SOme months back, I'd told Gruhn that I'd post the link to an institute in
California that teaches earth/ancient building techniques.
*Finally*, here it is:
It's the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture.
Meanwhile, things here got "interesting" (i.e. nuts); now we're in the
process of selling the house, moving to Houston, and getting a place to
live there. As well as the usual things plus a couple new activities (I
hate being bored).
So I have some massive catch-up reading to do here...!
Their institute is right up the freeway from me. I went there once to
check it out, pretty interesting stuff. They use sand bags built up in
arches and domes, along with a few other building techniques. I asked
if they needed a volunteer, and they gave me the whole run around and
wanted me to pay to work there or something (like a seminar of some
sort), so I said forget it.
I guess they figured you were wanting to learn without taking classes. I
think it'd be interesting.
The tough thing is that I like very much the rounded/organic feel of such
structures, but I also like a lot of modern things.
Ideally, I'd like to blend earth structures and materials with the modern
ones, the metal and glass/lexan. I have a vague, not really an image, more
like a spatial montage, of things I would like in a place, but I've no
training in art or design so I haven't been good with trying to bring it
all together and give it a form (i.e. create a 3D model).
But it's all so cool IMO, structures I mean. How things go together, how
the materials behave and look and interact with other materials, how
structures remain structures rather than heaps of rubble. It irritates me
so much that I stink at math, because it'd be really interesting to be able
to actually figure these things out as part of a design and structure.
Intuition and simple logic only go so far :( . ((I've tried time and time
again to actually elarn Calculus - I just barely passed bothsemesters in
University! - but I can't grasp it any better now than I could back then
OTOH, never thought about it before but maybe part of the appeal to me of
old techniques is that they *were* done via intuition and logic, meaning,
A question, I can understand *vector analysis* being
important structurally, but where would one need calculus
in architecture - aside from some sophisicated applications.
The structure Kris describes sounds like a load bearing
+direction of load force issue, don't see much need for a
I dunno, that's just what I've always been told, that you have to have a
lot of math to do architecture because, to do anything of any size, you
have to be able to calculate all the stresses and strains etc. on all the
I wasn't really describing a structure, just a brief ramble about "earth-
I wonder why, if it's itn't so? Maybe just people who don't know jack
pontificationg as tho', so to speak, they know jack AND jill AND spot...
AH-HA!! So that's the secret! Well, thinking about it (I mean, as a lay
person who doesn't know much), it makes sense, because of the degree of
specialization required. There are new materials, and new designs, and the
one skill (design) is more "right-brain" whereas the math is more left-
brain; very few people are equally both and even at that, I guess one does
have to develop and area of expertise lest one become a "jack of all trades
and master of none".
I met untold scores (at least half a dozen, total) of frosh who were in
architecture because some h.s. "guidance professional" said "gee, you like
to draw and you're good at math... you should go to architecture school."
Don blames the kids. I blame the grown-ups.
I think there's also a non-zero number of "You wanna be a what?! An Artist!
No kid of mine's gonna be a good for nothing pansy artist. Look, you're
going to architecture. At they build stuff."
The classes we took in statics were basic, though technical. The
professors would say we want you to know enough to know when something
will or will not work, or if it might not work, try to work it out
yourself, or give the engineers an idea of your special situation.
Makes sense, but it doesn't seem that ther were *a lot* of interim steps
between modest structures, and those soaring intricacies of stone and glass
and light. Some of these things will never cease to astound me (and also
delight ;) ) The main reason I'd like to get to Europe some time is that
I'd like to see Chartres and Westminster and so on - and on, and on... ;)
Not that I'm all that educated about the details and so on, but simply
because they are so amazing, all the more so because they rose up from
conditions that nowadays, would cause only despair and crime, NOT hope and
They're so amazing that I'm waiting for some numbnut to claim they were
built by extraterrestrials =8-O
You mean, whether they tried out someof the structures using timber first,
and then dismantled the models and used the timber elsewhere?
I never thought of that...it's intriguing and it *would* make sense. One
would think there would be some sort of historical record - well, maybe
Don't know which steps you are counting so it is hard to comment. BUT (and
I'm having a hard time getting pictures on the web to confirm my first
assertion) we'll go with the "it all started at St. Denis". And there, I
think you'll find the modest in full display - fairly solid walls, small
windows, low applied decoration. One of the big differences between modest
and full gonzo in a gothic cathedral is the realization and the boldness to
go through with that realization that the walls really really don't matter.
Then your big challenge is simply "how thin and how distant"? I wonder if /
suspect that a new larger intuition of force lines was brought about by the
Also re: "not long" - there was an immediate lot of building in The New
Style after the opening of St. Denis.
Some of the full gonzo appearance has little to do with structure and is
just the sculptural froufrou.
Not saying it wouldn't be interesting to get inside some of their heads and
see how they thought and when they knew and when they guessed.
I hear you there.
Sometimes being amazed is worth not being clinical.
Yeah. Cut blocks, make a sample vault... six foot tall.
I'd think elsewhere would be in the onsite smithy.
I'm just going by the very general (and probably very incomplete) summaries
I've seen in the few archetectural history books I've looked through...it's
as tho' some genius figured out the flying buttress and then WHAMMO!!!
Which is (it seems to me) actually counter-intuitive. When I see pictures
of the tall spires and the flying buttresses, my "instinctive feeling" is
that they surely cannot stand - but stand they do. no matter how often I
imagine them, I remain awed by the leap of pure genius, added in with the
incredible pigheadedness, and genius of its own kind, it would take to
carve all that stone, haul the things ever higher, fit them precisely into
place, and have the thing stand for hundreds and hundreds of years (barring
Talk about Master Builders, wow...
That's a large part of my own ponderings - to the best of my knowledge
(which admittedly ain't that extensive), nobody has ever founf anything
like the equivalent of modern blueprints, or math calculations.
So I sometimes wonder whether they were work of visual genius, beyond the
obvious (i.e. decoration), something like the savants who can do astounding
calculations in their hads, and often report that they "just picture the
numbers" - is thre some similar ability when it comes to intuiting the
physics of materials, lines of force, vectoring like intricate lacework
through the invisible air...?
((I'm also very interested in how the brain works, so this sort of question
always intrigues me greatly.))
That's the surprising part. It all jsut seemed to take off, and faster
than one would think horseback and plain old walking would allow.
It's not the appearance of that, which I'm picturing, tho' - it's those
almost needle-like columns shooting up, taking the weight of heavy shale or
lead or stone roofs, and the "walls" being frail curtains of glass looking
almost as though they're suspended in the air. Strip away the decoration,
and there is the Structure, the skeleton that is more than a skeleton, so
It's a funny thing, that. My degree is in science, so I did take chem and
physics and calc and so on, and I've always enjoyed reading up on science.
But to me, science isn't about taking the woner out of things - it's about
learning enough about the workings of things such that the wonder is
enhanced, not destroyed. I think that is the differnce between science,
and the sort of 'analysis' one often reads or hears, i.e. the mere shallow
recitation of facts and figures.
As with the INca stonework - thre are reasonable theories (and
demonstrations thereof) tht show how the stones could have been hewn and
then fit in place, but the wonder is not in the method, the wonder is in
that these things were conceived and done, and in the
mind/thoughts/'spirit' that drove the hands which drew the plans and worked
the stone. And created things of beauty that continue to make people catch
their breath, and will continue to do so for a very long time.
I wonder whether that question has been asked, and researched, in
archaeological or other academic circles? That oculd be an interesting
Hey, get a gov.t grant to go to Europe and poke around <LOL!>
((I'm sure Don will appreciate the "gov.t grant" notion....
.....I know, I'm evil <heh heh heh...> ))
I can't imagine a sudden lateral displacement of the base being ANY good for
St. Denis saw a lot of very important people from around Europe attend the
The walls only have to hold themselves up so imagine them gone with the
decoration. St. Chapelle is my favourite for this. It is small and late but
very true to form. Like to use it so say "Mies wasn't all that."
That's why I hate trying to watch the Olympics. Too much human interest crap
and not enough event. Same problem with too many photo books. It SAYS on the
cover that it's Turkestan but really it's two pictures of Turkestan and one
hundred of Turkestanians. Fuck the Turkestanians. As much as I hate the
genre, I've got to give some credit to the "Pictures of my gay junkie
friends in their underwear" people.
See, it's about the thing. I don't care how tortured Jackson Pollock was, I
don't care about the dynamism of the act of painting. Hung on a wall it
looks like crap.
I don't think I expressed what I meant well. I didn't mean the above.
Let me use an analogy. Back before I totally renounced Catholicism (and
one of the straws that broke the camel's back) an incident I remember very
clearly was that, in the little "lecture section" of one Mass, the priest
said that "even the greatest cathedrals should be razed to the ground,
rather than allowing them to be turned over to secular activities". I
remembered having read that Philip Johnson (an atheist) once said
siomething to the effect that being in one of them (I forgot which) almost
made him believe in god for a while.
What I mean by the "mind behind the thing" is like that - the thing becomes
the expression of the hand, i.e. the mind, and communicates at least
something of that - with great art, and great architecture, I think that,
even if someone comes along 3,000 years later, and knows nothing of the
maker or the then-culture, somethng, a feeling, an expression, however
wordless, comes through. ((FWIW one could argue that, if Pollak was milky
in the filbert, it certainly came through in what he did...))
What that priest blithered was to me, the act of seeing a work as merely a
thing - it is a church ergo it can only be used as such because that is
it's one and only valid existence. THat's what I mean by "thing-ness", by
seeing a work as merely a thing.
Others have said this much better, here and in other venues, but, IMO it is
true that artists (including architects) don't do art because they have
patrons; they find patrons so that they can do art (IOW get money to live,
but for at least some artists, "to live" and "to do art" are synonym,s,
because the musician cannot eliminate the music in the brain unless the
brain dies; the poet doesn't stop thinking poetry if he loses huis hands
and can no longer write; an architect is an architect even if he's born,
lives, and dies in some hinterland and has to use found materials and hand
tools - and so on). So, the church was the Patron of the cathedrals, but
the master builders, and the artisans and craftspeople, did not consider
their work to be a church and nothing more, a thing that ought to be
destroyed if it wasn't to be used as a church. I think they had additional
inspirations, and I think that they wanted tocreate something that would
inspire, that would make people's thoughts transcend the mundane.
In that sense, the cathedrals *are* more than 'just a church building'.
THey transcend the specific, ah, what's the word, dogmas? meanings?, of
the religion which provided the patrons who paid for them to be built.
So that's what I mean by, a thing being more than just a thing. Great
works are great because they give others a glimpse into the transcendant.
Not all creative work is great, and not every scribble is art. I don't
personally consider Pollak's stuff "art" because it's self-important, self-
conscious, and essentially mundane. Like Warhol's soup can. Affectatious.
Like nouveau rich types who speak with fake English accents and then act
like they're ever-so-clever if they self-reference their own affectation.
I hope that's more clear, tho' I suspect it is not =:-(
You should look up a book called Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet.
It is a work of fiction, but some of the descriptions of the
building/designing of cathedrals are pretty interesting. Including the
trials and tribulations of making the building stand up.
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