Michael G. Imber, Architects is a modern classical design firm based in San Antonio, Texas. We are a studio of individuals sharing a commitment to cultural memory and to the continuum of traditional architecture and urbanism. It is our belief that craft, material, environment, and place are at once a given inheritance and a compliment to our modern lifestyles.
“What we have is given by God, and to teach it to others is to return it to Him.” – Bernini
Since the early beginnings of the Church, Rome has been at the center of the Christian world, and for centuries pilgrims have traveled to the city to visit its holiest sites. This tradition began in the Middle Ages, when pilgrims would travel across Europe along the Via Francigena to see the tombs of St. Paul and St. Peter in Rome. From there, many would head east to the Holy Land.
Philip Romolo Neri, 1515-1595.
The tradition of visiting Rome’s pilgrimage churches, dedicated to the saints and martyrs, began in the mid-15th century. Philip Neri led groups of pilgrims on a day-long walk that began at St. Peter’s and ended at the Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore. Along the way, known as the Via delle Sette Chiese, there was music, picnicking, and visits to other five churches – San Paolo fuori le Mura, San Giovanni in Laterano, San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, and San Sebastiano fuori le Mura.
Fresco showing cutaway view of Constantine’s St. Peter’s Basilica as it looked in the 4th century.
Just decades before Neri began these pilgrimage walks at the turn of the 15th century, efforts to rebuild the 4th-century Basilica of St. Peter, built to mark the traditional location of the tomb of St. Peter, were begun.
The original church was replaced by a more ornate building, and some of the greatest architects of the Renaissance—Bramante, Sangallo, Raphael, Peruzzi, and most importantly, Michelangelo–contributed to the project in the first half of the 16th century. They transformed the site from a modest and traditional basilica church into the building we know today—the seat of the Bishop of Rome and the center of the Catholic faith.
Map of Giacomo Lauro and Antonio Tempesta showing the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, which was used for the first time during the Jubilee in the year of 1600.
As Neri’s walks became more popular, guidebooks detailing the pilgrimage sites became common. Thousands visited the city not just to see the churches and relics, but to complete a spiritual journey, reflecting on their faith and meditating on the saints and martyrs for which the churches are named.
Photo by author.
Bernini’s statues along the Bridge of the Angels provide a moment for just this kind of meditation. The bridge was originally created in the second century A.D. by Hadrian to link his mausoleum, now known as the Castel Sant’Angelo, to the center of ancient Rome. That bridge became the traditional route for pilgrims traveling through Rome to reach St. Peter’s Basilica.
Angel bearing whips by Lazzaro Morelli, with the inscription “In flagella paratus sum” (“I am ready for the whip”, Psalms 38:18), western side of the Ponte Sant’Angelo à Rome.
Angel with the lance by Domenico Guidi, with the inscription “Vulnerasti cor meum.”
Several more angels at the Ponte Sant’Angelo
Commissioned to create sculptures for this bridge by Pope Clement IX, Bernini drew upon the bridge’s ancient origins, its relationship to St. Peter’s, and the myth of St. Michael to design a place for pilgrims to meditate on the Passion of Christ. Each of the angels, who stand atop pedestals, supported by the arches below, carries one of the instruments of the Passion.
Bronze statue of Michael the Archangel, standing on top of the Castel Sant’Angelo, modelled in 1753 by Peter Anton von Verschaffelt (1710–1793).
Atop Castel Sant’Angelo and terminating the view across the bridge is a statue of Saint Michael, the archangel, armed with a sword to guard the city and its residents as a patron of God’s divine judgement and protection. Mentioned only a few times throughout the Gospels, Michael embodies Christ’s mercy to mankind as he guides their souls towards Heaven at the hour of their death and protects them against the temptations of Satan.
Saint Michael casting Satan into Hell.
It is said that Saint Michael appeared atop Hadrian’s mausoleum to mark the end of the plague in the 500s, and the popes named the building for him and crowned it with his likeness when it became a castle in the 1300s. Historically, criminals traveled along the bridge toward Castel Sant’Angelo and the statue of the archangel before they met the death penalty.
Vast infinite stillness overcomes you in far west Texas. Earth opens up to the sky exposing deep cuts and gashes and the very space between molecules seems to expand. For the 4th of July holiday I wanted to see the stars arc above me again and sleep outside. The long drive is perfect for daydreams and random associations, and somewhat strangely brought to mind the work of Hugh Ferriss and his urban landscapes. By his hand, buildings fade into fog and become impressions of buildings filled with atmosphere. As I watch the country pass by my window, I reflect that the drawings are also reminiscent the mountains and rocks. I watch the landscape continue to expand and open up as we drive, and I can’t wait for my own city to fade in memory to be replaced by the high desert and the Davis mountains.
Hugh Ferriss, imagined massing of buildings from his book the Metropolis of tomorrow
Hugh Ferriss was trained as an architect, but soon became known for being a delineator–creating architectural renderings for other architects’ work rather than designing buildings himself. Early in his career, he worked under the architect Cass Gilbert–he designed the famed Woolworth building in NYC–but because his work was often published and used in shows or advertisements, he acquired an independent reputation and went on to become a successful designer in his own right.
From his Metropolis of Tomorrow–he imagined the massing of buildings as if from clay
The mountains start to look like buildings
New York City passed landmark zoning laws In 1916 that were intended to counteract the tendency for buildings to occupy the whole of their lots and be built as tall as possible. It was hard to understand how these laws would effect design going forward and in 1922 the skyscraper architect Harvey Wiley Corbett commissioned Ferriss to draw a series of images illustrating the architectural consequences of the zoning law. These drawings would later be used in his book The Metropolis of Tomorrow, 1929.
From the Metropolis of tomorrow
I am brought out of imagining as we hike into closed canyon. Crossing into the slit in the earth the shade is such a relief from the hot direct light that casts constant stark shadows and the temperature seems to drop. How long must it have taken to create this canyon–It’s hard to even imagine. Nothing about this country seems new, it’s as if you can see the passage of time. I have visions of dinosaurs and icebergs and violent melts of water.
Closed canyon, Big Bend State Park
Santa Elena canyon
When we emerge to head back to the truck, I feel my very tiny place in the world emerging from this dramatic fissure. Another artist comes to mind, Georgia O’ Keeffe’s early New York paintings only hint at the city that inspired them.
Two cityscapes by O’Keeffe
I think it is the heat, but I start to think about ice–ice melts so quickly in the desert. I think about how the patterns of fissures of ice also recall the shapes of the mountains and of cities. We head back to town and towards a shady spot to while away the afternoon–even dreaming of ice is no longer keeping the heat at bay.
We are staying in Terlingua–a ghostown and on the National Register of Historic Places. In the mid-1880s the discovery of cinnabar (mercury is extracted from cinnabar) brought around 2,000 people to the area to work the mines. Today, the only remnants of the mining days are some scattered ruins and the remains of the Howard Perry mansion, owner or the Chisos Mining Company.
The thin membrane of darkness belied the turbulence that lay beneath as we drifted down the river, the eddies and swirls on the surface softly luring me into a trance. The sky burned a brilliant vermillion as the sun set over the sands of the Sahara, casting the tomb of Aga Kahn in a long blue shadow.
Sunset and the tomb of the Aga Kahn
As we drifted lazily down the Cataracts of the Nile, the pilot of our felucca ducked under the foredeck and returned with a large tambourine; his deep voice now keeping time to an ancient Nubian beat that echoes off the massive boulders surrounding us. He appears lost in song; yet, as if unknowingly, maneuvers a perfect tack of the vessel with its massive sail. At first, we all enthusiastically keep beat, but one by one we fall silent to the moment.
Architect Keith Summerour and Designer Beth Webb contemplating sunset on the Nile
Cataracts of the Nile
Our group had started in Athens; a few of us assembled from the myriad of designers and architects attending a conference of leaders in design. Already contemplating the beauty that had come to be formulated by the Greeks of antiquity, we now looked forward to our visit to the granite quarries of Egypt. We boarded early in the morning for the short hop over the Mediterranean with anticipation for the journey, and as we settled into our seats our monitors flickered on to begin our flight with a chant of a Muslim prayer for safe passage. By the time we reached Cairo we were already transported back in time with the thin blue haze of cigarette smoke that filled the cabin. We were to spend a long layover getting to know our host over an elaborate Egyptian dinner of stuffed pigeon, and then head back to the airport for a midnight departure to Luxor. The flight to the upper Nile was short, and as we descended into an orange fog the plane suddenly began to shudder. A dust storm received us on the tarmac burning our eyes; scarves wrapped around our faces to protect us from the dust, we now knew we were in Africa.
It was already well into the morning when we found our accommodations aboard the Senator, the ship that would serve as our transport up the Nile. Morning came early as we rose for a quick breakfast, where we were greeted by the famous Egyptologist, Zawi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, to introduce us to the mysteries of ancient Egypt and welcome us to Luxor and ancient Thebes, home to greatest density of ruins in the world, as well as his efforts to uncover even greater archaeological finds.
Temple of Hatshepsut
Today, we would explore the polychrome corridors of the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut, the Colossi of Menmon, the awe-inspiring Great Hypostyle Nave of the Temple of Karnak, and for those with strength left, an evening visit to the Temple of Luxor. After a long day we retired to the top deck of the ship and where as architects and designers we attempted to comprehend the mysticism, the scale, and the permanence of the ancient world over Cuban cigars and scotch.
Temple of Karnak and the Column of Taharqa, watercolor by Michael G. Imber
The colonnade of the great hypostyle room in the Temple of Karnak
We awoke the following morning to the soft hum of engines. I opened the door to my cabin and was greeted by the sweet aroma burning acacia as the waters of the Nile slipped by. One by one, we found our way to the upper deck of the ship, and as a soft cool breeze drifted down the Nile we found ourselves transported in time. The landscape and its people appeared untouched by the millennia that had passed since the time of the ancient pharaohs. The life-giving river was a verdant ribbon through a barren desert- the mother of civilization. For the locals today was a holiday- the first day of spring. Children waved from the banks, “hallooo, I love you!!!, while others splashed and played in the blue-green waters, thankfully, since the building of the Aswan Dam, long absent its ravenous crocodiles. Water buffalo and donkeys lazed by the shore and on small grassy islands as though marooned, while boats of all sorts, colors and sizes greeted us as we made our way up river, ancient stones lining the path of our journey along the way. We languished the day away, attempting to absorb every small moment.
Life along the banks of the Nile
Life on the banks of the Nile
After a long dinner on deck we were ushered below for a festive evening of belly dancing, some of our group, encourage by the wine, attempted to prove they could jiggle with the best of them. Now well past midnight, we made our way back up to the upper deck, where we seemed to chart a new course through the heavenly stars of the universe that shown brightly overhead. We settled in on chase lounges guarded against the brisk breeze by our quilts. The projector now glowed and a romantic soundtrack queued as Mia Farrow and Peter Ustinov boarded the S.S Karnak for a night of mystery and intrigue set against the dramatic backdrop of ancient Egypt and the Cataracts of the Nile.
The CCC emboldened young men to pursue physical vigor and spiritual health as it reflected Roosevelt’s belief in the healing power of nature and the strength of individuals.
Instituted under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program in the March of 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided a work relief program for the increasing unemployed segment of the American populace.
“Besides depicting the company’s camp ad the attractive bridge, waterfall, and stairs, this illustration communicated the ’emergency’ nature of the work as the men hastened to roof the refectory while eagerAmericans rushed to take advantage of the new facilities. (TSLAC)” – Texas State Parks and the CCC, 14.
The program enticed young men between the ages of 18 to 25 with a promise of manual labor and $30 a month, $25 of which had to be sent home to their families. The minimum contract required six months of service and the man serve a total of four terms, or two years.
The LEM at the left of this photo is surpervising workers as they build the low-water crossing a tPalmetto State Park on April 9, 1935. (TPWD).
The Civilian Conservation Corps was tasked with conserving natural resources, cleaning National Forests and Parks, animal population control, and animal disease control. Their initial focus consisted of preventing erosion by using multi-tiered terraces and reforestation.
Enrollees at Tyler State Park receive instructions from a LEM, ca. 1938. (NARA, College Park, Maryland)
To better manage their work the Corps task groups created camps throughout the nation and built what we know as the National Parks architecture. In Texas, the Corps often replicated traditional Texan stonework architecture and experimented with the Arts and Crafts style. By using resources found throughout the park, or parks nearby, the structures built were reflective of their natural environment.
The picnic table at Blanco State Park stretches some seventy feet in length. Its concrete top rests on waist-high masonry pedastals. The bench seats that completely surround the table are constructed of stone, as is the nearby fireplace. (TPWD)
A task group would have been responsible for building a variety of buildings including a medical facility, barracks per 50 men, recreational facilities, bathroom facilities, educational halls, mess hall, a tool room, blacksmith shop, and even garages. These buildings have since been adapted to modern needs.
Believed to be design staff with the State Parks Board, two men pose on a pine footbridge in Bastrop State Park. LAced throughout the park are stone-lined culverts designed to channel flowing creeks (TPWD)
The CCC also built other small infrastructure within the parks including fire lookout towers, roads, airport landings, terraces, dams, and campgrounds. Overall the Corps restructured 800 parks, planted 3 billion trees, employed 2.5 million men, and completed 9,700 miles of road. Today, these facilities are still in use and kept up to date by a select task force.
An unidentified enrollee applies last-minute finishes to an iron chandelier. Most CCC camps needed a blacksmith shop to fashion hardware and lighting fixtures, as well as repair tools and equipment. (NARA, College Park, Maryland)
In 1937, CCC enrollee James Taylor created a bust modeled in clay that would later be carved in walnut and used as a decorative fireplace mantel bracket in the refectory of Bastrop State Park. (TPWD)
Enrollees who learned, through the educational opportunities of the CCC, or could demonstrate their talents in a building trade prior to enlistment were given special tasks. Some campsites became well-known specialty shops such as; the blacksmith at Garner camp, timber mills at Bastrop, and furniture shops at Lake Brownwood, Palo Duro Canyon, and Longhorn Cavern, respectively.
Force Account team members replace sections of the water tower roof at Palmetto State Park in July 1991. (TWPD)
Force Account team members conduct masonry repairs on a Buescher State Park bridge in 1989. (TWPD)
To maintain the architectural feats throughout the parks small groups of expert craftsmen known as the Force Accounts, under the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), travel throughout the states to maintain and repair CCC park structures.
the bathhouse at Tyler State Park was designed in the Prairie style popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright. (Photo by John B. Chandler, 2008, TPWD)
Michael’s Sketch of Villa Capra (Villa Rotunda.) Vicenza, Italy.
John Ruskin had once said, “To draw the Leaf, is to know the Forest.” For generations this has been the practice of architects on their sojourns throughout Europe and the world; sketchbook in hand, recording buildings, details and landscapes- recording life.
“Trees in a Lane, perhaps at Ambleside,” 1847. John Ruskin (1819 – 1900). Pencil, black and brown ink, and ink wash, 17 5/8 x 22 5/8 inches. Ruskin Foundation (Ruskin Library, Lancaster University)
Regretfully, this practice has been relinquished over time to the camera, and now onto the even more convenient mobile phone. One can race through cities, villages and fields snapping shots without ever losing step. We can even share it with our friends instantly, or immediately post it on our wall- our modern day documentary of our exciting lives. But do we see what we are shooting? I mean, do we really see?
“Mountain Rock and Alpine Rose,” 1844 (or 1849). John Ruskin (1819 – 1900). Pencil, ink, chalk, watercolor and gouache, 11 3/4 x 16 1/4 inches. Ruskin Foundation (Ruskin Library, Lancaster University)
Although, I carry a sketchbook when I travel, I’m all too guilty of relying on my camera as I race about my day. Now, with digital photography, one doesn’t even have to stop to frame the perfect artistic shot. We can shoot thousands of pictures intending to edit to the one that captured the image we were seeking. Upon our return, these pictures are often quickly stored on a computer or server for future retrieval when needed for precedent.
A quick study before a light rain shower drove me to shelter in Tivoli, Italy.
Michael sketching at Drayton Hall, South Carolina during our office’s 20th anniversary retreat.
So why a sketchbook? Who has the time? I often find that going through these thousands of digital images I’m not only uncertain of the time and place the image was taken, but why I even took the picture to begin with. My sketchbook is different; with my sketchbook I’m not so much documenting an image, but I am actually stopping time. When I sketch, I absorb the moment; not only the detail, but the way the light strikes the object, the texture of the object, the coolness of its shadow. I feel the space about the object, the sound, the smell, the hum of life, the silence. Often, a quick watercolor was done with water from the canal at my feet, or a street fountain that quenched my thirst, or sometimes it’s actually the coffee that woke me up. Technique and artistry isn’t the point. The point is the sketch- it’s the moment.
The Grand Canal by Author. Venice, Italy.
Heliocaminus Baths, a precursor to the Pantheon, at Hadrian’s Villa by Author.
Then, when the sketchbook goes back on the shelf, among the other sketchbooks of my life, I am left with the places. They are now a part my experience; it is now a part of who I am. I no longer have to get out my sketchbook to remember, they can be recalled at any time or be revealed in my work at any moment.
Temple of Karnak, Egypt. 2015.
A west Texas landscape and cloud shadow study by the author.
A volcanic flow in Papua new Guinea.
A side street in Guatemala.
So although my camera is a vital instrument, I always carry my sketchbook while traveling. That way, I can always really know where I’ve been.
A reconstruction of the Roman Forum by our staff co-author, Michael Madsen.
To an architect, the Grand Tour had a more spiritual meaning – it was more than simply versing oneself in the generic education provided for the aristocrat. Instead, it was an immersion into the ephemeral masters of the past and their grand accomplishments.
Vitruvius was a Roman architect, author, and military engineer during the 1st century B.C.
Beginning in Antiquity, Vitruvius was a Roman military engineer whose chronicle of his architectural feats earned him the title of the first ‘Western Architect.’ His work, De Architectura (Ten Books on Architecture), reveals his concept of what is considered ‘architecture’ as well as its importance to the everyday life of civilians. For Vitruvius, a building should always have these three characteristics: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas, or firmness/durability, commodity/useful, and delight/beauty.
Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, an illustration of the human body inscribed in the circle and the square derived from a passage about geometry and human proportions in Vitruvius’ writings.
The Gates of Paradise. A pair of bronze doors to the Battistero di San Giovanni by Lorenzo Ghiberti.
By the fifteenth century and sixteenth centuries, Renaissance masters such as Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Da Vinci, and Alberti all built upon the tradition of ancient Roman and Greek architecture with their treatises and realized designs. They kept some of the medieval innovations, especially in church architecture, but gave them a new “classical” character and expression.
The front page of I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture) by Andrea Palladio.
The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, built between 1566 and 1610, by Andrea Palladio.
Interior: The nave, looking east towards the high altar.
During the time of the Venetian Republic, Andrea Palladio was an architect greatly influenced by Ancient Roman architecture and Vitruvius’ treatise, so much so that he went to Rome to measure and draw the ruins in the Forum, which he included in his treatise entitled I Quatro Libri dell’Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture). His greatest contributions to Renaissance architecture include his use of the forms of sacred Roman architecture, such as the temple front, on civic buildings like palazzos and on private villas. Equally important are Palladio’s churches, which deal with the design of façades with an unprecedented rigor in the Renaissance by keeping the tectonic expression of columns and pilasters with their appropriate Vitruvian intercolumniations.
Portrait of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. 1756.
The Colosseum, etching, 1757.
The Arch of Trajan at Benevento, etching, 1748-1774.
By the eighteenth century, Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s etchings of Roman Antiquity fallen into ruin had sparked in the imagination of society a nostalgia for Ancient Rome’s grandeur. Like Palladio, Piranesi looked back to Antiquity, but with an attitude that reflected the changing times as the seeds of Modernism were sown in the Enlightenment. Society began the search for an architectural expression of its time while still looking back to tradition.
John Soane by Christopher William Hunneman in 1776.
John Bisbee – Brunswick – Welding Sculptor* “His Morality found expression in the integrity of his actions.” -Peter Korn
Authentic has always been the term I’ve preferred for Maine; a place where life is lived how it should be, connected to the land and what can be squeezed from it and its waters with hard work and bare hands. It is a land of fisherman, hunters, lumberjacks, farmers, artists, and craftsmen. It’s a world where farm to table isn’t a trend, but a way of life. Maine is authentic, because the rhythm of life is real and meaningful.
k Ray Murphy – Hancock – chainsaw Sculptor*
On a recent exploration of a bookstore in Camden I came across two books that spoke to me on this subject, one by Maine furniture maker, Peter Korn–WHY WE MAKE THINGS AND WHY IT MATTERS, The Education of a Craftsman and a coffee table book HANDCRAFTED MAINE by Katy Kelleher and Greta Rybus.
Peter Korn’s Center for Furniture Craftsmanship
Building a handmade canoe at the Salmon Falls Canoe shop in Shelburne, MA
Schooled to become a lawyer, Peter abandoned his father’s planned corporate path to find himself on Nantucket in an old abandoned barn making furniture in the early 1970’s, when the craft (like so many crafts) had all but disappeared. Peter discovered himself through the making of things. This was a real self-transformation- of body, and of spirit and mind.
Peter Korn’s desk, cherry, 1980 photo by Jim Dugan “…I see my career as a design process. It began with a brief to discover a good life…” -Peter Korn
Alec Brainerd – Brunswick – Artisan Boatworks*
Peter not only found the making of objects self-affirming, but as a cultural necessity. He saw craft as a societal and cultural memory made up of markers, for every time an object was created it passed an empirical knowledge through the object to the next generation of creators as a continuous conversation through history.
Tim Adams – Newcastle – Oxbow Beer*
Peter explores the notion that with the loss of craft, society has been left undernourished, constantly trying to fill the void of meaningless occupation with consumption. He equates the nature of work with the nature of a good life.
Masa Miyake – Portland – Meat farm – Restaurant – Produce Farm*
Swans Island Company – Northport – Blanket Weaving*
At one time, there was no distinction of importance in occupation; those who “made” provided for both themselves and their communities. In the 14th century the Renaissance separated the artist from the craftsmen—art from making—beauty from utility. This was known as the Cartisan Divide; a separation between mind & matter. This division placed the arts in the realm of the mind, and the “applied arts” became a lesser reflection of that of the body.
Italian renaissance · Deruta, 1500-1530. The Fitzwilliam Museum : Applied Arts Home
In the 18th C. we, as human fabers, graduated to the industrial age. The divide between those who lived by the making of quality, one-of-a-kind objects by hand, and of those who joined as minions in mass-producing factories, would become a cultural chasm that would consume our world.
Notre-Dame is one of the Paris, France most famous landmarks, drawing about 13 million visitors a year. Credit Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“Its underlying concept – that repeated rebuilding renders sanctuaries eternal – is unique in the world.” – on the festival of Sikinen Sengo ceremony
A copy of a 1478 drawing by Theodoros Pelecanos of an alchemical tract attributed to Synesius.
At the request of a friend I began reading Symbols and Allegories in Art by Matilde Battistini. Behind the introductory pages, the first symbol is easily recognizable but a curious one. At first glance it seems contradictory, if not absolutely futile, it is the symbol of Ouroboros — the snake that eats its own tail. In a time following tragedy, the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral, the allegory of Ouroboros reminds us of the importance of regenerating architecture that was beset by chaos.
First known representation of the ouroboros on one of the shrines enclosing the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun.
The self-eating serpent originated in Egyptian mythology and represented the yearly cycle – or a ring of time that runs its reverse once it had been completed – including the cycle of existence itself, however this theological concept was superseded by Christianity’s dogma of a linear timeline.
In hermetic alchemy, it symbolized the refining of materials or transition of one thing to another through nature’s underlying magical principles of exchange. During the Italian Renaissance, it became a prominent icon for nobility to engrave on the back of medallions in support of neo-paganism. For our purposes, it represents the cycle of progress and decline.
Architect and artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi illustrates the relationship between Ouroboros and architecture in his vignette titled, Work conquers all. Virgil, First Georgic. Here, Ouroboros rests on a wreath of feathers tied together by a ribbon at the bottom most point. Interweaving around him to create a sense of depth and frame are the tools of architects; the quill pen, charcoal pencil, paint brush, and protractor.
With his tools assembled, Piranesi speaks to virtue of hope within artists; with work all things are conquered. The cyclic nature of Ouroboros is set within the architect’s tools signifying the architect’s labor in respect to time. It seems to say, no good can be done nor harm undone but through steady labor.
Front and Side View of the Honden at the Ise Shrine. Published on October 5, 1933. History of the Japanese Architecture. Katsukichi Hattori.
To elect the labors of ‘regenerating’ architecture to preserve is exemplified by the traditional Japanese ceremony that takes place at the Ise Jingu Shrine. For nearly 2,000 years the local community of Mie Prefecture gathers every 20 years to both remove one shrine and rebuild another at the complex. The community performs this act out of a respect for the sacred site and communal camaraderie.
The recently reconstructed main hall of the Amaterasu Shrine at Is Jingu.
Kōtai-jingū (Naiku) at Ise city, Mie prefecture, Japan. April 2008. N yotarou.
It takes nearly eight years to prepare construction materials for the shrine, four for the timber alone. As one shrine is ceremoniously removed its location remains designated as a holy place and the cycle’s previously deconstructed shrine is rebuilt. It is a community effort with local citizens both crafting and carrying the materials to set them in place together.
CreditFrancois Mori/Associated Press
Earlier this week, the world received the horrible news of a fire that had consumed a majority of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. However, Europe is no stranger to reconstructing masterpieces after tragedy.
Great Fire Of London Painting by Philippe-Jacques De Loutherbourg. circa 1797.
In 1666, the bakery of Thomas Farynor caught on fire and grew into the Great Fire of London. It swept through the old Roman city wall, ignited the heart of the city, and cut off any escape from the Thames riverfront. Due to London’s narrow streets, the city’s panicked denizens, and the inefficient fire fighting techniques at the time, the fire destroyed a majority of the old city. In the fire’s aftermath, Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to redesign and reconstruct the city.
Temple of Neptune, Paestum, Italy. By Henri-Pierre-Francois Labrouste. 1828. From Ecole Nationale Superieure Des Beaux-Arts.
At a certain age, new expectations are set upon us by societal traditions to guide us from adolescents to adulthood. Different cultures have unique rituals such as the Amish Rumspringa, the Hispanic Quinceñera, the Jewish Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and the Japanese Seijin-no-Hi. Guided by an elder in society, the initiate is led through a ritual process that ends with his or her acceptance into the mature group.
Similarly, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the young English Aristocrats spurred on by the Age of Enlightenment underwent a journey throughout Europe known as the Grand Tour.
Grand Tour – historic map showing a possible route from England through France across the Alps and down into Italy (marked in red).
The journey’s ultimate destination was Italy, whose rich culture and history served as a capstone to the young aristocrat’s education. The wealthiest patrons would visit any combination of countries in between — Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Turkey, and Greece. According to the itinerary, the Tour could last upwards of six years and the average trip required a minimum of six months of traveling time between destinations.
View of the Palais d’Orléans (called Luxembourg) in Paris, ca. 1643, with the garden parterre designed by Jacques Boyceau visible behind the palace.
View of the south facade and the garden basin, Luxembourg Palace.
Garden facade of the Château of Versailles as built by Louis XIII, etched by Israel Silvestre. 1660-1664.
The Palace of Versailles circa 1668, as painted by Pierre Patel (Versailles Museum). The Grand Trianon, begun in 1670, is not depicted.
Beginning in Dover, England the caravan often made landfall in Calais, France, and headed toward Paris. The group, consisting of the young man or woman, the knowledgeable chaperone or “bear-leader,” and the accompanying band of servants; including cooks, hired artists, translators; sought to educate the young aristocrat. France was often the starting country of choice due to its close proximity to England and the fact that French was the language of diplomacy and nobility at the time.
Johann Baptist Lampi II, Portrait of Antonio Canova, after 1806.
Jacques Louis David The Oath of the Horatii, 1784.
The traveling company would stop at their destinations in between, often spending a couple of weeks in smaller towns and several months in major cities. They were in search of the origin of Western Civilization and as many of the cultural evolutions they could afford that took place along the way. As memoirs of their travels, the aristocrat often brought back statues, trinkets, historical artifacts, and commissioned paintings to adorn their home.
Piazza San Marco Looking East from the North-West Corner. 1758. Oil on canvas by Giovanni Antonio Canaletto.
I recently began reading a book by Lisa Jardine called “The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, The Man Who Measured London”. A largely forgotten figure, Hooke was an engineer, surveyor, architect and inventor. He is known for working with Christopher Wren to rebuild London after the great fire of 1666 and for publishing the important collection of his investigations with a microscope, “Micrographia”. An early member of the Royal Society of London, Hooke is not nearly as well known as the men he collaborated with–most famously, Sir Isaac Newton, with whom he had a long hostile rivalry.
Robert Hooke. Micrographia: or, Some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses. London, 1665
There is no known portrait of Hooke, but his image has been imagined by descriptions from friends.
Hooke was from the Isle of Wight and was inspired by the ocean, navigation, and by the host of minerals, fossils and resources he observed there. He was a sickly youth who was interested in everything about the natural world. From his early life of hard work and study through his success in mid-life and into his latter years marked by illness as well as intellectual disputes, his health problems plagued him his entire life.
Isle of Wight, where Robert Hooke was from
Hooke’s drawings of fossils from the Isle of Wight.
Often he would show his specimens in a circle to mimic the view through a microscope. Micrographia was very popular and the first scientific best seller, starting a general interest in the world of microbes and things that could be observed through a microscope.
For all of his accomplishments, Hooke is relegated to obscurity–and Jardine’s book explores how and why this happened. The famous architect Christopher Wren, who Jardine also wrote a biography of, was a friend and associate of Hooke’s. It was with Hooke that Wren worked to rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666 and it was Hooke who designed many of the buildings under Wren’s supervision. The combination of scientific observation and architecture is an interesting one, and is evident in Hooke’s design for the monument to the fire.
The Monument to the Great Fire–also an oversized scientific instrument.
Wren ultimately signed off on the final designs that Hooke created and, as fate would have it, it was Wren who was solely credited for the work. Architecture of the 17th century was a gentlemanly pursuit for well educated men and was often based on studying Vitruvius’ work De Architectura as well as other classics. Hooke even collaborated on the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral, coming up with the innovative dome design that is clearly influenced by his scientific studies.
They designed a remarkable amount of buildings around London, including the infamous St. Mary of Bethlehem, which over the years became known as “Bedlam.”