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....