What Are These Kids Doing Here?

In Albany a pair of sculptures frame the entrance to the New York State Education Building, designed by Henry Hornbostel and completed in 1912.  The bronze sculptures were created by Charles Keck (1875-1951) and dedicated in 1913. 

These sculptures serve a more than merely picturesque purpose.  By their size, the precious bronze they're made of, and their high level of enrichment and ornamentation, the sculptures are full participants in the architecture of the Education Building and an essential part of its decor. They are major focal points in themselves as well as the main framing elements for the building's entrance.  For all these reasons the sculptures belong to a special category of sculpture, that of architectural sculpture.

This means they play a major role in conveying the purpose and character of this building, which is concerned with education and specifically the education of the young.  The major figures in these two sculptures are therefore children, engaged in the process of learning.  A closer look, however reveals a larger vision for educating the young, where the sustained focus of learning is balanced by play.  Thus, we are offered a diptych, and between the two sets of sculptures we are given a meditation on the whole of childhood.  Above the children  we also find a flock of roosting owls.  As attributes of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, the owls also represent wisdom.  Here they preside over youngsters who, through various activities embodying the dynamic of learning, are growing towards wisdom.

There is also more to these sculptures than the figures of just children and owls. The other parts of this ensemble--indeed the larger part of the whole---are made up entirely of architectural elements.  The children are perched on A highly enriched classical columnar base, itself set upon lion-headed feet.  Above the children rises the form of an urn crowned by owls which carry a set of linking wreaths in their beaks. The entire urn is made up of the Acanthus 'leaf' in its various forms, from compact to fully-manifest, a form we recognize as belonging to the capital of the Corinthian column. For the same reason we might think of the whole urn as Corinthian, that is, expressing organic sculptural form through the representative curves and contours of the leaf. The inclusion of all these architectural elements--along with their specifically architectural character that in this case is Corinthian, is also part of what makes these examples of architectural sculptures.

 

Furthermore, the sculptural and architectural elements are working together to create EVEN LARGER architectural elements, in the form of giant lamp standards that frame the building's main entrance.  These lamps light the threshold of this institution in a metaphorical sense as well as a literal one.  The bulbs of the lamp at the top of the sculpture, for example, also represent the wisdom already identified with the owls supporting them, the light of learning.  The children, the owls, even the light-bulb lamps are all Iconic Figures, speaking to the purpose of the institution in the cultural shorthand of recognizable symbols and motifs. 

This cultural shorthand extends to the entire composition, which we can recognize as a giant candelabrum, itself an element of classical furniture on a monumental, architectural scale.  Such candelabra are well known from many Ancient Roman examples, and they have their origins in the Greek Classical Period. 

In all these varied ways the Arts of Architecture and Sculpture can work together to make a greater, even a magical, whole. This is what sculptor Charles Keck created here.

For more Images of the Candelabra

 

An Ancient Greek Painting on Fifth Avenue?

Until June 24th, you can see a rare example of an Ancient Greek painting: in New York, at the Onassis Cultural Centre.   

This ancient painting from Pompeii, which once graced the peristyle of the House of the Tragic Poet, depicts Agamemnon about to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, a disturbing story first told by Homer in the Iliad, Book II. This painting, however, follows the version performed in Athens in the late fifth century B.C., the finale of Euripides's play IPHIGENIA IN AULIS.  

Nor is this just any painting, but rather a Roman copy of a lost Ancient Greek masterpiece, The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, by a late fifth Century B.C. master, Timanthes.  This painting in a middle-class Roman context is akin to us framing a poster of a world-famous painting bought at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In a world without photography, moreover, the Pompeiian painting cannot have been a direct replica of the Greek original.  Rather, it is a copy of a copy of copies, where each step in the chain of transmission is mediated through the talent and knowledge of the individual copyist working from copybooks. Very few of these artisans would have been able to work from the original. 

And so we have here an echo of a lost Ancient Greek work that is also known to us through descriptions in Cicero and Quintilian.  Nonetheless, this Roman painting of a Greek painting probably does preserve for us something of the composition and the palette of Timanthes' work. 

As to the quality of the original, this reflection of Rubens has something to tell us:

"Who amongst us, if he were to attempt in reality to represent a celebrated work of Apelles or Timanthus, such as Pliny describes them, but would produce something absurd, or perfectly foreign to the exalted greatness of the ancients? 

Each one, relying on his own powers, would produce some wretched, crude, unfermented stuff, instead of an exquisite old wine, uniting strength and mellowness, outraging those great spirits whom I endeavor reverently to follow, satisfied, however, to honor the marks of their footsteps, instead of supposing—I acknowledge it candidly—that I can ever attain to their eminence even in mere conception,"

How central the Greek original was to the European artistic imagination can be readily studied in books and in articles such as this one: '"The Sacrifice of Iphigenia" in French and German Art Criticism, 1755-1757', H. Fullenwider, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 52. Bd., H. 4 (1989), pp. 539-549.

How central the Greek original was to the European artistic imagination can be readily studied in books and in articles such as this one: '"The Sacrifice of Iphigenia" in French and German Art Criticism, 1755-1757', H. Fullenwider, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 52. Bd., H. 4 (1989), pp. 539-549.

We also stumble onto Timanthes’s masterpiece in Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's charming (and riveting) painting, "A Collection Of Pictures At The Time Of Augustus", of 1867.  Here, while it clearly dominates the 19th century painter's composition, curiously, it does not hold the attention of the depicted Roman audience, where even the person closest to the painting is but absorbed by the ornament of its golden frame, not the painting itself. How much like museum-goers today, at the Metropolitan Museum, for instance, where the visitor is too often overwhelmed by a plethora of competing masterpieces accumulated over time.

You can watch an excerpt of one of Michael's discussing our painting context below: 

 

 

Hidden in plain site

Our sole surviving Ancient Roman writer on Architecture, Vitruvius, condemned the prevailing style of Wall Painting as it depicted buildings which could not exist in the actual three dimensional world:  

"because similar forms never did, do, nor can exist in nature. These new fashions have so much prevailed, that for want of competent judges, true art is little esteemed. How is it possible for a reed to support a roof, or a candelabrum to bear a house with the ornaments on its roof, or a small and pliant stalk to carry a sitting figure; or, that half figures and flowers at the same time should spring out of roots and stalks? And yet the public, so far from discouraging these falsehoods, are delighted with them, not for a moment considering whether such things could exist." - Book VII, Chapter 5, Section 4 

And yet, these paintings of an apparently fanciful architecture were scrupulous reproductions of ancient paintings documenting the wooden stage sets of the fifth-century B.C. Athenian Dramas, such as those of  of Sophocles and Euripides. 

Calyx-Krater Fragment

Calyx-Krater Fragment

Here we see the left wing of a stage, in form derived from Temple architecture, but realized in wood, and attenuated in form, thus distancing itself from the "real".  And here we also see the characteristic ornaments of the Doric and Ionic manners together, enclosing a volume three dimensionally rendered within which the actors are depicted: all this easily imagined as also rendered in contemporary low relief.  

Thus a sanctuary architecture evokes the setting of the principal places of these ancient dramas, shrines and palaces.  

We see all this fully realized in the Painting found in the House of Augustus.  The stage frames a central painting, depicting an outdoor sanctuary.  The foreground can be read as a tripartite Stoa, opening out, in its centre, toward a sacred grove, its out of the everyday world aspect signaled by elongated proportions, with ornamental Theatrical Masks on the parapets. And the doors, on stage-left and right stand, ready to reveal the actors of our play, perhaps Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus.  

Painting from the Room of the Masks in the House of Augustus, on the Palatine in Rome.

Painting from the Room of the Masks in the House of Augustus, on the Palatine in Rome.

The primary life experiences of our Roman writer, Vitruvius, is illuminating.  He spent the better part of his life as an artillery engineer in the Legions of Julius Caesar and Augustus, working with wood, metal and rope to construct machines: catapults and wall shattering crossbows.  He was thus predisposed to construction, to what woks, to the real of a practical man.  The Real of the Iconic, the Symbolic, which most of his everyday contemporaries delighted in, was sadly closed to him. 

Roman ornamental Wall Painting reveals but one artistic expression of Ancient Greek Drama.   It also informed Greek Pedimental Sculpture - see below for an excerpt exploring these ideas, or you can listen to the full lecture here.  

The Art of Architecture : A history of exhibitions


Join us for the opening reception of 'Art of Architecture' - A Celebration of the Traditional Approach to Architecture. 

 

March 2-April 7;  Opening: March 2, 6-9PM

Eleventh Street Arts  - 46-06 11th St (at 46th Ave), Long Island City, NY 11101

 

Artists & Architects Included: 
Atelier & Co. | Steve Bass | Anthony Baus | Patrick Connors | Niki Covington | Andrew Dodson | Ferguson and Shamamian Architects | Fairfax and Sammons Architects | David Genther | Michael G Imber Architects | Peter Pennoyer Architects | Corey Strange | Abigail Tulis | Charlotte Worthy Architects | and more...


Section Rendering of the portico of a villa by Irina Shumitskaya, Atelier & Co. Irina is a graduate of the Repin Academy in St. Petersburg. The Repin is, as far as we know, the only school in the world to have maintained a continuous practice of teaching the art of academic architectural drawing.

Section Rendering of the portico of a villa by Irina Shumitskaya, Atelier & Co. Irina is a graduate of the Repin Academy in St. Petersburg. The Repin is, as far as we know, the only school in the world to have maintained a continuous practice of teaching the art of academic architectural drawing.

Atelier & Co. is dedicated to continuing the practice of hand drawing and rendering in architectural design. Since the Renaissance, architects were trained first and foremost as painters and sculptors. The art of architectural drawing grew out of the artistic practice of the studios of the 15th and 16th centuries. Though architectural practice evolved into an independent profession, the training of architects continued to emphasize painting and drafting in the schools.

This tradition - which reached its apex in the late nineteenth century at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris - was carried into the 20th century by graduates of the École in the United States. With the arrival of the European modernists at the start of the second World War the teaching and practice of academic architectural painting declined until it had all but disappeared by the 1970’s.

Since that time a number of key exhibitions and publications helped generate a revival of interest in the subject. Many of us who have carried this on today, got our inspiration from these shows and books. Included here are some highlights: 

1.     The Museum of Modern Art is not the first place you would think of crediting with the revival of interest in the art of traditional architectural painting. But from October 29 1975-January 4, 1976 MoMA put on a small but remarkably influential show entitled ‘The Architecture of the École des Beaux Arts’. Curated by Arthur Drexler, it introduced to the public and to many in the architecture world the amazing achievements of the architects­ –French and American­–who had been trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

 

2.     I was too young to see the MoMA show (anyone who did, please write in and leave us your impressions in the comments section) but in 1983 the IBM Gallery in New York put on the first of several important shows organized by the École de Beaux-Arts in Paris of the work of the Grand Prix laureates at the Villa Medici in Rome. A group of us drove down from Toronto to see it. It was the most inspiring and influential exhibition I saw during my time as an architecture student.

 

3.     This was followed by another exhibition in 1986. Drawings made of the major archeological sites in Rome and their restorations were equally astonishing and inspiring, giving me a lifelong passion for the antiquities of Rome and the great work done throughout the nineteenth and early 20th by the best architects of the École.

 

4.     In 1986 Leon Krier published an edition of the Archives d’Architecture Moderne (AAM) on the work of John Blatteau. This was the first time I had seen the work of a contemporary architect consciously reviving the techniques of watercolor wash rendering practiced by the École. When I was a graduate student at Princeton I wrote to John and had the privilege of working for him in his office. John had fallen in love with the École while he was a student at Penn and had taught himself the rendering techniques form some of the key books. As far as we can find out there is no online record of this publication nor does it seem to be available from any of the book dealers. (If anyone knows of a source for this book please let us know!)

 

5.     Classical America made it a central part of their mission to publish important books from the École. First republished in a Norton edition with an introduction by John Blatteau and Christiane Sears, this student edition of the volumes published by Hector D’Espouy of the Grand Prix drawings from the École is an indispensable and affordable introduction to the greatest drawings by the Prix de Rome winners.

 

6.     Of the many great books that were published on the École drawings, this is one of our favorites! The quality of the reproductions is very high. It shows a range of renderings in full color from large scale details to building complexes in plan, elevation and section, and covers much of the history of the École. It is beautifully hardbound (unlike the exhibition catalogues whose bindings tend to come apart over time).

 

7.     One of the most recent books on the subject is Jean Paul Carlihan and Margot Ellis’s great book on the many Americans who went to the École at the end of the nineteenth century and through the middle of the twentieth. The book has superb illustrations of the work of the American students-from sketch problems through finely finished architectural wash renderings. The tradition of attending the École that began with Richard Morris Hunt and H.H. Richardson helped transform American architects into artists of international stature–and American architecture went from a parochial eclecticism to the splendor of the White City when cities large and small across the country were given their most beautiful buildings.


 

Reading List : Single Family Homes in the 1920s & 30s

We've been working hard on a new collaboration to make good architectural design accessible for small-scale, high-end residences in the Western States of the U.S. (more on that soon!)

Michael Djordjevitch, our in-house historian, has been deep in research and emerged with a solid reading list. First up, a selection of great inspiration classics on single family homes in the 1920s and 30s: 

500 Small Houses of the Twenties, Henry Atterbury Smith (Dover Architecture) 

500 Small Houses of the Twenties, Henry Atterbury Smith (Dover Architecture) 

 
Flagg's Small Houses: Their Economic Design & Construction, 1922, Ernest Flagg (Dover Architecture)

Flagg's Small Houses: Their Economic Design & Construction, 1922, Ernest Flagg (Dover Architecture)

 
Smaller Houses of the 1920s: 55 Examples, Ethel B. Power (Dover Architecture)

Smaller Houses of the 1920s: 55 Examples, Ethel B. Power (Dover Architecture)

 
 
Elegant Country and Suburban Houses of the Twenties, Charles S. Keefe (Dover Architecture)

Elegant Country and Suburban Houses of the Twenties, Charles S. Keefe (Dover Architecture)

 
American Country Houses of the Thirties, Lewis A. Coffin (Dover Architecture)

American Country Houses of the Thirties, Lewis A. Coffin (Dover Architecture)

 

 

Time Travelers

This painting: by Gustave-Clarence Boulanger, called, The Rehearsal of 'The Flute Player' and 'The Wife of Diomedes'; completed in 1861, represents an event in the atrium of Prince Napoleon’s Pompeian house in Paris.  The painting, on exhibit at the Musee D'Orsay, is now part of the collections of the Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

Prince Napoleon, Napoleon-Joseph Bonaparte, a cousin to the Emperor Napoleon III, had built a house in the Pompeian manner at 18 Avenue Montaine in Paris.  This residence was a creation of the Architect, and Grand Prix de Rome winner, Alfred-Nicolas Normand, along with the celebrated painter Jean-Leon Gerome, and contained an Atrium with Impluvium, seen here, a Triclinium, and a Xystos, along with other elements inspired by Roman and Greek Antiquity.  

This Scene captures a rehearsal, on a night in 1860, for the upcoming inauguration of the Villa, bringing together, among others, the critic and poet Theophile Gautier and the playwright Emile Augier, along with several actresses from the Theatre-Francais.  The subsequent gala event, on the 14th of February, 1860, attended by the Emperor and his Court, would include several plays by Emile Augier and Alexandre Dumas.  According to the published program for the performance, the venue "had been closed for repairs for 1800 years." 

Boulanger was then asked by Prince Napoleon to copy his painting directly onto the wall of his home.  Sadly, this lovely ensemble only survives through this painting, a number of renderings and drawings, and a few photographs.  Vandalized during the Commune of 1871 the building was then demolished in its entirety in 1891.  

Presiding over the Scene is a Statue, which, at a glance, could very much be that of the Emperor Augustus.  However, a much closer look at the image, and the documentation, reveals it to be that of Napoleon I as Legislator, sculpted by Eugene Guillaume, and realized in 1859.  

All the figures in this painting are clad in Roman clothing, and thus contribute to the sense that we are looking at a scene from Antiquity.  However, the grouping of figures introduces a discordant note.  

The two figures on the far left seem to be very much set apart, peering into our scene as if they had suddenly stumbled into an unexpected world.  And, the two principal groups in the scene's center and right seem not to be aware of these two men.  

Could it be that our two puzzled and agitated gentlemen, while sharing the same space of our rehearsing actors and their supporting friends do not, in fact, share the same time?  It seems rather, that they are two actual Romans, time travelers, who, having stumbled into the mid-nineteenth century, are now puzzled by encountering so familiar a world.  

This rendering by Normand represents the mosaic floor and Impluvium of the Atrium. 

This, and the following two images by Normand record the Antechamber to our Atrium. 

Our closing image is that of a watercolor by the Italian Painter Luigi Bazzani, entitled 'Maidens in a Classical Interior."  It offers a reconstruction of a partially surviving Atrium revealed through the 19th century excavations of Pompeii. 

The Column, the First Architecture, and the Great Hall of New York's Penn Station

Given my previous discussion, compactly foregrounding the Classical in Architecture, what follows should be self-evident.

The question addressed here is, Why are the columns in the Great Hall of New York's Penn. Station so Indispensable?: that is, why No design in Any of the "modern" idioms would, or Could, be an Adequate substitute. 

The first image, is from a set-design by Charles Percier, Pierre Fontaine, and Jean Thomas Thibault: the play “Elisca, or Maternal Love,” produced in Paris in 1799 (Act I).  This drawing is currently on exhibit at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in NYC.  While channeling Eighteenth-Century speculations on the Origins of Architecture, the image's artistic presentation of them transcends their crippling utilitarianism. In foregrounding The Tree, as standing in-between, between the earth and the sky, this Painting foregrounds that Iconic part of the natural world which most Poetically resonates with Our shared condition, Plato's Metaxy: of Also, always and everywhere, living In-Between.

It is no accident then, that the prototypical Tree, whether for the Minoans, the Egyptians, or for their Heirs, the Classical Greeks, is a shared fundamental Icon. This embodied-through-Architecture Icon, in the fullness of its cultural meaning, is first encountered, in our human unfolding, in those paradigmatic Pyramids of Egypt. 

 Thus, when we encounter Great Columns in Charles McKim's splendid Great Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station, they resonate, powerfully, to us as human-beings, no matter our particular cultural formation. Through our schooling, we have been taught to believe that columns, in architecture, support.  And, of course, they do so, as elements of a Construction.  

But, lets pause for a moment, and take in this Great Hall of Charles McKim's.  What are these Great Columns, here, Actually doing? 

They are doing exactly what they were doing in McKim's Roman prototypes, anchoring the billowing vaults. To put it a bit differently, we do not Feel the great vault Pressing Down on these vast columns: rather, the opposite.  The columns are strangely stretched, yet balanced, between the vault and the ground. 

For a nuanced discussion of all this first turn to Geoffrey Scott's "The Architecture of Humanism."  Leon Battista Alberti, in his "De Re Aedificatoria" offers these striking observations: that the Column, as a Sculptural Form Is The Very Chief Ornament of Architecture; further, that it is through Ornament, as such, that Beauty "shines forth."  Thus, the sculptural form of the Column is therefore intrinsic to Architecture, as such, in the fullness of its meaning. 

Beyond the Great Hall at Penn. Station are the even more overtly billowing glass and steel vaults of the great Train Hall. And, of course, while less sculpturally articulated, they are spontaneously read In-Context: that is, the more compact is seen in the light of the more articulated. 

And let us not overlook the monumental light-standards within the Great Hall.  They very much stand as intermediaries between the great columns, and us; a kind of sculptural Grove.  

For Alberti, even more overflowing with Beauty, than the Column, is The Statue.  In Context: in Alberti, the Column stands as that Part of Architecture which most fully embodies its reality, as an Art, existing in-between the Arts of Sculpture and Painting on the one hand, and the Arts of number and geometry on the other.  Thus the Orders: each, always, as one-of-five, capture, foreground, and embody that spectrum between the figural and the numeric/geometric which is the Realm of Architecture (much more on all-this in later postings). 

 There are two Sculptures at the Threshold of the Great Hall.  The Hall, and the Station overall, could use more.  Dominique Papety's lovely painting of 1839, "Les Femmes à la Fontaine", in the Musée Fabre, is a vivid Treatise through the Visual on the above.  

Little further, then should need to be said about our non-classical offerings.  The two stand for the utilitarian and the expressive.  The first would be even more banal and oppressive in reality than the images suggest.  The second, a giant sculptural reification of frantic movement would be even more oppressive. 

Our closing image is that of another stage-set, this one for a film starring Judy Garland, in which our Great Hall played a role.  Let it stand for the ever haunting Platonic Form of McKim's Great Station awaiting its re-birth in the here and now, so that once again, travelers from the south may enter this Great City as beings which reach for the sky rather than ones which burrow into the depths of the earth. 

Infrastructure, Architecture and Donuts

A visual rebuttal to the NY Times putting forth yet another proposal with no account for design and architecture in such a classic symbol of culture and important part of our infrastructure...They essentially proposed a giant glass donut.

Take your pick! We can't let this happen. #rebuildpennstation

Visit our friends over at ReThinkStudio to learn more about what a better rail system and infrastructure could mean to NYC.

Why Rome? The Eternal Question

Almost every year someone asks me the question: ‘Why Rome?’ They usually mean why do I go there almost every year.

The answer to the question is larger than that though­: why Rome, in the end, for all of us? Why Rome for the artists of the renaissance, for the Grand tourists, for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts for two centuries.  

The simple answer is that the study of art is the study of its great masterpieces. There is a higher concentration of those masterpieces in Rome than anywhere else in the world. Most of my trips over the years have been with students and colleagues, visiting some of the less well-known and less easily accessible masterpieces to study, draw, and paint.

My kids and I love the  book 'This is Rome' by Miroslav Sasek more than any other bedtime reading. One of their favorite pages is the one dedicated to the piazaa of the Knights of Malta on the Aventine. They love it - as do many of the people who visit it - for the view of St. Peter's that can be seen through the keyhole of the entry portico to the villa. 

As the only major built work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, it is one of Rome’s least well-known small masterpieces. This entry documents a visit we made to the grounds of the villa (residence of the Grand Commander of the Knights of Malta) and its church, S. Maria in Priorato, in 2012.

What have been your experiences of Rome? We want to hear from you!

Two Scales, and Kinds of Ornament

In the course of the design development in the office, a bit of quick research on the Egyptian Palm Capital was called for: a few images, so as to direct the painting of a stylized Palm Capital by our interior decorator, in our case to be realized in a Art-Deco manner. 

As, in the original context, the top surfaces of the capital are modeled not just through pigment, but also three-dimensionally, yet ours could not be, and also to give our painter some creative scope, a broader collection of Egyptian Capitals was provided, with some of the designs painted onto an un-modeled conical surface, usually of the Open Papyrus Type.

What follows are some reflections occasioned by that initial set of images. Enjoy!

The Egyptian Palm Capital, already in its fully developed form, goes back to the Old Kingdom.  It continued to be used, as one of a set of plantiform capital types, throughout the course of Egyptian History, even to the Ptolemaic and Roman period.  Here we see it in one of its late manifestations at the Temple of Isis from Philae.

The Egyptian Palm Capital, already in its fully developed form, goes back to the Old Kingdom.  It continued to be used, as one of a set of plantiform capital types, throughout the course of Egyptian History, even to the Ptolemaic and Roman period. 

Here we see it in one of its late manifestations at the Temple of Isis from Philae.

These plates are derived from various recensions of 19th century studies, such as the Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien by Karl Richard Lepsius and The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones. They allow us a glimpse into the multiplicity of Egyptian capital types, even when restricted only to the plantiform.

These plates are derived from various recensions of 19th century studies, such as the Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien by Karl Richard Lepsius and The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones. They allow us a glimpse into the multiplicity of Egyptian capital types, even when restricted only to the plantiform.

With this image from Auguste Racinet's L'Ornement Polychrom, we see the stylized Papyrus on the right and Lotus on the left framing a few of their classic respective foreground monumental manifestations.  The Palm capital below stands out as not belonging to this family.  Yet it cannot be ignored as starting in the early Old Kingdom it was the dominant column type at various periods . 

With this image from Auguste Racinet's L'Ornement Polychrom, we see the stylized Papyrus on the right and Lotus on the left framing a few of their classic respective foreground monumental manifestations.  The Palm capital below stands out as not belonging to this family.  Yet it cannot be ignored as starting in the early Old Kingdom it was the dominant column type at various periods . 

However great the apparent family resemblance, this is not a yet more stylized Egyptian capital.  It is chronologically and geographically substantially distant, Ancient Greek.  It was found in Athens, Greece and dates to the second century B.C..  It belongs to the Stoa of Attalos II, and is the capital of the inner columns of its second story. 

However great the apparent family resemblance, this is not a yet more stylized Egyptian capital.  It is chronologically and geographically substantially distant, Ancient Greek. 

It was found in Athens, Greece and dates to the second century B.C..  It belongs to the Stoa of Attalos II, and is the capital of the inner columns of its second story. 

In Athens, it is related to a capital type usually associated with this building, called, since the eighteenth century, the Tower of the Winds, after the sculptures of the celebrated ancient eight winds on its eight faces. 

In Athens, it is related to a capital type usually associated with this building, called, since the eighteenth century, the Tower of the Winds, after the sculptures of the celebrated ancient eight winds on its eight faces. 

This is a far more familiar image of this building, from Stuart & Revetts's The Antiquities of Athens, showing the building as restored. The porticoes were interpolated from traces on the body of the building and architectural fragments found in the vicinity of the monument.

This is a far more familiar image of this building, from Stuart & Revetts's The Antiquities of Athens, showing the building as restored.

The porticoes were interpolated from traces on the body of the building and architectural fragments found in the vicinity of the monument.

This image shows the Capital of the porches in relation to its Entablature and Shaft.  This plate would have a huge influence on American architecture in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, especially in the South.  As a result, today we call this capital type the Tower of the Winds Order.

This image shows the Capital of the porches in relation to its Entablature and Shaft.  This plate would have a huge influence on American architecture in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, especially in the South.  As a result, today we call this capital type the Tower of the Winds Order.

However, as this photograph attests, in Athens there survive many versions of this capital type.  This set is found right next to our tower, and within the archeological zone of the Roman Agora.  In the scholarly literature our capital is usually referred to as belonging to the Pergamene Type.  So many manifestations of this capital were found in the site of the ancient city of Pergamon by the German archaeologists who first excavated there, that they concluded this type was first created in this major Hellenistic City. 

However, as this photograph attests, in Athens there survive many versions of this capital type.  This set is found right next to our tower, and within the archeological zone of the Roman Agora. 

In the scholarly literature our capital is usually referred to as belonging to the Pergamene Type.  So many manifestations of this capital were found in the site of the ancient city of Pergamon by the German archaeologists who first excavated there, that they concluded this type was first created in this major Hellenistic City. 

However, earlier in the nineteenth century Charles Cockerell came across, and published a similar capital from the lower sanctuary at Delphi which turned out to be centuries older than those at Pergamon or Athens. It belongs to the Treasury of the Massaliots, dated to the late Archaic period.

However, earlier in the nineteenth century Charles Cockerell came across, and published a similar capital from the lower sanctuary at Delphi which turned out to be centuries older than those at Pergamon or Athens. It belongs to the Treasury of the Massaliots, dated to the late Archaic period.

Far older though, and from the island of Crete is a capital currently residing in the Herakleion Museum and found in the Ancient site of Arkades. Dating to the Bronze Age, which ended in 1200 B.C., it is a product of the culture of the Minoans, who ruled Crete throughout the Early and Middle Bronze Ages. On its abacus is found an ornamental motif, the spiraling wave pattern. This pattern is an ornamental motif which can be seen throughout the full spectrum Classical tradition, at all scales and across the full range of material artifacts. Whatever its origins in the bronze age might have been (it is already present in Paleolithic Art), for us it foregrounds the centrality of Motifs and Ornament in both Practice, and Reflection upon practice.

Far older though, and from the island of Crete is a capital currently residing in the Herakleion Museum and found in the Ancient site of Arkades. Dating to the Bronze Age, which ended in 1200 B.C., it is a product of the culture of the Minoans, who ruled Crete throughout the Early and Middle Bronze Ages.

On its abacus is found an ornamental motif, the spiraling wave pattern. This pattern is an ornamental motif which can be seen throughout the full spectrum Classical tradition, at all scales and across the full range of material artifacts.

Whatever its origins in the bronze age might have been (it is already present in Paleolithic Art), for us it foregrounds the centrality of Motifs and Ornament in both Practice, and Reflection upon practice.

So, what can this contemporary project, the Capital Gate Tower in Abu Dhabi contribute to the issue of Ornament, Motif, and meaning? At the very least, it strongly indicates that Robert Venturi was onto something important when he broadly categorized architectural forms into "Decorated sheds," or "Ducks" (Learning From Los Vegas, 1972/1977).  We need not unconditionally embrace the whole of his theory if we observe that the Capital Gate Tower is a "duck" of a striking sort.  While eschewing traditionally recognizable surface ornament, it itself is One Massive Piece of Ornament.

So, what can this contemporary project, the Capital Gate Tower in Abu Dhabi contribute to the issue of Ornament, Motif, and meaning?

At the very least, it strongly indicates that Robert Venturi was onto something important when he broadly categorized architectural forms into "Decorated sheds," or "Ducks" (Learning From Los Vegas, 1972/1977).  We need not unconditionally embrace the whole of his theory if we observe that the Capital Gate Tower is a "duck" of a striking sort.  While eschewing traditionally recognizable surface ornament, it itself is One Massive Piece of Ornament.

This section through the Capital Gate Tower, Abu Dhabi, a tour de force of engineering, comes with this illuminating passage; “It is the first building in the world to use a pre-cambered core with a built-in lean of 350 millimeters that has been engineered to straighten with the addition of the upper floors. It is also the first building in the world to use vertical post-tensioning of the core to counter movement and support stresses created by the building’s overhang.” - Jeff Schofield, Associate, RMJM   Celebrating the lengths to which its makers have resisted Gravity, the passage draws our attention to this buildings intrinsic meaning: that it is a Monumental Ornamental Motif which embodies the Denial of Natural Order. Far from escaping the Horizon of Ornament, this building falls wholly within the transgressive category of Sculpture Masquerading as Architecture. in Aristotelian (also Albertian) terms, Architecture, inhabiting the Mean between Geometry/Number and Sculptural/Iconic Form, any drift into these extremes becomes a Vice with respect to the Excellence that is Architecture. 

This section through the Capital Gate Tower, Abu Dhabi, a tour de force of engineering, comes with this illuminating passage; “It is the first building in the world to use a pre-cambered core with a built-in lean of 350 millimeters that has been engineered to straighten with the addition of the upper floors. It is also the first building in the world to use vertical post-tensioning of the core to counter movement and support stresses created by the building’s overhang.”

- Jeff Schofield, Associate, RMJM

 

Celebrating the lengths to which its makers have resisted Gravity, the passage draws our attention to this buildings intrinsic meaning: that it is a Monumental Ornamental Motif which embodies the Denial of Natural Order.

Far from escaping the Horizon of Ornament, this building falls wholly within the transgressive category of Sculpture Masquerading as Architecture. in Aristotelian (also Albertian) terms, Architecture, inhabiting the Mean between Geometry/Number and Sculptural/Iconic Form, any drift into these extremes becomes a Vice with respect to the Excellence that is Architecture. 

Here, in this Ancient Egyptian Icon, we see the Pharaoh Seti, the First of that Name, enacting The Mystery of the “Raising of the Djed” at his Temple to Osiris at Abydos.  This scene is found in the culminating Osiris Chapel.  The Djed Pillar is an Iconic Hieroglyphic form whose origin goes back to the very beginnings of Ancient Egyptian iconography. Note, Seti is Raising, not Lowering this Column, one here Crowned with the orb of Ra, the sun, in the form of a Royal Crown.

Here, in this Ancient Egyptian Icon, we see the Pharaoh Seti, the First of that Name, enacting The Mystery of the “Raising of the Djed” at his Temple to Osiris at Abydos.  This scene is found in the culminating Osiris Chapel.  The Djed Pillar is an Iconic Hieroglyphic form whose origin goes back to the very beginnings of Ancient Egyptian iconography.

Note, Seti is Raising, not Lowering this Column, one here Crowned with the orb of Ra, the sun, in the form of a Royal Crown.

In this next image, found in, Thebes, in the Valley of the Queens, in the tomb of Nefertari, the Consort of Seti-the-First's Successor, Ramses II, the Queen is represented making an Offering to the God Ptah, in the Form of Osiris, and standing before a Djed Pillar, while also holding a Djed Scepter.   The Djed is a multifaceted Hieroglyphic Form.  While intrinsically associated with Osiris, and concurrently signifying stability and continuity, is also found in the most fundamental of Iconic scenes, the Creation of the Cosmos, where among its various multivalent manifestations is its representing the Ur life-form emerging out of the primal mound. 

In this next image, found in, Thebes, in the Valley of the Queens, in the tomb of Nefertari, the Consort of Seti-the-First's Successor, Ramses II, the Queen is represented making an Offering to the God Ptah, in the Form of Osiris, and standing before a Djed Pillar, while also holding a Djed Scepter.  

The Djed is a multifaceted Hieroglyphic Form.  While intrinsically associated with Osiris, and concurrently signifying stability and continuity, is also found in the most fundamental of Iconic scenes, the Creation of the Cosmos, where among its various multivalent manifestations is its representing the Ur life-form emerging out of the primal mound. 

This gold signet ring, one of four recently discovered in Greece, near Nestor's Pylos, in a miraculously undisturbed tomb as a part of a burial of a wealthy Bronze Age Warrior, returns us to the world of the Minoans.  Minoan Crete, situated just across the sea from Egypt, traded with this most venerable Ancient Nile Civilization for the many centuries of the existence of the Minoan Sea Empire, from its infancy through to its fiery end.  While a culture long traveling its own distinct trajectory, the Minoans, and their immediate heirs, the Mycenaeans, could not but help to be drawn into the Egyptian cultural orbit, especially since the Egyptians had long attained their classic form while Crete was still emerging out of its Neolithic beginnings.  Thus, the challenging task of unraveling the mystery of the Minoans, given the lack of a surviving literature, necessarily includes a looking south to Ancient Egypt.  On this gold signet ring we see five elaborately dressed female figures, the three on the left apparently dancing, while the two on the right raise their right hands in a gesture of worship.  Both groups stand on the seashore, facing a mountainous landscape atop of which stands a shrine framed by Palm Trees, out of which grows some sort of bush.  Each element of this striking scene finds many parallels in surviving Minoan iconography.  The two emphatically present Palm Trees are striking in their computational preeminence, and in their naturalism.

This gold signet ring, one of four recently discovered in Greece, near Nestor's Pylos, in a miraculously undisturbed tomb as a part of a burial of a wealthy Bronze Age Warrior, returns us to the world of the Minoans. 

Minoan Crete, situated just across the sea from Egypt, traded with this most venerable Ancient Nile Civilization for the many centuries of the existence of the Minoan Sea Empire, from its infancy through to its fiery end.  While a culture long traveling its own distinct trajectory, the Minoans, and their immediate heirs, the Mycenaeans, could not but help to be drawn into the Egyptian cultural orbit, especially since the Egyptians had long attained their classic form while Crete was still emerging out of its Neolithic beginnings. 

Thus, the challenging task of unraveling the mystery of the Minoans, given the lack of a surviving literature, necessarily includes a looking south to Ancient Egypt. 

On this gold signet ring we see five elaborately dressed female figures, the three on the left apparently dancing, while the two on the right raise their right hands in a gesture of worship.  Both groups stand on the seashore, facing a mountainous landscape atop of which stands a shrine framed by Palm Trees, out of which grows some sort of bush.  Each element of this striking scene finds many parallels in surviving Minoan iconography. 

The two emphatically present Palm Trees are striking in their computational preeminence, and in their naturalism.

One of the treasures of the Heraklion Museum, on the north shore of Crete is this Columnar Lamp. The discovery and cultivation of the olive played a significant role in the emergence of the Aegean World in the Middle Bronze Age.  One of its primary objects of trade was olive oil, a marvelously versatile product.  One of its indispensable roles was providing light.  This lamp, in its columnar form and capital, directly calls to mind one distinct type of Ancient Egyptian Plant-Form Column.  Note how it both emphatically stands, yet soars, while it gently cradles its basin of oil for its glowing overhanging wicks.  It would appear that the capital is comprised of overhanging palm fronds. 

One of the treasures of the Heraklion Museum, on the north shore of Crete is this Columnar Lamp. The discovery and cultivation of the olive played a significant role in the emergence of the Aegean World in the Middle Bronze Age.  One of its primary objects of trade was olive oil, a marvelously versatile product.  One of its indispensable roles was providing light. 

This lamp, in its columnar form and capital, directly calls to mind one distinct type of Ancient Egyptian Plant-Form Column. 

Note how it both emphatically stands, yet soars, while it gently cradles its basin of oil for its glowing overhanging wicks.  It would appear that the capital is comprised of overhanging palm fronds. 

In the context of all the above, the wobbling Capital Gate Tower in Abu Dhabi speaks of a distinct take on an Architecture in its World.  For the moment, let us enjoy in this image the line of palm trees, valiantly holding their own in the looming presence of this strange thing, which somehow stand while threatening to fall.

In the context of all the above, the wobbling Capital Gate Tower in Abu Dhabi speaks of a distinct take on an Architecture in its World.  For the moment, let us enjoy in this image the line of palm trees, valiantly holding their own in the looming presence of this strange thing, which somehow stand while threatening to fall.

Our initial set of Images, however, offered in all innocence but the call of urgent pragmatism, to guide an artist in realizing a contemporary bit of architectural ornament (a capital in a current project in our office), nonetheless cannot escape the nexus of meaning in which all human fashioning is embedded.  A closing image for this first blog posting, a Minoan ceramic jar (there are stone ones as well) also from the Heraklion Museum in Crete, this one dated to circa 1700-1650 B.C..  One distinctive aspect of Minoan Art is its apparent Naturalism.  Here we have, on this artifact, depicted undeniable Palm Trees.  And yet, in this same art we see this form as the ubiquitous Palmette, bridging the Bronze Age and succeeding Worlds: all these forms, Motifs and Ornaments. From Henry hope Reed, Jr.'s, The Golden City, of 1959, when the so called Modern Movement was in its early unchallenged ascendancy: "A building without ornament , said George Santayana, is like the heaven without stars.  And an architecture without ornament is no architecture at all."

Our initial set of Images, however, offered in all innocence but the call of urgent pragmatism, to guide an artist in realizing a contemporary bit of architectural ornament (a capital in a current project in our office), nonetheless cannot escape the nexus of meaning in which all human fashioning is embedded. 

A closing image for this first blog posting, a Minoan ceramic jar (there are stone ones as well) also from the Heraklion Museum in Crete, this one dated to circa 1700-1650 B.C.. 

One distinctive aspect of Minoan Art is its apparent Naturalism.  Here we have, on this artifact, depicted undeniable Palm Trees.  And yet, in this same art we see this form as the ubiquitous Palmette, bridging the Bronze Age and succeeding Worlds: all these forms, Motifs and Ornaments.

From Henry hope Reed, Jr.'s, The Golden City, of 1959, when the so called Modern Movement was in its early unchallenged ascendancy:

"A building without ornament , said George Santayana, is like the heaven without stars.  And an architecture without ornament is no architecture at all."