Spirals

spring rollIt is Winter now, but Spring is right around the corner. Looking back at this picture of a tulip, unfurling from the ground in front of my house a few Aprils ago, got me thinking about spirals.

Many living things, both plants and animals, share this form in their growth patterns. Haeckel_Ammonitida

This plate from Art Forms of Nature  by German biologist Ernst Haeckel shows examples of ancient Ammonitida shells. I marvel at their complexity and perfection.

No less amazing is M74, the Perfect Spiral Galaxy, a spectacular example of a “grand design spiral galaxy.”

m74_baixauli_900

Fibonacci numbers describe these spiral phenomena mathematically.

Fibonacci_spiral_34.svg

There are many works of architecture based on the spiral, from whole buildings to details, to spiral staircases.

There is a special spiral staircase in Baker Hall, at my alma mater, Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), built with nothing but layered thin Terra-cotta tiles, as a variation of timbrel vault type of construction.

2012_11_12_images_10_guastavini

It supports itself without a steel armature, posts or beams.  The sinuous gentle curve is gorgeous. The a herringbone tile pattern along the curved underside is one of three layers of tile adhered together with fast-setting mortar.  The resulting laminated shell is almost as strong as reinforced concrete.

It was built by the company of a Spanish master builder, Rafael Guastavino, who excelled at designing and building timbrel arches, vaults, and spiral stairs. Guastavino structures, unlike Roman arches and vaults, don’t require heavy wooden supports (centering) during their construction. “The Guastavino craftsmen could start at the four walls of a room and build toward the center. The masons could stand on a ladder or a platform, but they didn’t have to build a wooden frame to support their structure while it was being built—it almost seems miraculous…We have a difficult time today calculating the geometries of (this) structure. I have students here at MIT doing doctoral research, trying to understand how these structures stand up. We can’t build this staircase today.””

The above quote is from MIT structures Professor John Ochsendorf in “Vaulting Ambition,” by Craig Lambert, in Humanities Magazine, a great article that explores the Guastavino’s history, work and influence.

There is an upcoming exhibit in the National Building Museum, called Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces, which will be on view from March 16, 2013 to January 20, 2014. I hope to get a chance to see it.

The first photo is mine; the second photo is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; the third photo is courtesy of NASA; the fourth photo is courtesy of Wikipedia; and the fifth photo is courtesy of Michael Freeman.

Feel free to share the content of this blog, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.

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Spirals

spring rollSpring is beginning to happen. This tulip, unfurling from the ground in front of my house, got me thinking about spirals.

Many living things, both plants and animals, share this form in their growth patterns. Haeckel_Ammonitida

This plate from Art Forms of Nature  by German biologist Ernst Haeckel shows examples of ancient Ammonitida shells. I marvel at their complexity and perfection.

No less amazing is M74, the Perfect Spiral Galaxy, a spectacular example of a “grand design spiral galaxy.”

m74_baixauli_900

Fibonacci numbers describe these spiral phenomena mathematically.

Fibonacci_spiral_34.svg

There are many works of architecture based on the spiral, from whole buildings to details, to spiral staircases.

There is a special spiral staircase in Baker Hall, at my alma mater, Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), built with nothing but layered thin Terra-cotta tiles, as a variation of timbrel vault type of construction.

2012_11_12_images_10_guastavini

It supports itself without a steel armature, posts or beams.  The sinuous gentle curve is gorgeous. The a herringbone tile pattern along the curved underside is one of three layers of tile adhered together with fast-setting mortar.  The resulting laminated shell is almost as strong as reinforced concrete.

It was built by the company of a Spanish master builder, Rafael Guastavino, who excelled at designing and building timbrel arches, vaults, and spiral stairs. Guastavino structures, unlike Roman arches and vaults, don’t require heavy wooden supports (centering) during their construction. “The Guastavino craftsmen could start at the four walls of a room and build toward the center. The masons could stand on a ladder or a platform, but they didn’t have to build a wooden frame to support their structure while it was being built—it almost seems miraculous…We have a difficult time today calculating the geometries of (this) structure. I have students here at MIT doing doctoral research, trying to understand how these structures stand up. We can’t build this staircase today.””

The above quote is from MIT structures Professor John Ochsendorf in “Vaulting Ambition,” by Craig Lambert, in Humanities Magazine, a great article that explores the Guastavino’s history, work and influence.

There is an upcoming exhibit in the National Building Museum, called Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces, which will be on view from March 16, 2013 to January 20, 2014. I hope to get a chance to see it.

The first photo is mine; the second photo is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; the third photo is courtesy of NASA; the fourth photo is courtesy of Wikipedia; and the fifth photo is courtesy of Michael Freeman.

Feel free to share the content of this blog, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.

Reverse Glass Painting

 grandpas sampler 1

This Art Deco painting was made in the 1920’s as a gift for my grandfather by his older brother Jacob, a sign painter in New York.  Within the 6”x 8” frame are featured 6 painted marble examples, 8 painted wood varieties, gold and silver leaf, and a miniature picture of their long-gone home of origin, in what is now western Ukraine.  The initials are those of my grandfather, Abraham Warshaw.

The technique of reverse glass painting is an Old World skill.  Unlike the sequence of ordinary painting, fine details go on first, followed by the background. Colors and details remain vivid, protected by the glass.

Sign painters of that time were, on occasion, called upon to produce faux finishes and other trompe l’oeil effects.

The skill and care that went into the creation of this object make it a family treasure.

This photo is courtesy of me.

Feel free to share the content of this blog, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.

Touch Points

There are a few places in a house where your hand frequently touches the architecture, and they deserve special attention. These custom-made cabinet handles by Seattle woodworker David M. Fen enhance the experience of use through carefully detailed visual and tactile qualities. I think of them as house jewelry.

Sometimes, a handle incorporates multiple wood species.  Some are  wrapped, and/or carved. The knob, at bottom of posting, includes a carved black onyx disk.

Fen says, “My work is inspired by the common-sense practicality of the West, the haiku simplicity of the East and the bold vigor of indigenous craft.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upper left image belongs to Laura Kraft-Architect. All others courtesy of David Fen Fine Woodworking.  Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil. Thanks.

Let Color Happen

My clients, Ed and Laurel were adamant: they wanted their house to have lot of color and as much handcraft as they could afford. They are great fans of the work of the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. They love the ad hoc nature of his tile installations where the workers, collaborating with Gaudi, made the mosaics come to life.

mosaic walls at Barcelona’s Parc Güell

Clearly, and excitingly, some elements of this work could not have been planned. They grew out of the process.

The social and economic conditions that made Gaudi’s work possible don’t exist here and now. And yet, within constraints of a modest budget and a remote rural location, my design directive from Ed and Laurel was, “Capture something of the spirit of Gaudi. Let color happen.”

This is the flooring in one room of Ed and Laurel’s house. Each room has its own color “personality.” For each room and the front foyer, four colors of standard vinyl tile were selected, and then cut (in the shop) on a diagonal. They were then installed in pattern that is random, except that no color may abut itself, so it’s “almost random.”

A conceptual floor plan sketch shows an early version of the color layout. The foyer has soothing water colors of blue, purple and green.

transition from Foyer to Multi-Purpose Room

Transition from Foyer to Kitchen

Ed and Laurel are happy with their house.

contented basking lizard at Parc Güell

First image courtesy of Bing Images, second image courtesy of traveladventures.org, last image courtesy of entertainmentdesigner.com.

All other images belong to Laura Kraft-Architect. Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil. Thanks.