Enroll in Harvard’s Free Online Architecture Course: An Introduction to the History & Theory of Architecture

So, you want to be an architect. Where to begin? It seems like a very big aspiration. One theorist argues that modernist architecture has been “characterized by a thaumaturgic… ambition which would heal the ‘diseases’ of individuals and society.” As anyone who’s spent much time in a housing project, faceless office park, or strip mall might attest, more recent approaches can also have “the power of hurting.”

If you’re intent on wielding the power of architecture for good, you’ll need many years of study and apprenticeship. But whether you’re just getting your feet wet or have already waded into the field, you’ll likely gain quite a lot of understanding from “The Architectural Imagination,” a free online course from Harvard's Graduate School of Design, in which you will “learn how to ‘read’ architecture as a cultural expression as well as a technical achievement.” The course, which begins on February 28th, is free, but for $99 students can also receive a certificate of completion.




“Architecture is one of the most complexly negotiated and globally recognized cultural practices,” notes the course introduction. Building design “involves all of the technical, aesthetic, political, and economic issues at play within a given society.” In addition to creating single-family dwellings, architects are tasked with designing harmonious spaces through which thousands of people might move on a daily basis.

Successful design requires more than an understanding of the necessary relationships between form and function. “In some ways,” the course trailer video above tells us, “it’s just what exceeds necessity that is architecture. And it’s the opening onto that excess that makes architecture a fundamentally human endeavor.”

Healing society? Grasping the big issues in arts, politics, and engineering? Designing for the “fundamentally human”? These are deep briefs indeed. A more lighthearted approach to the field—the tongue-in-cheek “I Am an Architect” rap above—suggests a couple simpler prerequisites for the aspiring architect: a lifelong passion for making things (with blocks, Legos, Jenga, etc.), and, of course, a pair of black plastic glasses. If you can relate, sign up for Harvard’s “The Architectural Imagination” and find many more edX Architecture courses here.

via Arch Daily

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

How to Write Like an Architect: Short Primers on Writing with the Neat, Clean Lines of a Designer

We have another national crisis on our hands.

Our children are not only ill-equipped to read maps and tell time with analog clocks, their handwriting is in serious decline.

Forget cursive, which went the way of the dodo earlier in the millennium. Youngsters who are dab hands on the keyboard may have little impulse—or opportunity—to practice their printing.

Does it matter?

It sure as shootin’ might be during a zombie invasion, given the attendant breakdown of digital communication and the electricity that powered it.




But even in less dire times, legible penmanship is a good skill to master.

As Virginia Berninger, professor emeritus and principal investigator of the University of Washington’s Interdisciplinary Learning Disabilities Center, told The New York Times, “Handwriting — forming letters — engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.”

Hand lettering is also a complex neurological process, a workout involving various cognitive, motor, and neuromuscular functions.

There’s also a school of thought that teachers who still accept handwritten assignments unconsciously award the highest grades to pupils with the neatest penmanship, which is easier on tired eyes. Something to keep in mind for those gearing up to take the handwritten essay portions of the SAT and ACT.

Let's remember that letters are really just shapes.

The Finns and French have long-established uniformity with regard to handwriting. In the absence of classroom instruction, Americans have the freedom to peruse various penmanship styles, identify their favorite, and work hard to attain it.

(This writer is proof that penmanship can become part of the DNA through practice, having set out to duplicate my mother’s delightful, eccentric-to-the-point-of-illegibile hand at around the age of 8. I added a few personal quirks along the way. The result is I'm frequently bamboozled into serving as scribe for whatever group I happen to find myself in, and my children can claim they couldn't read the important handwritten instructions hurriedly left for them on Post-Its.)

Historically, the most legible American penmanship belongs to architects.

Their precisely rendered all caps suggest meticulousness, accountability, steadiness of character...

And almost anyone can achieve it, regardless of whether those are qualities they personally possess.

All it takes is determination, time, and—as taught by Doug Patt in his How to Architect series, above—more tools than can be simultaneously operated with two hands:

an Ames lettering guide

a parallel rule or t-square

a small plastic triangle customized with bits of tape

a .5mm Pentel drafting pencil

If this sounds needlessly laborious, keep in mind that such specialty equipment may appeal to reluctant hand writers with an interest in engineering, robotics, or scientific experimentation.

(Be prepared for some frustration if this is the student’s first time at the rodeo with these instruments. As any veteran comic book artist can attest, few are born knowing how to use an Ames lettering guide.)

It should be noted that Patt’s alphabet deviates a bit from traditional standards in the field.

His preference for breathing some life into his letters by not closing their loops, squashing traditionally circular forms into ellipses, and using “dynamic angles” to render crosspieces on a slant would likely not have passed muster with architecture professors of an earlier age, my second grade teacher, or the font designers responsible for the computer-generated “hand lettering” gracing the bulk of recent architectural renderings.

He's likely the only expert suggesting you make your Ks and Rs reminiscent of actor Ralph Macchio in the 1984 film, The Karate Kid.

There’s little chance you'll find yourself grooving to Patt’s videos for anything other than their intended purpose. Whereas the late Bob Ross’ Joy of Painting series has legions of fans who tune in solely for the meditative benefits they derive from his mellow demeanor, Patt’s rapid fire instructional style is that of the busy master, deftly executing moves the fledgling student can only but fumble through.

But if the Karate Kid taught us anything, it’s that practice and grit lead to excellence. If the above demonstration whips by too quickly, Patt expands on the shaping of each letter in 30-second video tutorials available as part of a $19 online course.

Those looking for architectural lower case, or techniques for controlling the thickness of their lines can find them in the episode devoted to lettering with a .7mm Pentel mechanical drafting pencil.

Explore further secrets of the architects on Patt’s How to Architect channel or 2012 book, also called How to Architect.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hear the Hagia Sophia’s Awe-Inspiring Acoustics Get Recreated with Computer Simulations, and Let Yourself Get Transported Back to the Middle Ages

The technology used to produce, record, and process music has become ever more sophisticated and awe-inspiring, especially in the capability of software to emulate real instruments and acoustic environments. Digital emulation, or “modeling,” as it’s called, doesn’t simply mimic the sounds of guitar amplifiers, pianos, or synthesizers. At its best, it reproduces the feel of an aural experience, its textures and sonic dimensions, while also adding a seemingly infinite degree of flexibility.

When it comes to a technology called “convolution reverb,” we can virtually feel the air pressure of sound in a physical space, such that “listening in may be viewed as much as a spatial experience as it is a temporal one.” So notes Stanford’s Icons of Sound, a collaboration between the University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) and the Department of Art & Art History. The researchers in this joint project have combined resources to create a performance of Byzantine chant from the 6th century CE, simulated to sound like it takes place inside a prime acoustic environment designed for this very music, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.




Built by the emperor Justinian between 532 and 537, when the city was Constantinople, the massive church (later mosque and now state-run museum) “has an extraordinarily large nave spreading over 70 meters in length; it is surrounded by colonnaded aisles and galleries. Marble covers the floor and walls.” Its center is “crowned by a dome glittering in gold mosaics and rising 56 meters above the ground.” The effect of the building's heavy, reflective surfaces and its architectural enormity “challenges our contemporary expectation of the intelligibility of language.”

We are accustomed to hear the spoken or sung word clearly in dry, non-reverberant spaces in order to decode the encoded message. By contrast, the wet acoustics of Hagia Sophia blur the intelligibility of the message, making words sound like emanation, emerging from the depth of the sea. 

The Icons of Sound team has reconstructed the underwater acoustics of the Hagia Sophia using convolution reverb techniques and what are called “impulse responses”—recordings of the reverberations in particular spaces, which are then loaded into software to digitally simulate the same psychoacoustics, a process known as “auralization.” CCRMA describes an impulse response as an “imprint of the space,” which is then applied to sounds recorded in other environments. Typically, the process is used in studio music production, but Icons of Sound brought it to live performance at Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall last year, and made the group Cappella Romana sound like their voices had transported from the Holy Roman Empire.

“To recreate the unique sound,” writes Kat Eschner at Smithsonian, “performers sang while listening to the simulated acoustics of Hagia Sophia through earphones. Their singing was then put through the same acoustic simulator and played during the live performance through speakers in the concert hall.” As you can hear in these clips, the result is immersive and profound. One can only imagine what it must have been like live. To complete the effect, the production used “atmospheric reinforcement,” notes Stanford Live, “via projected images and lighting." The audience was “immersed in an environment where the unique interplay of music, light, art, and sacred text has the potential to induce a quasi-mystical state of revelation and wonder.”

The only sounds the researchers were able to record in the actual space of the ancient church were four popping balloons. By layering the reverberations captured in these recordings, and compensating for the different decay times inside the Bing, they were able to approximate the acoustic properties of the building. You can hear several more audio samples recorded in different places at this site. In the video above, associate professor of medieval art Bissera Pentcheva explains how and why the Hagia Sophia shapes sound and light the way it does. While purists might prefer to see a performance in the actual space, one must admit, the ability to virtually deliver a version of it to potentially any concert hall in the world is pretty cool.

via The Smithsonian

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

An Espresso Maker Made in Le Corbusier’s Brutalist Architectural Style: Raw Concrete on the Outside, High-End Parts on the Inside

From the 1950s through the 1970s, Brutalist architecture flourished in North America and Europe (both West and East) and many countries beyond. Made out of raw concrete, Brutalist buildings--usually municipal buildings, campuses, and housing projects--have an almost unfinished look to them. The first and most famous example of this architectural style is the Unité d'habitation, the housing complex built by Le Corbusier in Marseille between 1947 and 1952.

Though Brutalism has since fallen out of fashion, it might be poised for a comeback, especially if this new espresso machine is any indication. After a successful Kickstarter campaign this summer (raising $145k), the Norwegian-Californian design firm Montaag Products is putting the finishing touches on a brutalist espresso maker. They wanted to design a machine made out of "completely honest materials.” Hence the raw concrete. Inside the espresso maker, however, they've used materials typically found inside $1300 Italian machines, according to Food & Wine. You can pre-order the machine at Indiegogo for $799. It should be ready in March (or thereabouts).

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China’s New Luminous White Library: A Striking Visual Introduction

MVRDV, a Dutch architecture and urban design firm, teamed up with Chinese architects to create the Tianjin Binhai Library, a massive cultural center featuring "a luminous spherical auditorium around which floor-to-ceiling bookcases cascade." Located not far from Beijing, the library was built quickly by any standards. It took only three years to move from "the first sketch to the [grand] opening" on October 1. Elaborating on the library, which can house 1.2 million books, MVRDV notes:

The building’s mass extrudes upwards from the site and is ‘punctured’ by a spherical auditorium in the centre. Bookshelves are arrayed on either side of the sphere and act as everything from stairs to seating, even continuing along the ceiling to create an illuminated topography. These contours also continue along the two full glass facades that connect the library to the park outside and the public corridor inside, serving as louvres to protect the interior against excessive sunlight whilst also creating a bright and evenly lit interior.

The video above gives you a visual introduction to the building. And, on the MRDV website, you can view a gallery of photos that let you see the library's shapely design.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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New Digital Archive Puts Online 4,000 Historic Images of Rome: The Eternal City from the 16th to 20th Centuries

The poet Tibullus first described Rome as "The Eternal City" in the first century BC, and that evocative nickname has stuck over the thousands of years since. Or rather, he would have called it "Urbs Aeterna," which for Italian-speakers would have been "La Città Eterna," but regardless of which language you prefer it in, it throws down a daunting challenge before any historian of Rome. Each scholar has had to find their own way of approaching such a historically formidable place, and few have built up such a robust visual record as Rodolfo Lanciani, 4000 items from whose collection became available to view online this year, thanks to Stanford Libraries.

As an "archaeologist, professor of topography, and secretary of the Archaeological Commission," says the collection's about page, Lanciani, "was a pioneer in the systematic, modern study of the city of Rome."




Having lived from 1845 to 1929 with a long and fruitful career to match, he "collected a vast archive of his own notes and manuscripts, as well as works by others including rare prints and original drawings by artists and architects stretching back to the sixteenth century." After he died, his whole library found a buyer in the Istituto Nazionale di Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte (INASA), which made it available to researchers at the 15th-century Palazzo Venezia in Rome.

Enter a team of professors, archaeologists, and technologists from Stanford and elsewhere, who with a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and in partnership with Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism and the National Institute, began digitizing it all. Their efforts have so far yielded an exhibition of about 4,000 of Lanciani's drawings, prints, photographs and sketches of Rome from the 16th century to the 20th. Not only can you examine them in high-resolution in your browser as well as download them, you can also see the locations of what they depict pinpointed on the map of Rome. That feature might come in especially handy when next you pay a visit to The Eternal City, though for many of the features depicted in Lanciani's collection, you hardly need directions. Enter the digital collection here.

via Stanford News

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.

2,000+ Architecture & Art Books You Can Read Free at the Internet Archive

Somebody once called writing about music like dancing about architecture, and the description stuck. But what's writing about architecture like? Even if you already know — especially if you already know — know that the Internet Archive makes it easy to binge on some of the finest architecture writing around and find out, and completely for free at that. The site, as Archdaily's Becky Quintal reports, has implemented a “lending feature that allows users to electronically 'borrow' books for 14 days. With over 2,000 borrowable books on architecture, patrons from across the globe can read works by Reyner Banham, Walter Gropius, Ada Louise Huxtable and Jonathan Glancey. There are also helpful guides, dictionaries and history books.”

Quintal recommends a variety of titles from Glancey's The Story of Architecture and Banham's Theory and Design in the First Machine Age to Gropius' The New Architecture and the Bauhaus and Tom Wolfe's famous jeremiad From Bauhaus to Our Our House.




Other borrowable books in the collection can take you even farther around our built world: Boston Architecture, French Architecture, Japanese Architecture, Moorish Architecture in Andalusia, The Art and Architecture of China, The Art and Architecture of Medieval Russia. As you can see, and as in a “real” library or bookstore, writing about architecture at some point transitions into writing about art, quite a few volumes of which — on art history, art technique, and even museum work — the Internet Archive also lets you check out.

But before you get your two weeks with any of these books from the Internet Archive's virtual library, you'll need your virtual library card. To get it, visit Archive.org's account creation page and come up with a screen name and password. As soon as you've agreed to the site's terms and conditions, you've got a card. If you'd like to read these books on devices other than your computer, you'll need to download Adobe's free Digital Editions software. Out digital century has made binging on all kinds of reading material incomparably easier than before, but just like brick-and-mortar libraries, the Internet Archive has only so many “copies” to lend out, so be warned that if you want an especially popular book, you may have to get on a waitlist first. Me, I'm hoping Experimental Architecture in Los Angeles will come in any day now, but the art or architecture book you most want to read may just be waiting for you to check it out. Scan the collection here.

via Archdaily

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.

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