SAH Blog

  • Missing Decades, Hidden Labor: Reconstructing and Interpreting Industrial Heritage in South Africa

    by User Not Found | Sep 06, 2018

    There is nothing magical about a gold mine. Barren and pockmarked, all dirt and no trees, fenced in all sides, a gold mine resembles a war-torn battlefield. The noise was harsh and ubiquitous: the rasp of shaft-lifts, the jangling power drills, the distant rumble of dynamite, the barked orders. Everywhere I looked I saw black men in dusty overalls looking tired and bent. They lived on the grounds in bleak, single-sex barracks that contained hundreds of concrete bunks separated from each other by only a few inches. (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Chapter 9)

    Standing in Pretoria’s Church Square a few weeks back, the sounds and sights of urban construction were omnipresent. Dozens of workers hefted shovels and axes under the midday sun as part of a new public work, stripping the existing surface of the square in preparation for a larger renovation. As I paused to snap a few photos of the statue of Dutch Boer president Paul Kruger at the square’s center, I heard laughter as a voice from behind me called out “You should take our picture — we are the real heroes!” A construction worker and his crew reclined nearby, having sought out the scant shade available to enjoy lunch and a much-deserved break. He said I wouldn’t be able to pronounce his Zulu name, but in English his name means “Praise God.” We talked politics (he’s a big Trevor Noah fan) and swapped stories about the places we grew up. He spoke incisively of the rampant corruption and unemployment in South Africa, which by current calculations hovers around 25%.1 Though he dreams of better pay and more fulfilling employment, in this economic climate, construction work is at the very least a job. As we parted ways, my husband asked how the future looked for him. Praise God shrugged and said, “It’s survival, my man. We just try to survive.”


    Praise God (front center) with his colleagues. This photo by my husband, John Golden.

    Standing there in the literal and proverbial shadow of Kruger, amidst the rubble and noise of new construction, I thought about how the historical spaces and places of South Africa continue to reverberate in the country’s tumultuous present. Especially here, in this place where the built environment was being actively remade, the rapid reinvention of South Africa over the last 150 years felt palpably present. This is after all, a young country, forged from the systematic and industrialized extraction of gold and diamonds, rising now from the rubble of one of the greatest human rights violations in recent history.2 In my capacity as the 2017 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow, I’ll be spending the next year exploring the life and afterlife of industrial heritage sites across the globe—how they are being interpreted for public audiences, adaptively reused, left to decay in place, or razed and forcibly forgotten.

    A rare public recognition of the economic role of mining labor during the Industrial Age. Sculpture by Andile Msongelwa, May 7, 2013. The inscription on the back reads: “During the 2007 wage negotiations, the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), UASA - The Union and solidarity agreed to recognize the role played by mineworkers in developing the economy of South Africa. This monument represents the symbolic and historical role played by mineworkers in shaping the economies of the mining towns and labour sending areas in particular and that of South Africa in general. We salute these economic heroes who risked their lives to make Johannesburg one of the most economically vibrant cities on the continent. We value their contribution to the economy and will strive for quality education for our children and the development of skills of mine workers to enable them to play their rightful role in the continued economic development of mining communities, labour sending areas and of the country as a whole.”

    As heritage sites, industrial places from the nineteenth century onward occupy a strange and tenuous place within current practices of global public history. Early spaces of industrialization are key to understanding the concept of the “Anthropocene,” the now ubiquitous trans-disciplinary term for the geological age in which humans have dramatically and irreversibly altered the structure and climate of our planet. These sites, which in addition to rarely conforming to standard conceptions of aesthetic appeal, are frequently characterized by historical practices of labor exploitation and environmental pollution. Often existing at massive scale, they can be difficult to adaptively reuse. Many have left their sites and surroundings damaged, both environmentally and socially.3

    The first stop on my itinerary is South Africa, where I’ve spent the past six weeks exploring the urban center of Johannesburg, before roadtripping from the mountainous Highveld region of Mpumalanga in the northeast, across the rugged central plateau, down the lush corridor of the Garden Route, and finally to Cape Town. During that time, I visited many sites of industrial production (mines, factories, ports, wineries), and the buildings constructed on the wealth generated and accumulated from those sites (company towns, museums, manor houses, hospitals, clubs, etc.).

    Across all of these different sites, rural or urban, hundreds of meters below ground or at the top the tallest building in Africa, I have been struck by the extent to which the architectural histories of industrialization and apartheid are inexorably linked. However, how (and even if) current public interpretation acknowledges that connection has varied significantly across the sites on my itinerary. As I’ve witnessed in South Africa, public history-making reveals a great deal about how a country conceptualizes of itself—its aspirations and self-perception are deeply embedded in how the past is being presented to public audiences, local and tourist alike.

    In selecting sites for my fellowship travels, I relied heavily on the UNESCO World Heritage list, as well as the list of tentative sites maintained by UNESCO that are intended for current or future nominations. South Africa currently includes no industrial sites on its tentative list, which struck me as strange, since the mining industry has had an outsized impact on the economic development, urban planning, and built environment of the country over the last century and a half. However, the absence of industrial sites on the list is, in fact, a relatively recent development. In 2015, South Africa dramatically reconfigured the cultural sites included on its tentative list, removing several significant and endangered industrial heritage sites, including the mining town of Pilgrim’s Rest, the open mine at Kimberley and its associated historic structures, and the Namaqualand Copper Mining landscape.4 The justification for the change is not entirely clear, though those in the heritage business here have speculated a number of different reasons, including the desire to conserve resources and target sites with the most chance of achieving World Heritage status.5

    The mining town of Pilgrim’s Rest is one of the sites de-listed from UNESCO tentative list. Today, the dwindling tourist economy seems to be barely supporting the town.

    Only two modern cultural heritage sites survived the 2015 cuts: the Early Farmsteads of the Cape Winelands and the Liberation Heritage Route. A third was also added during the reorganization, which partially overlaps with the latter listing: Human Rights Liberation Struggle and Reconciliation: Nelson Mandela Legacy Sites.6 Based on my observations over the last month, this current list reflects South Africa’s preservation priorities, each of which connect to certain kinds of buildings and historical sites. The first of these paradigms is anchored firmly in the colonial pre-industrial past, and is still largely dominated by the stories and places of white colonists and settlers, mainly of Dutch Boer or British descent. The second centers on the young democracy’s ongoing attempt to grapple with the recent, and still very raw, memory of apartheid. Sites that fall into one of these two categories are virtually inescapable in the touristic landscape of South Africa.

    Like an archaeologist peeling back stratigraphic layers of European architectural influence, my road trip across South Africa has taken me progressively deeper into the built remains of the past. The International Style office buildings in downtown Jo’burg and apartheid-era township housing of Soweto gave way to the late Victorian corrugated tin of mining towns in the Mpumalanga Province, then to rusticated brownstones in the Northern Cape, and eventually to the white-washed gables of Cape Dutch manor houses in the agricultural lands of the Western Cape.

    Driving west from Wilderness to Franschhoek a few weeks back, my husband and I stopped for an afternoon break in Swellendam. By this point in our drive, much of the historic building stock was firmly late seventeenth- or eighteenth-century, dating to the late days of the Dutch East India Company. This is the architectural heritage that has been carefully preserved at Swellendam’s Old Drostdy Museum, an impressive complex of historic and new buildings meant to evoke life in the late 1700s under Dutch colonial rule. Here, the second oldest jail in South Africa opens out onto a courtyard (or Ambagswerf in Afrikaans) of recently constructed thatched buildings, each housing the trappings of a different trade, such as tanning, milling, cobbling, and barrel making. Across the street, the Drostdy (or magistrate’s house) stands as an exemplar of early Cape Dutch architecture. In addition to reconstructed period rooms, one hallway charts the development of the Cape Dutch vernacular through the various expansions and changes made to the manor over time. Mayville, another, smaller house from the mid-nineteenth century illustrates the changing lifestyle of Swellendam’s middle class.7



    Cape Dutch heritage at the Old Drostdy Museum in Swellendam, South Africa. While the prison and the Drostdy (or magistrate’s house) both date to approximately 1750, the mill is a modern recreation that is part of the Ambagswerf, or trade yard, meant to demonstrate a variety of pre-industrial occupations.

    Old Drostdy is typical in many ways of the architectural heritage that has survived through apartheid and continues to flourish under South Africa’s democratic government. When apartheid ended in 1994 and Nelson Mandela became the country’s first democratically elected leader, the new government took stock of what had constituted heritage under the previous regime. What they found was a strong bias towards sites that emphasized the role of white, colonial actors.8 In particular, many national monuments declared under the National Party’s apartheid government were colonial sites located in the Western Cape, the province that includes Cape Town. By prioritizing early Dutch manor houses on historic farms and vineyards above other kinds of buildings, the National Party sought to legitimize its claim to power through association with this particular architectural tradition. So while heritage conservation in South Africa has broadened to include more diverse buildings and landscapes since 1994, it is undeniable that many of the sites valued by the apartheid regime have been well cared-for and remain in excellent condition today. The public history challenge for these sites has been to reframe the stories and meanings of these places in light of post-apartheid attempts to decolonize history, giving voice to non-white actors and telling a more inclusive range of stories. Places like the great Dutch colonial farms must confront the ways in which, as landscapes of power, they perpetuated the systematic disenfranchisement of non-white people, either overtly through the institution of slavery, or through more insidious means, such as the establishment of pass laws or other legislation meant to restrict freedom of movement.

    Many of the historic Cape Dutch sites such as Old Drostdy use the methods and strategies of vernacular architecture in a public history setting. Diachronic explorations of changing floor plans such as this are common in Cape Dutch manor houses. Equivalent analysis is rarely found at industrial sites.

    At many of the colonial sites on my South African itinerary, the move towards restorative justice through public storytelling seems to be happening slowly and incrementally. In the former stables of the magistrate’s house at Old Drostdy, a small installation about slavery sits next to the historical carriage and saddles. And in the main house, one of the rooms has been set aside for a short exhibition about the life of Nelson Mandela. Indeed, the inclusion of what might be termed a “Mandela room” has been undoubtedly the most frequent intervention towards telling the story of apartheid and the freedom struggle. This is true of almost all historic sites I’ve visited, including those with little to no historical connection to Mandela.


    At the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, one of the featured exhibitions highlights Mandela’s connections to the Northern Cape Province. Designed by D.W. Greatbatch, and completed in 1897, the McGregor Museum began its life as the brainchild of Cecil Rhodes, infamous British colonialist, diamond magnate, and instigator of the Anglo-Boer War. Having made his fortune in the diamond mines of Kimberley, Rhodes funneled much of his wealth into the architectural betterment of the city, including this building, which he imagined as a sanitarium. The “sanitarium” quickly became a hotel, and later served as Rhodes’s hideout through the Siege of Kimberley during the Anglo-Boer War. The ballroom, the best-lit and most prominent exhibition space in the museum, is now occupied by the Mandela material.

    Mandela, as a figure who is universally revered in South Africa, in public history settings has become a less controversial or objectionable way of acknowledging the apartheid past. If my experiences at Robben Island (where Mandela was held for 18 years during his prison sentence) or at his home in the township of Soweto are any indication, Mandela tourism is a big draw for both international and domestic audiences. The Mandela sites seem to be so attractive and effective in part because they give a face to the apartheid story. If we consider the spaces of apartheid as those meant to dehumanize through containment, surveillance, incarceration, and de-personalization, Mandela provides an entry point into that larger landscape. Consider Soweto (short for Southwestern Townships), a sprawling conurbation that today houses some 1.2 million people and during the 1970s and 1980s was a hotbed of resistance to apartheid. The environment of Soweto is one of seemingly endless houses constructed in succeeding waves as black Africans were displaced and relocated from their homes in and around Johannesburg. The scope of Soweto is staggering, but many visitors seem to find the connection to Mandela’s story a way of grasping Soweto. Sadly, the areas directly adjacent to the Mandela house (a block that also includes Desmond Tutu’s home) have been architecturally and economically transformed to suit the demands of tourism. As my husband put it, this area felt like “Disneyland Soweto,” sanitized for mass tourist consumption. Fortunately the same cannot be said for Robben Island. This inscribed UNESCO site has retained the full force of its austerity since its conversion from prison to historical site. The only material difference between Mandela’s cell in B-Block and the rest of the cells on the long corridor is the addition of a standard-issue red bucket, of the kind prisoners would have used as toilets.



    The photo of the roadside stand, taken by John Golden, is from an area of Soweto that was a men’s hostel (basically a fenced compound for workers) during apartheid. Note that you can buy a fat cake (fried dough) for 1 Rand, or about 7 cents US. The video, also by John Golden, shows a more developed portion of Soweto, comprised of houses built in the 1970s. Both are extremely different urban conditions from the area shown in the third photo, which depicts the streets around the Mandela and Desmond Tutu houses. Here, many of the houses have been upgraded over time, the roads are well-maintained, and space has been made for tour bus parking.

    If Mandela/Freedom Struggle sites and Cape Dutch architecture are the two major cornerstones of preservation right now—representing a pre-industrial colonial vision of the country, and the troubled time during and after apartheid—this still presents a narrow and incomplete reckoning of South Africa’s architectural heritage.9 What has been left out is the period between the beginning of mining consolidation and the official start of apartheid, between roughly 1890 and 1948. Critical for understanding what would come afterwards, it was during this period that much of the groundwork of apartheid was laid. Apartheid, as a spatial strategy of separation, was in large part made possible by the existing reconfiguration of the economic and built landscape of South Africa that accompanied industrialization. Many of these tactics had been first pioneered under slavery, but were radically accelerated and expanded during the early twentieth century, creating mass-produced spaces of racial segregation that mirrored the logic of industrial resource extraction and the manufacture of consumer goods.

    This critical epoch in South Africa’s history is notably absent even at actual industrial heritage sites with intact buildings and material culture dating from this period (including those removed from the UNESCO tentative list in 2015). The Kimberley Mine Museum and historic village, a DeBeers-funded spectacular complete with tiny, intricate dioramas of the historic mine and a flashy, outrageous “diamond room,”10 seems to pointedly sidestep the period after the mine’s consolidation. Compared to many similar historical sites in South Africa, which are sadly understaffed and underfunded, the Kimberley complex is a festival of high-production-value multi-media installations. But underneath all of that flash, the museum ultimately emphasizes a relatively narrow story—one that ends precisely before the initiation of industrialized mining.

    In many ways, Kimberley was the site that triggered the “Mineral Revolution” of South Africa. After the discovery of diamonds in 1866 sparked the first major diamond rush in the region, Kimberley generated much of the wealth and capital that then fed future mining exploits in and around Johannesburg and further east towards Cullinan, Pilgrim’s Rest, and Barberton. The diamond and gold mining boom fundamentally altered the political and economic landscape of the region, triggering the accumulation of wealth into the hands of a few, and the aggregation of people and culture in new urban metropolises such as Pretoria and Johannesburg.



    Kimberley was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric street lighting, some of which has been preserved as part of the historical complex near the Big Hole. It also featured an early electric streetcar system, which for 10 Rand (about 75 cents), visitors can still ride. The most exhilarating part of the trip was when the streetcar unexpectedly departed the historical village and continued out onto modern roadways outside the complex. Given that the streetcar only runs when there are enough passengers to fill it, its appearance on the streets of Kimberley must not be terribly frequent, which would explain the surprise and confusion of pedestrians and drivers we encountered.

    At Kimberley, the initial mining process was one of individual claim owners mining small tracts of land, often no more than 4 x 4 meters. Miners dug these claims with hand tools and the assistance of inexpensively hired indigenous workers. However, once the holes became too deep to be profitably mined by hand, and makeshift scaffolding began to cause insurmountable safety problems, more machinery and organized labor were required to construct underground tunnels. The requirement of more industrialized means of extraction necessitated the consolidation of the mining industry. At Kimberley, the DeBeers company eventually amassed a monopoly and took complete control of the mine. In Johannesburg, where early surface-level mining quickly gave way to heavily engineered deep mining, the diamond magnates of Kimberley bankrolled the digging of gold mines, and further enriched themselves in the process.



    Some of the more subtle and effective interpretive devices at Kimberley were the painted “claims” that covered the floor of the main exhibition hall. It was helpful to actually experience these claims at scale, which, given the size of the Big Hole, gave some sense of just how many miners might have been working in the early days of the mine. The subsequent dioramas show the contrast between the early decades of opencast mining, where miners maintained individual claims and constructed scaffolding as the mine went deeper, versus the capital- and machinery-intensive underground mining process of the consolidated DeBeers company.

    The interpretive apparatus of the Kimberley Mine Museum places an overwhelming emphasis on the period before the consolidation of DeBeers. The twenty-minute movie that is at the heart of the visitor experience tells the story of a British journalist and a native African laborer who separately travel to Kimberley to seek their fortunes. With its raucous saloons, diamond markets, and brothels, the cinematic portrayal of early Kimberley recalls popular conceptions of the American Old West. The film concludes with the two protagonists disenchanted and abandoning the mine in the late 1880s. This tendency to romanticize the rough-and-tumble scrabble for gold in the mine’s early years is carried on throughout the museum, where the exhibits play up the “heroic” actions of early diamond magnates, the geological processes through which diamonds are created, global myths and traditions about diamonds, and the present-day manufacturing of diamond jewelry. The life and experiences of workers in the mines during the period from roughly 1890 to the mine’s shutdown in 1914 are peripheral at best. Any discussion of the function and operation of the modern DeBeers corporation is markedly absent.


    Consolidated mining companies such as DeBeers frequently owned company towns and exerted extreme control over the built environment of their workers. Under the justification of “preventing diamond theft,” black African workers were increasingly restricted to tightly controlled compounds characterized by overcrowding, inadequate sanitation, and insufficient food. Workers were subjected to invasive strip searches each day when moving between mine and compound. During the early twentieth century, the compound system rapidly spread to other industries, becoming in many ways the precursor of the townships and hostels that predominated during apartheid. Compounds were planned on strict geometries, which enabled maximum surveillance and control. Different tribal groups were not allowed any contact, a move that mine owners typically justified as “preventing ethnic strife,” but which, in actuality, helped prevent the organization of labor across tribal lines.11


    Although most major industrial sites in South Africa had associated worker compounds at some point in history, few of these sites have survived, and even fewer are accessible to the public. One exception is the fantastic Worker’s Museum in Johannesburg. This museum, which unfortunately did not allow photographs, very convincingly argues that the struggle of apartheid was largely synonymous with the struggle for organized labor. Housed in a 1913 compound that was home to the workers at Johannesburg’s electric utilities company, the museum’s main “artifact” is the historic built environment itself, which is effectively cast as a microcosm of the larger demographic and cultural shifts that accompanied urbanization and industrialization in South Africa.

    Situated in the heart of Newtown in Johannesburg, the Workers Museum is further distinguished by its location near the original worksite of the laborers—the electric utilities building across the street. The former turbine building is one of South Africa’s outstanding examples of industrial architecture adaptively reused, and a topic for a future blog post.

    The workers who lived in compounds like this one came not only from the local area, but migrated from other parts of South Africa in search of better work and opportunities. Many of the rural hardships experienced in the late 1800s and early 1900s were strategically manufactured to “encourage” (read: coerce) rural men to leave their families and seek work in urban areas. Artificially high “hut taxes” and other forms of exploitation made village living so difficult that many men had no choice but to try their chances in a job where they would be forced to live in a compound for nine months out of the year. Reproductions of letters of complaint written by compound residents testify to the harsh conditions of daily life, as do the buildings themselves. The main exhibition space at the museum is one of the dormitories where black workers lived in crowded, filthy conditions—a stark constrast to the separate houses where their white counterparts resided in the very same compound. Recreational spaces for the black workers were incidental rather than part of the design (the yard could also be used for chatting, games, or the “gumboot” dancing developed by miners as a pastime). By contrast, disciplinary spaces occupied an outsize position in the complex, with corporal punishment carried out in the central courtyard as a warning to other workers. However, as much as compounds confined and restricted movement, they were also sites of resistance and frequently fertile ground for organized labor movements. The Worker’s Museum charts the development of union action through the twentieth century, crediting organized labor with some of the most effective actions taken against the National Party’s apartheid regime.12 Given the role of organized labor in the freedom movement, it is not surprising that South Africa’s constitution now guarantees the right of workers to unionize.



    The week after my visit to the Workers Museum, I spent several hours 763 meters underground in the Premier Diamond Mine, an operational mine located in Cullinan, about an hour northeast of Johannesburg. After resurfacing, I attempted to track down the mine’s historical worker compound. Before the mine tour, I’d spent the morning wandering around Cullinan’s Main Street, which is comprised of quaint, stone houses converted into shops and cafés (previously occupied by white miners and managers). It’s very easy to buy a diamond in Cullinan, or to see a recreation of the Cullinan Diamond, which is now part of the British Crown Jewels. And a visitor can view virtually any piece of historical mining equipment, thanks to the free open-air museum and children’s play area (“You climb on the machinery at your own risk!”). However, as far as I could discern, visiting the worker’s compound is currently impossible for a tourist. A panel about the worker’s compound in the small mining museum played up the “upgrades” made to the compound over time, which provided the workers with more recreational options over the years. The museum did not, however, include any indication of where the compound was located on the site or whether it was open to the public. Using what little information I could find online to locate the old worker’s compound, we drove out on a dirt road until we were eventually confronted with a concrete barricade and a barbed wire fence. A report on the Heritage Portal concerning South Africa’s most endangered heritage sites noted that the Cullinan compound is currently in danger of subsiding into the open mine pit, irreparably damaging this complex, and with it, severing the architectural connection to the stories of thousands of workers over the course of the twentieth century.13 Although apartheid officially ended in 1994, its aftereffects certainly echo in places such as Cullinan, revealing the disparities in whose history is being preserved and made accessible to public audiences, and whose history is hidden behind a barricade and left to the forces of time and gravity.



    Part of the challenge I’ve faced in this first six weeks of travel has been to develop a working method for decoding richly-layered and complicated public history experiences like those at Cullinan, Kimberley, and the Worker’s Museum. The public storytelling component of my project has added a “meta” layer to what I’m looking at in any given site; not only am I investigating the historical architecture itself, but also analyzing all of the other narrative devices and aspects of that architectural experience. As part of my documentation process, for instance, I’ve been creating audio recordings of the various places I’ve visited. This process has heightened my awareness of how auditory cues are deployed to evoke certain experiences, and the ways in which that sensory input alters the visual and bodily experience of moving through a historical space. Particularly interesting have been the instances (such as the one heard in the sound clip below) where certain media or devices are telling one story, while another story is being told by the lived experience of the site. This will be a topic to which I will be undoubtedly returning in future blogs.

    In contrast to the vision of pre-industrial Kimberley given by the main exhibition hall, movie, and open-air historical village, the audio installation included in a small mock-up of the underground mine tells a different story. In this sound installation, which includes a dramatic simulated dynamite explosion near the beginning, the industrial process of underground mining (of the type that happened from the late 1880s through 1914) is vividly brought to life. The intensity and volume of the sound gave some slight indication of the poor working conditions faced by underground miners, foreshadowing Mandela’s description in the epigraph of this post of a cacophonous 1940s gold mine in Johannesburg.

    On my second day in Kimberley, having toured the Mine Museum and seen the famous Big Hole, I arrived at the Africana Library, which advertises one of the best collections of historical photographs and records in the Northern Cape. This beautifully-preserved 1887 building originally functioned as Kimberley’s first public library, its collection assembled largely out of donated books brought to Kimberley by those who had come to seek their fortunes in the mine. Our tour guide, Michael, also serves as an assistant librarian and archivist. A longtime resident of Kimberley, all of his training has been in-house, conducted on an as-needed basis. Faced with a harsh, arid climate and limited resources, the library has been forced to triage the preservation of its collection, digitizing the oldest and most fragile works before they disintegrate. Michael glowed with pride as he described the recent purchases made possible by a grant from the National Lottery: a new book scanner and a climate control system for one of the rooms in the stacks. Despite his white-collar job, Michael wore the ubiquitous blue jumpsuit with green neon reflective stripes donned by so many workers in South Africa. His garb brought me back to my conversation with Praise God, whose crew wore the same attire. Beyond providing a decent living, heritage work was clearly providing Michael with a means of engaging with the past and future. Further, jobs like Michael’s promote greater inclusion in the production of public history, expanding who has a true stake in the creation and performance of heritage. In South Africa, it’s not nearly enough to increase public access to historic properties, or to simply include more and varied sites on the UNESCO tentative list (though these things are certainly important as well). More people need to feel like stakeholders in heritage; included in the ongoing and still troubled process of reconciliation. Facing a lack of funding and pernicious government corruption, it’s unclear how the country will execute such a feat.



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    1. Trading Economics, “South Africa Unemployment Rate.” Last updated July 31, 2018. Accessed August 29, 2018. ↩︎
    2. Johannesburg, which is now one of the leading urban, economic powerhouses of Africa, is less than 150 years old. It has the distinction of being a city whose history coincides with the age of photography, and has been extensively documented in the photographic medium. For more on the early architectural history of Johannesburg, see Gerhard-Mark van der Waal, From Mining Camp to Metropolis: The Buildings of Johannesburg, 1886-1940, Pretoria: C. van Rensburg Publications for the Human Sciences Research Council, 1987. ↩︎
    3. For more on the motivations and goals of my Brooks Fellowship project, you can listen to the pilot podcast of Sundowners (, or read the transcript at ↩︎
    4. For more about the 2015 UNESCO de-listing, and its possible consequences on the ground for these endangered industrial sites, visit my two-part blog on Pilgrim’s Rest. and ↩︎
    5. Jacques Stoltz, “SA removes sites from the UNESCO world heritage tentative list,” The Heritage Portal, October 25, 2015; originally published July 24, 2015. Accessed August 19, 2018. ↩︎
    6. UNESCO World Heritage Listing of inscribed and tentative sites in South Africa. Accessed August 29, 2018. ↩︎
    7. The Old Drostdy Museum in Swellendam. Accessed August 29, 2018. ↩︎
    8. According to a “Report on Future Direction for Heritage Conservation in South Africa.” South African government document, October 1994. Architectural archives at the University of Witswatersrand. ↩︎
    9. Preservation activists are actively addressing the ways in which heritage in South Africa neglects or ignores certain kinds of narratives and agents. As the summary of a 2006 conference on the state of the country’s heritage preservation noted, “State-led commemorations of nationalist achievements and struggle histories have been highly selective, liable to elevate ruling party histories and heroes over others, often ignoring unions, youth or women, and dealing with violence selectively or not at all.“ In other words, even though heritage sites related to the Freedom Struggle and apartheid expand public understanding beyond the kinds of colonial, Eurocentric sites privileged in earlier eras, they too come packaged with their own set of biases and assumptions. JoAnn McGregor and Lyn Schumacher, “Heritage in Southern Africa: Imagining and Marketing Public Culture and History,” Journal of Southern African Studies 32, no. 4 (December 2006): 655. ↩︎
    10. ↩︎
    11. Nelson Mandela explains the organization of the compounds by tribes this way: “The mining companies preferred such segregation because it prevented different ethnic groups from uniting around a common grievance and reinforced the power of the chiefs” (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Chapter 9). By contrast, signage at Kimberley gives an explanation of the compound system that does not explicitly mention race: “Throughout the 1870s, theft and illicit diamond buying (IDB) was a major concern among claim-holders. Stricter controls and searching systems were introduced, which paved the way for the closed compound system in 1885.” At Cullinan, the given explanation reads: “Due to internal fighting between the different ethnic groups the mine split the shifts along ethnic groups and accommodated them in compounds according to ethnic groups.” ↩︎
    12. ↩︎
    13. Heritage Monitoring Project. “Our vanishing heritage – South Africa’s top ten endangered sites 2016.” The Heritage Portal, September 22, 2016. Accessed August 19, 2018. ↩︎
  • What Has Architectural History Done About Recent Immigration Policies?

    by User Not Found | Jul 27, 2018

    Shortly after coming to power, United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order on January 27, 2017, that banned the entry of citizens from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Professional organizations for architectural historians, including the College Art Association (CAA) and the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) immediately released statements criticizing the ban, and many universities did the same declaring their commitment to the protection of immigrant and international students on their campuses. However, the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a slightly revised version of the ban on June 26, 2018, despite massive protest, and additional anti-immigration policies during the time in between, as well as the continuing decline of civil liberties around the world have strengthened the realization that fundamentals such as human rights, academic freedom, and nondiscrimination cannot be taken for granted.

    I would like to express my serious concern about the recent immigration policies, such as those known as the “Muslim ban” and “family separation” that restrict the entry and impair the livelihood of individuals from certain countries to and in the United States. As an academic worker of a university in the United States with a large number of international students and scholars, I am deeply disappointed because such decisions send a message to the world that this country is not a hospitable place for academic pursuits. A good percentage of my students and co-members of professional organizations come from countries outside of the United States and make invaluable contributions to the writing and teaching of architectural history.

    You may ask, with a sense of cynicism, what good is declaring the obvious, signing one more petition, or posting one more time on social media. Yet, this is precisely the mood that helps the status quo. If observing the fast decline of civil liberties and the governing system change in Turkey, my country of birth, is of any guidance here, I can say that one should not be too assured about the strength of former civil rights gains, or assume that long-standing institutions will always be able to protect basic democratic values. Moreover, I have come to realize that sometimes the obvious is not actually as prevalent as we think even in our own immediate surroundings, and that words are emptied out. This would be true for the assumed recognition of some of the previous critical work for civil right movements or architectural scholarship. For instance, if I had to write a vow for architectural historians as a symbolic gesture against the recent immigration policies, it would have read something like this: “We declare that we will be committed to the study of a connected world, global understanding of architecture, open exchange of ideas, religious and cultural difference, inclusive scholarly pursuits and open access to knowledge. As architectural historians, we will continue to conduct research on the work of and for immigrants, exiles, refugees, and foreign nationals. We are committed to advancing scholarship on architects from all countries who have contributed to the world of architecture. We will continue to critically expose architects’ involvement in past atrocities such as Japanese internment camps, German concentration camps, or slave markets. We call on all architects to refuse to be complacent with such practices today.” However, as I was imagining this vow would be quite commonsensical, memories rushed to my mind of the moments over the course of my becoming and working as an architectural historian when I was exposed to the trivialization and repudiation of scholars (including myself) who try to move in this direction by contributing to postcolonial theories, alternative modernities or intertwined histories.

    If silence and the dying out of critical speech are conditions that enable autocrats, atomization is another. There must be many more architects, historians and intellectuals out there than the ones I already know, who are working on architecture’s role and critical potential in anti-immigration and national superiority sentiments, but their lack of visibility is predicated on and perpetuates the very problem at hand. It is for this reason that in this post I do want to mention a few points about how my work tried to produce analytical lenses and vocabulary to contest discriminatory policies, but beyond that, I also would like to invite all readers to post their own work, sources of inspiration or frustrations. Atomization disables solidarity. Please do write so that we are not hidden from sight.

    Let me start, then. One premise behind sanctions such as the Muslim ban that categorize a vast number of individuals as potential threats based on their national citizenship is the assumption that their countries of origin are inherently different from and essentially in conflict with the United States. This premise is nothing but a continuation of the “clash of civilizations” theory, which was first coined by the Orientalist author Bernard Lewis, and popularized by Samuel Huntington and the conservative media. So much ink has been spilled to argue that the planet is divided into some isolated and self-contained civilizations. However, upon looking closely, architectural historians have found enough evidence to contest this claim. We can therefore contribute by developing the vocabulary and unearthing the examples of intertwined histories, so that we have the words and evidences to challenge the premises that make the Muslim ban popular. An additional irony of this ban is that most of these “other” countries have been recognized as “cradles of civilization” where architectural wonders of the world heritage once stood, such as the cities of Isfahan, Samarra or Shibam. By writing the architecturally relevant histories of buildings designed during the twentieth century, historians can also abolish the Orientalist assumption that the architecture culture stopped to evolve in these countries during the modern period. These were among my intentions in setting the theoretical framework in Architecture in Translation: Germany, Turkey and the Modern House (Duke, 2012), which offered a way understand the global movement of architecture, by tracing transportations between places and their transformations in new destinations. While contesting the clash of civilizations theory, the book was not meant to turn a blind eye to the imperial and nationalist attitudes that strengthened the claims to civilizational incommensurability on both sides of the ideological divide. Instead, it critically exposed the geopolitical hierarchies and nationalist anxieties, and showed evidences against irreconcilability, so that the clash theory does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It called for a new culture of translatability from below and in multiple directions for the sake of global justice and true cosmopolitical ethics that has long been rightly suggested as a prerequisite for perpetual peace.

    I have also come to think that the word "citizenship" should not be taken for granted or put on a pedestal as if its intellectual potentials have been accomplished. The vulnerability of noncitizens is exposed by sanctions such as the family separation and the Muslim ban, but this is not my entire point. Far from being subject to discrimination due to national laws, noncitizens are also only barely protected by international laws—a condition that exposes the insufficiencies of the current human rights regime. As we witness today the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, this condition has become even more apparent. For my recent book Open Architecture: Migration, Citizenship and the Urban Renewal of Berlin Kreuzberg (Birkhäuser, 2018), I conducted many oral histories with former refugees and guest workers. Listening to their stories while watching the recent global developments, I was often confronted with the fact that the forces that had shaped the experiences of one of the most discriminatory periods in history (covered in the book) are indeed continuing today. These not only include spatial aspects such as the condition of asylum camps and refugee dorms, and the lack of decent housing for the immigrants, or habitual practices such as state brutality and hostility toward migrants, but also structural challenges such as rightlessness of the stateless and crises of citizenship categories. Given the fact that the definition of human rights is preconditioned on being a citizen of a nation-state, Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben have already conceptualized the status of the refugee as the limit condition of modern international legal order. Ever since the declaration of rights with the people’s sovereignty revolutions in the late 18th century, the link between natural and civil rights, “man” and “citizen,” and birth and nationhood has continued to define human rights, making it impossible to have rights without citizenship. “The refugee must be considered for what he is: nothing less than a limit concept that radically calls into question the fundamental categories of the nation-state, from the birth-nation to the man-citizen link, and that thereby makes it possible to clear the way for a long overdue renewal of categories” (Agamben, p.134). As a matter of fact, the concept of citizenship has been in constant evolution for centuries, as the former slaves, women and colonial subjects gained citizen rights. It ought to remain changing as refugees and global migrants continue to remain rightless, and as sanctions such as the family separation and Muslim ban frequently throw the world into crisis. The stateless constantly reminds us of the “long overdue renewal of categories” and the deficiencies of a world divided into nations. For this reason, the ultimate openness in architecture is the hospitality toward the stateless.  

    Launching logo of the “Critically Now” series in the Department of Architecture at Cornell University. (Critically Now team: Esra Akcan, Luben Dimcheff, Jeremy Foster, George Hascup, Aleksandr Mergold, Caroline O’Donnell, Jenny Sabin, Sasa Zivkovic. Logo design by: Caroline O’Donnell)

    In my remaining space, let me make one more point—this time about teaching. Shortly after the declaration of the travel ban, I and seven other colleagues in the Architecture Department at Cornell University (Luben Dimcheff, Jeremy Foster, George Hascup, Aleksandr Mergold, Caroline O’Donnell, Jenny Sabin and Sasa Zivkovic) felt the urgent impulse to do something and launched the “Critically Now” series. Our series has been bringing together (at Cornell, but by inviting many outside speakers) open classes, exhibitions, colloquiums, movie screenings, publications, seminar and studio collaborations, that aim to respond to the current events such as the travel ban, immigration and statelessness, racialization, civil liberties, infrastructure projects, climate change, automation and employment, to name a few, by discussing architecture’s role and critical potential in these matters. An example of much needed collaboration between architectural history and design studio faculty, the series has been shaping up and growing in time in response to changing exigencies and with the participation of faculty and students. For instance, I revised a session of the history survey as an open class on the architecture in the seven banned countries. Concurrently, an exhibition on this topic came up as part of the series with the participation of twenty faculty. Additionally, the series included panels such as “Architecture and Diplomacy,” “Immigration and Discrimination,” “Migration of Images,” “Will This Robot Take My Job? Migration, Automation and Architecture,” “Crossing the Mediterranean: Migration, Death and Culture,” and “Arts of the Immigrant Continent.” Needless to say, extra-curricular events constitute a very important part of an architectural school’s intellectual life and the students’ education as global citizens. So do the possibility of revising some of our courses’ sessions for urgent topics. Can architectural historians, or anyone for that matter, really afford withdrawing from criticality during volatile times?

    Esra Akcan is an associate professor in the Department of Architecture, and the director of the Institute for European Studies at Cornell University. Akcan's scholarly work on a geopolitically conscious global history of architecture and urbanism inspires her teaching. She is the author of Landfill Istanbul: Twelve Scenarios for a Global City (2004); Architecture in Translation: Germany, Turkey and the Modern House (2012); Turkey: Modern Architectures in History (with S.Bozdoğan, 2012); and Open Architecture: Migration, Citizenship and the Urban Renewal of Berlin-Kreuzberg by IBA-1984/87 (2018). She has received numerous awards and has authored more than 100 articles on the intertwined histories of Europe and West Asia, critical and postcolonial theory, architectural photography, migration and diasporas, translation, and contemporary architecture. These works offer new ways to understand the global movement of architecture, and advocate a commitment to a new ethics of hospitality and global justice. Akcan has also participated in exhibitions by carrying her practice beyond writing to visual media. Akcan was educated as an architect in Turkey and received her Ph.D. from Columbia University.

  • The Top 5 Most Popular SAH Blog Posts

    by User Not Found | Jun 27, 2018
    Since 2012, the SAH Blog has covered a variety of topics related to the history of the built environment. Articles have addressed issues concerning politics, preservation, and pedagogy, some have focused on the work of a specific architect or building types, and others have provided readers with useful resources. The blog has also housed the monthly reports of SAH's H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellows as they document their journeys around the world.

    Below we share the top 5 most popular SAH Blog posts of all time.


    1. Confederate Monuments and Civic Values in the Wake of Charlottesville

     By Dell Upton, University of California, Los Angeles | Sep 13, 2017

    Hagia Sophia, Istanbul 

    2. Recent News on the Conversion into Mosques of Byzantine Churches in Turkey

    By Veronica Kalas | Dec 12, 2013


    3. Learning from Taksim Square: Architecture, State Power, and Public Space in Istanbul

    By Heghnar Watenpaugh, University of California, Davis | Jun 11, 2013


    4. Architectural History and Architectural Humanities

    By Dianne Harris | Jun 23, 2014


    5. The New Flower: Addis Ababa and the Project of African Modernity

    By Amber N. Wiley, 2013 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow

    What topics would you like to see covered on the blog? Let us know in the comments.

  • I Owe It All to SAH: Final Report

    by User Not Found | May 21, 2018

    They say be careful what you wish for, for you may just get it! Well, ‘get it’ I did, and it was an extraordinary journey and experience all the way. There is no better way to capture my fellowship year experience than this: deeply refining. The year was magical and exhilarating in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I thought I was going around Western Europe and Egypt to see architecture but far more than I bargained, I went 'round and saw life.

    The experience has fundamentally helped me to professionally rediscover myself. It guided my reconstruction of what architecture is and the role it plays in our cultural or religious identity. I saw the fire of history in a totally different perspective as it fiercely burns in the furnace of architecture. In this last year, my goal of learning new things was well achieved, even surpassed. However, I think a more valuable achievement was my unlearning of several stereotypes that I carried on over the years. I have often heard that it is much easier to learn a new thing than to unlearn a former—I can confirm to you now, without a doubt whatsoever, that this is true.

    Fig 1
    Fig. 1: In one of the long train rides across Europe: from Rome to the town of Pisa. My journey all through the fellowship year was extraordinary.

    Fig 2
    Fig. 2: Here I am next to the slightly larger-than-life statue of Pope John Paul on the grounds of Notre Dame, Paris.

    Fig 3
    Fig. 3: At the park near the Notre dame du Paris.

    Fig 4
    Fig. 4: In Rome, I sat for about 7 minutes while a street artist created a caricature of me. It was a hilarious and lovely experience. The artist is Michael. See his final work in Fig. 30.

    Fig 5
    Fig. 5: My travel companions: My Nikon camera, travel ID, and books.

    Fig 6
    Fig. 6: Scarecrow historian. In front of Notre Dame in Paris. The yard around the cathedral has become a sort of cultural melting pot with people from several nations brought together in the same spot for no other reason but to see architecture.

    With the deepest sense of responsibility, I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the Society of Architectural Historians and the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Committee for deeming me worthy of the prestigious fellowship. The award meant a lot more to me than can be imagined. I, being the first male and first non-American to be awarded the fellowship, count myself privileged to be mentioned amongst such stellar former recipients, all of whom I hold in very high regards. In light of this, I took every day very seriously and with such pride that captures the prestige of the award.

    I first became aware of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship when I happened upon a short video that featured Amber Wiley, the inaugural recipient of the travel fellowship. In it, I was awe struck by Dr. Wiley’s confidence and fine words about how the fellowship had helped her truly appreciate architecture through the magic of physical contact. From that point on, I was hooked. My excitement was contained, however, when I went to the official H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship page on the SAH website—I remember telling myself, “Nah! This is too good to be true.” I just did not think a ‘far away’ individual like me could win the award. It would take two more years and having attended the Chicago 68th Annual International Conference of SAH in 2015 before I gathered myself to finally apply. The rest, they say, is history. The day I received the email announcing that I had won the fellowship, I was filled with such joy. Well, that was not the reality of the matter. I was not filled with such joy—I was a total wreck! My initial email reply to the executive director was a mess—mumbled words and such. Thankfully, she was so understanding—such a remarkable lady. It took an appreciable amount of time before I could bring myself back to normalcy.  

    I owe the successful completion of this fellowship to many quarters. Firstly, to the excellent team from SAH with their unwavering support and understanding every step of the way. To my family who endured the grueling one year away from home having to make do with WhatsApp video calls only. To the cheering friends, students, and the very many blog readers who made the nightly reading, searching, and writing all worth it. And also, to the inspiration and guidance of the past Brooks fellows. Before I started my fellowship travels, I took the time to read through every single article posted by the Brooks fellows before me, and this gave me good insight on what to expect, what to focus on, how to approach my subject and very importantly, how to enjoy the trip. Amber Wiley drew words from deep within her. She gave meaning to simple things and brought even the most ordinary structures to academic importance and approval. I will not forget her emotive photographs of the male dungeons of Cape Coast castle in Ghana, particularly the pitch black shot where she records that the guide switched off the lights to give them a sense of the real conditions under which the slaves were kept. Amber Wiley is simply brilliant. 2014 recipient Patricia Blessing’s work and posts were extremely vital to me and critical to my trip as she had visited some of the countries I was about to visit. Her email to me with advice on transportation and moving around Europe was priceless. Then there is Danielle Willkens—an incredibly perceptive storyteller and a most brilliant photographer. One who sees Danielle’s photographs sees an excellent example of the articulation of visual realism. I was so anxious when it dawned on me that Danielle’s photographs will unconsciously present a standard for Brooks fellows moving forward—forward being me as it was my turn, right after her. At some point I wondered how on God’s earth could I match her expertise. I barely coped but thankfully I managed to survive. Her visual oration and crisp photos served me as a constant reminder of quality all through my fellowship year.

    Fig 7
    Fig. 7: Me with some of the other SAH-Getty International Program fellows at the 2015 annual conference in Chicago. Back row left to right: My very dear friend Nelly Liz. Klee, Prof. Ranee Vedamuthu. Front row left to right: Cristina Lodi, my very good friend Oksana Chabanyuk and Arc. Anvi Gor.

    Fig 8
    Fig. 8: At the SAH Conference in Chicago, 2015. That’s me on stage delivering my presentation to the SAH Board.

    Fig 9
    Fig. 9: With Dr. Danielle Willkens in Glasgow, UK, at the SAH 70th annual conference.

    Fig 10
    Fig. 10: On my way to Dresden, Germany. Long train rides afforded quality time to contemplate on many matters. Do not mind my serious look here, I was holding the phone camera and pretending like the shot was captured without my knowing.

    Fig 11
    Fig. 11: My stack of train tickets.

    The Art and Balance of Being Alone

    In the purpose statement of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship, we see a part that says, "Professor Brooks intended the recipient to study by travel and contemplation while observing, reading, writing, or sketching." All of these I did to the fullest but one other thing the fellowship predisposes you to is being alone. I spent many hours in the hotel rooms and book stores—particularly in France and the UK—alone reading, planning my trip, and just thinking. The alone time is probably one of the most valuable thing this research year has afforded me, a time to truly look inward and meditate about the things that matter professionally and otherwise—just as Professor Brooks intended.

    One thing Professor Brooks did not consider is that when you are alone, one does really strange things. Things like standing at the window for protracted periods staring into space (or the hotel street as the case may be). Things like pretending in front of the bathroom mirror that I am a guest speaker being interviewed on CNN, History Channel, or National Geographic because of some wonderful discovery I luckily uncovered during my Brooks year. And when I come back to myself as the shower curtain, towels, and toilet bowl reappear behind me in the mirror, I am filled with half portion of embarrassment and the other of bewilderment at what I find myself doing. Standing and staring into space or feigning a high profile TV interview did not worry me as much as the other me I met during the travels: the selfie-loving me. I will naturally define myself as a non-selfie person but alas, I was wrong. I found myself taking selfie shots at every opportunity I got—mostly in the confines of my hotel rooms. This peculiar act really surprised me about myself and I owe this strangeness to nothing but alone time. In my analysis, alone time can be as productive as it can be delusional, particularly for active minds.

    Fig 12
    Fig. 12: I am still not able to explain what came upon me. I find myself in several occasions taking a selfie. For me, this is strange behavior. Here in the hotel in Milan.

    Fig 13
    Fig. 13: Messing around taking a selfie in the famous Dizzy Gillespie big cheeks pose. Here in the hotel in Dresden.

    Fig 14
    Fig. 14: Between reading and taking a selfie. Here in the hotel in Frankfurt.

    Fig 15
    Fig. 15: Same hotel as in fig. 14, different night.

    Fig 16
    Fig. 16: Putting my alone time to good use. Reading about ornamentation and architecture was something I thoroughly enjoyed during my fellowship year.

    Fig 17
    Fig. 17: I also took some time to broaden my knowledge on a host of topics other than ornamentation—race and intellect being a particularly interesting one for me. I was stunned and concerned about what I learned. 

    Fig 18
    Fig. 18: Cathedral brochures are an excellent reading material to pass time. I made it a point to get one whenever it was available.

    Fig 19
    Fig. 19: The face of an unrepentant selfie convert: climbing up the stairs in the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

    Fig 20
    Fig. 20: I battled with the bitter cold almost all through my travels. Being from the tropics it was really hard coping with sub temperatures, particularly during the “Beast from the East” chills. Here in Florence, Italy.

    Fig 21
    Fig. 21: In front of a hotel mirror taking a creative selfie.

    Fig 22
    Fig. 22: Enjoying a slice of Pizza in Pisa, Italy.

    Fig 23
    Fig. 23: I find myself standing in front of the window for long periods staring and contemplating. In this photo (Paris) I set the camera on timer to record this moment.

    Fig 24
    Fig. 24: A view from my hotel window in Paris, an energetic city with many varied characters.


    On Architecture as a Template for History

    In my first article, I asked the question: to what purpose do we study the history of architecture? It is a question I had hoped to answer as I travelled around Western Europe to see some of the world’s greatest cathedrals. I cannot categorically say I now have a straight answer to the above question, but I will venture a response here. Perhaps we study the history of architecture only for the purpose of knowing beauty. For beauty was all I saw in the structures I encountered, as they stood vivaciously with the stateliness and intricate allure of figural and floral ornamentation on them like a cloak of honor.

    In this last year, I learned that ornamentation is beauty and proof of the fullness of life. While it is tough to take defined positions in this matter and certainly I will require a more formal paper to argue my points on the issue, I strongly posit that ornamentation is a cultural and religious expression of identity and a testament of a collective past, the past that bore a common instinct which uncontrollably drives us to create figural art, usually in our image or a mimicry of the same. Perhaps it is the same instinct that the Father possesses that enabled the creation of man in the first place—where it was said, ‘Let us make (create) man in our own image.’ The functional words there being ‘create’ and ‘image.’ Therefore, wrong are those who saw it as desecration of architecture at some point in our history, however evocative their arguments were in context of the reality of their time. The manner and measure with which we engage ornamentation in architecture must remain a subject of debate, but to propose an instance where it is completely obliterated from our everyday architectural vocabulary based on what I can now almost confidently call a time-related philosophy is quite unacceptable. I also posit, that in seeing beauty, we may know life and in knowing life, we may live it. In living life then, we may further create beauty, but the day we admit to fully defining it, perhaps that day we finally cease to exist. So I conclude that understanding the communication of beauty through ornamentation must remain a wisdom built on continuous refinement. The type of wisdom that can only be understood through a process and not a finite end in itself.

    Fig 25
    Fig. 25: I secretly took this selfie inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. Though we were repeatedly asked not to take photos of the works, I just could not imagine (or resist) I had come all the way to see this enigmatic work not to record myself in context of the masterpiece. A guard caught me taking this photo and gave me a mean look. I at once pretended to be texting, but I know he didn’t buy it. "No photos!" he yelled in his silky Italian accent!

    Fig 26
    Fig. 26: With one of the giant murals inside the Vatican in Rome.

    Fig 27
    Fig. 27: Nightfall in Milan. A silhouette of me with the Milan Duomo as backdrop.

    Fig 28
    Fig. 28: Breakfast in some hotels is on-the-go. Here is the ration in the hotel in Bath, UK.

    fig 29
    Fig. 29: Standard look for my work table. Checking the weather is something we don’t worry too much about in Africa but I found it to be very important when travelling around Europe. 

    Fig 30
    Fig. 30: Posing with the street artist, Michael, in Rome. He shows his caricature work of me.


    On a Final Note

    There is an African maxim that says, "He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left." This turned out to be true in my case. If one truly went on a significant journey, the many novel things one encounters will often have an impact on one’s worldview. My mind and thinking have been renewed and recalibrated. As I return to university teaching, I am poised to create a new kind of beauty: the beauty of the mind, particularly the mind of the next generation.

    Again, my sincere gratitude to all those who made this possible. To the faculty of the architecture department at the University of Lagos, I am grateful for their unending support and cheering. I am very proud to be a part of that team. I cannot end this without mentioning Pauline Saliga, Christopher Kirbabas, Beth Eifrig, and Helena Dean (all of SAH)—I have known no better team. Thank you!

  • The Basilica of St Peter: No Words to Describe

    by User Not Found | Apr 09, 2018

    'Deyemi Akande is the 2016 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    Besides a final report, this is officially the last article of my H. Allen Brooks fellowship year. Understandably, it comes with a cocktail of emotions. I had mentioned in the last article that I will write on my experience at the Vatican this month, but alas, here I am now at a loss for words to express the experience. Suffice to say that the Vatican numbs me in every beautiful way. For over three hours I paced here and there in the nave of the St Peter’s Basilica, voraciously feeding my eyes and mind with the intense visual array of ornaments, symbols, and patterns. Interestingly, in the end, I could not help the feeling of inadequacy. The feeling that I still do not know enough; that I remain significantly deficit in knowledge in spite of my best efforts. Every material I come across has something new to add to the Basilica’s history. The Basilica is one of those buildings you want to be able to talk about confidently rolling out dates from your head like an encyclopedia, but no matter how much I read, it felt insufficient and I, desperate. I am at once reminded of the fine letters of the Holy Book and forced to console myself therewith. It admonishes in its book of Ecclesiastes 12:12 “Be warned, my son … of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” I blatantly saw the rationality of this in my quest for comprehensive knowledge of the Basilica Papale di San Pietro.

    If I had just a day to see Rome, by all means I would spend three quarters of it at the Vatican, particularly at St Peter’s Basilica. I am not a Catholic, but I have a lot of devote Catholic friends and students. Perhaps in reverence to their conviction and in my uncontrollable respect and love for Church history, I would consider it a great error on my part not to have given ample time to St Peter’s Basilica during my visit. Of all its history and controversies, it continues to carry a type of transforming power and unseen force like no other space. The site and structures of the Vatican, however concrete and marble they are, will feed your soul in a manner that ignites an inner wonder; the type of wonder I have spoken about several times; the one that turns a history-loving person into a suckling. The words of John Varriano comes to mind. He declares there is scarcely an account of any Roman sojourn that does not contain the impressions of a visit to St Peter's. Those who remained silent about virtually everything else often found their voices inside the great basilica.1

    Fig. 1
    Fig. 1: An evening view of the Basilica Papale di San Pietro (St Peter’s Basilica) from the St Peter’s square in Rome.

    St Peter's Basilica
    Fig. 2: As old and as true as the sky. St Peter’s Basilica, portrayed by Viviano Codazzi in a 1630 painting. Most of the main features including the obelisk at the centre of the piazza remain the same today.

    St Peter's
    Fig. 3: An evening view of St Peter’s Bernini's colonnade and to the left hand is the Maderno's fountain

    Fig. 4
    Fig. 4: The obelisk in the centre of St Peter’s Piazza. Standing 83 feet tall and moved to the current position by Domenico Fontana in 1586 on the order of Popes Sixtus V.

    Fig. 5
    Fig. 5: Close up of St Peter’s Basilica dome, redesigned and completed by Giacomo della Porta in 1590. In the foreground are statues of Christ the redeemer (to the right with the big cross) and St John the Baptist with the green patina slim cross. St James the elder barely shows to the far left.

    Fig. 6
    Fig. 6: The Loggia of the Blessings—Close up of the Papal balcony of St Peter’s Basilica—from here a new pope is announced and on this balcony he gives the Urbi et Orbi blessings. Also, the pope addresses the people gathered on special occasions from this balcony.

    Fig. 7
    Fig. 7: A gull quenches its thirst from the ‘living’ waters of the Maderno's fountain on the grounds of St Peter’s Piazza.

    Fig. 8
    Fig. 8: Papal Coat of Arms.

    Fig. 9
    Fig. 9: Coat of Arms of Pope ALEXANDRA VII.

    Fig. 10
    Fig. 10: A concoction of patterns, figures and symbols mostly of gold and blue and the natural shades of concrete too. Such wonderful beauty to behold. The space around the main altar inside St Peter’s Basilica.

    St Peter’s Basilica is deemed to be one of the Holiest sites in all of the world by many Christians and the principal church of one of the most powerful men on earth – the Pope. So I must be pardoned for my ‘sin’ of touching material objects of historical significance. It is a thing I do every time I find myself in a place or with an object of reverence; I do it to connect with the past and I must confess it gives me a heighten sense of delight. It is my way of affirmation that I came in contact with the past. At the Vatican, this my indulgence was in overdrive. When it was possible, I touched almost anything that had a sense of age and importance. To me, it is like touching the very hand of Michelangelo or Bernini.

    I am one of those who fantasise about touching something old and suddenly get transported to an unknown past – very much like the experience of the character Claire Frazer (played by Caitriona Balfe) in the TV serial Outlander where she touched an ancient enchanted rock and was sucked into a different time in the past. However, as magical as this experience may be, and perhaps as fruitful as it may appear for a historian, I imagine finding one’s way back to their rightful time may prove something of a difficult task. In light of this, I have resolved in my heart to stay in the present and look to the future instead.

    In the Vatican, not minding much for being warped into another time, I bent over barricades to get closer access when possible and I remember trying to reach the statue of St Peter mounted on a pedestal of 4 meters to the left side of the basilica’s front façade. The statue itself was about 17 feet tall, and one can imagine how clumsy it was to reach the feet atop the pedestal. I fell short of the feet of the Apostle, but reached the papal crest of Pius IX. In the bitter cold, my skin touching the stone was indeed a warm feeling. In my mind, I felt transported to the late 1849 when the brilliant stonecutters, Angelo Bezzi, Fortunato Martinori, and Vincenzo Biancheri completed the tall pedestals and decorating them with the heraldic emblems of Pope Pius IX. In my last article, when I spoke of the mesmerising feeling I had at the Vatican, it is to such experience I refer to; the type that I now betray its depth with my shallow and hasty words.

    Probably the height of my mesmerisation inside the Basilica was when I came eye to eye with the grieving mother of Christ in the beautiful work by Michelangelo: the Pietà. Time literally froze. I had seen several photographs of it in books and read countless articles but here I was only about 10 ft away from the master of masterpieces. It remains an indescribable experience. This is what St Peter’s Basilica will do to even the most restrained of beings, it reaches deep into your place of concealed emotion and brings out a measure of reality in you. I must have said ‘wow’ a hundred times in the twenty-two minutes or so I spent staring and not yielding to the light jostling by the crowd around me. Robert Kahn puts it this way, St Peter's is a resume of so much that is Roman, from Michelangelo's Pietà to Bernini's Baldachin and Cathedra Petri and Giotto's mosaic of the Navicella. Its outsized dimensions and grandiose decoration are overwhelming, making the experience of walking through the building a dynamic one.2 I couldn’t agree more.

    Fig. 11
    Fig. 11: Maderno’s nave of the St Peter’s Basilica looking towards the chancel. No space is left to waste – every spot available is ornamented or dressed by mosaic art or sculpture.

    Fig. 12
    Fig. 12: The papal crest in marble on the floor of the nave inside St Peter’s Basilica.

    Fig. 13
    Fig. 13: At the main altar of St Peter’s Basilica looking up into the inner portion of the baldachin. The 98-foot-tall baldachin is an elaborate ornamental canopy held by four immense twisted pillars all designed by Bernini between 1624 and 1632.

    Fig. 14
    Fig. 14: One of the four pedestals of the baldachin, made of fine polished wood with a brilliantly gilded ornamental plaque.

    Fig. 15
    Fig. 15: The dome of St Peter’s Basilica from the nave. Along the base of the inside of the dome is written (translation from Latin), in letters about six feet high each, from Matthew 16:18-19; " are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. ... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven...." Near the top of the dome is another, smaller, circular inscription: "To the glory of St. Peter; Sixtus V, pope, in the year 1590 and the fifth year of his pontificate."

    Fig. 16
    Fig. 16: The 17-ft-tall statue of St. Peter in front left side of the Basilica, commissioned Giuseppe De Fabris by Pius IX (1846–1878).

    Fig. 17
    Fig. 17: Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pietà (1498–1499), one of the most emotive of the artist’s work. It is tough to get a good shot of the sculptural piece as it is (probably deliberately) placed in a low light space on the northern part of the Basilica. A glass wall protects the pieces making it even more difficult to photograph due to reflections.

    Fig. 18
    Fig. 18: A statue of St Andrew inside St Peter’s with what has now come to be called the St Andrew’s cross. The piece is by Francois Duquesnoy.

    Fig. 19
    Fig. 19: A statue of St Veronica inside St Peter’s holding her veil with the face of Jesus on it. The piece is by Francesco Mochi.

    Fig. 20
    Fig. 20: Statue of Pope Pius X inside St. Peter's Basilica.

    Like many great church buildings, there was an old church on the same site before the ‘new’ and current one. St Peter’s Basilica is no different. The old church on the same site was a simple basilica commissioned by Constantine the Great after he converted to Christianity. The building of the old church itself was a replacement for an older sanctuary begun around the year 323. The current edifice, however, replaced the Constantine basilica in the year 1506 though it was not completed until over a hundred years later in 1626. The site where St Peter’s Basilica is built, is believed to be over the very place where Simon Peter, apostle of Jesus, first bishop of Antioch and later first bishop of Rome was buried. Clearly the scriptural rhetoric for the inspiration of the basilica on that spot will be the verse from the book of Matthew “… on this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail over it…”3 this is however not expressly stated. The burial spot of the apostle Peter is said to be directly underneath the massive basilica’s baldachin.

    Directly in front of the basilica is the St Peter’s square – Piazza di san Pietro. This square has racked up quite a reputation and is now as famous as the basilica itself. Designed and built by Gianlorenzo Bernini between 1656 and 1667, the square is flanked by two elliptical colonnaded corridors with twin columns of the Doric order lining the whole length. A significant feature of the square is the array of over one hundred 10-ft-tall statues of saints along the roof of the elliptical colonnaded corridor.

    Fig. 21
    Fig. 21: The main façade of St Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

    Fig. 22
    Fig. 22: Statue of St Albert Avogadro – Carmelite on top the elliptical colonnaded corridor of St Peter’s Basilica. St. Albert was born 1149 and died 14 September 1214. This piece was sculpted by Lazzaro Morelli c.1667–1668. St Albert was Patriarch of Jerusalem, and wrote the original Carmelite Rule of St Albert around 1210.4

    Fig. 23
    Fig. 23: Statue of St. Clare of Assisi on top the elliptical colonnaded corridor of St Peter’s Basilica. St Clare was born 16 July 1194 and died 11 August 1253. The piece was sculpted by Lazzaro Morelli c.1667–1668. Clare was one of the first followers of St Francis of Assisi. She is shown dressed in the habit of the Order of Poor Clares, which she founded. The saint holds a monstrance that alludes to a story that her convent was attacked by marauders, and that she put them to flight by showing them the Blessed Sacrament.5

    Fig. 24
    Fig. 24: Statue of St. Remigius on top the elliptical colonnaded corridor of St Peter’s Basilica. The Bishop was born ca. 437 and he died ca. 530. This sculpture was created ca.1668 and installed between 29 May and 3 July of 1668 by Giovanni Maria de Rossi. Bishop Remigius was Bishop of Reims, he baptised Clovis I, King of the Franks, leading to the conversion of the entire Frankish people. His image is particularly numerous in France and Germany.6

    Fig. 25
    Fig. 25: Statue of St. Dominic on top the elliptical colonnaded corridor of St Peter’s Basilica. St Dominic was born in 1170 and died on the 6th of August 1221. This statue was made installed at the Basilica in 1668 by Lazzaro Morelli, Bernini’s assistant. St Dominic wears the habit of the Dominican order, which he founded, with scapular and hood and a tonsure on his head. In his left hand he holds a lily. His foot rests on a closed book, which can be symbolic of a heretical work, as a major impetus in founding the Dominicans was to fight heresy. The spread of the Rosary is attributed to St Dominic.7

    Fig. 26
    Fig. 26: A shadow of the author is cast over one of the sixteen wind roses floor markers on the St Peter’s square. The wind Rose surrounds the obelisk in the Square and are aligned with compass points to show wind directions.

    Fig. 27
    Fig. 27: The massive twin colonnaded elliptical corridor of the St Peter’s Basilica.

    Fig. 28
    Fig. 28: An enormous marble bowl in the centre of the Pio-Clementino museum surrounded by brilliant life-sized renaissance sculptures inside the Vatican. An example of the exquisite art that one finds in the Vatican. The Vatican museum holds over 50,000 art pieces and about 20, 000 are on display at any given moment.

    Fig. 29
    Fig. 29: A frescoed wall inside the Vatican Museum.

    Fig. 30
    Fig. 30: A slightly larger-than-life-sized marble statue of the Nile inside the Vatican Museum.

    Fig. 31
    Fig. 31: Ornamented roof work with an oculus, which concentrates light on the Nile statue inside the Vatican Museum.


    Milan Duomo

    With almost 600 years of history, the Duomo di Milano is arguably the most impressive building in the whole of Milan. The church is dedicated to St Mary of the Nativity and is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan. The cathedral is one of the biggest pre-19th-century churches ever built, it is outdone only by a few great cathedrals like Seville Cathedral in Spain, Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil, and St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. One thing the Duomo di Milano has that is yet to be contested by any other church is the number of sculpture on the edifice. Duomo di Milano is famed to have the largest number of sculptural elements on it; it features over 3,300 statues. Milan Cathedral stands as the most sculpturally ornamented gothic building in the world. Thankfully, quite a lot is known about the creation process of many of these wonderful sculptures on the cathedral due to rigorous documentation.8 Probably the most famous sculpture of all the cathedral’s pieces is that of St Bartholomew. Designed and create by Marco d’Agrate in 1562, the sculpture presents the prophet with his flayed skin hanging over his body. The neo-naturalistic finish of the piece will do a number on the faint hearted. The artist presents the anatomy of the figure in very raw and convincing details—a brilliant visual representation of the reality of early Christianity.

    Many archaeologists believe that the location of the Duomo was a sacred Roman site for centuries before the arrival of Christianity. The first Catholic cathedral in that spot was known as Santa Tecla, built around 355 CE. The ruins of its baptistery can still be seen underneath the Duomo. A second basilica was later built next to Santa Tecla, called Santa Maria Maggiore. For nearly a thousand years, these two cathedrals performed; however, by the 14th century, fire and age had taken a huge toll on them. In 1386, the Archbishop of Milan, Antonio da Saluzzo, announced that Milan would build a new cathedral to replace Santa Tecla and Santa Maria Maggiore.9

    The Laying of the new cathedral’s first stone was in 1386 and work effectively finished only in 1965 when the last gate of the cathedral was inaugurated and, while this year is officially deemed to be the year of completion, maintenance and partial construction still continues until date. Surprisingly, it was Napoleon who ordered the final completion phase of the work on the Milan cathedral in 1805, leading to the months that he (Napoleon) was to be crowned king of Italy. At one point, the statue of Napoleon was placed on one of the 135 cathedral spires as a sign of gratitude to his commitment to finishing the cathedral. From the late 1820s to 1850s major finishing was done on the cathedral. The central and oldest of the cathedral’s five bronze doors facing the Piazza Duomo was already in place and is simply a marvel. It is the largest of the pack and frankly, I find it tough to wrap my head around the artistry and detailed craftsmanship put into the piece by its designer Ludovico Pogliaghi. For something that was done in the nineteenth century, the virtuosity and delivery is very commendable.

    Fig. 32
    Fig. 32: The main façade of the Duomo di Milano. In the foreground is the Duomo Piazza.

    Fig. 33
    Fig. 33: Details of the upper part of the front façade of Milan Cathedral. To the top, one will get a hint of the famous Madonnina, the statue of Mary that stands on the cathedral’s highest spire.

    Fig. 34
    Fig. 34: The southern façade of the Duomo di Milano showing several sculptural ornamentation attached to the surface of the building at different levels.

    Fig. 35
    Fig. 35: An interesting marble piece on the southern wall of Milan cathedral. It is of a man with a shovel carrying the remains of another.

    Fig. 36
    Fig. 36: One of the several sculptural pieces on the southern wall of the Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 37
    Fig. 37: The 1562 emotive sculpture of St Bartholomew with his flayed skin hanging over his body like a cloak at the Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 38
    Fig. 38: A most outstanding piece of art! The central door of Milan Cathedral’s western wing. The Ludovico Pogliaghi bronze work stands at over 30 ft tall and heavily ornamented with embossed sculpture of a naturalistic nature.

    Fig. 39
    Fig. 39: Details of the ornamented trimmings on both sides of the door.

    Fig. 40
    Fig. 40: Closer details of the marble trimmings around the central door of the western wing at Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 41
    Fig. 41: Closer details of the marble trimmings around the central door of the western wing at Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 42
    Fig. 42: Details of Ludovico Pogliaghi’s Pieta on the central bronze door of the western wing at Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 43
    Fig. 43: Details on the central bronze door of the western wing at Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 44
    Fig. 44: Pinnacle statues of Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 45
    Fig. 45: A view of part of the shopping Plaza near Milan Cathedral from the Piazza del Duomo.



    My journey to see ornamentation on temples firsthand started twelve months ago, and I am now at the very end of the road. It only makes sense to see the oldest forms of such expressions and nowhere else will I turn but to Egypt – possibly the oldest examples of ornamentation on architecture by man known to the modern world.

    Because of time and logistic constraints, my trip to Egypt was rather short but fruitful. I decided to see the Karnak Temple Complex. The UNESCO World Heritage site is famed to be the second most-visited site in the whole of Egypt, second only to the pyramids of Giza. For this site, I prepared myself to encounter the ruins of an ancient heritage as I saw in Greece, and while I did not expect to see much by way of structures, I can frankly say that my expectations were surpassed. The ruins at Karnak, though far less taken care of and of course far older, were as majestic as those of Greece in spite of the age over it. These structures are dated to the Middle Kingdom Era of Egypt, which is about 2055–1650 BC. That is about 4,000 years ago! Most of the columns still stand. Several obelisks were still gloriously pointing to the sky. As I stare at a physical articulation of age still standing relentlessly, almost immortal, I am taken over by awe. Millions have stood where I now stand, royals and simpletons, natives and invading foreigners. These walls are witness to time in a way that no history can recall. The temples are quite impressive and audacious and besides the hushed murmurs of the tourists, there is a type of stillness over the space. At every light wind, the eastern dust rises and with it rises one’s sense of pride and glory. These temples are as old and true as the skies, they have been the sky lines of this ancient city since the mind can recall.

    The temple area was used by several Pharaohs each adding his own extension and complexity to the system. Walking in the hypostyle hall, all the way to what would have been the naos (the place of the innermost alter) back then is indeed a privileged and humbling feeling. The hieroglyphs on the surface of the columns and walls are a testament to the age of the structures. I made no attempt at interpreting the hieroglyphs (not that I could on the go, but luckily one can make some sense out of the images if you land on the right google pages); needless to say the pictograms were telling. We owe the resurrection of this form of documentation in Egypt partly to a misfortune of an invasion by the French under the leadership of Napoleon and to the finding of what has come to be called the Rosetta stone. Through the tireless work of two brilliant minds: Frenchman Jean François Champollion and Englishman Thomas Young; many Egyptologists were reinitiated into the wisdom of old through the understanding and reading of the ancient pictograms. I am no Egyptologist but in Karnak, I was proud of what I saw.

    Fig. 46
    Fig. 46: The approaching the hypostyle hall with worn down pylons at the Karnak Temple.

    Fig. 47
    Fig. 47: A Pharaoh’s statue amongst ‘hieroglyphed’ columns at the temple complex in Luxor.

    Fig. 48
    Fig. 48: Giant seated figure of the Pharaoh believed to be Ramses II at the Karnak Temple in Luxor.

    Fig. 49
    Fig. 49: The reverse side of the Pharaoh’s statue laid with hieroglyphs.

    Fig. 50
    Fig. 50: Details of hieroglyphs on a column in Karnak temple. These ‘texts’ are laid out in bands of about a meter in height. The hieroglyphic pictograms are finely done and rather precise in height and arrangement.

    Fig. 51
    Fig. 51: Pigment coloured hieroglyphs on a crossing beam. It is not uncommon to find the complete walls and ceiling of spaces covered with hieroglyphs either painted in or incised.

    Fig. 52
    Fig. 52: The Great Hypostyle hall with towering columns reaching the height reaching 70 ft (about 21 m) and 3 meters in diameter.

    Fig. 53
    Fig. 53: Details of hieroglyphs on one of the obelisks at the temple complex.

    Fig. 54
    Fig. 54: Details of hieroglyphs on the walls of the Karnak Temple.

    Fig. 55
    Fig. 55: A row of columns in the Karnak Temple complex.

    Fig. 56
    Fig. 56: The dead grounds come alive at night with night lights and modern events shows.


    1 John Varriano, A Literary Companion to Rome, (New York: St Martin’s Griffin, 1995), 221

    2 Robert Kahn, Angela Hederman, Pablo Conrad, City Secrets: Rome, (New York: The Little Bookroom, 1999), 79

    3 Matthew 16: 18

    4 Roma Sacra—San Pietro in Vaticano, Itineraries 21–22, ©Fabbrica of St. Peter's, July 2001

    5 Ibid.

    6 Ibid.

    7 Ibid.

    8 Irving Lavin, Visible Spirit: The Art of Gianlorenzo Bernini, (London: The Pindar Press, 2007), 35–36

    9 Christopher Muscato, “Milan Cathedral: History & Facts,” accessed March 15, 2018.

  • Crowds and the Architectural Monuments of Italy

    by User Not Found | Mar 06, 2018

    Deyemi Akande is the 2016 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    All through my fellowship travels, one major challenge persists, one that I have done fairly well to conceal in my photographs—crowds. Nowhere more in Europe than in Italy did I experience the sheer weight of tourism as manifested in numbers. The popular sites were flooded with people and long queues, and while some of the venues were free to get in, I paid very dearly with 3–4 hours on the line in 3°C and gusty winds that made it all the more unbearable. For those from the temperate regions, I am sure this is nothing, but I am from the tropics and in Lagos we say, "My goodness it is so cold today," at 25°C.

    Certainly I did not expect to be the only one to show up at a renowned public monument, yet, one is never prepared for the number of people one finds at such locations. The streets were overflowing with people from different nations. In some locations, it became significantly apparent so much so that it developed into a topic of discussion amongst the tourists themselves—if you have ever visited the Trevi Fountain in Rome, you will get a good sense of what I am saying.  

    Vatican Square
    Fig. 1: A mammoth crowd awaits you as you enter the Vatican square. The crowd has no respect for time or weather, it has become part of the constant ‘tapestry’ of the square.

    Vatican Square
    Fig. 2: There is first the crowd and then there is the queue. Vendors will approach you to ask if you have a ticket to get into the Basilica as the queue is for those who are without one.

    Trevi Fountain
    Fig. 3: A large number of people at the Trevi Fountain. Everyone is trying to get a photo of the beautiful work and everyone is getting in each other’s way.

    Trevi Fountain
    Fig. 4: Another view of the crowd at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Whichever way you turn, surely a crowd was there to bless or frustrate your view.

    Fig. 5
    Fig. 5: A long queue which goes around two sides of the Cathedral del Fiore in Florence. It was very cold and the line moved only slowly. This was around 11 am. By the time I passed the cathedral around 7:30 pm, there were still people on a line waiting to go in.

    Fig. 6
    Fig. 6: A huge crowd at the Piazza Navona, Rome. Notice the Egyptian styled obelisk in the middle of the fountain. A similar obelisk is found at the Piazza de la Rotunda in front of the Pantheon.

    Fig. 7
    Fig. 7: The crowd in the nave of St Peter’s Basilica—truly not unexpected and actually flattering to the enigmatic building. It welcomes people from all over the world. In my 60 minutes or so inside this overwhelmingly beautiful space, I counted nine different languages from people who walked by until the words started sounding the same to me.

    Fig. 8
    Fig. 8: Inside the Vatican Museum, one finds himself unconsciously forced to move with the pace and group agitation of the crowd with barely any time to contemplate what you are seeing.

    No matter how well you plan your trip and itinerary, it is almost inescapable—you will come in contact with a sea of people in Italy, wherever you go; like you, they have also planned and travelled to see these monuments, probably with the hope of meeting as few people as possible at the entry points. The crowd in itself is not a bad thing. It speaks to the popularity of these sites and our unending connections to monuments, particularly those of a historic and religious nature. Also, with the crowd, comes the boom for a good percentage of local businesses. The funds collected at some of these sites may also serve as resource for the preservation and maintenance of the structure. There is, however, the challenge of the crowd ‘footprint’ and the consequent degrading of the priceless monuments. Some have argued—and I quite agree—that the idea of tourism funds helping the preservation of heritage sites is mostly a double edge sword as tourism itself contributes to the rapid degeneration of the sites.

    Fig. 9: The Pantheon. The Piazza de la Rotunda in front has become a major hub for entertainment drawing tourists and large crowds to the square and the temple. Notice the people at the base of the photo.

    Fig. 10: Inside the Rotunda.

    Fig. 11
    Fig. 11: A view of part of the Colosseum with scores of visitors moving around.

    Cathedral del Fiore, Florence
    Fig. 12: Groups of visitors at the western end of the Cathedral del Fiore, Florence.

    Cathedral del Fiore, Florence
    Fig. 13: A view of the side of the Cathedral del Fiore with a long queue of people waiting to go in. The main entrance is on the western end.

    Piazza Navona
    Fig. 14: Me, getting impaled by a Roman centurion (costumed street actor) at the Piazza Navona. Local small businesses and initiatives thrive with the presence of tourists.

    I am certain many would agree with me that when one thinks of contemplation, one often imagines serenity, little or no distractions, plenty of time to focus on a particular subject or idea with the aim of receiving something new from your rigorous but calm meditation on the subject in question. The idea of contemplation as described above is practically almost impossible at any architectural monument in Italy—at least the ones I visited. Why? The crowds and the energy at the sites are intensely positive but completely antithesis to the concept of quiet contemplation as articulated above. I probably felt the frustration most at the Vatican. The last time I saw that large of a crowd gathered in one place was at a festival I happened upon in my university days. The energy was high; everyone jostled for the right position to take a photograph of a sculptural piece or part of a building. There was hardly any time to properly observe and study the brilliant art pieces one is confronted with, as we moved from gallery to gallery. The crowd was constantly in the way and there is an unconscious pressure on the inside of you to keep moving as the crowd moves.

    Jane Fawcett has discussed the dangers and impact of crowds on heritage sites.1 She herself remained conflicted on the issue of tourism and material heritage as it only makes sense that these structures, which hold a critical part of human history and remain a testament to the potentials of man, should be made available for generations to see and be inspired by. Though restoration, documentation, and preservation has improved greatly since Fawcett’s 1987 paper (which is focused on cathedrals in England), like her, I remain troubled about the future and continued authenticity of these structures. By authenticity I mean a time may come when through years of restoration, what we may be left with is an entirely new structure which is only a replica of the original. Chip by chip over the years due to wear and tear, we may completely erase and replace the original for an alternative without even knowing. Philosophically this appears to be inevitable and imminent; my real fear is that the crowd ‘footprint’ may catalyse the process.

    A question comes to mind here: at what point does the Parthenon in Greece, for instance, with all the reconstructive elements and placements stop being the original Greek Parthenon of the goddess Athena and starts being a sublime replacement?

    Vatican Museum
    Fig. 15: Well, I bought a ticket online two days before, but that didn’t stop what I was to meet inside—more people. Here, inside the Vatican Museum. To concentrate on the beauty of the art in the museum is a little tough, particularly with the huge number of visitors. 

    Tower of Pisa
    Fig. 16: A tourist striking a pose to gesture holding up or pushing the tower of Pisa back into position. These type of photos are very popular with tourists visiting the Tower of Pisa. When one takes the photo of the individual from another angle however, it becomes an interesting and often hilarious depiction of people acting strange.

    Fig. 17: A view of the Colosseum with tourists taking photos.

    Fig. 18
    Fig. 18: Cathedral of Florence. Notice the people at the base of the cathedral.

    Cathedral of Pisa
    Fig. 19: Tourists inside the Cathedral of Pisa.

    Fig. 20: We come, we touch, we tread and we degrade—the impact of tourism on heritage sites isconcerning and far from solved. People inside the Rotunda—The Pantheon in Rome.


    The Rome I Saw

    They say there are two Romes; the one the tourist sees and then the real Rome. I do not mean to pretend like I am clueless as to what this means but perhaps because of the focus of my study, I saw mostly the tourist areas and needless to say, it was simply beautiful. I had received several warnings before entering the country from friends to be very cautious and weary of the people in Rome and Italy in general. To my relief, I had nothing to worry about in the end. A lot of the people I met and interacted with, from the police at the airport to the lady at the corner shop, were all very helpful and pleasant. Of course, this is not to say that absolutely everyone in these places were pleasant. In many of the sites I visited, I often stood out and got a lot of (unwanted stereotypical) stares, but when the circumstance brings about an actual interaction, many are shocked that I speak English and that I am in fact a university teacher.

    Speaking of sites in Rome, naturally Saint Peter’s Basilica was my first port of call. The basilica building and indeed the whole of the Vatican space leaves you with no doubt that art and architecture are extremely potent instruments to propagate an idea, in this case, faith. Details of the mesmerising experience I had with the architecture will be discussed in my next article. One thing I am eager to mention is that through the instrument of sculptural art and ornamentation, the Vatican has left no room for doubt as to who is in charge—one will find the papal insignia everywhere and on everything, even when you are not looking and when you are in fact looking, it is amazing how many you will find around. This constant visual repetition becomes a very powerful communication that unconsciously upholds the order and hierarchical structure of the land. In Rome, I saw that sculpture and architecture are in the very center of the socio-religious message.

    Piazza Navona
    Fig. 21: Details of one of the statues at the fountain in the Piazza Navona. Notice the Papal insignia on the upper part of the photo. The two keys crossed beneath a Papal tiara also called a triregnum.

    Trevi Fountain
    Fig. 22: Again, the crossed keys underneath a triregnum, the Papal insignia as seen at the topmost part of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

    Fig. 23
    Fig. 23: Over a door way inside the Vatican Museum, notice two Papal insignia—one is gilded and is positioned just under the blue plated sign that reads GREGORIVS XIII PON. The other just above the stone carved emblem.

    Fig. 24
    Fig. 24: A full frame of the earlier featured statue at the fountain in Piazza Navona.

    Fig. 25
    Fig. 25: Another statue at the Piazza Navona, here a male figure is seen wrestling with an octopus. The gull perches on top the figure’s head.

    Saint Angelo Bridge
    Fig. 26: Saint Angelo Bridge built by Emperor Hadrian. The bridge is directly in front of the Sant’Angelo Castle. The castle is a 2nd century cylindrical castle now museum.  


    On the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon

    Once you get past the crowd and you freeze the noise, you will at once notice that the design of the Trevi fountain is an absolute evidence of the masterful craftsmanship in ancient Italy. It was designed by Nicola Salvi after controversially ‘winning’ a competition.2 Salvi started work on the fountain in 1732, though the fountain was later completed by Giuseppe Pannini in 1762, as Salvi died before completion in 1751. The Trevi fountain is to me a marriage of stone and water, two naturally immiscible materials, but here presented emphatically as one. The niche in the center with the majestic freestanding columns beautifully frames Oceanus—god of all waters and the Titan lord of the seas. Notice how movement and fluidity is represented in the abstracted clam shape at the base of Oceanus.

    On to the Pantheon, and its glory never seems to wane. How do you visit Roma without seeing the Pantheon, the ‘roman centurion’ I featured above told me, “Be a man, brave the cold,” he says mostly by body gesticulation. So, I did brave the cold and walked from the Piazza Navona through the streets with the help of a map and many kind police officers that dotted every major cross point. The temple continues to draw a crowd even almost 2,000 years after its construction. It commands quite a presence within the tight square it now finds itself at the Piazza de la Rotunda. The triangular pediment slightly hides the dome structure from the outside but do not be deceived, the full splendour of the dome becomes apparent as you enter the Rotunda. Partly what draws one to domes are the elaborately decorated inner core—the dome of the Pantheon, in spite of its plainness (coffered concrete with simple geometric patterns), remains as stately as any of the greatly decorated domes.

    Trevi Fountain
    Fig. 27: The full frontal view of the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Here I have eliminated all human distractions so that focus is on the masterful piece. Notice the fluidity of form at the base of Oceanus—the lord of all the seas.

    Fig. 28
    Fig. 28: Details of the sculptural representation of Oceanus carefully framed by the niche.

    Fig. 29
    Fig. 29: The frontal façade of the Pantheon showing the fountain of the Piazza de la Rotunda in the foreground. Notice the Egyptian style obelisks similar to the one at the Piazza Navona.

    Fig. 30
    Fig. 30: The fountain at the Piazza de la Rotunda in front of the Pantheon. Notice very closely the Papal insignia on the emblem attached to the base of the obelisk. 

    Fig. 31
    Fig. 31: A view of part of the coffered dome and the oculus of the Pantheon and part of the apse inside the Rotunda.

    altar inside Pantheon
    Fig. 32: An altar inside the Pantheon.


    Florence and the Dome of Brunelleschi

    In Florence, one finds one of the most prestigious architectural heritage sites of Italy, the Cathedral of Florence, dedicated to the Santa Maria del Fiore. An impressive piece of architecture that spots what is probably the most popular dome in the whole of Western Europe—Brunelleschi’s dome. The dome crowns the cathedral with all glory. The beautiful cathedral we see today is the culmination of several artists and artisans though it was started by Arnolfo di Cambio in September of 1296. Arnolfo died in 1302 and Master Builder Giotto took over. Brunelleschi won the competition to build the dome over the finished cathedral in 1420 and through years of relentless work and innovations, the dome was finally completed in 1434 and this paved the way for the cathedral’s consecration in 1436—140 years after it had been begun.

    Florence has a long and chequered history of social and political turmoil. It was first besieged, though unsuccessfully, by the Ostrogoths around 405, then, the Byzantines in 539 and the Goths in 541. Much later, infighting and clashes between factions—the Guelghs, followers of the Pope, and the Ghibellines, the supporters of the Emperor—raged for years, fracturing the very structure of Florence’s political stability through to the mid-13th century. Interestingly, all the unsteadiness was not enough to dowse the flourishing arts and literature of the land. Some of the world’s greatest artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo worked in Florence when it was at its peak. As it was in the ancient times, so it is now, the sight of the dome will arrest your consciousness. My default practice is to walk right to the center and look directly up into the inner copula, the feeling is the same from dome to dome—such powerful visual expression of beauty.

    Brunelleschi’s Dome of the Florence Cathedral
    Fig. 33: Brunelleschi’s dome of the Florence Cathedral.

    Giotto’s Campanile
    Fig. 34: A view of the of the cathedral’s bell tower (Giotto’s Campanile). The construction of the tower started in 1334 by master builder Giotto. The tower stands at about 265 ft high.

    Florentine Baptistery
    Fig. 35: A view of the Florentine Baptistery also known as the Baptistery of St Giovanni. The octagonal baptistery is situated directly opposite the Florence Cathedral.

    Florence Cathedral
    Fig. 36: Details of the front façade of the Florence Cathedral showing the west door and ornamentation. This 19th-century façade was designed by Emilio de Fabris.

    Florence Cathedral
    Fig. 37: The central western door of the Florence Cathedral.

    Florence Cathedral
    Fig. 38: Details of a sculpture and decorative elements on the western façade of Florence Cathedral.

    Florence Cathedral
    Fig. 39: A view of the western façade showing its ornamentation and part of the rose window.

    Cathedral del fiore
    Fig. 40: Inside the Cathedral del Fiore. A view looking towards the altar and a hint of the inner dome.

    Cathedral del Fiore
    Fig. 41: Looking up into the inner copula of Brunelleschi’s dome inside the Cathedral del Fiore. The mosaic we see today was done after about a hundred years of the completion of the dome by Vasari, the famous artist. Vasari, on the order of Cosimo I de’Medici, worked on the fresco from 1572 until his death just two years after. The fresco is a representation of the Biblical Last Judgment.

    Cathedral del Fiore
    Fig. 42: A view of part of the inner copula of the dome and the altar.



    I made my way to Pisa, a quite small town roughly 80 km from Florence, to see the famous leaning Tower of Pisa. It was indeed worth the while. The tower, simply known as Torre di Pisa, is actually a detached bell tower of the Pisa Cathedral. The cathedral, a baptistery, and the bell tower are all situated in a spacious square called the Piazza del Duomo. The characteristic tilt of the tower is a result of building on weak soil. The tower was built in phases over two centuries and initial construction work started in 1173. The fault started becoming apparent in 1178 and by completion in the 14th century, the tower had sustained a tilt of about 5 degrees giving an approximately 12 ft displacement of the topmost part. Nevertheless, and in fact probably because of the fault, the fame of the tower has grown immensely. In spite of the tilt, the over 185-ft-tall structure maintains a dignified aura and has remained a wonder to see. As I made my way up the spiral stairs of the tower to see the massive tower bells at the top, I could not help but wonder if these are the same steps used by the famous Galileo Galilei as he made his way to the summit of the tower for his famed experiment on mass and speed of descending objects. 

    The tower, the cathedral, and the baptistery all in the complex were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.3 Recent efforts by modern engineering has now stabilized the tower at least for another 200 years they say.

    Tower of Pisa
    Fig. 43: The famous leaning Tower of Pisa. Due to soft base soil beneath causing an approximate 5° tilt, the building gave way gradually over the years to its now iconic position.

    Tower of Pisa
    Fig. 44: A view of the tower with its characteristic columns.

    Tower of Pisa
    Fig. 45: Details of columns on the Tower of Pisa.

    Tower of Pisa
    Fig. 46: I wonder if Galileo Galilei went up these same steps for his famous experiment. One gets a floating feeling as you climb the stairs moving from the low side to the high. A slight centrifugal force continues to tug on you until you reach the summit. 

    Fig. 47
    Fig. 47: The tip of the tower with tourists to scale. Notice the bells on the tower top.

    Tower of Pisa bell
    Fig. 48: One of the bells at the summit of the Tower of Pisa.

    Pisa Baptistery of St John
    Fig. 49: The Pisa Baptistery of St John. Said to be the largest baptistery in the whole of Italy.

    Pisa Baptistery of St John
    Fig. 50: Floral and figural ornamentation on the portal of the main entrance of the Pisa Baptistery.

    Cathedral of Pisa
    Fig. 51: A view of the Cathedral of Pisa. Also known in Italian as Il Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta. It is a Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

    Cathedral of Pisa
    Fig. 52: Details of the columns on the western façade of the Cathedral of Pisa.

    Cathedral of Pisa
    Fig. 53: The bronze central door of the Cathedral of Pisa’s western façade.

    Cathedral of Pisa bronze door
    Fig. 54: Details of the bronze central door on the Cathedral of Pisa’s western façade.

    Cathedral of Pisa bronze door
    Fig. 55: Details of the bronze central door of the Cathedral of Pisa’s western façade.

    Cathedral of Pisa
    Fig. 56: A view of the interior of the Cathedral of Pisa looking towards the altar from the nave.

    Cathedral of Pisa
    Fig. 57: A view of the interior of the Cathedral of Pisa showing columns that demarcate the nave from the northern isle.

    Piazza dei Miracoli sculpture
    Fig. 58: A curious bronze sculpture on the grounds of the Piazza dei Miracoli which means Square of Miracles—this is where the Pisa Baptistery, the Cathedral of Pisa, and the Tower of Pisa are situated. The square is also known as the Piazza del Duomo. The sculpture appears to be of an angel with broken wing.

    Piazza dei Miracoli sculpture
    Fig. 59: The reverse view of the sculpture of the angel with the broken wing.

    aerial view Pisa
    Fig. 60: A view of the town of Pisa from the top of the Tower of Pisa.


    1 Fawcett Jane, “The Impact of Visitors on the Medieval Cathedrals and Abbeys of England” in Old cultures in new worlds. 8th ICOMOS General Assembly and International Symposium. Programme report - Compte rendu. US/ICOMOS, Washington (1987) 876-883.

    2 Gross Hanns, Rome in the Age of Enlightenment: The Post-Tridentine Syndrome and the Ancient Regime (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990) 28.

    3 "Piazza del Duomo, Pisa". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved August 8, 2016.

  • In Search of Chinese Architecture

    by User Not Found | Feb 07, 2018

    Society of Architectural Historians China Field Seminar Report
    December 27, 2017–January 7, 2018 

    Day 1, December 27, 2017, Shanghai, mildly cold but sunny

    It’s the first day of the tour. We are in Shanghai for the China Field Seminar of the Society of Architectural Historians. 

    The itinerary is intense; it will take us to a wide range of buildings, from the Han tombs from over 2000 years ago, to the Shanghai World Financial Center completed in 2008, and just about everything in between: classical gardens, private houses, religious edifices and vernacular buildings, in Shanghai, Suzhou, Zhenjiang, Nanjing, Yangzhou, Hangzhou, Guiyang and Guangzhou in 10 short days. To me this trip is an effort to find an answer to one overarching question: What is Chinese architecture today? Or to put it slightly differently: What do we mean when we speak of “Chinese architecture” in the twenty-first century? The answer may be significantly different for different people: for architectural historians, for architects, and for those who share with us an interest in Chinese architecture, particularly given China’s role in contemporary global affairs. My goal is not to locate a universal definition of Chinese architecture, which might not be possible in any case, but rather, to treat the unique experience of this field seminar as an exercise in critical thinking and reflection. And I sincerely hope and urge my friends in the group to share their thoughts. A big thank-you in advance.

    A quick rundown of the historical circumstances that triggered tremendous change in China in the last 150 years. The last imperial dynasty, the Manchu Qing court (1644–1911), was forced to open treaty ports for commerce, Shanghai among them, after a series of armed and failed conflicts with Western powers (the First and Second Opium War of the mid-nineteenth century were among the most traumatizing for China). The Qing dynasty fell after the revolution of 1911, whereby the Republic of China was founded the next year with Sun Yat-sen installed as its first president. Instability was worsened by continuous conflicts among political cliques, the rise of the communist party in the 1920s, increased Western dominance in virtually every aspect of social and cultural life in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century China, and the invading Japanese troops from the early 1930s to the end of WWII. The power struggle between the Nationalist and Communist parties which led to years of bloody civil war and the founding of the PRC in 1949, was followed by the ideological warfare waged by the Communist party under Mao Zedong which culminated in the Cultural Revolution that started in 1966 and lasted 10 long years, wreaking cultural havoc.

    We are staying at the Astor House hotel, an architectural curiosity itself. Originally the Richards Hotel, it was built in 1846 to be the first Western hotel in Shanghai and China. Over the decades, the location, name and style of the building have been changed, renovated or restored many times, with its current Neo-Classical/ Baroque style elaborately worked out in 1907. The hotel does not shy away from showcasing its glory in housing celebrities including Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw and many others whose likenesses are displayed throughout the hotel.

    1. AstorHouseHotel 1
    2. AstorHouseHotel2
    [Figs 1 & 2, pictures of the interior of the Astor House hotel]   

    A few of us couldn’t wait until the next day to walk on the Bund as scheduled in the program, so we started right after our dinner tonight. The lights were amazing. Shanghai is certainly a city that is very self-conscious about presenting its image to the world.

    3. lightsacrossriver
    [Figs 3 & 4, pictures of lights across the river from the Bund, and on the Bund] 


    Day 2, December 28, 2017, Shanghai, drizzling all day  

    Busy day today. In the morning Professor Lu Yongyi  (卢永毅) of Tongji University, which boasts one of the best architecture programs in China with about 2700 full-time students in its College of Architecture and Urban Planning alone in 2016, joined us for a walking tour along the Bund. Professor Lu started with a brief history of modern Shanghai. The Treaty of Nanking that ended the first Opium War in 1842, forced the imperial Qing government to open treaty ports along the seaboard, including Guangzhou (Canton), Fuzhou, Xiamen, Ningbo and Shanghai. This allowed the British to set up their consulate and granted their merchants residence in the city. The competing colonial powers effectively turned Shanghai into three different municipalities: the International Settlement (a conglomeration of the British, American and other settlements in Shanghai), the French Concession, and the walled Chinese city by the end of the nineteenth century. Construction and spatial organization of the landscape of the city, especially along the Bund, was ad-hoc and competitive as different interests fought for spatial and stylistic representation and domination.  

    5. Shanghaimap
    7. Shanghai Bund in 1870
    6. ShanghaiBund
    [Figs 5–7, map of Shanghai and photos of the Bund during the late-nineteenth century and 1930s]

    After the brief introduction to the city’s development from an inconspicuous fishing village to its rapid rise to the international stage in less than a century, we had a taste of the architecture along the Bund, a sort of “appreciating the flowers from the back of a racing horse,” as the Chinese idiom would have it [zou ma guan hua,走马观花], given our limited time frame. 

    We started from Yuanmingyuan Road, just behind the waterfront structures on the Bund, and worked our way to the waterfront. Western style buildings dominated this street, just like those along the Bund. Many structures, however, are not open to tourists and their original purpose has been changed. The gorgeous Art Deco China Baptist Publication Building, for example, designed by the prolific Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec in 1930, is now used as an office building. Mostly made up of religious, educational, cultural, and recreational institutions, the architectural identity of Yuanmingyuan Road corresponded to its location behind the waterfront. The waterfront itself is dominated by more explicit expressions of power and prestige: banks, customs house, and luxury hotels, that facilitated imperialist endeavors in late nineteenth-century Shanghai.

    8. bldg1
    9. bldg2
    10. bldg3
    [Figs 8–10, pics of buildings on Yuanmingyuan Road and the Bund]

    When the majority of these buildings were built in the first three decades of the twentieth century, Chinese architectural historians and architects grappled with the question I proposed at the beginning of this blog; what is Chinese architecture? And some of them responded very differently from how we might today. Liang Sicheng (1901–1972), the eminent architectural historian and architect understood this architecture of modern China as a reflective of a colonized mentality. In a talk he gave in 1950, he noted: “For over a century, the Chinese have completely lost their confidence. A completely colonized psyche considers everything and anything foreign superior. ... This shameful history of 109 years is shown nowhere more explicitly than in her architecture.”1 Seventy years later, how have our views towards these buildings changed?  

    11. Santaoutside
    12. Santainside
    [Figs 11&12, pics of Bund with Santa both inside and outside]

    A short ferry-boat ride across the Huangpu River took us to the Shanghai World Financial Center, the 492-meter skyscraper, for its famous observation deck on the 100th floor. Rain and clouds made it hard to see much, but the observation tower still offered occasional panoramic views of the city.

    13. From100thfloor
    14. On100thfloor
    [Figs 13 & 14, views from the 100th floor]

    The afternoon was taken up by the Jewish Refugee Museum and the Shanghai Museum. During WWII more than 20,000 Jews came to the city to seek refuge from the purges in Europe. The former synagogue, now the main structure of the museum, is a three-story brick building that was originally a private house. On the upper floor was an exhibition on Anne Frank. A quick walk to the Shanghai Ark afterwards, so called because of the refuge the city provided to the Jews during this time, concluded our visit to this part of the city, and we were on our way to the Shanghai Museum.  

    16. Jewish2
    [Figs 15 & 16, Jewish Refugee Museum] 

    A few of us opted to visit the nearby Shanghai Planning Exhibition Center instead. The gigantic model of the city that almost took up the whole third floor was mind-boggling, and there were exhibitions of both long-term development plans for the city, and temporary art exhibitions related to urban development in contemporary China. The current exhibit examines the relation between urban and rural development.

    17. ModelofSH
    [Fig 17, picture of the city model]    

    On the upper floor I was delighted to find an exhibition of old streets in Shanghai, which juxtapose segments of old print maps, period photos, and 2.5-dimensional maps (See what a 2.5-dimensional map is in the picture below), to locate the buildings in the cityscape. It was very nicely done. One gets a good sense of not only the form ands style of the buildings, but also their spatial relation in the larger cityscape. And here’s Yuanmingyuan Road we saw earlier today!

    18. Yuanmingyuanroad
    [Fig 18, Yuanmingyuan Road in exhibit]


    Day 3, December 29, Shanghai to Suzhou, overcast

    Left Shanghai bright and early today. We made good time and headed straight to Zhujiajiao, about an hour drive west of Shanghai. Zhujiajiao is called a water town: the canals are its lifeblood, offering means of transportation before automobiles, and now they provide tourists a soothing tranquility not found in the concrete jungle of the city. 

    19. Zhujiajiao1
    20. Zhujiajiao2
    [Figs 19 & 20, pictures of Zhujiajiao]

    Off the well-trodden track of tourism, I noticed an alleyway that seemed very calm in comparison, probably because it was not open to the public. A guard was stationed at the entrance of the alley, but he didn’t stop me. I kept walking past ordinary houses along the alleyway, until I couldn’t go any farther. At the end of the alley was a stately entrance structure announcing its non-ordinariness and a guard who informed me that it was a private residential area. It was a secluded luxury apartment complex tucked away at the deeps of the alley on the river.    

    21. Zhujiajiaoapt
    22. Zhujiajiaoapt
    [Figs 21 & 22, pictures of luxury apartment complex at Zhujiajiao] 

    Although the locals and perhaps also your tour guides could proudly tell you that the town boasts a history of over 1700 years, much of what is presented to the visitors today seems newly restored or rebuilt. 

    23. Zhujiajiao
    [Fig 23, picture of pavilion with peeling paint and cracks] 

    We continued to the Suzhou Museum designed by I.M. Pei that opened in 2006. I had never been there before, and remembered being unsure about the photos of the museum exterior when I first saw them. But the entrance hall, which greeted visitors with Pei’s take on classical Chinese painting and garden design across the reflecting pool beyond the glass window, made my uncertainties disappear.  

    24. SuzhouMus1
    [Fig 24, picture of view from the main hall; rockeries on white walls. Pei’s post-modern take on classical painting and garden design of China]

    The exhibition spaces work well: clean and simple lines and shapes with a subdued color scheme and indirect natural light work together to highlight the artworks on display. The effectiveness of the exhibition is enhanced by the modest scale of the galleries. What is most impressive is the intricate and fine craftsmanship throughout the museum.

    25. SM2
    26. SM3
    27. SM4
    [Figs 25-27, gallery spaces of Suzhou Museum]

    Afterwards we walked through the adjacent Zhongwang Palace of the Taiping Rebellion leader Li Xiucheng (1823–1864), a part of the Suzhou Museum complex, over to the Humble Administrator’s Garden(Zhuozheng yuan, 拙政园)next door. These places are right next to each other, because both the museum and the palace were part of the garden at one point. Covering 12.5 acres of ground, it is the largest extant classical garden in Suzhou. The garden was originally constructed in the early 16th century, but its ownership has changed hands many times. Its current layout of three different parts: the eastern part intended as an agricultural and horticultural space for producing vegetables, fruits, and flowers that was completely rebuilt in 1959–1960, the central part, and the western section which was known as the Supplementary Garden, was established in the last fifty years or so.

    Buildings play an important role in the organization of the spaces, in both their abundance and in their variety of types.

    28. Zhuozhengyuantang(hall)interior
    29. Zhuozhengyuanlou(tower)
    [Figs. 28-30, different types of buildings in Zhuozhengyuan: a tang, a lou, and a ting]

    Even buildings that are outside the garden boundary are included in the view, becoming part of the experience.

    31. Zhuozhengyuanbeisitaborrowed
    [Fig. 31, borrowed view of the Beisi Pagoda]

    Such a classical garden evokes a full-spectrum sensorial experience: sound of the rain, fragrance of the lotus, views from near and far, literary and philosophical references, and more importantly, the spatial experience of moving through the landscape with its undulating terrain. Spaces are layered by means of blocking, framing, allusion, expansion and contraction, unfolding with every step of one’s movement as if in a Chinese landscape painting. The constant change of vistas is, in fact, meant to evoke the experience of nature outside human habitation.

    We then boarded the bus for Xuanmiao guan, only to find that the Daoist Monastery was closed by the time we got there. A quick walk around the grounds was all we could do. Professor Steinhardt gave a wonderful lecture on Chinese architecture at dinner time tonight. She talked about the recognizable features that make Chinese architecture “Chinese,” the foreign influences on Chinese architecture throughout its history, particularly from India and under the Mongols, and the modular and standardized production of architectural components in Chinese construction.  

    Day 4, December 30, 2017, Suzhou to Zhenjiang to Nanjing, sporadic drizzling and fog

    We walked out of our cute old-house-turned-hotel after breakfast, a curious matter of a paper-white-bread sandwich with egg, milk and coffee brought to the room, to the nearby Twin Pagodas, after a pleasant stroll on the canal leading us to the Luohan Yuan (Arhat Monastery). Originally built in the late 10th century, the Twin Pagodas date back to the same period, although restorations have been carried out numerous times, the most recent one being about five years ago. Professor Steinhardt explained the early layout of Buddhist monasteries. Unlike what we usually see with later Buddhist monasteries where the main hall is the most significant structure, in earlier monasteries the pagoda, as a symbol of the Buddha and a reliquary of his relics, was as important as the main Buddha hall if not more so. There could be one or two pagodas, or none, at the entrance or next to the main hall. These almost identical octagonal seven-story brick pagodas, a rare case indeed, are important examples of brick multi-story constructions of the early period.

    32. SuzhouTwinpagodas
    33. SuzhouTwinPagodas
    [Figs 32 & 33, pics of pagodas]

    What aroused everyone’s curiosity, ensuing much discussion was the remains of the main hall. The five-bay structure, supported by masonry columns, some of which were elaborately carved with floral patterns, has only some columns and column bases left standing. What could have been the shallow incisions on the corner columns? Why were they made of stone?  

    34. Luohanyuancolumns1
    35. Luohanyuancolumns2
    [Figs 34 & 35, pics of columns of the remains of the main hall]

    We then visited the garden of Wangshi Yuan (Garden of the Master of the Fishing Nets) which is tiny compared to the Zhuozhengyuan Garden we visited yesterday, not even one sixth of the latter in size. This exquisite garden is known for its compacted spaces, which so artfully composed as not to feel cramped. Highly condensed views are framed mostly around the central squarish Rosy Clouds Pool. Originating as the famed Hall of Ten-Thousand Volumes and The Fisherman’s Retreat Garden of the Southern-Song retired literatus Shi Zhengzhi, this garden-residence likewise changed many hands until its current form was laid out during the Qing dynasty (1644–1912). Its western section of the Late Spring Cottage (Dianchun yi) served as a model for the Astor Chinese Garden Court in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York constructed in 1980.

    36. Wangshiyuan1
    37. Wangshiyuan2
    38. Wangshiyuan3
    [Figs 36-38, pics of Wangshi yuan]

    After a quick climb and then walk around the grounds of the Pagoda of Auspicious Light near Panmen Gate of Suzhou, the oldest pagoda in Suzhou with the original structure dating from the third century BCE, we were taken by a slow bus ride to Zhenjiang, where about 20 minutes were left for us to explore the hill-side nineteenth century complex, started with the British Consulate built in 1890.

    39. FormerBritishConsulateZhenjiang
    40. BritishtownZhenjiang
    [Figs 39 & 40, pics of British town in Zhenjiang]


    Day 5, December 31, 2017, Nanjing to Yangzhou and back, sun & fog

    Heavy fog set us back two and half hours on our way to Yangzhou this morning. The Fourth Bridge on the Yangtze River outside Nanjing was temporarily closed, and consequently we had to make revisions to our program. We first visited the Ge Garden in Yangzhou, famous for its bamboo plants. Rebuilt in the early 19th century by a Yangzhou salt merchant Huang Zhiyun (1770–1836), the garden was so named because of the visual similarity between the Chinese character ge (个) and bamboo, the owner’s beloved object. Being the symbol of modesty and unyielding integrity, bamboo has been a favorite subject of traditional Chinese painting. Other than the many different kinds of bamboo occupying a sizeable portion of the garden of about 6 acres, a Bamboo Culture Hall displays everything about bamboo, especially in relation to the city of Yangzhou and its literati culture.

    What has also garnered tremendous fame for the garden is the so-called Four-Season Rockeries, where architecture, bamboo and rocks of different forms and hues were combined to evoke the different seasonal atmosphere of the year.  

    41. Geyuanbamboo
    42. Geyuanrockeries
    [Figs 41 & 42, pics of Ge Garden, bamboo and rockeries]

    Two Western Han dynasty tombs were on the itinerary next. The tombs of the first King of Guangling (Yangzhou’s name during the Western Han (202 BCE–8 CE) period), Liu Xu and his queen, for its elaborate burial style called Huangchang ticou, a sumptuous funerary arrangement for the royal members of the Han Dynasty, the highest-ranking tomb style with its layers of protection outside the coffin. Huangchang (literally “yellow intestine”) refers to the cypress wood and its color, after the bark is peeled off. Ti means tops or “heads” of the timbers that all point inward toward the coffin, gathered perpendicular to the coffin’s wall. The tombs were first discovered in 1979 and have been removed from its original site to the current museum location. Among the dozen of Huangchang ticou tombs found in China so far, this burial site of the king and his queen is the biggest, most elaborate in terms of materials used, structure and workmanship, and best preserved of its kind.2

    43. Huangchangticou
    44. joineriesattomb
    [Figs 43 & 44, Huangchang ticou tombs] 

    Professor Steinhardt gave us another wonderful lecture after dinner titled “How Chinese Architecture Became Modern.” This is a story of how the first-generation of Chinese architects, particularly Liang Sicheng (1901–1972), Liu Dunzhen (1897–1968), Tong Jun (1900–1983) and Yang Tingbao (1901–1982) helped to transform the Chinese built landscape to its modern form, with the help of education received—with the exception of Liu—at the University of Pennsylvania during the 1920s. 


    Day 6, January 1, 2018, Nanjing, sunny

    Happy New Year!

    What a day! We started today with Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum early in the morning. This complex was designed by Lv Yanzhi (1894–1929), who received his architecture degree from Cornell and won an international competition for the well-publicized project in 1925. The bell-shaped mausoleum complex is approached through a memorial archway, a long walkway through a gate and a pavilion, before culminating at the Sacrificial Hall perched on top of the hillslope of the Purple Mountain. As Delin Lai points out in his study of the mausoleum, the major considerations of the design were twofold: the mausoleum was to be both Chinese and modern, embodying the ideals of the new nation-state of the Republic of China as stipulated by Sun Yat-sen himself. As required by the design competition committee, who wanted a monument “preferably in classical Chinese style with distinctive and monumental features,” the completed mausoleum was a combination of the imperial burial ground in its scale, layout and approach, and Beaux-arts-inspired modern design executed in concrete and metal, materials more permanent than the timber construction typical of the indigenous tradition.3

    45. SunMausoleumplan
    46. SunMausoleum
    47. SunMausoleum
    [Figs 45-47, plan, approach/steps, and Sacrificial Hall of the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum]

    After the impressive Beamless Hall, a hefty brick vault structure without wooden columns or beams built in 1381, the largest among the few extant examples of its kind in China in the Linggu Monastery, and the Xiaoling of the first Ming dynasty (1368–1644) emperor and his empress, we rushed against daylight to visit the Oriental Metropolitan Museum [Liuchao bowuguan/ 六朝博物馆 in Chinese, literally the Six Dynasties Museum]. A 2014 addition to Nanjing’s long list of museums, this modest-sized museum showcases the cultures of the Six Dynasties of China, roughly from the third to the sixth centuries. The lower level exhibits an awesome display of archaeological findings from the old city of Nanjing, the then capital city of the Six Dynasties including ruins of city walls, sewage systems, porcelain and pottery and other cultural relics. The English name of the museum, Oriental Metropolitan rather than the literal translation of the Six Dynasties, indicates the city government’s aspiration to tap into the past glory of the historic city as one of the “Oriental Metropolitan” areas of the world, and Pei Partnership Architects, the designer of the museum, certainly help that aspiration. 

    48. OldcitywallOrientalMus.
    49. TileheadsOrientalMuseum
    [Figs 48 & 49, exhibits in the Metropolitan Museum]

    We then went to Nanjing University’s Gulou Campus to see the North Tower designed by Yang Tingbao (also known as T. P. Yang). By the time we got to the Pearl Buck house, however, it was too dark to see much.  


    Day 7, January 2, 2018, from Nanjing to Wuhu, cloudy & mild

    We got to the Nantang tombs outside Nanjing before the gate was even open this morning. Bravo for the group of troopers for  keeping to the schedule! The tombs were for two Nantang kings (r. 937–943, and 943–961 respectively, between the Tang and Song dynasties) that were first excavated from 1950 to 1962. The tombs themselves, especially the first one Qinling, are a valuable depository of information on artistic development in the period concerning architecture, sculpture, painting, and pottery-making. The main chambers of the tombs, although built of stone, show features of timber construction of the period, such as the relief sculpture of the columns and bracket-sets. Sculpture and polychromatic paintings adorn the walls. The exhibition on the excavations, some 600 items in total, including over 200 figurines, is amazing, although the presentation could stand some improvement.

    50. Nantangtombsgateblocks
    51. NantangtombsQinlinginterior
    52. Nantangtombsfigurines
    [Figs 50–52, tombs and figurines]     

    Following this we went to the Porcelain Tower Heritage Park nearby to visit the pagoda that was designed and constructed by a team from Southeast University in Nanjing and opened to the public only two years ago in December 2015. We were in fact joined by a faculty member from Southeast University, Ren Sijie (任思捷), formerly Professor Steinhardt’s student at the University of Pennsylvania, who gave us a nice introduction to the design of the tower and walked the park ground with us. As Chen Wei, one of leaders responsible for the design team from Southeast University, explained, what was started in 2003 as a reconstruction initiative of the long-gone early 15th-century Porcelain Tower of Nanjing, made famous to the European audiences by the Dutch traveller and painter Johan Nieuhof (1618–1672), evolved into a comprehensive project focusing on the protection, preservation and re-presentation of the archaeological complex that was excavated during 2007 and 2012.4 The excavations unearthed valuable Buddhist relics from the original site, including the King Asoka Pagoda and the remains of the Buddha (Shakyamuni) deposited in the underground reliquary. The palimpsest site contained several layers of historical and cultural significance, which has been extensively explored and exhibited in the heritage park/ museum complex through modern technology which at times produces an overwhelming audio and visual overload.

    53. KingAsokaPagoda
    [Fig 53, King Asoka Pagoda, according to the information given in the museum, it is “the largest in volume, the finest in production, and the most complicated in craftsmanship” of its kind discovered so far in China.]

    The whole project, reportedly built at the cost of 156 million USD, seems a part of the municipal government’s ambition to capitalize on the historic reputation of the original Bao’en Monastery as the “Greatest Buddhist Monastery” and the city as the “Capital of Buddhism” in China by drawing attention, and tourists, lots of them, to the site and the city.5

    It was also interesting to know that the design process involved public feedback in the initial stage. Solicitations were sent out to the public of Nanjing about whether the new pagoda should be built directly on top of the original site of the tower, or at a different location. Final votes determined that the new restored pagoda be built on top of the original site.6 But the design team opted for a lighter structure, a steel-frame skeleton encased with glass, that would minimize the pressure on the original site.

    54. LokapalaHallfoundationwithstonepillarbases
    55. NewtowerBao'ensi
    56. NewtowerinteriorBao'ensi
     [Figs 54–56, archeological sites on display and new tower exterior and interior]

    St Joseph Cathedral in Wuhu after this. One colleague seemed underwhelmed by this church. Perhaps a Catholic church simply does not count as “Chinese” architecture in the proper sense? It is a rather sober-looking Gothic cathedral perched on the lower reach of the He’er Hill facing the Yangtze River in Wuhu, built in 1895. Flanked by two 29-meter tall towers is a five-meter white marble statue of Jesus right above the gable. The cathedral itself tells a story of vicissitude in its century-long history. The construction of the original cathedral was started in 1889, after the city of Wuhu was opened as a treaty port following the Sino-British Chefoo Convention signed in 1876, as a measure to resolve the Margary Affair (a diplomatic crisis triggered by the murder of the British official Augustus Raymond Margary the previous year). The aggressive stance of the French Jesuits led by Joseph Seckinger (1829–1890), however, elicited resistance from the local population of Wuhu who burned down the cathedral in 1891 before it was completed. Subsequent indemnity from the Qing government following the treaty allowed the Jesuits to build the current cathedral, recently restored in 1993, on a grander scale.7 Appropriated during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), it was restored and reopened to the public in 1983. A major restoration was carried out in 2003, and ten years later, it was added to the National Register of Historic and Cultural Sites in China(Quanguo zhongdian wenwu baohu danwei, 全国重点文物保护单位). It is now the second largest Catholic cathedral in Eastern China with active service. 

    57. StJosephWuhuexterior
    58. StJosephWuhuinterior
    [Figs 57 & 58, pics of St. Joseph’s at Wuhu exterior and interior]

    A 4-hour bus ride afterwards took us from Wuhu to Huangshan (Tunxi) for the next part of our trip.


    Day 8, January 3. 2018, Huangshan to Hangzhou, rain

    In the morning we saw two great old villages, first Nanping, and then Hongcun, both in Yi County of Anhui Province. We went to Nanping first, a village with a history stretching back over 1000 years, which still has over 300 traditional vernacular buildings surviving from the Ming and Qing periods (roughly mid-14th century to early 20th century). Nanping Village is known for its tightly knit, maze-like network of alleyways with fine architecture, especially its collection of ancestral halls, which could be represented by the Ye Family’s Ancestral Hall and Branch Ancestral Hall, that we visited. People in the village also make it known that theirs was the chosen sites for some very famous film scenes including some in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

    The picturesque Hongcun nestles at the foot of a hill not far from Nanping. This village likewise enjoys a long history (about 800 years), and flourished with sustained development by successful merchants and imperial scholar-officials from the village. Especially during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the salt and tea merchants from this region who virtually monopolized these trades, and many Confucian scholars who acquired high positions first in the imperial examinations, and then in official posts, built sumptuous houses after their retirement. A large artificial lake (South Lake) welcomes the visitor with its serene beauty on the south side of the village. The placid water reflects the houses, plain and elegant with black tiles and white-washed walls. The overall layout of the village is anchored in another body of water at the center of the village, the much smaller, half-moon shaped Moon Pond that is only about 1.2 meters deep and 130 meters in circumference. In fact, water is everywhere in the village. The intricate and highly efficient waterways in the village provide fresh water supply to every household.

    59. HongcunSouthlakepanorama
    60. HongcunMoonPond
    [Figs 59 & 60, picturesque Hongcun from the south, and the Moon Pond]  

    About 130 old houses survive more or less intact in the village of Hongcun today, and for a student of Chinese architecture, the village is a wonderful depository of folk and vernacular knowledge and regional culture accumulated over a long period of time. It has not “organically grown” as one might expect; rather, the current street pattern and waterways of the village were comprehensively laid out at the beginning of the 15th century by a Fengshui master who was hired for the purpose. A comprehensive water system was built channeling water from the river flowing on the northwest of the village, bringing water to every household through a complicated system of canals totaling 1200 meters in length. The Moon Pond was dug to receive the canals before the waterway was directed to the South Lake which was also built as a strategic part of the plan, to relieve the water for irrigation and final discharge into the river that embraces the village on the south.

    61. Hongcunplan
    62. Hongcunhouse
    63. Hongcunhouse&water
    [Figs 61–63, tourist map of Hongcun showing plan of village, and pics of house, and canal next to houses, notice the relation of house and water]    

    A quick visit to the Huizhou Culture Museum afterwards helps put what we learnt at and about the villages into a broader framework and more precise perspective. For instance, we learnt from our local tour guide that Ming and Qing women from this region were really the pillars of households and local community in the absence of their itinerant husbands on business or official duty. At the Wang Family’s Ancestral Hall at Hongcun, we saw a hanging stroll of a woman’s portrait, an anomaly indeed because the Neo-Confucian patriarchal rites prohibited a woman’s presence in the ancestral hall, except under very special circumstances. But the woman in the portrait, a Mrs. Hu, was virtually the architect of the comprehensive planning of the village at the beginning of the 15th century. Being the wife of the clan elder who was out on his official post year round, she was in charge of village affairs, and yet, although aware of the necessity for Fengshui planning, she herself could not practice Fengshui, a vocation reserved for men. She therefore invited the Fengshui master, a friend of her father’s, to take on the project. Village descendants recognized her contribution to their welfare and honored her by inducting her portrait into the ancestral hall. In a rare kudos, a plaque above her portrait describes her as a “Female Man.” (Jinguo zhangfu, 巾帼丈夫) At the Huizhou Culture Museum, we likewise learnt about women’s contribution to the regional culture in terms of not only the traditional “feminine” endeavors such as embroidery, but also literary achievement, with a gallery wall devoted to the most important literary works of women from the Huizhou area.

    [Figs 64 & 65, Mrs. Hu’s portrait and Huizhou women authors’ works at the Huizhou Culture Museum]

    A bus ride then took us to Hangzhou, the city on the beautiful West Lake.      


    Day 9, January 4, 2018, Hangzhou and Ningbo, rain

    We walked in the rains to the former residence of Hu Xueyan (1823–1885), a well-known merchant who first made his fortune in banking, and later expanded it in grain, real estate, salt, tea, clothing, and arms trade through his connections with high-ranking officials of the imperial Qing court. His residence was first built in 1872 at the height of his power and prosperity, an unabashed example of late Qing luxury garden-residence through and through. Occupying a lot a little less than 2 acres, the garden-residence complex was nevertheless tightly packed with buildings, courtyards, and gardens creating complex and intriguing spaces.

    Here space is literally layered by the visually intriguing rooflines, intentionally creating ambiguity in spatial depth.   

    66. Huxueyan house
    [Fig 66 space in Hu’s house]

    And here the undulating wall and straight lines of the courtyard floor combine to create an optical disruption to the visitor.

    [Fig 67, more space inside Hu’s house, notice where the corner of the wall meets the floor]   

    The wealth of the owner was everywhere on display in the house, in the materials of construction, furnishing, and equipment. The building complex displays fondness for Western ideas and materials, as befitting the owner’s business dealings with foreigners. The stained glass, for example, furnished profusely in the house, was imported from outside China, a symbol of wealth and social standing. And ah, did we hear enough about Hu’s concubines from our local guide!  

    68.Huxueyan houseglass
    [Fig 68, stained glass inside Hu’s house]

    We then visited the Silk Museum, originally opened in 1992, and then in 2016 after an extensive renovation project. It is the first national thematic museum of its kind in China and the largest in the world. The exhibits are breathtaking with displays of the historic development of sericulture, weaving, and embroidery from ancient China to the present, from its techniques to the various machineries used, and of silk fashion from the West to the East.     

    The Tianyige Library, which we visited after the museum today was originally the private library of Fan Qin (1506–1585), a Ming-dynasty politician, bibliophile and scholar, who established it during 1561–1566. Now home to about 300,000 volumes of books and numerous items of historic and cultural significance, it is the oldest private library in China and one of the oldest surviving private libraries in the world. 

    The Baoguo Monastery, perched on the small hilltop of Lingshan outside the city of Ningbo, really demands at least a full day in order to do it justice. The main hall of the monastery is a  rare example of a Northern-Song dynasty (960–1127)timber construction on the South of the Yangtze River, built in 1013. Some examples of carpentry are among the only ones surviving from such an early period, including the melon-wheel-shaped pillars (an ingenious solution to the problem of lack of large-size timber), the curved beam and the four-step bracket sets. The chanduchuomu seen in this hall is the singular
     example of such a member in Chinese architecture.

    [Figs 69–71, pillar, bracket sets and chanduchuomu at Baoguo Monastery]

    The monastery draws flocks of architecture students because of its historic value in illuminating the Yingzao fashi, the iconic building manual from the Northern Song dynasty published about 90 years after the construction of the hall, stipulating construction techniques, painting, and labor and material evaluation. But we had less than an hour, and it was getting quite dark.


    Day 10, January 5, 2018, Hangzhou to Guiyang, rain

    We stopped by the Hangzhou International Conference Center for about 15 minutes on our way to the airport to Guiyang where, upon arrival, we were taken to the Qingyan Ancient Town directly. This is an early Ming dynasty garrison first built over 600 years ago, with a section of the old wall, and some old buildings still standing. But the majority of the buildings in town seem heavily restored or brand new. This was also where a colleague and I saw what he called “instant antiquing,” the practice of a carpenter “spraying” a tube of flames on a newly finished wooden window to make it look dark and old instantly. Here the gaudy entrance of the Daoist Monastery Wanshou gong stands as an example of “fake antiques” everywhere seen in China today. 

    74.Qingyan wanshougong
    [Figs 72–74, Qingyan town, wall with gate, faking antique, wanshou gong]

    Professor Steinhardt gave a great lecture tonight on the gardens and pagodas,  especially in Suzhou, providing a nice review of what we just saw, and another short one on Yangzhou’s architecture. 

    Flight from Guiyang to Guangzhou.


    Day 11, January 6, 2018, Guangzhou, a lot of rain

    The first item on the itinerary today was the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Guangzhou, designed by the same architect who designed his mausoleum in Nanjing, Lv Yanzhi, and built in 1929–1931. Here as in the mausoleum complex in Nanjing, we see the architect’s intention and effort to adapt the traditional Chinese building to foreign use; i.e., that of a large-size auditorium. The main entrance side of the building presents a rather curious assortment of rooflines and wall surfaces. The dominating red and blue color scheme is a nod to the stateliness and dignity of palatial Chinese architecture, but the proportion is determined by the functional requirements of the auditorium, whose roof spans over 40 meters, a steel-reinforced frame without any columns. In fact, the auditorium was the largest in China—with the best acoustics—when it was built.  

    [Figs 75 & 76, pics of auditorium exterior and interior]

    The exhibition of the Western Han Nanyue King’s tomb museum was absolutely stunning! Nanyue was a kingdom that ruled the majority of present-day Guangdong, Guangxi, and parts of Fujian, and the surrounding southern parts from about 204 BCE to 112 BCE, with its capital city in today’s Guangzhou. The burial ground belonged to Zhao Mo (r. 137–125 BCE), the second king of the kingdom. Excavation of the tomb produced a stunning array of funerary objects including a jade suite on the king’s body, and over 1000 other items, including a large quantity of jades, precious metals such as gold, silver, brass, and pottery objects.   

    77. Nanyuekingtombplan
    78. Nanyuekingtombjades
    [Figs 77–79, Nanyue king’s tomb and excavations]

    The bus drove past the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Guangzhou, as the majority of the group voted “pass” for this site. We went to Zhujiang New Town (Zhujiang xincheng, 珠江新城) instead, to see the Opera House designed by Zaha Hadid and the other new buildings that have sprung up in a matter of less than 20 years. Brand-new office buildings, five-star hotels, super-sized shopping malls, government and cultural institutions are squeezed tightly into an area a little over 6 square kilometers, each calling attention to itself. We walked around the opera house for about 10 minutes before heading over to the new library that opened in 2013. We were all drenched in the rain during the 5-minute walk from the library back to the bus.

    80. Zhujiangxincheng
    [Figs 80–82, pics of Zhujiang xincheng]

    This day concluded our field trip. The majority of the group went to Hong Kong to go their own ways. Seems like a fitting place to stop and pause a while. We visited so many  places and saw so many different things during this short trip. Ancient 2000-year-old structures were experienced on the same day as the most contemporary architecture, and humble vernacular houses shared similar spatial organization as the Forbidden City. If my question posed at the beginning of the blog, i.e., “What is Chinese architecture in the 21st century?” still stands, could we say that everything we have seen belongs in the category of Chinese architecture? Even Zaha Hadid’s Opera House?

    China today does have the guts and appetite to claim everything built in its territory as “Chinese” architecture. Or to put it slightly differently, Chinese architects today, and perhaps the public as well, do not seem as bothered by questions of style, form, national character as their predecessors in the, say, Republican period were? Why? 

    I needed to get back too. I took a taxi to the airport by myself, and started talking to the driver, a Guangzhou native, about what I had seen in Guangzhou the previous day. I asked him about Zhujiang New Town, and he said, “Don’t you know that every major Chinese city is building a New Town now?” He was right; if the so-called first-tier cities in China, the likes of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, started the trend, they will be followed soon by every other city that aspires for the mega-city status.

    But aren’t places like Zhujiang New Town only a presentable mask that the Chinese government wants the world to see? One wonders what is hidden by the face of ostentatious and sleek modernity. When it comes to Chinese architecture specifically, what is it that we are not allowed to see and know?


    Yan Wencheng received her PhD in the history of art and architecture from University of California, Santa Barbara in March 2016. Her dissertation, entitled Writing Modernity: Constructing a History of Chinese Architecture, 1920–1949, examines architectural historiography of modern China by excavating and analyzing a set of popular discourse vibrant during this period but subsequently lost in the standard history of Chinese architecture. Her interest in vernacular architecture is partly due to what she had seen in a two-week self-guided vernacular architecture tour in southwestern China over ten years ago, partly because of her conviction that it deserves more scholarly attention, and partly because of the theoretical and substantive potential of vernacular architecture in informing us about global sustainable architecture and urban planning in the twenty-first century. She is also interested in cultural translation among different architectural traditions in the modern and contemporary periods. 

    1 Liang Sicheng, “Jianzhu de minzu xingshi,” (The national form of architecture) in Liang Sicheng, Liang Sicheng quanji (Complete Works of Liang Sicheng) vol. 5. Beijing: Zhongguo jianzhu gongye chubanshe (2001) : 55-59.  

    2 For an introduction to this burial style, see Aurelia Campbell, “The form and function of Western Han ‘Ticou’ tombs,” Artibus Asiae, 70:2 (2010): 227–258.

    3 See Delin Lai, “Searching for a modern Chinese monument: the design of the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 64:1 (March 2005): 22–55.

    4 The influential Chinese journal Jianzhu xuebao [Architectural Journal] ran a special issue focusing on the Grand Bao’en Monastery in early 2017, which included several articles by the design team members. See Chen Wei, “Lishi ruci liudong [History flows as it should],” Architectural Journal (2017.1): 1–7.

    5 A Southern Weekly article discusses the project in 2011, after it received the one-billion-yuan donation making it possible to start the project for real, focusing on the tension between conservation of the historic site and reconstruction of the pagoda. The last section of the article is titled “Hugely Profitable,” discussing the potential economic and financial profit of the project. See Ju Jing, and Hu Han, “Controversies on Reconstructing the Grand Bao’en Monastery of Nanjing—Cultural Protection and Tourist Attraction: Which Matters More?” (In Chinese), The Southern Weekly, April 25, 2011,

    6 Ms. Ren gave us this information, and I haven’t been able to find more details about it.  See an article on CNN about the park. Elaine Yu, CNN, “China rebuilds a 'world wonder' in Nanjing.” Updated 21st September 2017.

    7 A 1984 article gave a detailed account of the bloody conflict that happened at the St. Joseph Cathedral in 1891. See Weng Fei, “Wuhu jiaoan [Wuhu’s Catholic Conflict],” Historiography Anhui (1984.2): 48–51.

  • Ruin as Ornament

    by User Not Found | Feb 05, 2018

    Deyemi Akande is the 2016 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    I am not from a culture that values ruined objects. We see and relate to them more as an eyesore than vestiges of a great past. In fact, culturally, we are obligated to repair, replace or remove ruined objects. As a historian, who is also Yoruba, being in Greece presents a chronic and well-founded conflict within me. Thankfully, culture alone does not inform my actions. While I confess that at first glance Greece fatigued me and it was tough for me to relate to the ruins, however historic and revered, it will take more than cultural indoctrination to prevent the uncontrollable high you feel when the thought crosses your mind that Socrates may have touched this very column I am now touching.

    To untrained minds, a ruin is exactly what it is—devastation and decay. It should have no visual appeal and no beauty; at least not the type that will draw us to it. Ruins should have no function and no useful value to us in the present age where our taste and needs have morphed over time to such extent that an ancient piece of jewelry, for example, is now so dated and useful only in an archaeology show-and-tell class or perhaps historic movie sets. Ruin, in basic terms, should mean the collapsed remnant of what was once great, now a deformed structure that no longer carries the appearance of majesty. In Greece, these suppositions are in fact not the case. Every year, millions of people give all to travel to see Greece’s architectural ruins. Ancient architectural sites, rank among the top three reasons why people visit Greece. Those ancient ruins have arguably become Greece’s most valuable asset and a very present evidence of the absence of a former glory.

    Fig. 1: A vestige of former glory. The western façade of the Parthenon ("parthenos" in Greek). The temple of Athena, the Virgin goddess and protector of Athens showing its elegant Doric styled columns.

    Fig. 2: Western façade of the Parthenon, temple of Athena. Practically all of its ornamented pediment has been lost to time.

    Fig. 3: Closer details of the remnant of the pediment showing relics of the once glorious pediment sculpture.

    Fig. 4: Details of the pediment showing remnants of its sculpture.

    Fig. 5: Details of the fluted columns showing deterioration from age.

    Fig. 6: Ionic capitals of the Erechtheion and the remnant of the pediment showing new marble from recent reconstructive restoration work.

    The word ruin, as most architectural relics are called, has its origin in a Latin word ruina from ruere, which is ‘to fall’. I imagine this word to be quite apt for the description of architectural relics. For it is through the falling of an empire or a civilization that neglect comes to its structures and through neglect the gradual surrender to the powers of nature, which forces all that came from dust to return to dust. Thus, a ruin is not in itself an end but a mid-point in the cycle of life. After all, ruin is defined as the physical disintegration or the state of being destroyed. Speaking of definitions and the word ‘destroyed,’ it is important for me to mention for the record that not all ruins follow the romantic process of gradual disintegration described above. Many modern ruins remind us of another type of legacy, one with much violence and meaningless destruction. The character and posture of this other type carries a different kind of tension. Through it, the articulation of humanity’s bad judgments are ever so apparent. As I write, Aleppo, Mosul, and Raqqa all come to mind. I speak here of the atrocious destruction of architecture with a heavy heart, I will not belabour you to deviate too far off to mention the meaningless destruction of human life.

    At the SAH 2017 Annual Conference in Glasgow, I was honoured to sit in a panel alongside extremely brilliant minds: Getty Research Institute’s Maristella Casciato, Abby Van Slyck of Connecticut College, Zeynep Kezer of Newcastle University, and Getty Conservation Institute’s Jeffery Cody. Dianne Harris of the University of Utah moderated. The panel discussed the challenges of practising architectural history in context of the current anti-knowledge political climate. Mr. Cody was so generously kind to give me what appeared to be his only copy of an excellent book ‘The Battle for Home’ written by Marwa Al-Sabouni, a young Syrian architect. I was immensely struck by her words as she described the utter tragedy of the reduction of Syrian built heritage to ruins. Early in her introduction, Marwa states that it is only through architecture that we see the point of view that is no one’s in particular and everyone’s in general. Buildings do not lie to us; they tell the truth without taking sides. Every little detail in an urban configuration is an honest register of a lived story.1 Indeed, the architectural ruins of Syria fully carries on its back, the mark of our collective actions or inactions.

    Battle for Home
    Fig. 7: My copy of The Battle for Home by Marwa Al-Sabouni gifted to me by Jeffery Cody.

    So what draws us to “rubble”? Perhaps the strong force behind architectural ruins are tied to the fact that they are concrete evidence of a past civilization and, a connection to our common quest for survival and a pursuit of greatness. Ruins are the vestige of an attempt at a life of substance by people before us. We are irresistibly attracted to them on account of a strong primal instinct we have to reach out to our ancestors and to touch the past. We humans have a burning desire always to connect with people like us either from a different place or time. The ruins are a proof of the triumph of the people of the past and to us, a glimpse of how the people of the future may see our legacy.

    Fig. 8: The Erechtheion amidst hundreds of old marble slabs that were once a part of one temple or the other on the Acropolis.

    Fig. 9
    Fig. 9: Marble columns, metal columns. Scaffolds now stand where the Naos used to be. The once sacred space now lays bare to all under the sun.

    Fig. 10: The marriage of the old and the new. New marble is seen integrated with ancient marble on a column on the Erechtheion.

    Fig. 11: The base of the Ionic columns of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis showing trimming ornamentation and the worn stylobate.

    Fig. 12: The six beauties—caryatids—of the Erechtheion, worn with age but elegant nonetheless. Vitruvius in his treatise speaks of caryatids as immortalised forms of women (wives) from Caryae captured as slaves and presented in architecture as carriers of the weight of their shame for their state.

    Caryatids of Erechtheion
    Fig. 13: Caryatids of Erechtheion. Closer details of the women of caryae in long robes.

    Fig. 14
    Fig. 14: A view of the Parthenon, temple of Athena, on the Acropolis showing scaffolds from the restoration work. Notice the strong line of columns and the corner piece column showing clear signs of entasis.

    Fig. 15
    Fig. 15: The Theatre of Dionysus.

    Theatre of Dionysus
    Fig. 16: Arched walls of the Theatre of Dionysus.

    Theatre of Dionysus
    Fig. 17: Details of the arched wall of the Theatre of Dionysus.

    Fig. 18: Drums from old columns litter the grounds of the Acropolis.

    Fig. 19: Piles of architectural elements and marble blocks from the ancient structures. The piles on the Acropolis are like a massive jig saw puzzle. The restoration teams are constantly trying to figure out what fits where.

    Acropolis column
    Fig. 20: Drums from columns litter the grounds. Some from the past and some from the recent restoration efforts. The restorers being so meticulous will very easily
    discard any reconstructed architectural pieces that does not perfectly fit.

    Ordinarily, I would see ruin only in its most superficial quality and would have delineated it as waste had I not come across the idea of the "afterlife of architecture." Afterlife of architecture is a concept that speaks to the remnant value and aesthetics of derelict architecture. It discusses the tactile qualities that preserve aspects of an architectural idea in a way that tells the story of the life of the building. Patricia Morton puts it beautifully: The “afterlife” of buildings is critical evidence of the origins of the present in the “trash of history.”2 In another work, Rumiko Handa puts a different but insightful twist to it; she argues that “afterlife” is in fact the very life of a building, as the notion that architecture is complete when the construction is finished is problematic and unrealistic.3

    Beyond the obvious, there is far more to architectural ruin in Greece than meets the eye. The majestic ‘left overs’ carry on more clout and reverence than most of the modern structures in the ancient city. I know not of a single modern edifice both on the Mainland or Islands of Greece that gets nearly as much attention. In fact, as it is to be seen in the Acropolis Museum—same as any museum for that matter—the fantastic ultra-modern building complex is valuable only in context of its content. The fascination with the ancient Greek ruins have a well-established history of its own. Julien-David le Roy’s Les Ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grece, published in 1758, is a testament to this.

    Originally the notable architectural ruin may have been accidental or an unplanned result that evolved through time in some cases such as the great ruins (Colosseum, Acropolis, Machu Picchu, etc.) or through a devastating event such as war (Racqua, Post WWII Warsaw, Paris, etc.), but as civilization passed, the idea of ruin flourish among romantics, artists, and culturists such that the purposeful creation and incorporation of the ideology of ruin into their art became the order of the day. This was particularly true of the 18th century when ruin was centre-stage in European art.4 Poets, novelists, landscapists, and architects were overcome with the idea of a picturesque rot. The craze, Dillon (2012) continues, inspired some well-known architectural absurdities: in 1740 Westmeath, Lord Belvedere built a ruined abbey to block the view of a house where his ex-wife had moved in with his brother, and in 1796 William Beckford designed his fantastical Fonhill Abbey as a “habitable ruin,” sadly the thing kept falling down. In the 20th century, Albert Speers, Hitler’s architect, is believed to have planned and designed Hitler’s future Germania with its potential “ruin value” in mind. Speers believed that using special materials, or by obeying certain laws of statics, one might be able to build structures, which, after hundreds or thousands of years, would more or less resemble our Roman models.5 The Second World War will however test the taste for ruin to its limits.6

    Fig. 21: Delicate balance. Restoration work shows new marble integrated with the old on the Erechtheion.

    Fig. 22: Part of the ruins of the Parthenon showing triglyph and the corner area of the pediment.

    Fig. 23: A synthesis of the old and the new. Columns of the Parthenon showing the ‘marriage’ of old and new marble in a restoration effort.

    Fig. 24: Details of the ornamentation on the Parthenon.

    Fig. 25: Scaffolds around a Parthenon column show progress in restoration work.

    Fig. 26
    Fig. 26: A fr
    agment of old acroterium lay about on the Acropolis hill.

    Short Note on the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

    The Acropolis Museum is a notable building and a place of pride to Athenians and Greece as a whole. The beautiful edifice designed by architect Bernard Tschumi in conjunction with Greek Architect Michael Photiadis stands over the old ruins of a Roman and early Byzantine settlement in Athens. Tschumi’s Acropolis Museum was opened to the public in 2009 and it houses over 4,000 archaeological objects mostly from excavation projects on and around the Acropolis hill. This ultra-modern building is not the first museum for the Acropolis. An initial collection house dedicated to artifacts found on the acropolis was established as far back as 1874. This museum later grew in the 1950s but the structure eventually became inadequate as archaeological work on the Acropolis advanced discovering far more objects than the building could hold, thus the idea for a grand new building was conceived. The current Acropolis Museum allows you see the active ancient archaeological site just below it through a glass floor. The museum is located close to the hill just opposite the Theatre of Dionysus and it is about a 15-minute walk from the Parthenon itself. Inside the museum, one will find an impressive array of relics from the ancient glory of the Acropolis. Both fragments of the original and plaster reconstructions are displayed in a way that educates the viewer on the actual and original forms that adorned the gables of the great temples.

    Acropolis Museum installation
    Fig. 27: An installation inside the Acropolis Museum. The piece shows the remnant of the architectural sculptures that once adorned the pediment of the old temple.

    Caryatids in Acropolis Museum
    Fig. 28: The Women of Caryae—Caryatids in the Acropolis Museum.

    Caryatid in Acropolis Museum
    Fig. 29: Frontal view of a caryatid with long robe (as Vitruvius puts it) in the Acropolis Museum.

    Caryatid Acropolis Museum
    Fig. 30: Details of the upper frontal side of a caryatid.

    Acropolis Museum
    Fig. 31: Side view of a caryatid with long robe on display in the Acropolis Museum.

    Acropolis Museum
    Fig. 32: Several friezes, steles, and architectural sculptures excavated from the Acropolis hill are on display inside the museum.

    Fig. 33
    Fig. 33: Remnant of two marble torso pieces from a pediment sculpture.

    Fig. 34
    Fig. 34: A 1990 plaster model reconstruction of the floral akroterion that once crowned the top of the Parthenon pediment. The original akroterion on top of the ancient Parthenon had a height of 4 meters.

    Fig. 35
    Fig. 35: Plaster models of pediment sculptures from the Parthenon. See Figs. 3 and 4 where the original still adorns the ruins of the Parthenon.

    Fig. 36
    Fig. 36: A cityscape view of the city of Athens just around the slope of the Acropolis hill. In the centre of the photo is the modern Acropolis Museum. In the foreground is th
    e Theatre of Dionysus.

    If one is bemused by the collection of the Acropolis Museum, then he has not visited the National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Formerly called the Central Museum but renamed in 1881, the National Archaeological Museum boasts of over 11,000 pieces of valuable exhibits. The museum is said to be the largest in Greece and one of the most reputed on the world scene for its rich collection, which provides a detailed picture of ancient Greek civilization. The Neo-Classical building was designed by L. Lange for the Greek government and the construction, which started around 1865, was completed in 1889. The museum houses world renowned pieces like the bronze statue of Poseidon, known as the Artemision Bronze, the famous gold funeral mask of Agamemnon, which has been dated to 1550–1500 BC, several well preserved frescoes and wall art from antiquity, several friezes, and remnants of different architectural elements of great temples. From its metallurgy collection, it also boasts of the famous Antikythera mechanism. The museum’s 120-year-old library of archaeology is also a collection to marvel at. With over 20,000 volumes, it houses several rare volumes on art, science, ancient religion, and philosophy.

    National Archaeological Museum, Athens
    Fig. 37: View approaching the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

    Fig. 38
    Fig. 38: Roof-mounted sculptures to the left of the approach view of the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

    Fig. 39
    Fig. 39: The base of a funerary kouros made of Pentelic marble. The fine piece built into the Themistokleian wall was found in Kerameikos in Athens and it is date to around 510 BC.

    Fig. 40
    Fig. 40: Fragments from the largest rotunda in ancient Greece—The Tholos. The Tholos was built between 365–355 BC. The lion heads acted as a water sprout, a type of gargoyle. Several heads lined the base of the rotunda’s roof.

    Fig. 41
    Fig. 41: Funerary stele made out of Poros stone features a chariot scene. This piece is a 16th-century work and was found at a Mycenaen grave.

    Fig. 42
    Fig. 42: Another grave stele made of Pentelic marble and dated around the 4th century BC. This piece if from the north western part of Athens.

    Artemision Bronze
    Fig. 43: The bronze statue of Poseidon also known as the Artemision Bronze. The slightly larger than life size naturalistic piece was recovered from the sea off Cape Artemision hence the name.

    Fig. 44
    Fig. 44: A beautiful and well preserved fresco from the island of Thera. This room features delicate paintings on plastered walls. The ‘Boxing Children’ and the antelope frescoes are now both celebrated works in their own rights.

    ‘Boxing Children’ fresco
    Fig. 45: Detail of the ‘Boxing Children’ fresco.

    Fig. 46
    Fig. 46: Another fine example of well-preserved wall fresco found in Akrotiri. The fresco features a colorful landscape in spring. Researchers believe that the art depicts the rocky landscape of Theran before the volcanic eruption.

    Fig. 47
    Fig. 47
    : Detail of the landscape in spring fresco from Akrotiri.

    Ruins are obviously more than just the reminders of an illustrious past, they are also stencils for future. Ruins speak to persistence and a quality that becomes imperative if the future is to see a trace of the present. These critical thoughts about ruins are instructive to me even as I battle with the cultural conflict inside me about the value of ruins. In all, I find some sense and direction in the words of Georg Simmel from his essay “The Ruin” as quoted by Brian Dillon in his article "Fragments from the History of Ruin": "Architecture is the only art in which the great struggle between the will of the spirit and the necessity of nature issues into real peace, in which the soul in its upward striving and nature in its gravity are held in balance. Nature begins to have the upper hand: the brute, downwards-dragging, corroding, crumbing power produces a new form. But at what point can nature be said to be victorious in this battle between formal spirit and organic substance? The ruin is not the triumph of nature, but an intermediate moment, a fragile equilibrium between persistence and decay."7

    Lycabettus hill Athens
    Fig. 48: A view of the city of Athens in the lowlands around the Lycabettus hill.

    Fig. 49
    Fig. 49: Athens city centre in the lowlands around the Acropolis hill.

    Athens, Greece
    Fig. 50: A nigh
    t view of the Parthenon on the Acropolis hill.

    1 Marwa Al-Sabouni, The Battle For Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2016), 8.

    2 Patricia Morton, "The Afterlife of Buildings: Architecture and Walter Benjamin's Theory of History" in Rethinking Architectural Historiography, ed. Dana Arnold, Elvan Altan Ergut, and Belgin Turan Ozkaya (Routledge, 2006), 360.

    3 Rumiko Handa, “Learning from the Ruins: Theorizing the Performance of the Incomplete, Imperfect, and Impermanent” (paper delivered at Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality Symposium, 2012).

    4 Brian Dillon, “Ruin lust: Our love affair with decaying buildings,” The Guardian, February 17, 2012, (accessed January 11, 2018).

    5 Brian Dillon, “Fragments from a History of Ruins,” Cabinet, Issue 20 Ruins, Winter 2005/06.

    6 (Dillon 2012)

    7 (Dillon 2005)

  • 2017 Edilia and François-Auguste de Montêquin Report

    by User Not Found | Jan 17, 2018


    According to tradition, the Carmelite Order was founded in the twelfth century at the summit of Mount Carmel in northern Palestine. The order soon expanded to Europe and became one of the most revered eremitic organizations of the Middle Ages. In the early modern period, the order thrived in Spain, reformed by two of its most exalted mystics, SS. John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila. In 1585, the first twelve Carmelite monks traveled to New Spain (as Mexico was known during its viceregal period), taking their revered spiritual tradition of inner reflection and spirituality with them. Once in New Spain, the Carmelite order founded a number of—mostly urban—convents characterized by their refined architecture, such as the San Ángel Monastery in southern Mexico City. Two of their monasteries, however, were destined to be hermitages—or desiertos, as they were known at the time, a reference to the eremitic tradition of the early Christian Desert Fathers—and were constructed in unpopulated, remote locations in central Mexico; intended for select friars to embark on solitary confinement and prayer, a tradition that was central to the order’s philosophy. The first hermitage, built in the early seventeenth century, is located in Cuajimalpa, in the outskirts of Mexico City, in the middle of the Desierto de los Leones State Park, and although it is close to one of the biggest megalopolises in the world, the park’s thick-forested acreage provides the monastery with dramatic topography and lush vegetation, very much as it did four centuries earlier (Figure 1). In the early eighteenth century, however, the friars moved their location to an even more secluded location, some 62 miles (100km) southwest of Mexico City, in the vicinity of the small town of Tenancingo (present-day Mexico State), a rugged and heavily forested site which remains, in the twenty-first century, a location that appears hardly altered by modernity (Figure 2).

    Desierto de los Leones monastery
    Fig. 1. A general view of the grounds at Desierto de los Leones monastery, Cuajimalpa, Mexico. Photo by Juan Luis Burke.

    Carmelite hermitage monastery complex
    Fig. 2. A view of the Carmelite hermitage monastery complex, Santo Desierto del Carmen (left) and its environs, the monastery was built in the early nineteenth century. Photo by Juan Luis Burke.


    I was awarded the 2017 Edilia and Francois-Auguste de Montequin Fellowship in order to conduct on-site research on the hermitage monasteries of the Carmelite Order in Mexico. My research adventure began when I traveled to Mexico City on May 26th, 2017, and visited the San Alberto monastery, a former Carmelite complex, which serves nowadays as the Carmelite Order of Mexico’s archive (Figure 3). I had previously contacted the archive director, Father José de Jesús Orozco OCD, who was extremely amiable and open to sharing with me all the information he could summon regarding the architectural aspects of both monasteries. I was thus able to consult and document an invaluable amount of information, most of it primary sources, on the historical and architectural aspects of the monasteries.

    San Alberto monastery
    Fig. 3. A side entry at San Alberto monastery’s church building. The San Alberto monastery complex now houses the Carmelite Order of Mexico’s historical archive. Photo by Juan Luis Burke.

    The second part of my trip was spent traveling to the monasteries themselves. I planned a car trip to visit both remote locations over the course of four days. Since lodging at the Desierto de los Leones is limited, I stayed in Mexico City and drove to the Desierto de los Leones twice over two days, visiting the convent and carrying out photo and sketch documentation (Figure 4-5). I then traveled to Tenancingo, Estado de México, little over 60 miles from Mexico City. The Convento del Carmen is in a very remote location and the road from Mexico City to Tenancingo, via Cuernavaca, was in harsh conditions, traversing heavily mountainous and remote areas (Figure 6). I lodged at the small town of Tenancingo and visited the convent over a whole day. Interestingly, the Tenancingo convent is still in use and Carmelite friars still inhabit the complex, very much as they did in the eighteenth century. Given the convent is dedicated to spiritual contemplation, the friars do not allow access to the most intimate parts of the convent, but other areas are open to the public (Figure 7).

    Desierto del Carmen hermitage monastery
    Fig. 4. A view of one of the cloisters at the Desierto del Carmen hermitage monastery, in the Desierto de los Leones Park, outside of Mexico City. Photo by Juan Luis Burke.

    Desierto de los Leones Carmelite Monastery
     Fig. 5. A general view of the church building at Desierto de los Leones Carmelite Monastery. Photo by Juan Luis Burke.

    Fig. 6. The bell tower of the Santo Desierto del Carmen monastery’s church building, half hidden by the surrounding vegetation. Photo by Juan Luis Burke.

    Santo Desierto del Carmen
     Fig. 7. A general view of the Santo Desierto del Carmen in Tenancingo, Mexico. Photo by Juan Luis Burke.


    My project will conduct a scholarly investigation articulated by the architectural history of these two monastic complexes, with an interdisciplinary approach that will place a great deal of attention in contextualizing these buildings within the history of the monastic tradition in New Spain. From the writings of SS. John of the Cross and Theresa of Ávila, to contemporaneous accounts by the Carmelite Order, my study incorporates the study of the most accomplished architect of the Order, Friar Andrés de San Miguel and his built and theoretical work. My project reveals the architectural history concerning a unique and understudied branch of eremitic monasticism in the Americas, highlighting its direct connections to early Christianity and Medieval monastic practices, the sole instance of which is located in Mexico, and ultimately contributing to the architectural and intellectual history of early modern New Spain. These initials visits, which will be followed by subsequent visits to these sites and others, such as the San Ángel Monastery in Mexico City, have tremendously advanced the material with which to launch my research project.


    As a final note, I would like to profusely thank the Edilia and François-Auguste de Montêquin Fellowship and the Society of Architectural Historians, for granting me the junior award in its 2017 iteration, and, in general, for supporting the study of Ibero-American architectural history, an understudied area of research that should deliver fruitful benefits to the field of architectural history.

  • French Gothic Accent in a Spanish Cathedral

    by User Not Found | Jan 11, 2018

    Deyemi Akande is the 2016 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    I’d say my Spanish is horrible, but that would not be an accurate assessment. To say that my Spanish is horrible would suggest that I speak the language. The truth is, other than hola, gracias, and bueno, I do not speak a word more in Spanish. Yet, here I am in Madrid doing rather well communicating with the people around. All thanks to Google on one hand, for its language translation feature, but more significantly, thanks to architecture. I only need to flash a photo of my destination to a passer-by and they always go "Ah, recto (go/continue straight)!" Architecture is a major part of a city’s identity. It gives us a sense of bearing and location. Most likely, it is to architecture we will turn to first when we seek to establish the identity of a place—even in its most basic form of a line drawing or silhouette, architecture stands up to the task of giving a dignified identity to a place.

    So following good advice, I have made it to Madrid to experience the beauty of the city and its architecture. Madrid has beauty, architecture, but one other trait I must add is something I have coined "architectural honesty." The folks in Madrid are keen lovers of architecture and certainly very proud of theirs but alas, the same ‘Madridians’, or more accurately Madrilenians, having noticed that I am on a hunt for exceptional cathedrals, sent me away from Madrid to a place called Burgos. Burgos is about 250 km North of Madrid. I gather from Wikipedia that it is a town of a little less than 200,000 inhabitants and a capital city of the Burgos Province. Founded by the Castilian Count Diego Rodriguez in 884 AD as an outpost of the Asturian Kingdom, Burgos is now regarded as the principal crossroad of the North of Spain. A striking Coat of Arms of the city of Burgos further accentuates the city’s stateliness. It has a pronounced use in and around the city centre. It features the burst of a crowned king. The crown has rhinestones and acanthus flowers interpolated with pearls. Also seen on the arms is a huge castle with three crenelated towers. These towers stand for the three regions where the crown of Burgos has jurisdiction and property.

    Everywhere you turn for information of this town, you are sure to be confronted with this piece of information which states—Burgos has many historic landmarks but most prominent of them all is the remarkable Burgos Cathedral which was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1984. Madrid has several cathedrals but the way the people of Madrid spoke of Burgos cathedral is nothing short of a marvel. One is then left to wonder who is prouder of the cathedral, the people of Burgos or the warm Madrilenians.

    Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos
    Fig. 1: A view of the western Façade of the Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos.

    Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos
    Fig. 2: A view of the western front from a slightly elevated position.

    Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos
    Fig. 3: An interesting marriage of both Gothic and Renaissance treatment of a doorway in the western front just below the rose window.

    Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos
    Fig. 4: A view of the Burgos cathedral water fountain with the central arched doorway of the western façade in the background.

    Fig 5
    Fig. 5: The Coat of Arms of the City of Burgos showing a golden crown and the huge castle with three crenelated towers which represent the three areas of Burgos’ jurisdiction.

    So off to Burgos I went and on arrival, it was straight to the famous Burgos Cathedral. To see Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos—as the cathedral is traditionally called—is to understand its allure and the grip of wonder it has on the people. The beautiful church is an—or for me, the—epitome of pureness of Gothic form made manifest in Spain. Some may frown at this submission however, and this would be understandable. It will be very easy to argue that while the Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos, for the most part, is very Gothic in character and appearance, it is in no way a pure example of Gothicism. The Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos took so many years to construct, so it consequently exhibits a multi-style character, from Romanesque through to Baroque. After the initial construction work on the cathedral, the high altar was consecrated in 1260, and then there was a long interruption of about 200 years before construction would start again. All these while, the worship grounds were in use. Thus, there is merit in the argument that Burgos is particularly Gothic, no doubt, but not the epitome of Gothicism. But, to speak of pureness of the Gothic style, one must make reference to France and its pioneering efforts at developing the ideologies that define and guide the style. The very gene and character of the Gothic vocabulary is probably more advanced in France than anywhere else, while the Gothic expression found anywhere in Europe can itself be valid in substances and gaudiness without necessary links to French beginnings. It perhaps becomes expedient not to overlook, or take it lightly in any manner, should one find a sort of direct connection to the source, particularly in the use and articulation of French styled Gothic vocabulary. As John Gade puts it in his seminal work titled Cathedrals of Spain, Burgos Cathedral is singularly picturesque and by far the most interesting of the three great Gothic cathedrals of Spain,—Leon, Toledo, and Burgos. The interest is mainly due to her vigorous organism, an outcome of more essentially Spanish preferences as well as a natural interpretation of the French importations.1 It may also be noteworthy to mention that a Frenchman called Enrique is named as the principal architect for Burgos cathedral in the 13th century. Master Builder Enrique is also famed to have worked on Leon Cathedral. Later however, in the 15th century, the German builder Juan of Cologne also worked on the cathedral, particularly on the two spires of the western end on invitation of Bishop Alfonso. However, Alfonso would never see the final work as he died before the two spires were completed.

    Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos
    Fig. 6: Details of the Cimborrio octagonal tower over the transept crossing.

    Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos tympanum
    Fig. 7: Main entrance on the southern end of the cathedral—the Sarmental Façade. The tympanum and statues were elegantly detailed.

    Fig 8
    Fig. 8: The octagonal shaped ceiling of the main chapel surrounded by walkways high above.

    Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos
    Fig. 9: Details of the ornate piers below the octagonal main chapel in the Burgos Cathedral.

    Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos
    Fig. 10: Details of the ornate star shaped ceiling of the main chapel in Burgos Cathedral.

    Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos
    Fig. 11: The high gates of the central cathedral choir.

    Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos
    Fig. 12: The star shaped vault ceiling over the Chapel of the Constables in Burgos Cathedral.

    Burgos Cathedral
    Fig. 13: A view of the star shaped vaults above the chapel of the Constables in Burgos Cathedral.

    Burgos Cathedral
    Fig. 14: Parts of the choir stalls with overhanging Gothic styled chandelier lighting. A part of the two faced organ can be seen to the top left in the background.

    Like many great gothic cathedrals we see today, the Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos stands on the site of a much older Romanesque church, which gave way to the newer and bigger building we have now. King Ferdinand III of Castile is famed to have ordered the construction of a cathedral at Burgos on the nudging of Bishop Maurice, an Englishman who became bishop from 1213 to 1238. Maurice’s missions took him through those parts of Germany and France where the enthusiasm for cathedral-building was at its height, and he had time to admire and study a forest of exquisite spires, while on his sojourn. Naturally he returned to his native city burning with desire to begin a similar work there, and probably brought with him master-builders and skilled artists of long training in Gothic church-building.2 The foundation stone on the site of the former Romanesque church was laid on July 20, 1221.3 The current edifice boasts of three naves and an amazing routine of chapels with an array of the best examples of 14th- and 15th-century decorative sculptures. The central nave is higher and wider than the two lateral ones.4 The cathedral dome features a brilliant Mudejar vault.

    While one cannot miss the bold Italian renaissance style finish of parts of the great church, the interior of Burgos cathedral is classically French in taste. It presents some of the finest examples of gilded sculpture of the time. The northern transept arm is occupied by the great Renaissance style "golden staircase" leading to the Puerta de la Coroneria, which has been closed for a long time now. The sublime piece is rich in effect, faithful in detail, and of strong expression. Carefully situated in relation to the masonry, it ornaments the northern end of the transept with much perfection and splendour. Further, the gilt metal railing in the interior of the cathedral is as exquisite in workmanship as in design. It was created by the renowned master craftsman and architect Diego de Siloé. Siloé was the architect of the cathedral in the beginning of the sixteenth century.

    The main façade of the Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos features a gallery of statues of the Castile monarch that are, in a sense, reminiscent of the gallery of kings on the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris and that of Amiens. Both the gallery of statues of the Castile monarchs and the starred rose window of the Puerta del Perdon are flanked by two 82-meter towers with magnificent 15th-century spires on each. These spires have become the mark of identity for the Burgos Cathedral. They stand like twins holding hands on a slow, long walk. These brilliant works of Juan de Cologne now define the skies of Burgos; they have become the handsome duo towering three hundred feet above the heads of the multitudes below. The Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos’s twin towers are such a glorious site to behold.

    Burgos Cathedral
    Fig. 15: La Escalera Dorada (The Golden Staircase) was designed by Italian architect Diego de Siloé in 1523.

    Burgos Cathedral
    Fig. 16: In the heart of the cathedral, the beautifully gilded altar piece of the main chapel.

    Burgos Cathedral
    Fig. 17: Alter piece in the Chapel of the Nativity.

    Burgos Cathedral
    Fig. 18: Oval cupola of the Nativity Chapel with medallions of Saints in Burgos Cathedral.

    Burgos Cathedral
    Fig. 19: A gilded ornate altar piece of the chapel of Constable in Burgos Cathedral.

    Burgos Cathedral
    Fig. 20: Details of the Chapel of Constable altar piece.

    Burgos Cathedral
    Fig. 21: The beautifully detailed ceiling art of the main sacristy (Sacrestía Mayor) inside the Burgos Cathedral.

    Burgos Cathedral
    Fig. 22: Baroque style ornamentation of the ceiling of the cathedral sacristy lantern copula.

    A Short Note on Valladolid

    About 127 kilometres southwest of Burgos is the former Celtic settlement area now known as Valladolid. Valladolid is beautifully lodged between two rivers, Pisuerga and Esgueva, very much like the ancient city of Mesopotamia, and quite like Mesopotamia, this northern Spanish city is indeed a lovely place with a rich array of flora. Valladolid was very briefly the capital of Spain in the 17th century under Phillip III, before the position was inevitably returned to Madrid. Valladolid is also famous for being the city where the great explorer Christopher Columbus died in 1506. Originally from Genoa, Columbus had moved to Portugal and later to Spain. Columbus, on the patronage of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile who themselves got married in Valladolid 1469, made several transatlantic voyages before he fell gravely ill and died on the 20th of May 1506, believing that he had reached the Indies, and the place where he drew his last breath is now a museum created in his honour.5

    Being a rather strategic district of political and social influence, the city boasts of several iconic buildings—not only regal, but political, artistic and religious in function as well. The Valladolid Cathedral, officially called La Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion (The Cathedral of Our Lady of Holy Assumption) is a prominent structure in the city. Originally designed by Juan de Herrera, it was to be the biggest religious structure in the whole of Europe but was never fully built. Another very interesting building in Valladolid is the National Museum of Sculpture, also called Museo Nacional de San Gregorio. The museum was founded in 1842 and it houses an array of works that span over 600 years from paintings to sculpture.

    Of all the buildings in Valladolid, I took particular interest in the San Pablo de Valladolid (St Paul’s Convent Church) building. From the west end, the building presents a detailed ornamented façade that appears to be sandwiched between two relatively plain towers that house the church bells. A sparsely ornamented, but nonetheless interesting cross stands majestically in the front of the church overlooking it like a guardian. Beyond this cross is a line of stone pillars that appears to act as a barrier. These small pillars mounted by crests holding creatures are now quite abraded and it’s hard to tell with all certainty what creature they are, but beyond this, one can confidently say that they add a kind of firmness and sense of character to the main structure, which is clearly of Gothic extraction by all rights.

    San Pablo de Valladolid
    Fig. 23: A view of the western façade of the San Pablo de Valladolid. Notice the cross in the foreground.

    San Pablo de Valladolid
    Fig. 24: An abstracted view of the main entrance door and the details of the ornamentation on the western façade of San Pablo de Valladolid.

    San Pablo de Valladolid
    Fig. 25: Sculptural details on the western façade.

    San Pablo de Valladolid
    Fig. 26: Details of the sculptural ornamentation and the Rose window on the western façade of the San Pablo Church in Valladolid.

    San Pablo de Valladolid
    Fig. 27: Another view of the sculptural ornamentation of the western façade.

    San Pablo de Valladolid
    Fig. 28: Abraded creatures holding crests on short stone columns in front of the San Pablo Church.

    San Pablo de Valladolid
    Fig. 29: The cross majestically positioned in front of the San Pablo church.

    San Pablo de Valladolid
    Fig. 30: A view of the main door way and the richly ornate ogival styled arch about it.

    San Pablo de Valladolid
    Fig. 31: The church pediment braced on both sides by the tip of the church towers. Inside, one will catch a glimpse of the church bells.

    National Museum of Sculpture in Valladolid
    Fig. 32: The heavily ornate entrance of the National Museum of Sculpture in Valladolid.

    National Museum of Sculpture in Valladolid
    Fig. 33: A close up of the relief sculpture on the façade of the National Museum of Sculpture in Valladolid.

    The San Pablo church was commissioned by Juan de Torquemada in the mid-15th century and Simon de Colonia is favoured to have designed the façade we see today. Though the building did not have the type of patronage that one will see in a big city cathedral, it has presence that tells you it is important. San Pablo de Valladolid has had its fair share of history making events. The most recent might be the case of a young Muslim man charging into the church during a wedding ceremony earlier this year, making quite a scene. The young man from Morocco is said to have been shouting ‘Allahu arkbar’ as he ran towards the alter destroying the alter cloth and giving the wedding guest quite a scare as they thought he may be armed or might be on a suicide mission. He was later arrested outside the church building.6 There was thick suspicion in the air as visitors walked around and took photographs of the building. I do not want to sound paranoid but I would swear that my every move was keenly watched by the security—as most times, I was the only person of colour (African descent) there. It is usually upsetting that people move away when you come close to share a view. However, in my travels through the year, I have learnt to ignore the ignorance, empathise with them as they struggle with their fear of the unknown, and uncompromisingly, enjoy the architecture!


    1 Gade, John Allyne, The Cathedrals of Spain. (Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1911) 36.

    2 Ibid., 38.

    3 Huylebrouck, D., Buitrago, A.R., Iglesias, E. R., “Octagonal Geometry of the Cimborio in Burgos Cathedral,” Nexus Network Journal Vol.13, No. 1, 2011, 195, DOI 10.1007/s00004-011-0057-5; published online 26 February 2011.

    4 Ortega, L.M., Perelli J., Alberruche, J., “The Spires of Burgos Cathedral,” In Structural Analysis of Historical Constructions. 

    5 Roger Crowley. Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the first Global Empire. (New York: Random House, 2015) 161.

    6 Mclaughlin, K., "Fanatic storms a Spanish wedding shouting 'Allah is great'," Accessed 20th December 2017. 

  • La Sagrada Família: A Testament of Architectural Ingenuity

    by User Not Found | Dec 13, 2017

    Deyemi Akande is the 2016 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    By any standard, the Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, also known as Sagrada Família, is every inch a miracle of architecture and construction. It is by far one of the most fascinating structures I have seen so far in my fellowship travels. In his work titled Gaudi, David Mower quotes the renowned architect and father of modern skyscrapers, Louis Sullivan. Sullivan called Sagrada Família the greatest piece of creative architecture and a spirit symbolized in stone.1
     Possibly in no other building on earth—at least not at this scale—is the presentation of solid mass in organic form more perfectly delivered. More than just a basilica, the Sagrada Família is in every sense a living, breathing concrete mountain.

    No matter which direction you approach the structure, you will very likely see the spires or, more appropriately, bell towers, from a distance. The towers, like aliens, lead you to what appears like a structure from another world. The characteristic cranes and scaffolds that adorn the basilica further add to its other-worldly posture. The Sagrada is not alien, it is merely different. The famed critic Zerbst Rainer once wrote about Sagrada Família that it is practically impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of architecture.2 So different it is that it continues to rearrange our idea of what a building is or should be. So different it is that it defies common construction timelines and challenges. So different that it carries on a character of a living organism that continues to metamorphose right before our eyes. For over a century now, Sagrada Família has been a part of Barcelona’s landscape, almost the same as the Montjuic Hill. Unlike the Montjuic, however, Sagrada Família continues to grow. The tallest part of the massive structure will be the central tower called the Tower of Jesus Christ. In all, the basilica will have eighteen ‘desert plant’ looking towers: twelve representing the Apostles, four representing the Evangelists, one dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the central and tallest is dedicated to Jesus. On completion, the Jesus tower will be surmounted by a large cross and its total height will come to an amazing 560 ft (172 m)—only a few meters short of the peak of Montjuic Hill itself. Gaudi is noted to have said that his creation must not surpass God’s.

    I got into a tête-à-tête with a vendor near the Basilica, and he said to me, "You have come to Catalonia at a wrong time. The usual spirit of this place is no longer here. So much tensions these days. We fear for the tomorrow we will have, if there is going to be one. The spirit of Catalonia is dying," he adds. He said this in a mix of Spanish and English and he said it like he meant it. As I processed what he said and thinking to myself he must be referring to the recent and ongoing political tensions in Spain, he continued, "But if you have come to see Gaudi, he (Gaudi) is alive and everywhere!" To this, I could not agree more. For if any sense is to be made of what is arguably the most important landmark in Barcelona, drawing over 2.5 million visitors yearly, it is to Antonio Gaudi one must turn.

    Fig. 1: Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family. Also called Sagrada Família. A view of the basilica from the eastern end, also referred to as the Nativity façade.  

    Fig. 2: A view of the basilica from the eastern end also referred to as the Nativity façade.  

    Fig. 3: A close up view of the basilica’s Passion façade of the western end. The angular sculpture featured here is by Spanish sculptor and painter Josep Maria Sabirachs who recently passed on in 2014.

    Fig. 4: A close up view of the basilica’s Nativity façade of the eastern end.

    Fig. 5: A close up of two of the four finished towers on the Passion façade. Both tower are well over 300ft off the ground.

    Fig. 6: A view of the basilica from the northern end occluded by modern development. Here we see the tower of St Mary gaining height as construction continues. On completion, the tower will reach 404 feet above the ground.

    Fig. 7: A view from the nave showing the rose window and part of the ceiling vaults.

    Fig. 8: A view of the nave looking towards the altar. Notice the organic shaped columns. They look like tall forest trees with branches.

    Fig. 9: Looking straight up in the nave, all one sees is a brilliant interplay of shapes and light. The vaults of the Sagrada Família.

    Fig. 10: Parts of the treelike columns, the apse and the ceiling vaults. Interior of the Sagrada Família.

    In 2015, Patricia Blessing, the 2014 H. Allen Brooks Fellow, visited Barcelona and Sagrada Família even when it was not centrally related to her research work as she said.3 Now I know why she did. Just like the vendor, Patricia had mentioned that Gaudi’s work was to be seen throughout all of Catalonia. A notable one is Casa Battló, fondly called the house of bones. This structure, however, does not match the grandeur and stateliness of Sagrada Família.

    When you enter the Sagrada from the Northern end, also called the Passion façade, you immediately feel small and insignificant. The interior appears more majestic and mysterious that the exterior. Its ample use of irregular shapes and a mind-bending vault system is rather imposing and may take some time to take in. It has a strong affinity to a jungle, albeit a concrete one. Gaudi conceived the interior of the church as a huge forest, where the columns would be like tree trunk branching out from the capitals into the vaults, through which sunlight would filter, representing foliage (Jordi, 2016).4 The lights from the exterior sips in through openings and reflections creating a symphony of mixed coloured lights as you turn. And then the people. Hundreds of them with rumbling murmurs of different languages mixing together to form a consistent but barely audible mellow noise in the hollow sounding space. The sound is something that stays with you for a while. I have seen many cathedrals through my fellowship year but the number of people who have come to see Gaudi’s work is impressive to say the least.

    Fig. 11: Tall columns transition into a network of angular shapes. Inside the Sagrada Família.

    Fig. 12: Inside Sagrada Família. Tall treelike columns can be seen in the background.

    Fig. 13: Illuminated Christ on the cross sculptural piece suspended from the nearby columns. On the canopy reads ‘Gloria A Due, A dalt Del Cel,’ which loosely translates as Glory to God in the Skies (Heights).

    Fig. 14: A view of the altar from the nave. Notice the Christ on the Cross piece in suspension. Also notice the verticality of the columns even in their organic form.

    Fig. 15: A view of part of the nave from the side of the high altar.

    Sagrada Familia
    Fig. 16: In the nave of the Sagrada Família, people sit on the specially designed pews to take in the beauty of the interior.

    The original design of the basilica expressed in Gothic style was the work of Francisco de Paula del Villar. Del Villar also started the building of the church in 1882 but resigned shortly after and this paved the way for Antoni Gaudi, who joined the project in 1883 and changed the design dramatically. Gaudi, the fragile little child born on in the summer of 1852, would later grow to be one of—if not the most—renowned Catalan architect in all of its history. Gaudi was a genius of his age and this ingenuity survived well after him as the architectural language he introduced continues to serve as a central guide for builders of the basilica years after. Though many contend with the latitude afforded the sculptors who appear to be exercising too great an artistic license in their interpretation of style on the Sagrada Família. Notable in the series of contentious works are the angular minimalist postmodern style sculpture of the Passion façade—very different to the naturalistic and emotive style employed in the Nativity façade supervised by Gaudi himself. Gaudi came to Barcelona in 1869 just as Spain was plunged into the unrests that led to the collapse of the monarchy. Working various jobs, he eventually became an architecture student in 1874 and quickly showed promise in the field.

    They say Gaudi developed an incomparable personal style that defies classification. He takes the known and transforms it to an unknown. In the SagradaFamília, he starts the with guidance of the Gothic law and transmutes it into a neo-grotesque but living natural mass that continues to breathe and germinate into an organic system that calls your attention and leads you right into the mind of the artist himself. By the time Gaudi graduated in 1878, his genius had come to full bloom and possibly the penchant for overstepping the boundaries of architecture and design as was known then caught the attention of his tutors. Elies Rogent the director of the School of Architecture in Barcelona is famed to have said, “I do not know if we have awarded this degree to a madman or to a genius; only time will tell."

    Sagrada Familia
    Fig. 17: The abstract geometric stained glass window design beautifully displays the colours of the forest. The colourful pieces are equally hosted by an abstract geometric designed wall.

    Sagrada Familia
    Fig. 18: Geometric stained glass designs. Notice that each unit is named after a person or place of religious significance and relevance to the basilica.

    Sagrada Familia
    Fig. 19: Classical Gothic style tracery hosts a more contemporary postmodern geometric abstract stained glass design. The Sagrada Família is in many ways a laboratory for stylistic experimentations.

    Sagrada Família is a laboratory of sort for the experimentation of modernist ideas the Catalan way as defined by Gaudi. What the basilica lacks in naturalistic figural ornamentation, it made up for in its display of expressionism and symbolism. His work achieved a symbiosis between form and Christian symbolism with a peculiar architecture generated from new structures, forms and geometry, but one which included great logic and was inspired by nature (Jordi, 2016).5 Visual meaning expressed through the mimicry of nature is at its best here on the basilica. Gaudi chose the interpretation of movement and growth in nature as a vehicle to communicate a simple but fundamental theme in this piece, which is the centrality of family. Little can be argued against the uniqueness of this masterpiece. Gaudi, in this piece, laid the foundation for the rethinking of architectural form in a way that gives freedom to express and the audacity to venture.

    Gaudi turned the most advanced style of his era, the Gothic, into the seed for research that would enable him to arrive at the definition of his own structural system, with equilibrated arches and without buttresses, a system that made it possible to build works as complex as the Church of Colònia Güell and the Church of the Sagrada Família (Giralt-Miracle 2012).6

    From Gaudi’s fluid naturalistic oration of form and space to the most recent angular interpretation of both vegetal and human form as created by sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs, the Sagrada carries on a character that is second to none. And while I am on a hunt for ornamentation on religious buildings, I can say without fear of ridicule that more than an ornamented building, Sagrada Família is a peculiar ornament unto itself.

    Sagrada Familia
    Fig. 20: The betrayal with a kiss. Neomodern angular style sculpture at the passion façade. Work by Josep Maria Subirachs.

    Fig. 21: Angular style sculpture at the passion façade, western end of the Sagrada Família. Work by Josep Maria Subirachs.

    Fig. 22: Jesus, presented to the crowd by Pontus Pilate. Crucify Him they shouted! Crucify Him! Sculptural piece at the passion façade, western end of the Sagrada Família. Work by Josep Maria Subirachs.

    Fig. 23: Another of the sculptures at the passion façade, western end of the Sagrada Família. Work by Josep Maria Subirachs.

    Sagrada Familia
    Fig. 24: Textual relief sculpture on the door of the western Passion façade.

    Sagrada Familia
    Fig. 25: The top area of the Sacristy at Sagrada Família.

    Sagrada Familia
    Fig. 26: A close up detail of the stone work on the eastern end just short of the Nativity sculptural works. Sagrada Família.

    Sagrada Familia School
    Fig. 27: A view showing part of the Sagrada Família School.

    Sagrada Familia School
    Fig. 28: A close up of part of the Sagrada Família School.

    Fig. 29: A beautifully crafted minimalist style marble lectern. On it, the wrods Paraula de Due, which is Catalan for "Word of God."


    A Note on Girona

    Moving further north of Barcelona to a place called Girona, I am drawn to visit a site that has made quite a reputation for itself. Being a Game of Thrones fan, I had promised myself to visit the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona. The famous church perches carefully atop a hill and it is the site used for the Game of Thrones season six set for the Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing.

    One is confronted by a beautiful 17th-century Baroque façade on the western end as you make your way up the 90 grand steps. Though the excellent Baroque sculptures that adorn the western façade are of very recent manufacture by a local artist in the 1960s, the grand steps are indeed from the 17th century and have been a very prominent feature of the cathedral. The stairs hit the lime light when they were featured in the popular TV series Game of Thrones. In season six, Jamie Lannister, a frontal figure and character in the medieval themed series, is seen charging up the elegant stairs on horseback in a scene where he tries to stop a so-called walk of atonement of Queen Margaery—another key character. The Girona Cathedral’s great stairs are also featured prominently in a Guinness Book of Records attempt by two Vietnamese brothers who were acrobats. They went on to break the world record for the most consecutive stairs climbed while balancing a person on the head. It took the duo less than a minute to make it to the top of the flights of 90 steps.

    Girona Cathedral
    Fig. 30: Girona Cathedral from a nearby elevated point.

    Girona Cathedral
    Fig. 31: A view of the Girona Cathedral main western façade and grand Baroque style staircase.

    Girona Cathedral
    Fig. 32: The great stairs on the western end of the Girona Cathedral. The 17th-century 90-step stairway has become a popular site for TV and showbiz features.

    Girona Cathedral
    Fig. 33: the beautiful Baroque façade on the western end of Girona Cathedral.

    Fig. 34: Details of the sculptural ornamentation of the western façade of the Girona Cathedral.

    Fig. 35: A view of Girona Cathedral from a nearby elevated point showing the cathedral tower and the beautiful landscape beyond the cathedral.

    Fig. 36: A close up exterior view of the apse of Girona Cathedral.

    Fig. 37: The eastern end of the Girona Cathedral.

    The Girona church is a Roman Catholic cathedral that started circa 1015 and has gone through several stylistic changes over the years from Romanesque to Gothic and later Baroque. The cathedral boasts of the widest nave (Gothic) in the world at about 75 ft (23 m), second only to the nave of St Peter’s Basilica. One will quickly notice something about the breadth of the nave—it does appear truly wider than most I have seen. The apse is blocked off by a wall, hence one is required to pass through the ambulatory to catch a glimpse of the altarpiece.

    The interior of the Girona Cathedral is largely bare, carrying on the character of its Romanesque past. The vaults and walls are bare, but the cathedral treasury is anything but bare. It is loaded with fine examples of altarpieces, tapestry, and gold-covered pieces.

    The church bell tower, known as the Charlemagne, is the only surviving of two towers. The tower is prominent and gives character to the otherwise rigid structure. The cathedral’s Romanesque cloister to its northern side is a prominent and typical feature of the Romanesque style. The cloister features a series of double columns with deeply ornamented capitals. These columns support a thick wall that runs through the length of the cathedral on the northern side.

    Fig. 38: Inside the nave of the Girona Cathedral.

    Fig. 39: A view from the aisles looking towards the east showing parts of the altar and apse.

    Fig. 40: The Rose window on the wall that separates the choir area from the rest of the nave. 

    Fig. 41: A view from the nave looking towards the altar and apse.

    Fig. 42: An ornamented altar canopy piece.

    Fig. 43: One of the altar pieces in the chapels to the northern end of the cathedral.

    Fig. 44: A stained glass window in Girona Cathedral.  

    Girona Cathedral
    Fig. 45: A view of the cloister of Girona Cathedral. The courtyard is seen here through two columns.

    Girona Cathedral tympanum
    Fig. 46: A view of the Tympanum at the southern end of the cathedral.

    Girona Cathedral
    Fig. 47: Archway that leads into the cathedral grounds.

    Eiffel Bridge
    Fig. 48: A shot of the Eiffel Bridge that gives access to the cathedral area over the Onyar River.

    apartments on Onyar River
    Fig. 49: Residential apartments near the cathedral grounds. The Onyar River in the foreground.

    apartments on Onyar River
    Fig. 50: Residential apartments occlude the Girona Cathedral. The Onyar River in the foreground.

    The town of Girona is peaceful and unassuming. The people are mostly not inquisitive, going past you without a second look or care. The Onyar River is a major feature and it forms an important part of the city's character. The people of Girona, like those in Barcelona, appear to be collectively united on one purpose—a free Catalonia. I saw several flags of the yellow and red stripes hanging from residential apartment balustrades, shop windows, and street corners. It is a type of mellow protest that is a little unsettling. All the political tension aside, Girona is generally a good place to reflect. I, however, must go south now to the central Spanish cities to see and learn more. My stay here was short but rich.

    1 David Mower, Gaudí, (Oresko Books Limited, 1977), 6 
    2 Rainer Zerbst, Gaudí – A Life Devoted to Architecture (Taschen, 1985), 190–215 
    3 Patricia Blessing, "Spanish itineraries, Part 1: Barcelona to Ronda." Accessed November 2, 2017.
    4 Jordi Fauli. The basilica of the Sagrada Família (P&M Ediciones, 2016) 
    5 Ibid.
    6 Giralt-Miracle Daniel. Gaudi: Nature of Architecture. Accessed November 10, 2017. 

  • Decorated Vault Ceilings in British Cathedrals

    by User Not Found | Nov 20, 2017

    Deyemi Akande is the 2016 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    If Gothic vaults were a topic at a roundtable, many would be disposed to discuss their structural brilliance, leaving only little space for the appreciation of them as art. I, quite frankly, agree that the virtuosity of a vault system is probably more recognized as a structural feat than an ornamental one, but in spite of the obvious, I am inclined to see the beauty of the structure first before exploring the structure of the beauty. From where I stand, and with only little apologies to offer for my pitiable zeal for construction talks, all I see up there is the beautiful art of the vault.

    They say Gothic cathedrals mimic the great forests of nature. That the columns and piers are tall straight trees that line the untouched woods piercing the mists that settle over the skies; the very breath of God they say. They say the branches spreading out from the trunks making a canopy over the grounds of the forests are vaults. Just like in nature, as the branches get their nourishment through the trunk, the vaults get their strength and stability from the piers. The vaults are indeed a stately expression of the delicate balance of weight and space playing out in a sort of figurative performance.

    If I could, I will risk an article of only a few words, presenting my silence as the utmost reverence for not just the remarkable ingenuity and audacity of the early builders, but also to the temerity of the artist who painstakingly decorated some the vault ceilings. But, words are indeed a must for me to describe what I see, though I am almost certain that they may be inadequate. Thus, photography must here help to convey the beautiful wonders of the intricacy of vaults as best as it can.

    Fig. 1: Decorated 13th-century wooden vault ceiling hanging above the high altar in St Albans Cathedral. Redecorated in the 15th century by Abbot Wheathampstead with badges of patron saints and family shields of other patrons who contributed money to the repair of the cathedral.

    Fig. 2: Decorated vaulted ceiling of the transept in Salisbury Cathedral.

    Fig. 3: Decorated vaulted ceiling in Salisbury Cathedral showing three different patterns and design.

    Fig. 4: Though not of Gothic Style, the decorated ceiling vault of St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the finest examples of vault decorations in England.

    Fig. 5: The beautifully decorated vaults of Ely Cathedral’s octagonal lantern space, a miracle of ancient construction and beauty.

    Fig. 6: A fine example of fan vaults in Bath Abbey. Notice the beautiful heraldic shields that intermittently ornament the ceiling.

    Fig. 7: Details of the decorated fan vault ceiling at Bath Abbey. Again, notice the use of shields as bosses and ornament.

    Fig. 8: A closer detail of the Bath Abbey ceiling masonry and shield designs.

    Fig. 9: A 17th-century decorated wooden vault under the tower. The central hole was used as access to remove and replace the cathedral bells. Notice the use of shields as bosses and ornament.

    Fig. 10: Decorated ceiling of the tower of St Albans Cathedral. Refurbished in 1951-52, the shield we see are repainted by Jane Lenton. They are a copy of the 15th-century originals, which remain above them. They depict the red and white roses associated with the Houses of Lancaster and York.

    Depending on where (or what era) you look, you will be pleasantly captivated by the variation of styles and types. From the quadripartite and sexpartite rib vaults, to tierceron and lierne vaults that present more decorative elements, the vaulting system of Gothic architecture brought about the freedom and opportunity to invite light into the worship space. Beyond the moderate gorgeous styles, England also boasts of some fine examples of the more complicated net, fan, and diamond vaults of the late Gothic period. Briggs (2013), in a cathedral architecture guide, describes how the masons imitated the patterns in shallow panels and how this led to incremental complexity of design, resulting in elaborate, marvelous but structurally astonishing fan vaults that can be seen at their best at Kings College Chapel, Cambridge.1

    Not entirely a thing of the Gothic age, vaulting has been in use long before medieval architecture, but the development of the ribbed vault in the 12th century changed and boosted the way churches were constructed. There is no doubt, that without this technique, the architecture of the Middle Ages would have looked quite different.2 Acland (1972) argues that the first use of the rib in England came in 1096 with the construction of Durham cathedral.3

    Coming much later, the fan vault is attributed to development in Gloucester between 1351 and 1377. It has been suggested that the earliest known surviving example of fan vault in England is that of the east cloister walk of Gloucester Cathedral.4 Many historians of British medieval architecture agree with this conclusion. By the end of the 12th century, the method of constructing ribbed vaults was, however, now highly developed. Lincoln Cathedral’s construction, which began in 1208 under the master mason Geoffrey de Noyer, introduced a new feature. It was called the tierceron and it was a rib system that did not follow the folding of the rib. De Noyer broke free of the strict bay system with this new sexpartite shaped vaulting formation. He was followed by another visionary architect, who separated the ribs and the vaults conceptually. Continuing the invention of the transverse rib, tiercerons connected in highly decorated bosses in the nave vault.5

    The eastern transepts of the Lincoln Cathedral has the earliest high vaulting that has survived. Also worthy of note in the Lincoln Cathedral are the vaults of the St Hugh’s choir that has come to be called the ‘crazy vault’ on account of its deliberate misalignment. One author refers to it as sheer oddness of concept. Instead of converging at the center of each compartment like most vaults do, the lateral cells end at two different points, both roughly a third of the way from opposite ends of the compartment. The lopsided rhythm set up by this arrangement effectively destroys any sense of the vault as a series of distinct compartments defined by traverse ribs and corresponding bay divisions on the side walls.6

    Fig. 11: The ‘Crazy Vault’ of the St Hugh’s choir, Lincoln Cathedral.

    Fig. 12: Decorated ribbed vault with floral and heraldic shield bosses in Winchester Cathedral.

    Fig. 13: The vaults of the Winchester Cathedral as seen from the quire area.

    Fig. 14: A Gothic style inspired decorative chandelier in Bath Abbey.

    Fig. 15: Details of vaults in Bath Abbey with heraldic shield bosses.

    Fig. 16: The quire ceiling with 14th-century paintings featuring the arms of Edward III and his sons together with those of his supporters. Religious symbols are also featured.

    It is not uncommon to find within the cathedrals in the United Kingdom an array of coats of arms adorning the cross points of ridges on the ceiling. In this context, they are called bosses. A boss is loosely defined as a knob or protrusion of stone or wood often found at the intersections of a ribbed vault in Gothic buildings. Dobbs (1906) argues that coats of arms or emblems have worldwide use, and are easily understandable as designed for decorative purposes, or as a means of distinguishing certain persons. The raison d'être of the emblazoned coat (from which the term "coat of arms" comes) worn by the mail-clad warriors of the Middle Ages, helped that the warriors be recognisable to friend and foe alike.7

    While the bosses may come in floral, animal or other figural forms, it will appear that the heraldic shields are also quite favoured as it may suggest a link with important and sometimes regal personas of the area. The presence of heraldic shields may also tell of the patronage received by the cathedral from the family or bearers of the arms. Heraldry is found to be most intimately associated with the Gothic architecture of England, and happy it was for the early heralds that in their day the English Gothic movement was at work in its full strength. The alliance between heraldry and Gothic architecture in England was never interrupted or permitted to decline from its original forte. So as Gothic flourished, heraldry held its own place in architecture. And in the finest works that exist in Great Britain, heraldry is ever present to adorn the cathedrals in almost every position in which such ornamentation could be admissible. Thus, in England, early heraldry is found to have been the fellow-worker with the early Gothic architect.8

    Quite reasonable again is Dobb’s argument as one will often find heraldic shields of arms to be of considerable number in several cathedrals. If one was attentive to the ornamentation language particularly in Perpendicular style Gothic churches, you will see shields whereas you turn. You will find them in stained glass windows, engraved on pews, gables, doors, on floor tiles, placed as stand-alone or held by grotesque creatures or sometimes even saints and of course as bosses on vaulted ceilings. There is to be no doubt of the prominence of heraldry in Gothic cathedral ornamentation in the United Kingdom.

    I mentioned in an earlier post that ornaments add value. As I continue to travel through Europe, I see this to be a truism. We all seem to follows this very simple philosophy. It appears to be an innate impulse for us to decorate a thing that has value to us or that we wish to add value to. Even in our very postmodern world, a little decoration here and there is not lacking.

    Fig. 17: Detail of floral boss design in Salisbury Cathedral. 

    Fig. 18: Close up details of part of the fan vaults of Bath Abbey showing the arms of the Pre-reformation Priory.

    Fig. 19: Close up details of part of the fan vaults of Bath Abbey showing a shield as part of the ceiling vault design. 

    Fig. 20: Colourfully decorated vaults of the Langton Chapel inside the Winchester Cathedral. Notice the floral and arms shield bosses.

    Fig. 21: A cherub holding an arms shield on a heavily ornate ceiling in Winchester Cathedral.

    Fig. 22: A mitre resting upon arms beneath one of the mortuary chests containing the bones of Saxon kings in the quire area of Winchester Cathedral.

    Fig. 23: A cherub holding a shield of arms atop a column capital. Winchester Cathedral.

    Fig. 24: A heraldic coat of arms flies inside the northern Isle of the Winchester Cathedral.

    Fig. 25: Richly ornate choir stalls of Salisbury Cathedral famed to be the largest complete set in Britain. The rear stalls feature shields.

    Fig. 26: Arms of Henry VII on the west front beneath the statue of the monarch overlooking the west door entrance. Henry was monarch at the time of Bath Abbey’s beginnings.

    Fig. 27: Another example of a shield as ornament on the ceiling of Bath Abbey.

    Fig. 28: Close up ornate details of the ceiling vaults of Bath Abbey.

    Fig. 29: Fan vaults in Winchester Cathedral.

    A Short Note on Salisbury

    The cathedral at Salisbury is one for the books. Unlike the cathedrals in France, many of the British churches situated away from London still have quite an enviable parcel of land around them. In this list of well landed cathedrals, Salisbury is indeed to be respected. The church also has an impressive spire placed on top of the tower at the transept crossing. The spire towers at 404 feet (123m), making it the tallest in Britain, and a most glorious piece it is. Little wonder the parishioners of the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the official name of the Salisbury Cathedral) boast that the spire can be seen from wherever in Salisbury.

    Now to the name Salisbury; pronounced as ‘Sols-bry’. I couldn’t get past this one. Yes, I am no English scholar but I’ll often ask the question, why is a letter part of a word when you have no intention of using it? The people of Salisbury say ‘Sols-bry’ totally ignoring the ‘lis’ part of the pronunciation. Frankly, I was more inclined to saying ‘Sa-lis-bry’ and this, you will imagine, got quite a stare. At one instance, I had the opportunity to discuss this with a gentleman. Even he, being British, had no idea why it is Sols-bry instead of ‘Sa-lis-bry’. We both got a good laugh out of it though. Same is to be said of the folks at Canterbury. They pronounce it as ‘Can-ta-berry’ and I insisted on the version ‘Can-ta-bry’—this, in spite of the popularity of the ‘Can-ta-berry’ version and of course the town being theirs, not mine. A priest at the cathedral who was so kind to speak with me on many issues including this one said he is not a native of Canterbury and he sees my point but the fact is ‘Can-ta-berry’ is the way the word has been pronounced for years and he bets it will continue to be that way and, just as in Salisbury, we both had a good laugh at the whole thing.

    Fig. 30: The spire of Salisbury Cathedral at 123 m is said to be the tallest in Britain.

    Fig. 31: Salisbury Cathedral from the northern end.

    Fig. 32: The western façade of the Salisbury Cathedral. The façade features over 80 statues of apostles, disciples, saints, martyrs, royals and other biblical figures.

    Fig. 33: A view of Salisbury Cathedral altar from the quire.

    Fig. 34: Ornate wall décor inside Salisbury Cathedral.

    Fig. 35: A sculptural monument in honour of Thomas Gorges who built the Longford Castle. Gorges died in 1610. Behind is a stained glass window by Christopher Webb.

    Fig. 36: Gargoyle in the shape of a human head on Salisbury Cathedral west front.

    Fig. 37: Gargoyle in the shape of a ‘green man’ on Salisbury Cathedral west front.

    The current Salisbury Cathedral was consecrated in 1258, though the foundation stones were laid 38 years earlier. There had been an earlier cathedral built on the chalk hill at Old Sarum two miles away from where the current one stands.9 The building work of the new cathedral was supervised by master mason Nicholas of Ely and the Gothic details of the cathedral are thought to have been the responsibility of Canon Elias of Dereham, a clergy man with a vast amount of architectural knowledge. Another recognition to his honour is that he was titled ‘The Most Honest Man in England’—but that is a story for another day.

    Towards the western end of the 200-foot-long nave is a brilliantly designed contemporary font known as the Living Water Font, designed by British sculptor William Pye. The font was installed in the cathedral nave in 2008 as part of the 750th anniversary celebration of the consecration of the cathedral.10 Water from the four angled pieces flows continuously through slots at the four corners and disappears into the ground (as it were) through gratings in the floor.

    The cloister of this cathedral is a beautiful space. The cathedral's octagonal Chapter House is accessed through the cloisters walk. The cloister boasts of original 13th-century beautifully carved ceiling bosses with some of the original paints still visible. The Chapter House itself is a masterpiece. With a similar design to that of Westminster Abbey, it features an elegant fan vault ceiling that rises from a single central column. Stone benches are seen at the walls forming a circle around the central column. These is where the chapter members sit to discuss business.

    Fig. 38: A view of the Living Water Font facing the west end of Salisbury Cathedral.

    Fig. 39: A view of the nave facing the east end of the Salisbury Cathedral. The columns and arches are reflected on the water from the Living Water Font.

    Fig. 40: A statue of Canon Elias of Dereham in Salisbury Cathedral. On the base of the statue, the text notes that the statue was given to Salisbury by the freemasons.

    Fig. 41: The pedestal of the statue of Canon Elias of Dereham inside Salisbury Cathedral. Notice the symbol of the freemasons affixed.

    Fig. 42: Statue of Bishop Poore at the west front of Salisbury Cathedral. Poore was made Bishop of Salisbury in 1217 and is credited to have moved the cathedral away from its former location in the old Sarum to its present location on permission of the pope.

    Fig. 43: The cloister garth with two cedars of Lebanon trees planted in honour of Queen Victoria's accession to the throne in 1837.

    Fig. 44: Another view of the cloister garth of Salisbury Cathedral with the pinnacles of the west front visible in the background.

    Fig. 45: Part of the cloister of Salisbury Cathedral.

    Fig. 46: Part of the cloister of Salisbury Cathedral. The two cedars of Lebanon can be seen through the gaps.

    Fig. 47: Part of the cloister of Salisbury Cathedral with rib vaults and an interesting head piece being exhibited by local artist.

    Fig. 48: Part of the Chapter House of Salisbury Cathedral showing stained glass windows and the central column from which the impressive fan vaults fan out.

    Fig. 49: The single and central column of the Chapter House of Salisbury Cathedral transitioning into fan vault ceiling.

    Fig. 50: A view of part of the nave looking towards the west end of Salisbury Cathedral.


    1 Briggs Shaw, Cathedral Architecture, (Great Britain: Pitkin Publishing, 2013), 17

    2 Dalicsek Daniel, “The Importance of the Ribbed Vault in Gothic Architecture,” accessed October 20, 2017. 

    3 James H. Acland, Medieval Structure: The Gothic Vault, (Toronto: University of Toronto press, 1972), 83

    4 David Verey, Gloucestershire, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976).

    5 Acland, 135.

    6 Wilson, “The Early English Style,” accessed October 22, 2017. 

    7 Dobbs Wilson, “Heraldry as Applied to Architecture,” Journal of Proceedings No. 1 (1906): 44

    8 Ibid. 50

    9 Knappett Gill, Salisbury Cathedral, (Gloucestershire: Pitkin Publishing, 2015), 2

    10 Ibid. 18

  • Charnley-Persky House Conservation Management Plan Complete

    by User Not Found | Oct 18, 2017

    On September 13 of this year, SAH celebrated the completion of a comprehensive conservation management plan (CMP) for Charnley-Persky House, SAH’s landmark headquarters building designed by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright in 1891–1892. SAH opted to commission a CMP, which is a relatively new approach in the US to managing a historic structure, because we wanted a study that both acknowledges the significance of the building and serves as a planning tool for the long-term care and use of the site. It is a living document that will guide SAH’s decisions about restoration priorities and future possible uses.

    Charnley-Persky House exterior
    Charnley-Persky House exterior. Photo by Leslie Schwartz.

    Charnley-Persky House fireplace
    Fireplace on first floor of Charnley-Persky House. Photo by Leslie Schwartz.

    Although SAH prided itself on being a good steward of the house since it took ownership in 1995, a flash flood in 2014 caused significant damage to the building, which prompted SAH to commission an in-depth study of the house’s strengths and weaknesses. The year-long study, funded by a generous grant from the Alphawood Foundation, was managed by Chicago architectural firm Harboe Architects.  The 451-page study focused on the house’s history, description, significance, condition assessment, programming possibilities, and recommended policies. Additional studies were done to assess the condition of the house, including an interior finishes and paint color analysis, an HVAC analysis and blower door test of energy efficiency, temperature and humidity recording over time, and an engineering report on stairway and balcony deflection. The full report is available on the Charnley-Persky House website here:

    Charnley-Persky House Conservation Management Plan

    The major findings of the report state that the building is generally in sound condition with several high-, medium-, and long-range priorities. Highest priorities include repairing the 30-year-old skylight that leaks during rainstorms, replacing the boiler and air conditioning units that are at the end of their useful lives, and adding fire extinguishers and other public safety features throughout the building. Additional priorities include rerouting the plumbing that caused the 2014 flood and doing further study on the second floor staircase to learn how it is engineered and to devise a way to prevent further deflection. The cost for addressing the highest priorities is estimated at $209,500.

    Charnley-Persky House screen
    ​View of screen and second floor of Charnley-Persky House. Photos by Leslie Schwartz.

    Third floor of Charnley-Persky House
    ​View from third floor of Charnley-Persky House.

    We at SAH extend our sincere thanks to the Alphawood Foundation for funding the study and to Gunny Harboe and his team, particularly architect Tim Scovic, for managing the study and writing the CMP report. It will be an enlightened guide for our efforts to maintain the 125-year-old landmark entrusted to our care.

    Pauline Saliga
    Executive Director

  • Winchester’s William Walker

    by User Not Found | Oct 13, 2017

    Deyemi Akande is the 2016 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    For this month’s post, I had originally planned to write on decorated vault ceilings in the UK, but only in an instance, and indeed at the very last minute, was I compelled to change my mind and write instead about a man whose stirring story has captivated me since I encountered it in Winchester. I ask in advance for your pardon and indulgence as the content herewith may deviate in some ways from my original scope which is ornamentation. Having no knowledge of the man called the cathedral diver before now, I am awestruck and deeply inspired by the underlining message of his story. The story is one that speaks to dedication driven by a sense of value and purpose—something I have continued to see in different forms all through my fellowship travels. I can only hope that I, being a budding historian, will find purpose for myself and my life (considering where I am from) in the telling and retelling of critical stories that will redirect our thoughts to that which is past but must never be forgotten.

    In the easy-going town of Winchester, there is no dearth or want for the telling of Walker’s story. For to all who care to listen, a true Winchester native will eagerly tell you that the glorious cathedral you see today stands only because a man of compulsive dedication to purpose gave his time, his skill, and his strength to seeing that the building remains upright. With such pride and love they speak of him as the deep water worker—him, being no other than Winchester’s William Walker.

    Winchester Cathedral
    Figure 1: Western façade of the Winchester Cathedral.

    Winchester Cathedral
    Figure 2: A view of the Winchester Cathedral from the northern side.

    Figure 3: The beautiful streets of Winchester, not far from the cathedral.

    Figure 4: The portrait photography of William Walker. Photo by John Crook. Source.

    As far as Winchester is concerned, the diver’s helmet has become an icon for heroism and preservation. One such helmet caught my attention as I made my way to the cathedral. Having passed the statue of King Alfred the Great on to the Broadway, past the Guildhall Winchester, then onto High Street going towards the Winchester Museum, just along the Market Street, one will notice a diver’s helmet adorning a signpost that reads “William Walker”. I thought nothing of it initially but took a photo anyhow as it reminded me of one of my all-time favourite movies by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert De Niro: Men of Honour, a true-life story of the first black US Navy deep-sea diver Carl Brashear. Shortly after I photographed the helmet, I returned to my full medieval architecture mode. And there it was, yet another beauty of a building: The Winchester Cathedral. Like all the others I have seen, it is majestic and visually imposing. It speaks for the centuries gone by and does little to hide its Norman roots. Now inside the nave and barely into my tour, in a dark corner of the cathedral, again was I confronted by a diver’s helmet very much like the one I had seen a few streets away. At this instance, I knew there must be something about this place and diving. My wonder didn’t last a second, for right beside the helmet in the cathedral one will see a small bronze statue of a man famed to have saved the cathedral from collapse with his own hands in the very early years of the 20th century. Needless to say that from here on I went deep into the matter.

    diver's helmet in Winchester
    Figure 5: The diver’s helmet and signpost off Market Street in Winchester.

    King Alfred the Great statue
    Figure 6: The Statue of Kind Alfred the Great at the Broadway roundabout. Sculpted by Hamo Thornycroft. The plaque attached to the base of the sculpture it reads: “To the founder of the Kingdom and Nation. D. October DCCCCI.”

    Guildhall Winchester
    Figure 7: The Guildhall Winchester on Broadway Street Winchester.

    Siebe Gorman & Company Diver’s Helmet
    Figure 8: A Siebe Gorman & Company Diver’s Helmet worn by the cathedral diver on display inside the nave of the Winchester Cathedral.

    William Walker statue
    Figure 9: A bronze statue of William Walker displayed beside the Siebe Gorman Helmet and in honour of Walker’s work inside the Winchester Cathedral.

    cross at Winchester Cathedral
    Figure 10: Ornamented cross outside the Winchester Cathedral on the western front.

    Old Minster
    Figure 11: On display outside the cathedral: an artist impression of the Old Minster, one of the earlier structures on the same location before the present building.

    The story has it that Winchester Cathedral delicately stands on peaty soil with a high water table underneath it. In the early 1900s, huge cracks began to appear in the massive walls of the cathedral and chunks of stone occasionally fell to the ground. It was only a matter of time before it became clear that the building was in danger of imminent collapse. The architect Thomas Jackson was called upon to remedy the situation once and for all as the condition was getting dire by the day. After much consultation, Jackson decided to dig narrow trenches underneath the walls of the building and fill them with concrete. These would need to reach 4 meters (13 feet) below the water table to be effective.1 The plan to dig pits through which the foundations of the cathedral wall would be shored up almost failed before it even started—water flooded the trenches so rapidly as the workmen dug that even a steam pump brought to the site could give no respite.

    When the cathedral collapse almost seemed inevitable and as gloom covered the rescue project, a ray of hope came when the project’s engineer, Francis Fox, had a brilliant idea to call in a deep-sea diver to help out if the water couldn’t be held back.2 This was how the destiny of the cathedral and that of William Walker crossed paths and was sealed forever. Walker was an experienced diver working at Portsmouth dockyard and a native of Newington, Surrey.3

    From 1906, using his bare hands to feel his way through the blackish muddy waters, William Walker laboured below the cathedral in total darkness for six hours every day at depths up to 6 meters (20 ft) for about six years, shoring up the foundation with bags of concrete prepared by the other workers. At the end of his work on the cathedral, Walker had packed the foundations with an estimated 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks, and 900,000 bricks.4 Not two, not five, but twenty-five thousand bags of concrete—by any account, this is an unprecedented scale of construction work done by a single man. Only after this could the waters be pumped out and huge buttresses added to the south side of the cathedral, and the building was safe at last.

    Fig 12: William Walker is seen here being dressed by an aid. His total gear weighs an excess of 90 kgs and he will shortly after this photo make a 13 ft descent to the decaying Cathedral foundations. Photo by John Crook. Source.

    Fig 13: Diagram showing the details of how William Walker worked in the almost six years at the depths beneath the cathedral walls. Source.

    Fig 14: Massive bulwark is erected to support the cathedral structure as efforts continue to save the cathedral. Source.

    So I stopped for a while to understand it. Six hours every day for six years. Burdened by the weight of the very gear that must keep you alive. And as if that weight of about 90 kg5 isn’t doing a good enough job of making your descent (and probably worse—your climb back up) into the abyss of Jackson’s murky water pits miserable and eventually painful, you are required still to carry a bag of concrete about 20 kg each time you go under, making Walker a catastrophic weight of about 110 kg on a ladder in the most precarious situation. Working in the deep dark abyss with only your imagination and whatever sensory feeling that is left on your fingertips in the cold waters for a sense of direction. I imagine he may occasionally find himself wresting his feet from the soft peat soil beneath him in order to make it back to the ladder where he may sometimes miss his steps on account of the weight of the gear. I see in William Walker a one-of-a-kind disposition to heritage and shared value. The cathedral must mean something to him or he must have a good understanding of what it meant to the people of Winchester—one or the other must be true but what is more, I presume, is his exceptional devotion to routine in a manner that gets tedious jobs done however the attending horror of monotony and repetition.

     After finding the reason for the diver’s helmet iconography in Winchester town and to a reasonable extent knowing the contribution of William Walker to Winchester Cathedral, I was fatigued with awe and perplexed on every side for I could not wrap my mind around such devotion to a singular goal. It is almost like worship—how can an ordinary man be so inclined to a purpose for which little comfort is returned to him as a favour or payment? Do permit me to wager a thought. If there is anything clear to me on this matter, it is that far from ordinary is this man of Winchester and truly, the depths are where we may need to search to find any other in this age that will present the slightest dedication to a course as he did. I am gravely inspired by this act, particularly as I stand in front of the cathedral today. It is a beautiful thing to encounter the work of a beautiful mind. The outcome is honest, inspiring, and usually long lasting.

    I cannot help but think about another place I know where a wonderful architectural heritage like this at the brink of collapse will warrant nothing near the trouble the Winchester folks have put in to save theirs, rather it will only elicit the following comment—oh well, it has served us well, over 400 years, the building is old and tired—what did you expect? Pull it down at once so it will not hurt anyone. We will build another one in a more modern style when we eventually get around to it. After all, the world is changing and follow the change, we must. I will here mention no names.

    Walker is today remembered not for his thirty-seven years before his work at the cathedral, or the seven years he lived after the work before succumbing to influenza in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. He is remembered singularly for his masterpiece contribution to the Winchester Cathedral.

    I therefore contemplated on this and asked myself: when I am done here and returned to the dusts, when all is said and done in my life’s journey, will a bronze statue be made in my honour? This I very strongly doubt and am frankly not too concerned about. But, beyond the vanity of a cuprous cast, I am so deeply interested in what will be my aftermath. On account of the beautiful man I have found in Walker, I am thus forced to ponder quite intensely the thought or rather the question—what will I be remembered for when I am done and dusted? What tangible legacy will I bestow and honour my name with? The answer to this I currently do not have but hope to craft one as the days and years go by.

    William Walker plaque
    Fig 15: A plaque attached to the bronze statue of William Walker inside the Winchester Cathedral.


    Winchester Cathedral Aside Walker and the Abbey at Bath

    It is really tough to think of Winchester Cathedral aside Walker, but there are in fact other personalities, features, and events around this cathedral that are also very well significant. I will highlight a few here in photos.

    mortuary chest
    Fig 16: A mortuary chest containing the bones of one of the Saxon kings resting on top of the presbytery screens.

    Sound II
    Fig 17: A sculptural piece in the crypt of the Winchester Cathedral. Sound II by Antony Gormley was a gift from the famous artist. The cast was made from the artist’s own body.

    Winchester Cathedral choir
    Fig 18: A view of part of the choir of Winchester Cathedral facing the western end. Notice the impressive ornamental wooden screen.

    Winchester Cathedral nave
    Fig 19: A view of the nave of the Winchester Cathedral.

    Winchester Cathedral fan vault
    Fig 20: Fan vault ceiling in the nave of the Winchester Cathedral.

    Winchester Cathedral doors
    Fig 21: The double red doors are the main entrance doors at the western end of the Winchester Cathedral.

    I had visited Bath before coming to Winchester and Bath is a beautiful place. The Abbey at Bath was founded in the 8th century AD as a Benedictine monastery. The later Norman cathedral was built by John the Bishop of Bath in 1090. The present Bath Abbey however was built in 1499 replacing the ruins of the old cathedral and making it the last great Gothic church built in England.

    Bath Abbey has a unique feature on its western front. One will see the unmistakable ladder incorporated into the towers of the church. The ladder features angels ascending and descending between the heavens and the earth visually capturing the dream of Bishop Oliver King and symbolically reaffirming the role of the church in our journey from the worldly earth to the heavens. Some accounts have it that the story claiming Bishop Oliver King saw the west front in a dream is a myth that was conjured up by Sir John Harington when he sought to raise funds for the Abbey roof a century after Bishop King’s death. Linking the fundraising to a spiritual encounter by their beloved former Bishop may convince the people to give more generously. Indeed one is inclined to believe that the Bishop Oliver King story is in fact a ruse as the representation on the cathedral is reminiscent of Jacob’s vision in the Bible, and it seems more plausible that the biblical Jacob story is the inspiration for the west front sculptural work. One other notable fixture of the western front is the solid oak door dated to the century after the Abbey was built. It was a gift to the Abbey from Sir Henry Montagu in memory of his brother Bishop James Montagu, the 17th-century Bishop of Baths and Wells. On the door we see three well-crafted shields representing the Montagu arms. Bath Abbey presents some of the most impressive fan vault designs I have seen in all of England and the parish does take pride in it. I was ever so kindly led to a spot where a mirror was strategically placed in the quire to help us appreciate the intricacy of the vault design without straining our necks by looking up. The clever mirror contraption gave an impressive and detailed reverse view of the vaults.

    Outside Bath Abbey one will find nothing but tranquillity and beauty all around, in spite of the tourists. The town is packed with visitors and this may not be unconnected to the large number of historical sites to see in Bath. The Abbey’s brochure states that Bath Abbey is Britain’s most visited parish outside London—I saw enough people and beauty in the town to believe that wholly. I spent a few days inside the University of Bath campus taking photos and reading up on the venues I have visited.

    Bath Abbey western front
    Fig 22: A view of the Bath Abbey’s western front. To the right is a medieval roman public bath.

    Bath Abbey
    Fig 23: A view of the Bath Abbey from the eastern end of the building.

    ladders to Heaven
    Fig 24: The ladders to Heaven—angels seen ascending and descending the ladder between Heaven and Earth. This is said to be a symbolic representation of the Bishop Oliver King’s vision of the western front that he saw in a dream. However, this was a ruse created by Sir John Harington to raise funds for Bath Abbey’s roof a century after the Bishop’s death.

    olive oil tree Bath Abbey
    Fig 25: An interesting symbol and signature of the Bishop Oliver King is seen on the northern and southern edge of the western front: an olive oil tree ringed by a king’s crown beneath a bishop’s mitre.

    Bath Abbey nave
    Fig 26: The nave of Bath Abbey.

    Bath Abbey baptismal font
    Fig 27: The baptismal font of Bath Abbey, a Victorian style font with its counter-balance lid at the western end of the Abbey.

    Bath Abbey pew
    Fig 28: Ornate detail of the pews in the presbytery of Bath Abbey.

    Bath Abbey presbytery pew
    Fig 29: Oak wood ornamented pews in the presbytery of Bath Abbey

    tomb of Bishop James Montagu
    Fig 30: The tomb of Bishop James Montagu (1568–1618) with iron railing on the right of the north aisle. His family crests are very prominently displayed and can also be seen on Bath Abbey’s western doors, donated by his brother Sir Henry Montagu after the Bishop’s death.

    Bishop James Montagu at Bath Abbey
    Fig 31: A recumbent effigy of the Bishop James Montagu (1568–1618), Bishop of Bath and Wells, seen between the northern aisle and the nave.

    Bath Abbey burial memorials
    Fig 32: Several burial memorials of famous people on the floor of the northern aisle inside Bath Abbey.

    Bath Abbey prayer board
    Fig 33: A graffiti prayer board for family members or for the world. Bath Abbey made post-it stickers available for visitors to leave a prayer note for friends, family and the world. People from around the world have prayer notes on the display board in different languages.

    close up notes
    Fig 34: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” A close up of some of some of the notes.

    Bath Abbey oak door
    Fig 35: Solid oak door at the western front of Bath Abbey, donated by Sir Henry Montagu in memory of his brother Bishop James Montagu, Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1608 –1618. Notice the three shields on the door, which are versions of the Montagu arms.

    canal near Bath Abbey
    Fig 36: The town of Bath canal near Bath Abbey.

    umbrella installation in Bath
    Fig 37: A colourful umbrella installation in Bath near the central station.

    University of Bath
    Fig 38: The University of Bath.

    University of Bath campus
    Fig 39: A beautiful lake with ducks inside the University of Bath

    University of Bath campus
    Fig 40: Nature inside the University of Bath.

    I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the Dean and Chapter of Winchester Cathedral for their kind permission to use photos from the Cathedral archive. Also, my gratitude to David Rymill, Archivist, Hampshire Archives and Local Studies, and Winchester Cathedral archivist for his kind assistance.


    1 Frederick Bussby, William Walker: The Diver Who Saved Winchester Cathedral, (Winchester: Friends of Winchester Cathedral UK., 1970)

    2 “Winchester Cathedral,” accessed September 20, 2017, William Walker: The diver who saved the Cathedral

    3 Ibid.

    4 Ibid.

    5 Roland Rim, Winchester Cathedral, ed. Gill Knappett (Hampshire: Pitkins Publishing, 2012), 25.

  • Confederate Monuments and Civic Values in the Wake of Charlottesville

    by User Not Found | Sep 13, 2017

    The political climate in the United States since the election of Barack Obama has brought to public view a virulent strain of white supremacy that is deeply embedded in American history and culture. The last presidential election seems to have given white supremacists permission to be more open. The events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August are only the most conspicuous of many such incidents, but they have stimulated yet another discussion of the fate of Confederate monuments and other symbols in the civic sphere. It is important to understand that this is only the most recent eruption of a long argument that goes back to the time of the Civil War. African Americans have been part of this struggle since Reconstruction, even though many other Americans have only recently become aware of it. Much of the current public debate is characterized by misconceptions, obfuscations, and misleading emphases that serve to confuse the issues. It might be useful to examine some things that this conflict is not about as a way to understand what it is about.

    1. This is not a question of preserving or erasing history. History is intangible and complex and is told and retold as an ongoing story. Public monuments point to some aspect of history that the public (ostensibly—more of this later) considers worthy of commemoration and they interpret that aspect of history from a particular point of view.

    This is a debate about which aspects of history ought to be celebrated in the civic realm. In American politics and custom, symbols in public space—monuments, flags and other emblems—are assumed to enjoy the general approbation of the population and to represent common values. This is a fiction. Most monuments are the projects of small numbers of interested parties. Currently, however, there are checks and balances. It is very difficult to erect a new monument in any public space. Endless rounds of public comment and design review are required.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries no such constraints existed. The Confederate monuments were erected by people who were able to exert their will unchallenged, without the voices of African Americans or even of most whites being heard. The Charlottesville statues were erected by the smallest group possible: one man. Paul Goodloe McIntire purchased the sites, chose the subjects, and paid for the statues.1 His Stonewall Jackson statue, which stands a few blocks from the Lee statue that received most of the publicity in August, was built on the site of a row of sturdy early-nineteenth-century houses whose only fault was that they were occupied by African Americans. They were demolished and the Jackson statue, with its base representing winged allegorical figures of Faith and Valor carrying a shield based on the Confederate battle flag, replaced them.2 (fig. 1)

    Fig. 1. Charles Keck, Thomas Jonathan [Stonewall] Jackson, 1919-24, Courthouse Square, Charlottesville, Va. Detail of base.

    Although statues in civic spaces are read as expressing common sentiments, this was not the case for the Confederate statues (and some others, of course). Confederate monument builders overrode public sentiment that ranged from indifference to hostility. Kirk Savage has chronicled the struggles to erect even the best-known of monuments, such as Robert E. Lee’s statue on Monument Avenue, Richmond. Repeated requests for funds were ignored, and African Americans, especially, resisted pleas for their support.3 The state Confederate monument in Montgomery, Alabama, was first proposed in the late 1860s, did not get underway until 1886, and was not completed until 1898. Although the monument stands next to the state capitol, neither the governor nor the mayor bothered to attend the dedication ceremony. The construction of the Confederate monument at the North Carolina state capitol was impeded by opposition from a Fusionist (Republican-Populist) dominated legislature in 1895. One legislator argued that “the memories of the war should be buried out of sight.” He advocated “digging a hole and burying all monuments.”4

    2. This is not a debate about commemoration of the Civil War per se. The monuments in question were erected between the late 1860s and the 1920s, with most built after 1890. The first monuments were placed in cemeteries and purportedly expressed simple grief over the dead. They were erected under the auspices of Ladies’ Memorial Associations, which were ostensibly apolitical groups. The leadership of women and the siting in cemeteries were meant to disguise their political meanings as signs of continued allegiance to the Confederacy.5 After the end of Reconstruction and federal supervision, the monuments moved to the metaphorical public square and became more openly pro-Confederate. As a speaker at the dedication of the Montgomery Confederate monument declared, “there was no need to deify the New [South] by degrading the Old” or to celebrate the return to the United States by disavowing the Confederacy.6

    Then as now, these monuments were surrogates for another kind of discussion, one about race and citizenship in the post-slavery nation. Confederate monuments offered a reading of the war that disguised but did not deny its origins in slavery. They depicted the war as a tie, one in which whites on both sides emerged with honor and with principles intact, while slavery and African Americans were ignored. This is the [white] “brother against brother” fiction. It is stated most explicitly on the Unity Monument (1923) at Bennett Place outside Durham, N.C., where the final Confederate surrender took place.7 Twin Corinthian columns representing the Union and the Confederacy support an entablature labeled “Unity.” (fig. 2) The inscription reads in part, “This monument . . . marks the spot where the military force of the United States of America finally triumphed and established as inviolate the principle of an indissoluble union. It marks also the spot of the last stand of the Confederacy in maintaining its ideal of indestructible states—an ideal which[,] preserved to the American union by virtue of the heroic fight[,] grows in strength from year to year.” Claims that “state sovereignty” or “states’ rights” were causes of the Civil War were after-the-fact interpretations intended to paper over the central role of race. The original ordinances of secession explicitly stated that the Confederacy was formed to defend slavery and white supremacy. Some of the ordinances complained about states’ rights when it involved northern states’ refusal to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

    Fig. 2. W. H. Deasy, designer; Milburn and Heisler, architects, Unity Monument, 1923, Bennett Place, Durham County, N.C.

    Moreover, among most of the present-day proponents of the monuments, the Civil War per se is a distant and poorly understood phenomenon. As the historian Thomas J. Brown has noted, the current defense of the monuments (and before that, the Confederate flag) is rarely based on the Lost Cause ideology that was widely taught in the South until quite recently and that inflected the teaching of the Civil War and Reconstruction nationally even when I was in public school in the 1950s and 1960s.8 Most defenders don’t even know what the Lost Cause was. I spoke in Columbia, S.C., earlier this year and a man who was pro-monument arose in tears to ask whether the Vietnam War couldn’t be considered a lost cause as well. He was obviously unfamiliar with the historical meaning of the term Lost Cause in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century South. Instead, defense of the monuments is now framed as a defense of white ethnic heritage. In the South, the Confederacy is widely seen as the whites’ equally honorable complement of the African-American civil rights movement.

    But what if the debate were about the Civil War? Does that justify the retention of the monuments? Another argument that we sometimes hear is that the statues of the Lees, Jacksons, and Davises are one thing, since they led the rebellion, but the common-soldier statues are another: they are merely signs of mourning for the war dead. There are two responses this argument.

    First, as Kirk Savage has shown, these “common-soldier statues,” of which the Civil War memorials are the first of a now common type, were a way to deflect attention from the issues of war to the abstractions of duty and valor.9 (fig. 3) They underpin the current assumption that the military and military service are unquestioned goods whatever the cause. Those defenders of the statues who are not white supremacists are often motivated by an abstract reverence for all soldiers. This was the view of my questioner in Columbia. One way to think about this would be to ask, would I accept a statue to the personal bravery of the British troops who fought in the American Revolution? Of the Japanese aviators who died at Pearl Harbor? Of (real) Nazi soldiers? Of the September 11 highjackers? I ask this not as a version of the Hitler default (“my opponent is just like Hitler”) but as a kind of thought experiment. If we think of a sliding scale on which respect for personal valor lies at one end and respect for a cause lies at the other, at what point on that scale would I think that the evil of the cause outweighed the valor of individual troops? For me, the defense of slavery and white supremacy, rebellion against legitimate national authority, and responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people stand on the far side of that point.

    Fig. 3. United Daughters of the Confederacy, Confederate Monument, 1909, Courthouse Square, Charlottesville, Va.

    Second, one often hears that ordinary Confederate soldiers were not slaveholders but were simply defending their homes. This was not an issue during the Civil War and it was not one when the monuments were built. In the Lost Cause ideology, women were the defenders of the home, and there are numerous statues to women of the Confederacy, many of which depict them as Penelopes awaiting their Ulysses. (fig. 4) Men were defending the racial-political order and the common-soldier statues were part of the same campaign that built the monuments to Confederate leaders. This is clear if we read the inscriptions that many carry: “They gave their lives and fortunes for Constitutional liberty and state sovereignty” (Salisbury, N.C.); “The Sons of Veterans Unite in This Justification of Their Fathers Faith” and “They Gave Their Lives in a Just and Holy Cause” (Oxford, Miss.); “Defenders of the Rights of the States” (Charlottesville; Centerville, Ala.); “Those Who Die for a Right Principle Do Not Die in Vain” (Tupelo, Miss.); “The Rights of the Southern Confederacy” (Williamsburg, S.C.); “Defenders of State Sovereignty” (Tarboro, N.C.; Fort Mill, S.C.).

    Fig. 4. Women of the South, 1911, Macon, Ga.

    3. This is not ultimately a conflict over monuments. It is a conflict over the values that we wish to endorse in the contemporary public realm. Monuments are the focus of current debates, but before that it was the Confederate flag. And before that it was the monuments that are now being challenged again. And before that it was the question of whether the federal government should pay for the reburial and grave marking of Confederate dead.

    4. This is not a controversy about art or its censorship. The monuments were not intended as public art—art for a public setting—in the sense that we normally understand the phrase. They are political statements whose meaning was clearly understood by their targets. They were part of a campaign to reaffirm white supremacy during a period that the historian Rayford Logan called “the nadir” of American racial politics, one that took many forms, including Jim Crow laws, disfranchisement, the rewriting of state constitutions to deny citizenship to blacks, and legal and extralegal terrorism. They stood as affirmations that the American polity was a white polity.

    African Americans were never confused about the meaning of these statues. At the ceremonies marking the unveiling of the Robert E. Lee monument on Monument Avenue in Richmond, an old black man declared “The Southern white folks is on top—the Southern white folks is on top!” The editor of the local black newspaper wrote that “He [the black laborer] put up the Lee Monument, and should the time come, will be there to take it down.”10  In Charleston in 1887, the Ladies’ Calhoun Monument Association erected a statue of John C. Calhoun, a vociferous defender of slavery and proponent of secession, on a modest pedestal in Marion Square. It had been thirty years in the making. Calhoun overlooked the newly renamed Calhoun Street, formerly Boundary Street, the major black business street. It is also the location of Emanuel A.M.E. Church, the church home of Denmark Vesey, organizer of an 1822 slave rebellion, and scene of the 2015 murders. Mamie Garvin Fields, an African-American woman from a genteel family who was raised in Charleston in the 1890s, recalled that  “Blacks took that statue personally. As you passed by, here was Calhoun looking you in the face, and telling you, ‘Nigger, you may not be a slave, but I am back to see you stay in your place.’” In response “We used to carry something with us, if we knew we would be passing that way, in order to deface that statue—scratch up the coat, break the watch chain, try to knock off the nose—because he looked like he was telling you that there was a place for ‘niggers’ and ‘niggers’ must stay there. Children and adults beat up John C. Calhoun so badly that the whites had to come back and put him way up high, so we couldn’t get to him.”11 The new statue was installed in 1896, standing atop an eighty-foot column.12  (fig. 5) Its inscription cryptically records that it replaced an older statue “which proved unsatisfactory.” Following Charlottesville, a long-standing campaign to remove the statue (which was recently conserved) has revived.

    Fig. 5. J. Massey Rhind with Renwick, Aspinwall, and Renwick, architects, John C. Calhoun, 1894-96, Marion Square, Charleston, S.C.

    5. This is not a discussion of the destruction of monuments. Some may have aesthetic value and deserve to be preserved on those grounds. Some, for example, were made by renowned sculptors such as Charles Keck (Stonewall Jackson, Charlottesville) or Jean-Antoine Mercié (Lee, Richmond). If so, they belong in art museums, which are full of aesthetically pleasing images of unsavory people. They’d be quite at home there.

    What should be done with the rest, most of which are ordinary and many of which were mass produced? Some may belong in local or state history museums as artifacts of the past. Another possibility would be to move some of them to a site in the newly designated, long-overdue Reconstruction-Era National Monument in South Carolina. Removal from civic space (and maintenance) and destruction are two different issues. A suggestion that I favor would be to gather as many of them as possible in a Dead Rebels Park. I envision such a park not as a pleasant landscaped space like some of those in eastern Europe that house the statues of disgraced leaders, but as a display of rows upon rows of statues akin to the ceramic warriors at Xi’an. In its sheer magnitude such a display would be a very powerful and thought-provoking image.

    At the same time, the idea that some might be destroyed should not worry us. Some works of art are meant to be temporary from the start. Others are treated even by their patrons as disposable, not as holy relics. The first Charleston Calhoun statue, by the well-known sculptor A. E. Harnisch, was sold for scrap when the second one replaced it.13 We destroy many other artifacts. We pulp outdated history books, although we usually keep one or two copies for historical interest. We burn old flags. And we don’t preserve every building.

    Many people who clearly understand the meaning of these monuments want to leave them in place but to “contextualize” them. I think there are two problems with this argument. First, the statues are already contextualized by their presence in civic spaces. Second, as someone who works with the material world, I believe that the physical is always more compelling than the verbal. For example, when we visit a restored building, we can hear or read as much as we like about the faults of the restoration, but we will carry away an image of the physical object as our memory of the building. Similarly, a label that tells us that X was really a bad guy or served an evil cause is not going to remain with us as vividly as our mental image of the great man on his pedestal.

    If we do decide to contextualize, there is, in my mind, only one fair way to do so. Since these monuments express the positions of a few people who erected them without benefit of critique, critique them now. One of the sore points for those who attempt to erect contemporary monuments on African American subjects is that while the Confederate monuments went up without effective opposition, theirs are subject to endless second guessing by politicians, commissions, boards, and the general public. In particular, whites assume the prerogative to decide what is fair, what is accurate, and what is potentially offensive in African American monument proposals. This is the definition of white privilege. If the Confederate monuments are left in place, descendants of the African-Americans who lived in the locality at the time of their construction should be allowed to annotate and alter the monuments as they see fit, with no second guessing or complaints about accuracy or fairness or viewer discomfort.

    Whatever the disposition of the Confederate monuments, it seems clear that for reasons of justice, equity, and civic values, they must first of all be removed from civic space. Their white-supremacist character is more important than their age, their aesthetic quality, or any other attributes that are offered in their defense. After they are gone from the public sphere, then we can take time to discuss their fates on a case-by-case basis.

    All photos by the author.

    Dell Upton is a historian of architecture, material culture, and cities. He is chair of the Department of Art History at University of California, Los Angeles. He focuses both on the United States and on the global scene and his books include Another City: Urban Life and Urban Spaces in the New American Republic (2008) and Architecture in the United States (1998), a volume in the Oxford History of Art series, as well as Holy Things and Profane: Anglican Parish Churches in Colonial Virginia (1986); and Madaline: Love and Survival in Antebellum New Orleans (1996). He has had a longstanding interest in African-American history, architecture and material culture, and early in his career in studied landscapes of slavery. In recent years, he has been more interested in the urban and rural landscapes of the post-emancipation period. What Can and Can’t Be Said, a study of civil-rights and African-American history monuments in the South, was recently published in 2015. He is also working on a revised and enlarged edition of Architecture in the United States.

    1 Aaron V. Wunsch, “From Private Privilege to Public Place: A Brief History of Parks and Park Planning in Charlottesville,” Magazine of Albemarle County History, 56 (1998): 80-90.

    2 Daniel Bluestone has excavated and recounted this story in Buildings, Landscapes, and Memory: Case Studies in Historic Preservation (New York: Norton, 2011), 220-26.

    3 Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves:  Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 136-39.

    4 Quoted in Catherine W. Bishir, “‘A Strong Force of Ladies’: Women, Politics, and Confederate Memorial Associations in Nineteenth-Century Raleigh,” North Carolina Historical Review, 77 no. 4 (Oct. 2000): 238. Eventually the funding bill passed the House 60 to 38, after having squeaked by in the Senate by one vote. Thanks to Catherine Bishir for calling my attention to this incident, and for her comments on an earlier draft of this essay.

    5 Caroline E. Janney, Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 6-7, 40, 142.

    6 Quoted in Dell Upton, What Can and Can’t Be Said: Race, Uplift and Monument Building in the Contemporary South (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), 31.

    7 Although Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Va., on April 9, 1865, Confederates in other parts of the South continued to fight. The final surrender, which involved the largest number of troops (over 89,000), occurred at Bennett Place on April 17, 1865.

    8 Thomas J. Brown, “The Confederate Battle Flag and the Desertion of the Lost Cause Tradition,” in Remixing the Civil War: Meditations on the Sesquicentennial, ed. Thomas J. Brown (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011), 37-72.

    9 Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves:  Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 162-208.

    10 Savage, Standing Soldiers, 151, 153.

    11 Mamie Garvin Fields with Karen Fields, Lemon Swamp and Other Places: A Carolina Memoir (New York: Free Press, 1983), 57.

    12 “The Calhoun Monument,” Charleston News and Courier, Oct. 25, 1895, p. 9.

    13 “Sold As Old Metal,” Charleston Evening Post, Aug. 8, 1896, p. 5.

  • St. Paul’s Character in St. Paul’s Cathedral

    by User Not Found | Sep 06, 2017

    The first hint we have of the man later to become a great apostle and martyr Saint Paul was at the martyrdom of Stephen. The vicious stoning to death of Stephen is a chilling account to read, if you have a vivid imagination. So it will be easy to place Saul’s temperament for in spite of the horror, he stood and watched the slaughter with an unsettling cold calm. Thankfully, Saul is not the subject for today, Paul is. Paul, renewed by light yet unwavering in passion and strength of character. I was curious to see if Apostle Paul’s strong character or experience found expression in Sir Christopher Wren’s most valued work—St Paul’s Cathedral.

    Surely I did not expect a literal translation of Paul’s experience or character in the fabric of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral though I imagine it would have been a powerful symbolic statement. In any case, my approach from the southern end of the cathedral presented me with little or no excitement at all to carry on. This, I guess is on account of the many structural distractions (leading on to the spot where the cathedral is) that the city of London presents. Also, on entering the nave, there was no ‘blinding light’ from above. The interior of the cathedral was considerably bright but far from blinding. The lights were evenly spread and indeed soft on the eye. To further dampen matters, I was informed that photography is not allowed on the interior of the cathedral. Suffice to say, the experience got off to quite a cold start.

    Fig. 1: St Paul’s Cathedral, London. A view of the impressive dome and the southern façade.

    Fig. 2: The ball and cross atop the cathedral dome. The cathedral dome is one of the largest in the world and it weighs about 65,000 tons.

    Fig. 3: Statues of Evangelists atop the pediment of the southern transept.

    Fig. 4: The nave of the cathedral near the transept crossing. The brilliant 19th-century mosaic work of the choir ceiling is clearly visible in the brightly lit interior.

    The tone of my experience didn’t quite recover fully. With the luxury of taking photographs wrested from me, I was condemned to more time (than I usually have) of physical visual analysis of the building. This was perhaps a blessing in disguise for only at the instance of my sitting under the dome at the transept crossing did I begin to notice the intrinsic allure and Pauline nature of the cathedral interior. In a bit of a calculated disobedience, I went on to ‘steal’ some shots. Not paying much attention to the technical quality, I just wanted to get some photographs out in any case. Concealing the camera most of the time to take the shots, I guiltily justified my actions with a note-to-self that there were already hundreds of the cathedral photographs online anyway. 

    For sake of diligence, I must give a brief background of the character in question here—Saul of Tarsus, later Paul. A proud Roman and Pharisee, born a Jew in the Roman province of Cilicia. Saul was a scholar who studied religion and Jewish law in Jerusalem, and one of his teachers was the great scholar Gamaliel.1 In his time, he would have stood out from the lot on account of his education. Probably the most significant thing about Saul was that he was a staunch oppressor of the Christian movement. He was indeed on his way to Damascus to deliver letters that will authorise a full-scale battle against Christians when he encountered Christ in form of a ‘blinding light’. The encounter left him sightless and he could make his path only through guidance from his aids. His sight was later recovered in the city of Damascus under the care of a man called Ananias.2 Paul, now a transformed soul, was later to describe God as ‘unapproachable light” who no one has seen or can ever see.3 Renewed by this event, he went from firm prosecutor to brave propagator of the faith. The rest of the story as they say is history. Paul maintained a life of ‘suffering for Christ’. One that was not devoid of challenges and life-threatening situations. He was eventually martyred in Rome for bearing witness to the faith and thus became an idealized model for later Christians and arguably the most enigmatic of all the apostles.4

    Fig. 5: One of the western towers topped with a pineapple. The pineapple is said to be a symbol of peace and hospitality.  

    Fig. 6: Squeezed on all sides yet it exhibits the resilience, boldness and true character of an evangelical masterpiece. Here St Paul’s Cathedral appears to be sandwiched between two modern structures, this is however an optical illusion occasioned by my positioning for this shot.

    Fig. 7: St Paul’s column. The marble column is topped with a gilded statue of St Paul. Positioned in the northeast yard of the church compound, it is the location where Williams Tyndale’s New Testament was burned because it was in English. 

    Fig. 8: Closer details of the base of the column.

    Fig. 9: A plaque tells of the history and significance of the spot where the column is found. Amongst other information, it relates that “On this plot of ground stood of old, Paul’s cross."

    Fig. 10: Gilded statue of St Paul in the northeastern corner of the church yard.

    Fig. 11: A view of Paul’s Column and a part of the cathedral dome.


    St Paul’s Cathedral: Bearing the Marks

    For the sake of brevity, I will restrict myself to only a few thoughts here. The idea of a direct relationship between Apostle Paul’s personality and St Paul’s Cathedral physical structure is of course on first thought ludicrous. However, we must constantly be reminded of the danger there is in limiting our minds from exploring alternate and sometimes marginal insights to our study of architecture. One is unclear if Sir Christopher Wren considered the personality of the Apostle Paul as he designed the new London cathedral (however covertly). I am not convinced that he did. If he did, I will assume it was not too profoundly. It seems more logical that mathematics and geometry was his inspiration—after all, Sir Wren was an astronomer and mathematician, technically never trained as an architect. Further, if indeed in the Baroque canons, there is such a practise of directly translating natural forms into actual architecture in an act of mimicry, then in the case of St Paul’s cathedral, I fear we may have something of a dreadful building. I have here no intention of being blasphemous but on recorded accounts and by today’s standards (possibly by ancient standards as well) Paul of Tarsus was not a very attractive man. Wren may find nothing of appeal in Paul’s physical appearance to translate to his architecture I will presume. The same cannot be said for Paul’s ecclesiastical journey however. I am bold to conclude that should Christopher Wren have inquired into Paul’s ecclesiastical life for a design inspiration, he would not have had to search for long. That said, in an 1882 publication, Phillip Schaff refers to the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla (AD 170) as the earliest written description of the Apostle Paul. He was described as "bald-headed, bow-legged, strongly built, a man small in size, with meeting eyebrows, with a rather large (or long) nose."5 Also, in the scriptures one will recall the line referring to Paul’s physical appearance as unimpressive.6 Further, I would imagine the recurring danger and hazards of his profession will constantly dispose him to a less than attractive appearance. It is reasonable to assume that if a frenzied crowd stoned and dragged a person to the point where they were sure he was dead, as it happened to Paul in Lystra in the Acts. 14: 19, he would not look like very much thereafter. A man who has endured much scarring in the name of the gospel in those early days will leave very little to our guessing eyes. Perhaps the remarks in his letter to the Galatians referred to his scars, bruises and injuries as much as they did to a symbolic identification with ChriSt “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus”.7

    Therefore again I understand how absurd it may appear as to even consider the thought of any expression of Paul’s physical outlook and/or experience in the building of St Paul’s cathedral. Experts of Wren and his works may surely cringe at the slightest suggestion that such may be the case of the master’s design thought process, nevertheless, I am persuaded that there may be a thing or the other to learn from approaching St Paul’s cathedral from this point of view. Sir Christopher Wren has an amazing record of building 52 churches in London through his career and being famed to be one of the most distinguished promoters of the English Baroque, surely there must be some type of allegiance to the practise of figural representation and the craft of incorporating symbols in design. Wren had travelled to Paris where he met the great Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1665. This must have had an ideological impression on Wren as his later works showed clear articulations of both Bernini and Francesco Borromini’s Italian architectural styles carefully tempered with the more sober and strict classical style of Inigo Jones.8

    Fig. 12: A 3rd-century medallion showing the Apostles Peter and Paul. Here is one of the earliest visual representation of St Paul. Paul is to the left, one will notice his bald head. This gives some credibility to the apocryphal material. Source: Sacred Museum of the Vatican Library

    Fig. 13: An Orthodox icon of Apostle Paul. Source: Icon of 16 century, Mount Athos Monastery of Stavronikita.

    Fig. 14: That’s me ‘photobombing’ this shot I secretly took in the choir area of St Paul’s Cathedral around the baldacchino.

    Fig. 15: Ceiling décor in the southern transept.

    Fig. 16: Ornamental piece with vegetal and figural designs.

    Thus, in visually analysing the interior, my attention is drawn to the paucity of colours on the interior of the cathedral dome. As we saw in my last post, no artist will falter in the opportunity to render the interior of a dome in the most vibrant colours that capture the transcendental mood we like to experience when we think of heaven. Most domes present a wonderful tone of joy and beauty, sometimes in the most innocent colours—but, what are we to make of the English painter James Thornhill’s 1715 paintings in the dome of St Paul’s? Without hesitation I am inclined to equate the medium of rendition to the austere nature of Paul. I see this lone brown tone of the murals as a representation of the singularity of Paul’s purpose after the experience on the road to Damascus. The mural captures key experiences of Paul’s ministry and clearly avoids any distractions. One is compelled to focus on the stories of Paul’s life related in the work. Though records show that Sir Wren had intended to use mosaic for the finishing of the interior of the dome, still the ‘sombre’ painting agrees with the general low tone of ornamentation in the cathedral. Queen Victoria is said to have complained at one point that St Paul’s was too ‘dull, dingy and undevotional’. The vivacious display of mosaics we see today in the choir ceiling of the cathedral was designed by William Richmond and was installed as a response to the queen’s remark.9 The baldacchino was designed by Stephen Bower and it represents something of Wren’s original intentions—it too rendered in deep colours, though partly gilded and so beautifully crafted but nonetheless sombre in every nature imaginable.10


    Speaking of Symbols—The Blinding Light

    While fully understanding the challenges of designing for 17th-century English royals and aristocrats particularly at a time when London had suffered a most damaging blow in the 1666 Great fire and a renaissance was priority for royals like Charles II. Even Sir Wren’s design of the cathedral was rejected twice. I will leave this discussion with a thought here. How symbolic would it have been if Sir Wren borrowed the ingenious concept of the oculus from the Pantheon in Rome? For what purpose we may ask? Imagine if a strong and directional light came into the cathedral through the oculus, outshining the ambient light. Crafted such that as the sun rises in the east, it shoots a strong beam of light that hits the nave towards the western end and gradually moves along the nave towards the great altar illuminating the inner dome and creating a bright spotlight on the star in the middle of the cathedral transept at noon thereafter moving further towards the altar as the day proceeds. Seeing that the experience of Saul on the way to Damascus is so critical to the ‘creation’ of the person we know as Paul, what can be more symbolic of the redemption of Saul and his translation to Paul as he is drawn closer to God (symbolised by the altar) through light. The moving of the light through the nave may then represent the story of the life of Paul as he was initially far off and being transformed by the mystery of the great light, he found a straight path through the same light unto God. The movement of the light in the cathedral will then serve as a reminder of Paul’s journey in faith and conversely a recurrent call to all to come to Christ who is seen to be the light of the world.

    Sure this will require dramatic changes to the structure of the dome. Most post-Romanesque churches often aspire for such vertical height at all costs hence the prospects of the thoughts expressed here are rather dim—still how glorious a sight it will be to behold the great light appearing every day inside the cathedral and symbolically showing the path for those who are yet far off to draw near. Just like it did for Paul in the early years.

    Fig. 17: The (inner) dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. The current painting is an 1853 recreation of James Thornhill’s work based on the life and ministry of St Paul.

    Fig. 18: A view of the cathedral’s inner dome plus mosaic pieces on the triangular spaces between the arches of the dome columns. The mosaics feature depictions of Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel etc. Designed by Alfred Stevens and George Frederic Watts and was installed 1864–1893.

    Fig. 19: A view of part of the cathedral’s inner dome.

    Fig. 20: Details of the mural inside the inner dome. Here Apostle Paul is shown in Malta after a shipwreck.

    Fig. 21: A view of the cathedral’s choir showing the brilliant 19th-century Mosaic work on the choir ceiling. Also the oak wood choir stalls can be seen on both sides.

    Fig. 22: Details of the ceiling art in the quire of St Paul’s Cathedral. The baldacchino is seen further in.

    Fig. 23: Details of the baldacchino in St Paul’s Cathedral.

    Fig. 24: The baldacchino surmounted by a gilded statue of Jesus.

    Fig. 25: The transept crossing area directly under the dome. The floor motive resembles a sun or star with rays around it. In the very center is a copper plate with perforation in it. The pattern made by the perforations appear to be two interlocked diamond shapes.

    Fig. 26: A view of the southern transept. Interestingly, a strong light enters through a clerestory window from the right and hits the sculptural pieces on the lower left, drawing our attention to the work.

    Fig. 27: Photo of the interior of the Pantheon showing the effects of light entering the space through the oculus. Source:


    A Note on St Albans

    Away from London, I venture a few miles north to a town less familiar but nonetheless of great importance to church history in Britain—St Albans. Here we find the St Albans Cathedral, named after the very first British martyr. A short note on Alban is noteworthy here. Alban is believed to have lived during the 3rd century in the old Roman city called Verulamium, located in the valley below the present cathedral.

    In the early times when Christianity was still a forbidden religion, Alban gave refuge to a Christian priest called Amphibalus who was fleeing for his life. Alban, was so moved by the priest’s faith and courage asked that he be taught more about this faith. In time being now inspired by his new faith, Alban crafted a plan for the priest to escape the authorities when they eventually came for him. Alban exchanged garments with the priest allowing the priest to make his escape. The Roman authorities arrested Alban instead, and he was brought before the city magistrate. In his trial, Alban publicly declared his newfound faith and refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods. Consequently, he was sentenced to death. Thus, Alban is brought out of town and made to walk up hill (to the site where the cathedral now sits) where he was beheaded, making him the first British martyr. A simple church was erected over his grave making it the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain.11

    Fig. 28: Western façade of St Albans cathedral. A hint of the old tower can be seen to the left.

    Fig. 29: A view of the western and older southern facades. The southern walls are mostly of the Early English and decorated era with some 19th-century repair work done on the buttresses of the southern facade.

    Fig. 30: A view of the western front designed and built by Lord Grimthorpe in 1880 replacing a fine 15th-century window and much to the disapproval of many.

    Fig. 31: A view of the old Norman tower and the much newer southern transept of the St Albans Cathedral.

    Fig. 32: Stones and tiles from the ancient city of Verulamium used to (re)build portions of the cathedral in the late 11th century.

    Fig. 33: Vestiges of the Early English legacy of the cathedral: pointed arches in one of the cathedral’s isles.

    Fig. 34: Ornate floral patterned capital in St Albans cathedral.

    Fig. 35: Solid matter comes alive taking organic form and yielding to the mason’s chisel—such beautiful example of the masons’ work. Columns from the St Albans cathedral.

    Several historians bare testament to the early church erected in honour of St Alban. Bishop Germanus of Auxerre recorded his visit to St Alban’s church in 429 AD. In the early 8th century, the chronicler Bede, in his work Ecclesiastical History, also mentioned the church’s beauty and called it a befitting piece worthy of Alban’s martyrdom. It was, however, Abbot Paul of Caen that would bring much significance to the structure in 1077 by rebuilding the church in the Norman style and erecting the great tower from bricks and tiles from the ruins of Verulamium, the old Roman town where Alban lived.

    The church today is a mixture of architectural styles on account of its long years. It boasts of one of the longest naves in all of the United Kingdom. 85 meters (276 ft) of absolute history and a symbol of consistency. Though several effigies of St Alban (both old and new) are found in the cathedral, the most important item may well be the shrine chapel of St Alban, believed to house the collar bone of the saint. The ornately carved marble shrine is a beauty. Demolished after the Dissolution of Monasteries in the 16th century during the reign of Henry VIII, the shrine was reconstructed in 1872 from over 2000 small broken pieces found in the chapel. The shrine speaks of persistence very much like the cathedral. Covered in red and gold silk, the red is said to represent the blood of St Alban and the gold, his crown in heaven. The triangular shapes at the base of the silk cloth represent the letter ‘A’ for Alban, and in the shapes one will find embroidery of the different flowers that would have been in bloom on the hill in June when Alban climbed to meet his fate.

    The high altar screen, which features a rather ornate and detailed sculptural display, draws one’s attention but above everything else, I find the ornamentation of the ceiling in St Albans Cathedral a brilliant demonstration of artistry and the finer crafts. Every area of the cathedral presents a different style and statement from different eras. From the painted flat wooden panels of the nave to the ornately decorated ceiling of the tower, the lovely Presbytery ceiling paintings and the gorgeous chantry fan vaults, looking up inside St Albans does reward you with a pleasant show of ceiling art. Further, the finishing of St Albans Cathedral ceiling does give a hint of what is to be expected in the whole of the UK.              

    Fig. 36: A montage art work in the nave of the St Albans Cathedral tells the story of the building of the cathedral during the time of Abbot Paul of Caen in the 11th century.

    Fig. 37: A view of St Albans cathedral nave with portions of the northern wall showing in the background.

    Fig. 38: A beautifully crafted baptismal bowl in St Albans cathedral with a suspended top-piece hovering above.

    Fig. 39: The High Altar Screen—a graceful display of sculptural arts in the quire of St Albans cathedral. The screen features the statue of Christ, saints and notable people in the history of British Christianity. One writer says it is a feast for the eyes as the priest invites worshippers to join “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” as they draw near to share in Holy communion.

    Fig. 40: The shrine of St Alban in the center of the chapel. Covered in red silk and mounted on an ornate marble podium, it is believed to house a relic of St Alban. Demolished during the Dissolution and rebuilt in 1872.

    Fig. 41: Another view of St Alban’s shrine. The rose pattern on the shroud was designed by Suellen Pedley. This rose motive is a reflection of the chronicler Bede’s reference to Alban as the ‘rose among martyrs’.

    Fig. 42: The Stone Nave Screen of St Albans Cathedral was built by Abbot Thomas De la Mare to separate the lay areas from the monastic part of the church. The statue we see on the screen now are newly sculpted 2015 pieces. They are statues of seven Christian martyrs. St Alban is in the middle with a blue cape holding a sword. The original statues were destroyed during the Dissolution.

    Fig. 43: A brilliant example of what is to be seen in cathedrals in the UK. Excellently ornate vaulted ceilings.

    Fig. 44: An ornate screen wall near the Shrine of Amphibalus in the quire of St Albans Cathedral.

    It is commonly agreed that the English went through three Gothic phases known as Early English period (ca. 1190–1300), Decorated period (ca. 1250–1380) and Perpendicular period (ca. 1350–1550). It will appear, however, that even at the peak of their Decorated period, they will not match the French in ornamentation of their cathedrals. This may be deliberate however. Van Eck (2012) argues that the English hierarchy and head of the church were anxious to develop a formal vocabulary that would break away with medieval traditions, but not too much. They proposed that their churches should not look too much like contemporary church design in Italy or France, for obvious reasons.12 What the British lack in figural ornamentation of their cathedral walls, they made up for it in their luxurious exhibition of ceiling art and dynastic shield displays.

    Fig. 45: The old Tower ceiling of St Albans Cathedral—repainted in 1952 to the original 15th-century details. The Red and White roses depicted is said to be associated with the Houses of Lancaster and York, respectively. This art piece may be in commemoration of the battles of the war of the roses fought in St Albans in 1455 and 1461.

    Fig. 46: Details of the tower ceiling art.

    Fig. 47: The quire ceiling with 14th-century paintings featuring the arms of Edward III and his sons together with those of his supporters. Religious symbols are also featured.

    Fig. 48: The Great organ in the quire of St Albans Cathedral. In the middle is a statue of St Albans.

    Fig. 49: Famed to be the largest of its kind in the UK, the presbytery ceiling is a 13th-century wooden ceiling hanging above the high altar in St Albans cathedral. Originally built in 1280 with oak, it was later redecorated by Abbot Wheathampstead in the 15th century with badges of patron saints and family shields of other patrons who contributed money to the repair of the cathedral.

    Fig. 50: Another view of the Presbytery ceiling work.

    Though both the French and British love and have a long history of the use of family crests and badges, patronage and donations to church building projects was met with a more generous compensation in Britain as the practise of fitting and displaying family shields is clearly more noticeable in English cathedrals. 

    1 Wilson, Larry L., Saul of Tarsus—Good Heart Wrong Head. Ebook. WUAS, 2002. 

    2 Acts 9: 1-19 NKJV

    3 Eastman, David L. "Introduction." In The Ancient Martyrdom Accounts of Peter and Paul, Xvii-xvi. Society of Biblical Literature, 2015. 

    4 Ibid

    5 Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Apostolic Christianity AD. Ebook. CCEL, 1882. 

    6 2 Cor. 10: 10

    7 Gal. 6: 17

    8 Shafe, Laurence. The English Baroque in Art and Architecture. Ebook.

    9 Cornwell, Helen & Taylor, Matthew. St Paul’s Cathedral ed., Esme West (London: Scala Arts & Heritage, 2014), 29.

    10 Ibid

    11 Who was St Alban? 2013. 

    12 Van Eck, Caroline. Figuring the Sublime in English Church Architecture 1640–1730. Ebook. Brill, 2012. 

  • The Mutiny Scroll, Add Ms 37153

    by User Not Found | Aug 22, 2017

    This post was originally published on the British Library's Asian and African studies blog

    Professor Swati 
    Chattopadhyay is an architect and architectural historian specializing in modern architecture and urbanism, and the cultural landscape of British colonialism. She teaches at the University of California at Santa Barbara. From March-May 2017, she held a Visiting Research Fellowship at the Institute for the Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London.

    As part of my research fellowship, I held a workshop on 'The Garden and Territorial Sovereignty in British Colonial India’ at the British Library in collaboration with Malini Roy (Visual Arts Curator, British Library) and Leslie Topp (Director of the Architectural Space and Society Centre at Birkbeck). The workshop looked specifically at a set of maps, plans, photographs and drawings held in the Library's collection. This blog focuses on the 'Mutiny Scroll', a set of panel paintings featuring buildings and monuments in Delhi, Cawnpore, Lucknow, Benares, Agra, and Amritsar, connected with the Indian Mutiny, in some cases from original drawings or photographs (BL Add Ms 37153).

    Twenty-six panels, one scroll: depictions of events from the Sepoy Mutiny arranged to produce a continuous narrative of conflict, victory, and loss. The panels comprising the scroll are made of pieces of calico, approximately 2 ft x 3 ft, painted individually and at a later time machine-stitched to produce a vertical scroll arrangement. The artist is Dorothy Moore, wife of the Reverend Thomas Moore.

    The unusual format and style of the scroll, as well as its total length, 53 ft 1 inch--the height of a five-story building--presents a number of questions. What motivated this exceptional investment of labor? How was this mutiny scroll meant to be viewed and seen? The scroll cannot be unrolled to its full length on any reasonably sized table, including any at the British Library reading rooms, and could not have been vertically unfurled in any of the churches in which the Rev. Moore served as chaplain. And finally, what do we make of the sequence of events presented in the scroll?


    Mutiny Scroll unrolled, British Library, Add Ms 37153.  noc

    The Sepoy Mutiny or Sepoy Rebellion (1857-59) began as a mutiny of Indian sepoys or soldiers of the British East India Company (EIC) in military cantonments in eastern and northern India. It soon acquired the character of a popular rebellion against British rule, involving not just the soldiers but the peasantry, townspeople, and several princely states that had been annexed by the EIC in the preceding decades. The rebels turned to the Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah II, as their leader in a failed bid to reassert the lost sovereignty of the Mughal state. While the principal battles had concluded by 1858, and the major cities—Delhi, Cawnpore (Kanpur), Lucknow—had been recaptured by the British, the suppression of rebellion in the countryside continued until July 1859. The conflict entailed brutal killings on both sides, involving both military personnel and civilian populations, and was accompanied by massive destruction of towns, farmlands and villages.

    A large number of mutiny images—sketches, paintings, photographs, engravings—intended for European audiences circulated in popular print media from the beginning of hostilities in 1857. By the 1860s, key mutiny sites, considered important for their commemorative value from the British perspective, had become European tourist destinations. Thus the sites presented in the scroll would have been familiar to a European audience. The painting style and composition of the scroll, however, are exceptional in expressing the artist’s personal stake in this labor of remembering the mutiny.

    The watercolor and oil paintings look amateurish and theatrical. At the same time, the images, framed with texts, express a commitment to accuracy that shores up their didactic intent. Most of the panels cite the original source—the sketch or photograph taken “on the spot”--claiming a kind of documentary validity. That many of these original images such as Felice Beato’s photographs were themselves produced after the fact, did not seem to detract from their value from the artist's point of view. On the contrary, the re-citation of older imagery of the mutiny, three decades after the conflict, seems to have been an important element in the commemorative function of the scroll. A new authenticity is garnered by lodging the artist and her husband’s experience of the sites within the established representational order of the mutiny.

    Thomas Moore (1826-1903) arrived in India in 1852 as a missionary, and sought employment with the EIC in the hopes of financial stability. He married Dorothy Dealtry (1835-1920) in 1855 and when the mutiny broke out they were living in Calcutta with a small child. Thomas had hoped for an appointment in a relatively quiet corner of the North-Western Provinces, but his first posting as Assistant Chaplain landed him at the center of the conflict: Cawnpore. He arrived in Cawnpore, via Benares, shortly after the British army had retaken the city after General Wheeler’s disastrous defeat at the hands of the rebels and the massacre of European women and children that had followed. Dorothy was permitted to join her husband in Cawnpore in 1858, and during the rest of his career with the EIC until his retirement in 1879, the couple acquired first-hand experience of several mutiny sites besides Cawnpore: in Lucknow, Benares, and Jhansi.

    The mutiny scroll is part of a larger production of mutiny documents by the Moores. This includes two commemorative mutiny maps of Cawnpore and Lucknow, a drawing of a model of the Lucknow Residency (Add MS 37152 A-C), and the Rev. Moore’s diary (Add MS 37153). The similarity in representational techniques between the maps and the scroll suggests that these works were a collaborative venture of Dorothy and Thomas. Thomas’s diary as well as the letters to his family lend clues to understand the scroll. During his initial arrival and stay in Cawnpore he wrote about sketching the sites associated with the mutiny, producing architectural plans, and collecting objects and materials from battle sites in anticipation of their future importance as commemorative objects and documents. Some of these sketches were later collated in his diary.

    The sequence of the panels is suggestive. The scroll begins with a painting of Delhi, followed by sites at Cawnpore, Lucknow, and Benares, and concludes with locations that had scant connection with the rebellion: Taj Mahal at Agra and Golden Temple at Amritsar. The Cawnpore images are clustered in two places, before and after the thirteen images of Lucknow that constitute half the scroll. It is not easy to ascertain the chronology of when the panels were painted. However, the large number of images, the process by which they have been assembled, and the reworking of initial drawings and addition of elements as afterthoughts, suggest work over a considerable period of time. Remains of brown backing on some of the Lucknow panels and pin-marks on others indicate that the panels were variously used and mounted. But the artists seem to have anticipated the images being arranged as a scroll.


    'Delhi, the Capital City of the Great Mogul', a panel from the Mutiny Scroll, British Library, Add Ms 37153  noc

    The first panel depicting Delhi, takes the Jumma Musjid and its surroundings, as the representative of “Delhi: Capital City of the Great Mogul.” The awkwardness of the perspective view and shadows within a flat composition produce the effect of an amateur theater “backdrop,” an aesthetic replicated in the remaining panels. Here the Jumma Musjid or congregational mosque, rather than the Red Fort in Delhi, stands in for the vanquished sovereignty of the Mughal Empire, giving the conflict a primarily religious reading. A paper portrait medallion of Lord Canning, the Governor General of the EIC during the mutiny, has been pasted in the center, above the panel title, representing the victor. The texts on either side of the medallion convey the panel’s message and set the tone for the rest of the scroll. On the left we have a few details of the city and its monuments that would have been of interest to a British audience, and on the right an abridged history of British ascendancy and takeover of Delhi. The narrative thus commences in 1803 (when the Mughal emperor sought the EIC’s military assistance in warding off the Maratha invasion and effectively became a pensioner of the EIC), and concludes with the British storming and capture of Delhi on 20th September 1857. Words inscribed in all capital letters--BRITISH, WALLS, CHRISTIAN, SLAUGHTERED, SIEGE, STORMED, CAPTURED--shout out a self-evident justificatory logic. Such texts with military details appear in the rest of the images as well. Following the practice of military maps of the time, the strength of the army in terms of personnel and armament are detailed, and some of the latter panels contain small plans depicting entrenchments and armed positions of the belligerents. The panels are organized not in a chronological sequence, but according to a personal logic of what was important to the couple. We find Thomas writing to his mother: “I shall tell you . . . what I have seen tho not in the exact order of time, but as I think they deserve in importance” (Mss Eur/F630/2).

    Of the images of Cawnpore, two deal with the locations where the European women and children were killed: the “Slaughter House,” and the well into which their bodies were thrown. The “Slaughter House” or Bibighar as it was previously known, was one of the frequently painted subjects intended to convey the depravity of the rebels. The building was demolished soon after the British recapture of Cawnpore but a sketch on site by Lt. C. W. Crump served as a template for dozens of renditions. This scroll image is one of the most conventional of the lot, and attempts to stay true to the original sketch, and as Thomas claimed, also true to the events.


    'Slaughter House' or 'Bibighar', a panel from the Mutiny Scroll, British Library, Add Ms 37153  noc

    While other popular depictions of the site show a red floor representing spilled blood, bloody handprints, and texts beseeching revenge (see for example British Library, WD132 and WD4320), the scroll image eschews such references. Thomas noted in a letter to his mother that writings on the wall (“countrymen revenge”) were scribbled not by the women, but by British soldiers. The fear and anxiety suffered by the women is represented in the panel by a “COPY of MEMO” by Miss Lindsay, found on the site, in which she recorded the deaths of her family and friends before she too was killed. The panel attempts to portray the site as Thomas saw it on his arrival: scattered remnants of garments, paper, and earthen utensils, the floor dark in places with blood stains. In wishing to memorialize the moment of Thomas’s own encounter with the site as one yet uncontaminated by marks of revenge, the artist erases other representations of force. British soldiers under General Neill’s command forced captured rebels to lick the blood of the victims before they were tortured and put to death, in a manner “altogether not very creditable to the English character” (Mss Eur/F630/2). Similarly, the image of the well shows no evidence of blood or dead bodies; the smallness of the well head even works counter to the affect intended in the title of the image. The utter ordinariness of the well is rendered significant by framing it with the partially demolished Bibighar behind it, and the Assembly Building and Christ Church in the distance. The gallows in the middle ground attests to the punishment meted out to the rebels within sight of the two spaces of slaughter.

    In the latter part of the scroll we find a depiction of Christ Church in Cawnpore as it was decked out for Christmas celebrations in 1857. When Thomas arrived in Cawnpore he found the church severely damaged. The roof of the nave as well as the doors and windows had burnt down, though the church walls had held. He procured an order to have the church re-roofed in October of that year, but as the panel notes, it was again burnt down by the “Gwalior Rebels.” So Christmas service was held under a fabric canopy hung from a hastily constructed thatch roof. Thomas wrote to Dorothy: “the natives were astonished to see between 7-800 Europeans assembled in the very church they have burned twice & the moral effect is great—the Bell now rings for service as of old & Xtinity it is felt must and will triumph” (Mss Eur/F630/2). The image of the church interior contains figures of European officers in the foreground, drawn on paper and pasted onto the painting, and one of the figures is of the chaplain himself. The figures look out towards the viewer. 


    'Christmas Eve, 1857 at Christ Church, Cawnpore', a panel from the Mutiny Scroll, British Library, Add Ms 37153  noc

    The mutiny scroll thus escapes the realm of historical narration and enters the domain of the personal and (auto)biographical. By locating themselves in the mutiny landscape, and by recording the landscape as they wished to remember it, edited and framed, Dorothy and Thomas mark their role as witnesses to the mutiny. In an edifying gesture, the scroll as it unfolds asks the viewer to make connections among the scattered sites of the mutiny, and to recognize the labour entailed in assembling from historical fragments a narrative of superior British military force and Christian redemption. It urges the viewer to become witness to the unfolding empire.

  • The Dome as Ornament

    by User Not Found | Aug 03, 2017

    Deyemi Akande is the 2016 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    Since the start of my tours, I have only had the opportunity to see cathedrals of the Gothic genre. So you can imagine my delight as I made my way to the Berlin Cathedral. Camera in hand without a care in the world, I had the mien of a kid going to a candy store. I must confess, more than anything I have come to see, the cathedral dome remains priority. One is often overtaken by a concoction of emotions as one looks straight up at the epicentre of a finely crafted dome and needless to say, in Berlin, I was not disappointed. The dome, sometimes elliptical but mostly circular, does wonders to changing the spiritual character of any interior. Theresa Grupico describes the circle as a form having no beginning and no end, reflecting perfection, the eternal, and also the heavens.1 Like Grupico, many scholars suggest the dome symbolises heaven; heaven is indeed what you feel when you see the great central domes of German cathedrals.

    Fig. 1: Looking up into ‘Heaven’. My view of the central dome of Berlin Cathedral from the nave floor.

    Fig. 2: A view of the dome above the chancel from the nave in Berlin Cathedral. At the top of the arch, two angels hold a decorated plaque with the inscription (in German) “Be reconciled to God.”

    Fig. 3: An exterior view of the central dome of Berlin Cathedral framed by two trees as seen from across the Spreekanal.

    Fig. 4: A view of the central inner dome of Dresden Cathedral (Frauenkirche) from the nave. This dome is 26 meters above the church interior and the paintings were (redone) by Dresden artist Christoph Wetzel.

    Fig. 5: A view of the central inner dome of Dresden Cathedral (Frauenkirche) from the elevated access stairs in the dome. Pews from the nave (first floor) can be seen here.

    Fig. 6: An exterior view of the main dome of Dresden Cathedral.

    Now inside the Berlin Cathedral and as I gradually got transfixed looking up at the dome’s magnificent eight mosaics pieces, a soothing voice came through the public address system from the gallery saying Guten morgen, willkommen im Haus Gottes. It was a female cleric, she stood near the white marble and yellow onyx altar and repeated those words in English and in French. We were invited to sit for a brief moment to partake in a short service where a prayer for peace on earth would be said. Soon enough the hall went quiet and we were all enamoured by the sweet voice of the speaker for about two minutes. Her sermon was entirely in German and I, understanding not a single word she uttered but enjoying the astonishing glory of the mosaics in the dome from where I sat, found the sermon altogether pleasing nonetheless. She called out again in English and French, inviting all present to join in our native languages as the congregation recited The Lord’s Prayer. At first it was like the rumbling sound of charging horses but eventually a synchronised rhythm was reached even as we all spoke in different tongues. At the end came a loud ‘amen.’ Now there was silence and then it happened—the great organ rang out in the most grandiloquent manner giving a melodic and rather ornamented rendition of "Nun danket alle Gott" (Now Thank We All Our God)—I broke down in uncontrollable tears. It was without contest the most beautiful sound my ears ever heard.

    Trying to arrest the situation I found myself, I quickly sat (while others stood) and put my head on the pew in front of me as if in prayer. I was not in prayer, rather I was deeply confused as to why I would, without any warning whatever break down so severely in tears. In some ways like the wall of Berlin came crashing on that still night of the 9th of November 1989, I find a sort of wall crumble around me too. Such relief, such peace, I felt, such weight appeared to have been lifted off my shoulders. I must be honest, I am still at a loss for an accurate explanation for this happening.

    Here I was, a full grown man, having no control whatsoever over self as tears stream (no, tumble) down my cheeks with careless tenacity. It must have been quite a sight for the people around me who caught a glimpse. They, being in an awkward position of not knowing if to approach me to enquire about my state or not. Thankfully, no one did. I wonder how much more awkward it may have turned out if after being asked why I was in such state of despair, I reply I have absolutely no idea why. I imagine they would have resolved in their minds that it must be the gorgeousness of the place that has brought out the soft side of me—for the most part, I would not argue the contrary. I would however wager that in addition to the already mentioned, the overwhelming sound of the organ may also have a thing to do with it. Likewise, the completeness of the architecture that surrounds you with faultless splendour just makes you want to exhale.

    Whatever it was, it got me well and the interior of the Berlin Cathedral acted as a conduit for the transmission of positive energy. Such is the power of ‘honest’ architecture, it resonates with our innermost place of emotion and sometimes serve as a catalyst to the breaking down of walls we may not even realise was present about us.

    Fig. 7: The great Sauer organ of the Berlin Cathedral with its 7269 pipes. An impressive piece of work with the most amazing sound.

    Fig. 8: Another view of the great organ inside the Berlin Cathedral.

    Fig. 9: Inside view of the central dome of the Berlin Cathedral showing the Beatitudes crafted into the eight segments of the dome and the surround clerestory windows that bathe the inner dome with immaculate light from the skies. The mosaic work is designed by Anton Von Wermer.

    Berlin Cathedral
    Fig. 10: Part of the central dome of the Berlin Cathedral and one of the four semi-circular niches in the predigtkirche showing the evangelist Marcus (Mark).

    Berlin Cathedral pulpit
    Fig. 11: The beautifully ornate pulpit carved from oak wood and gilded. The pulpit was designed by Otto Raschdorff, the son of Julius Carl the cathedral construction chief. The work was completed in 1907.

    exterior Berlin Cathedral
    Fig. 12: The Berlin Cathedral, a view from the West Side. The Lustgarten is seen in the foregrounds.

    Berlin Cathedral cross
    Fig. 13: The main cross on top of Berlin Cathedral and details of a second cross with statue of angels looking on from both flanks on the main entrance of the west side.

    Berlin Cathedral entrance
    Fig. 14: Main door way of the western side of the Berlin Cathedral. The mosaic above the entrance shows Christ as healer of the infirm; here the inscription says “come unto me all you that are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” This mosaic work was done by Arthur Kampf, ca. 1920. On the ceiling of the 9-meter-wide triumphal arch is another series of brilliant mosaic works. The central piece is a dove, the Christian symbol of peace.  

    Berlin Cathedral arch
    Fig. 15: The beautifully ornate arched ceiling features three mosaic works. To the left is the Holy Chalice, the center features a dove and the right side features the crown of thorns.

    Berlin Cathedral statue
    Fig. 16: A copper statue of Christ blessing the city of Berlin. This piece was sculpted by Fritz Schapper. Atop this is an ornate cross with angels on either side looking up in adoration.

    Berlin Cathedral sculpture
    Fig. 17: The faceless woman. An interesting sculptural piece inside the Berlin Cathedral.

    Many cathedrals I have visited metaphorically feature three levels; the first is the crypt–a vestige of the past and a representation of the imminent end to all. The crypt however also stands as an abstracted reminder of a renewed hope that gives a new life and a new beginning to every ending. The second is the cathedral nave—a solid and tangible presence, the physical reality of our current existence and an expression of the glory of life in continuum. The last and most lofty level I will call the floaters. These are the architectural elements that defy the reality of the tangible level. The dome being the most elevated of this level is to me the predictive manifestation of a possible future. The dome serves as a metaphor for power over impossibilities. The physical structure often embodies a message that challenges our imagination in a way that inspires hope and nudges us to continue to venture, to build, and to excel. This is a central message I see in all domes. The dome has a long history and no mainstream religion or architectural philosophy can lay claims to it as it transcends through time and style. Again Grupico points out: the architectural design of circular dome over square base was used in both churches (Hagia Sophia) and mosques (that of Suleyman the Great) but the idea is rooted in even earlier architectural traditions such as pre-Islamic Persian tombs and fire temples. The symbolism of these geometric forms is itself rooted in mystical thought dating back to Plato and Pythagoras.2 The success of the dome as a structural and symbolic choice can perhaps be credited to the figurative message it carries, meaning one thing to one and another thing to the other.

    In all, I see the dome as a structural rhetoric and ornament that gives life to the ideology that encourages the mind of man to approach all impossibility as in fact a potential probability.

    Berlin Cathedral domes
    Fig. 18: The domes of Berlin Cathedral as seen from the Schlossbrucke Bridge across the Spreekanal. To the right is the Berlin Fernsehturm (Television Tower).

    Berlin Cathedral central dome cross
    Fig. 19: The cross atop the lantern on the central dome of Berlin Cathedral.

    Berlin Cathedral Luke and John
    Fig. 20: Copper statues of disciples Luke and John designed by Gerhard Janensch and Johannes Gotz.

    Berlin Cathedral Matthew and Mark
    Fig. 21: Copper statues of disciples Matthew and Mark designed by Gerhard Janensch and Johannes Gotz.

    statue and Dresden Cathedral dome
    Fig. 22: In the foreground, the reverse side of a street sculpture and in the background is the dome of the Dresden Cathedral. The sculpture mounted on a water cistern and drinking tap in a nearby street faces the direction of the cathedral.

    Where there is a dome, there is almost certainly a transition point from where the circular base connects with column often in a square formation. The magic of the pendentive thus come into play. As early as the Byzantine era, architects have been smart not to let the surface area of the pendentive go to waste. In fact, the triangular transition has become one of the most strategic surfaces in a domed building to feature the most intense symbolic art and ornamentation.

    Baroque and Renaissance architects have taken this practise to new heights and directions. The sort of opulent ornamentation seen in the Berlin cathedral will at some time in the past be heavily criticised especially within the context of the Roman Catholic Church. One such strong condemnation of richly details and vibrantly coloured ornamentation in churches was by Puritan preacher Jeremiah Dyke who referred to the Roman Catholic Church as the apocalyptic whore and to the churches of Rome as the slut’s adornment, dis­tracting and deceiving through the senses.3 By the turn of the 20th century however, I think we had generally come to terms with it as an expression and symbolic representation of worship and adoration to the higher power who makes all possible through abundant riches in glory.

    Architectural history today frequently seek to interpret buildings as objects shaped by and expressive of their social meanings and historical contexts. It would be both modest and commendable to decide that the best way to grasp the realities of an old church for instance, is to chart the competing economic, political, religious, and cultural forces that brought it into being and to interpret it as a material expression of the ascending wealth during the period.4 Both the Berlin and Dresden Cathedrals feature the most amazing ornamental arts on and around their pendentives as it transitions into columnar systems that transmits the energy from the dome downwards.

    Berlin Cathedral niche
    Fig. 23: Saint Matthew’s semi-circular niche in the predigtkirche of Berlin Cathedral. Flanked by statues of Philipp Melanchthon; humanist and German reformer sculpted by Friedrich Pfannschmidt and John Calvin; lawyer and French reformer sculpted by Alexandrer Calandrelli. Bas relief sculpture is seen on the surface of the pendentive area.

    Berlin Cathedral Phil.D.Grossm
    Fig. 24: A statue of Phil.D.Grossm (Philipp the Magnanimous)–Landgrave of Hess. The piece was sculpted by Walter Schott.

    Martin Luther Berlin Cathedral
    Fig. 25: A statue of Martin Luther–theologian and reformer. Sculpture by Friedrich Pfannschmidt

    Ulrich Zwingli Berlin Cathedral
    Fig. 26: A statue of Ulrich Zwingli, a theologian and swizz reformer. This piece was sculpted by Gerhard Janensch.

    niche Berlin Cathedral
    Fig. 27: Part of the central dome and Saint Mark’s niche. The pendentive area here is also covered in Bas relief sculpture.

    Corinthian columns
    Fig. 28: A gathering of Corinthian columns. Heavily ornate capitals receive the thrust from the vaults and transfers the energy through the columns down to the earth.

    dome Berlin Cathedral
    Fig. 29: Part of the central dome and details of the adjoining ornate ceiling.

    Berlin Cathedral
    Fig. 30: View of the chancel from the nave. Bas relief sculpture decorates the pendentive areas between the niche and the central dome.

    Notes on the Cathedrals: Oberpfarr– Und Domikirche zu Berlin (Berlin Cathedral) and the Frauenkirche (Dresden Cathedral).

    Berlin is a very special place. It is not one of the oldest cities in Germany but during the last 500 years, all political and cultural developments left their legacy on the city. The architecture reflects not only developments in art but also in technology and society. German architecture generally mirrors the changes and upheavals in Central Europe in the chequered way of the centuries.5 In Berlin, a historically important city, we find Berlin Cathedral, also known as the Berliner Dom. Like all other cathedrals I have visited, it has an almost 500-year-long history of development and transformations. The building’s story begins in 1465, when the Elector of Brandenburg Friedrich II conferred the rights of a cathedral on the chapel in his palace. The 6th Elector Joachim II moved the cathedral to the old Dominican monastery (Schwarzes Kolster) close to the palace and in the same 1465 gave it a charter as the palace and court church and the ruling family sepulchre.6 Like many cathedrals also, the Berlin Cathedral has waded through difficult times. On the 24th of May 1944 a fire bomb hit the dome of the famous cathedral that was then called the Kaiserdom. The cathedral was greatly destroyed as the dome collapsed into the floor of the nave breaking through to cause serious damage to the crypt below. The gaping hole was not to be fixed for years, allowing the elements in—until 1953 when the dome was patched. The central dome on the Berlin Cathedral has an array of windows around it and on a sunny day the light from the windows rushes in and bathes the dome in such light that makes it appear to be floating in mid-air. The dome features eight beautifully crafted mosaic pieces depicting the Beatitudes as proclaimed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Designed by the renowned artist Anton Von Werner, the works are indeed of masterful craftsmanship and a sight to behold. The mosaic is considered to be among the very best examples of mosaic craft anywhere in the world. The works are composed of about 500,000 small tiles and around 2000 different colours. There are 16 different hues of gold alone, combined to create a realistic tapestry of shades.7 The visuals are extremely detailed and expressive. The cathedral organ is by all standards a musical monster. Boasting of an impressive 7,269 pipes and 113 registers, masters say she has the same tonal characteristics as a symphony orchestra. On top of the organ is a golden statue of King David. At the statue’s feet is a young David playing the harp for King Saul. This symbolic piece of art situated on the great Sauer organ does speak volumes. Little wonder, the organ’s production has such profound effects on the listener.

    The case of the Dresden Dom is no less enigmatic. The fantastic structure got a mention in Martin Briggs seminal material on Baroque Architecture. Briggs states that Frauenkirche, though not belonging to the Baroque style as such, has however not forsaken the boldness of Baroque design for (as he puts it) architectural confectionery.8 The Dresden Cathedral, also known as the Frauenkirche Dresden (Church of Our Lady) is an example of a building that means everything to its people. The structure we see today is an admixture of two eras. Like the Berlin Cathedral, the Frauenkirche, which was originally completed in 1743, suffered a deadly blow from WWII bombs. The burnt cathedral collapsed on itself on 15 February 194—two days after it was bombed. The ruins were to be a painful wound in the hearts of the people of Dresden for an unimaginable 45 years! Calls to rebuild the Frauenkirche intensified in the early 1990s, and what we see today is a product of the relentless efforts of the Dresden people giving donations to the 1994 Frauenkirche Dresden Foundation to take up the task of rebuilding the pride of the Dresden city. As Gulani (2005) puts it, the architecturally extraordinary (Baroque) church designed by Master Builder George Bahr was an integral part of the famous Dresden silhouette.9

    A brilliant innovation is to be seen on the ‘new’ building—an unyielding part of the original structure that was not conquered by fire nor the horror of the bombs remains till today. A standing wing from the old cathedral was reintegrated into the new structure. Today you will see the Dresden Cathedral with an emblematic old dark ‘scar’ that reminds us all of its experience. The fusing of the old and the new is in my opinion ingenious and rather emotional. Visually, the Frauenkirche is a two-in-one structure that carries on the wisdom of the old and innovation of the new. So when asked how old the Frauenkirche Dresden is, I imagine it will be a tricky question to answer considering that it has the sine and fibre of two eras standing together as one. The newer structure was built to the specifications of the original design using the historical plans of master builder George Bahr.

    The central dome of the Frauenkirche—like that of Berlin Cathedral—is divided into eight segments, eight being a sacred and symbolic figure in Christian numerology. Four of the eight segments of the dome feature Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, while the other four visually extol the Christian virtues of Faith, Love, Hope, and Charity. The original painting of the inner dome was done by Giovanni Battista Grone of Venice in 1734. The beautiful rendition we see today was masterfully recreated by Dresden artist Christopher Wetzel. Wetzel’s recreation is often famed to be a perfect remaking of the original piece. The altar of the Frauenkirche also deserves a mention. Besides the dome, the altar is an imposing and central element that commands significant attention. The baroque style altar was sculpted by Christian Feige and is made up of over 2,000 fragments. The central feature is a scene of Jesus in prayers on the Mount Olive with His disciples fast asleep. Garlands of wheat and grapes extend from either side of the piece while the cathedral organ, which is seen above the altar, gives strength to the composition with the strong visible lines delineated by the organ pipes.

    The Frauenkirche Dresden Cathedral
    Fig. 31: The Frauenkirche (Dresden Cathedral)–an exterior view.

    Dresden Cathedral altar
    Fig. 32: A view of the Dresden Cathedral’s altar from the nave. The baroque alter was sculpted from sandstone by Johann Christian Feige based on the design by master builder George Bahr.

    Dresden Cathedral organ
    Fig. 33: Details of the organ pipes integrated into the altar design.

    Dresden Cathedral organ dome
    Fig. 34: Part of the cathedral’s central dome showing its transition through pendentives into columns. In the center is the cathedral altar.

    view of nave from Dresden Cathedral dome
    Fig. 35: An opening on the inside of the main dome (23.75 m above the nave) that allows visitors to see portions of the nave below.

    Dresden Cathedral exterior
    Fig. 36: The patch that survived the bombing. A patch of the 18th-century original structure integrated into the new building.

    Dresden Cathedral
    Fig. 37: A portion of the old wall now free standing near the Gate G of the Dresden Cathedral.

    cross Dresden Cathedral
    Fig. 38: The top cross mounted on the lantern on top of the central dome of the Dresden Cathedral. The cross alone is 5.2 meters (17 feet) tall. This new cross was donated by the people of Britain to the Frauenkirche in 2000 on the 55th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden. The design is based on the old cross that was destroyed in the bombing.

    statue of Martin Luther
    Fig. 39: A statue of Martin Luther, the renowned theologian and German church reformer, in front of the Frauenkirche.

    fountain near Dresden Cathedral
    Fig. 40: Fountain adjacent to the Frauenkirche Dresden.

    fountain Dresden
    Fig. 41: A view of the fountain from the rear with the Frauenkirche Dresden in the background.

    Dresden Cathedral tower
    Fig. 42: Close up of one of the four stair tower on the Dresden Cathedral.

    Dresden Cathedral tower
    Fig. 43: Close up of the pinnacle of one of the stairs tower with the ‘butterfly’ stone at the base.

    Dresden Cathedral dusk
    Fig. 44: The Frauenkirche Dresden at dusk.


    A Hint of the Colour Gold

    A thing that catches your eye in parts of Germany is the use of the colour gold. A hitherto sombre sandstone building suddenly jumps to life with a touch of gold added to it. Every now and then one sees a structure with a golden statue on top or a dash of gold used for ornamentation. The gold gives a lovely shimmer in the sun and brings attention to the building. It was not tough at all to see a feature of gold everywhere I went and like the biblical Passover sign where buildings were marked in blood, here the building seem to be marked in gold as if to say if you see the gold thou shall pay attention to me. It would appear that everything that deserves any attention or an investment of one’s time has a gold mark of some sort on it. This is not to suggest however that for something to be important it must have a feature of gold on it—far from it—it is just that everything that has a feature of gold on it is in fact important and carry an appearance about them worthy of some attention. Indeed, when you see gold, you will know the building is important. 

    Dresden Castle dome
    Fig. 45: Ornate onion-shaped dome with gold leaves design. Dresden Castle, Dresden.

    Academy of Fine Arts Dresden
    Fig. 46: A beautiful golden cherub with a fire touch atop the Academy of Fine Arts, Dresden

    Academy of Fine Arts Dresden crest
    Fig. 47: Baroque style ornate crest on the main entrance way of the Academy of Fine Arts, Dresden.

    cross atop dome
    Fig. 48: Golden cross spherical ball atop a Roman Catholic Cathedral tower in Dresden.

    Lipsius Building dome angel
    Fig. 49: Golden angel statue on top of the dome of the Lipsius Building.

    cherub Academy of Fine Arts Dresden
    Fig. 50: Sitting cherub with a star-point wand atop the Academy of Fine Arts, Dresden

    Fig. 51: A dash of gold on a sandstone building, Berlin.

    I will draw the curtain here for Germany and move on to my next location. I have thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Germany but if asked, above all others, I would vote Dresden as a place I must return to. Dresden was a rather friendly and warm place even for a single black male traveller like me. The ‘single black male’ carries the stigma of several negative stereotypes. I was not exempted from the unpleasant experience and subjective actions of these stereotypes, particularly in Berlin, but despite the sinking feeling and sometimes downright annoyance one feels when people see you and suddenly secure their purses, bags, and infants in a way to suggest you must be a thief or a danger to their safety on account of your colour, in Dresden, you will often still find yourself sharing a smile and a ‘hallo’ with a passer-by, and how I enjoy such fleeting moments. They quite frankly ornament life and add value to small times. When one thinks about it, that one may never see those people again, it does give such priceless value to that small smile on a small street in a small town. The smiles in Dresden, however, does not totally remove that fact that in some parts of Europe—speaking of the colour gold—the locals mostly miss it, however apparent it is, because of the dark shade of fear that constantly blocks the sun from making the gold shimmer. Many cities lack the soul of friendship, and do not see the dash of gold that clearly adorns your well-toned ebony skin. I make proud to say, Dresden isn’t one of them.

    Elbe River and Dresden countryside
    Fig. 52: A view of the Elbe River and Dresden countryside from the 67-meters-high viewing platform of the Frauenkirche.

    aerial view from the Frauenkirche
    Fig. 53: An aerial view from the Frauenkirche viewing platform. In view is the Transport Museum in Dresden (cream building with off white roof), the Furstenzug (impressive large porcelain mosaic of Saxon rulers on wall of narrow building to the left of the road on the upper right), part of the Dresden High Court (top right corner of the frame) and Dresden Tourism Information Office housed with other private property, hotels, and restaurants in the foreground (brick coloured roof).

    Culture Palace
    Fig. 54: Evening shot overlooking the Culture Palace where the Dresden Philharmonic is housed.



    The Hymn "Nun danket alle Gott" (Now Thank We All Our God) was written by the German composer Martin Rinkart in c. 1636. The hymn is believed to have been written around the end of the Thirty Years' War.

    1 Grupico Theresa, “The Dome in Christian and Islamic Sacred Architecture,” Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table Vol. 2011 Issue 3, Special section (2011): 8

    2 Ibid. 7

    3 Morel, A-F, “The Ethics and Aesthetics of Architecture: The Anglican Reception of Roman Baroque Churches,” Architectural Histories Vol. 4(1), No. 17 (2016): 2. DOI: accessed July 20, 2017

    4 Anne-Marie Sankovitch, “Structure/Ornament and the Modern Figuration of Architecture,” Art Bulletin Vol. 29, No. 4 (1998): 687

    5 Marcus Hackle, “Identity And German Architecture: Views of a German Architect,” accessed July 14, 2017. 

    6 Kurt Geisler, Katharina Dorn, and Rainer Gaertner. Berlin Cathedral; The Church by the Lustgarten, trans., Timothy Jones (Berlin: Publicon, 2015), 2

    7 Ibid. 36

    8 Martin Shaw Briggs, Baroque Architecture, (New York: Mcbride Nast & Company, 1914), 157

    9 Susanne Vees-Gulani, “From Frankfurt's Goethehaus to Dresden's Frauenkirche: Architecture, German Identity, and Historical Memory after 1945,” The Germanic Review Vol 80. No. 2 (2005): 150

  • Medieval Masons and Gothic Cathedrals

    by User Not Found | Jul 18, 2017
    Deyemi Akande is the 2016 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    There is an old legend that suggests that the striking design of the Cologne Cathedral was in fact given to Master Gerhard of Ryle by the devil.1 Even the ability to build the impossible structure was ascribed to the same source. In fairness to this fable, the size and magnificence of the Cologne Cathedral is worthy of otherworldly credits and it makes good sense that a fantastic legend such as this is the only way Middle Age Cologne could explain this incredible structure taking shape before their eyes. A fantastic cathedral however, no devil builds! This cathedral, as all others we know and have come to adore, is a result of the tireless and brilliant coordination of the rare and inestimable gifts of men we know as masons.

    I am now in Germany, the land of the Rhine, the pride of the early Goths, and a place of many remarkable cathedrals. Almost everywhere you turn, you are confronted by one towering spire or the other. And every one of these masterpieces has its own unique story. In the center of the story, always, is a master mason; the architect of the impossible, a gifted and cerebral one, a craftsman who knows his trade too well. One other thing the master mason knows too well, is that more times than naught, he is only there to initiate the ‘miracle’ and almost never sees the work in completion. Many cathedrals take too long to finish and to be a master mason in the first place, you must have invested your years. In spite of this, many masons still maintained a type of dedication we may hope for now only in theory. What makes the mason so exceptional in thought? Why, in spite of the odds, are they so meticulous? What did building a cathedral mean to the mason for them to give sweat and blood to it even in low pay and less than ideal construction conditions? We know now against popular notions that many were not even men of the faith—such that we could argue that they do it in reverence and worship to God. Yet, they offer their skills with the highest conduct exalting royalty—both heavenly and earthly in the most astounding figural and architectural display that men may ever know. Why? 

    Figure 1: A painting by artist and German architect Vincenz Statz, 1861. ‘And it Will Be Completed,’ the vision of the finished Cologne Cathedral in watercolor.

    Figure 2: Chisel and mallet in hand, the lone mason, brilliant craftsman and a gift to humanity. This stone representation of a mason hard at work was found in front of the Mason’s lodge at the east end of Cologne Cathedral.

    Figure 3: Stone statue on masonry: A clear example of the beauty and intricacy of a mason’s work.

    Figure 4: Statue of Saint Peter in the south-eastern end of the Cologne cathedral.

    Figure 5: The mason’s work exalting earthly kings.

    Figure 6: Carved capital at the Magdeburg cathedral.

    Figure 7: Details of the cathedral tower in Frankfurt. A clear example of the beauty and intricacy of a mason’s work.

    I have asked why, just so perhaps we may be able to learn something from their art of dedication. Let us look a little at the nature of the mason’s craft. If we called them the illusionists of the medieval era, we may not be faulted—for one can safely refer to most of the art and structures created by the medieval mason as nothing short of illusory magic on account of their seeming improbability. Cragoe in the article The Medieval Stonemason asserts that they were not monks but highly skilled craftsmen who combined the roles of architect, builder, craftsman, designer, and engineer.2 Many, if not all masons of the Middle Ages learnt their craft through an informal apprentice system. They would generally be members of a guild comprised of different artistic styles and varying skill levels. There were three main classes of stonemasons. They were the apprentice, journeymen and the master mason. At a cathedral construction site, the master mason is usually the head and he oversees the work of all skilled and unskilled laborers. His army of workmen will include carpenters, layers, metal-smiths, carriers, rope makers, and even occasionally animals—oxen. What the medieval mason lacked in technology, he made up for it in ingenuity and personal skill. The combination and coordination of their collective skills are what gave us the architectural miracle we see today.

    The work is a long, hard, and mostly dangerous one. More times than we wish to admit, many of the master masons—though they died old, they didn’t die of old age—a number were in fact killed or fatally injured at or by the very cathedral they dedicated themselves to build. Master mason Gerhard of Ryle who was the first master and key brain behind the Cologne Cathedral fell from the scaffolding of the cathedral in April 1271 and died.3 There is the debate that Gerhard fell under mysterious circumstance. This has fed well into the myth of his purported deal with the devil for the design of the cathedral. Gerhard was not as lucky as William of Sens who also had the same accident but survived. At Canterbury Cathedral in 1178, master mason William of Sens also fell from the scaffolding during his inspection of the high vaults and was paralyzed.4 Countless of other cathedral site workers have either fallen to their death or been crushed by collapsing portions of the edifice.

    Figure 8: Ornate cross-like form on the tip of one of the pediments on Cologne cathedral, a clear example of the beauty and intricacy of a mason’s work.

    Figure 9: One of the statues on the Western portals of Cologne Cathedral. A shepherd and his sheep.

    Figure 10: Monstrous in size, coloured by age, it stands regal and stately. The towers of the Cologne Cathedral.

    Figure 11: A miniature size installation showing a typical medieval construction site. An insight into the life and work environment of medieval masons.

    Some notions will suggest that the dedication of masons can be related directly to the amount of money paid them. They argue that the church would often put a huge sum of money into building construction and this served as good incentives for the masons and other construction workers. It appears generally sensible, but I fear it may not be totally accurate. Though the church would be raking in quite a sum through the sales of indulgence and the exhibitions of relics, we know that the economics and financial management of cathedral construction is anything but seamless and structured. Besides, through the years the need for skilled masons fluctuated depending on the times and the finances available. There have been instances, particularly in Norman areas around the 11th century, when farm workers would sometimes be on hand to work at church construction sites as semi-skilled labor for free. This may have undermined—to some extent—the overall value attached to the work of members of the mason’s guild.5 Mostly after the fall of the Roman Empire, there was a decline in the use of stone in much of Western Europe as timber became more favored. Masonry, however, came back to the fore from around the 10th century and by the 11th–12th centuries, the re-emergence of stone as a key building material had reached a new peak with religious buildings.

    To what then will one ascribe the exceptionality of the medieval mason? I have sat in contemplation of this for a while and seem not to have a reasonable answer as yet. When you have the opportunity to examine the mason’s work on Gothic cathedrals around Europe, you will indeed be forced to pause and ask questions. Perhaps being born of this era, I am unable to, or incapable of making sense of the opulent nature of the medieval mason’s work particularly when viewed in context of aspects like the economics, functionality, and other factors that color modern understanding of reasonability. What I am capable of, however, is to see clearly, that after 800 years (and in some cases, more) these great cathedrals are still in use for their original purpose and in comparison to castles, pyramids or any other massive stone structure of the early ages, cathedrals stand a step ahead of others. If this is not reasonable, then I am at a loss for what is.

    Figure 12: The blending of materials—a giant oak sculpture of St Michael gracefully hangs on the stone pillars in the nave of the Cologne Cathedral. The statue was made by Georg Grasegger in 1919 to commemorate the dead of the First World War.

    Figure 13: One of the fine floor mosaic pieces in the ambulatory of the Cologne Cathedral. In the center is a model of the great cathedral itself.

    Figure 14: Richly decorated ambulatory floor. The very vibrant colour of the mosaic adds life to the passageways.

    Figure 15: The isle of the southern end showing impressive vaulting.

    Figure 16: Pietà—an altar piece of one of the shrines in the Cologne Cathedral.

    Figure 17: The Cologne Cathedral showing the two western towers and part of the southern façade.

    Figure 18: Close up of masonry details on the western façade.

    Figure 19: Detail of the hand of one of the sculptures on the western facade of Cologne cathedral. The hand holds an axe in one hand and a book (Bible?) in the other. The axe has a cross quite visibly engraved on it.

    Figure 20: A sculpture celebrates a sculptor (or perhaps all men who work with and shape stone) at work. 

    Clearly, sometimes questions are answered and other times they are not. In this case, the later seems to be my fate. The whys that I have raised in the early part of this article may have to linger a while longer as I am yet unable to proffer answers to them. In all I have seen, however, there is evidently something unique about the masons of medieval times. It is unclear to me if the key to their dedication is in the reality of their time. I presume it best to leave that for all to ponder further on. Suffice to say though that such dedication to a craft, such nobility, and perhaps such patience and order will continue to be rare even now and the near future. The arguments for and against this position obviously will be for another time.

    Figure 21: Western façade of the Cathedral of Saints Catherine and Maurice, also known as Magdeburg Cathedral.

    Figure 22: Details of a portion of the western façade of Magdeburg Cathedral.

    Figure 23: Details of the pinnacle of one of the towers of Magdeburg Cathedral.

    Figure 24: Statues atop the western façade of the Magdeburg Cathedral. At the peak is the Virgin Mary, lower left is St Maurice brandishing the Holy Lance, and lower right is St Catherine.

    Figure 25: Ornate capital at the Magdeburg Cathedral courtyard. A fine example still of the creations of medieval stone masons.

    Notes on Some Cathedrals—Cologne, Magdeburg, Frankfurt

    Even by today’s standards, the size (height) of Cologne Cathedral is imposing to say the least. Like many cathedrals I have seen in my travels, the current masterpiece sits on the site of an older church or cathedral that has been destroyed by fire. Between April 1246 and November of 1247, the cathedral chapter of Cologne decided to replace the old Carolingian church with a modern one.6 Archbishop Konrad of Hochstaden laid the foundation for the new cathedral on the Ascension of the Virgin Mary in 1248. As mentioned earlier, the first architect of the cathedral was Master Mason Gerhard who is believed to have studied the art of Gothic architecture in France. The story from Gerhard to the second master mason who took over after Gerhard’s demise—Master Arnold—is a long one, but suffice to say that the building was in construction for very many years with intermittent disruptions to construction. The completion of the cathedral, being the largest in Germany, was celebrated as a national event on 14 August 1880, 632 years after construction had begun. As it was told, everyone who mattered was present at the opening ceremonies.

    The most distinguished work of art in the cathedral is the Shrine of the Magi, commissioned by the archbishop of Cologne in 1190. This piece takes the shape of a traditional basilica church. It is said to be made of bronze but covered with silver and gemstones. Made by Nicholas of Verdun, it is believed to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men. In 1864, the shrine was opened and it in fact contained bones and garments.

    All through the Cologne cathedral there is a deliberate theme of the adoration of the Magi both on stained glass windows, choir stall screen paintings, triptychs, and altarpieces. The setting shows the Three Wise Men visiting baby Jesus and offering gifts. The stained glass pieces were so naturalistic and vibrantly colored—quite a sight to behold.

    At Magdeburg, the Cathedral of the Saints Catherine and Maurice also proved a worthy sight to behold. Age shows on this building—but not in a bad way. Age colors it in a way that you can’t but adore it. Here again, the wonders of the work of masons are made apparent. It is a cathedral dedicated to the Saints Catherine and Maurice. Maurice we will recall is famed to be the first black Catholic saint. In the quire of the cathedral, one will find a rather austere but telling statue of Saint Maurice. He is said to be an Egyptian born ca. 250 CE in the Thebes region. A Roman soldier and eventual leader of the all Christian Theban Squadron. After refusing to sacrifice to old Roman gods and repeatedly challenging orders to attack Christian settlements, the Emperor ordered his ranks to be decimated by killing every tenth man in a line up. Despite this, the Theban squadron under the leadership of Maurice is said to be resolved to meet their death rather than go against God’s will. In the end, according to the writings of Eucherius, Bishop of Lyon ca. 450 CE, the emperor ordered all that is left of the 6000 Theban squadron be executed. Martyred for his beliefs, Saint Maurice is today a patron saint to many groups and war veterans. While there is nothing strange about seeing sculptures of saints on Gothic cathedrals in Europe, a black saint is indeed uncommon and noteworthy. Magdeburg Cathedral is said to have 29 sculptural representations of St Maurice on the architecture but probably the most commanding of the presence of a strong-willed general is the piece in Fig. 39.

    In Frankfurt as it was in Cologne and Magdeburg, I am faced with the wonderful craft of the mason and how in the many years, it continues to be a beacon and source of inspiration to many. Though the Frankfurt cathedral currently standing is of far newer origins, it nonetheless evokes and animates the exceptional abilities of the stone masons.

    Figure 26: The shrine of the Magi. This reliquary sarcophagus is said to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men and it resides in the quire of the Cologne Cathedral.

    Figure 27: A fine example of the ‘Bavarian windows.’ Here the theme is the Adoration of the Shepherd and Magi in the middle and the four prophets in the lower levels—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.

    Figure 28: Stained glass details of the middle pane—showing the Adoration of the Shepherd and Magi.

    Figure 29: In closer detail still. And they brought gifts to the Messiah and Saviour.

    Figure 30: The fountain of St Peter at the South-eastern end of the Cologne Cathedral.

    Figure 31: Masonry and sculptural details on the Cologne Cathedral.

    Figure 32: Details of floor mosaic according to the design of August Essenwein 1885–1892.

    Figure 33: Details of floor mosaic showing floral patterns according to the design of August Essenwein 1885–1892.

    Figure 34: Western Façade of the Magdeburg Cathedral.

    Figure 35: Details of masonry and ornamentation on the western façade of the Magdeburg Cathedral.

    Figure 36: One of the 29 figural representations of St Maurice on the Magdeburg Cathedral.

    Figure 37: Another of the 29 figural representations of St Maurice on the Magdeburg Cathedral. This one is found on the clerestory level just above the quire.

    Figure 38: Another of the 29 figural representations of St Maurice on the Magdeburg Cathedral. This is found on the western façade (exterior) of the cathedral.

    Figure 39: Probably the most enigmatic of the 29 figural representations of Saint Maurice in the Magdeburg cathedral. Placed directly opposite the statue of Saint Catherine in the Quire of the cathedral, it is a rather austere but telling piece.

    Figure 40: A beautiful example of the fluidity of stone in the hands of the mason and sculptors of the early era. This piece is inside the Magdeburg cathedral.

    Figure 41: The two towers of the Magdeburg cathedral. Notice the ratio of the car and people to the size of the cathedral.

    Figure 42: Western tower of the Frankfurt Cathedral.

    Figure 43: The baptismal font inside the Frankfurt Cathedral.

    Figure 44: Detail of the font cover.

    Figure 45: A lovely rendition of the famous Pieta in the nave of the Frankfurt Cathedral.

    Figure 46: Columns and vaulting of the nave of Frankfurt cathedral.

    A Small Note on Berlin

    Very early in my visit to Germany, I had made it a point to visit the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and visit I did. The gate is a must see if you ask me. There is something richly magical about a piece of the ‘old’ made manifest in the new. The gate appears majestic and spirited as ever, surmounted by its iconic quadriga, it wields a type of wisdom that comes with age. As I stand before the monument, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of place and importance, for here where I stand, stood many—commoners and royals alike. Here, the grounds have supported wars and rumors of wars. The trees have witnessed the passing of time like no other can boast. And the architectural monument proudly embodies the vestiges of time itself.

    As I soak in the aura of the Brandenburg gate, it suddenly became clear to me that to say I stand before this gate will amount to a compositional error. It will suggest that ‘I’ firmly hold a ground here, but how can we claim any form or grounds in comparison to the gate itself, an unmoving persona that has stayed its ground since 1791? This gate was here when Napoleon in 1806 rode triumphantly on horseback after defeating the Prussians in the battle of Jena-Ausrstedt. It was here, when Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany in 1933 and a huge parade came through its laps. It was here, all during the horrors of the world wars, seeing men, women, and children lack, want, and die. It was here as witness when the Berlin walls kept people and dreams apart. It was also here when President Reagan charged General Secretary Gorbachev to tear down this wall. I would wager that there is a good chance this gate will continue to be here for many years to come—the same, we cannot say for ourselves, mortals. So how then can I suggest that I stand before this great gate? It is the Brandenburg gate that stands, the rest of us are merely passing through.

    Figure 47: A painting by Charles Meynier shows Napoleon’s triumphant entry through the Brandenburg Gate in 1806 after the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt. Wikimedia Commons.

    Figure 48: Soviet soldiers at the Brandenburg Gate in 1945 during World War II. Photo Credit.

    Figure 49: The Quadriga of the Brandenburg Gate

    Figure 50: The Brandenburg Gate in 2017.

    Figure 51: A view of Frankfurt showing the River Main in the foreground.

    Figure 52: A view of Frankfurt showing the River Main.


    1 Ruland Wilhelm, Legends of The Rhine; The Cathedral Builder of Cologne, Trans. Mitchell A. and Findlay H. J. (Cologne: Hoursch & Bechstedt, 1906)

    2 Cragoe C. Davidson, accessed June 27, 2017, The Medieval Stonemason (2011)

    3 Wolff Arnold, Cologne Cathedral ed. Barbara Schock (Cologne: Greven Verlag 2016), 7

    4 Cragoe, Medieval Stonemason

    5 Brooke C. N., The Normans as Cathedral Builders, text of a lecture given in Winchester 1979, The Architectural History of Winchester Cathedral (Winchester: R. Willis 1980)

  • A Year as the SAH H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow: Reflections on Travel, Time, and Technology

    by User Not Found | Jul 14, 2017

    Even though I am, once again, immersed in university teaching and a few burgeoning research projects, I know that I will be processing the experiences of the SAH Brooks Fellowship for years to come and it is not an understatement to say that the sponsored travels have shaped a new trajectory for my interests and advocacy within the development and preservation of built environment. Undoubtedly, the fellowship changed the way that I understand architectural history: I found that certain sites and architectural figures are so much more interconnected than I could ever imagine. With this in mind, I can envision new ways to teach the requisite architectural history surveys in professional architecture programs that can move beyond chronology and certain geographic biases (eastern vs. western) to pursue a more thematic approach to history that emphasizes parallels across time and place through the lenses of form, building materials, technology, and the exchange of information through travel. Additionally, as an American architectural designer and historian, teaching within an American architecture school, Iceland and the Faroe Islands provided new ways to think about sustainable design, Cuba provided vivid examples of resourcefulness but also the perils of building decay without regular maintenance, and my time in Japan radically changed how I understand fundamental elements of architecture, such as ‘the wall’, and how I read and interpret the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and others who first explored Japan in the early modern era.

    A Google Map of key sites, natural features, cities, and towns visited in Iceland between June and September 2016.

    A Google Map of key sites and towns visited in the Faroe Islands between late August and early September 2016.

    A Google Map of key sites and towns visited in Cuba between October 2016 and January 2017.

    A Google Map of key sites and towns visited in Japan between February and May 2017.


    Endangered Islands?

    Concentrated on providing early career scholars and practitioners unparalleled opportunities for travel and the priceless gift of time to explore sites thoughtfully, the fellowship allowed me to visit several nations that are undergoing dramatic changes in their built environment, primarily due to surges in seasonal tourism (Figure 1). In Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Cuba, and Japan, I was fortunate to witness several major events: an entire nation’s population gathered in the capital city of Reykjavik to cheer their football team on to several unexpected victories, the death of Fidel Castro and the state-imposed period of mourning in Cuba, and Japan’s preparations to take the Olympic center stage despite a declining population and rising uncertainties from military unrest along the Japan Sea.

    Data from national censuses, tourist boards, and the World Bank showing the changes in population and tourism in Iceland, Cuba, and Japan from 1950 to the present.

    As the SAH’s H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow, I stayed in seventy-five residences. Thankfully, many were local accommodations that provided a ‘home’ abroad and the opportunity to get to know a local family. Although my bags came home a bit heaver from each leg of my journey, filled with new books and other keepsakes, a few pieces never made the trek home: I entirely wore down the treads on two pairs of hiking boots and three pairs of sneakers, logging about 2,500 miles on foot over the course of the year. Most of my days during the fellowship year were spent in the field, exploring new sites, but I also treasured the time that I spent in local libraries, laundromats, and coffee shops, reading about the local area, reflecting on the travels, and crafting the SAH research blog entries. These were essential moments of pause amid a year that can be classified as a wonderful yet intense visual overload. These quiet times for reading, writing, and processing photographs and videos provided valuable perspective and time to contemplate the extremes that I encountered on the various islands: the possibility of speeding around Japan on bullet trains at 200 mph while it took nearly six hours to traverse thirty miles of a winding gravel road in Iceland’s Westfjords, or the fact that I had clear and strong cellular service in the middle of the Norwegian Sea but had difficulty loading a text-based email when I was in Cuba after waiting nearly two hours to purchase a 30-minute internet card (Figure 2).

    The wonders (and perils) of fieldwork included getting stuck in all types of weather, getting lost, and enjoying priceless moments of serendipity, such as discovering how local animals interacted with their native built and natural environments. From left to right, one of the many dachshunds of Santiago de Cuba testing a resting place in a concrete wall, sheep precariously perched on a gravel island in Iceland, and a Japanese macaque finding a hiding place for snacks in Arashiyama.

    Overall, my time in the various islands proved that the built landscape of tourism can be a problematic one, flooding unequipped areas with cars and buses while visitors search in vain for trashcans and water closets. Although many heritage sites leverage existing resources, the island subjects of my study proved that there are many unanswered questions related to the management of heritage: how can sites deal with accessibility and aging travelers, and should there be limitations on tourism, despite the potential economic benefit? At this point, I envision that many of the theories I developed in reference to sustainable tourism at cultural heritage sites will need time to incubate and I hope that I will have the opportunity to revisit several sites in five years to see transformations currently in progress, such as Reykjavik's new skyline, the work of BIG in the Faroe Islands, Cuba after a boom of foreign, 5-star hotel investments, and Japan after several international events in the capital and a new commitment to green energy.

    During my year abroad there were also significant changes in relation to my study of the impact of tourism on cultural heritage sites. For example, Iceland developed the do-no-harm ‘tourist pledge’ and in mid-June the U.S. government enacted policy changes for Americans hoping to visit Cuba. Under the new regulations, my extended and independent travels in Cuba would have been impossible so my time in the nation seems even more precious now. Although I embarked on a version of ‘slow’ tourism, I was an active subject within my own study but my travels underscored that the bucket list approach to tourism can be highly problematic because tourists can miss opportunities for cultural immersion and through their truncated visits to sites those visitors do not take time to consider changes in the landscape or how their actions, carelessly wielding selfies sticks or moving away from marked paths, can have detrimental impacts on preservation and conservation efforts.


    Technology and Architectural Record

    Over the course of the fellowship I learned to travel lightly but nearly half of my ‘kit’ was dedicated to the tools of documentation, ranging from sketchbooks and an array of drawing instruments to accessories and lenses for my DSLR and GoPro. During certain legs of my travels where aerial documentation was permitted, I was also carrying a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle; drone): either a DJI Phantom 4 or the more portable DJI Mavic Pro. Alongside these digital tools was another compliment of cords, adapters, a laptop for processing, and external hard drives to maintain a fastidious system of backups for the gigabytes of data that I captured, daily, through various devices (Figure 3). File organization, naming, metadata tagging, and archiving occupied more hours than I could imagine, but I managed to develop a workflow during the fellowship that I know will be valuable for many years to come (Figure 4). This consisted of meticulous note taking, usually on my phone with Microsoft OneNote, to keep track of my daily activities: names of sites, navigation notes, and initial reflections on sites. CamScanner, as noted in previous blog posts, was also extremely useful for documentation in museums. In terms of processing all of images captured with my DSLR, Adobe Lightroom was absolutely invaluable as a digital darkroom for RAW images.

    Figure 3. An array of digital kit: Canon 80D DSLR with wide angle and telephoto lenses, Manfrotto compact tripod, a GoPro Hero 4, DJI Phantom 4 and Mavic Pro with extra batteries and adapters, MacBook Pro, external hard drives, protective hardcases, and various accessories.

    Figure 4. Icons for the programs that were invaluable on the fellowship for image processing and data management (from left to right): Adobe Photoshop CC, Adobe Lightroom CC, CamScanner, and Microsoft OneNote.

    During the second half of the fellowship I experimented with a handheld 3D scanner by Structure Sensor for small-scale photogrammetry projects. As much as I am an active proponent of the integration of new technology in architectural documentation, my experiments produced little more than frustration (Figure 5). Unless one is able to travel with a full compliment of equipment, ranging from about $30,000–150,000, the available handheld scanners are not yet equipped to accurately capture architectural environments and they are best used for small scale, object-based studies such as a sculptural bust on a plinth. Although I was initially excited to capture connection details, I quickly discovered that small scanners cannot capture anything much larger than 100 square feet and they frequently overheat in sunny conditions.

    Figure 5. An attempted scan of a simple screen wall at the House of Ogai Mori and Soseki Natsume (1887), representative of a middle class residence in the Meiji era, in Meiji-mura, captured with a Structure Sensor and processed with itSeez3D.

    In terms of spatial limitations, there were occasions where interior corners could be recorded but these often yielded skewed results proving that the scanner needs to operate within even, studio lighting. For this reason, capturing an exterior corner condition was nearly impossible. In Japan I discovered another complication. Here, interior spaces have rich chiaroscuro and layers of shadows; yet, these qualities that are so intriguing in person are lost in the translation from real space to digital space. The resultant model contained distorting 'holes' from captured shadows since there is no infrared information to populate the model space. Documentation is further complicated by the fact that the scanner has difficulty processing glass, water, or flat surfaces (e.g. even plaster walls); and any movement distorts the captured image so a small gust of wind through surrounding trees or the passing of other visitors suddenly renders a model sequence unusable. A tripod can help negate some of these issues but they are typically prohibited at museums and religious sites.

    In Iceland and the Faroe Islands, the vast expanses of land and relatively open aviation laws allowed for the use of a drone to capture landscapes and select buildings outside of the capital. This, however, was not an option in the nationwide 'no fly zone' of Cuba and drone use is very restricted in Japan: drones are prohibited in all national parks and in major cities such as Tokyo. I was, however, able to get permission to fly over one of Japan's open-air architectural museums, the Hokkaido Historical Village outside of Sapporo, and I will be working with the data captured to model a historic photography studio as well as a prefabricated barn that is currently undergoing restoration after a roof collapse (Figure 6). Although much of my experimentations with a handheld scanner proved fruitless and drone technology related to architectural documentation and analysis is very much in development (and in tension with evolving regulations), it is exciting to think of what may be available in five to ten years, allowing designers and historians to record and analyze spaces in new ways through portable, unobtrusive hardware and more streamlined and sophisticated software.

    Figure 6. An aerial view of the Hokkaido Historical Village outside of Sapporo, Japan. Under the right legal and weather conditions, the use of drones can offer an entirely new way of seeing, recording and analyzing the built environment.

    Although I would not trade any of my technical kit or the gigabytes captured, one of the most valuable tools during my travels was the least sophisticated: a sketchbook. Travels sponsored by the fellowship renewed my dedication to the phrase that, ‘you do not understand a building until you draw it.’ Despite advancements in tablet technology and even augmented reality, it is difficult to image another tool as useful and dynamic as a sketchbook for investigating a site, processing initial impressions, and collecting small pieces of ephemera (Figure 7-10).

    Figure 7. A few of the many sketchbooks from a year of traveling, plastered with local stickers to identify the contents.

    Figure 8. Deciphering the plan on-site in Ando’s Church of Light.

    Figure 9. Studying light and elevation organization in the recreated ‘townscape’ of the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum, complete with an impression of the site’s identifying stamp in the upper left corner.

    Figure 10. A view of the many internet cards used during my time in Cuba alongside a local, 10 CUP note (approximately 24 CUP = 1 CUC).


    Final Notes

    I cannot express enough thanks to the Society of Architectural Historians and the H. Allen Brooks endowment for such an incredible experience. Auburn University, and in particular the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, has been very supportive during my external research leave and recognized the fellowship as both an unparalleled opportunity for a tenure-track Assistant Professor and a chance to develop research agendas for architectural studios and field studies. Throughout this process, friends and colleagues were generous with their time and expertise, answering calls and emails at all hours to provide feedback on travel plans and technological advice. In addition to balancing affairs at home, my parents can be thanked (or blamed?) for instilling an insatiable love of travel, museums, and history. Despite careers outside of the study or creation of the built environment, they warmly welcome even the most obscure, architecturally motivated excursions. Above all else, this year has been an ongoing lesson in what incredible sites and people this world has to offer, especially to travelers who explore with an open and inquisitive mind.


SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610