Category Archives: historic preservation

NYSID Photos Showcase Women’s History

Sheila Chapine (middle) stands amongst other faculty and administration at the New York School of Interior Design in ca. 1955. Photo credit: New York School of Interior Design.

Interior design was an emerging field at the turn of the 20th century, and many of its first practitioners were women. Accordingly, many of the images in the New York School of Interior Design’s (NYSID) centennial album document women who dominated the design world, built their own businesses and became published authors.

One such woman was Sheila Chapine. Born in Ontario in 1918, Chapine later attended NYSID, one of New York’s most prestigious interior design schools. She went on to graduate in 1940 and become a registrar and lecturer of color for 45 years. Chapine also worked as a career counselor and events planner during her time at NYSID as well as volunteering at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House and St. James’ Church. 

Though interior design may have been originally viewed as “decorating” , and therefore a socially acceptable career path for women in the 1900s, interior design has proven to be one of the most important professions of the century because many people spend the majority of their life inside buildings and the design of a room can have great psychological and physical impacts on inhabitants.

For more photos of women who changed the world through design, check out the NYSID Flickr collection here.

Sources: The New York School of Interior Design, The New York Times, Research Gate, InteriorDesign.net

Building in Downtown Austin Scheduled to Implode

Photo credit: James Rambin.

The implosion of the Ashbel Smith Hall building will interrupt the mellow, Sunday-morning mood this weekend in downtown Austin. Traffic near Lavaca and Sixth Street is expected to be more congested than usual due to the demolition occurring in the early morning hours. Typically, demolitions provoke protest from citizens who are sentimentally attached to the building, but no one seems too upset about the leveling of Ashbel Smith Hall.

“We don’t always need to clutch our pearls when something old downtown comes up for demolition,” wrote James Rambin, author of an online realty blog. Rambin compared the building to a toaster, deriding its boxy shape and two small roof vents poking out the top.

Once used by The University of Texas as office space after being built in the 1970s, the building’s Brutalist architecture juts out among a skyline of shiny, new skyscrapers. The City of Austin Historic Landmark Commission provided a dismal assessment of the structure’s contribution to the life of the city:

“The building does not appear to possess architectural distinction. […] The building does not possess a unique location, physical characteristic, or significant feature that contributes to the character, image, or cultural identity of the city, the neighborhood, or a particular demographic group. […] The property is not a significant natural or designed landscape with artistic, aesthetic, cultural, or historical value to the city.” —City of Austin Historic Landmark Commission, September 25, 2017

The building must be imploded to mitigate the negative effects of demolition on the surrounding area and to speed up the process. After being demolished, developer Trammell Crow plans to build a 37-story tower with office, restaurant and retail uses, costing $1.6 million per year to rent.

Sources: Austin American Statesman, Towers, AustinTexas.gov

Architectural Effects of a Divide

09 Image credit: Jürgen Ritter

The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years, bifurcating the city into West and East Berlin respectively. Demolition of the wall began in 1990, and 28 years later, an exhibition at the Venice Biennale of Architecture 2018 will be exploring the question of what happens to the built environment when physical divides are torn down. The exhibition, titled “Unbuilding Walls,” will showcase 28 examples—one example for each year the Berlin Wall divided Berlin—of historic and contemporary walls, barriers and fences and their effect on or reaction to the landscape.

In 2012, astronaut André Kuipers documented one example of the wall’s divide still evident from space: the color difference in the street lights of and west and east sides of the city is clearly perceptible.

Source: Topos Magazine and the Washington Post.

Colorful Vault Ceilings

Photo Credit: Deyemi Akande

Gothic cathedrals are generally discussed in the context of structure, yet the Gothic cathedrals of Britain are equally spectacular in ornamentation. The cathedrals’ vaulted ceilings were often decorated with religions iconography and heraldry. The ornamentation in St Albans Cathedral was refurbished in 1951-52 by Jane Lenton, replicating a 15th century shield. The red and white roses are associated with the Houses of Lancaster and York. Heraldry is prominent in Gothic churches, found on stained-glass windows, floor tiles, doors, and vaulted ceilings. The presence of theses shield often tells a story of patronage.

Source: Society of Architectural Historians

Domino Sugar Refinery: Ruin or Building?

When is a building considered a ruin? That’s the question currently being discussed between design firm PAU and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The Domino Sugar Refinery was built in the 1880s on the riverfront in Brooklyn, and has been vacant for more than a decade. When the Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU) revealed its plans for the Domino Sugar Refinery, their proposal planned to use the masonry facade to mask a new glass office building. They argued that the building was in fact a ruin, or “a doughnut awaiting filling.”

Users of the building would experience the historic facade from a series of metal decks between the two. The LPC instead contends that the proposal transforms an adaptable building into a ruin.

Source: Arch Daily

 

New Architecture in an Old Geometry

Image Credit: Iwan Baan 

Grain silos, in metal and in concrete, are not uncommon in the built landscape. They often sit empty long after the milling or grain industries have moved on. These spaces have proved challenging for architects and preservationists to re-purpose, as they typically lack one essential element of comfortable design and daily life: windows.

In the case of the new Zeitz MOCAA museum in Cape Town, South Africa, design firm Heatherwick Studios did not let themselves feel constrained by the 1920s era silos’ unique structure. The resulting design creates a gallery space highlighting unexpected shapes. Heatherwick described his process as deconstruction as much as construction, and explained that he was motivated to create an interior space visitors couldn’t resist.

Source: Dezeen 

The Covert Stepwells of India

Stepwells often have no above ground presence, but beneath the ground intricately carved steps lead into a pool of water displaying a beautiful and illusive architectural character. Tucked away in fields or hidden in cities, the Stepwells of India remain an architectural mystery. The scholarship of Stepwells is limited, but it is believed that the Stepwells once served as a communal place for washing, bathing, and drinking water. The Stepwells acted as a rest stop for travelers and ranged in intricacy and size. Many of the Stepwells are believed to be created or funded by women honoring their dead husbands. Interest in the Stepwells has risen in the past years. Hotels are using the Stepwells as a tourist draw, and others are revitalizing the Stepwells to be used in the communal way that they were originally intended.

Source: Archdaily

The Mystery of Roman Concrete

Photo Credit: Colin Knowles

Modern concrete on seawalls will eventually erode and need repair after only a few decades, yet the Roman pier at Portus Consanus in Orbetello, Italy has withstood the sea for millennia.  The secret to this concrete’s longevity is a mineral growth after the concrete has cured. When Roman engineers mixed volcanic ash, lime, and seawater to make mortar, the combination also created a pozzolanic reaction. This reaction, named after the city Pozzuoli in the Bay of Naples, caused the formation of crystals in the spaces of the concrete mixture making the concrete incredibly strong.

Source: Archinect

Beautiful, Obsolete Technology

Giant concrete acoustic mirrors speckle the British coastline. These massive concrete dishes were used as sound mirrors to warn the United Kingdom of enemy airplanes approaching from across the English Channel and the North Sea. The concrete dish acted almost as a radar, by responding to the sound of the aircraft and focusing the waves to a single point, then, a microphone would catch the sounds. The structures were also able to determine the direction of the attacking plane. After airplanes became faster in the 1930s, the sounds dishes were no longer usable.

Source: ArchDaily

Wright Home Serves as a Resource for Architecture Students

Photo Credit: wikimedia.org, CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

To celebrate what would have been Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday, Zach Rawling donated his Phoenix home that was designed by Wright, to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. The home—originally designed for Wright’s son—was saved by Rawling from demolition in 2012. Rawling originally wanted to make the home a museum, but now the house will become a resource for hands-on restoration and renovation for the architecture students at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

Source: Archinect

The Question of the Alamo

Image Credit: Next City

The site of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, has been an item of contention lately. Complaints about the World Heritage site’s lack of a prominent visual presence have prompted a rethinking of the site’s layout. Preservation Design Partnership has proposed a large, enclosing glass wall that will mark the bounds of the original structure. Critiques against this proposal assert that the area that will be enclosed by the wall currently functions as a completely public plaza. Critics argue that this proposal could be the end of the “street preaching, panhandling, raspa vending, trinket shopping, [and] photo posing” that constitute the role of the square in the city.

Source: Next City

Photographer Documents the Same Buildings Year After Year

Image Credit: Camilo Jose Vergara

Image Credit: Camilo Jose Vergara

Photographer Camilo Jose Vergara has spent the past forty years photographing decaying buildings in low-income American neighborhoods in his project titled “Tracking Time.” Vergara’s image sets reveal the life span of several buildings as they decline, are demolished, or are restored. The photographs reveal both gradual and drastic changes in the built environment, showing how social and economic factors impact the world we live in. In some cases, Vergara documented entire streetscapes, illustrating the loss and change low income communities face.

Source: Messy Nessy