Wednesday, June 19, 2013

No one else read them, and you don't have to, either

June 19, 2013

Some books get read, but many don't; when I had a set of Herbert Spencer for sale, I noted that it was probably bound in the early 20th century, and never read through about 4 generations of the family that owned it.  How do I know?  It was printed in octavo (Wikipedia explains this better than I) which means that each sheet of paper that gets run through the press has 8 pages on a side (so 16 when you count both sides).  You fold the sheet 3 times the right way, then get a bunch of them-they are called "gatherings" or "signatures"-together and sew them up into a text block which then gets bound.  Here is the thing about folding up that big sheet:  when you have done that, and you can try it yourself, you end up with two folds that need to be cut, or "opened," on the fore edge of the last 4 sheets of each gathering.  In this set of 18 volumes (I only had 17), not a single gathering had the fore edges opened.  So the first owner had it for the right reason. The books looked good on the shelf.  You didn't need or want to read them; they were there for decoration.  O.K. by me; there is a good market for fine bindings, and you can poke around ABE or other sites and find sets with high prices.

There are other ways to use books, and I try to collect examples.  Here are a couple from a catalogue of women's clothing and accessories, and I couldn't resist.  It used to be that sex sells, but in this case it's the books that sell the other stuff.  Incidentally, you might recognize the book under the shoe.  Peter Bamm was the pen name for Curt Emmrich, a German physician and journalist who served as a surgeon on the Russian front in World War II.  I have a copy at home; Die Unsichtbare Flagge took about 3 readings because of my mediocre German comprehension. Don't worry; it improved as I persevered.

This photo is from the same catalogue, and it looks good.  I hope they sold some shoes and dresses.  Ah!  There it is; Fossil!  Don't you like the horizontals of the books setting off the legs?  What would you rather look at? Not the books, that's for sure.  Now to get out of the corner into which I have painted myself.  Books that look good, or books that make other things look good?  I guess you can do anything you want with them.  Just go out and buy some.  Books, I mean.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hoby Wagener and Thin Shells in Boulder

June 15, 2013.

First United Methodist Church

If you like to look at buildings, especially ones from the 1950s and 1960s, you may be familiar with what engineers and architects call thin shells.  As a rule the term applies to roofs-of concrete usually-that are much thinner that you think they would need to be.  The idea is that the shape of the roof, and some internal reinforcements, are what hold it up.  Originally conceived in the 1930s in Germany, they were popularized by the Spanish engineer Felix Candela in the late '40s and '50s.  

Casey Middle School

There are some examples in Boulder,  coming from one of our most prolific architects, Hobart Wagener. You have seen some of his more prominent projects, such as the Williams Village Residence Halls, Fairview High, the Kittredge Complex just north of Baseline, and the additions to the Boulder County Courthouse.

Fire Station #2
Wagener loved roofs and experimented with them all the time, so it is not surprising that he took an interest in thin shells early in his Boulder career.  I suspect that his interest may developed from a meeting with Milo Ketchum, who in 1953 did the engineering studies for trusses in a small Wagener-designed house built on Boggess Circle in Chautauqua Park.  

The most spectacular of these roofs was probably the series of four-gabled hyperbolic paraboloid bays over the addition to the First United Methodist Church at 13th and Spruce.  He used the same kind of roof, in concrete, on a personal residence, and wood versions for Boulder Fire Station #2, at Baseline and Broadway, as well as the side extensions on the Wesley Chapel, across Folsom from C.U.

Casey during demolition

Folded plates, in this case "Z" plates, were used to span the space across the cafeteria and gym at Casey Middle School; a distance of about 127 feet from front to back.  They are gone now, but photos taken during the demolition show how daring this design looks.

Community Plaza
For two commercial projects, Wagener chose to mimic thin shells; the roofs are built conventionally, but they look like they aren't.  Both are shopping centers on north Broadway at Alpine:  The Community Plaza Shopping Center, with what looks like a barrel roof, and the North Broadway Shopping Center, to the north, with what appear to be folded plates.

North Broadway Shopping Center
The curved roofs of the Community Plaza are actually T-beams, and the wooden roof of North Broadway are held up with conventional vertical supports and walls.

It seems to me that for Wagener, the roof was the starting point around which the rest of a building's design revolved.  While it provided a connection to the sky, it also could be used to organize the interior spaces, where life was lived.  His use of thin shells lasted only about a decade, but it played a useful role in the development of his architectural ideas.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

76 Historic Homes of Boulder, Colorado. Signed by the author and photographer. $28.00

June 13, 2013:

This is the first of hopefully many entries on either books or buildings-or both-in Boulder, Colorado.  Buildings have stories, and so do books, and often those stories are intertwined.  The buildings are local, but they often have relationships to other times and places, and books are usually from other places, but they sometimes have local significance because of who owned them and used them here.

1976 was Colorado's centennial anniversary, and I bet the reason for the title of my first project has that number in the title; Jane Barker's 76 Historic Homes of Boulder, Colorado.  This is what it looks like in the dustjacket:

Barker had a good eye and told engaging stories; her accounts of the houses she picked are full of biographical details not only of the first owners, but of later ones as well.  

Dates of construction range from the late 19th century through about 1936, with a couple of the houses designed by Glenn Huntington and Margaret Read.  She missed some things, notably the bungalows by Edwin Lundborg, but we all have our vision, which is always changing.

A separate sheet came with the book; a list of all the houses, but without their addresses or dates of construction.  But there is a folding map in the back showing locations.  So you can give yourself a walking tour.  Have a good time with it!  You can do it with our copy if you wish; it is next to Barker's book on Historic Homes of Boulder County, at our shop in Lafayette.