildings. As a result, many of Ruskin's premises have been discounted by 20th-century scholarship. When positivist art history (Panofsky, Wittkower, Krautheimer, etc.) migrated from Germany to America after World War II, it managed to fully banish the Ruskinian world-view that had dominated for a century, since Charles Eliot Norton's establishment of a Ruskinian art program at Harvard. The Germanic tradition (via Panofskian iconology) reduced art history into social history. It is interesting to note that, within his lifetime, Ruskin resisted this development in his encounters of early positivists rampaging through Europe's archives. For Ruskin, the positivists spent too much time studying social documents and less time studying the works of art. To a certain extent, I am trying to reconstruct the Ruskinian world-view if only to reconstruct a lost century in American cultural history. So, I would like to focus on Ruskin's globalist paradigm.

For Ruskin, classical and Renaissance architecture should be abolished for being developmentally static, formulaic and easily reproducible by technological media. As a style of grand perfection, the classical vocabularly disguises the process of manufacture. If Ruskin were to use a contemporary situation, he would criticize a mass-produced classical molding from Home Depot because it disguises the oppressed Chinese factory worker that manufactured it, as well as the Hispanic day-laborer who will install it in a suburban home. A global view of architecture allows both China and Mexico to participate in the production of architectural meaning (although Ruskin felt that Chinese and Mesoamerican architecture were as static as modern European classicism, and he preferred Islamic and medieval paradigms).

Ruskin makes a pretty interesting argument in "The Quarry," ch. 1 of The Stones of Venice. Modern architecture begins with the Roman inheritance that gets transformed by the influences of two climatic and cultural extremes from the north and the south. A "glacier stream" from the north (Lombard, Norman) hardens it, while and a "lava stream" from the south (Arab, Byzantine) heats it. Ruskin chooses Venice as his ideal because it illustrates the process of cooling and thawing as it meets between the geographic extremes. In Venice, three global cultures come together to produce a processual synthesis. The classical inheritance of Rome, the frigid barbarian north and the luscious global south all come together in Venetian Gothic to produce the single most important lesson for the architectural future.

Ruskin's subjective theory of architecture is globally compelling, although problematic from a variety of view points. For instance, Postcolonial discourse has criticized Ruskin for asserting Venice as a colonialist prototype. Ruskin's Venice is compelling because it resembles the processes of hybridization that the British Empire must execute in India and Africa, in order to dominate. See, for instance, Daryl Ogden "The Architecture of Empire: 'Oriental' Gothic and the Problem of British Identity in Ruskin's Venice," Victorian Literature and Culture 25 (1997), pp. 109-120. Ruskin's architectural chronologies and real geographies are difficult to sustain. For instance, he sees Byzantine and Romanesque architecture as part of a unity, which informed both Byzantine and Romanesque Revival movements in the 19th century. It is difficult to distinguish Byzantine and Romanesque elements in the style of H. H. Richardson, for example. Even if it's not possible to adhere to all the details of Ruskin's schema, we must admit that we still use his concepts of influence and cultural hybridization.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ruskin: Beautiful but not Pretty

I begin a series of postings that one might call "Ruskin in Greece," although Ruskin (like Goethe) never crossed the Adriatic. Had he traveled to Greece, the prevalent Neoclassicism of the nascent nation-state would have crushed him. Greece's aspirations were so diametrically opposed to Ruskin's philosophy of art that any cross-fertilization between Ruskin and Greece seems ridiculous, Hence the names Ruskin and Hellas have never been put next to each other in scholarship. Nevertheless, I would argue that Ruskin cast a long shadow over Greece. It's the contours of this shadow that I will be tracing.

The earliest manifestation of Ruskin's theory of culture were articulated on a work devoted to domestic architecture. Ruskin wrote "The Poetry of Architecture" under the pseudonym Kata Phuysin ("According to Nature"), humorously tackling the classicist status quo. Mr. According to Nature studies the interplay between "national scenery and national character" in Europe's vernacular architecture. The book was serialized in 1837-38 and is the first book in Ruskin's 39-volume Collected Works (ed. E. T. Cook, London, 1912)

Had Ruskin visited Greece, he would have included a chapter on its mountain villages. His observations here would have been similar to his observations on the highlands of England and Wales, the mountain cottages of Westmoreland and Cumberland. I sketch Ruskin's illustrations of a window and his eloquent language of description. "It may be observed of the whole of the cottage," he concludes, "that, though all is beautiful, nothing is pretty." Thus, in 1837, sets up a new aesthetic discourse on vernacular architecture.

I tackle "The Poetry of Architecture"while researching an episode of Byzantine archaeology in Greece, when Ruskin's own students brought Ruskinian notions to Greece while documenting Byzantine monuments. Ruskin had placed Byzantium in a paradigmatic position for western culture, but Venice was the closest he got to it. It is natural that his students would take his mission further east through the Byzantine Research Fund at the British School at Athens. The group of Ruskin students in Greece include W. S. George, Robert Schultz, Sidney Barnsley and Ramsay Traquair. I had the great pleasure to study the drawing collection of these architects this summer. Many thanks to BSA archivist Amalia Kakissis for all her help. Moreover, the British School is organizing a conference on Byzantium and the Arts and Crafts movement in London, where I hope to present "Ruskin's Greek Shadow: The British School in Athens and the Byzantine House." The project hopes to untangle W. S. George's unpublished house drawings of Mystras, a topic related to my forthcoming essay on the houses of Mystras

Friday, October 05, 2012

Turk Hotel, Doylestown

Turk Hotel Trade Sign
Unidentified Artist
Doylestown, Bucks County, PA

My two great interests, Pennsylvania vernacular and Mediterranean archaeology, converge on this fabulous trade sign from Doylestown. The sign was given to the Doylestown Historical Society in 1930 and it currently hangs in the museum's lobby. I saw it last Spring during F&M's field trip to the Mercer Museum. I quote all the known information about the piece:

The Turk Hotel was located near the intersection of Easton Road and the Turk Road in Doylestown Township. Turk Road originally took its name from the crossroads tavern. The sign has been repainted many times. Its present appearance dates to c. 1885. John Bourjohn, whose name appears on the signboard operated the establishment between 1884 and 1886. In 1886 Bourjohn was refused renewal of his tavern license due to his sales of liquor to minors, and on Sundays.

The photo was taken by F&M Art History colleague Rick Ken.
For more posts on 19th-century Islamic Philadelphia, see here.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Als Ik Kan

Reading through an old issues of The Craftsman, Gustav Stickley's Arts & Crafts journal, I became aware of the graphic left, which became the motto for the movement and the corporate logo for Stickley's furniture. It is the visual correlate of ALS IK KAN, an old Flemish phrase, translated into "If I Can" or "As Best I Can." The concept was also disseminated by William Morris, and Stickley inserted in deep black letters within the instrument. In the Red House, Morris used the French "Si Je Puis." ALS IK KAN was also Jan van Eyck's personal motto. AIC IXH XAN was carved on the frame of his Man with Turban (1433).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

1829 Man Camp Navarino

Many people knows of Napoleon's Scientific Expedition to Egypt (where the code for hieroglyphic was cracked). Less known is the Scientific Expedition to the Peloponnese, the Morea Expedition (1829-33). In addition to producing a most spectacular set of engravings and the most detailed map, the Expedition initiated some of the earliest excavations including the discovery of Olympia. I was leafing through the first volume in search for some public domain illustrations for an article I'm trying to finish, and I chanced upon an image of the expedition's lodgings, a veritable man camp from 1829. As readers of this blog know, we've been working on the man camps of the Bekken Oil Fields. My little sketch above shows the lodging arrangements for the French team (botanist, archaeologist, architect, artist, etc.) They pitched tents on the road between Navarino and Modon next to an Ottoman fountain, the necessary source of water. The gentleman sleeping at the opening of the tent is most likely the Expedition's dragoman, the local translator and sentinel. See, Abel Blouet, Expedition scientifique de Moree I (Paris, 1833), p. 8, digitized by the University of Heidelberg here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Quest

Saint Andrews University excavated subterranean passages leading to Chamber V that contained 12 chests. What became The Great Palace Excavations, a landmark of Byzantine archaeology, began as "The Quest," a psychic search to connect with Emperor Justinian via his chambers. Read more here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mystical Interference


(Part I, here)

Byzantium’s role in the development of the Christian tradition has apportioned to the study of its material culture a magical aura. The pilgrimage to the East has always held a magical, or in the case of Protestantism, a crypto-magical dimension. Under the cloak of archaeological science, Byzantine Studies has served a variety of spiritual agendas. Consider, for instance, one of America’s earliest expedition into Byzantium sponsored by the Metropolitan Museum (1906-36), or more specifically the Episcopalian J. P. Morgan who could bypass the problems of Catholicism (i.e. his low-class Italian and Irish laborers) via Early Christianity. Similarly, expeditions to the East by Francis Kelsey (University of Michigan) were were conditioned by a need to collect magical works of Protestant sensibility (and do some missionary work on the side, particularly in regards to the oppressed Armenians). The Protestant tradition has always incorporated an ethos of missionary activity. In the 1930s, the religious fervor was translated into the secular religion of art.

As is evident from the extensive genre of travel literature to Greece, western travelers saw contemporary Greece as a mystical, oriental, primitive other. Travelers would recount Orthodox religious beliefs as exotic evidence of the population’s contemporary inferiority. The traveling observers who became the first archaeologists, however, were incapable of articulating their own subjectivities and magical assumptions. Protestant travelers, for example, took for granted their missionary engagement and the doctrine of good work. The conversion of Muslims was illegal by Islamic law, a political fact that directed Protestant missionary activities towards the Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire. The Orthodox populations targeted by missionary work were de facto the living traditions that mitigated between two groups of Christians estranged from each other both by religious traditions and imperialist geopolitics. Early travelers, antiquarians and archaeologists were no less mystical than the post-Byzantine subjects that filtered Byzantine material culture. The Protestant work ethic, for instance, was applied onto the post-Byzantine world and flavored the activities of early archaeological engagement. Some of the earliest scholars and scholarly institutions were unapologetically missionary in character. Through Roberts College in Istanbul to Misses Hill’s School in the Athenian Agora, British and American scholars engaged Byzantine material culture in order to reach personal salvation through doing good works. Protestantism’s theology of salvation through archaeological work was utterly incomprehensible to post-Byzantine subjects.[1] The philergetism of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens was a selfless gift to the Greek other, but also a dress rehearsal for capitalist domination in the spirit that Max Weber had outlined in his treatise on the work ethic.[2] Jack Davis, Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, Betsey Robinson and Niki Sakka and others have begun to enumerate the specifics of the American work ethic in an upcoming volume Hellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience? American Archaeology in Greece [3] Burt Hodge Hill’s obsession with watering the Corinthians, Rodney Young’s hand loss driving an ambulance through he war fronts of Albania, or the archaeological connections with the Red Cross reveal a hidden spiritual agenda. Unlike the overly-performative liturgical magic of the post-Byzantines, however, the spiritual ethos of Protestantism took the form of work. Foreign archaeologists in Greece occasionally criticized the local populations as deficient in work ethic. British and American archaeologists, in particular, embraced the scientific labor of rigorous archaeology with a religious fervor. Keeping immaculate excavation notebooks, recording a multitude of facts, excavating as vigorously as possible and outshining other institutions in scholarly productivity have produced the foundations of an objective science. At the same time, and less obviously articulated, such endeavors fulfilled an irrational metaphysical agenda of personal salvation.

Protestant notions of salvation through work, however, are not the only magical paradigms applied onto the Byzantine archaeological field. The positivist developments in archaeological methods in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were coupled by a growth in spiritualism. A non-sectarian form of spiritualism grew in a variety of fronts, whether from universalist deist movements, like theosophism, or directly from the sciences. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity that posited the transformation of matter into energy, Carl Jung’s spiritual psychology and other mainstream academicians precipitated a methodology towards material culture that involved the supernatural. The Excavations of the Great Palace in Istanbul serve the best example. The 1920s are a critical decade in the development of scientific method developed by Mortimer Wheeler and espoused by Cambridge archaeologists. It is important to note that Wheeler perfected his stratigraphic method in Segontium (1921-1922), a Roman fort that included Byzantine-period phases.[4] In 1927, the same year that Wheeler publicized his principles in a lecture at the Royal Society of Arts, his colleagues applied stratigraphic methods on the first Byzantine site, the Hippodrome in Istanbul.[5] The project produced the first discussion of “strata,” as well as the first systematic serialization of Byzantine pottery and was followed by an equally objective project the Great Palace Excavations carried out between 1935 and 1938.[6]

Looking at the final publication of the Great Palace excavations, one only sees the positivist discourse. But what lies behind the rational discourse are the invisible metaphysical practices of the project. The Great Palace excavations were executed by the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland and led by three individuals, the manufacturer David Russell who provided financial support, James Houston Baxter who was professor of church history and Tudor Pole who belonged to a merchant family and served at the Middle East in the First World War. What all three had in common was an association with spiritualism. Pole considered himself a psychic and while visiting Istanbul in 1908 had an intense sensation that Justinian’s house was in the vicinity. Soon thereafter, he became engaged in a great “Quest” to discover the precise location of the palace and ultimately excavate it. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, a number of Russian refugees migrated to Scotland. Russell took refugees under his financial control, including Russian monks that had first hand experience with Constantinopolitan manuscripts in Russian monasteries. Among the refugees under Pole’s patronage was Prince Oleg of Saxe-Altenburg whose psychic powers were more intense than his own. In a 1933 letter to Baxter, Pole notes that Prince Oleg and three other refugees will assist them in psychic methods towards a more precise find-spot of the sensations from 1908. Those mystical communications, in effect, identified the subterranean chambers that included twelve chests full of treasures including the sword Emperor Arcadius used as scepter in his coronation and a sapphire described as “The Eye of God.” David Russell had met Pole through spiritualist circles, as president of the Leven Lodge of the Theosophical Society (founded in New York in 1875). In 1906 Pole’s psychic visions had assisted the discovery of a sapphire bowl in Glastonbury and Russell visited Bristol to visit him for the first time. James Baxter, the third partner in the Great Palace excavations joined “the Quest” in 1931. As an expert on ancient Christian texts, he was a popular academic among theosophists. In 1928, Baxter wrote the introduction to a visionary text, The Scripts of Cleophas, derived by Ceraldine Cummins a famous medium.[7]

Byzantium’s proximity to the origins of Christianity brought about an intersection between psychic preoccupations and material manifestations. Constructed in a Northern European Post-Reformation environment, theosophism and psychic spiritualism congealed well in Orthodox soil. Western archaeologists began a committed engagement with spiritually charged material culture at the same time that Greek folklorists began the scientific documentation of vernacular beliefs. Nikolaos Polites, a pioneer in folklore studies, compiled a corpus of popular beliefs assembled from scientific field work. Among the themes that he recorded was the super-natural power of archaeological culture that he cataloged in 1904. Among the specimen, for example, he includes a report documented in the newspaper Astei on August 2, 1893. “On the north wall of the old church of the Virgin, there is a statue that nobody dares to remove. It’s been a few years now since some little Mason tried to remove the sculpture from the wall at night. The next morning he was found dead right below the statue.”[8] Polites the folklorist, thus, provided the scientific evidence for non-scientific behaviors and beliefs and accounted for the survival of magical archaeology evident in the Byzantine tradition.

Another Greek scientist collecting data of the Greek vernacular was Angelos Tanagras, a founder of the Paraphysical Society of Greece. Tanagras went throughout Greece documenting paranormal phenomenon. Scientific method. Collaboration with archaeologists.

Housing the origins of the Christian tradition and located so far in time that it avoids sectarian strife, Byzantine archaeology remains dependent on the patronage of Christians. This is most evident in the financial patronage of fundamentalist Christians in the archaeology of Israel, as well as the tourist dollars on Biblical journeys.

The secularization of the West, many of the supernatural powers that held sway over Christian theology were aestheticized into the realm of art. What Walter Benjamin describes as the aura of the work of art vigorously interjected in the study of Byzantine art. Modern art’s abandonment of figurative representation and realism in the 1910s, lead to the discovery of Byzantium’s abstract visual tradition. Although Romantic theorists had already discovered the creative potential of Byzantium in the nineteenth century (Ruskin, etc.), Byzantine art entered canonical appreciation by a highly reified conception of artistic experience learned at the studios of Henry Matisse, Diego Rivera, Duncan Grant, Gustav Klimt or Konstantin Malevich. The theoretical tracts of Modernism made the visual of Byzantine art central. From Roger Fry’s art theory, to Willhelm Worringer's Empathy, Kandinsky’s Spiritual in Art.

The archaeology of Byzantium in the twentieth century was highly dominated with an aesthetic agenda. Whittemore; the Louvre and Princeton University, Mosaics. Michigan and Mount Sinai exhibition. Finally Getty Sinai and Metropolitan.

[1] See Heather Sharkey's work.

[2] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905; English trans. New York, 1930). 1920s and economic imperialism exercised in Greece. Much different than the aggressive imperialism that the U.S. exercised after World War II and during the Cold War, or even the economic imperialism of the late twentieth century.

[3] Philhelenism conference, American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2010), see here; Bob Ousterhout and Renata Holod, Achaeologists and Missionaries in Ottoman Lands, conference in Philadelphia (2011), see here.

[4] R. E. M. Wheeler, “The Segontium Excavations 1922,” Archaeologia Cambrensis 77 (1922): 258-326. Segontium’s Period III was contemporary with the reign of Valens; Segontium’s Period IV was medieval (early ninth century).

[5] British Academy et al., Preliminary Report upon The Excavations Carried out in the Hippodrome of Constantinople in 1927 (London and Oxford, 1928); W. Müller-Wiener, Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls (Tubingen, 1977), 64-71.

[6] D. Talbot Rice, Byzantine Glazed Pottery (Oxford, 1930).

[7] Mark Whitby, “The Great Palace Dig: The Scottish Perspective,” in Through the Looking Glass. Byzantium through British Eyes. Papers from the Twenty-ninth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, London, March 1995, ed. Robin Cormack and Elizabeth Jeffreys, (Aldershot, 1995), 45-5; Lorn Macintyre, Sir David Russell: A Biography (Edinburgh 1994), 6.

[8] Nikolaos Polites, Παραδόσεις. Μελέται περί του βίου και της γλώσσης του Ελληνικού λαού (Athens, 1904; reprinted 1965) vol. 1, 73, no 138.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Subjective Deviations


Postprocessualism remarks that what we consider as modern archaeology is only one epistemological variety of correlating material culture with meaning. Byzantium was a highly archaeological civilization that relished complex processes of relating past material culture with contemporary stories. So intensive was the exploitation of old buildings, for instance, that the imperial administration needed to legislate against spoliation as early as the 320s. [1] From the age of Constantine, whose own triumphal arch appropriated the monuments of Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, Byzantium developed a systematic identity of archaeological meaning ranging from the archaisms of its academic culture to the cyclical theological time where graves, relics, spaces, and objects contained multiple stratigraphic meanings. Sacred loci involved a process of historical discovery that often took the form of excavation. The archaeological practices of the Byzantines share neither the positivist nor the empiricist principles of modern archaeology, but they were systematic, centralized and shared socially.

“Go excavate in the garden, measure two cubits from the fence along the road that leads to Betherebin, and you will find two coffins, a wooden one enclosed in a lead one. Next to the coffins, you will find a glass vessel full of water, and two medium-size serpents that are tame and perfectly harmless.”[2] Texts containing such archaeological specificity were common in chronicles, saint’s lives and ecclesiastical histories. Recounted in the fourth-century ecclesiastical history of Sozomen, this archaeological text appeared in the dream of the farmer Kalemeros, who was instructed in discovering the relics of the Biblical prophet Zechariah near Eleutheropolis in Palestine. The tenth-century Life of Saint Elias the Cave Dweller describes a methodical survey of an abandoned tower that the wandering saint inhabits. [3] Eleias goal is to exorcise this ancient monument from the pagan spirits of its age. Despite the irrational character of exorcism, the monk follows a systematic process, going around the monument and surveying each one of its four corners.

As William Caraher has shown, Byzantium’s methods of magical archaeology constitute a tradition that continued to be practiced by “scientific” archaeologists in the twentieth century through séances, parapsychology and the surviving cosmologies of Orthodoxy. Although publicly embracing positivist methodologies, modern practitioners continued to employ indigenous archaeology side-by-side modern materialist methods. [4] Rather than dismissing such “premodern” or “indigenous” archaeologies” as ridiculous manifestations of superstitious peasantry, Yannis Hamilakis has made a convincing case that such modes of narrative offer an epistemology of resistance against the colonialist archaeology of the Enlightenment. [5] Most postprocessual theorists of archaeology have based their analyses on the archaeological canon of classical or pre-classical Mediterranean societies rather than the marginal field of Byzantine archaeology.

Christianity’s theology of commemoration guaranteed the continuous usage of many sacred buildings. Unlike the archaeology of antiquity, where the original inhabitants and religious systems have disappeared, the archaeology of Christian periods confronts an interesting dimension of heritage. Sites of sacred significance, from the Holy Sepulchre in Palestine to remote cave chapels in the Balkans, have passed on their meaning through continuous inhabitation and the codification of historical memory. Continuous occupation, however, introduces a reverse problem. In contrast to the maintenance of meaning, the maintenance of place requires the constant manipulation of the archaeological fabric. Even the slightest of renovation, restoration or renewal requires limited destruction. What Romantic historians like John Ruskin relished as an organic accumulation of history, involved topical archaeological practices. Even the simplest of building additions required excavation and the revelation of previously unknown strata. Thus, the afterlife of Byzantine sites engaged in an archaeological process of digging into previous layers and re-presenting them in conspicuous fashion. The prevalence of such situational archaeology in Byzantine monuments has produced some of the most stratified masonries in the history of architecture and has, consequently, given birth to a radical archaeological tradition of intense fragmentation.

The emergence of scientific methods in modern archaeology have encouraged the removal of the viewer’s subjectivity into the process of data collection. Since the eighteenth century, archaeologists have developed objective methods by which the viewer could remove himself or herself from observation and minimize interpretive contamination. Scientific methods of physical analysis, the spatial and temporal objectivity of stratigraphy and the processualist models of social science have certainly produced a scientific discipline of Byzantine archaeology. At the same time, however, more subjective methods of interpretation have been applied on the material record. Byzantium’s eminent visuality, as well as the vibrancy of its living tradition in contemporary subjects have led modern archaeologists into avenues of experimentation. The marginality of Byzantine studies as a discipline, moreover, has encouraged interdisciplinary experimentation and a laxity of rigor that have benefited premodern or postmodern epistemologies. One could thematize at least three modes of interference from positivist objectivity that have been particularly persistent in the methods of Byzantine archaeology a mystical interference.


[1] J. D. Alchermes, "Spolia in Roman Cities of the Late Empire: Legislative Rationales and Architectural Reuse," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 48 (1994) , pp. 167-178.
[2] Life of Elias Spelaiotes 20 (Acta Sanctorum, September 3, pp. 843-888), Dumbarton Oaks Hagiography Database. Washington, D.C.
[3] Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 9.17.2.
[4] W. Caraher, “Dream Archaeology,” University of North Dakota Faculty Lecture Series (Grand Forks, 2010)
[5] Y. Hamilakis, “Decolonizing Greek Archaeology: Indigenous Archaeologies, Modernist Archaeology and the Post-Colonial Critique,” in A Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece, ed. D. Damaskos and D. Plantzos (Athens, 2008): 273-284

Friday, September 07, 2012

Iggy's Trailer Park

 All this talk about the North Dakota man camps and readings on trailers, reminded me that back in 2008 I had a most generous invitation to give a lecture at Modern Greek Studies at the University of Michigan. Capitalizing on a paid trip, I made a pilgrimage to Ypsilanti, where Iggy Pop (the godfather of punk) was raised. Although Iggy's family trailer is clearly gone (his biography includes some photos of it).

James Newell Osterberg (Iggy Pop) was born at the town of Ypsilanti in 1947. He grew up at the Coachville trailer park on Carpenter Road ( 42°14'20.06"N, 83°40'40.17"W). Believe it or not, Ypsilanti was named after Demetrios Ypsilantis, the brother of the more famous Alexandros Ypsilantis, both heroes of the Greek War of Independence.  Iggy Pop attended Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor (42°15'46.37"N, 83°45'14.30"W) where he met Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander, who formed the Stooges in 1967. The Coachville trailer park was a very desirable address in the 1950s, an ordinary middle-class community of professionals.

Ypsilanti was an industrial hub in the 1940s fueled by the war effort (best known for its Willow Run B-24 bomber factory). Trailer parks became a respectable solution to house the booming labor working in Ypsilanti's factories. And after the war, the bomber factories transitioned into the production of Kaiser-Frazer automobiles (later bought by Chrysler).

For more Punk Archaeology, see MC5 archaeology in Detroit (here)

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Trailer Bibliography

In the 1990 census, seven percent of all Americans lived in mobile homes. Yet architectural historians have disdained the impermanence of this domestic form and have largely left it outside the canon. There is obviously a class bias; the majority of trailer inhabitants are in the lowest economic echelons and trailers offers a most flexible mechanism of economic coping, whether transitionally or permanently. J. B. Jackson's pioneering essay "The Mobile Home" changed the scholarly landscape. Here, I summarize what I have found to be the foundational studies on mobile homes. This is basically the beginnings of my bibliography for the North Dakota Man Camp Project (see Bill Caraher's postings on this project here)

1. J. B. Jackson, the landscape and vernacular historian best known for his The Necessity of Ruins (1980) has written the most influential essay on mobile homes: “The Mobile Home and How It Came to America,” in Discovering the Vernacular Landscape (1984), 91-101 [first published as "The Mobile Home," New Mexico Studies in the Fine Arts, 1982]. Jackson argues that for the entire pre-modern history of architecture two parallel building traditions coincided, one of temporary and permanent architecture. Temporary architecture was built and dismantled within an individual's life time, a tradition that waned in the eighteenth century. Hence, the American trailer is not expedient product of automobiles, but the unique survivor of to a medieval tradition. See Bill's thoughts on this essay here.

2. Two books offer the best historical coverage for campers and trailers. Allan D. Wallis, Wheel Estate: The Rise and Decline of Mobile Homes (1991) is the standard book on camping and campers. John Fraser Hart, Michelle J. Rhodes and John T. Morgan, The Unknown World of the Mobile Home (2002) does not focus on campers on trailer homes. Unlike campers, trailer homes become semi-permanent once they are set into a trailer park. The book contains a number of sociological case studies, including one on Minneapolis (pp. 84-96) and Mercer County, North Dakota (pp. 40-41), based on Caroline S. Tauxe, Farms, Mines, and Main Street: Uneven Development in a Dakota County (1993). It is no surprise that Hart, Rhodes and Morgan dedicate their book to J. B. Jackson.

3. The architectural history of trailers and mobile homes is best covered in Robert Kronenburg, Houses in Motion: The Genesis, History and Development of Portable Building (1995). This well illustrated book includes a fantastic image from the 1967 issue of Trailer Life Magazine (eBay anyone?) showing astronauts transported to their launching pad with an Airstream trailer. I was thrilled to learn about Ypsilanti, Michigan's special trailer history. This is interesting to me for the Punk Archaeology project, after visiting the trailer park in Ypsilanti where Iggy Pop grew up. The bomber factory at Ypsilanti hired 42,000 workers in 1941, more than half of whom lived in trailers. Reading about Iggy Pop, it is clear that there was no social stigma growing up in the trailer parks of Ypsilanti; they were perfectly accepted middle-class communities.

4. There is a growing focus on mobile architecture from the design field. Postmodern life and concerns over sustainability have caused a boom on portable architecture in design studios throughout the world. There are some wonderful and radical work out there, such as by Atelier Bow Wow (thanks to David Salamon for the cue). In order to get a handle on this creative field, Jennifer Siegel's Mobile: The Art of Portable Architecture (2002) and follow-up More Mobile: Portable Architecture for Today (2008)

5. Finally from the architectural field, the work of Charlie Haylie is important, as it focuses on camps as a new and unique space for our century. His two books are Camps: A Guide to 21st Century Space (2009) and Campsite: Architecture of Duration and Place (2008). Haylie teaches architecture at the University of Florida.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Trailer Vernacular

Earlier this month, I joined the North Dakota Man Camp Project, a new collaborative initiative that archaeologically documents the housing complexities of the Bakken Oil Patch boom. The project was directed by William Caraher and Bret Weber who brought two complementary perspectives, archaeology and social work. It was an honor to also work with Richard Rothaus (esteemed Corinthian archaeologist and director of CRM firm in Minnesota), Aaron Barth (history graduate student at NDSU) and John Holmgren (my colleague in photography at Franklin and Marshall College). Collectively, we documented 16 man camps of varying type and interviewed 36 occupants. Although exploratory, the field season this August will produce some body of research that we hope to complete during the academic year. See press release here.

For now, wanted to share some images from my contribution as a vernacular architecture historian. I basically produced observational sketches of the urban and architectural character of the man camps. This was challenging and illuminating. Up till now, I had only documented immobile stone. Once married with the tabular data, the interviews, the kite photography and the ground photography, I hope that my drawings will assist the analysis of each man camp. The elevation above records  elements added to the trailer, such as the insulation or the plywood room extension. The plan below maps the ad hoc living space accretion outside the same RV. And the photo shows me doing those sketches (from the press release above)


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Klima Taxiarches Epigraphy

Taxiarches Church in Klima, Phocis has three interesting inscriptions that help us identify its position in the history of art and architecture. We took some quick photos (thanks to Miltos' telephoto lens) which we share here:

1. Building date stone (1812) carved on the keystone over the west entrance

2. Templon-screen date (1842) painted over the main door

3. Dedicatory inscription (1842) naming the founder (ktetor) Konstantin Makedonetes

Monday, August 20, 2012

Welcome to Klima

Welcome to the village of Klima near Lidoriki (Phocis, Greece). On the last day of our Lidoriki fieldwork, we chanced upon a jewel of a building, a beautifully preserved (but threatened) church dating to 1812 (note datestone on the keystone over entrance, left). The village Klima is almost deserted. Its single occupant is the amazon farmer Mrs Karachaliou (more on her later). Klima is an important piece in the settlement puzzle of the Lidoriki region. It was the mother village of Kallion, which was itself submerged under the Lake Mornos irrigation project. If our Greek field-school were to adopt a village, this would be it. In fact, we hope that next summer, our students will document the village church Taxiarches inside and out.

Taxiarches contains a painted chancel screen dating to 1842. Mrs Karachaliou has stabilized the roof stopping the water damage on the building and the enclosed arts. Like many such 19th-century jewels of vernacular architecture require urgent scholarly attention. Stylistically, the interior decoration is characterized by the tensions between the Byzantine and Renaissance traditions. Similarly, the architectural typology negotiates between local, national, and global.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Agora Photo Archive

I have returned from a productive summer field season and a rather neglected blog. One of my summer goals included closer looks in Greek archival collections: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, the Gennadeion, The British School in Athens, and the Corinth Excavation Archives. James Herbst (Corinth Excavations Architect and Drawings Archivists) helped me conceptualize a project involving the 19th-century houses that American archaeologists tore down in the '30s at the Athenian Agora. As an urban excavation, the Athenian Agora had to purchase a number of properties in order to excavate below them. This necessary demolition has not been received positively by contemporary Athenians. Interestingly enough, those houses were carefully documented before demolition. In a paradoxical twist, the architectural and photographic record of the demolished houses constitute the best preserved record of pre-Modernist Athens. Inevitably, these houses would have been demolished by developers in the 1960s and 1970s and replaced with multi-story apartment blocks. In contrast to the developers, the archaeologists documented their deconstruction in painstaking detail.

Like Corinth's, the Athenian Agora's archives have been digitized and available to the public, see They are a great new resource for historians of photography and urbanism. Browsing through the photos, one notices glimpses of daily life. I cannot help to think of Roland Barthes "punctum" conceived soon after his mother's death, see, Camera Lucida (1980). My mother was raised in this neighborhood and  could easily be one of the children shown in the photos. Above, you see daily life in Areopagou Street photographed in 1937  [Image 1997.19.0002]. Beyond their obvious architectural information, these photos capture wonderful historical issues ranging from identity to politics. One of my favorite photos below, shows a family that has poked its heads to see the American photographer capture their home before demolition. On the right corner of the wall, a prominent stencil shows the hammer-and-sickle and the message "Vote Communist." A whole thesis could be written on this image. Masonry, closed shutters, political affiliation, the four women and the invisible photographer engage in a moment of indecision. [Image 1997.19.0146]
To see more photos of houses, see here.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Broken Masculinities

Broken doll. Broken masculinities. The recession haunts Lancaster's urban edge where impromptu possibilities intersect with hyped scenarios. A child's doll, super hero, urban warrior with ancient Greek meander inscribed on his skin, while hip-hop pants fall fashionably below the boxer shorts line. Decapitated posturing, hopefully no violence.

Location: 40°03'09.56"N, 76°18'43.43"W
Collection: May 1, 2012

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Lancaster Screw: World as Studio

Edge city, where working class quarters ca. 1930 met linoleum headquarters of the world. The linoleum factory has all but left. Corporate headquarters converted to condos with employment services remaining in an office on the first floor. Multiple blocks of parking now serving the unemployed and impromptu activities. Illicit auto repair operations rise behind rented garages, not unusual considering that this spot was also the city's automobile service core with car dealerships still evident. At this parking lot, I picked up a beautiful screw with a tinted yellow handle.

"Today any location in the world is your studio" boasts LOWEL, the company that produced the screw. Once mounting some portable lighting equipment, my screw testifies to an ephemeral transformation of night into day that grows on the liminal spaces of the postindustrial landscape.

Location: 40°03'07.26"N, 76°18'44.94"W
Collection: April 18, 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012

Kick Out the Jams Coincidence

I have figured out the meaning of the 45 RPM Spider fragment deposited on Sonic's grave, or at least, I have added another subtext. As it turns out, Rhino Records released an exclusive 45 RPM vinyl (only 6,800 copies) of MC5's "Kick Out the Jams" coupled by Afrika Bambaataa's cover of the song. See details here. Strangely enough, the release of this record occurred on the same day of my visit, April 21, celebrating Record Store Day. The vinyl's promotional literature and cover includes the iconic Spider. Hence it's entirely conceivable that the Spider fragment was deposited by an MC5 fan to celebrate the re-issue of this song. Just a hypothesis

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Broken Spider

The small offering over Sonic's grave is known as the Spider. It was designed by Thomas Hutchison for RCA in the 1960s. It served as a converter for 45 RPM records, a format invented by RCA in 1949 to replace the cumbersome 78 RPM. Most fittingly, the Spider deposited in Sonic's grave is broken. The original triskelion has lost one of its legs making the object's secret biography even more perplexing. Pervasive in the listening habits of North Americans, the Spider has become iconic of the era of singles. Actually, I didn't appreciate the magnitude of this iconography until I opened today's Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era on p. A12 and saw Walt Handelsman's tribute to Dick Clark, who died last week. Handelsman is a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist. The original tribute was published in Newsday (Apr. 19, 2012).
Like the Spider at Elmwood Cemetery, Handelsman Spider is also funerary in nature. The Spider here becomes iconic of Dick Clark's era of American Bandstand that was syndicated on ABC from 1957 to 1987. Interestingly enough for my readers of Punk Archaeology, American Bandstand began in Philadelphia and was recorded in the studios of WFIL on 46th and Market. Designed in 1947, the original building still stands in all its modern glory with a huge satellite antenna on its roof.

Sonic's MC5 appears at the very til end of the Dick Clarke era. It's rock n' roll at its best but contains the seeds of the demise of rock n' roll's mainstream. Thus, in its truncated form, Sonic's offering becomes difficult to recognize, a fragment that allows entry into melancholy while also asserting a reflexive imbalance. If the Spider is the generational litmus test for 1960s rock n' roll Top 40s mainstream, one must wonder what may have been the pilgrim's intentions by depositing a 45 Spider on Sonic's grave. MC5 was clearly shut out of American Bandstand. Their first album (Kick Out the Jams) was released in 1969 as an LP not a 45. The original record was pulled from the stores because it had the word "Motherfucker" on the album cover. Detroit's major department store refused to sell the record and Elektra dropped the MC5 from their contract as a result.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sonic Archaeology

Last weekend, I was in Detroit for the annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians, organizing the panel "From Idea to Building: Ancient and Medieval Architectural Process." Another priority in my Detroit visit was to follow up some ideas on the Punk Archaeology project. I wanted to investigate the topographies of memory related to Fred "Sonic" Smith, founder of MC5, godfather of punk and late husband of Patti Smith. Visiting sites of memory is appropriate to Smith and her recent exhibit Camera Solo at the Wadsworth Athenaeum (and soon moving to Detroit). I have already blogged about Smith, Whitman and archaeology here.

Fred Smith died in 1994 from a heart attack at the age of 45. Patti Smith writes about the devastation of this event in her memoir Just Kids and discusses in the documentary Dream of Life. Sonic was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, and I wanted to visit the unique funerary monument that marks his grave. It comprises two vertical rock slabs inscribed with "Sonic" and "Frederick D. Smith. Musician XX Century." The monoliths are small and disappear among the grand nineteenth-century monuments. But they are powerful in their sublime physicality. 

As I began to sketch for myself the elements of the monument, I detected a scatter of offerings on the ground. Clearly, I was not the first pilgrim at Sonic's tomb. Trying not to disturb the surface, I located six objects: five coins and one blue plastic object, which seemed so familiar but which I couldn't immediately identify. I placed an image on Facebook with a question and my colleague, the philosopher David Merli, immediately identified it as a 45rpm converter. There is much to say about the site of Sonic's tomb. For the time being, I'll post these few documents, including the sketch of the finds.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dream Lancaster

143 N. Water St., Lancaster, Pa.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Concrete Byzantium

In 1908, Henry C. Mercer wrote an essay “Where Concrete Stands for Concrete,” in Cement Age 6 (1908) pp. 9-20. Published in an engineering journal, the essay has been forgotten by scholarship. I would argue that it must be included in the anthologies of modern architectural theory. The essay tackles the perennial conflict between modern material (concrete) and medieval crafts (ceramic tiles). Rather than covering up the concrete with plaster or paneling, Mercer argues that the concrete should remain exposed. To hide concrete’s imperfections behind a false layer of false perfection was not only dishonest, but a lost aesthetic opportunity. By theorizing the aesthetic qualities of concrete, Mercer becomes a forefather of Brutalism, which blossomed half a century later. Rather than hiding the concrete, Mercer thought that it could be elevated into a nobler material if decorated by the similarly earthy medium of ceramic tiles. He recommended covering no more than 10% of the surface area with colored tiles. The essay is illustrated with an application of this strategy in a Philadelphia club house. Mercer’s idea was soon fulfilled in his Fonthill construction.

Equally important in Mercer’s solution to concrete is the choice of historical tiles that would complement the new form, namely Byzantine decorative patterns. These abstract Byzantine borders are placed on the critical edges of the interior space, such as capitals for the concrete piers, fireplaces, and are complemented by Gothic borders. My sketch is based on Fig. III “Column of Byzantine pattern in original plastered concrete supporting heavy ceiling.” I love the casualness by which an iron skillet is hung on the pier. Mercer replicated this arrangement in the Saloon of his house, whose electrical illumination I discussed in the earlier posting "Illuminating Byzantium". Here, too, an electrical light bulb adorns the exterior and tightens the conceptual depth of the installation.

In addition to its pioneering significance on the theories of form and function, Mercer emerges as an interesting spokesman for a Byzantinism radically different from the Byzantium that figures in Louis Comfort Tiffany work. This other and more famous figure of the American Arts-and-Crafts also experimented with the visual qualities of Byzantine surface and the optical effects of glass and mosaic. For Tiffany, however, Byzantium was not a 10% application, but a complete cover-up of every visible surface. If Mercer's Byzantium is about conflict and dialectic, Tiffany's Byzantium is about surface and illusion. If Mercer's Byzantium is haptic and embodied, Tiffany's Byzantium is optic and disembodied.

Tiffany's concrete column (ca. 1905) is exactly contemporary to Mercer's. Rather than exposing the cement, Tiffany covered it up with favrile-glass mosaic and topped it with a plaster capital. The column now resides at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but it used to stand in the Tiffany Studios showroom at Madison Avenue and 47th Street.

Hence another distinction between Mercer and Tiffany is one of exposure, or between Bucks County, Pennsylvania and Madison Avenue, New York. Mercer never reached the commercial success and visibility of Tiffany's.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States