Street Art for Book Lovers: Dutch Artists Paint Massive Bookcase Mural on the Side of a Building

Bookcases are a great ice breaker for those who love to read.

What relief those shelves offer ill-at ease partygoers... even when you don't know a soul in the room, there’s always a chance you’ll bond with a fellow guest over one of your hosts’ titles.

Occupy yourself with a good browse whilst waiting for someone to take the bait.

Now, with the aid of Dutch street artists Jan Is De Man and Deef Feed, some residents of Utrecht have turned their bookcases into street art, sparking conversation in their culturally diverse neighborhood.

De Man, whose close friends occupy the ground floor of a building on the corner of Mimosastraat and Amsterdam, had initially planned to render a giant smiley face on an exterior wall as a public morale booster, but the shape of the three-story structure suggested something a bit more literary.

The trompe-l'oeil Boekenkast (or bookcase) took a week to create, and features titles in eight different languages.

Look closely and you’ll notice both artists’ names (and a smiley face) lurking among the spines.

Design mags may make an impression by ordering books according to size and color, but this communal 2-D boekenkast looks to belong to an avid and omnivorous reader.

Some English titles that caught our eye:

Sapiens

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Keith Richards’ autobiography Life

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime 

Pride and Prejudice

The Little Prince

The World According to Garp

Jumper

And a classy-looking hardbound Playboy collection that may or may not exist in real life.

(Readers, can you spot the other fakes?)

Boekenkast is the latest of a number of global bookshelf murals tempting literary pilgrims to take a selfie on the way to the local indie bookshop.

via Bored Panda

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this May for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How Venice Works: 124 Islands, 183 Canals & 438 Bridges

3,000,000 tourists move through Venice each year. But when the tourists leave the city, 60,000 year-round residents stay behind, continuing their daily lives, which requires navigating an archipelago made up of 124 islands, 183 canals and 438 bridges. How this complicated city works – how the buildings are defended from water, how the buildings stand on unsteady ground, how the Venetians navigate this maze of a city – is a pretty fascinating story. These techniques have been worked out over Venice's 1500 year history, and now they're explored in a captivating 17 minute video produced by a Venetian government agency. You can learn more about the inner life of this great city at Venice Backstage.

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How Digital Scans of Notre Dame Can Help Architects Rebuild the Burned Cathedral

“Everyone helplessly watching something beautiful burn is 2019 in a nutshell,” wrote TV critic Ryan McGee on Twitter the day a significant portion of Notre Dame burned to the ground. He might have included 2018 in his metaphor, when Brazil’s National Museum was totally destroyed by fire. Before the Parisian monument caught flame, people watched helplessly as historic black churches burned in the U.S., and while the museum and cathedral fire were not the direct result of evil intent, in all of these events we witnessed the loss of sanctuaries, a word with both a religious meaning and a secular one, as columnist Jarvis DeBerry points out.

Sanctuaries are places where people, priceless artifacts, and knowledge should be “safe and protected,” supposedly institutional bulwarks against disorder and violence. They are both havens and potent symbols—and they are also physical spaces that can be rebuilt, if not replaced.

And 21st-century technology has made their rebuilding a far more collaborative and more precise affair. The reconstruction of churches in Louisiana can be funded through social media. The contents of the National Museum of Brazil can be recollected, virtually at least, through crowdsourcing and digital archives.

And the ravaged wood frame, roof, and spire of Notre Dame can be rebuilt, though never replaced, not only with millions in funding from Apple and fashion’s biggest houses, but with an exact 3D digital scan of the cathedral made in 2015 by Vassar art historian Andrew Tallon, who passed away last year from brain cancer. In the video at the top, see Tallon, then a professor at Vassar, describe his process, one driven by a lifelong passion for Gothic architecture, and especially for Notre Dame. A “former composer, would-be monk, and self-described gearhead,” wrote National Geographic in a 2015 profile of his work, Tallon brought a unique sensibility to the project.

His fascination with the spaces of Gothic cathedrals began with an investigation into their acoustic properties. He developed the idea of using laser scanners to create a digital replica of Notre Dame after studying at Columbia under art historian Stephen Murray, who tried and failed in 2001 to make a laser scan of a cathedral north of Paris. Fourteen years later, the technology finally caught up with the idea, which Tallon also improved on by attempting to reconstruct not only the structure, but also the methods the builders used to build it yet did not record in writing.

By examining how the cathedral moved when its foundations shifted or how it heated up or cooled down, Tallon could reveal “its original design and the choices that the master builder had to make when construction didn't go as planned.” He took scans from “more than 50 locations around the cathedral—collecting more than one billion points of data.” All of the scans were knit together “to make them manageable and beautiful.” They are accurate to the millimeter, and as Wired reports, “architects now hope that Tallon’s scans may provide a map for keeping on track whatever rebuilding will have to take place.”

To learn even more about Tallon’s meticulous process than he reveals in the National Geographic video at the top, read his paper “Divining Proportions in the Information Age” in the open access journal Architectural Histories. We may not typically think of the digital world as much of a sanctuary, and maybe for good reason, but Tallon’s masterwork poignantly shows the importance of using its tools to record, document, and, if necessary, reconstruct the real-life spaces that meet our definitions of the term.

via the MIT Technology Review

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Virtual Time-Lapse Recreation of the Building of Notre Dame (1160)

Hundreds of gothic cathedrals dotted all over Europe have faced decimation and destruction, whether through sackings, revolutions, natural decay, or bombing raids. But since World War II, at least, the most extraordinary examples that remain have seen restoration and constant upkeep, and none of them is as well-known and as culturally and architecturally significant as Paris’s Notre Dame. One cannot imagine the city without it, which made the scenes of Parisians watching the cathedral burn yesterday as poignant as the scenes of the fire itself.

The flames claimed the rib-vaulted roof and the “spine-tingling, soul-lifting spire,” writes The Washington Post, who quote cathedral spokeman Andre Finot’s assessment of the damage as “colossal.” The exterior stone towers, famed stained-glass windows, and iconic arches and flying buttresses withstood the disaster, but the wooden interior, “a marvel,” writes the Post, “that has inspired awe and wonder for the millions who have visited over the centuries—has been gutted.” Nothing of the frame, says Finot, “will remain."

The sad irony is that the fire reportedly resulted from an accident during the medieval church’s renovation, one of many such projects that have preserved this almost 900-year-old architecture. The French government has vowed to rebuild. Will it matter to posterity that a significant portion of the Cathedral dates from hundreds of years after its original construction? Will Notre Dame lose its ancient aura, and what does this mean for Parisians and the world?

It’s too soon to answer questions like these and too soon to ask them. Now is a time to reckon with cultural and historical loss, and to appreciate the importance of what was saved. At the top of the post, you can watch a virtual time-lapse recreation of the construction of Notre Dame, begun in 1160 and mostly completed one hundred years later, though building continued into the 14th century—a jaw-dropping time scale in an era when towering new buildings go up in a matter of weeks.

After taking more than the human lifespan to complete, until yesterday the cathedral stood the test of time, as the brief France in Focus tour of its eight centuries of art and architectural history above explains. “The most visited monument in the French Capital” may be a relic of a very different, pre-modern, pre-revolutionary, France. But its imposing central setting in the city, and in modern works from Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame to Walt Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame—not to mention the tourists, religious pilgrims, scholars, and art students who pour into Paris to see it—mark Notre Dame as a very contemporary landmark. Learn more about how it became so above.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Notre Dame Captured in an Early Photograph, 1838

According to Le Monde, the fire that ravaged Notre Dame is now mercifully under control. Two thirds of the roof--and that beautiful spire--have been badly damaged. The same likely goes for some precious stained glass. But the two towers still stand tall. And the structure of the cathedral has been "saved and preserved overall," reports the commander of Paris' firefighting brigade.

The photo above, taken by Louis Daguerre in 1838, helps pay visual tribute to Emmanuel Macron's words tonight, “This history is ours... I say to you very solemnly, this cathedral, we will rebuild it.” Godspeed.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Beauty of Brutalist Architecture: An Introduction in Six Videos

Some people hate the massive concrete buildings known as Brutalist, but they at least approve of the style's name, resonant as it seemingly is with associations of insensitive, anti-humanist bullying. Those who love Brutalism also approve of the style's name, but for a different reason: they know it comes from the French béton brut, referring to raw concrete, that material most generously used in Brutalist buildings' construction. We've all seen Brutalist architecture, massively embodied by Boston City Hall, London's Barbican Centre, UC Berkeley's Wurster Hall, the University of Toronto's Robarts Library, FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., or any other of the examples that have stood since the style's 1960s and 70s heyday. But now, as more get slated for demolition each year, it has fallen to Brutalism's enthusiasts to defend an architecture easily seen as indefensible.

The aesthetic of Brutalism, says host Roman Mars in an episode of the podcast 99% Invisible on the style, "can conjure up associations with bomb shelters, Soviet-era or 'third-world' construction, but as harsh as it looks, concrete is an utterly optimistic building material." In the 1920s "concrete was seen as being the material that would change the world. The material seemed boundless — readily available in vast quantities, and concrete sprang up everywhere — on bridges, tunnels, highways, sidewalks, and of course, massive buildings."

It "presented the most efficient way to house huge numbers of people, and government programs all over the world loved it — particularly Soviet Russia, but also later in Europe and North America." Philosophically, "concrete was seen as humble, capable, and honest—exposed in all its rough glory, not hiding behind any paint or layers."

However noble the intentions behind these works of architecture, though, it didn't take humanity long to turn on Brutalism. Part of the problem had to do with the disrepair into which many of the highest-profile Brutalist buildings — social housing complexes, transit centers, government offices — were allowed to fall immediately after the ideologies that drove their construction passed out of favor. But Brutalism also fell victim to a predictable cycle of fashion: as architecture critics often point out, the public of any era consistently admires hundred-year-old buildings, but condemns (often literally) fifty-year-old buildings. New Yorkers still lament the loss of their grand old Penn Station, but its ornate Beaux-Arts style no doubt looked as heavy-handed and out-of-touch to as many people in the early 1960s, the time of its demolition, as Brutalism does today.

What, then, is the case for Brutalist architecture? "It's a sense of place. It's a sense of the drama of the space that they surround," says This Brutal World author Peter Chadwick the BBC clip at the top of the post. "It is sculpture. It's gone beyond being just functional. It's just beautiful sculpture that mirrors its environment." In the DW Euromaxx video below, Deutsches Architekturmuseum curator Oliver Elser sees in Brutalism a valuable lesson for building today: "Make more from less. I think this way of thinking, spatial generosity with simpler materials, is a timely stance for architecture." Architectural historian Elain Harwood calls Brutalism "a particular architecture for ambitious times gripped by a fervor for change. Whatever style you call it, the results are unique and have a heroic beauty than sets them apart from the architecture of any other era." (In fact, some Brutalism enthusiasts who dislike the label have put up the term "Heroic" instead.)

Whatever the articulacy of Brutalism's defenders, the most effective arguments for its preservation have been made with not words but images. Chadwick first made his mark with his This Brutal House accounts on Twitter and Instagram, and a search on the latter for the hashtag #brutalism reveals the astonishing range and intensity of the style's 21st-century fandom. A fair few videos have also taken individual works of Brutalism as their subjects, from a reflexively loathed survivor like Boston City Hall to the unlikely upper-middle-class oasis of the Barbican Centre to a high-minded projects now under the wrecking ball like Robin Hood Gardens. Despite how many people seem happy to see Brutalist buildings go, some, like Australian architect Shaun Carter in his TEDx Sydney Salon talk below, remind us of the value of keeping our history concretized, as it were, in the built environment around us.

Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness: Concrete Poetry writer Jonathan Meades puts it more forcefully: "The destruction of Brutalist buildings is more than the destruction of a particular mode of architecture. It is like burning books. It's a form of censorship of the past, a discomfiting past, by the present. It's the revenge of a mediocre age on an age of epic grandeur." To his mind, it's the destruction of evidence of "a determined optimism that made us more potent than we have become," of the fact that "we don't measure up against those who took risks, who flew and plunged to find new ways of doing things, who were not scared to experiment, who lived lives of perpetual inquiry." If Brutalism has to go, it has to go because it reminds us that "once upon a time, we were not scared to address the Earth in the knowledge that the Earth would not respond, could not respond."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Venice Time Machine: 1,000 Years of Venice’s History Gets Digitally Preserved with Artificial Intelligence and Big Data

Along with hundreds of other seaside cities, island towns, and entire islands, historic Venice, the floating city, may soon sink beneath the waves if sea levels continue their rapid rise. The city is slowly tilting to the East and has seen historic floods inundate over 70 percent of its palazzo- and basilica-lined streets. But should such tragic losses come to pass, we’ll still have Venice, or a digital version of it, at least—one that aggregates 1,000 years of art, architecture, and "mundane paperwork about shops and businesses" to create a virtual time machine. An “ambitious project to digitize 10 centuries of the Venetian state’s archives,” the Venice Time Machine uses the latest in “deep learning” technology for historical reconstructions that won’t get washed away.

The Venice Time Machine doesn’t only proof against future calamity. It also sets machines to a task no living human has yet to undertake. Most of the huge collection at the State Archives “has never been read by modern historians,” points out the narrator of the Nature video at the top.

This endeavor stands apart from other digital humanities projects, Alison Abbott writes at Nature, “because of its ambitious scale and the new technologies it hopes to use: from state-of-the-art scanners that could even read unopened books, to adaptable algorithms that will turn handwritten documents into digital, searchable text.”

In addition to posterity, the beneficiaries of this effort include historians, economists, and epidemiologists, “eager to access the written records left by tens of thousands of ordinary citizens.” Lorraine Daston, director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin describes the anticipation scholars feel in particularly vivid terms: “We are in a state of electrified excitement about the possibilities,” she says, “I am practically salivating.” Project head Frédéric Kaplan, a Professor of Digital Humanities at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), compares the archival collection to “’dark matter’—documents that hardly anyone has studied before.”

Using big data and AI to reconstruct the history of Venice in virtual form will not only make the study of that history a far less hermetic affair; it might also “reshape scholars’ understanding of the past,” Abbott points out, by democratizing narratives and enabling “historians to reconstruct the lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people—artisans and shopkeepers, envoys and traders.” The Time Machine’s site touts this development as a “social network of the middle ages,” able to “bring back the past as a common resource for the future.” The comparison might be unfortunate in some respects. Social networks, like cable networks, and like most historical narratives, have become dominated by famous names.

By contrast, the Time Machine model—which could soon lead to AI-created virtual Amsterdam and Paris time machines—promises a more street-level view, and one, moreover, that can engage the public in ways sealed and cloistered artifacts cannot. “We historians were baptized with the dust of archives,” says Daston. “The future may be different.” The future of Venice, in real life, might be uncertain. But thanks to the Venice Time Machine, its past is poised take on thriving new life. See previews of the Time Machine in the videos further up, learn more about the project here, and see Kaplan explain the “information time machine” in his TED talk above.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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