In 1923, the Bauhaus was preparing for its first exhibition, where Walter Gropius, the school’s founder, would extol the benefits of industrial mass production. To publicize the events, the Bauhaus mailed out beautiful postcards.
Sixteen Bauhaus teachers and students designed postcards illustrating the German school’s ideas about art and technology. The downsized posters are full of sharp geometric drawings in black, red, yellow, and blue. Some look like rough sketches of architectural renderings, others like Cubist faces. New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) recently acquired 20 of these mini adverts, from a Weimar family who inherited the unsent cards from a relative who attended the original show. Juliet Kinchin, curator of MoMA’s Architecture and Design department, says the set of Postkarte fur die Bauhaus Ausstellung Weimar 1923 neatly encapsulate the ideas from the Bauhaus movement.
Archibet is a book of 26 postcards by Federico Babina. It runs from Aalto to Zaha, by way of big names such as Gropius and Foster, and slightly more recherché ones such as Adalberto Libera, author of the wonderful 1930s Casa Malaparte in Capri. Also Quincy Jones, not to be confused with the musician and producer of the same name, purveyor of stylish California modernism to the rich and famous.
The first letter of each name is made into a little monument – a “small surrealistic building”, as Babina calls them – in the manner of the relevant architect, the P of Renzo Piano, for example, being held up by the cross-bracing of his Pompidou Centre. Sometimes the shape of letter and the architect’s style don’t match. The Dutch modernist Gerrit Rietveld is given a full-curved R, although he rarely deviated from straight lines and right angles.
Babina is Italian, lives in Barcelona, trained and practised as an architect, but also works with graphic design. Over the past 18 months, he has started publishing his architectural fantasias, in which three-dimensional structures are transposed to flat surfaces, realised with solid blocks of strong but subtle colour, and a wry knowingness about his subjects.
I’m a big fan of Dorothy, the Manchester based visual art studio. I posted about (and bought) their famous Film Map a while back. Now they’ve released a new series of prints called Lost Destination, “which take inspiration from the iconic travel posters of the first half of the 20th century, celebrating the unique but often forgotten beauty of buildings that in their heyday were destinations in their own right but have since been either immersed in the everyday or demolished.” Take a look and buy one here.
Elevators first arrived in America during the 1860s, in the lobbies of luxurious hotels, where they served as a plush conveyance that saved the well-heeled traveler the annoyance of climbing stairs. Initially these steam-powered “moveable rooms” were extravagantly furnished with chandeliers, benches, and carpeting, says Lee Gray, a columnist for Elevator World and an associate professor of architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Passengers were expected to sit down and get comfortable before the operator fired up the new contrivance. “It was all about luxury,” said Gray.
It wasn’t until the 1870s, when elevators showed up in office buildings, that the technology really started to leave a mark on urban culture. Business owners stymied by the lack of available space could look up and see room for growth where there was previously nothing but air—a development that was particularly welcome in New York, where a real estate crunch in Manhattan’s business district had, for a time, forced city leaders to consider moving the entire financial sector uptown. That plan came to be seen as unnecessary thanks to the initiative of one Henry Hyde, the founder of a large insurance firm, who realized that by installing a pair of elevators in his headquarters, he could make it the tallest building in the city: seven stories and 130 feet. In so doing, Hyde ushered in a new era. As a writer for Scribner’s Magazine put it almost 30 years later, the passenger elevator turned out to be “a revolutionary agent” that did for modern building what the steam engine had done for transportation.
Advances in elevator technology combined with new steel frame construction methods to push the height limits of buildings higher and higher. In the 1890s, as Bernard recounts in his book, the tallest building in the world was the 20-story Masonic Temple in Chicago; by 1913, when hydraulic elevators had been replaced with much speedier and more efficient electrical ones, it was the 55-story Woolworth Building in New York. Quickly, the modern city assumed its present shape. As Patrick Carrajat, the founder of the Elevator Museum in New York, put it, “If we didn’t have elevators…we would have a megalopolis, one continuous city, stretching from Philadelphia to Boston, because everything would be five or six stories tall.”
The arrival of the elevator upended more than urban planning: It changed the hierarchy of buildings on the inside as well. Higher floors had once been distant, scrubby spaces occupied by maids and the kind of low-rent tenants who could be expected to climb six flights of stairs. The more important people climbed at most one or two flights, which gave brownstone-style homes, for instance, their high-ceilinged parlor floors. While the arrival of elevators didn’t change this right away—the top floor of Henry Hyde’s building was occupied by the in-house janitor—the upper reaches of buildings eventually became desirable. The elevator ushered in the end of the garret and the beginning of the penthouse, as lawyers and businessmen came to appreciate the advantages of having beautiful, bird’s-eye views and respite from the loud noises of the street. Hotel owners, meanwhile, started turning their top floor rooms into their nicest ones. They could even rent out their roofs for garden parties where guests could survey the glittering new city, all without doing a bit of work to get there.
Thus the Land was stirring and quivering in impulses, wave upon wave. . . . [Chicago] was pushing its structures higher and higher, until the Masonic Temple by John Root had raised its head far into the air, and the word “skyscraper” came into use. –Louis Sullivan, from The Autobiography of an Idea
On a warm evening in the summer of 1892, Edgar Lee Masters boards the night train for Chicago. He is 22 and one year a member of the Illinois bar, but he’d rather be a poet than an attorney. The train carries him northward, away from his home in Lewistown, and Masters sits awake by the window watching for the exact spot where prairie gives way to city. He comes upon Chicago at dawn, and though he does not know it, the first thing he sees of the city is its red-light district.
When he steps off the train, Masters is hungry and tired. His starched collar has wilted, and his white vest is covered in cinders. His enthusiasm for urban life, however, is unabated, and after breakfast at his uncle’s rooming house at 2128 S. Michigan Ave., he asks to be shown the sights. He is shown them.
Forty-four years pass. Masters spends eight of them as a law partner of Clarence Darrow. He publishes one remarkable book of poetry. Of his first day in Chicago he remembers that he especially wanted to visit “the tallest building in the world, from the top of which, according to an old Polonius in Lewistown, one could see Council Bluffs, Iowa. . . . I had to try that out, and Uncle Henry took me to the Masonic Temple.”
From the mosaic floor of its marble lobby to gabled roofs and glass-domed gardens, the Masonic Temple at the northeast corner of State and Randolph stood 302 feet tall. It was, according to Henry Justin Smith, a managing editor for the old Chicago Daily News, “a wonder of wonders. . . . Everything about the building made the city burst with pride, and gave country visitors kinks in their necks.” In fact, the building achieved a notoriety generally reserved for the Brooklyn Bridge and other “marketable” real estate. Vaudeville comics told the story–and Smith went so far as to claim it was an actual “colloquy” frequently overheard in Chicago’s turn-of-the-century courtrooms–of a cop approaching the bench with several con men in tow. “What’s the charges against these men?” asked the judge, to which the arresting officer would reply, “They took money off a rube, your honor, told him they were selling him the Masonic Temple. And when the rube said he liked the building but not the direction it faced, they said for five dollars more they’d turn it around.”
By 1939, however, the luster had worn off and the Masonic Temple was regarded as just another obsolescent and costly giant. Brick by brick, it was demolished from the top down, relegated to Chicago’s sizable scrap heap of architectural gems.
If the passport is a symbol of national identity, then the new design for Norway’s travel documents has undoubtedly cemented the country’s reputation as a land of sleek, minimalist beauty.
This week, Norway’s National Police Directorate announced the winners of a competition launched in February to find a new design concept for the nation’s passports and ID card.
The winning entry, by Oslo design studio Neue, features beautifully simplified depictions of Norway’s natural landscapes drawn with fine lines in pastel shades. The cover features a modernised version of the national crest, stamped in gold on unusually bold colours: either white, turquoise or red for immigrant, diplomat and standard passports respectively. […]
Passports aren’t the only national symbol the state has opened up to the country’s design teams. Last month – as a result of a similar competition – Norges Bank picked proposals from design studios Snøhetta and The Metric System for their new kroner notes. Pixelated and also featuring bold colours, the new notes are due to be released in 2017.