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Posts Tagged ‘design

“Every spirit makes its house, and we can give a shrewd guess from the house to the inhabitant”*…

 

house numbers

 

Where did the very idea of assigning numbers to homes come from? As Deirdre Mask writes in her fascinating new history of street addresses, The Address Book, house numbering is a product of the Enlightenment, and was undertaken originally not to aid citizens but to make it easier to tax and conscript them. “House numbers exist not to help you find your way,” Mask writes, “but rather to help the government find you”…

The familiar American address system of odds and evens running concurrently down opposite sides of the street comes from Philadelphia, where Clement Biddle established it in 1790, according to Anton Tantner’s odd and delightful Address Numbers: Pictures of a Forgotten History. It was also in Philadelphia that the idea of assigning each block its own 100-number range was pioneered, in 1856. Both systems have spread across the world, though other systems still persist: the “horseshoe” method of numbers running sequentially down one side of the street and then back on the other side, so that No. 1 sits across from the highest number on the block; a “distance scheme” in which the number on a house refers to its distance from a given point. There are still plenty of places in the world where addresses are not used. In most towns in Costa Rica, for example, locations are given narratively (“fifty meters west of the town hall,” etc.), since houses have no numbers and, “as in the song of U2,” writes the Costa Rica News, “the streets have no name.”…

Think of your address numbers as your house’s earrings. Your house projects a certain aesthetic to your neighbors, intentionally or unintentionally, a set of visual cues that can be read along lines of class, taste, aspiration, and style. The numbers on your house do more than identify your address for the postman; deployed properly, like the perfect pair of earrings, house numbers accentuate a harmonious visual message in concert with the design around them. Sometimes that message is one of individuality: My house, the numerals say, reflects my own personality, and is unlike any other house you might encounter. Sometimes it’s a message of conformity: My house fits in securely with all my neighbors’.

I recently walked every single street in my ZIP code in the Northern Virginia suburbs, cataloging the house numbers I saw along the way and mapping them, block by block for 1,114 blocks. This absolutely scientific survey yielded significant data about how styles of house numbers propagate across neighborhoods and significant observations about how house numbers “speak” to the passersby they address…

Serif or sans serif?… Dan Kois (@dankois) explores what that can tell us: “How people style their house numbers.”

* Ralph Waldo Emerson

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As we do a number, we might recall that on this date in 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, landmark legislation that funded a 40,000-mile system of interstate roads that ultimately reached every American city with a population of more than 100,000. Today, almost 90% of the interstate system crosses rural areas, putting most citizens and businesses within driving distance of one another. Although Eisenhower’s rationale was martial (creating a road system on which convoys could travel more easily), the results were largely civilian.  From the growth of trucking to the rise of suburbs, the interstate highway system re-shaped American landscapes and lives.

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“The door handle is the handshake of the building”*…

 

door handle

Door handle and rose (1833–47), manufactured by Copeland & Garrett, Stoke-on-Trent. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

We have all become suddenly more aware of the moments when we cannot avoid touching elements of public buildings. Architecture is the most physical, most imposing and most present of the arts – you cannot avoid it yet, strangely, we touch buildings at only a very few points – the handrail, perhaps a light switch and, almost unavoidably, the door handle. This modest piece of handheld architecture is our critical interface with the structure and the material of the building. Yet it is often reduced to the most generic, cheaply made piece of bent metal which is, in its way, a potent critique of the value we place on architecture and our acceptance of its reduction to a commodified envelope rather than an expression of culture and craft.

Despite their ubiquity and pivotal role in the haptic experience of architecture, door handles remain oddly under-documented. There are no serious histories and only patchy surveys of design, mostly sponsored by manufacturers. Yet in the development of the design of the door handle we have, in microcosm, the history of architecture, a survey of making and a measure of the development of design and how it relates to manufacture, technology and the body.

For as long as there have been doors there have been door handles…

An appreciation of the apparati of accessibility: “Points of contact – a short history of door handles.”

* Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses

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As we get a grip, we might send thoughtfully-wagered birthday greetings to a man whose thought open a great many (metaphorical) doors, Blaise Pascal; he was born on this date in 1623.  A French mathematician, physicist, theologian, and inventor (e.g.,the first digital calculator, the barometer, the hydraulic press, and the syringe), his commitment to empiricism (“experiments are the true teachers which one must follow in physics”) pitted him against his contemporary René “cogito, ergo sum” Descartes…

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Happy Juneteenth!

 

Written by LW

June 19, 2020 at 1:01 am

“It is necessary to keep one’s compass in one’s eyes”*…

 

rose1

 

A “compass rose” is a graphic device found on maps and nautical charts (as well as on the faces of compasses and some monuments) that displays the orientation of the cardinal directions (north, east, south, and west) and their intermediate points.

rose2

And as these examples from the collection of the The American Geographical Society Library demonstrate, they can also be fascinating– and beautiful– graphic elements in their own right.

See more at the AGSL’s Compass Rose Flickr page.  Browse the Library’s full digital collection here.

* Michelangelo

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As we find our way, we might spare a pining thought for Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca); it was on this date in 1327, after he’d given up his vocation as a priest, that he first set eyes on “Laura” in the church of Sainte-Claire d’Avignon– an encounter that awoke in him a passion that spawned the 366 poems in Il Canzoniere (“Song Book”).

Considered by many to have been “the Father of Humanism,” and reputed to have coined the term “Renaissance,” Petrarch was most famous in his time for his paeans to his idealized lover (who was, many scholars believe, Laura de Noves, the wife of Hugues de Sade).  But Petrarch’s more fundamental and lasting contribution to culture came via Pietro Bembo who created the model for the modern Italian language in the 16th century largely based on the works of Petrarch (and to a lesser degree, those of Dante and Boccaccio).

Laura de Noves died on this date in 1348.

Lura de Noves

source

Petrarch

source

 

 

“People have to live in it”*…

 

michael-sorkin

 

16. The rate at which the seas are rising.
17. Building information modeling (BIM).
18. How to unclog a Rapidograph.
19. The Gini coefficient.
20. A comfortable tread-to-riser ratio for a six-year-old.
21. In a wheelchair.
22. The energy embodied in aluminum.
23. How to turn a corner.
24. How to design a corner.
25. How to sit in a corner…

171. The view from the Acropolis.
172. The way to Santa Fe.
173. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
174. Where to eat in Brooklyn.
175. Half as much as a London cabbie.
176. The Nolli Plan.
177. The Cerdà Plan.
178. The Haussmann Plan.
179. Slope analysis.
180. Darkroom procedures and Photoshop…

220.  The acoustic performance of Boston Symphony Hall.
221.  How to open the window.
222.  The diameter of the earth.
223.  The number of gallons of water used in a shower.
224.  The distance at which you can recognize faces.
225.  How and when to bribe public officials (for the greater good).
226.  Concrete finishes.
227.  Brick bonds.
228.  The Housing Question by Friedrich Engels.
229.  The prismatic charms of Greek island towns.
230.  The energy potential of the wind…

Short excerpts from Michael Sorkin‘s “Two Hundred Fifty Things an Architect Should Know“… indeed, two hundred fifty things most of us should know…

Sorkin was, as the New York Times observed, “one of architecture’s most outspoken public intellectuals, a polymath whose prodigious output of essays, lectures and designs, all promoting social justice, established him as the political conscience in the field.”  He died a week ago of coronavirus infection.

The whole list (from Sorkin’s 2018 book What Goes Up) is here.

[Image above, source]

* Michael Sorkin

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As we practice practice, we might send enlightening birthday greetings to Charlemagne; he was born on this date in 748.  A ruler who united the majority of western and central Europe (first as King of the Franks, then also King of the Lombards, finally adding Emperor of the Romans), he was the first recognized emperor to rule from western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier; the expanded Frankish state that he founded is called the Carolingian Empire.

In 789, he began the establishment of schools teaching the elements of mathematics, grammar, music, and ecclesiastic subjects; every monastery and abbey in his realm was expected to have a school for the education of the boys of the surrounding villages.  The tradition of learning he initiated helped fuel the expansion of medieval scholarship in the 12th-century Renaissance.

portrait-of-charlemagne source

 

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”*…

 

selectric

Selectric I Typewriter, 1961 aluminum, steel, molded plastic.

 

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s diverse collection, spanning thirty centuries of historic and contemporary design, includes the world’s coolest office, a large snail shell, snakes, a dragon and four bearded men, a cone propped up on a bench, a pair of colorful hands, a mysterious tv and a perpetual calendar.

The selection above is from the Digital Collection, which one can browse in full here… or just dive into the collection in full.

* Frequently attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, but likely first used by Clare Boothe Luce in her 1931 novel Stuffed Shirts

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As we let form follow function, we might recall that it was on this date in 1875 that the first “weather map” ran in a newspaper (The Times, London).  It was the creation of polymath Sir Francis Galton, an explorer and anthropologist who was also a statistician and meteorologist.

The map was not a forecast, but a representation of the conditions of the previous day. This is known as a synoptic chart, meaning that it shows a summary of the weather situation. Readers could make their own predictions based on the information it provided.

Galton’s chart differs from the modern version only in minor details. It shows the temperature for each region, with dotted lines marking the boundaries of areas of different barometric pressures. It also describes the state of the sky in each land region, with terms such as “dull” or “cloud,” or the sea condition – “smooth” or “slight swell”… [source]

weather source

 

 

 

Written by LW

April 1, 2020 at 1:01 am

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