Why Medieval Bologna Was Full of Tall Towers, and What Happened to Them

Image by Toni Pec­o­raro, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Go to prac­ti­cal­ly any major city today, and you’ll notice that the build­ings in cer­tain areas are much taller than in oth­ers. That may sound triv­ial­ly true, but what’s less obvi­ous is that the height of those build­ings tends to cor­re­spond to the val­ue of the land on which they stand, which itself reflects the poten­tial eco­nom­ic pro­duc­tiv­i­ty to be real­ized by using as much ver­ti­cal space as pos­si­ble. To put it crude­ly, the taller the build­ings in a part of town, the greater the wealth being gen­er­at­ed (or, at times, destroyed). This is a mod­ern phe­nom­e­non, but it also held true, in a dif­fer­ent way, in the Bologna of 800 years ago.

There exists a work of art, much cir­cu­lat­ed online, that depicts what looks like the cap­i­tal of Emil­ia-Romagna in the twelfth or thir­teenth cen­tu­ry. But the city bris­tles with what look like sky­scrap­ers, cre­at­ing an incon­gru­ous but enchant­i­ng medieval Blade Run­ner effect. Bologna real­ly does have tow­ers like that, but only about 22 of them still stand today. Whether it ever had the near­ly 180 depict­ed in this par­tic­u­lar image, and what hap­pened to them if it did, is the ques­tion Jochem Boodt inves­ti­gates in the Present Past video below.

In the era these tow­ers were built, Bologna had become “one of the largest cities in Europe. It’s a time of huge, ambi­tious projects. Cities built cathe­drals, town halls, and pub­lic squares — and some peo­ple built tow­ers.” Those peo­ple includ­ed noble fam­i­lies who held to aris­to­crat­ic tra­di­tions, not least vio­lent feud­ing. Giv­en that “the city is no place to build cas­tles,” they instead inhab­it­ed urban com­plex­es whose town­hous­es sur­round­ed tow­ers, which were “more like pan­ic rooms” than actu­al liv­ing spaces. Ref­er­ences to these promi­nent struc­tures appear in sub­se­quent works of art and lit­er­a­ture: Dante, for instance, wrote of a lean­ing “tow­er called Garisen­da.”

The etch­ing that set Boodt on this jour­ney to Bologna in the first place turns out to be the rel­a­tive­ly recent work of an Ital­ian artist called Toni Pec­o­raro, who height­ened — in every sense — images of a 1917 mod­el of the city by the shoe­mak­er and “strange self-taught artist-sci­en­tist” Ange­lo Finel­li. Finel­li, in turn, drew his inspi­ra­tion from a study by the nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry archae­ol­o­gist Gio­van­ni Goz­za­di­ni, him­self a scion of one of those very fam­i­lies who com­pet­ed to have the tallest tow­er, then got bored and pur­sued oth­er sta­tus sym­bols instead. Per­haps Bologna is no longer the cen­ter of aris­to­crat­ic and mer­can­tile intrigue it used to be, judg­ing by the sparse­ness of its cur­rent sky­line, but then, there’s some­thing to be said for not need­ing a for­ti­fied tow­er in which to hide at a momen­t’s notice.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Why Europe Has So Few Sky­scrap­ers

Why the Lean­ing Tow­er of Pisa Still Hasn’t Fall­en Over, Even After 650 Years

Venice Explained: Its Archi­tec­ture, Its Streets, Its Canals, and How Best to Expe­ri­ence Them All

A Guid­ed Tour of the Largest Hand­made Mod­el of Impe­r­i­al Rome: Dis­cov­er the 20x20 Meter Mod­el Cre­at­ed Dur­ing the 1930s

How the World’s Biggest Dome Was Built: The Sto­ry of Fil­ip­po Brunelleschi and the Duo­mo in Flo­rence

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Inside the Beautiful Home Frank Lloyd Wright Designed for His Son (1952)

Being Frank Lloyd Wright’s son sure­ly came with its down­sides. But one of the upsides — assum­ing you could stay in the mer­cu­r­ial mas­ter’s good graces — was the pos­si­bil­i­ty of his design­ing a house for you. Such was the for­tune of his fourth child David Samuel Wright, a Phoenix build­ing-prod­ucts rep­re­sen­ta­tive well into mid­dle age him­self when he got his own Wright house. It must have been worth the wait, giv­en that he and his wife lived there until their deaths at age 102 and 104, respec­tive­ly. Not long there­after, the sold-off David and Gladys Wright House faced the prospect of immi­nent demo­li­tion, but it ulti­mate­ly sur­vived long enough to be added to the Nation­al Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places in 2022.

Giv­en that its cur­rent own­ers include restora­tion-mind­ed for­mer archi­tec­tur­al appren­tices Tal­iesin West, the David and Gladys Wright House would now seem to have a secure future. To get a sense of what makes it worth pre­serv­ing, have a look at this new tour video from Archi­tec­tur­al Digest led — like the AD video on Wright’s Tir­ran­na pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture — by Frank Lloyd Wright Foun­da­tion pres­i­dent and CEO Stu­art Graff. He first empha­sizes the house­’s most con­spic­u­ous fea­ture, its spi­ral shape that brings to mind (and actu­al­ly pre­dat­ed) Wright’s design for the Solomon R. Guggen­heim Muse­um.

Here, Graff explains, “the spi­ral real­ly takes on a unique sense of longevi­ty as it moves from one gen­er­a­tion, father, to the next gen­er­a­tion, son — and even today, as it moves between father and daugh­ter work­ing on this restora­tion.” That father and daugh­ter are Bing and Aman­da Hu, who have tak­en on the job of cor­rect­ing the years and years of less-than-opti­mal main­te­nance inflict­ed on this house on which Wright, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly, spared lit­tle expense or atten­tion to detail. Every­thing in it is cus­tom made, from the Philip­pine mahogany ceil­ings to the doors and trash cans to the con­crete blocks that make up the exte­ri­or walls.

“David Wright worked for the Bess­er Man­u­fac­tur­ing Com­pa­ny, and they made con­crete block molds,” says Graff. “David insist­ed that his com­pa­ny’s molds and con­crete block be used for the con­struc­tion and design of this house.” That was­n’t the only aspect on which the younger Wright had input; at one point, he even dared to ask, “Dad, can the house be only 90 per­cent Frank Lloyd Wright, and ten per­cent David and Gladys Wright?” Wright’s response: “You’re mak­ing your poor old father tired.” Yet he did, ulti­mate­ly, incor­po­rate his son’s requests into the design — under­stand­ing, as Bing Hu also must, that fil­ial piety is a two-way street.

Relat­ed con­tent:

12 Famous Frank Lloyd Wright Hous­es Offer Vir­tu­al Tours: Hol­ly­hock House, Tal­iesin West, Falling­wa­ter & More

A Beau­ti­ful Visu­al Tour of Tir­ran­na, One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Remark­able, Final Cre­ations

130+ Pho­tographs of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mas­ter­piece Falling­wa­ter

What Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unusu­al Win­dows Tell Us About His Archi­tec­tur­al Genius

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lost Japan­ese Mas­ter­piece, the Impe­r­i­al Hotel in Tokyo

When Frank Lloyd Wright Designed a Dog­house, His Small­est Archi­tec­tur­al Cre­ation (1956)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

A Guided Tour of the Largest Handmade Model of Imperial Rome: Discover the 20x20 Meter Model Created During the 1930s

At the moment, you can’t see the largest, most detailed hand­made mod­el of Impe­r­i­al Rome for your­self. That’s because the Museo del­la Civiltà Romana, the insti­tu­tion that hous­es it, has been closed for ren­o­va­tions since 2014. But you can get a guid­ed tour of “Il Plas­ti­co,” as this grand Rome-in-minia­ture is known, through the new Ancient Rome Live video above. “The archae­ol­o­gist and archi­tect Ita­lo Gis­mon­di cre­at­ed this amaz­ing mod­el,” explains host Dar­ius Arya, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his tour of Pom­peii. Work­ing at a 1:250 scale, Gis­mon­di built most of Il Plas­ti­co between 1933 and 1937, with lat­er expan­sions after its instal­la­tion in the Museo del­la Civiltà Romana.

Archae­ol­o­gists and oth­er schol­ars have, of course, learned more about the Eter­nal City over the past nine decades, knowl­edge reflect­ed in reg­u­lar­ly updat­ed dig­i­tal mod­els like Rome Reborn. But none have showed Gis­mondi’s ded­i­ca­tion to painstak­ing man­u­al labor, which allowed him to craft prac­ti­cal­ly every then-known archi­tec­tur­al and infra­struc­tur­al fea­ture with­in the walls of Rome in the Con­stan­tin­ian age, from 306 to 337 AD.

Arya points out rec­og­niz­able land­marks like the Colos­se­um, the Forum, and the Pyra­mid of Ces­tius as well as bridges, riv­er for­ti­fi­ca­tions, aque­ducts, and even land­scap­ing details down to the lev­el of indi­vid­ual trees.

Even when the cam­era zooms way in, Gis­mondi’s Rome looks prac­ti­cal­ly hab­it­able (and indeed, it may appeal to some view­ers more than do the mod­ern Euro­pean cities that are its descen­dants). It’s no won­der that Rid­ley Scott, a direc­tor famous­ly sen­si­tive to visu­al impact, would use the mod­el in Glad­i­a­tor. And while a video tour like Arya’s pro­vides a clos­er-up view of many sec­tions of Il Plas­ti­co than one can get in per­son, the only way to ful­ly appre­ci­ate the sheer scale of the achieve­ment is to behold its phys­i­cal real­i­ty. Luck­i­ly, you should be able to do just that next year, when the Museo del­la Civiltà Romana is sched­uled to reopen at long last. But then, no more could Rome be built in a day than its muse­um could be ren­o­vat­ed in a mere decade.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A Huge Scale Mod­el Show­ing Ancient Rome at Its Archi­tec­tur­al Peak (Built Between 1933 and 1937)

Rome Reborn: A New 3D Vir­tu­al Mod­el Lets You Fly Over the Great Mon­u­ments of Ancient Rome

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Beautifully-Preserved Frescoes with Figures from the Trojan War Discovered in a Lavish Pompeii Home

Image via  Pom­peii Archae­o­log­i­cal Park

Imag­ine vis­it­ing the home of a promi­nent, wealthy fig­ure, and at the evening’s end find­ing your­self in a room ded­i­cat­ed to late-night enter­tain­ing, paint­ed entire­ly black except for a few scenes from antiq­ui­ty. Per­haps this would­n’t sound entire­ly implau­si­ble in, say, twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry Sil­i­con Val­ley. But such places also exist­ed in antiq­ui­ty itself: or at least one of them did, as recent­ly dis­cov­ered in Pom­peii. Pre­served for near­ly two mil­len­nia now by the ash of Mount Vesu­vius, the ruins of that city give us the clear­est and most detailed archae­o­log­i­cal insights we have into life at the height of the Roman Empire — but even today, a third of the site has yet to be exca­vat­ed.

That archae­o­log­i­cal dig con­tin­ues apace, and its lat­est dis­cov­ery — more recent than the Pom­pei­ian “snack bar” and “piz­za” pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture — is “a spec­tac­u­lar ban­quet­ing room with ele­gant black walls, dec­o­rat­ed with mytho­log­i­cal char­ac­ters and sub­jects inspired by the Tro­jan War,” includ­ing such mytho­log­i­cal char­ac­ters as Helen, Paris, Cas­san­dra, and Apol­lo.

“It pro­vid­ed a refined set­ting for enter­tain­ment dur­ing con­vivial moments, whether ban­quets or con­ver­sa­tions, with the clear aim of pur­su­ing an ele­gant lifestyle, reflect­ed by the size of the space, the pres­ence of fres­coes and mosaics dat­ing to the Third Style.”

Fres­coes in that Roman Third Style, explains Hyper­al­ler­gic’s Rhea Nay­yar, fea­ture “small, fine­ly paint­ed fig­ures and sub­jects that seem to float with­in mono­chro­mat­ic fields,” designed “to mim­ic framed works of art or altars through illu­sions resem­bling carved beams, shad­ed pil­lars, and shin­ing can­de­labras — all of which were paint­ed on flat walls.”

The col­or of those walls, in this case, seems to have been cho­sen to hide the car­bon deposits left by oil lamps burn­ing all night long. As report­ed by BBC Sci­ence News, the com­mis­sion­er of this room, and indeed of the lav­ish house in which it’s locat­ed, may have been Aulus Rustius Verus, a “super-rich” local politi­cian who — assum­ing deci­sive archae­o­log­i­cal evi­dence emerges in his favor — also knew how to par­ty.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed con­tent:

A New­ly-Dis­cov­ered Fres­co in Pom­peii Reveals a Pre­cur­sor to Piz­za

Take a High Def, Guid­ed Tour of Pom­peii

Archae­ol­o­gists Dis­cov­er an Ancient Roman Snack Bar in the Ruins of Pom­peii

Behold 3D Recre­ations of Pompeii’s Lav­ish Homes — as They Exist­ed Before the Erup­tion of Mount Vesu­vius

Watch the Destruc­tion of Pom­peii by Mount Vesu­vius, Re-Cre­at­ed with Com­put­er Ani­ma­tion (79 AD)

Pom­peii Rebuilt: A Tour of the Ancient City Before It Was Entombed by Mount Vesu­vius

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

How the Berlin Wall Worked: The Engineering & Structural Design of the Wall That Formidably Divided East & West

More than thir­ty years after the for­mal dis­so­lu­tion of the Union of Sovi­et Social­ist Republics, few around the world have a clear under­stand­ing of how life actu­al­ly worked there. That holds less for the larg­er polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic ques­tions than it does for the rou­tine mechan­ics of day-to-day exis­tence. These had a way of being even more com­plex in the regions where the USSR came up against the rest of the world. Take the Ger­man cap­i­tal of Berlin, which, as every­one knows, was for­mer­ly divid­ed into East and West along with the coun­try itself — but which, as not every­one knows, but as clar­i­fied in a nine­teen-eight­ies infor­ma­tion­al video pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, was entire­ly sur­round­ed by East Ger­many.

You can learn much else about life on the edges of the Fed­er­al Repub­lic of Ger­many and the Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic from the new neo video above, “How the Berlin Wall Worked.” The first thing to clar­i­fy is that, even after the divi­sion of Ger­many, the Berlin Wall was­n’t always there; for a time the nar­ra­tor explains, with “social­ism and cap­i­tal­ism, two dif­fer­ent nations, and even two dif­fer­ent cur­ren­cies, were sep­a­rat­ed only by streets.”

Many “lived in one part of the city but worked in the oth­er: East Berlin­ers took jobs in the West in order to ben­e­fit from the stronger cur­ren­cy, while West Berlin­ers got their hair­cuts in the East at prices that were much cheap­er to them.” Kur­fürs­ten­damm’s shop win­dows dis­played the pur­chasable glo­ries of cap­i­tal­ism; just a few streets away, Stali­nallee swelled with proud­ly social­ist archi­tec­ture.

But on August 13th, 1961, “Berlin woke up to a divid­ed city.” The GDR imme­di­ate­ly began on a wall between East and West “made out of con­crete and topped off with barbed wire,” though it could­n’t com­mand the resources to build its whole length quite so solid­ly right away. Over time, how­ev­er, the wall was “con­sis­tent­ly upgrad­ed with more and more increas­ing secu­ri­ty fea­tures.” By 1975, it had become the struc­ture we remem­ber, con­sist­ing of not just one but two con­crete walls, and between them a barbed-wire sig­nal fence, tank traps, mats of steel nee­dles known as “Stal­in’s grass,” and watch­tow­ers manned by armed guards. “Vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble to cross” in its day, the for­mi­da­ble Berlin Wall now exists pri­mar­i­ly as a cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non: a mem­o­ry, a series of tourist sites, a some­times-mis­used cul­tur­al ref­er­ence. Liv­ing in South Korea, I can’t help but ask myself if the same will ever be said of the DMZ.

Relat­ed con­tent:

See Berlin Before and After World War II in Star­tling Col­or Video

Google Revis­its the Fall of the Iron Cur­tain in New Online Exhi­bi­tion

The Dos & Don’ts of Dri­ving to West Berlin Dur­ing the Cold War: A Weird Piece of Ephemera from the 1980s

Louis Arm­strong Plays His­toric Cold War Con­certs in East Berlin & Budapest (1965)

Bruce Spring­steen Plays East Berlin in 1988: I’m Not Here For Any Gov­ern­ment. I’ve Come to Play Rock

Watch Samuel Beck­ett Walk the Streets of Berlin Like a Boss, 1969

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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 Oldest Known Photographs of India (1863–1870)

After about a cen­tu­ry of indi­rect com­pa­ny rule, India became a full-fledged British colony in 1858. The con­se­quences of this polit­i­cal devel­op­ment remain a mat­ter of heat­ed debate today, but one thing is cer­tain: it made India into a nat­ur­al des­ti­na­tion for enter­pris­ing Britons. Take the aspir­ing cler­gy­man turned Not­ting­ham bank employ­ee Samuel Bourne, who made his name as an ama­teur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with his pic­tures of the Lake Dis­trict in the late eigh­teen-fifties. When those works met with a good recep­tion at the Lon­don Inter­na­tion­al Exhi­bi­tion of 1862, Bourne real­ized that he’d found his true méti­er; soon there­after, he quit the bank and set sail for Cal­cut­ta to prac­tice it.

It was in the city of Shim­la that Bourne estab­lished a prop­er pho­to stu­dio, first with his fel­low pho­tog­ra­ph­er William Howard, then with anoth­er named Charles Shep­herd. (Bourne & Shep­herd, as it was even­tu­al­ly named, remained in busi­ness until 2016.) Bourne trav­eled exten­sive­ly in India, tak­ing the pic­tures you can see col­lect­ed in the video above, but it was his “three suc­ces­sive pho­to­graph­ic expe­di­tions to the Himalayas” that secured his place in the his­to­ry of pho­tog­ra­phy.

In the last of these, “Bourne enlist­ed a team of eighty porters who drove a live food sup­ply of sheep and goats and car­ried box­es of chem­i­cals, glass plates, and a portable dark­room tent,” says the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art. When he crossed the Manirung Pass “at an ele­va­tion of 18,600 feet, Bourne suc­ceed­ed in tak­ing three views before the sky cloud­ed over, set­ting a record for pho­tog­ra­phy at high alti­tudes.”

Though he spent only six years in India, Bourne man­aged to take 2,200 high-qual­i­ty pic­tures in that time, some of the old­est — and indeed, some of the finest — pho­tographs of India and its near­by region known today.

In addi­tion to views of the Himalayas, he cap­tured no few archi­tec­tur­al won­ders: the Taj Mahal and the Ram­nathi tem­ple, of course, but also Raj-era cre­ations like what was then known as the Gov­ern­ment House in Cal­cut­ta (see below).

Colo­nial rule has been over for near­ly eighty years now, and in that time India has grown rich­er in every sense, not least visu­al­ly. It hard­ly takes an eye as keen as Bourne’s to rec­og­nize in it one of the world’s great civ­i­liza­tions, but a Bourne of the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry prob­a­bly needs some­thing more than a cam­era phone to do it jus­tice.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The First Pho­to­graph Ever Tak­en (1826)

Some of the Old­est Pho­tos You Will Ever See: Dis­cov­er Pho­tographs of Greece, Egypt, Turkey & Oth­er Mediter­ranean Lands (1840s)

The Old­est Known Pho­tographs of Rome (1841–1871)

The Ear­li­est Sur­viv­ing Pho­tos of Iran: Pho­tos from 1850s-60s Cap­ture Every­thing from Grand Palaces to the Ruins of Perse­po­lis

Behold the Pho­tographs of John Thom­son, the First West­ern Pho­tog­ra­ph­er to Trav­el Wide­ly Through Chi­na (1870s)

Around the World in 1896: 40 Min­utes of Real Footage Lets You Vis­it Paris, New York, Venice, Rome, Budapest & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

When Frank Lloyd Wright Designed a Plan to Turn Ellis Island Into a Futuristic Jules Verne-Esque City (1959)

The very words “Ellis Island” bring to mind a host of sepia-toned images, shaped by both Amer­i­can his­tor­i­cal fact and nation­al myth. Offi­cers employed there real­ly did inspect the eye­lids of new arrivals with but­ton­hooks, for exam­ple, but they did­n’t actu­al­ly make a pol­i­cy of chang­ing their names, how­ev­er for­eign they sound­ed. You can learn this and much else besides by pay­ing a vis­it to the Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Muse­um on Ellis Island, which opened in 1990, 36 years after the clo­sure of the immi­grant inspec­tion and pro­cess­ing sta­tion itself. But if Frank Lloyd Wright had had his way, you could live on Ellis Island — and what’s more, you’d nev­er need to leave it.

“After Ellis Island was decom­mis­sioned in 1954 as the nation’s gate­way to the world’s hud­dled mass­es, the U.S. Gen­er­al Ser­vices Admin­is­tra­tion (GSA) chose an all-Amer­i­can path: open­ing the site to devel­op­ers,” write Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin at the Gotham Cen­ter for New York City His­to­ry. When NBC radio and tele­vi­sion announc­er Jer­ry Damon and direc­tor Elwood Doudt pitched to Wright the ambi­tious idea of rede­vel­op­ing the dis­used island into a “com­plete­ly self-con­tained city of the future,” the archi­tect replied that the project was “vir­tu­al­ly made to order for me.” Alas, Wright died just before they could all meet and ham­mer out the details, but not before he’d drawn up a pre­lim­i­nary but vivid plan.

Damon and Doudt car­ried on with what the late Wright has named the “Key Project.” “Its Jules Verne-esque design, based on Wright’s sketch­es, was res­olute­ly futur­is­tic,” write Lubell and Goldin. A “cir­cu­lar podi­um” on the island would sup­port “apart­ments for 7,500 res­i­dents, ris­ing like a stack of off­set, alter­nat­ing dish­es. Above these dwelling floors, and sep­a­rat­ed by sun­decks, would be a cres­cent of sev­en cor­ru­gat­ed, can­dle­stick-shaped tow­ers con­tain­ing more apart­ments and a 500-room hotel.” At the cen­ter of it all, Wright placed “a huge globe, seem­ing­ly pock­marked by eons of mete­or col­li­sions, and held aloft by plas­tic canopies pro­tect­ing the plazas below.”

It’s easy to imag­ine the exe­cu­tion of this Space Age urban utopia not quite liv­ing up to Wright’s vision — and, indeed, to imag­ine it hav­ing fall­en by now into just as thor­ough a state of dilap­i­da­tion as did Ellis Island’s orig­i­nal build­ings. But it’s also fas­ci­nat­ing to con­sid­er what could have been Wright’s final com­mis­sion as the acme of the evo­lu­tion of his think­ing about the urban space itself. A quar­ter-cen­tu­ry ear­li­er, he’d been obsessed with the qua­si-rur­al devel­op­ment he called Broad­acre City; just a few years before his death, he came up with the Illi­nois Mile-High Tow­er, a megas­truc­ture that would prac­ti­cal­ly have con­sti­tut­ed a metrop­o­lis in and of itself. The Key Project, as Damon and Doudt pro­mot­ed it, would have offered “casu­al, inspired liv­ing, minus the usu­al big-city clam­or”: the kind of mar­ket­ing lan­guage we hear from devel­op­ers still today, though not backed by the genius of the most renowned archi­tect in Amer­i­can his­to­ry.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed con­tent:

Frank Lloyd Wright Designs an Urban Utopia: See His Hand-Drawn Sketch­es of Broad­acre City (1932)

The Unre­al­ized Projects of Frank Lloyd Wright Get Brought to Life with 3D Dig­i­tal Recon­struc­tions

Take a 360° Vir­tu­al Tours of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archi­tec­tur­al Mas­ter­pieces, Tal­iesin & Tal­iesin West

Why Frank Lloyd Wright Designed a Gas Sta­tion in Min­neso­ta (1958)

Por­traits of Ellis Island Immi­grants Arriv­ing on America’s Wel­com­ing Shores Cir­ca 1907

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

An Architectural Tour of Sagrada Família, Antoni Gaudí’s Audacious Church That’s Been Under Construction for 142 Years

In less than a year and a half, the cen­te­nary of Antoni Gaudí’s death will be here. Faced with this fact, espe­cial­ly ded­i­cat­ed enthu­si­asts of Cata­lan archi­tec­ture may already be plan­ning their fes­tiv­i­ties. But we can be sure where the real pres­sure is felt: the Basíli­ca i Tem­ple Expi­a­tori de la Sagra­da Família, Gaudí’s most famous build­ing, which — as of tomor­row — has been under con­struc­tion for 142 years. When it first broke ground in 1882, Gaudí was­n’t involved at all, but when he took over the project the fol­low­ing year, he re-envi­sioned it in a dis­tinc­tive com­bi­na­tion of the Goth­ic and Art Nou­veau styles. The rest, as they say, is his­to­ry: a trou­bled, unpre­dictable his­to­ry con­tin­u­ing to this day, explained by archi­tec­ture-and-his­to­ry Youtu­ber Manuel Bra­vo in the video above.

Though it isn’t yet com­plete, you can vis­it Sagra­da Família; indeed, it’s long been the most pop­u­lar tourist attrac­tion in Barcelona. The expe­ri­ence of mar­veling at the basil­i­ca’s aston­ish­ing degree of detail and not-quite-of-this-Earth struc­ture is worth the price of admis­sion, which has helped to fund its ongo­ing con­struc­tion. But you’ll appre­ci­ate it on a high­er lev­el if you go with some­one who can explain its many unusu­al fea­tures, both archi­tec­tur­al and reli­gious — some­one with as much knowl­edge ad enthu­si­asm as Bra­vo, whom we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his videos on Pom­peii, Venice, the Great Pyra­mids of Giza, and the Duo­mo di Firen­ze.

With Sagra­da Famíli­a’s pyra­mi­dal shape, Bra­vo explains, Gaudí “hoped to sug­gest a con­nec­tion between the human and the divine.” Its three façades are ded­i­cat­ed to the birth, death, and eter­nal life of Jesus Christ, to whom the cen­tral and tallest of its planned eigh­teen tow­ers will be ded­i­cat­ed. The cathe­dral’s exte­ri­or alone con­sti­tutes an “authen­tic Bible of stone,” but it can hard­ly pre­pare you to step into the inte­ri­or, with its “beau­ti­ful play of space, light, and col­or.” As Bra­vo puts it, “the pro­tag­o­nist here is the space itself,” envi­sioned by Gaudí as “a huge for­est” involv­ing no un-nature-like straight lines. All of it show­cas­es “the com­bi­na­tion of aes­thet­ics and effi­cien­cy” that defines the archi­tec­t’s work.

Bravo’s video runs a bit over twen­ty min­utes, but you could spend much, much longer appre­ci­at­ing every aspect of Sagra­da Família, those com­plet­ed in Gaudí’s life­time as well as those com­plet­ed by the many devot­ed arti­sans who have con­tin­ued his work for almost 100 years now. The archi­tect “knew quite well that he would not live to see the tem­ple com­plet­ed,” says Bra­vo, hence his hav­ing “left behind so many mod­els and draw­ings” for his suc­ces­sors to go on. They’re work­ing on a 2026 dead­line, but as Bra­vo notes, giv­en the inter­rup­tions inflict­ed by COVID-19, “that date seems unlike­ly.” But then, has there ever been as unlike­ly a build­ing as Sagra­da Família?

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Incred­i­ble Engi­neer­ing of Anto­nio Gaudí’s Sagra­da Famil­ia, the 137 Year Con­struc­tion Project

The Japan­ese Sculp­tor Who Ded­i­cat­ed His Life to Fin­ish­ing Gaudí’s Mag­num Opus, the Sagra­da Família

Venice Explained: Its Archi­tec­ture, Its Streets, Its Canals, and How Best to Expe­ri­ence Them All

Take a High Def, Guid­ed Tour of Pom­peii

How the World’s Biggest Dome Was Built: The Sto­ry of Fil­ip­po Brunelleschi and the Duo­mo in Flo­rence

What the Great Pyra­mids of Giza Orig­i­nal­ly Looked Like

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.