02 October 2009

college park : let loose

today in hss105, i turned the students loose to do a comparison of the college park neighborhood based on our group assessment of college hill. after the experience of a two week settling into period in the college hill neighborhood, it is my hope that the students will find much to discuss in their presentations on 6 october.

01 October 2009

125 presentations : images of empire

for this whole week in hss125, students have been delivering their topics to their peers for assessment and sharing. certainly every individual did well, and there will be a follow up post or two linking to their work....if i can get that work completed. i may come back and offer some commentary here after i've put some thoughts together for them.

29 September 2009

the industrial complex

today in hss105, the students and i pushed out of college hill into the industrial area to the south and east of this neighborhood. our steps took us to the wafco mill complex at mcgee and cedar streets, across cedar to fulton and under the overpass onto lee street. the loop closed by crossing back through the tate street overpass to campus. students noticed the lack of care and concern in maintenance along fulton, speculating about both the presence of homeless people here as well as the "behind the scenes" feeling of the place.

on the corner of lee and fulton streets, new apartments have taken over the former industrial sites and, before that single family residences along the street. there is also a sharp contract with the feeling of wafco mills complex, which seems more a part of the fabric of the neighborhood.

lee street feels very different than the neighborhood proper. along this thoroughfare, there seem to be four categories of building:
[1] the residential dwellings dating from the latter nineteenth century into the twentieth
[2] the industrial buildings that largely replaced them and shifted the vision of the landscape
[3] other store front buildings that provided a retail presence along the thoroughfare
[4] larger-scale apartment complexes constructed in the last several years (lee street/fulton = the largest)

25 September 2009

america guided by wisdom


in hss125 today, i presented "visualizing empire," a presentation that the wonderful kim martin and i did for a conference three years ago. using genre painting, we frmed architecture as a trope within the works to help understand notions of eastern-ness and western-ness in the early republic....with polarities between civilized and wilderness, order and chaos, etc. students seemed most to resonate with thomas cole's "course of empire" series....moving from the "savage state" to the "pastoral or arcadian state" to the "consummation of empire" to "destruction" and finally to "desolation." with each of these works in a series, cole depicts a cyclical view of the world, periodizing history and tending to compartmentalize each state into a discrete phase through which each civilization passes (reference here the later work of frederick jackson turner and the advance of the american frontier). the point of the presentation, though, is the blended landscapes with elements of the two visions of the world...not either/or but both/and.

24 September 2009

side streets + back alleys

in hss105 today, we walked the side streets and back alleys of the college hill neighborhood to see if these streets actually represent microcosms of the larger neighborhood order....or whether they are something wholly different. at first glance, both rankin and carr streets seemingly represent the larger neighborhood....as does joyner. the alleys are more instructive where trash cans, sewer grates, fences, and other peripheral uses help inform the messiness of the general neighborhood hidden from every day view.


we also looked at changing uses for buildings....post office to a printing company....methodist church additions.....bank building to a police station....grocery to convenience store....movie theatre to a bookstore....what was one a mini-city with a commercial area that served more than a narrow population of students has over two decades transformed into what clay calls a strip. some of this has to do with the lack of diversity in what stands as the commercial core.

17 September 2009

presentation workshop : the oil lamp example


as students conclude the first segment of hss125, they will be analyzing a series of artifacts from the period 1750-1850. today in class, we worked together using an oil lamp and created a presentation to help them see that visual media can actually WORK WITH the topic to help underscore central themes and issues. by developing a three point outline, students reinforced salient concepts using this example...and will thus turn their attention to their own specific projects.

here's what we dreamed up:



lower/upper parts


pyramid/light bulb

erotic shape

hourglass shape/waist

knob/catch fingers

clear glass material

transparency/see oil


provide light

cold/hot to the touch


parlor…idea of darkness


compare/contrast to other oil lamps

whale oil industry

sperm whales killed in great quantity

pacific ocean focused

pass out of fashion/sustainability


and from there, we drew up slides and worked up some visuals...i've put together a demonstration slide that looks like this...

and here's the whiteboard in the room with some of our scribbles on it...

not bad for less than an hour's brainstorm.

the mendenhall muddle

the idea of infilling, central to today's (wet + rainy) class, informed our discussion in hss105. as we de-constructed the landscape along mendenhall street, students had the opportunity to use sanborn fire insurance maps to see changes along the thoroughfare in the early twentieth century. here are a couple of images from the handout.
as suggested within the handout, students thought about architectural style, their previous travels along tate street, and some additional ideas about the changing face of the neighborhood over the decades as buildings were built, some demolished, and new ones infilled.

16 September 2009

the great revolutionary object round up

the u.s.s. constitution
slave shackles
the liberty bell
mt. vernon
a federal-style fireplace surround
the franklin printing press
moveable parts from both a gun + a gin
the ocracoke lighthouse

what do these things have in common? they represent objects selected by students and vetted by peers for material analysis in the hss125. stay tuned for the results of this work.

the INFAMOUS neighborhood survey

so much of my work as a teller of stories relies on that of others. in architectural history and historic preservation, field work is key to understanding the built world around us. in hss105 yesterday, students took to the streets with a form i crafted to look at residential buildings along tate street. we counted everyday things along the streetscape...porches, shutters, doors, the presence of wood screen windows or aluminum storms, and the materials from which the dwellings were fabricated, etc. here's the form we used...

and here are the students using the forms along tate street...
and here are a few results recorded in my sketchbook...

even through this simple process, it's interesting to note what one learns by stopping, moving slowly, looking at the world around....and, oh yeah, maybe counting.

12 September 2009

grids + diagonals

i was struck, particularly today, that the notion of shaping space, whether one looks at the historical record and the ideas pierre l'enfant penned for washington, or the seemingly haphazard plan for the campus of the university, that several universal principles hold. it seems that the strong idea of a grid can be seen in both physical environments....but in shaping the quad, clearly its designers harkened back to jefferson's sense of space and place as he developed the lawn at the university if virginia. interestingly, jefferson also proposed a similar organization for the plan of the capital city, but that plan didn't come to fruition. what ISN'T built is almost as important as what IS.

in uncg news, the quad was spared from demolition, thus preserving this important character-defining place within our university community. check out the news story.

wrapping up with clay vocabulary

as we finished visiting the campus today in hss105, we headed from the monolithic, modern library tower to the quad, peabody park, the business building, along spring garden to the moore humanities and research administration building, concluding our brisk walk + talk at the gatewood building. students took a CLOSE look at the library tower in this next image...
...now THAT's encountering architecture first hand!

11 September 2009

it's all latin to me...

in hss125, our explorations continued with visual evidence from the early and middling days of the republic. we endeavored to look at the great seal of the united states and the various mottoes and imprints there, as well as the images. check out much information on the topic of the seal at greatseal.com, where you'll also read the fascinating history of the decision to place the seal on the back side of the dollar bill in 1935, at the height of the depression. all of this conversation reminded me of the 1997 book, THE WORDS WE LIVE BY: THE CREEDS, MOTTOES, AND PLEDGES THAT SHAPED AMERICA by brian burrell. have a look.

rounding the bend with clay

the students of hss105, gazing upward in the elliott university center entranceway.

today in hss105, we visited three buildings and worked hard to determine the centers in each of them. this exercise continues the larger conversation we're having about centers and edges....and the essential lesson is this: what is true for the "mini-city" of the campus is also true at the building level....thus clay's vocabulary can be tapped and adapted to the building scale...and likely to a room within the building scale. another classic text that sheds light on this basic IMAGEABILITY + LEGIBILITY of a city is kevin lynch's IMAGE OF THE CITY (1960). lynch's work is reviewed on the mobile city blog. worth perusing.

04 September 2009


among the most significant edges on campus, the rail line on the south side of the "mini-city" clearly distinguishes us from the properties that face lee street. we were lucky enough that a train came rumbling by to reinforce the sense that sometimes noise is an indicator of where edges and stacks lie, according to clay's terminology. i have to say some of my most favorite moments on campus lie at its edges.

02 September 2009

tea party!

in "the tea party," painter henry sargent sets the theatrical scene through light and dramatic color, outfitting the work with greek revival furnishings and fine interior appointments, all a testimony to the burgeoning material culture of the early nineteenth century. in sargent's work, he investigates themes about who is included in and excluded from the social discourse of the party, where he mixes male and female figures in fine dress standing as genteel and fashionable images in the new republic. i posit that we understand the american landscape and its populace as symbolized in the boston interior he depicts. check out the image at the boston museum of fine arts: http://www.mfa.org/collections/search_art.asp?recview=true&id=31744

themes about center + periphery continued the day in hss125, where we investigated a tea cup + a punch bowl, all in the context of "the tea party," a genre painting by henry sargent (boston, 1823). discussion centered around the ideas of space, style, and form in sargent's work, resonating from student forays into jules prown's three-step material culture analysis. themes that this painting gave rise to: worldliness, centrality/periphery, comfort, social discourse...belonging, gentility, refinement, and identity. as hss125 is an investigation of american empires, we elucidated these themes as a way of better illuminating gordon wood's "radicalism" of the post-revolutionary decades.

center + periphery

september 1st brought the realization that school REALLY is underway! in hss105, we walked from the east edge of campus (tate street) to the north side of campus (market street), taking in the architecture along the way and speculating about meanings hidden and not-so-hidden in buildings. following grady clay's method for looking at the city, the students in class searched for fixes, district, fronts, strips, and beats. on thursday, they'll attempt to synthesize all of the efforts at analysis for the uncg campus. you can follow their efforts through the semester by the series of links on the right hand side of the blog. my initial foray is contained here, a page from my sketchbook.

one of the most obvious things about our walk was to understand the center of campus (as it happens...where walker avenue WOULD have crossed college avenue)....a spot between the library and the newer wing of the stone building, marked by the two porticoes of these buildings facing each other across the campus lawn. the specific spot is marked by a circle on college avenue. lots of alignment there....

on the periphery, students saw the "edges" of campus (what clay calls fronts)...and their advancement into the residential college hill neighborhood to the east. on thursday, we continue our exploration of edges....

28 August 2009

and the pursuit of happiness

in light of the hss125 discussion about american attitudes towards others, i thought this great illustrated essay by maira kalman "i lift my lamp beside the golden door" apropos for the week. the photo above is from her blog...and her drawings are quite terrific. enjoy!


27 August 2009

american empires unfolds

on tuesday in hss125, we considered jasper johns "flag" of the mid-century as an iconic image that, when looked at quite closely, reveals many layers of messages. this led to a greater discussion today about issues of american identity and some challenges that we have as a nation and our place in the world. at the core of this discussion, students read (and spoke well) from gordon wood's "radicalism of the american revolution." in this work, as students recounted, wood structures a series of evidence to suggest that the forces unleashed by the american revolution (and some consequences that resulted) emerged in the decades following the revolution in the early nineteenth century. students characterized a most interesting aspect of the debate as one that revolves around balancing individual freedom with social responsibility. not bad for the second day of class! see the students i am working with in their own "empire" on the handout below.

for his work, wood won the 1993 pulitzer prize for history....which got me thinking about other pulitzer prize history book winners...http://www.pulitzer.org/bycat/History

de-constructing foust

this morning, students in the hss105 course dissected and speculated about the foust building as visual evidence for values of the university. their first efforts at "reading" using the classroom of the campus yielded some salient observations about buildings and the language that we all use to talk about them. here they complete the "thick description" exercise (with a nod to clifford geertz) before we began our class discussion.

the building that represented the target for our analysis: foust (originally the administration building on campus), built at the end of the nineteenth century. above, my drawing that represents my "thick description" for the morning.

here's a terrific ca. 1905 image of foust all "flagged up," with the two towers marking the center of the structure. horizontals and verticals balance here as surface decoration, and the massive front facade, facing spring garden avenue, suggest the importance of the building in the community landscape. to respond to the observation of the student who indicated that foust "looked so different," consider the following additional historic image of the building (ca. 1900) and its built environment context. looks to be the only survivor...

the latter two images posted here are part of a neat digital exhibition on postcards by the university archives and manuscripts division of the uncg walter jackson clinton library. you can see the display, Postcards from the University, in its entirety online.

25 August 2009

the semester begins

today, i begin my journey as a chancellor's resident fellow for the lloyd international honors college at the university of north carolina at greensboro. i am teaching three seminar classes...the first entitled "you are your own gpu" which meets this morning, the second "visualizing american empire" gathers for the first time this afternoon.

in the gpu course, we'll be looking at local greensboro sites physically and then considering, through digital means, the same or similar sites across the globe. my thesis for this course is that despite the overwhelming amount of information literally at our fingertips, we know less about ourselves and who we are than ever before.

in the empire course, we'll consider the visual evidence of art, architecture, and media images as a way to look at the american empire at some critical junctures in the history of the nation. my central idea about this course is that our sense of "american-ness" is a much more complicated enterprise than relying on key iconic images of the nation to define us all.

in the third course, one of six sections for all first year honors students at the university, i'll help guide students in getting to know their campus -- and each other -- through attendance at arts and theatre performances, and through a common read of "enrique's journey" along with innumerable other explorations.

13 February 2009

and onto rome

as we concluded class this week, we had made our way in the FOUNDATIONS unit and learned that rome, in terms of architecture and design speaks a language of SURFACE on an innovative system of STRUCTURE made possible by the use of CONCRETE. as we contemplated two specific buildings (the coloseum and the pantheon), it occurred to me the importance of thinking about the impact of these buildings in the city in which they sat. rome, as the seat of the roman empire, received the largest of the public buildings built in the republic, among them the coloseum. so in terms of SCALE, this large structure suggests that SIZE does indeed matter. as a roman citizen, to see the interior of the sumptuous pantheon with its seven altars and its incredibly rich surface decoration must have been an amazing treat, in light of the fact that not many buildings were quite so public nor quite so opulent. in this instance, the SURFACE treatment reifies the COSMOLOGY of rome in physical form, making the concept of the universe a physical one, re-SCALED to the roman landscape in the city. alongside this more lofty exercise, you learned about the base motivations for some emporers and leaders in roman society in both triumphal columns + arches...a subject ripe with gendered and sexual overtones. look for wu-wus...they ARE all around you.

11 February 2009

atop the acropolis

the collection of buildings at the acme of the athenian landscape suggest the quest for perfection by the greeks...in the development of the parthenon itself as an idealized building, and in the population of the acropolis with other buildings less perfect than the ideal -- the pastiche of the erecthion, the turning the grecian temple inside out at the propylaia, and the diminutive scale of the temple to athena nike. all four of these buildings speak in loud volume about the idea of PROTOTYPE : ARCHETYPE : HYBRID in architecture and design. as you consider buildings in the current landscape or artifacts within interiors, speculate about how each might represent a PROTOYPE based on an ARCHETYPE...or if perhaps the building or artifact captures a snapshot of the design process concretized into physical form as a HYBRID. also consider the importance of language, both architectural and written, in bringing shape to these ideas.

proto- : first in time, earliest
arche- : an ideal
-type : classified artifact or building
hybrid : containing mixed elements or different languages
akros : highest
polis : city

if the acropolis is the HIGHEST CITY and contains the ARCHETYPE as well as significant PROTOTYPES and HYBRIDS, what is the implication for the rest of greece in emulating these works....or perhaps ignoring them?

08 February 2009

greece : landscape

i find the relationship between building and landscape to be the chief difference between early greek structures and the previous architecture we have studied in egypt + mesopotamia. it seems that the greeks understood the foil a building provided to the mountainous landscape of the peninsula. by contrast, the light colored buildings of stone stood out against the verdant land around. in this way, the designers and builders of the many temples of greece understood the power of an interlocking relationship between their buildings + the environment.


Inner Court : Palace, Phylos, ca. 1400-1300BC


Temple Court : Palace of Knossos, Crete, ca.1700-1400 BC


Lion's Gate, The Citadel at Mycenae, ca. 1400-1200BC

06 February 2009

continuity : change

this week, we explored the embryos of many building building forms and elements that resulted from egyptian as well as minoan and mycenean architecture and design: post and lintel construction [columns], the megaron [porch : court : hearth], the tympanum [triangular panel above a lintel]; and the stool [the most common of furniture forms in egypt]. because all of these forms and elements are with us today, it's clear that we can trace their lineage back in time...what's not yet clear is the continuities and changes that those very forms represent as we move from greece, to rome, and the other "ancient" civilizations, and then on to medieval, renaissance, and modern time periods and expressions. using these embryos as rulers or guidelines for our study, then, seems most appropriate as we continue to uncover ideologies embedded within artifacts, spaces, buildings, and places this semester.

30 January 2009

circles + squares

much of our discussion this week in the history + theory course related to humanity's first efforts toward placing habitations + structures on the surface of the earth. far more than simply providing shelter, environmental theory suggests that these first attempts to come to terms with nature carry significant meaning. from the perspective of material culture, barthes would suggest that all of these human-shaped artifacts serve as signs for humans to bring order out of the chaos. at stonehenge, i speculate about humanity's reverence for the unknown and the possibility of meanings for the structure.

23 January 2009

the opus begins

the two-page handout to describe the opus project. funny that what one writes will be interpreted in so many ways.

as the semester has gotten underway, i return to my roots as i do each spring with first year students in our interior architecture program as we undertake a study of the building arts through time. this year, working with suzanne cabrera and stoel burrowes, fellow first-year teaching faculty, we established the opus project as a sort of reporting system for all four of the classes students take as first year students – studio, history + theory, drawing, and graphics. the goal of the single reporting system represents our collected and concerted efforts to reach across the boundaries of each course to find the common ground. students each keep a physical journal with notes from all the classes and then report the “best of the best” online at their blog sites. i, too, find myself carrying a journal, attempting to document if our time together transforms during the semester as the result of this project. it’s good to be drawing along with my students…i think we all forget how much drawing slows you down and gets you to really consider something from many perspectives. besides a sketch book is certainly a people magnet. if you are sitting in a coffee shop, in a meeting, in your office drawing in a sketchbook, people surreptitiously offer a sideways glance, an earnest peak over the shoulder, or more often than not a conversation about something they see in your work. not a bad thing, all in all, just makes it all a little more public.

and speaking of that…there’s this blog which i am attempting to address weekly as part diary on the project and part teaching journal and to put the opus project work out in a public forum. as part of our goals as educators, we share information with others…and this form of dialogue research suggests an alternative for sharing that is made easy by the blog world. i have many questions about the outcomes of all this, but for the moment, i am diving in with the best of intentions. let’s see how long it lasts.

one last thing for context…in the history + theory class, i have shifted to a one-semester chronology. my sidekick and super teaching assistant, gwen mckinney, and i have retooled the material we have learned and amassed over the last several years that she has been with me, streamlining and extracting the most salient kernels for distribution. it’s good testing ground, i think, for precision in class and out, but i must admit that it’s very scary to try all of these new things at once…but life is not fully lived unless it is lived to the hilt. and so it begins…