(Roughly) Daily

“I propose to build for eternity”*…

Florence Duomo as seen from Michelangelo hill

Sent back in time 600 years and tasked with building the world’s largest dome, how would most of us fare? Most of us, of course, are not trained architects or engineers, but then, neither was Filippo Brunelleschi. Known at the time as a goldsmith, Brunelleschi ended up winning the commission to build just such a colossal dome atop Florence’s Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, which itself had already been under construction for well over a century. The year was 1418, the dawn of the Italian Renaissance, but a break with medieval building styles had already been made, not least in the rejection of the kind of flying buttresses that had held up the stone ceilings of previous cathedrals. Brunelleschi had thus not just to build an unprecedentedly large dome, in accordance with a design drawn up 122 years earlier, but also to come up with the technology required to do so.

“He invented an ox-driven hoist that brought the tremendously heavy stones up to the level of construction,” architect David Wildman tells HowStuffWorks. Noticing that “marble for the project was being damaged as it was unloaded off of boats,” he also “invented an amphibious boat that could be used on land to transport the large pieces of marble to the cathedral.”

These and other new devices were employed in service of an ingenious structure using not just one dome but two, the smaller inner one reinforced with hoops of stone and chain. Built in brick — the formula for the concrete used in the Pantheon having been lost, like so much ancient Roman knowledge — the dome took sixteen years in total, which constituted the final stage of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore’s generations-long construction.

Brunelleschi’s masterpiece, still the largest masonry dome in the world, has yet to quite yield all of its secrets: “There is still some mystery as to how all of the components of the dome connect with each other,” as Wildman puts it, thanks to Brunelleschi’s vigilance about concealing the nature of his techniques throughout the project. But you can see some of the current theories visualized (and, in a shamelessly fake Italian accent, hear them explained) in the National Geographic video [below]. However he did it, Brunelleschi ensured that every part of his structure fit together perfectly — and that it would hold up six centuries later, when we can look at it and see not just an impressive church, but the beginning of the Renaissance itself…

How Filippo Brunelleschi, untrained in architecture or engineering, built the world’s largest dome at the dawn of the Renaissance.

For more on the dome, see Ross King’s marvelous 2013 book, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture.

And for more on Brunelleschi— whose other accomplishments include the first precise system of linear perspective, which revolutionized painting and opened the way for the naturalistic styles of Renaissance art– see here.

* Filippo Brunelleschi

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As we go big, we might recall that it was on this date in 330 that Roman Emperor Constantine the Great consecrated Constantinople (on the site of what had been the ancient city of Byzantium; today, Istanbul). Constantine identified the site of Byzantium as a place where an emperor could sit, readily defended, with easy access to the Danube or the Euphrates frontiers, his court supplied from the rich gardens and sophisticated workshops of Roman Asia, his treasuries filled by the wealthiest provinces of the Empire.

The city became famous for its architectural masterpieces, such as Hagia Sophia, the cathedral of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Built by the eastern Roman emperor Justinian I as the Christian cathedral of Constantinople for the state church of the Roman Empire between 532 and 537, the church was then the world’s largest interior space and among the first to employ a fully pendentive dome. It is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture”… It set the bar for Brunelleschi.

Hagia Sophia

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“If You Can’t Fix It, You Don’t Own It”*…

A just-issued report by the US Federal Trade Commission confirms that anti-repair actions by large companies are hurting small businesses, undermining your ownership rights, and hurting the planet. Of course, these are the very problems that we’ve been fighting for the past fifteen years—but it’s validating to see US government confirmation of the market imbalance.

The unanimous report, nearly two years in the making, follows public hearings and testimony from the FTC’s “Nixing the Fix” workshop in July 2019, and a demand from Congress in 2020 to report back. iFixit and other repair advocates told the Commission then how manufacturers design products that frustrate repair and force owners to use the manufacturers’ branded repair services, hurting consumers and stifling competition. Manufacturers claimed the market was working fine, and that opening up repair access would undermine the safety and security of their products. Today’s report is a rebuke to their arguments.

The FTC’s long-awaited report provides a thorough analysis of broad market failures, and recommendations for government action to address those failures. Some major findings included in the report:

– Warranties are being routinely voided, in violation of the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act. “The Commission takes these allegations seriously and will continue to address illegal practices in the marketplace.”

– “[T]he burden of repair restrictions may fall more heavily on communities of color and lower-income communities.”

– “The pandemic has exacerbated the effects of repair restrictions on consumers.”

The report summarizes the problems that consumers are facing from a variety of monopoly strategies. “Many manufacturers restrict independent repair and repair by consumers through:

– Product designs that complicate or prevent repair;

– Unavailability of parts and repair information;

– Designs that make independent repairs less safe;

– Policies or statements that steer consumers to manufacturer repair networks;

– Application of patent rights and enforcement of trademarks;

– Disparagement of non-OEM parts and independent repair;

– Software locks and firmware updates; or

– End User License Agreements.”

A rebuke of Apple, John Deere, and other manufacturers whose practices frustrate repair by “owners”: “FTC Report Finds Manufacturers’ Repair Restrictions Unwarranted.” Via @kwiens and @stewartbrand

ifixit.com

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As we resist rentiers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1893 that the U.S. Supreme court unanimously ruled that a tomato is a vegetable. In reaching their decision in Nix v. Hedden, a dispute over the appropriate duties to be levied pursuant to the Tarriff Act of 1883, the justices found that the “ordinary” understanding of a tomato as a vegetable should take precedence over the scientific fact that it is a fruit.

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Written by LW

May 10, 2021 at 1:01 am

“I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it”*…

Do not let the “new age” label fool you—David Young’s music is damn catchy. With simple melodies, played on the recorder and repeated with slight variations, the songs run through my head hours after listening, and I’m not exactly a new-age fan. Young’s catalog covers a who’s who of adult contemporary—from Miguel Bosé’s “Lay Down on Me” to “Con te partirò”—but even the melodies in his original songs exude a similar familiarity. Young may not work for Muzak, but his music sure sounds like he’s studied their scores.

From a wardrobe of puffy shirts to the gimmick of playing two recorders at once, David Young seems about as cheesy as new-age music gets—think Tim Robbins’s character in High Fidelity, but with less home-wrecking libido and more harpsichord. But, non-threatening as the image may be, this self-described “pied piper of romantic music for the 21st century” has independently released more than 16 albums, including Celestial WindsRenaissance, and Songs of Hope, and claims to have sold more than one million copies (500,000 in 2002 alone!).

I first learned about David Young from an ad in the quarterly trade magazine of the Dodge Company, the world’s largest supplier of mortuary chemicals. The Spring 2008 issue of Dodge Magazine included articles on “airbrushing cosmetics for funeral professionals” and how funeral directors should respond in the case of a mass murder in a small-town shopping mall (be “like French waiters…[who can] do the job and not be noticed”). In addition to embalming chemicals, Dodge also has a hand in the sale and distribution of miscellaneous funerary goods—including memorial collages of softly lit photos that “make women squeal with delight when they see the portraits for the first time.”

That there is a “funeral industry” in the first place can seem morbid and indecent. Anyone who remembers Six Feet Undermay feel they know the ins and outs, but the reality is certainly more disturbing. Flipping through a trade magazine advertising “vibrant” urns and pink-hued arterial conditioners does nothing to contradict this impression, nor does Young’s ad. In the full-page color layout, Young’s musical oeuvre is described as “perfect background music for your funeral home.” Wearing dangerously tight pants and a puffy shirt coyly unbuttoned to reveal a shadow of chest hair, David Young hawks a new age of new-age music for funerals. “In emotional times such as these,” the ad claims, “it’s important to set the right tone.” 

In 2004, Craig Caldwell of the Dodge Company met Young at a funeral directors’ trade show in Chicago. Impressed, Caldwell made a distribution arrangement with the musician and has since been selling Young’s recordings to his clients—funeral directors who rely on Dodge for everything from embalming fluid to a disinfectant called Lemocide. On the phone from his office, Caldwell explained that the music’s emotional restraint, being “lighter, airier, more enticing to sharing feelings and thoughts, than dirges,” made it seem like a good match for funeral homes. This preference for lightness mirrors other changes in modern funerals, a business that, though still traditional by many accounts, is becoming increasingly secular and informal. “People rarely wear black to funerals anymore,” Caldwell told me when I interviewed him in 2008. “Except for the older generation. But children today, they don’t even wear a coat and a tie anymore.”

Young is the theme song to your grandmother’s memorial, the pop radio of your cousin’s wake. That funeral homes now have a soundtrack, one that provides us with a subtle, uncomplicated sense of recognition—as minimalist guru Brian Eno would call it, an ambience—shouldn’t be a surprise. Rather than a nuisance or intrusion, this easy listening could be a way of mitigating disruptive grief. 

Many of America’s funeral parlors rely on one man to provide the theme music for your grandmother’s memorial service, the pop radio for your cousin’s wake. Welcome to “semi-spiritual” ambient music and the stuff of contemporary mourning: “Songs in the Key of Death,” from The Morning News.

Image above from the series “More Scena” by photographer Rachel Cox, via BOOOOOOOM.

* Mark Twain

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As we acclimate to ambience, we might send melodic birthday greetings to Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi; he was born on this date in 1567 (or so it is believed; we know for sure that he was baprised on May 15 of that year). A composer, string player, choirmaster, and priest who created both secular and sacred music, he was a pioneer in the development of opera, and is considered a crucial transitional figure between the Renaissance and Baroque periods of music history.

Much of Monteverdi’s output, including many stage works, has been lost. His surviving music includes nine books of madrigals, large-scale religious works, such as his Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin) of 1610, and three complete operas. His opera L’Orfeo (1607) is the earliest of the genre still widely performed; towards the end of his life he wrote works for Venice, including Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and L’incoronazione di Poppea.

Among his works were several funerary pieces, including a Requiem Mass for Cosimo II de’ Medici (in 1621).

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“A party without cake is really just a meeting”*…

The pandemic has been, for many, a time of home confinement. So, in search of both solace and diversion, lots of folks turned to baking… with mixed results…

27 more at “Failed Quarantine Baking Attempts.”

* Julia Child

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As we go back to the bakery, we might recall that today is National Empanada Day. The savory turnovers were born in Galicia, the northwest corner of Spain (and across the border in Portugal), where they were large baked “pies” served in slices; they made their way with Spanish settlers to Latin America, where they took their current form. They are typically baked, but sometimes fried (in which form, your correspondent can attest, they are at least as delicious as they are baked).

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Written by LW

May 8, 2021 at 1:01 am

“History is much more the product of chaos than of conspiracy”*…

Believers in the “Tartaria” conspiracy theory are convinced that the elaborate temporary fairgrounds built for events like the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 were really the ancient capital cities of a fictional empire.

In 1908, architect Ernest Flagg completed the Singer Building in Lower Manhattan, a Beaux-Arts showstopper made for the Singer sewing machine company. From a wide base, a slender 27-story tower rose, topped by a mansard roof and a delicate lantern spire.

Every inch dripped with sumptuous detail inside and out; vaulted roofs, marble columns with bronze trim, window mullions with spiral fluting. The lobby was said to have a “celestial radiance.” A book was written just about its construction. For a year, it was the tallest building in the world at 612 feet, and a celebrated landmark for decades after that.

But not for too much longer. Despite its great height, the pencil-thin tower lacked office space. In the 1960s the company sold its ornate headquarters; demolition proceeded in 1967. It’s the tallest building to ever be peacefully demolished.   

By any account, it’s a fantastical tale: Once the tallest building in the world and a New York icon, knocked down in just a handful of decades.  

For some, it’s too fantastical to believe … or perhaps not fantastical enough. A dedicated group of YouTubers and Reddit posters see the Singer Building and countless other discarded pre-modern beauties and extant Beaux-Arts landmarks as artifacts of a globe-spanning civilization called the Tartarian Empire, which was somehow erased from the history books. Adherents of this theory believe these buildings to be the keys to a hidden past, clandestinely obscured by malevolent actors.

Who? Why? To what possible end? As in many other, more high-profile conspiracy theories, this baroque fantasy doesn’t offer much in the way of practical considerations, logic or evidence. But it’s grounded in some real anxieties, pointing toward the changes wrought by the modern world in general and modern architecture specifically — and rejecting both. 

Everything we know about the history of architecture (and the world) is wrong? Zach Mortice (@zachmortice) takes us “Inside the ‘Tartarian Empire,’ the QAnon of Architecture.”

* Zbigniew Brzezinski

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As we contemplate cabals, we might send ultra-modern birthday greetings to Michael Hopkins; he was born on this date in 1935. An architect, Sir Michael was (with his partner Norman Foster and with Richard RogersTerry Farrell and Nicholas Grimshaw) one of the leading figures in the introduction of high-tech architecture into Britain… and thus, presumably part of the conspiracy the Tartarians tout.

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