Watch Bauhaus World, a Free Documentary That Celebrates the 100th Anniversary of Germany’s Legendary Art, Architecture & Design School

This April 1st marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, the German art school that, though short-lived, launched an entire design movement with a stark, functional aesthetic all its own. It can be tempting, looking into that aesthetic that finds the beauty in industry and the industry in beauty, to regard it as purely a product of its time and place, specifically a 20th-century Europe between the wars searching for ways to invent the future. But as revealed in Bauhaus World, this three-part documentary from German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the legacy of the Bauhaus lives on not just in the reputations of its best known original members — Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, and Josef Albers, among others — but in the currently active creators it continues to inspire in every corner of the Earth.

"What do escalators in Medellín, Arabic lettering in Amman, story-telling furniture from London, urban farming in Detroit and a co-living complex in Tokyo have to do with the Bauhaus?" asks Deutsche Welle's web site. They all draw from "the influence that the philosophy of the Bauhaus movement still exerts on the globalized society of the 21st century," a time that has its societal parallels with the year 1919.

To illustrate those parallels as well as the continuing relevance of Bauhaus teachings, "we meet architects, urban planners, designers and artists from around the globe who, in the spirit of the Bauhaus, want to rethink and change the world." True to its title, Bauhaus World's journey involves a wide variety of countries, and not just European ones: different segments profile the work of Bauhaus-influenced designers everywhere from Mexico to Jordan, Colombia to Israel, the United States to Japan.

It's in Japan, in fact, that the first part of Bauhaus World, "The Code," finds the outer reaches of the spread of Bauhaus that began with the exile of its members from Nazi Germany. The second part, "The Effect," deals with the enduring influence that has turned Bauhaus and its principles from a movement to a brand, one that has potentially done more than its share to make us as design-obsessed as we've become in the 21st century — a century that, the third and final part "The Utopia" considers, may or may not have a place for the original Bauhaus ideals. But whatever Gropius, Klee, Moholy-Nagy, Albers, and the rest would think of what the Bauhaus they created has become over the past hundred years, over the next hundred years more and more designers — emerging from a wider and wider variety of societies and traditions — will come to see themselves as its descendants.

Bauhaus World will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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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.

Watch the Painstaking and Nerve-Racking Process of Restoring a Drawing by Michelangelo

We live in a disposable culture, but certain things warrant the time and effort of mending—good shoes, hearts, Michelangelo drawings…

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s paper conservator Marjorie Shelley, above, had the nerve-wracking task of tackling the latter, in preparation for last year’s Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibition.

The work in question, a two-sided sketch featuring designs for a monumental altar or facade, thought to be San Silvestro in Capite, Rome, arrived in sad condition.

The 16th-century linen and flax paper on which the precious renderings were made was stained with mold, and badly creased due to a poorly repaired tear and two long-ago attempts to mount it for easier viewing, one by the artist’s blind nephew and another by collector and biographer Filippo Baldinucci.

Like many restoration experts, Shelley exhibits extraordinary patience and nerves of steel. Identifying the damage and its cause is just the beginning. The hands-on portion of her work involves introducing solvents and moisture, both of which have the potential to further damage the delicate drawing. Even though she chooses the least invasive of tools—a tiny brush—to loosen the 500-year-old adhesive, one slip could spell disaster. It’s not just the drawing that’s of historical import. The well-intended mountings are also part of the narrative, and must be preserved as such.

As she explains above, a bedazzling Sistine Chapel-like makeover was neither possible nor preferable.

One wonders how many of the 702,516 visitors who attended the exhibition during its 3 month run noticed Shelley’s handiwork (or even the drawing itself, given the large number of other, sexier works on display).

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City this January as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Animated History of Versailles: Six Minutes of Animation Show the Construction of the Grand Palace Over 400 Years

Few tourists making their first trip to France go home without having seen Versailles. But why do so many want to see Versailles in the first place? Yes, its history goes all the way back to the 1620s, with its comparatively modest beginnings as a hunting lodge built for King Louis XIII, but much in Europe goes back quite a bit further. It did house the French royal family for generations, but absolute monarchy hasn't been a favored institution in France for quite some time. Only the most jaded visitors could come away unimpressed by the palace's sheer grandness, but those in need of a hit of ostentation can always get it on certain shopping streets in Paris. The appeal of Versailles, and of Versailles alone, must have more do with the way it physically embodies centuries of French history.

You can watch that history unfold through the construction of Versailles, both exterior and interior, in these two videos from the official Versailles Youtube channel. The first begins with Louis XIII's hunting lodge, which, when the "Sun King" Louis XIV inherited its site, had been replaced by a small stone-and-brick chateau. There Louis XIV launched an ambitious building campaign, and the half-century-long project ultimately produced the largest chateau in all Europe.

The Sun King moved his government and court there, and of course continued making additions and refinements all the while, extending the complex outward with more and more new buildings. Louis XIV's successor Louis XV put his own architectural stamp on the palace as well, subdividing its spaces into smaller apartments and adding an opera house.

But when the French Revolution came in 1789, the royal family had to vacate Versailles tout de suite. Then came the removal of the absolutism-symbolizing "royal railings" out front, the taking of its paintings that hung on its walls to the Louvre (the third most popular tourist attraction in France, incidentally, two spots ahead of Versailles), and the auctioning off of its furniture. While the anti-monarchical fervor of the period immediately following the revolution wasn't particularly good to Versailles, later rulers implemented restorations, and the current Fifth Republic may well have spent more on the place than even Louis XIV did. And so we have one more reason six million people want to visit Versailles each and every year: they want to see whether France is getting its money worth.

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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.

Buckminster Fuller Documented His Life Every 15 Minutes, from 1920 Until 1983

If you've heard of Buckminster Fuller, you've almost certainly heard the word "Dymaxion." Despite its strong pre-Space Age redolence, the term has somehow remained compelling into the 21st century. But what does it mean? When Fuller, a self-described “comprehensive, anticipatory design scientist,” first invented a house meant practically to reinvent domestic living, Chicago's Marshall Field and Company department store put a model on display. The company "wanted a catchy label, so it hired a consultant, who fashioned 'dymaxion' out of bits of 'dynamic,' 'maximum,' and 'ion,'" writes The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert in a piece on Fuller's legacy. "Fuller was so taken with the word, which had no known meaning, that he adopted it as a sort of brand name." After the Dymaxion House came the Dymaxion Vehicle, the Dymaxion Map, and even the two-hour-a-day Dymaxion Sleep Plan.

"As a child, Fuller had assembled scrapbooks of letters and newspaper articles on subjects that interested him," Kolbert writes. "When, later, he decided to keep a more systematic record of his life, including everything from his correspondence to his dry-cleaning bills, it became the Dymaxion Chronofile." The Dymaxion Chronofile now resides in the R. Buckminster Fuller Collection at Stanford University, a place that has merited the attention of no less a guide to the fascinating corners of the world than Atlas Obscura.

"The files go back to when he was four-years-old, but he only seriously started the archive in 1917," writes that site's Allison C. Meier. "From then until his death in 1983 he collected everything from each day, with ingoing and outgoing correspondence, newspaper clippings, drawings, blueprints, models, and even the mundane ephemera like dry cleaning bills." Fuller added to the Dymaxion Chronofile not just every day but, from the year 1920 until his death in 1983, every fifteen minutes.

In 1962 Fuller described the Dymaxion Chronofile as what would happen "if somebody kept a very accurate record of a human being, going through the era from the Gay '90s, from a very different kind of world through the turn of the century — as far into the twentieth century as you might live." Using himself as the case subject for the project (as he did for many projects, which led him to nickname himself "Guinea Pig B") meant that "I could not be judge of what was valid to put in or not. I must put everything in, so I started a very rigorous record." Open Culture's own Ted Mills has written elsewhere about the rigors of storing and maintaining that record in archive form over the decades since Fuller's death, and now, as with so much Fuller did, the Dymaxion Chronofile stands as both a compelling oddity and proof of real, if askew, prescience. After all, how many of us have taken to documenting our own lives online with nearly equal intensity — and how many of us do it even more often than every fifteen minutes?

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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.

Researchers Recreate the Sounds Worshippers Heard in the Mosque of Cordoba Over 1,200 Years Ago

As we know from conversations in subway tunnels or singing in the shower, different kinds of spaces and building materials alter the quality of a sound. It’s a subject near and dear to architectsmusicians, and composers. The relationship between space and sound also centrally occupies the field of “Acoustic Archeology." But here, an unusual problem presents itself. How can we know how music, voice, and environmental sound behaves in spaces that no longer exist?

More specifically, writes EurekAltert!, the question that faced researchers at the University of Seville was “how did words or the rain sound inside the Mosque of Cordoba in the time of Abd al-Rahman I?” The founder of an Iberian Muslim dynasty began construction on the Mosque of Cordoba in the 780s. In the hundreds of years since, it underwent several expansions and, later, major renovations after it became the Cathedral of Cordoba in the 13th century.

The architecture of the 8th century building is lost to history, and so, it would seem, is its careful sound design. "Unlike fragments of tools or shards of pottery," Atlas Obscura's Jessica Leigh Hester notes, "sounds don't lodge themselves in the soil." Archeo-acousticians do not have recourse to the material artifacts archeologists rely on in their reconstructions of the past. But, given the technological developments in reverb simulation and audio software, these scientists can nonetheless approximate the sounds of ancient spaces.

In this case, University of Seville's Rafael Suárez and his collaborators in the research group "Architecture, Heritage and Sustainability" collected impulse responses—recordings of reverberation—from the current cathedral. "From there, they used software to reconstruct the internal architecture of the mosque during four different phases of construction and renovation.... Next, they produced auralizations, or sound files replicating what worshippers would have heard."

To hear what late-8th century Spanish Muslims would have, "researchers used software to model how the architecture would change the same snippet of a recorded salat, or daily prayer. In the first configuration, the prayer sounds full-bodied and sonorous; in the model that reflects the mosque’s last renovation, the same prayer echoes as though it was recited deep inside a cave." All of those renovations, in other words, destroyed the sonic engineering of the mosque.

As the authors write in a paper recently published in Applied Acoustics, "the enlargement interventions failed to take the functional aspect of the mosque and gave the highest priority to mainly the aesthetic aspect." In the simulation of the mosque as it sounded in the 780s, sound was intelligible all over the building. Later construction added what the researchers call "acoustic shadow zones" where little can be heard but echo.

Unlike Hagia Sofia, the Byzantine cathedral-turned-mosque, which retained its basic design over the course of almost 1500 years, and thus its basic sound design, the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba was so altered architecturally that a "significant deterioration of the acoustic conditions" resulted, the authors claim. The mosque's many remaining visual elements would be familiar to 8th century attendees, writes Hester, including "gilt calligraphy and intricate tiles... and hundreds of columns—made from jasper, onyx, marble, and other stones salvaged from Roman ruins." But the "acoustic landscape" of the space would be unrecognizable.

The specific sounds of a space are essential to making "a place feel like itself." Something to consider the next time you're planning a major home renovation.

via Atlas Obscura

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

Take Animated Virtual Reality Tours of Ancient Rome at Its Architectural Peak (Circa 320 AD)

Maybe you, too, were a Latin geek who loved sword and sandal flicks from the golden age of the Hollywood epic? Quo Vadis, The Fall of the Roman Empire, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators, and, of course, Spartacus…. Never mind all the heavy religious pretext, context, subtext, or hammer over the head that suffused these films, or any pretense toward historical accuracy. What thrilled me was seeing ancient Rome come alive, bustling with togas and tunics, centurions and chariots. The center of the ancient world for hundreds of years, the city, naturally, retains only traces of what it once was—enormous monuments that might as well be tombs.

The incredibly detailed 3D animations here don’t quite have the same rousing effect, granted, as the “I am Spartacus!” scene. They don’t star Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, or Kirk Douglas. They appeal to different sensibilities, it’s true. But if you love the idea of visiting Rome during one of its peak periods, you might find them as satisfying, in their way, as Peter Ustinov’s Nero speeches.

Dating not from the time of Mark Antony or even Jesus, the painstakingly-rendered tours of ancient Rome depict the city as it would have looked—sans humans and their activity—during its “architectural peak,” as Realm of History notes, under Constantine, “circa 320 AD.”

The VR trailer at the top from History in 3D, developed by Danila Loginov and Lasha Tskhondia, depicts, in Loginov’s words, “the Forums area, and also Palatine and Capitolium hills.” The two additional trailers for the project show the “baths of Trajan and Titus, the statue of Colossus Solis, arches of Titus and Constantine, Ludus Magnus, the temple of Divine Claudius. Our team spent some time and recreated this area along with all minor buildings as a complex and added it to the model which has been already done.” This means, he says, “we have now almost the entire center of ancient imperial Rome already recreated!”

We glide gently over the city with a low-flying-bird’s eye view, taking in its realistic skyline, tree-lined streets, and gurgling fountains. The lack of any human presence makes the experience a little chilly, but if you’re moved by classical architecture, it also presents a refreshing lack of distraction—an impossible request in a visit to modern Rome. Another project, Rome Reborn, which we’ve previously featured here, takes a different approach to the same imperial city of 320 AD. The trailers for their VR app don’t provide the seamless flight experience, but they do contain equally epic music. (They also have a few people in them, blockily-rendered gawking tourists rather than ancient Romans.)

Instead, these clips give us fascinating glimpses of the interiors of such splendid structures as the Basilica of Maxentius—tiled floors, domed ceilings, columned walls—from a number of different perspectives. We also get to fly above the city, drone-style, or hot air balloon-style, as it were. In the clip below, we cruise over Rome in that vehicle, with Bernard Frischer, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, serving as the app’s “virtual archaeologist” in an audio tour.

“The ambitious undertaking,” of the Rome Reborn app, writes Meilan Solly at Smithsonian, “painstakingly built by a team of 50 academics and computer experts over a 22-year period, recreates 7,000 buildings and monuments scattered across a 5.5 square mile stretch of the famed Italian city.” The three modules of the Rome Reborn app demoed here are all available at their website. Geeks—and historians of ancient Roman architecture and city planning—rejoice.

via Smithsonian

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

In 17th-Century Japan, Creaking Floors Functioned as Security Systems That Warned Palaces & Temples of Approaching Intruders and Assassins

Offer a cutting-edge security system, and you'll suffer no shortage of customers who want it installed. But before our age of concealed cameras, motion sensors, retinal scanners, and all the other advanced and often unsettling technologies known only to industry insiders, how did owners of large, expensive, and even royalty-housing properties buy peace of mind? We find one particularly ingenious answer by looking back about 400 years ago, to the wooden castles and temples of 17th-century Japan.

"For centuries, Japan has taken pride in the talents of its craftsmen, carpenters and woodworkers included," writes Sora News 24's Casey Baseel. "Because of that, you might be surprised to find that some Japanese castles have extremely creaky wooden floors that screech and groan with each step. How could such slipshod construction have been considered acceptable for some of the most powerful figures in Japanese history? The answer is that the sounds weren’t just tolerated, but desired, as the noise-producing floors functioned as Japan’s earliest automated intruder alarm."

In these specially engineered floors, "planks of wood are placed atop a framework of supporting beams, securely enough that they won’t dislodge, but still loosely enough that there’s a little bit of play when they’re stepped on." And when they are stepped on, "their clamps rub against nails attached to the beams, creating a shrill chirping noise," rendering stealthy movement nearly impossible and thus making for an effective "countermeasure against spies, thieves, and assassins."

According to, you can still find — and walk on — four such uguisubari, or "nightingale floors," in Kyoto: at Daikaku-ji temple, Chio-in temple, Toji-in temple, and Ninomura Palace.

If you can't make it out to Kyoto any time soon, you can have a look and a listen to a couple of those nightingale floors in the short clips above. Then you'll understand just how difficult it would have been to cross one without alerting anyone to your presence. This sort of thing sends our imaginations straight to visions of highly trained ninjas skillfully outwitting palace guards, but in their day these deliberately squeaky floors floors also carried more pleasant associations than that of imminent assassination. As this poem on's uguisubari page says says:






A welcome sound

To hear the birds sing

across the nightingale floor

via @12pt9/Sora News

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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.

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