See How Traditional Japanese Carpenters Can Build a Whole Building Using No Nails or Screws

If it came down to it, most of us could hammer basic shelter together with enough wood and nails. But what if we just had the wood? And what if we needed to make not just a hut, but a full-fledged building: a livable house, or even a house of worship? That may well sound like an impossible task — unless, of course, you've trained as a miyadaiku (宮大工), the class of Japanese carpenter tasked with building and maintaining buildings like shrines and temples. Without a single nail or screw, miyadaiku join wood directly to wood — a method of joinery know as kanawatsugi (金輪継)  — and in so doing manage to build some of the world's longest-lasting wooden structures, just as they've done for centuries upon centuries.

Back when this style of carpentry first developed in Japan more than a millennium ago, "it was difficult to acquire iron." And so "people tried to build buildings only with wood," making up for what they lacked in tools with sheer skill. So says Takahiro Matsumoto, a miyadaiku carpenter based in the city of Kamakura, in the Great Big Story video above




Japan's de facto capital from the late 12th to early 14th century, Kamakura is still filled with Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, some built more than 1,200 years ago. To build new temples and shrines, or to provide the existing ones with the repairs they need every century or two, a miyadaiku must master a host of differently shaped wooden joints, each of them developed over generations to hold as tightly and solidly as possible.

For another view of kanawatsugi, have a look at The Joinery, a library of explanatory animations previously featured here on Open Culture. You can see exactly how each of these joints are cut and assembled for real-life projects — as well as every other aspect of how miyadaiku put together a building — at the Youtube channel Japanese Architecture: Wisdom of Our Ancestors. The channel is aptly named, for only with a high regard for the carpentry knowledge gradually built up, tested, and refined by their predecessors could today's miyadaiku do their work. "Advanced skills are needed, but we work with the old buildings built by our ancestors," says Matsumoto. "Today, we also learn from the ancestors' skills, since the old buildings themselves are standing documents of those skills." Each and every one testifies to how, for want of a nail, some of the most admired architecture in the world was born.

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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.

Hear the Sound of the Hagia Sophia Recreated in Authentic Byzantine Chant

Audio technology has made many exciting advances in the past few years, one of which enables recording engineers to capture the sound of a specific space and recreate it elsewhere. Through a process called “convolution reverb,” the sound of a concert hall or club can be portable, so to speak, and a band or group of singers in a studio can be made to sound as if they were performing in Carnegie Hall, or inside a cave or grain silo.

Also being recreated are the sounds of gothic cathedrals and Byzantine churches—acoustic environments being preserved for posterity in digital recordings as their physical forms decay. This technology has given scholars the means to represent the music of the past as it sounded hundreds of years ago and as it was originally meant to be heard by its devout listeners.

Music took shape in particular landscapes and architectural environments, just as those environments evolved to enhance certain kinds of sound. Medieval Christian churches were especially suited to the hypnotic chants that characterize the sacred music of the time. As David Byrne puts it in his TED Talk on music and architecture:

In a gothic cathedral, this kind of music is perfect. It doesn’t change key, the notes are long, there’s almost no rhythm whatsoever, and the room flatters the music. It actually improves it.

There’s no doubt about that, especially in the case of the Greek Orthodox cathedral Hagia Sophia. Built in 537 AD in what was then Constantinople, it was once the largest building in the world. Though it lost the title early on, it remains on incredibly impressive feat of engineering. While the structure is still very much intact, no one has been able to hear its music since 1453, when the Ottoman Empire seized the city and the massive church became a mosque. “Choral music was banned,” notes Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition, “and the sound of the Hagia Sophia was forgotten until now.”

Now (that is, in the past ten years or so), well over five centuries later, we can hear what early medieval audiences heard in the massive Byzantine cathedral, thanks to the work of two Stanford professors, art historian Bissera Pentcheva and Jonathan Abel, who teaches in the computer music department and studies, he says, “the analysis, synthesis and processing of sound.”

Now a museum, the Hagia Sophia allowed Pentcheva and Abel to record the sound of balloons popping in the space after-hours. “Abel used the acoustic information in the balloon pops to create a digital filter that can make anything sound like it’s inside the Hagia Sophia,” as Weekend Edition guest host Sam Hartnett explains.

Pentcheva, who focuses her work “on reanimating medieval art and architecture,” was then able to “reanimate” the sound of high Greek Orthodox chant as it would have been heard in the heart of the Byzantine Empire. “It’s actually something that is beyond humanity that the sound is trying to communicate,” she says.” That message needs a larger-than-life space for its full effect.

Hear more about how the effect was created in the Weekend Edition episode above. And in the videos further up, see the choral group Capella Romana perform Byzantine chants with the Hagia Sophia effect applied. Just last year, the ensemble released the album of chants above, Lost Voices of Hagia Sophiausing the filter. It is a collection of music as valuable to our understanding and appreciation of the art of the Byzantine Empire as a restored mosaic or reconstructed cathedral.

via Kottke

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

Conquer Your Vertigo and Watch this Dazzling Footage of Construction Workers Atop the Chrysler Building in 1929

Paris has the gargoyles of Notre Dame.

New York City has eight art-deco eagles protruding from the Chrysler Building’s 61st floor.

These mighty stainless steel guardians seem impressively solid until you watch construction workers muscling them into place on April 3, 1930 in the Fox Movietone newsreel footage above.




Forget being sturdy enough to serve as a time travel diving board for a very freaked out Will Smith in Men in Black III

It now seems a miracle that no unsuspecting pedestrians have been crushed by an art-deco eagle head crashing unceremoniously down to Lexington Avenue in the middle of rush hour.

Also that no workers died on the job, given how quickly the building went up and the relative lack of safety equipment on display… no word on amputated fingers, but it’s not hard to imagine given that only one of the guys helping out with the eagle appears to be wearing gloves.

In fact, as author Vincent Curcio describes in Chrysler: The Life and Times of an Automotive Genius, the job site boasted a number of innovative safety measures, such as scaffolds with guardrails, tarpaulin-covered plank roofs, wire netting between the toe boards, a hospital on-location, and a bulletin board for safety-related updates. Founder Walter Chrysler was as proud of this workplace conscientiousness as he was of the 4-floors per week speed with which his building was erected:

In an article called “Is Safety on Your Payroll?” He spoke of staring up at workers on the scaffolding with a friend on the street below. “‘My, that’s a risky job,’ my companion remarked. ‘A man just about takes his life in his hands working on a building like this.’”

“‘I suppose it does seem that way,’ I replied, ‘But it’s no so dangerous as you think. If you knew the precautions we have taken to protect those workers, you might change your mind… not a single life has been lost in constructing the steel framework of that building.’” To give an idea of how much of an achievement this was, it should be noted that the rule of thumb at that time was one death for every floor above fifteen in the construction of a building; by this measure the Chrysler Building should have been responsible for sixty-two deaths.

By contrast, the guys Fox Movietone filmed seem happy to play up the vertiginous nature of their work for the camera, edging out onto girders and conversing casually atop pipes, as if seated astride a 1000-foot tall jungle gym:

“Gosh, that’s a long way to the street, boys.”

“How’d ya like to fall down there?”

“Whaddaya think, I’m an angel?

“Well, you’re liable to be an angel any minute."

“You’ll break the altitude record going down-“

“Ha ha, yeah, maybe!”

While our appetite for this vintage bluster is bottomless, it’s worth noting that Movietone usually issued those appearing in primary positions a couple of lines of scripted dialogue.

What would those workers think of OSHA's current safety standards for the construction industry?

Fall protection is still the most commonly cited standard during construction site inspections.

Falls claimed the lives of 338 American construction workers in 2018, the same year a construction worker in Kuala Lumpur used his cell phone to film a coworker in shorts and sneakers erecting scaffolding sans safety equipment, whilst balancing on unsecured pipes some 700 feet in the air.

Watch it below, if you dare.

via Boing Boing

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, February 3 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York, The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The City of Nashville Built a Full-Scale Replica of the Parthenon in 1897, and It’s Still Standing Today

Photo by Mayur Phadtare, via Wikimedia Commons

A recent executive order stating that “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style” for federal buildings in the U.S. has reminded some of other executives who enforced neoclassicicism as the state’s official aesthetic dogma. In the case of the U.S., however, neoclassical building does not draw from ancient sources, but from “a 19th century interpretation of what people were doing in Rome and Athens millennia ago,” as Steve Rose writes at The Guardian.

In other words, contemporary “classical architectural style” in the U.S. is a copy of a copy. Kitsch. But maybe the creation of simulations is what America does best, though not typically under threat of government sanction should one do otherwise. “Living in the relatively youthful country that’s a mere 241 years old,” Isaac Kaplan wrote at Artsy in 2017, “it’s understandable that some Americans might decide to import a little extra history from abroad,” by making versions of ancient monuments in their backyard.




Such buildings span the country, from offbeat roadside attractions to the most expensive and elaborate recreations. “There is a faux-Venice in Las Vegas, and a Stonehenge II in Texas.” And in Nashville, Tennessee: a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, built in 1897 for the Centennial Exposition celebrating the state’s 100th anniversary. The detailed re-creation went further than imitating a ruin. It “restored the aspects of the original Parthenon that were lost or damaged” in an interpretive re-creation of what it might have looked like.

The building held the Exposition’s art gallery and “spoke to the city’s self-declared reputation as the ‘Athens of the South.’” (Memphis countered the grand architectural gesture by building a pyramid; Athens, Georgia, however, did not respond in kind.) Constructed out of concrete, and not built to outlast the celebrations, the replica began to fall apart soon afterwards, prompting a restoration effort in 1920 aimed at making the Nashville Parthenon as “enduring and as historically true to the original Parthenon as possible.”

The Great Depression halted plans for an enormous statue of Athena, meant to recreate one that once stood inside the original Parthenon, but after decades of donations it was finally unveiled in 1990. Standing 42 feet high, the massive figure holds a 6-foot-4-inch statue of the goddess Nike in her hand. Unlike 19th century neoclassical recreations, Athena “boasts a major historical detail: polychromy,” painted in bright greens, reds, and blues, righting “the long-held and historically incorrect view of the ancient past as one dominated by whiteness.”

Image by Dean Dixon, via Wikimedia Commons

See more photographs from 1909 at the Library of Congress digital collections, of the replica of a temple originally dedicated to honoring the female personification of wisdom. And at the top, see a much more recent photo of the restored building. The Nashville Parthenon is still in business, charging reasonable admission for a view tourists could never get in Athens, as well as a permanent collection of 63 paintings by American artists and galleries housing temporary shows and exhibits.

via @DaveEverts

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

Explore Ancient Athens 3D, a Digital Reconstruction of the Greek City-State at the Height of Its Influence

Today any of us can go Athens, a city with flavorful food, pleasant weather, a picturesque setting, reasonable prices, and a decent subway system. That is to say, we can enjoy Athens as it is, but what about Athens as it was? As one of the oldest cities in the world, not to mention a developmental center of Western civilization itself, its history holds as much interest as its present reality. Despite all the historical research into ancient Greece, we lack a fully accurate image of what Athens looked and felt like at the height of its power as a city-state. But thanks to the last dozen years of work by photographer and visual effects artist Dimitris Tsalkanis, we can experience Athens as it might have been in the form of Ancient Athens 3D.

"Visitors to the site can browse reconstructions that date back as early as 1200 BCE, the Mycenaean period — or Bronze Age — through Classical Athens, featuring the rebuilds made necessary by the Greco-Persian War, and ages of occupation by Romans and Ottomans," writes Hyperallergic's Sarah Rose Sharp.




"Tsalkanis traces the evolution of sites like the Acropolis throughout the ages, the rise and fall of the city walls, the Agora, which served as center of city life, and various temples, libraries, and other fortifications." All we might see only as monochromatic ruins on our modern Athenian travels stands tall and colorful in Tsalkanis' three-dimensional digital recreation — as does all that hasn't survived even as ruins.

Tsalkanis writes of using "artistic license" to reconstruct "monuments that have left few or no traces at all (like the Mycenaean palace of the Acropolis) and other complementary constructions — such as houses — that were incorporated into the render in order to create a more complete image of the monument and its space." Though he draws on all the historical and archaeological information he can find, much of that information remains sketchy, or at least incomplete. Fortunately, the digital nature of the project, as well as its accessibility to viewers with knowledge of their own to offer, keeps it more or less current with the state of the research. "Tsalkanis stays up to date with his fantasy city," writes Sharp, "updating reconstructions constantly for better quality of models and better archaeological and historical accuracy.

"You can immerse into this environment," Tsalkanis tells Sharp, "or you can even 3D print it if you like." You can also view the individual digital reconstruction videos posted to Ancient Athens 3D's Youtube channel, which showcase such monuments as the Temple of Ilissos, the Temple of Hephaestus, and the city of Delphi. Just as Tsalkanis' historical models of Athens will continue to be filled in, expanded, and improved, the technological range of their possible uses will only expand. Tsalkanis himself mentions the smartphone apps that could one day enrich our visits to Athens with augmented reality — allowing us, in other words, to experience Athens as it is and Athens as it might have been, both at the same time.

via Hyperallergic

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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 Lost Neighborhood Buried Under New York City’s Central Park

New York City is in a constant state of flux.

For every Nets fan cheering their team on in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and every tourist gamboling about the post-punk, upscale East Village, there are dozens of local residents who remember what—and who—was displaced to pave the way for this progress.

It’s no great leap to assume that something had to be plowed under to make way for the city’s myriad gleaming skyscrapers, but harder to conceive of Central Park, the 840-acre oasis in the middle of Manhattan, as a symbol of ruthless gentrification.




Plans for a peaceful green expanse to rival the great parks of Great Britain and Europe began taking shape in the 1850s, driven by well-to-do white merchants, bankers, and landowners looking for temporary escape from the urban pressures of densely populated Lower Manhattan.

It took 20,000 workers—none black, none female—over three years to realize architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's sweeping pastoral design.

A hundred and fifty years later, Central Park is still a vital part of daily life for visitors and residents alike.

But what of the vibrant neighborhood that was doomed by the park’s construction?

As historian Cynthia R. Copeland, co-director of the Seneca Village Project, points out above, several communities were given the heave ho in order to clear the way for the park’s creation.

The best established of these was Seneca Village, which ran from approximately 82nd to 89th Street, along what is known today as Central Park West. 260-some residents were evicted under eminent domain and their homes, churches, and school were razed.

This physical erasure quickly translated to mass public amnesia, abetted, no doubt, by the way Seneca Village was framed in the press, not as a community of predominantly African-American middle class and working class homeowners, but rather a squalid shantytown inhabited by squatters.

As Brent Staples recalls in a New York Times op-ed, in the summer of 1871, when park workers dislodged two coffins in the vicinity of the West 85th Street entrance, The New York Herald treated the discovery as a baffling mystery, despite the presence of an engraved plate on one of the coffins identifying its occupant, an Irish teenager, who’d been a parishioner of Seneca Village’s All Angels Episcopal Church.

According to historian Leslie Alexander’s African or American? Black Identity and Political Activism in New York City, 1784-1861, All Angels’ congregation was unique in that it was integrated, a reflection of Seneca Village’s population, 2/3 of whom were African American and 1/3 of European descent, mostly Irish and German.

Copeland and her colleagues kept Alexander’s work in mind when they began excavating Seneca Village in 2011, focusing on the households of two African-American residents, Nancy Moore and William G. Wilson, a father of eight who served as sexton at All Angels and lived in a three-story wood-frame house. The dig yielded 250 bags of material, including a piece of a bone-handled toothbrush, an iron tea kettle, and fragments of clay pipes and blue-and-white Chinese porcelain:

Archaeologists have begun to consider the lives of middle class African Americans, focusing on the ways their consumption of material culture expressed class and racial identities. Historian Leslie Alexander believes that Seneca Village not only provided a respite from discrimination in the city, but also embodied ideas about African pride and racial consciousness.

Owning a home in Seneca Village also bestowed voting rights on African American male heads of household.

Two years before it was torn down, the community was home to 20 percent of the city’s African American property owners and 15 percent of its African American voters.

Thanks to the efforts of historians like Copeland and Alexander, Seneca Village is once again on the public’s radar, though unlike Pigtown, a smaller, predominantly agricultural community toward the southern end of the park, the origins of its name remain mysterious.

Was the village named in tribute to the Seneca people of Western New York or might it, as Alexander suggests, have been a nod to the Roman philosopher, whose thoughts on individual liberty would have been taught as part of Seneca Village’s African Free Schools’ curriculum?

For now, there is little more than a sign to hip Park visitors to the existence of Seneca Village, but that should change in the near future, after the city erects a planned monument to abolitionists and former Seneca Village residents Albro and Mary Joseph Lyons and their daughter Maritcha.

Learn more about this bygone community in Copeland’s interview with the New York Preservation Archive Project the New York Historical Society’s Teacher’s Guide to Seneca Village.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, February 3 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York: The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How to Draw Like an Architect: An Introduction in Six Videos

That we pass through life without really perceiving our surroundings has long been a commonplace. How can we cure ourselves of this regrettable condition? Before we can learn to notice more of what's around us, we must have a process to test how much we already notice. Many artists and all architects already have one: drawing, the process of recording one's perceptions directly onto the page. But while artists may take their liberties with physical reality — it isn't called "artistic license" by coincidence — architects draw with more representationally rigorous expectations in mind.

Though we can heighten our awareness of the built environment around us by practicing architectural drawing, we need not learn only from architects. In the video at the top of the post, a Youtuber named Shadya Campbell who deals with creativity more generally offers a primer on how to draw buildings — or, perhaps less intimidatingly, on "architectural doodles for beginners." As an example, she works through a drawing of Paris' Notre-Dame cathedral (mere weeks, incidentally, before the fire of last April so dramatically altered its appearance), using a simple head-on viewpoint that nevertheless provides plenty of opportunity to practice capturing its shapes and filling in its details.

Below that, architect Llyan Austria goes a step further by introducing a few drawing practices from the profession under the banner of his "top six architecture sketching techniques." Much of his guidance has to do with drawing something as simple — or as seemingly simple — as a line: he recommends beginning with the most general outlines of a space or building and filling in the details later, emphasizing the start and end of each line, and letting the lines that meet overlap. To get slightly more technical, he also introduces the methods of perspective, used to make architectural drawings look more realistically three-dimensional.




When you introduce perspective to your drawings, you have three types to choose from, one-point, two-point, and three-point. A drawing in one-point perspective, the simplest of the three, has only a single "vanishing point," the point at which all of its parallel lines seem to converge, and is most commonly used to render interiors (or to compose shots in Stanley Kubrick movies). In two-point perspective, two vanishing points make possible more angles of viewing, looking not just straight down a hall, for example, but at the corner of a building's exterior. With the third vanishing point incorporated into three-point perspective, you can draw from a high angle, the "bird's eye view," or a low angle, the "worm's eye view."

You can learn how to draw from all three types of perspective in "How to Draw in Perspective for Beginners," a video from Youtube channel Art of Wei. Below that comes the more specifically architecture-minded "How to Draw a House in Two Point Perspective" from Tom McPherson's Circle Line Art School. After a little practice, you'll soon be ready to enrich your architectural drawing skills, however rudimentary they may be, with advice both by and for architecture professionals. At his channel 30X40 Design Workshop, architect Eric Reinholdt has produced videos on all aspects of the practice, and below you'll find his video of "essential tips" on how to draw like an architect."

In this video and another on architectural sketching, Reinholdt offers such practical advice as pulling your pen or pencil instead of pushing it, moving your arm rather than just pivoting at the wrist, and making "single, continuous, confident strokes." He also goes over the importance of line weight — that is, the relative darkness and thickness of lines — and how it can help viewers to feel what in a drawing is supposed to be where. But we can't benefit from any of this if we don't also do as he says and make drawing a habit, switching up our location and materials as necessary to keep our minds engaged. That goes whether we have a professional or educational interest in architecture or whether we just want to learn to see the ever-shifting mixture of manmade and natural forms that surrounds us in all its richness.

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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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