June 09, 2009

High and Hot

I enjoy my chosen vocation, aside from two things--having to climb up on top of things, and getting all hot and stinking from performing that task.

I have always been a bit unnerved by heights anyway, and now that I wear bifocals, it's worse. You glance out the bottom of your lenses and the world goes all blurry, and that's very disconcerting when you're on the edge of a roof.

And then there's this whole thing of having to climb that ladder--wobbly aluminum extension ladders, laid up against slick metal copings or fascias, and never with enough sticking out at the top to hang onto as you make that last step onto the roof.

Finally, let's face it--I am not feathery. Even though in my youth I was blessed with the stunning athletic grace of a young Junior Samples, age has slowed my reflexes somewhat, and I must admit I now have the supple elegance of a lard-filled barrel. And once you put a lard-filled barrel atop spindly aluminum spindles, well, it's just not good.

So--going up, bad. Coming down?

An order of magnitude more bad.

You've got that whole "can't see out the bottom of your glasses" thing, and the dizzying feeling you get when you're off the ground, and the shaky slidy ladder part of the equation, and then there's the certain knowledge that the laws of physics are trying their best to kill your blobby self. Maybe if I did this all day, every day, it might be better. I might get used to it, and be like one of those crazy Mohawk ironworkers who build skyscrapers.

Somehow, I doubt it.

Anyway, you get all through, and manage to get back to earth without dying, but you smell like you have.

It's late spring here in the sunny Southland, meaning it's already like Satan's own barbecue outside, and it's even hotter on top of a building, and even sweatier when you're losing fluids due to intense fear. And then you have to come back inside the building and have afternoon meetings with polite folk who don't sweat and stink in public. To top it off, I have to go to church tonight for our vacation Bible school, and be around other people who've gotten to go home and wash off the day's funk. Me? I'll have another five more hours of accretion of stinkbits before then.

Other than that, though, it's all good. And they pay me regularly, too. So file all this under observations, not complaints.

OH--and by the way, unrelated to anything above, Boy is now an officially sanctioned holder of a learner's permit. Oddly enough, he hasn't been pestering me to go drive, although this could be because of the time demands of the aforementioned vacation Bible school. Or it could be that he already knows everything.

6-10-09 AND--it's Mohawk ironworkers, not Navaho. Look, I have a hard enough time keeping the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Creek straight as to who does what.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 02:19 PM | Comments (10)

December 07, 2007

I hate school.

Not really.

Its good to learn things, even if its just for the sake of knowing something you didnt know before.

I suppose what I object to is that schools nowadays take great pride in assigning gigantic enriching multiculturally-engaging, multimedia-focused research assignments to kids who probably dont get all that much out of it other than a sort of glossy simulacrum of a facsimile of understanding about the topic at hand.

Seeing as how such assignments invariably wind up requiring a huge wad of parental involvement and supervision and assistance.

Because its important for parents to be involved.

Despite the fact that my parents never assisted me in doing silly crapwork school projects.

And despite the fact that I have not the socially-desirable overly-stimulated and pampered single child to dote upon, but the near-to-being-white-trash FOUR children, ALL of whom are also given similar gigantic enriching multiculturally-engaging multimedia-focused research assignments.

What brings on this sudden fit of pique?

Boy, and his assignment this nine weeks. Seems theyre studying Asia in social studies. Or possibly language. Or maybe math. You know how schools are nowadays with all this cross-training stuff. Anyway, I think its social studies. So, their teacher gives them this big laundry list of activities to choose from in categories such as Culture, Geography, Art, Inscrutability, &c., &c., with each activity worth a varying amount of points, the idea being to allow each student the freedom to pick and choose enough activities from each category to add up to a theoretical maximum total of 200 points.

Im not sure how much time they were given, although I figure its probably been over a month. And you know how good 8th graders are at time management.

So it comes closer to time to start fixing and doing, and Boy had actually begun working on some of his stuff as long as a couple of weeks ago. Me, not knowing exactly how much was involved in the overall scheme of things, was kinda gratified that he hadnt waited around until the last minute to do his colored picture of the Silk Road, and a clever origami scorpion, and a picture of a samurai.

Little did I know that this wasnt all there was to it. And that it was all supposed to be turned in today.

It began to dawn on me last weekend, though.

Im gonna make paper!

Great, yeah, whatever, Son.

And so I need to save the Sunday paper, because Im going to take that, and put it in the blender, and put water in it, and some glue


No. Jonathan, were NOT going to put paper and glue in the blender.

Hurt little puppy dog eyes. Butbut I have to make paper for my class assignment.

WHAT class, Son?

That stuff Im working on for my Asia projectyou know, like that map I was doing.

Oh. Well, no blender. Ill help you out on that.

Because, I am a moron.

SO, thus began an ever deepening hole of paternal, and ultimately, maternal interference.

Because not only did I get to make paper, in the last four days I also wound up making an Ivory soap carving of a fu dog, a large model of a segment of the Great Wall of China, a printed itinerary for a imaginary 14 day tour of Japan (including travel distances and times for each leg of the trip), and a box lunch of three separate dishes, along with the recipe for each item. Mom got involved last night, doing a poster collage of a variety of images of China and Japan gleaned from a stack of National Geographics.

Boy was ever helpfulcutting and pasting and fixing and doing and mixing and assembling and such like, but frankly, there would be no way for any kid really to do all this junk without a big hand from their parents, mainly in the all-important task of project management. Given infinite time and resources, I know the young feller could have figured it all out himself, but something of this magnitude requires a ready-to-go set of skills in production means and methods that is beyond your garden-variety middle schooler.

I dont knowmaybe its all this blizzard of information we live in, where theres so much access to so much stuff, that we seem to have come to think the past got there by a combination of magic and CGI. The fact you can pull up a billion images of every square inch of the Great Wall with nothing but a click of the mouse makes it seem less of a feat of engineering. Building a cardboard model of it (or helping Dad build one) is fun, but I dare say he still has little appreciation for just how massive such an undertaking was.


I think hed have been better served to do fewer things, but actually do them himself, and not just the simple thing like origami. How about the teacher getting some stones, and some mortar, and a corner of the schoolyard, and letting the kids work and see just how stinkin hard it is to lay a straight wall on crooked ground, and then maybe get an appreciation for how long and hard it would be to do the same thing all across 4,000 miles of mountaintop.

Yeah, I know. Lawyers would love that.

Anyway, I am happy to say it all got done and transported to school without incident this morning, so who am I to grouse?

I just hope I get an A.


Papermaking: Ive seen this done on Beakmans World, and got a refresher from several websites. Just look up beakman and paper, and youll find enough info. We took a section of newspaper (black and whiteno slicks), tore it into thin strips, and then chipped those into very small bits with scissors. This part really would work better with a blender, but I knew a certain wife of mine would never go for it. If you want to make a lot of this junk, go get a blender from the thrift store. Anyway, get the paper all chopped up as fine as possible. I also got a wad of lint out of the clothes dryer screen to give it a bit more body. One thing I didnt count on was the huge amount of girl hair in the dryer lint. This is gross, but not really noticeable until you get it all soupy and wet. Ick.

Next step was to get a plastic ice cream bucket and put the paper and lint in, and cover it with scalding hot water. Cover, and let it set for a couple of days to get good and mushy. This stuff was then mushed between my fingers until it was even mushier, then allowed to settle back out, and the water carefully drained off. The mush was collected, squeezed out, and then new hot water was put in the plastic tub, along with a big puddle of white glue. After this was dissolved, the mush ball was put back in and squeezed some more until well mixed.

To make the paper reconstitute itself into a thin dry sheet, take an old pair of panty hose and stretch it tightly over a wire coat hanger that youve bent around into a square shape. The next part I wasnt really clear on, but what I did was place the hangernhose into a shallow baking pan, and pour the whole mess of soupy paper mix over the top. I then patted out the mixture evenly and thinly over the whole screen and lifted it out, but thats probably not the best way to do it.

The screen and mixture still has a lot of water in it, and if you have several days, you set it outside to dry in the sun. The heck with that. I laid it on some paper towels, and then carefully blotted the top to get out as much water as possible, then stuck the whole shebang into the dryer on top of the sweater rack, and let it run for an hour or so.

The end result made a nice 9 inch square of light blue paper, smooth on one side and pleasantly rough on the other, and my recycled paper only required a couple of gallons of natural gas-heated water, a half a roll of new paper towels, and an hour of electricity in the clothes dryer (set on high) to produce! Somehow, I think this is not the way recycling is supposed to work.

Eh, whatever.

Jonathan then decorated the paper with a rubber stamp we had of Chinese characters, and some brushed-on black paint in which he did a free-form sort of rendition of Chinese calligraphy.

Soap carving: Ive never done this before, but Ive read that all the great masters of sculpture merely carve away whatever doesnt look like a horse or busty maiden, so I figured Id do the same with the soap. Ivory brand soap seems to work best, since its soft enough to work with, yet strong enough not to snap in half. Boy found a picture of a pair of jade dragon/dogs, and I looked at it briefly and started whittling away stuff that didnt look like a fu dog.

I blocked out the basic outline with a serrated paring knife, and then finished out the rest with my trusty reliable #11 X-Acto blade. It was very soothing, and I managed to do a really good version for a first effort, although the head looked less like a fierce dragon and more like a hungry pig.

Great Wall model: This one required some doing. Boy found a picture of a section with two guard towers on a rocky section of land. I figured corrugated cardboard would work bestits brown, and available in large quantities in our garage. The ground was another story. Needed realistic earth look, but no weight. And the whole thing needed a base to sit on.

Catherine had a big box her pair of boots came in, so I went and got that to use as the base, and fortuitously, it had several big wads of wrapping tissue inside. Hmm. I wadded up several sheets and put them on the boot-box lid, then laid several flat sheets over the top of that. Looks like rolling hills to me!

I glued down the edge of the large sheet to the lid of the box with white glue, then made a thin solution of white glue in hot water and sprayed the whole thing to give it a bit of body and stiffen it. This was then laid aside to dry for a couple of days.

In the interim, we built the guard towers by laying out a rectangle, scoring one side of the cardboard at three equal increments, and folding up the side and joining them with a piece of masking tape on the inside. Crenellations were cut afterward with the X-Actotwo slices down and one across (which would have been easier with a new blade), as well as doorways and tiny windows. I did one to show Boy how, and he did the other.

Needless to say, there was a difference in their appearance once complete. These were also laid aside for a day while I tried to think of how to finish the rest of the thing.

I finally figured I would slice through the tissue and insert the towers and glue them to the box lid underneath, and then connect the towers with sections of cardboard walls. Since the land surface rose and fell, one tower would need to be shorter to give the illusion of elevation change, so about an inch was sliced off the bottom of one, and the towers positioned on the now-dry base to eyeball in the correct alignment. Once that was settled, an x shape was cut where each tower would go, and the tissue paper flaps turned under.

Now, time to finish the ground.

First step was to try to get something approaching the look of dirt. I thought at first of spray painting it flat light brown, but remembered that stuff in the rattle can that is supposed to look like faux stone. Picked up a can of that at Wally World in the Antique Ruins color, as well as some model railroad grass from the hobby shop. (Didnt need a lot, since the vegetation is supposed to be sparse.)

Sprayed the whole base, with special attention given to covering up the writing on the side of the box, and while it was still wet, sprinkled on the model railroad grass and patted it down gently so it would stick.

HEY! Looks like China!

As that dried, I cooked up the foods, but that has a separate entry below. Just imagine Ive started back again after the base has dried, and that its nearly midnight, Im punchy, and the X-Acto is now no sharper than the side of my hand.

The towers were glued in place, and the layout of the sidewalls contemplated. Since they had to sort of snake along, it was actually not as hard as if they had to be in a precise location. More cardboard cutting, with some additional trimming needed here and there to make sure they lined up with the towers, and the aforementioned crenellations added before each sidewall was glued down.

I started with the short segments that ran from the towers to the edges of the box first, mainly as a way to practice what I thought would work. Got those done pretty quickly, put in a walkway surface on each, and then moved to the center connection. Due to the way the base ground was made, this took a bit longer to fix and do, but its nothing more than holding up the cardboard and chewing away the parts that interfered, and bending it slightly side-to-side to fix alignment errors. Got the center part done, including the multi-planar walkway surface (more cardboard, of course), sealed off the underside of each end of the wall so you cant see inside, did some touch up fixing with strips of the brown paper that was peeled from the corrugated core, and pronounced myself done. It turned out looking pretty doggone nice.

Tour itinerary: Google is your friend, even if they deliberately decided to be evil if it means getting to play in the Chi-Comm internet market. Ahem. Sorry for the impromptu commentary.

Not really.

ANYway, I reread the requirements for the activity14 days, no more than two days per location, include activities, and travel distances for each stop. Oh, and in 16 point Times New Roman font. Silly teacher.

Got on the Web and Googled 14 day japan tour and got several different travel service suggestions for trips, and settled on one that ran 15 days, and edited it down to make it fit. The suggested tour stops at each location were all written in traveloguese (Breathtaking! Thrilling! Unimaginable Luxury! Red Hot Vixens! Oh, waitwrong one), so this stuff got edited out so that we got a list of cities, and a list of sights.

Next, the travel between each usually called for a train, and luckily there are enough online train schedules for Japan to make it a snap to figure out.

If all you want to know is travel time.

Oddly, its harder when you want to find actual distances. And another thing, the mysterious Japanese use some sort of odd measuring system that uses something called the ki-lo-meter.

So, yet another website, or three, to figure distances, and then some judicious use of yet another website to translate these enigmatic distances into American. All said and done, it worked out pretty well, as long as the teacher doesnt get too weirded out by instances of slightly more than two days when you figure in arrivals and departures.

Food: Okay, yet another potential for disaster averted. Boy had to fix three separate food dishes, and had it in his mind to fix something grand and involved, aided and abetted by a certain wife of mine and her collection of cookbooks. I intervened yesterday and went to the store to pick out a few ingredients that would be quick, simple, and more or less Asian. What I settled on was a little make-your-own-sushi kit, some rice thread noodles, some wonton wrappers, and an assortment of vegetable stuff and a little meat.

Sushi kit came with rice and some seaweed wrappers, and thats about it. I figured some carrot ribbons, a couple of pieces of bamboo shoot, and a bit of fake crabmeat would work fine. It looked pretty cool once I got it rolled up, but the little wrappers are tiny and it was hard to roll up. I had to eat one by accident, and it was good. Dish one.

Next, some quick fried wonton noodles. Cut the wrappers into strips and dropped them into hot oil, and they were done in about five seconds. Same thing with the rice threads, although I let the oil get too hot and burnt one batch and it stank the place up pretty well. Okay, thats the second dish.

Final one, I took some chicken breasts and sliced them up thin, dropped them in the oil, cooked them quickly and set them aside. Poured out the oil and left only enough to coat the pan, and dumped in a pack of extra firm tofu cubes, let them cook, then dumped in some straw mushrooms. Cooked a bit more, poured in some soy sauce and the cooked chicken, some white pepper, some sesame seeds, let it all mix together and get hot, and I was done. The food was put in a little oblong plastic box with a lid, and Jonathan said it looked like the bento box his friend (friends dad is an expat who works for a Honda supplier) brings to school all the time.


Oh, and I had to also type out the recipes. 16 point Times New Roman, natch.

Anyway, so there you go.

And yes, I know youd have preferred some pictures, but I cant do everything.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 02:35 PM | Comments (9)

November 19, 2007

In the Mail...

Was minding my own bidness last week when I got a nice e-mail from a young lady named Rachel Patton with Turner Publishing asking if I'd like a complimentary copy of the book Historic Photos of Birmingham, by James Baggett, the head of the Archives Department at the Birmingham Public Library.

Apparently Ms. Patton hasn't heard that I shut this place down many years ago, since she wrote that she was sending the book for possible review consideration hereon. But hey, I'm a sucker for free stuff, especially picture books. So, I got Chet to come in from rewiring the transformer and let her know I'd be happy to receive the book and to offer my opinion.

A couple of days later, a big package was sitting at my place at the kitchen table, although I do wish I'd been looking for the shipment, because it apparently arrived a day earlier and sat on the front porch and got wet in the recent rains we had. Luckily, the book wasn't ruined, although it was a bit wavy around the edges.

The promotional blurb sent by Ms. Patton said, "This 10 x 10 book tell [sic] the pictorial narrative of Birmingham through culled-from-the-archives photography and informative text and captions."

Now most of you know I have a great affection for history and Birmingham and photos and historical photos of Birmingham, so I've got to tell you I'm already predisposed to give this thing a good review.


I have to say that unless you are already well-steeped in Birmingham lore, you will probably be less than satisfied, unless you just like looking at old pictures for the sake of looking at old pictures. The captions are very short, and assume that the reader appreciates the history associated with place names such as East Lake, Avondale, Woodlawn, Ensley, or Lakeview, or Highland Avenue, or 1st Avenue and 20th Street, or with the names of the people such as Tutwiler and Jemison.

Each chapter is devoted to a different time period beginning from the City's founding in 1871 (although the earliest known photo is from 1873), and begins with a short introduction by Mr. Baggett. Now, again, these names and places are already familiar to me, and I dearly loved looking at the wealth of detail in these photos. But even if a picture IS worth a thousand words, photos this old, of people or places you might not know, means that a great deal of those words could just as well be in a foreign language.

I found myself longing for more exposition, even though I realize this isn't the point of the book. But in not providing a greater amount of textual clarification, it means that this book (or one of the 60 other similar titles offered by Turner) is destined to be limited in its appeal to the hometown crowd.

Second, although I appreciated the chapter breakdown by time period, within each chapter it seems as though more thought could have been directed at obvious groups of subjects. There are several photos of old motorcycles, for instance, that really begged to be more closely associated with each other. In another example, there are more than a few photos of the old St. Vincent's hospital and its staff. It seems a shame they weren't less randomly distributed--again, reading this as if I were a complete stranger to Birmingham, I might not have immediately understood they were related.

Another possible way of breaking down the subject was geographically. What was known in the old days as "The Birmingham District" was, and still is, a big, BIG area, and the randomness of the display of the pictures makes it difficult to grasp just how large of expanse of land is covered. I know it and appreciate it, but only because I'm already very familiar with where the locations are.

Having said all that, I still thoroughly enjoyed perusing the book. It really is amazing to see how quickly this old place sprung up from farmland to a real city. Another thing that's odd to me is just how big it looked. I don't know if it was the type of equipment used or what, but it's odd to look at photos from then and companion contemporary photos. The old grainy black and whites always look like they were taken in a huge metropolis, and the modern photos always make the place seem much smaller. And again, I just love looking at the details--the way a man wears his watch fob, the signs in the background, the piles of manure in the streets, the barely visible lettering on the fourth floor window, the old Studebakers and Nashes. Good stuff.

Another caveat, though. If you like old photos of Birmingham, it's really hard to go wrong by spending an afternoon browsing through the online digital collection of the BPL Archives. Many of the photos from the book are from this resource, and they are grouped and arranged and categorized in a way that makes gleaning the history and context of the photos much easier and more rewarding. The late (and perpetually mourned) Terminal Station gets its own section, even though I only recall seeing a glimpse of it once in the book. The book does present a short peek at Birmingham's once extensive network of public streetcar lines, but the website does it much more justice. And the Archives also maintains a blog site where they post recent updates to the collection.

All that's missing is that wonderful smell and portability of a book. Although it's worth remembering that these photos also exist in actual, real, holdable form. As someone who's made several treks across the park, I can attest that the Archives are a super place to spend time. The staff is helpful and friendly, and you can look through the old photos and clippings till your heart's content, and you can even order reproductions of just about anything for a nominal fee. One of my favorites is a reprint of O.V. Hunt's "Heaviest Corner on Earth" that I keep over in my history bookcase in the bedroom.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Historic Photos of Birmingham would be a good gift for anyone with a soft spot for Birmingham's photographic past, or anyone on your list who enjoys historic architecture. Just be aware that it's far from the whole story of this place, and that there are some companion resources that make reading it much more informative.

Photos of Birmingham.jpg

ISBN: 1596522542 / Publisher: Turner Publishing Company (KY) / Date: June 2006 / Page Count: 197

So there you go.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:52 AM | Comments (9)

November 01, 2007

It sure is...

...pretty outside today.


Although I'd rather not have to have spent the last two hours looking at rubber and rocks.


Posted by Terry Oglesby at 04:14 PM | Comments (7)

July 19, 2007

Architectural Term of the Day!

SLYPE. A covered way or passage, especially in a cathedral or monastic church, leading east from the cloisters between transept and chapterhouse.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

I had a bad case of the cloisters once.

ANYWAY, here's an image of the elusive slype, this one coming to us from Peterborough, England:

peterborough slype.jpg

Image shamelessly stolen from this site, which catalogs the history of Peterborough in a Lileksian-MPLS style through the use of picture postcards.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:37 AM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2007

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

It's been a while, so let's look at...

ADYTUM. The inner sanctuary of a Greek temple whence oracles were delivered; also, more loosely, any private chamber or sanctuary.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition

A slightly more detailed definition with a drawing can be found here.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 03:53 PM | Comments (4)

June 22, 2007

"...Slip-Sliding Awaayyyy..."

Miss Janis asks:

I have a question. Maybe some of your other readers have experience.

Because our carport floor is so slippery under certain humid conditions, Lyman has ordered a kit from U Coat It to provide some texture.

Do any of you have experience with this product?

This is the product in question, a water-based epoxy floor coating.

Just about any product of this sort will work, but if you're worried about slip resistance, they do recommend that a non-slip additive be added to the top of the compound as it is applied. Without the additive (usually some sort of coarse mineral grit--in the case of UCoat, they have something called UTex, which is aluminum oxide), the floor will be even more slippery when wet than plain concrete. And even when it's new, the slip-resistant kind can still be slippery, since the grit can have a thin layer of the epoxy covering it as well. As it wears down to the actual grit from foot traffic, the slip-resistance gets better.

We've got a similar product that was applied to the floor of the crosswalk from the parking deck to our building. It was originally carpeted, but since the roof leaks all the time, the carpet stayed wet. Tearing out the carpet left a concrete ramp walking surface, but oddly enough, it did nothing to stop the roof from leaking. The solution was obviously to apply a coating over the concrete to enhance its slip-resistance, but as I noted, it can take a while for the grit to be exposed enough to provide optimal grip. It's better now, so I can walk confidently when the roof is leaking and not worry so much about keeping my footing.

Anyone else have anything to share?

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:55 AM | Comments (7)

June 07, 2007


Mother Nature is quite the fickle one.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:54 AM | Comments (0)

June 06, 2007

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

FERETORY. A shrine for relics designed to be carried in processions; kept behind the high altar.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

Okay, I sorta have a problem with something that can be hoisted and toted around being labelled as an architectural term, but other dictionaries (none of which have a reference to flightless ANTarctic birds) say it can also be the area of a church where relics are kept.

But, let's face it, it sounds like something you'd keep a ferret in, and therefore has great comedic value.

SO, here's a ferret.

And here's an interesting tale of St. Swithun, which includes a handy graphic showing where his feretory is located.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 02:20 PM | Comments (4)

May 08, 2007

Well, he may have been The Great, but not quite that great.

King Herod's tomb may have been found

The Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) An Israeli archaeologist on Tuesday said he has found the tomb of King Herod, the legendary builder of ancient Jerusalem and the Holy Land. [...]

Well, he was quite a visionary with a very Roman outlook on displaying state power through architecture, and his friendliness with Rome certainly helped out a great deal when it came time to start building things around the country. But the way that sentence is written, it makes it sound like Jerusalem (and the rest of the Holy Land) was a clean-sheet design. Sorta like Disneyworld. Eh, whatever--maybe it's just a badly worded sentence--but given the slim sense of history most news organizations exhibit, it's hard to tell.

Anyway, a more complete article about Herod and his architectural (and social) legacy can be found here.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 08:50 AM | Comments (2)

Quote of the Day

"It is a very nice school, but it is not gold-plated..."

My friend, for this much money, it danged well better be.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 08:12 AM | Comments (6)

May 01, 2007

A whole lot better thing to celebrate...

...and you don't have to hang out with a silly bunch of ribbon-carrying Commies prancing around a pole--On May 1, 1931,

with the press of a button in Washington, D.C., President Herbert Hoover turned on the lights of the Empire State Building. This event officially opened the edifice, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in New York City, to the public. At 102 stories, it reigned as the world's tallest skyscraper until 1974.

In 1929, a corporation which included Alfred E. Smith (former Governor of New York) and John Jacob Raskob (financial captain behind the growth of General Motors), and others formed to construct the Empire State Building. Excavation began in January of the following year, construction commenced in March, and Smith laid its cornerstone in September. The steel framework rose at a rate of 4 1/2 stories per week. The building's construction was completed in a phenomenal one year and 45 days.

Upon its completion, the 1454-foot Empire State Building became an icon for all things New York. Its Art Deco lobby presented 10,000 square feet of marble and its mast, currently a TV tower, was originally intended as a mooring for dirigibles. It has been featured in scores of stories and films, perhaps the most the most famous being the 1933 production of King Kong starring Fay Wray.[...]

What a building.

Official site can be found here.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 09:07 AM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2007

But there are wacky treehuggers we can all look up to.

Frederick Law Olmsted,

nineteenth-century America's foremost landscape architect, was born on April 26, 1822. Son of a well-to-do Hartford, Connecticut merchant, Olmsted spent much of his childhood enjoying rural New England scenery. Weakened eyesight forced him to abandon plans to attend Yale. Instead, young Olmsted studied engineering and scientific farming, putting his agricultural and managerial theories into practice on his own Staten Island farm.

A tour of England and the Continent inspired Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England (1852) and a new career in journalism. Later that year, New York Daily Times editor Henry J. Raymond engaged Olmsted to report on conditions in the slave-holding states. His articles, later published as A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, undercut prevailing myths about Southern aristocratic refinement with keen observations about the plantation system and its effects on master and slave. [...]

And yep, this is the fellow who designed one of the world's greatest public spaces, New York's Central Park, a marvel of naturalistic design, created by

[...] shifting nearly 5 million cubic yards of dirt, blasting rock with 260 tons of gunpowder, and planting 270,000 trees and shrubs. [...]

Hey, sometimes Ma Nature needs a little...persuasion.

In any event, the fellow was a genius.

And he has a local tie for those of us in the Magic City. His son, F. L. Olmsted, Jr., and the Olmsted Brothers park planning firm created a sweeping greenspace plan in 1924 for Birmingham that was remarkable for its scope and technical sophistication. Unremarkable (given the other problems Birmingham dealt itself) is the fact that it was never fully implemented.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:30 AM | Comments (2)

April 24, 2007

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

We haven't opened up the ol' Penguin lately, so here's one that's been just waiting for the right time to be heard:

CRINKLE-CRANKLE WALL. A serpentine or continuously snake-like curving or undulating wall.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition

Probably the best known example for all of us rude Colonials would be the one Tom Jefferson had constructed in the gardens at the University of Virginia. The advantage of this type of construction is the ability to create a single-wythe wall(the width of a single brick rather than two or more interlocked faces) that is still very strong.

And it's interesting-looking, to boot.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 02:05 PM | Comments (1)

April 20, 2007


Or rather, the Sydney Opera House. Quite a good critique of it by Kitchen Hand (who is obviously just so jealous the Melbourne doesn't have an opera house exactly like it) AND as a special bonus, a handy translation tool for deciphering Bureaucratese.

Personally, I think it's a neat looking thing, although it would work a lot better if they'd just fill it with sand and call it a giant sculpture, instead of actually trying to put people in it. A side benefit is the acoustics would be better if it were filled with sand.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:21 AM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2007

A sad thing.

Fire levels nearly 200-year-old grist mill in Madison County

MADISON, Ala. (AP) The Madison County deputy fire marshal has ruled a pre-dawn fire that leveled a nearly 200-year-old grist mill as suspicious.

Deputy Fire Marshal Dustin Spires said the historic Patterson Mill off Oscar Patterson Road was destroyed in the blaze that occurred about 3:30 a.m. Saturday.

Harold Patterson's father, the late John Patterson, ran the grist mill from 1919 until its closing in 1959. Harold Patterson, 63, told The The Huntsville Times he saw smoke early Saturday and was devastated when he discovered what had burned. Volunteer Fire Departments from New Market, Moores Mill and Hazel Green responded to the alarm but couldn't work fast enough to save it. [...]

Patterson believes the blaze was arson.

He said a camping lantern, folding chair and smoldering fireplace found near the scene raised the suspicion of investigators.

Umm, well, yeah, that sound pretty danged suspicious, alright.

Anyway, it's sad to lose a part of history like this. I do have to say, though, that if you own a site that has some historical value, it might be good to protect it, even if it means hiring a caretaker.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 09:49 AM | Comments (2)

March 01, 2007

For everyone who loves--nay, adores--building contractors.

Got this today from My Friend Jeff--

First up, the drawing, which is a graphical depiction of a set of stairs leading to a doorway.


The round thing with the letters and numbers is a symbol that tells you to look on sheet A6.10 for detail number 2, and since it has a line and a dotted circle attached to it, it's telling you that when you turn to that particular sheet and detail that you will see a detailed, larger-scale drawing of that left door jamb area.

Or at least that's what's supposed to happen.

However, sometimes all those liney-drawy things can get all confusin' for a feller, as witnessed by the end result of trying to give someone more information than he's ready for...

stair tread as built.jpg


Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:52 AM | Comments (7)

February 16, 2007

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

And you thought feng shui was the only game in town when it comes to otherworldly touchy-feeliness--

HARMONIC PROPORTIONS. A system of proportions relating architecture to music. The Ancients discovered that if two cords are twanged the difference in pitch will be one octave if the shorter is half the length of the longer, a fifth if one is two thirds of the other, and a fourth if the ratio is 3:4. It was therefore assumed that rooms or whole buildings whose measurements followed the ratios 1:2, 2:3 or 3:4 would be harmonious. Early Renaissance architects, notably Alberti, seized on this discovery as the key to the beauty of Roman architecture and also to the harmony of the universe. The idea was further developed by Palladio who, with the aid of Venetian musical theorists, evolved a far more complex scale of proportions based on the major and minor third--5:6 and 4:5--and so on.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition

There is way yonder too much on this subject to cover, but a good primer on the ideas of the various ideas these old guys had can be found here.

Human beings are innately cognizant of geometrical regularity and proportion, and so I suppose we might tend to feel better if we are surrounded by recognizable order in our structures. The Renaissance's fascination with the harmonic ideal--that whole "music of the spheres" thing promoting peace and goodwill in the mind of man--is nice, and provides a good framework for artistic compositions of buildings and music and such, but it probably works better in theory than in actual practice when it comes to actually making habitable places. There are, after all, many more sorts of mathematical or geometrical constructs besides the simple Platonic ideals (circle, square, triangle and their three-dimensional brothers) that could be just as mental-harmony-inducing, and plenty of architecture all over the world that doesn't rely on any of these theories, yet is perfectly suitable for its intended use.

Still, it's kind of a nice way to play with blocks..

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:29 AM | Comments (3)

February 07, 2007

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

VOUSSOIR. A brick or wedge-shaped stone forming one of the units of an arch.

And a very elegant thing they are.

Here's a simple illustration of the item in question, but it really doesn't do justice to the inventiveness folks have shown in making arches.

The Romans really were the first to make good use of arches, and even though things like the Pont du Gard aqueduct were intended to be utilitarian, it's still quite decorative and a large part of its charm are the tiered arrangement of arches and their exposed brickwork.


Fast forward several hundred centuries and several thousand miles away, and you can see one of the foremost arch lovers ever to come along, one H.H. Richardson, whose distinctive use of gigantic masonry arches gave rise to the term Richardsonian Romanesque. His work included such nifty things as the Glessner House in Chicago and the Crane Memorial Library in Quincy, Massachusetts.

That Chicago building is worth noting, mainly because of the presence of another architect of some note who came along a bit later. Although I doubt he would ever stand for anyone saying he deliberately stole ideas from other architects, it's still clear that a good idea is a good idea, and good ideas are worth using. Such as at the Arthur Heurtley House in Oak Park, Illinois. It's also probably not worth mentioning that a certain county civic center also bears a striking similarity to the previously cited aqueduct (except for the lack of exposed voussoirs, of course).

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 02:05 PM | Comments (5)

January 26, 2007

Probably hammering one more nail into my own coffin.

Everything's done by computers now. But on occasion, we old-timers get a call for something that can only be done the old-fashioned way.

Such as, just this morning, I got a call from the lady who does in-house graphic design for city-produced publications, and she said she had been looking for some examples of architectural lettering. She told me that my boss had given her a book, but it didn't have what she needed, and asked if would I mind doing a sample of my lettering.

Well, I'm a sucker for her because she's nice, so I did a strip with upper case, lower case (which I don't actually use--I use all caps, and just use a larger capital letters for the start of the sentence or proper nouns), numerals, and various #$%& and @ symbols.

All of which I know she will scan in and use for stuff so that she doesn't have to get one of use to use our cool--but slow--architectural lettering skills whenever she needs such things.

She was surprised when she got it because it looked so different from the sample she'd gotten from a co-worker of mine. "It's just like handwriting," I noted. And it's true. Although the intent is to produce consistent, readable lettering, with enough practice (and desire) you tend to develop your own style that's recognizable but still clear and orderly. Some people get carried away and get all jaggedy and scrawly, which is certainly unique to that person, but it gets in the way of being able to read notes.

Anyway, why she didn't just buy an architectural font package for her computer, I don't know. It would certainly be a lot easier to use than something scanned in.

Oh well.

Should you want to practice your own architectural lettering, I did have a link here to a website with an animated deal you could look at, but since I don't have the latest version of Flash, I didn't realize how crappy it looked until Steevil sent me a copy of it in a Word document. Yikes--forget doing that, it was horrible! But I haven't found anything else yet, so forget I even mentioned it.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:16 AM | Comments (8)

January 05, 2007

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

GUILLOCHE. A pattern of interlacing bands forming a plait and used as an enrichment on a moulding.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition

Actually, the type of pattern is not just used in architecture, although here is an example of what's being talked about from the Buffalo Savings Bank in Buffalo, NY.

The pattern also shows up in flatwork such as mosaic tile (from Buffalo's First Presbyterian Church), as well as being a favorite motif of currency engravers, jewellers, and kids with a Spirograph (or a math degree).

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 12:40 PM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2006

Even Ugly Bridges Need Love Too!

Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City, and a more full accounting of said bridge you're unlikely to find than the one found here.

(And personally, I think it looks just fine.)

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2006

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

UNDERCROFT. A vaulted room, sometimes underground, below an upper room such as a church or a chapel.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

Thank heavens for Google. Here is a site with a detailed drawing showing the undercroft at Monkton Old Hall in Pembroke, Wales, as well as the charmingly decorated executive version of said basement-with-snooty-name as found at Forde Abbey and Gardens, Chard, Somerset TA20 4LU England.

The undercroft should not be confused with Sid and Marty Krofft, nor with Lara Croft.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 12:10 PM | Comments (2)

December 06, 2006


Woo-hoo! Only three hours of continuing education left to obtain by the end of September!

Today's topic was a scintillating discussion of precast concrete panel systems. Actually, it really IS an interesting topic, especially when you get into the part with thin-brick cladding and insulation and these new carbon-fiber shear ties and stuff.

Well, okay, maybe not.

As always, much more interesting as a character study of people and their minor failings. Especially those of a grammatical nature. Such as, did you know some people mistake the word "model" for the word "mottle"? That's distracting to see on a slide.

Also, the idea of using the Socratic method to teach is an interesting one, but you have to remember that Socrates probably concentrated on asking questions that would guide his students to a better understanding of the topic and wouldn't ask stupid, obvious questions that only serve to waste time and obscure the point he was trying to make.

Then again, he's dead, so what does HE know!?

Anyway, I got a somewhat cool beverage coaster made out of concrete for correctly identifying an FBI building. It said "Federal Bureau of Investigation" on the big sign in front of it. "Anyone tell me what this building is? Anyone?"

It was also fun because My Friend Jefftm and John the Earthworm Boy showed up. They're always good for some snide impertinence. Such as was directed at our box lunch, which had apparently been made up ahead of time. By approximately three weeks. The concrete beverage coaster was softer than the bread on the sandwiches.

BUT, it was all free, aside from having to sit and listen, and I actually did learn some things, I think, so all in all, a good day away from the office.

HOWEVER, it didn't leave a lot of time for coming up with nifty questions for the Thursday Three, so if any of you have any ideas, e-mail them to me. Quickly.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 03:20 PM | Comments (4)

November 28, 2006

4.5 HSW CEUs!

Yay me! Knocked out about a third of my required hours for the year, and got a great big breakfast out of the deal as well! AND a Hilton ballpoint pen! AND a Hilton Post-it Note pad! And a big binder full of product information and CDs! And a lovely certificate suitable for framing!

All in all, actually not that uninformative. It was about stone. There's a lot involved in turning rock into stone, and then keeping it looking nice and stony after it's installed. The presenters--there were SIX of them--weren't all that scintillating, but they at least seemed to know what they were talking about. The second presenter was some girl who said she'd been warned to talk a bit slower (we hear slower here because we're so backward and stupid) but I swear if THAT was her slow pitch, her regular-speed work must be like listening to an Alvin and the Chipmunks record. The last girl I think was from Canada and had a pinched, nasally voice something like Edie McClurg, and had a bad verbal tic of saying "basically" and "okay" with just about every sentence. With her accent, it came out as "bazickly" and "m'kay?" It was distracting, but she was very nice otherwise, however.

Saw a ton of folks I know, which is odd. I usually run into a few, but in a room full of sixty or so folks, I figure I knew about half of them. Of those, I'd like to apologize to just about all of them because of my propensity to forget names of people. And not just people I've been introduced to once, but people I have contact with all the time. Generally, I just fall back on the old standard, "HEY BUDDY!" but with that many Buddies around, that begins to look a bit obvious.

Anyway, you got a question about stone, I can answer it. It may not be right, but I can answer it.

Got back here, and found that despite the fact that I don't seem to do anything productive, when I'm not here great wads of poop start clogging up the valves and tubes, and so I just had a very intense hour and a half of doing my office gymnastics/alligator wrestling/wildfire dousing routine. I hate doing that.

And now, more things to do, because I have to get ready for my usual off-campus excursion tomorrow morning, and it promises to be something like a collision between two trains full of nitroglycerine. Fun all around!

So, maybe tomorrow afternoon we can play some more.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 02:25 PM | Comments (6)

October 12, 2006

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

Todays term is:

BTON BRUT. Concrete in the raw, that is, concrete left in its natural state when the formwork is removed. Sometimes special formwork is used to show clearly the timber graining on the concrete surface.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

You get a two-fer today, because although rough-cast concrete has been around since concrete, once you recognize it as a medium and give it a fancy name and don't think of it as random sloppiness, well, you get yourself a whole movement devoted to artfully crafted artlessness. (Sorta like primitive painters who, it just so happened, went to art school and have PhDs.)

ANYway, raw concrete became quite the craze and gave us (from the same source as above) the name:

BRUTALISM. A term coined in England in 1954 to characterize the style of Le Corbusier at the moment of the Marseille
and Chandigarh, and the style of those inspired by such buildings; in England Stirling & Gowan; in Italy Vittoriano Vigan (Istituto Marchiondi, Milan, 1957) [News story here, originally in Italian and translated by Google, which shows that time has not been kind to this building. Ed.] ; in America Paul Rudolph; in Japan Maekawa, Tange, and many others. Brutalism nearly always uses concrete exposed at its roughest (BTON BRUT) and handled with overemphasis on big chunky members which collide ruthlessly.

big chunky members which collide ruthlessly-- Why, thats not architecture, thats FOOTBALL! And if youll look at football stadiums, thats the way a lot of them (including this lovely) are built.

Finally, to top things off, TWO limericks devoted to the topic.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:50 AM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2006

If Lileks lived in Greensboro...(Update 2)

...I bet he'd be all over this one--Historic century-old opera house in Greensboro may be renovated

An interesting article about a place that hasn't been touched for at least 50 years (and really more like 80):

[...] As Cobbs' flashlight sweeps through the shadows it reveals a once grand chandelier that hangs in the corner of the backstage area. Vintage playbills lie about. A busted player piano with popped keys rests in another corner.

High above, the ornate pressed tin ceiling still has hints of its gold leaf paint. On the ceiling medallion above the center of the floor is a dulled mural with three chubby cherubs. In corners, here and there graffiti marks the walls: scrawled autographs of minstrel musicians from the 1910s to teenage testimonials from the 1930s. [...]

Built by businessman Jeffries A. Blunt, the Greensboro Opera House remains the dominant building in Greensboro's downtown business district.

[...] a businessman from Marion bought the opera house and closed it in the mid-1930s, then opened a movie theater a few blocks away.

The access stairway to the opera house was torn out in the 1950s, leaving the faded stage backdrops and ancient popcorn machine out-of-reach. [...]

I sure hope they can make a go of it.

UPDATE: And boy, don't I love Flikr!--here's a photo of the building in the article as it appears in modern times (tall one on the right), and a photo of it from the rear. And here's a closeup of a rather interesting door by another Flikrite.

Update 2--And whaddya know! 'Now Let Us Praise Famous Photogs'--this one from the Library of Congress, one of Walker Evans' shots of downtown Greensboro, with the opera house there on the left. At the time in the summer of 1936, it still had its sign identifying it as "The Strand." A man stands in the doorway seen in the previous modern photos--at one time, there was a balcony there.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2006

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

LACUNAR. A panelled or coffered ceiling; also the sunken panels or coffering in such a ceiling.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition

Despite having read and reread this little dictionary, I'd never alighted on that particular word, even though I know exactly what it's talking about. I just always called it a coffered ceiling. Anyway, a good classical example would be this, the ceiling of the Pantheon--


Them Roman guys was real smart like. That dome is made out of concrete, and each one of those coffers had to be designed and constructed to become smaller in size and volume as they march their way up to the oculus at the top. In order to make the dome lighter, they incorporated small clay jars into the mix to create voids--in effect, the whole thing is something like a big sponge.

A more recent example, both of lacunars and of impressive concrete work would be portions of I.M. Pei's East Building of the National Gallery. Those might look very simple, but the formwork had to be constructed by a team of cabinet makers, due to the complexity of the geometry and the desire for absolute precision in the final product.

So there you go!

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 08:50 AM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2006

Oh, okay.

If you really want to see what I was doing yesterday, here is a sample.

Here's a long shot from above the expressway of my subject--

and one zoomed in a bit. The idea is to show the lack of billboards, although it kinda misses something unless it's a before and after view.

Here's a picture of the corridor with the pretty window and view of the city beyond--

--and here's the sorta muddy photo I had to take through the door.

There were several more, but I won't bore you with those. Why?

Because I just found out that Sophia Loren has been voted the World's Most Naturally Beautiful Person!

(Although I have no quibble with the top ranking for my good friend Mrs. Ponti, I find it bizarre that the list include Jack Black. Jack Black!? That's just crazy talk. Must be like that silly Euroweenie poll that named the Fiat 500 the world's sexiest car.)

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:01 AM | Comments (2)

July 18, 2006

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

Well, it’s not really THAT obscure, but it’s still interesting nonetheless:

BUNGALOW. A single-storey house. The term is a corruption of a Hindustani word [bangla, Ed.] , and was originally given to the light dwellings with verandas erected mainly for the British administrators in India. So many of these were later built in England by unqualified designers that certain areas have been opprobriously called ‘bungaloid growths’.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

One thing to remember is that my little yellowing paperback dictionary was printed in Olde Sodde--thus, no mention that although England might have found itself scabbed over with bungalows, no place fell in love with this type of house more than America.

With the advent of the balloon-frame concept (i.e., stick-built, the way you think of American houses normally being built, rather than with stone or half-timber like European houses) and standardized lumber sizes, the simple and pleasant and inexpensive bungalow gave many Americans the ability to own a house, and gave America the ability to house so many of its citizens during a time of explosive growth at the turn of the 20th Century. Birmingham is chock full of these nice little dwellings, although they often experience the fate of so many such things--destruction due to owners seeing them as nothing more than just a old pile of junk.

A great website is this one called, aptly enough, American Bungalow, and one of my favorite books is Bungalows, Camps and Mountain Houses, a 1990 reprint bungalow designs from 1908-1915 that was published by the AIA Press. It’s out of print now, but is still available through various used book stores, and, of course, through your local library. Libraries are also a great place to look for old bound copies of Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman magazine, which was one of the leading proponents of the Arts and Crafts/Craftsman style of architecture and of bungalows.

Here is a particularly nice example of the breed from St. Louis, Missouri.


Posted by Terry Oglesby at 03:56 PM | Comments (4)

July 10, 2006

Well, that's interesting.

At least it is to me, although I have a feeling anyone else who comes by might not think so. Whatever.

IN ANY EVENT, I just got my newsletter from the state registration board for architects, and it included the passage rates of the registration exam from last year, and things are looking pretty good.

In each of the test divisions, the first number is the percentage of Alabama candidates passing the test, and the second number is the national percentage:

Pre-Design 88% 76%

General Structures 78% 75%

Lateral Forces 82% 76%

Mechanical and Electrical Systems 71% 68%

Building Design/Materials and Methods 89% 77%

Construction Documents and Services 90% 77%

Site Planning 79% 73%

Building Planning 60% 63%

Building Technology 65% 66%

As you can see, there are only a couple of categories where our numbers lagged behind the national rate, and those are not by much. I seem to recall the year I took mine (1994), in most categories we were about equal, so it's good to see that there's some progress being made on most fronts.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 01:38 PM | Comments (0)

Arts and Crafts!

For some reason, Reba and the kids (but most especially Catherine) have become gripped with an odd fever that causes them to rush to Michael's, purchase vast quantities of acrylic paint and small wooden doodads, come home with them, spread out all over the kitchen table, and proceed to slather said paint all over said wooden doodads, and occasionally upon said table.

It all started about a month ago when Reba found some little butterfly cutouts, then some small wooden doll standups, and this madness has now progressed to a variety of birdhouses and other jimcracks. She says she has intentions of doing them up for the folks on our Christmas gift list who like handmade crafts, but as I mention, Cat has caught this crafting mania as well, and has gone off and decorated several things on her own.

Which is the problem.

Not for her--for me.

Being that I am more persnickety about architectural craftsmanship than even famously anal-retentive James Lileks is about arranging the currency in his wallet or the size of juice glasses, the objects Catherine has decorated drive me to distraction with their slapdashery of color. I mean, there's primitive art, and then there's just plain primitive.

She usually does such wonderful work when she colors or paints on paper, but this 3-D stuff seems to bring out an inner savagery in her that causes her to shower these poor bits of basswood with multiple Jackson Pollack-y layers of pigments, but without the intentional nature of someone who thinks she's actually doing abtract art. They are, after all, supposed to look something like actual houses, miniaturized for the birdish set. The prim Gothic church or rustic log cabin or whimsical Norman style conical roof house are abused with great prejudice, with wild colors running all over the place, as well as fingerprints, smudges, smears, dollops, bandicoots, llamas--giving the assemblage the overall aspect of having been created by someone who's lost all fine motor skills.


I just want to take the brushes away from her (and Reba, too, but you didn't her ME say that) and show them what they're doing wrong.


Except, well, they're enjoying themselves to no end, and too, I figure if I ever started messing with the paints myself, I would wind up with yet another out-of-control set of moron projects with no end in sight.

Best just not to say anything.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 01:02 PM | Comments (4)

June 19, 2006

Say, why don't you write about architecture more?

Mainly because so much of what passes for architecture nowadays is so self-consciously crappy looking. It's like they're going out of their way to make it homely and obnoxious, sorta like Janeane Garofalo, who would be much cuter if she'd resist the urge to put on ugly glasses, mess up her hair, dress in ugly clothes, and talk.

Sorry, but I've just never been a big fan of creating deliberately ugly things just for kicks or in some misguided effort to affect sophistication.

Lileks' new theater example reminds me of something where those pipe-robots on that urinary incontinence drug commercial might go to enjoy a nice enema. (By the way, I noticed that in the latest one of those commercials, the animators saw fit to include a Toledo flare in one of the scenes!) It's angry and frowny, which makes it so much harder to sympathize and ask, "Why so blue, big guy?"

Anyway, it's crap, but the client's happy, so that's really all that matters.


Posted by Terry Oglesby at 12:13 PM | Comments (4)

June 08, 2006

The Wright Stuff

June 8, 1867

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was born on June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin. America's most significant architect, Wright's "Prairie Style" transformed 20th-century residential design while his plans for businesses, churches, and museums also proved simultaneously innovative and practical. Wright's commitment to "organic architecture"—the belief that structures should harmonize with both occupants and landscape—underscored his creative genius. [...]

Well, they are cool to look at, and Wright was truly a genius, but he was a genius entirely on his own terms. Wright didn't design for you--you had to become a convert to Wright, and that included putting up with all his quirks, including the one that seemed to place the need for a durable structure much further down the list of priorities than it probably should have been. That is, Wright really didn't care quite so much if things leaked or broke, as long as the overall composition was uncompromised. He was a high-maintenance little dude, and his buildings can be equally high-maintenance.

Further information from the PBS website, and from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 09:45 AM | Comments (6)

May 25, 2006

May I invite you to come inside and see my etchings?

Many thanks to Skillzy who yesterday sent notice of an incredibly cool website composed of over 1,000 scanned images from old books, featuring "Remains of Ruined Castles, Deserted Abbeys, Old Manor Houses, mansions and stately homes; also engravings, woodcuts and pictures of Old England and Wales." Just incredible, and the scans are public-domain and royalty-free, which means I can put one up right here for you to look at!

cats singing.jpg

This will have to do until I can get a picture of a real cat to post tomorrow.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 09:15 AM | Comments (8)

May 23, 2006

Paint them white and plant ivy.

Doctors bury their mistakes; architects--[see above]

Via Dr. Weevil's (who's playing with his templates again) brother Steevil, an interesting post by Phi Beta Con Anthony Dick over at NRO discussing the campus buildings at Tommy Jefferson's old digs at the University of Virginia. It's a quick and succinct read, especially the concluding paragraphs:

[...] A friend and fellow alumnus recently pointed out the tragic peculiarity at work in the case of the architecture faculty: Like all professors, they operate in an insular environment whose norms and ideals are quite different from the rest of society. The unfortunate distinction is that, whereas the batty scribblings of the super-deconstructionistic-racial-gender theorist of the week can always be safely locked away in some library basement vault, the twisted images that spring from the wayward minds of the architecture professoriate cannot so readily be hidden.

Some of these wayward minds contend that any present-day efforts by UVA to imitate Jefferson’s red-brick-and-white-column neoclassicism can only result in “mediocre buildings decked out in pseudo-Jeffersonian cladding”—“the form without the soul,” as one says. But Jefferson himself imitated and adapted the Classical architectural style of the ancient Greeks and Romans. He proved that, through brilliant design and careful execution, it is indeed possible to embrace an artistic heritage, without being slavishly devoted to it.

It helps things if you consider architecture as a language, with all the various trappings thereof.

Just as it is possible to learn Latin (which has lost some of its reach, to put it mildly), it is also possible to take that very old language and write an everyday blog using it. And it's equally possible that someone well-versed in the language of Classical architecture could take it and design a perfectly acceptable modern-day building using it.

The only difference is that those who might come across one or the other would be much more conversant with the building than the blog. Architecture is a more durable language than spoken or written words, and one of the most durable of its dialects has been that of Classicism. Now, we might not understand all of it--all the metopes and triglyphs and astragals and entasis, or why one thing means something different from another, but in the end we tend to see something familiar enough to the common human experience that we can still use and enjoy it.

Sorta like good opera, we can tell what's going on even if we can't figure out the words, because we have other things to help guide us--the tempo, the expression of the actor's faces, and their interaction with each other.

On the other hand Modernism (in all of its various dialects) really doesn't play well with others. It's at its best when given a blank slate, or, as at UVA or most other places, when it's given other architecture as a counterpoint, either to mock or to genuflect toward. For many of its heartiest proponents, it is the language of reaction rather than action; redefinition rather than definition. As a language, it says less about who or what we are or want to be, and much more about what we simply dislike about other stuff. Not so much listening to a three hour Italian opera, but much more like a three hour Castro speech.

Obviously, in the case of any language, there are exceptions--some Classical work is boring and overly slavish--writing down a copy of Homer is not the same thing as being Homer, after all. And likewise, there is some work by Modernist architects that is genuinely fresh and inviting.

Unfortunately, being that so much of academia has grown crusty with people who'd rather sit through a three hour Castro speech than sit on a hill and fly a kite, you are much more likely to find the harder-edged dystopian Modernist sorts clamoring for overthrow of the old social order and all of its associated evils. The long view--either forward toward building a better future, or backward garnering inspiration from past genius--just isn't very much appreciated anymore. Too many of our professors in the building arts and sciences have reduced themselves to a never-ending present of self-aggrandizing self-loathing, sprinkled with dissatisfaction and dissolution.

In the end, the university will have to figure out who it's trying to talk to and what it's trying to say, whether it's the shop jargon of the professional pedagogue intended to be understood by them alone, or something that speaks the language of those in the world outside the classroom.

Thank goodness ivy grows quickly.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:44 AM | Comments (8)

May 17, 2006

Okay, here we go with the house question.

Okay, Jordana sends in a two-parter this morning:

Assuming you weren't an architect and were considering putting an addition on your house -- how much would you spend on an architect to make sure you got a useful and attractive addition that didn't look really stupid?

Well, that one's hard to say without knowing your overall budget, and without knowing how involved you want to get. I do know Jordana and Justin have a pretty well-defined sense of composition, so what I would suggest is first doing some homework of your own--but before you sketch ANYthing, first settle right now on the very most you would be willing to spend. From this, you will have to back out fees for whoever you get to draw it up, and things like furnishings and such that are necessary parts, but not things that are done by either the contractor or the designer. After you take out the fees and extras for filling the room up, you're left with the construction budget--what the cost will be that you pay the contractor. Then do yourself a favor and reduce that amount by another 10-15% to cover contingencies you haven't thought of. That budget number will give you some guidance as to just how much you might be able to afford.

A house is very personal, and so you have to have thought about what you want beforehand. This also makes it easier if you do decide to hire an architect, because he or she won't have to review and research all this stuff, and you won't have to pay them to do it. Think about what you like and dislike about the way your house works now, and why you think an addition would solve your problems, and write all those things down. Think to yourself of some neat ideas that you've seen and think might work for what you're trying to do. Think about what furnishings you intend to place in the rooms, and if they will require any special wiring or accomodations. All of these things have an impact on cost and on whether or not what you want to do actually CAN be done for the budget you have in mind.

Thankfully, a house is not so complex that it's beyond the reach of non-architecty types, so you might want to take your list of ideas and see if they might work in reality by making a scale drawing of your house on graph paper--if you want, you could even get one of those home-planning booklets from the bookstore. Lay out where you think you want the addition, how you might want to access it, where you want to put stuff. You'll probably have to work on it a bit at first, since people aren't used to working in scale, so that you don't wind up making doors or windows too big or too small. But, you'll eventually get to a point where you think you like it.

At this point, you have several options, depending on where you live and the legal requirements of your jurisdiction. Some localities require any such addition to be sealed by a registered architect, and some don't. Call your local city hall and ask. Be prepared to get lost in bureaucratic limbo at least once. If you don't necessarily require an architect, it is possible you might be able to find a competent home builder who can take your sketches and ideas and come up with a perfectly satisfactory addition that does everything you want. Or, maybe not. You might be able to find a home designer or intern-architect (one who is working toward registration but has not completed his licensing exam) who might offer you a better quality of product and level of service. Or, you might hire an architect who (hopefully) brings with him some level of professional competence and experience that could be lacking in the other alternatives. In any case, you will not get out of having to ask around.

Word-of-mouth is still one of the best ways to find out who's good at what they do, and who should be avoided at all costs. Talk to your friends and neighbors and see who they like. Get several names, and talk to all of them and see if they think they can help you with your project--some people who are good may be too busy at any given time to help, so they might offer suggestions of other people you could consider.

But as for whether an architect is essential (unless required by law) is really up to you--if you have a good idea of what you want and can express that clearly to the person who does the drawings, you are in effect your own architect, and the person you hire is your draftsman. And sometimes a clever and knowledgeable draftsman is much more useful to you than someone with big ideas of his own which might not really gibe with your own. Sort of like a caddy who knows the lay of the course, the draftsman might be able to offer you some advice he came to through observation and experience that even a pro might not have thought about.

Design can be a very subjective thing, and like anything else, there are some people who are hacks, yet have big reputations, and there are geniuses who scrape by in obscurity. Do your homework, and you'll have a better idea of which is which.

Now then, the second part:

And/or what do you do when you and your spouse disagree about what looks stupid?

Hey, what does she know about stupid-looking things!? She married me, right?

In actuality, our tastes are very similar, so we rarely disagree on design-related questions. If we do, I go into full-pedant mode and detail ad nauseum exactly why one thing is better than another until she relents to the superior heft and density of my arguments. And then I tell her I'm very sorry, because it's obvious I am wrong and was mistaken in my characterizations. This is done in an attempt to arrest any further diminishment of my prospects for nocturnal connubial activities. Hey, sorry, but some things are more important than being right about artsy-fartsy stuff.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:56 AM | Comments (8)

May 04, 2006

You may have seen this before...

...but regular reader and commentor and rocket scientist Steevil sent me an e-mail this morning with some photographs of a church building made out of Lego blocks, and it was absolutely stunning, both in form and in the details.

I did a quick bit of Googling, and in about a minute found that although many people build similar impressive structures, the particular one Steevil had sent to me was created by a lady named Amy Hughes.

I came across my Lego blocks last Saturday when I was cleaning out the garage. I never realized that the old metal lunchbox full of pieces I had back when I was a kid could have ever been used to build something so spectacular. I also like the fact that for the vast majority of the structure, it uses just the plain old regular blocks. Retail store Lego today is all about constructing things from a kit to look exactly like what's on the cover of the box, which seems to diminish the inherent fun in being able to create something entirely from your own mind. I mean, the old sets had guides to help you build stuff, but you could still build all sorts of other things since there no real kit-specific pieces. Oh, well. I guess the new ones sell better.

Anyway, it's a pretty cool site to marvel at, and no, I don't think anyone who does this stuff is whacko. Ms. Amy seems to have gotten a lot of commentary to that effect, but it seems like a perfectly enjoyable and entertaining hobby.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 09:08 AM | Comments (4)

May 02, 2006

That's not weird, that's cool!

Something I ran across over at the Weird Earl's feature on The Straight Dope, a link to a spot called Urville, a collection of wonderfully detailed architectural drawings by a young French man by the name of Gilles Trehin. M. Trehin states that he has been diagnosed with autism (or with Asperger's syndrome), and has over the years developed a highly detailed, and entirely fictional, place he calls Urville, complete with a description of its geography, people, economy, and as mentioned, its architecture.

It's kind of like running your own Sims game, except completely--and with exceeding talent--hand-drawn.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:00 AM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2006


A nice article in today's Birmingham News about a little place that I used to drive through and marvel at whenever I went from Birmingham to Auburn or back.

It sounds as though they have found themselves with quite a population of characters, straight out of some Gothic Southern Lit clearinghouse.

My own recollection of the place, however, is one of intense melancholy. The old homes I would see as I rolled through were for the most part well-tended, with a few that weren't. It was the few old commercial buildings, though, that had long ago given up the ghost, and driving through on Old 280--especially on days that weren't particularly sunny--frankly gave me the shivers.

And it gave me that odd sad feeling you get, when you go to a place where the signs of the vitality of the past still cling. I get that feeling whenever I go visit the small towns in Walker County where my folks grew up. People still live there, and some quite well, but you still see the imprint of a much headier time, when promise spread out large.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:09 AM | Comments (0)

April 20, 2006

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

AZULEJOS. Glazed pottery tiles, usually painted in bright colors with floral and other patterns, much used on the outsides and insides of Spanish, Portuguese, and Central and South American buildings, such work being called alicatado.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition

Well now--you get a two-fer on that one.

Here's a great site created by Tennessee Tech prof Dr. Carol Ventura that shows the tiles and explains a bit about their history and how they are made.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 01:53 PM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2006


are highly underrated.

There was a water line break at the corner of Park and 19th this morning, which meant we lost part of our water supply that feeds the building's air conditioning chillers. Meaning we don't have working A/C right now. Meaning it's getting a bit warmish already.

But, in a nice bit of forward thinking, our old building constructed in 1950 still has nice tall operable windows. Now, some of the ones in the various public lobbies and places people congregate have been fixed shut so there won't be any incidences of defenestration (unintentional or with malice aforethought), but most of the ones in the office still work, more or less.

Of course, mine are hampered by the tons of books and drawings I had on the window sills, and for some reason the upper sashes only lower by about 4 inches, but there's still enough opening through the bottom sash that I have a nice enough breeze moving through, and I get to hear the sounds of spring in the city--birds, the Street and San guy with a leaf blower, fire trucks and their bouncing jangling tire chains, airplanes headed in to the airport--and it's even nicer because The Screaming Guy hasn't made his way to the park yet.

Anyway, it's a nice change.

Now, to work.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 08:02 AM | Comments (7)

April 06, 2006

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

It's been a while--mainly because I've just about run out of all the really obscure stuff. BE THAT AS IT MAY, here's one that sound like fun:

RUNNING DOG. A classical ornament often used in a frieze, similar to the wave ornament. It is sometimes called a Vitruvian scroll.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

Also a staple of Communist propaganda, at least when coupled to the word lackey.

Anyway, Google searches, oddly enough, tend to return lots of photos of dogs running around, but I did find this website has some nice Roman mosaics that prominently feature the motif. And, there is also this always-useful site that uses the architecture of Buffalo, New York as a three-dimensional architectural dictionary.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 01:04 PM | Comments (2)

March 28, 2006

Speaking of excitement...

Kitchens are warming up with shades of brown

This can only mean that harvest gold is not far behind! HURRAY FOR 1977!

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 09:02 AM | Comments (4)

March 15, 2006

Well, it might sound like the set-up for a really wicked punchline...

Shipping Container Designed by AU Students Becomes Home for Katrina Victim, but it's really kind of an interesting story, and includes some good photos as well.

Having been in a former life a five-year dweller in a 7x22 Taurus travel trailer (at #41 Campus Trailer Court), I think a nicely done-up shipping container would have been something of a step up.

And occasionally, when the other inhabitants of my current abode get very loud, I think even a not-nicely-done-up shipping container would be a nice change of place, as well.

Anyway, the idea of using shipping containers for shelter isn't new, but it does pick up some steam when there is a need for rapid deployment of durable shelter during natural disasters. Here's a site that has some more information on the topic that's pretty comprehensive.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 01:50 PM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2006

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

Wow, it has been a while. Dumb ol' work. ANYway, today's word is:

VYSE. A spiral staircase or a staircase winding round a central column.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

Hm, whaddya know. I always called them a spiral stair (which technically aren't spiral, but rather are helical).

Whatever--as to the actual looking-at of a vyse, here's one from the Villa Savoye, one of the icons of the International movement, designed by Le Corbusier and constructed circa 1928.

It's an interesting sort of building--the biggest shock being the surroundings. All the pictures I'd ever seen in school were of this ice cube looking thing on stilts in the middle of a big meadow. Not quite--it's got a big enough plot of land, but it sits nearby to a huge grim school of some sort.

It was instructive also in that it gave lie to the idea that all French women are tall, lean, sophisticated and lovely. The caretaker/prison matron/troll-under-the-bridge of the place was fascinatingly, repulsively horrid-looking, with all of the kind hospitality the French are known for and a voice with the pleasant undertone of two packs of Gitanes a day.

Anyway, stairways are cool.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:58 AM | Comments (7)

February 13, 2006

Not the Least Bit Obscure Architectural Term of the Day.


I realize some people couldn't spell their way out of a wet paper sack, but if you do construction, and you manage to find yourself in a supervisory-type role, you really should know the difference between SUBSTRATE (a material, such as backer board or primer, underlying a finish material) and SUB STRAIGHT, which, to the best of my knowledge, is something to do with uncurved underseaboats.

But, you know, I can kinda overlook that, especially when the EXACT SAME SPELLING is used in the message to forward the e-mail on to me, and the person using it is a highly-edumacated person who takes great pride in said higher edumacation.



Posted by Terry Oglesby at 03:58 PM | Comments (5)

February 10, 2006

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

It's been a while, and since we had a related set of Thursday Three questions yesterday, it seemed like as good a time as any to give you another obscure term that you can throw into a conversation sometime. Or not. ANYway, today's word term is:

JIB or GIB DOOR. A concealed door flush with the wall-surface painted or papered to correspond with the walls. The dado and other mouldings are similarly carried across the door.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

The ol' hidden doorway, favored by mystery writers and the naughty sorts. Oddly enough, there aren't a lot of photos of this type of door, at least under the name of "jib door." Here's a small picture of one that's not particularly well hidden. The hinges and the hydraulic door closer at the top kinda gives it away.

This one is a bit more fun, from "the Crown Prince of Too Much Time to Spare." Scroll down to the bottom, and click where it says "Rotate the painting."

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:52 AM | Comments (2)

January 18, 2006

Dumb ol' progress.

Bridge on South Chalkville in Trussville to be replaced

News staff writer

A bridge on South Chalkville Road in Trussville will be replaced in the coming months. The road will be closed to through traffic while the work is done.

Mayor Gene Melton last week asked residents to avoid downtown Trussville during peak traffic hours while the bridge work is under way. He urged motorists to find alternate routes around the construction. [...]

I think I remember posting about this several years ago when I first heard about it. The old bridge does need to be replaced, but it's sad to lose the old one, mainly because I know the new one will be big, and wide, and have those blasted Jersey barrier sidewalls. The road in this particular spot is a small, low speed two-lane, and it is overloaded with traffic, but one of the charms of the old concrete bridge is what's missing in all the newer ones--the ability to see down over the side. It has the old-style open concrete rail with square posts, and it's always been nice to look down onto Pinchgut Creek and see turtles and birds and stuff a few feet down below.

You can't do that with new bridges. You can pass over rivers and valleys and because of the side barriers never know what you've missed. The big high bridge over the tracks and the creek at Watterson Parkway, while not really an unattractive thing, would be so much nicer if it had a better view.

I realize the tall barriers are better for traffic safety--they shunt cars back onto the roadway instead of letting them plunge headlong off the side, and the high sides make it easier for folks who have bridge-fear to get across easier. But, still, it would be nice to still be able to look at the water.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 12:38 PM | Comments (7)

January 11, 2006

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

CLERESTORY (or CLEARSTORY). The upper stage of the main walls of a church above the aisle roofs, pierced by windows; the same term is applicable in domestic building. In Romanesque architecture it often has a narrow wall passage on the inside.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

This is one of those that you probably know it to look at it, but might not have known it had a name.

Here's an example from the Orvieto Cathedral, (from this website), and here's one apparently intended to cause maximum visual discomfort. (Note especially the ability of the car and shrubbery to cast shadows in directions not at all related to those cast by the building. Nor, for that matter, to each other.)

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 02:13 PM | Comments (0)

December 22, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term[s] of the Day!

This one will get a bit complicated--

XYSTUS. An AMBULATORY. In Greek architecture, a long portico used for athletic contests; in Roman architecture, a long covered or open walk bordered by colonnades or trees.

It's also the only X-word in my Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition! Anyway, now we have to look up...

AMBULATORY. A semicircular or polygonal aisle enclosing an APSE or a straight-ended sanctuary; originally used for processional purposes.

And finally, we turn a couple of pages and find:

APSE. A vaulted semicircular or polygonal termination, usually to a chancel or chapel.

Whew. So, to start off with, for all you xystus fans, here's one you'll like from an 18th Century engraving, demonstrating its application to the garden. And from a very comprehensive site associated with the University of Pittsburgh, some diagrams by Jane Vadnal of an ambulatory, and of an apse.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:51 AM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2005

Did I happen to mention...

...what a beautiful day it is today?

As evidence--

Had to go to the bank at lunch and brought the camera along just for grins.

Interesting shot--the building on the left has been restored, the one in the middle is being restored, and the one on the right is a new building built where the old Peerless Saloon once stood.

Not all get such treatment--this is the old Pizitz Department Store building which sits catercorner across from the other buildings, and directly across from the spiffy McWane Center. Every few months there's another press release about it being put back online as condos or lofts or offices, but for the past many years it has looked just like this. I joke to people who don't know any better that it's the Communist Party headquarters. For some reason several years back someone came in and put bright red flags all around the old flagpoles on the building. They've stayed there ever since, getting more torn up with each passing day.

Poor old thing.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 02:41 PM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2005


I'm not sure what triggered it, but in a fit of redecoration, this morning I removed the old site plan of the Thomas neighborhood I've had hanging on the wall beside my desk since June 14, 1996 and rolled it up and put it in the drawing bin. And then, with all that huge swath of corkboard opened up for settlement, I removed all of the kids' artwork they've done for me over the years and relocated it to the new place. Before it had been behind me, so people who came in could see it, but I didn't get to enjoy it as much. Now I can.

And best of all? The old hunk of corkboard on the wall behind me is gone. Well, reduced, really. In some past renovation, some bright person thought it would be a good idea to stick corkboard on all the office walls to give us something to pin drawings on, but the execution of said installation left much to be desired. Also left much of the corkboard with only the thinnest of layers of stickum, meaning that over time, with changes in heat and humidity, the cork waved and buckled and began peeling off the wall. It was kinda funny ten years ago when I first laid eyes on it, but it has increasingly curled over and fallen down, so that it has become something like a big ugly cloud hanging over the back of my head. Or like the wall was sticking its tongue out at me behind my back.

Well, no more, doggone it. After I moved all my precious little pictures, out came the pocket knife and with two swift slices, the offending pieces of cork were removed and thrown into the ashcan. Mostly. There is still one small divot in the middle of the area that has clung with a bitter attraction to the wall, and I left the lower right quadrant on the wall, mainly because it seems to be actually stuck down sufficiently. But the rest of it? Gone! No more dark cloud, no more brown bumpy wall tongue!

AND, in honor of this great change in the whole feng shui of the place, NEW ARTWORK!

When we were cleaning up the den Saturday to put up the Christmas tree, I found two drawings sitting under a pile of video games and DVDs on the drum table. I pulled them out and was quite frankly shocked at how good they were. This is not one of those 'proud papa' things I so often engage in, but once again one of my kids has impressed me with her innate talent.

Seems Catherine had done some pictures in art, brought them home, put them on the table, and never told us about them. I guess to her they were just class assignments, but they really are quite something.

SO, bear with me for a bit of art appreciation.

First up, a simple apple, done in pastels on Strathmore paper--

I guess what struck me about this one is the gradation in shade--she did a quite passable job highlighting the dark and light sides of the fruit, even if the leaf is rendered a bit more formulaically. Also interesting was the composition in the frame that creates some sense of weight to the apple--the center of the apple is below the horizon created by the table. This is a shift from her earlier work, when objects would be drawn hovering above the edges of the surface plane. In this instance, the point of view is shown correctly from the artist's vantage, looking down onto the table top and apple.

Next up, the one that really got my eye. A cityscape, rendered in watercolor wash on cold press watercolor paper--

I was shocked--obviously, she spends most of her time in the suburbs, and she's not really downtown with me much at all. And no matter if she were, Birmingham is really not the most vibrantly colored city in the world. But here is a place she carefully modelled and colored in a way that is both realistic and a flight of fancy. The buildings have both fronts and backs, street fronts and alleys, with obvious differences in purpose between the ground floors and upper floors. They have rooftops with penthouses and antennas, and each building is unique, with changes in scale, shape, color, and type, all things you would expect in an urban scene. But the buildings that face us have faces themselves--the people--of which there are many--are too small to be seen and are drawn in almost in a perfunctory manner. The buildings, though, especially the two end ones, have great personality in their faces, and seem to be amused by the ants ticking their feet.

I tell you what, those kids are something.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:17 AM | Comments (8)

November 21, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

QUADRIGA. A sculptured group of a chariot drawn by four horses, often used to crown a monument or facade.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

Well, you might not have known the term, but everyone knows what it is. Probably the best example (judging by the amount of returned results from Google) would be atop the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 02:27 PM | Comments (2)

October 28, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

Well, it's been a while, and it seems like today would be a good time for something. Although not the least bit obscure, today's word is nonetheless interesting. Not that I know everything (it's TRUE!) but I had always assumed wrongly about the derivation of the following:

BELFRY. Generally the upper room or storey in a tower in which bells are hung, and thus often the bell-tower itself, whether it is attached to or stands separate from the main building. Also the timber frame inside a church steeple to which bells are fastened. Derived from the old French berfrei (=tower), the word has no connection with 'bell'.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

Well, I'll be. All these years of assuming the wrong thing.

Since everyone knows what a belfry looks like, I'll dispense with the usual accompanying graphical links, and instead will make do with the movie poster from Legend of Zorro, opening today in theaters everywhere.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 01:51 PM | Comments (12)

October 13, 2005

You know what this boring day needs?

The Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

Today’s entry is:

COTTAGE ORNÉ. An artfully rustic building, usually of asymmetrical plan, often with a thatched roof, much use of fancy WEATHERBOARDING, and very rough-hewn wooden columns. It was a product of the picturesque cult of the late C18 and early C19 in England: an entire village of such cottages was built by NASH at Blaise Hamlet (1811). It might serve merely as an ornament to a park or as a lodge or farm labourer’s house, but several, intended for the gentry, were built on a fairly large scale. PAPWORTH’s Designs for Rural Residences (1818) include numerous designs.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

Well, now--a lot of info in that one!

First up, weatherboarding is just your normal horizontal lap or clapboard siding.

Next, the Nash referred to was John Nash (1752-1835) an English fellow you can read all about here. He was famous.

Papworth? Well, that would be John Buonarroti Papworth (1775-1847), and with a name like that (i.e., Michaelangelo’s surname) you figure mum and dad had high hopes for him. My Penguin says in the intro, “Son of John, architect (1750-99), brother of Thomas, architect (1773-1814) and of George, architect, resident in Ireland (1781-1855); father of John Woody, architect (1820-70) and Wyatt Angelicus van Sandau, architect (1822-94).” Not a lot out there about him, other than his really pretty picture book, which has a picture of one of those elusive ornery cottages.

Now then, as for the whole village of these critters it talks about, here’s you a link to the National Trust site for Blaise Hamlet, and some black and white photos, and a bit more detailed description from the Pevsner website.

So, there you go.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 03:47 PM | Comments (0)

October 06, 2005

Someone's been watching Nickelodeon!

How else to explain the similarities between this, and this.

"OHHHHH who lives in a pineapple under the seeeeeeea?!"

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 09:07 AM | Comments (2)

September 23, 2005

And that's not all!

IN an effort to cram as much in today's edition as possible, it's time to trot out the ever popular Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

Today's gleaning is--

PIANO NOBILE. The main floor of a house, containing the reception rooms. It is usually higher than the other floors, with a basement or ground floor below and one or more shallower storeys above.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

The raised up main floor was a feature that was pretty common in Italian Renaissance palazzi for a couple of reasons--it got the decent people up higher above the noise and smell of the nasty fetid street, and it provided security for the decent people up and away from the noise and smell of the nasty fetid street people. Renaissance Italy, after all, was a rather dangerous place, with all sorts of swordplay and intrigue. It was also nice to have in places such as Venice that flooded often, and the form can also be found in the raised cottages you find along the Gulf Coast.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 03:44 PM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2005


I don't think I have EVER seen a Thursday Three with such an astounding level of indifference from the audience! I have outdone myself. And, of course, it IS all about me.

ANYway, I am about to go to lunch with My Friend Jeff so we can swap magazines and I can show him the newest Volvo toys I have installed, and then when I get back, it's back to the old grind of producing something that has no basis in logic or reason! Such fun!

BUT, before I go, Fritz Schranck e-mailed me this morning regarding his post about a way to rebuild New Orleans' poorer neighborhoods--it's a good idea, and something we have explored here in our town as a way to revitalize older neighborhoods which have lost continuity and sense of community through the removal of housing units by demolition. Modular houses can be built to accomodate a variety of arrangements and features--porches, steeper roof pitches, trimwork, finishes, foundation walls, etc.--that help them blend in quite nicely with older houses, but it does take some initiative to see that such design elements are actually incorporated. Anyway, go see what Fritz has to say.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:05 AM | Comments (1)

September 07, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

Hello, culture lovers! Today's dip into the PDoA,3E* produces this:

CARYATID. A sculptured female figure used as a column to support an entablature or other similar member, as on the Erechtheum. The term is also applied loosely to various other columns and pilasters wholle or partly in the form of human figures; ATLANTES (male caryatids), CANEPHORAE (females, carrying baskets on their heads), HERMS (three-quarter length figures on pedestals), TELEMONES (another name for Atlantes), and TERMS (tapering pedestals merging at the top into human, animal, or mythical figures).

*From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition

Well now, lots of stuff to look at. In order then:

The Erechtheum (or Erechtheion) Caryatids, back before they got replaced with copies. (The five remaining original sculptures are kept in a closed case in the Acropolis Museum. And you can read about the Erechtheion here.)

Atlantes, from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.

I can't find any canephorae, telemone, or term pictures right off hand, but here's you some herms from the Pavillon Vendôme. (Caution--that last link might not be working right--it looks like all the text on the page has been replaced with some kind of odd computer gibberish of some sort.)

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:35 AM | Comments (0)

September 06, 2005

It's not just for deboats!

This one is for Miss Janis--"dewater" really is a transitive verb, at least amongst your contruction-type folks.

From my handy NAWIC Construction Dictionary, "dewatering--removing water by pumping, drainage or evaporation."

Obviously, not the least bit like dehydration, which is the process of extracting moisture; or drying, which is to remove the moisture from something; or unwet, which is the opposite of undry.

Aside from me being silly, it really is intended to describe a particular type of civil engineering operation such as what the Corps is doing in New Orleans now to pump water from behind levees, and also to describe things such as when water is pumped out of a cofferdam when constructing bridge pilings or tunnels, or when removing water from a construction site such as when the foundations for the World Trade Center were installed. (Scroll down here to the part titled "Foundation for Tallest Towers: Water Out, Trains In") And beyond all that, it also describes the process of drying out dredged material.

So, it's really delovely. And delightful.

AND--although I know she will protest my noting it, Miss Janis has been working very hard to do her part at the local level to help with relief for those displaced by the storm, and has posted several common-sense ideas that should go a long way to providing comfort to folks. I know they will appreciate it.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 04:27 PM | Comments (7)

August 15, 2005

Ooooh, pretty!

Yet another task by the wayside--this one might be interesting to you. Or not. But it does involve more pictures, so there is that.

Well, now, let's say you're a non-profit environmental group, and you're located in a midsized Southern city named after Great Britain's second largest city, and let's say you run a downtown dropoff center for people to bring their recyclables, and the place looks pretty dumpy, and you want to spiff things up a bit. You think things will be fine, because you want it to be nicer than it was, but there are those ding-derned bureaucrats and citizen busybodies you have to satisfy, and they aren't quite thrilled with your first attempt at picking a color, and not only that, they want you to make a drawing showing what it's going to look like.

YOU, not having such expertise, are at a loss--until it is suggested that there exists yet another bureaucrat who might be able to help you out.

SO, you send him the only picture you have, and drop off some color chips for him--

Now then, if I was a real person, and this was a real proposal, and not something completely made-up, whose only similarity to actual locations, persons, or events was only coincidental, and if I had my way, I would have Photoshop on my computer, and this would get kicked out in about five minutes. As it is, I don't have that, nor do I have much of anything else other than all that old-timey stuff of tracing paper and pencils and pens. Thankfully, I do have a copier I can use.

Anyway, first step is to get the picture somewhat bigger, and then do an ink outline on tracing paper of the major parts of the building. With raggedy digital photo enlargement, it sometimes helps to go over the printed photo with a Sharpie around the edges so you don't lose them in the background.

You wind up with something like this--

Next, colors.

For this one, I decided to use colored pencils. If I'm doing a sketch of something conceptual, I usually use markers, because they're fast and bold and loose-looking and disguise a lot of "and a miracle happens here" type stuff.

Colored pencils are better when you're trying to match an exact color, and are much more controlled in their application to the surface. The only problem is that they're slow. Obviously, there isn't a colored pencil in the exact shade you need, so you have to use several and build up a reasonable match to what you're looking at on the paint chip. The advantage to this is the color has a nice layered look and it's easy to differentiate materials more easily than with markers. One minor thing to remember, too, is that you can't go lighter. Once something is too dark, it's too dark forever. So you have to gradually build up shades starting with overlapping levels of light colors, then move to darker ones. Oh, and you have to apply each layer in the same direction, or it starts looking like a little kid did it.

The first thing to do was the big sidewall where the old nappy-looking mural was. They had originally wanted this to be a buff color (along with the rest of the building in the foreground) but the suggestion was made that it would be better to paint this wall a dark color to match the color of the brick facade (not shown in the photo, it's to your right). It took the six pencils shown, and about forty-five minutes of careful scribbling. The foreground building has just had a first application of a cream color as a base.

Much later, after more layers of color, and after coming back in with some final strokes with a fine point Sharpie to put in reflections and texture and scribbly things that look like background, you wind up with something like this (the color chips I was trying to match are there on the left)--

And that's pretty much it.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 03:51 PM | Comments (9)

August 11, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

PORTE COCHÈRE. A porch large enough for wheeled vehicles to pass through.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

Here in America, this became the carport, which Frank Lloyd Wright, in one of his usual bursts of self-promotion, claimed to have invented. I think we can give him credit for naming the feature a carport, using a transliteration of the French term, and for accepting the automobile as an integral part of design. Up until that time, a car was seen much as a horse was, and was kept in a stable (detached garage) away from the main house. Wright realized the inconvenience of having to go out so far to reach your newfangledy mode of transportation. Since motorcars rarely left large piles of poop in the driveway, he recognized that there was no need to keep the car segregated.

Although, I don't think he would have approved of this.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 09:55 AM | Comments (4)

August 09, 2005


A story just released about housing costs--Housing Prices High for Low Income Workers

Well, aside from the obvious stupidity of the title--"Expensive Things Harder for Poor People to Afford"--there's the whole angle of the story that suggests that housing prices are somehow unrelated to anything else in the economy.

One reason house prices have continued to stay so high is that there has been ever-increasing pressure from loudmouth busybodies who already HAVE a place to live that we need to stop "suburban sprawl." At one time this was limited to the usual places, but the idea has begun to take root in places much less constrained by geography or politics.

Folks, you can't have it both ways--if your population is increasing, and you place increasingly stringent limits on land development (and that's not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself), it IS going to have an effect by making a commodity more scarce. Scarceness equates to higher prices. That's just the way it works. You can do two things--allow the market to meet the demand, or take some more money away from taxpayers and give it away to guarantee people the right to own spiffy townhomes in trendy neighborhoods.

Just remember in the words of that great American economist P.J. O'Rourke, "You can't get rid of poverty by giving people money."

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

MEURTRIÈRE. In military architecture, a small loophole, large enough for the barrel of a gun or musket and through which a soldier might fire under cover.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

For all sorts of similar sorts of terms, you might enjoy this glossary, which is written in English as well as in that silly French talk.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:49 AM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

MARTELLO TOWER. A round, low tower, with guns mounted on the flat roof, built for coastal defence in England from 1793 onwards, mainly during the Napoleanic wars but also later and on a wide scale. There are examples in Jersey, Orkney, Ireland, Canada, South Africa and the U.S.A. (Key West, Florida). In form they derive from the traditional Mediterranean watch tower, e.g., that on Cape Mortella, Corsica, hence the name. [Although not truly a satisfactory explanation for the transposed vowels. Ed.]

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition

ANYway, be that as it may, in another one of those instances where I think something is more obscure than it turns out to be in actuality, the Internets is just eat up with information about these things. For the ones in England, it appears one of the best sources is this page--the Martello Towers Homepage.

For the Key West version, this site run by the Key West Arts and Historical Society is pretty good, aside from the icky haunted doll exhibit. The Canucks have this site, the South Africans have this one, and the Irish have this one, and, of course, there's the original prototype, but the page is written is some strange foreign language.

So, there you go.

As for me, I need to work on my work, because I'm hitting the road at noon today to go take the kids for their school registration.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 09:51 AM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

Been a while, hasn't it? OFF MY BACK--I'VE BEEN BUSY! Sorta.

Anyway, today's entry is:

SQUINT. An obliquely cut opening in a wall or through a pier to allow a view of the main altar of a church from places whence it could not otherwise be seen; also called a hagioscope.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

I think we all know this better as a peephole.

Well now, let's see if we can find some pictures of one of those--although the Internet being what it is, I think I might better search for hagioscope--I'm not prepared this morning for anything of a non-ecclesiastical nature, such as might be found in various tanning salons or Interstate rest stop bathrooms.

If you go HERE, and scroll all the way down the page, you can see the squint in the Upton church in Nottinghamshire, and here's a picture of one at the St. Botolph's church in the edge of Kettering in the village of Barton Seagrave, Northamptonshire 'the rose of the shires,' that gives you a better look at what you'd be expected to see should you decide to squint through a squint.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 08:38 AM | Comments (1)

July 12, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

AGGER. Latin term for the built-up foundation of Roman roads; also sometimes applies to the banks of hill-forts or other earthworks.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

As usual, the Internets brim with information, including this fun and informative site on the servers of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The Construction & Makeup of Ancient Roman Roads. (It's part of UNC's site on Roman technology.)

Also, agger is not to be confused with crazykomiks Anton and Agger.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 11:33 AM | Comments (8)

June 30, 2005

Obscure Architecture-Related Website of the Day!

My Friend JeffTM sent me an interesting link yesterday to this site--SPA, purportedly a journal dealing with issues pertinent to small practices. There also seems to be a large dollop of humor. Or humour, as the case may be.

Of particular interest is this insightful forum of criticsm of modern architecture, delivered by several notable 17th Century architects. AND THERE'S GAMES!

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:26 AM | Comments (6)

June 28, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

Gonna start off with this in lieu of my usual habit of sneaking it in during the middle of the day--mainly because I have some pictures I need to format, and it's going to take a while, and I don't want anyone to have nothing to do when they come by. I'm very thoughtful that way, you know. ANYway, today's term is:

APADANA (APADHANA). In Ancient Persia a free-standing columned hall apparently serving as a throne-room. Outstanding was the hundred-columned apadana built in Persepolis under Darius I. The apadana often had a portico, and was itself mostly square in plan.

Well, as always, I am amazed at just how UNobscure some of these turn out to be--searched around for about two seconds and found the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, which has an exhibit of close to a thousand photos of Persepolis and ancient Iran, and a ton of photos of just the Apadana itself. Incredibly beautiful, even in ruins.

EEK! I almost forgot! Definition courtesy of the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition! See what happens when you get out of your routine!?

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 08:20 AM | Comments (2)

June 21, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

CLAPPER BRIDGE. A bridge made of large slabs of stone, some built up to make rough piers and other longer ones laid on top to make the roadway.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

You know, I think I'm going to have to start working harder at obscurity. I would never have figured something like "clapper bridge" would have returned so many different pictures on Google. And they all look very picturesque, as well.

Oh well, as they say, "clap on, clap off."

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 03:46 PM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2005

Oh, and another thing.

There has been a minor uproar lately due to allegations by some guy that the World Trade Center was actually demolished by a secret government conspiracy. Well, you know, some people will believe anything. But in case you'd like a little insight on the whole thing from the point of view of someone who doesn't cover his head in tinfoil, you might want to read what I wrote about the WTC collapse back on Friday, August 23, 2002 (if the page won't scroll as you reach the bottom, press your F11 key twice):

Part Two of my continuing ed coursework for yesterday took me to the other side of town to the Richard M. Scrushy Center for the Study of Richard M. Scrushy at HealthSouth headquarters. The presentation was sponsored by the Structural Engineers Society of Alabama, and included not only the lecture by Dr. Corley but a video presentation by Mr. Leslie Robertson who was the principle engineer on the World Trade Center.

There was an article about this conference in The Birmingham News this morning, but I refuse to link to it simply because the reporter must have listened to a different presentation than I did, or simply did not understand what he was writing about. As with most news stories I have read about this subject, there was little attempt to educate but much on trying to see if someone can be blamed. In fact, the writer of the article himself points to this in the very last sentence in the article (this’ll be the only part I quote)

[…] Corley said his team's report has been criticized by some because they did not point fingers and place blame for the collapse. He said that wasn't his team's mission.

"Frankly, we don't think there is any fault," Corley said. "The hijackers are the ones at fault. They get all of our blame."


And in spite of how horrendously terrible this attack was, it could have been far worse had it not been for one man’s acrophobia. More on that later. So, now, on to my small part of trying to make some sense of this.

As I mentioned, the first part of the presentation was a videotape of a talk given by Mr. Robertson (Click on his name to go to his firm’s message about the attack). I am not sure when the video was made, but it was billed as his first address to an audience since the attacks. I wish it had been done with a bit more forethought—it had the look and sound quality of a bootleg grade school recital tape; lots of out of focus shots, wandering framing, him having a coughing attack and gulping water right into the lavalier microphone he was wearing, folks walking in front of the camera.

He gave a good overview of the construction concept and methods, and spoke about the work his firm did on the building after the first attack back in 1993—he was referencing a slide show which most of the time was out of frame, except for when the camera would whip around to the screen. When it came time for the part about the collapse, the entire chunk of his talk and the slide show had been edited out due to some not-quite-well-explained reasons dealing with the slide images not being able to be released to the general public. It just went straight to his question and answer session at the end, which had a few technical questions, and then one more:

[Off camera-almost inaudible] ‘Is there anything you wish you had been able to do differently?’

He paused.

“I wish,” he paused again.

Choking on his words, he slowly and quietly said, “I wish…I could have…made it stand up.”

The audience in the video was silent, as were those watching the video in our meeting room.

It made my eyes burn, and my throat ache when he said that, and it does so now when I sit and type this.

I know from the muffled sniffs from the men further back in the room that I was not the only one who felt that terrible pang.

This is the side one normally doesn’t see within the staid world of welds and bolts and mass and force, but there are few people who are so acutely aware of the consequences of a potential failure in their work. If a doctor fails, a patient can die. If we fail, thousands can die. Engineers and architects do our best to anticipate the unexpected, to ask questions from different angles, to be thorough in our preparations, and above all protect the health, safety, and welfare of the people who will use our buildings.

All of the blamemongering in the world, all the heated editorials, all the jackassed stupidity of the Usenet, will never change that. You can’t make the designers and builders feel any worse, nor will you be able to magically eliminate future attacks or revoke the laws of nature.

The second portion of the presentation was Dr. Corley’s review of his assessment team’s report to FEMA. This report is available online at the FEMA website, but at the moment is appears they are having some technical difficulties (or my computer is screwed up). Luckily, it is also available over on the House Committee on Science website, which can be accessed here. It is a BIG book, close to 300 pages divided into eight chapters, and each chapter averages over a MB, although some of the more photograph intensive ones are closer to three MB.

Before you read anything else on the World Trade Center (including my own stuff), before you go popping off on MeFi about who should have known what about what, if you really want to learn something, go read the report first. It is very well-written with a good mix of understandable general language, technical data and photographs. It has background information on the project, design criteria, general information about construction and building codes, and a detailed chronology. Not only are the Twin Towers analyzed, but all of the buildings of the complex and those adjacent that were damaged.

It is far better to read that than any bit of commentary I might write in this silly blog. And just like Dr. Corley was quoted as saying, this report is an examination of the performance of the buildings under extraordinary circumstances. If you’re looking for fodder for your favorite conspiracy theories, you would do much better just to go ahead and make stuff up. You won’t find any help in it.

Have you read it? Don’t go any further! Go read it now. Okay, finished? Good.

Now, a few of my thoughts—

First, the thing I keep seeing discussed ad nauseum is ‘if it was designed to get hit by a plane, why did it fall?’

A lot of the misunderstanding seems to revolve around whether things should be designed for all possibilities, or for the most probable circumstances. Folks, the only way to design for all possible attacks would mean that each one of use would have to live in a nuclear-biological-chemical resistant structure, and that every person would have to be widely dispersed to minimize possible deaths. This is a fine and dandy approach if you live in some alternate universe, but here, the most sensible thing is to work from the most likely occurrences.

In the end, the most prudent course of action was to design for something within the most probable realm, and in this case the only similar incident occurred during World War II when an off-course B-25 struck the Empire State Building. The WTC designers concluded that the most likely way in which an aircraft would hit the towers would be if it were lost in heavy fog and low on fuel and flying at landing speed. The aircraft chosen was the most common type then flying in the area, the Boeing 707, which had a gross weight of 263,000 and a landing speed of 180 miles per hour. In the case of what actually happened, 767-200ER aircraft, each weighing 274,000 pounds, struck the towers at speeds of 470 and 590 (!) miles per hour. Given that force rises exponentially with velocity, it is a testimony to the robustness of the structural system of the buildings that they were not immediately destroyed by the impact. The study points out that on the impact faces of the building, more than 2/3 of the supporting exterior columns were destroyed, yet the load on the remaining columns only rose to their theoretical capacity.

Had there been no fire, the buildings would have remained standing.

As I mentioned at the first, this incredible structural performance had much to do with the way in which the floors were interlocked and tied to the exterior structural skin, which was made up of built-up segments of steel plate arranged as an array of continuous square tubes. Each column was only 3 feet, 4 inches apart from its neighboring column, one reason for which was that the lead architect on the project, Minoru Yamasaki, had a fear of heights. Mr. Yamasaki wanted to have window framing no further apart than he could comfortable grasp with two hands. The solution chosen was essentially to make the window framing part of the structure itself. (Dr. Corley said he had heard this story several times, but finally was able to confirm it in conversations with members of the Yamasaki firm.)

The redundancy of these structural members and the way in which they tied back into the central core contributed to the tremendous strength of the towers. In spite of the high loss of life, it could have been far worse—at the time of the impact the Port Authority estimated the population of the complex at 58,000. The strength of the building allowed enough time for able-bodied persons below the crash levels to evacuate before the buildings fell.

It was the fire though, and the inability to fight it, that set up the circumstances of the collapse. Surprisingly, the fuel on the airplanes was not a significant source of fuel except for the first 3 to 9 minutes. At least a third of the fuel burned up in the atmosphere in the form of the huge fireballs which shot out of the sides of the buildings. After about 9 minutes, the fuel had been totally consumed. However, before it was gone, it set fire to everything else within the crash area, and it was this fuel load of paper and furniture and equipment that produced the fire which finally weakened the structure enough to cause collapse. The energy of this fire was estimated in the report to be equal to the power generated “by a large commercial power generating station.”

Due to the impact of the planes cutting off main supply lines of water, none of the sprinkler systems could operate, and the impact dislodged fireproofing sprayed on the structural steel in critical points, exposing the steel to continuous heat far above design temperatures, for a far longer time. Just as the impact alone did not destroy the towers, it is conceivable that a large fire on multiple floors might not have destroyed the building had the main water supply not been cut and had the integrity of the fireproofing not been compromised.

The combination of the multitude of events and circumstances, however, was too great to prevent failure.

So what does this say about the way in which the buildings were designed, and how such buildings should be designed in the future? From the report (Chapter Eight)

Buildings are designed to withstand loading events that are deemed credible hazards and to protect the public safety in the event such credible hazards are experienced. Buildings are not designed to withstand any event that could ever conceivably occur, and any building can collapse if subjected to a sufficiently extreme loading event. Communities adopt building codes to help building designers and regulators determine those loading events that should be considered as credible hazards in the design process. These building codes are developed by the design and regulatory communities themselves, through a voluntary committee consensus process. Prior to September 11, 2001, it was the consensus of these communities that aircraft impact was not a sufficiently credible hazard to warrant routine consideration in the design of buildings and, therefore, the building codes did not require that such events be considered in building design. […]

During the course of this study, the question of whether building codes should be changed in some way to make future buildings more resistant to such attacks was frequently explored.

Depending on the size of the aircraft, it may not be technically feasible to develop design provisions that would enable all structures to be designed and constructed to resist the effects of impacts by rapidly moving aircraft, and the ensuing fires, without collapse. In addition, the cost of constructing such structures might be so large as to make this type of design intent practically infeasible.

Although the attacks on the World Trade Center are a reason to question design philosophies, the BPS Team believes there are insufficient data to determine whether there is a reasonable threat of attacks on specific buildings to recommend inclusion of such requirements in building codes. Some believe the likelihood of such attacks on any specific building is deemed sufficiently low to not be considered at all. However, individual building developers may wish to consider design provisions for improving redundancy and robustness for such unforeseen events, particularly for structures that, by nature of their design or occupancy, may be especially susceptible to such incidents. Although some conceptual changes to the building codes that could make buildings more resistant to fire or impact damage or more conducive to occupant egress were identified in the course of this study, the BPS Team felt that extensive technical, policy, and economic study of these concepts should be performed before any specific code change recommendations are developed. […]

In short, the WTC was properly designed given the state of knowledge in 1966, when the design process was first begun. Could things have been done differently? Yes, although it’s not clear if the outcome would have been any different. Should things be done differently now? Yes, and they already are, due to the constantly changing nature of the building code writing process. Should we still build skyscrapers? The United States is full of tall buildings. To build no more would be short-sighted if the economic conditions which drive the construction of tall buildings remain functioning. The alternative to building up is building out, and I suppose that were the disincentives great enough, out would be where we would go. The economics of this should reflect the fact that a repeat occurrence of this sort would be highly unlikely since we have now decided that swarthy sorts who only want to learn to fly and not land a jumbo jet and who pay in cash are probably not a very good security risk. (But we dare not say that for fear of hurting the feelings of someone.)

A better question is whether we will concede that anything over one story tall is just automatically going to be fodder for infantile-minded murderers who want to knock our blocks down like petulant bullies, or whether we will hold them accountable for their actions and make their cost of doing business too high. I sincerely hope that we decide that we make it expensive for others to attack us, rather than burdening ourselves with the cost of defending ourselves from being attacked. Do we really want the equivalent of herding ourselves through metal detectors, raised to an enormous scale, just to buy a little perceived security?

Seems like the money would be better spent eliminating the threat rather than hardening the target.

Just my two cents worth.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 09:18 AM | Comments (7)

June 14, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

VILLA. In Roman architecture, the landowner's residence or farmstead on his country estate; in Renaissance architecture, a country house; in C19 England, a detached house 'for opulent persons', usually on the outskirts of a town; in modern architecture, a small detached house. The basic type developed with the growth of urbanization: it is of five bays, on a simple corridor plan with rooms opening off a central passage. The next state is the addition of wings. The courtyard villa fills a square plan with subsidiary buildings and an enclosure wall with a gate facing the main corridor block.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

Not to be confused with some hairy guy named Bob. Or Pancho, for that matter.

In case you ever get by Vicenza, here's a nice little villa of the Renaissance sort--Villa Rotunda by Andrea Palladio, who was sorta on the famous side.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 02:16 PM | Comments (4)

June 07, 2005

Obscure Architect of the Day!

In a bit of change of pace from obscure architectural terms, today we have--

PYTHIOS (fl. 353-334 B.C.). Architect and theorist working in Asia Minor. With Satyros he designed and wrote an account of the most famous and elaborate sepulchral monument of antiquity, the richly sculpted Mausoleum built for the Carian satrap Mausolos at Halicarnassus and numbered among the seven wonders of the world (begun before 353 B.C. and finished after 350; scuptured fragments now in the British Museum). He was also the architect of the large temple of Athena Polias at Priene (dedicated 334; fragments now in Berlin and British Museum) in which the Ionic order was thought to have achieved its canonical form. In a treatise on this building (known to Vitruvius but now lost) he extolled the perfection of its proportions, criticized the Doric order and, apparently for the first time, recommended a wide training for the architect who, he said, 'should be able to do more in all the arts and sciences than those who, by their industry and exertions, bring single disciplines to the highest reknown'.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, 3rd Edition.

Whew! Lot's of information in there, so I figured I would just add in links to all the various interesting stuff. Just click on the links in the text to see what all is being talked about.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:41 AM | Comments (0)

June 02, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

HYPERBOLIC PARABOLOID ROOF. A special form of double-curved shell, the geometry of which is generated by straight lines. This property makes it easy to construct. The shape consists of a continuous plane developing from a parabolic arch in one direction to a similar inverted parabola in the other. See figure 55.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

Well, lemme tell you, if something needed a picture to go along with it, THIS is the thing that needs it.

Here’s a really cool Java toy from the one of the profs at the University of Minnesota that you can rotate with your mouse. (The paraboloid, not the professor.) And then there’s this site with all kinds of complicated words, and nifty paper things you can fold up!

This type of roof was most popular in the early Jet Age, mainly because it looks really cool and swoopy and modern and sciencey. Here’s an example, (more along the lines of a folded plate roof really, since it’s not curvy) of the roof of the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. They are structurally efficient, in that they can be formed by creating a very thin (like around 3 inches or less) concrete shell, with the shape giving it very high strength for its weight. But, you don’t see them much anymore (solid ones, at least--fabric dome structures still use the geometry to good effect). The Jetson’s look got to be passé, and they are rather difficult to manage during construction, and you can’t very well set a condensing unit on top of them or run vent stacks through them without ruining the lovely swoopiness, and they tend to wiggle around and make leaky spots where there are window frames underneath, and 3 inches of concrete provides a surprisingly poor thermal barrier.

Still, they are pretty neat to look at.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 01:29 PM | Comments (3)

May 24, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

Or alternatively, a really cool name for an English rock band, or infantry company:

YORKSHIRE LIGHTS. In a mullioned window, a pair of lights, one fixed and the other sliding horizontally.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

This being the Internet and all, it's not to hard to find an example of even the most obscure things--so, from our lovely friends at the BBC, a nice site with all sorts of Yorkshirey stuff, including the type of window in question (scroll all the way to the bottom).

UPDATE! An interested commentor, known only as Skinnydan, and not to be confused with Steely Dan, requests further informativeness, thusly: OK, I'll ask. What the heck is a mullioned window, besides a place to hold Yorkshire Lights?

As always, the staff of Possumblog stand ready to grab the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition, from the stack of manuals and books to the left of the editor's keyboard (and underneath the small harmon/kardon speaker), flip to the appropriate entries, and dispense further hearty draughts from the keg of architectural knowledge.

MULLION. A vertical post or other upright dividing a window or other opening into two or more LIGHTS.

LIGHTS. Openings between the MULLIONS of a window.


MUNTIN. The vertical part in the framing of a door, screen, panelling, etc., butting into, or stopped by, the horizontal rails. See figure 41. [Which you are unable to do, since I don't have a scanner, but figure 41. looks almost like this picture. Ed.] In the U.S.A. a glazing bar or MULLION.

You are all very welcome.

And yes, I realize in the illustration the muntin is horizontal and not vertical. In common usage, there really is not distinction anymore between the verticals and horizontals, and at least in the stuff I do, I just call them either horizontal mullions or vertical mullions.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:34 AM | Comments (12)

May 17, 2005

Hey, you SimCity players--

--you're all just a buncha pikers compared to Fritz Schranck, who's playing a realtime, full-scale version.

It's a very interesting proposal, but I do urge caution for everyone, for as a very wise man once said, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony. Remember, you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you.

(Oh, and by the way, not to rub it in or anything, but we've already got one.)

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 01:39 PM | Comments (0)

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

Yes, I missed a week last week, but this incredibly popular feature is back due to overwhelming demand by the readership. (Not really) ANYway:

IMPLUVIUM. The basin or water cistern, usually rectangular, in the centre of an ATRIUM of a Roman house to receive the rain-water from the surrounding roofs. The term is also used, loosely, for the uncovered space in the atrium as well as the water cistern.

And to complete the definition, the companion word--

ATRIUM. 1. In Roman domestic architecture, an inner court open to the sky and surrounded by the roof. 2. In Early Christian and medieval architecture, an open court in front of a church; usually a colonnaded quadrangle.

(Both definitions, as always, from the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition)

Alrighty then, here's you a very informative website written by a couple of Bowdoin College students, all about the various impluvia and atria you can come across.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:14 AM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2005

On the passing of Carl Salter.

A nice article from The Birmingham News about the life of well-known local artist Carl Salter.

If you live in Birmingham, I guarantee you've seen one of his paintings of the local architectural landmarks.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:36 AM | Comments (7)

April 29, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

I nearly forgot this! Anyway, this week's entry is:

LYCH GATE. A covered wooden gateway with open sides at the entrance to a churchyard, providing a resting place for a coffin (the word lych is Saxon for corpse). Part of the burial service is sometimes read there.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

If you search on "lych gate," you get a raft of interesting photos of places and verbal descriptions. Apparently, the term is much more obscure to me than to others.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 02:37 PM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2005

San Antone Bound!

Congrats to the Yorkie Family (not their real name) on the acquisition of property in the Republic of Texas, which I know is going to be a nice change for them from living in the wilds of the Beltway.

Best wishes on the new home, and since you're going to be right in the neighborhood, I would truly love a snapshot of the basement of the Alamo.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 10:40 AM | Comments (2)

April 19, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

QUOINS. The dressed stones at the corners of buildings, usually laid so that their faces are alternately large and small. From the French coin (corner).

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

Often used in the both the humblest of modular abodes and the grandest of McMansions to symbolize Olde Worlde craftsmanship, even if it's only done up in 1" thick foam.

Here's a picture of the thing in question.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 01:01 PM | Comments (7)

April 12, 2005

Obscure Architectural Term of the Day!

I missed this last week due to the move because it was packed in a box marked "old underwear." Anyway...

PERRON. An exterior platform ascended by steps and leading to the (usually first-floor) entrance to a house, church, etc. The door opens onto it. More loosely, the flight or flights of steps ascending to the platform.

From the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition.

In this instance, you have to remember that in European parlance, the first floor is the first floor above the ground floor, so this is a pretty tall flight of stairs. Probert's has a pretty good illustration of the idea (as well as a slightly different definition).

Posted by Terry Oglesby at 08:39 AM | Comments (2)