An Animated Video Shows the Building of Prague’s Charles Bridge in the 14th Century: 45 Years of Construction in 3 Minutes

Without massive feats of engineering we rarely notice anymore because they seem so commonplace, the built environments we navigate each day wouldn’t exist. When we do turn our attention to how the buildings get made, we are met with surprises, curiosities, puzzles, moments of wonder. How much more is this the case when learning about fixtures of cities that are hundreds or thousands of years old, constructed with what we would consider primitive methods, producing results that seem superior in durability and aesthetic quality to most modern structures?

Of course, while modern structures can take months or even weeks to finish, those of a more ancient or medieval age were constructed over decades and repaired, rebuilt, and restored over centuries. Consider the Charles Bridge, which crosses the Vltava (Moldau) river in Prague.




Construction began on the famous structure—nearly 1,700 feet (516 meters) long and 33 feet (10 meters) wide—in 1357 under King Charles IV. Forty-five years later, in 1402, the bridge was completed. It was damaged in the Thirty Years’ War, then repaired, damaged in floods in the 15th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and repaired, and updated with more modern appointments over time, such as gaslights. But its bones, as they say, stayed strong.

In the digitally animated video above, you can watch the initial construction process in fast-motion–nearly half a century condensed into 3 minutes. Built by architect Peter Parler, it was originally called Stone Bridge. It acquired the king’s name in 1870. “The low-lying medieval structure,” notes Google, who celebrated the 660th anniversary of the bridge in 2017, “is comprised of 16 shallow arches and three Gothic towers, and lined with 30 Baroque-style statues,” added some 200 years ago. Every building has its secrets, and the Charles Bridge no doubt has more than most. One of the first has nothing to do with hidden chambers or buried remains. Rather, “according to legend, during construction, masons added a secret ingredient that they thought would make it stronger: eggs!”

See more animated videos of vintage construction at the Praha Archeologicka channel on YouTube and learn much more about medieval Prague’s many architectural surprises at their site.

via Twisted Sifter

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

Take a Digital Drive Along Ed Ruscha’s Sunset Boulevard, the Famous Strip That the Artist Photographed from 1965 to 2007

Ed Ruscha has lived nearly 65 years in Los Angeles, but he insists that he has no particular fascination with the place. Not everyone believes him: is disinterest among the many possible feelings that could motivate a painting like The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire? Nevertheless, the plainspoken Oklahoma-born artist has long stuck to his story, perhaps in order to let his often cryptic work speak for itself. Originally trained in commercial art, Ruscha has painted, printed, drawn, and taken photographs, the most celebrated fruit of that last pursuit being 1966’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip, a book that stitches his countless photographs of that famous boulevard — both sides of it — onto one long, continuous page.

Whatever you think of such a project, you can’t accuse it of a mismatch between form and substance. Nor can you call it a cynical one-off: between 1967 and 2007, Ruscha drove Sunset Boulevard with his camera no fewer than twelve times in order to photograph most or all of its buildings.




These include gas stations (an architectural form to which Ruscha has made the subject of its own photo book as well as one of his most famous paintings), drugstores, appliance dealers, Central American restaurants, karate schools, travel agencies, car washes, Modernist office towers, and two of the most characteristic structures of Los Angeles: low-rise, kitschily named “dingbat” apartment blocks and L-shaped “La Mancha” strip malls.

The mix of the built environment varies greatly, of course, depending on where you choose to go on this 22-mile-long boulevard, only a short stretch of which constitutes the “Sunset Strip.” It also depends on when you choose to go: not which time of day, but which era, a choice put at your fingertips by the Getty Research Institute’s Ed Ruscha Streets of Los Angeles Project, and specifically its interactive feature 12 Sunsets. In it you can use your left and right arrow keys to “drive” east or west (in your choice between a van, a VW Beetle, or Ruscha’s own trusty Datsun pickup), and your up and down button to flip between the year of the photo shoots that make up the boulevard around you.

Many longtime Angelenos (or enthusiasts of Los Angeles culture) will motor straight to the intersection with Horn Avenue, location of the much-mythologized Sunset Strip Tower Records from which the very American musical zeitgeist once seemed to emanate. The Sacramento-founded store was actually a latecomer to Los Angeles compared to Ruscha himself, and the building first appears in his third photo shoot, of 1973. The next year the ever-changing posters on its exterior walls includes Billy Joel’s Piano Man. About a decade later appear the one-hit likes of Loverboy, and in the twilight of the 1990s the street elevation touts the Beastie Boys and Rob Zombie. In 2007, Tower’s signature red and yellow are all that remain, the chain itself having gone under (at least outside Japan) the year before.

12 Sunsets’ interface provides two different methods to get straight from one point to another: you can either type a specific place name into the “location search” box on the upper right, or click the map icon on the middle left to open up the line of the whole street clickable anywhere from downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean. This is a much easier way of making your way along Sunset Boulevard than actually driving it, even in the comparatively nonexistent traffic of 1965. Nevertheless, Ruscha continues to photographically document it and other Los Angeles streets, using the very same method he did 55 years ago. The buildings keep changing, but the city has never stopped exuding its characteristic normality so intensely as to become eccentricity (and vice versa). What artist worthy of the title wouldn’t be fascinated?

Explore the Getty Research Institute’s Ed Ruscha Streets of Los Angeles Project here.

via Austin Kleon

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Denmark’s Utopian Garden City Built Entirely in Circles: See Astounding Aerial Views of Brøndby Haveby

For decades, urban planners around the world have looked to the Danish capital of Copenhagen, with its low-rise high density and unparalleled culture of everyday cycling, as an example of how to design a city. But what of the Danish track record in designing suburbs? Recently, a photographer by the name of Henry Do brought the world’s attention to one such settlement, Brøndby Haveby or Garden City, with a series of aerial photographs posted to Instagram. “Unreal how my recent images from here went crazy viral,” Do writes in the caption of a follow-up drone video — “unreal” being just the word some have used to describe the place itself, composed as it is entirely out of circles.

Built in 1964 to the design of “genius landscape architect Erik Mygind,” Brøndby Haveby mimics “the traditional patterns of the 18th century Danish villages, where people would use the middle as a focal point for hanging out, mingle and social interchange between neighbors.”




This unusual form, more of which you can see in Do’s drone photos at Lonely Planet, suits the long-established Danish cabin culture, according to which every city-dwelling Dane with the means buys a smaller second home in the countryside as a retreat. (Though the houses in Brøndby Haveby are owned, the gardens are rented, and local zoning laws prevent anyone from occupying their properties for more than six months out of the year.)

Wherever it is, this cabin must be made hyggelige, an adjective often translated into English as “cozy” and that, in recent years, has become a byword for the love of small-scale contentment that sets Denmark apart. (Not everybody is sold on the concept: “With its relentless drive towards the middle ground and its dependence on keeping things light and breezy,” writes British Denmark expat Michael Booth, “hygge does get a bit boring sometimes.”) As Lenni Madsen, a Danish Quora user with a Brøndby Haveby house in the family, puts it, “Imagine your average small-time community, where everyone knows everyone else, you see each other across the hedge, perhaps sharing a beer or having coffee at each others’ houses.”

This seems a far cry from the alienation and depravity of the standard suburban cul-de-sac, at least as portrayed in American popular myth. And it isn’t hard to see the appeal for average urbanites, especially those looking to spend their generous vacation time in as different an environment as possible without having to go far. (Homeowners must already have a primary residence within 20 kilometers, which includes the city of Copenhagen.) The astonished reactions on social media would suggest that most of us have never seen a place like this before. But for the Danes, it’s just another chapter in their civilizational pursuit of all that is hyggelige.

via Messy Nessy

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Story Behind the Iconic Photograph of 11 Construction Workers Lunching 840 Feet Above New York City (1932)

Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother“…

Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Terror of War“…

Richard Drew’s “The Falling Man“…

Throughout the years, a number of iconic photographs have tapped into the collective unconscious, shaping our view of historic events, sometimes to a degree that leads to social change.

These images are not dependent on knowing the subjects’ identities, though it’s always interesting when more context leaks out, often as the result of some serious sleuthing by reporters, archivists, or other interested parties.




1932’s “Lunch atop a Skyscraper (New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam)” is one of the lighter-hearted photos to create such a lasting public impression.

Eleven workers are depicted enjoying their break, relaxing on a girder a dizzying 840-feet above New York City, unburdened by safety harnesses or other protective gear.

In the words of Rockefeller Center archivist Christina Roussel, who narrates the TIME Magazine 100 Photos episode above, they are the “unsung heroes of construction.”

The unusual designation may lead you to rack your brains for a sung hero of construction.

Grandpa’s cog-in-the-wheel contribution to the erection of an iconic landmark can be a source of anecdotal pride for families, but it rarely leads to greater renown.

Looming over this image is John D. Rockefeller, Jr, who masterminded a 22 acre complex of 14 commercial buildings in the Art Deco style. The project was a boost to the economy during the Great Depression, employing over 250,000 people—from truckers and quarrymen to glaziers and steelworkers and hundreds of other jobs in between. It created an enormous amount of goodwill and patriotic pride.

The Rockefeller organization capitalized on this positive reception, with a steady stream of staged publicity photos, including the daring eleven sharing a nosebleed seat on what was to become the 69th floor of the RCA Building (now known as 30 Rock.)

As film critic John Anderson, reviewing the documentary Men at Lunch in The New York Times, wrote:

The popularity of the picture, which has been colorized, satirized, burlesqued with the Muppets and turned into a life-size sculpture by Sergio Furnari, is partly about the casual recklessness of its subjects: The beam on which they sit seems suspended over an urban abyss, with the vastness of Central Park spread out behind them and nothing, seemingly below. But in fact a finished floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza was probably just a few feet away.

The documentary helped confirm the identities of several of the men.

Irish immigrants Maddy O’Shaughnessy and Sonny Glynn hold down either end, as verified by their sons.

William Eckner, third from left, and Joe Curtis, third from right, were named in a similarly spirited annotated photo taken around the same time.

The man seated to Curtis’ right may or may not be John Charles Cook of the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.

The photographer’s identity is also debatable. It’s most often credited to Charles C. Ebbets but Tom Kelley and William Leftwich were also on hand that day, leather satchels of glass plates slung across their backs, as they, too, defied gravity, documenting the completion of architect Raymond Hood’s master plan.

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

A Beautiful 1897 Illustrated Book Shows How Flowers Become Art Nouveau Designs

The art of drawing is not the art of observing forms and objects alone, it is not mere mimicry of these objects; it is the art of knowing how far and wherein, and with what just limitations, those forms and objects can be reproduced in a picture, or in a decorative work. – Eugène Grasset, 1896

Flowers loomed large in Art Nouveau, from the voluptuous floral headpieces that crowned Alphonse Mucha’s female figures to the stained glass roses favored by architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Graphic designer Eugène Grasset’s 1897 book, Plants and Their Application to Ornament, vividly demonstrates the ways in which nature was distilled into popular decorative motifs at the end of the 19th-century.

 

Twenty-four flowering plants were selected for consideration, from humble specimens like dandelions and thistle to such Art Nouveau heavy hitters as poppies and irises.

Each flower is represented by a realistic botanical study, with two additional color plates in which its form is flattened out and mined for its decorative, stylistic elements.

 

The plates were rendered by Grasset’s students at the École Guérin, young artists whom he had “forbidden to condescend to the art of base and servile imitation”:

The art of drawing is not the art of observing forms and objects alone, it is not mere mimicry of these objects; it is the art of knowing how far and wherein, and with what just limitations, those forms and objects can be reproduced in a picture, or in a decorative work.

He also expected students to hone their powers of observation through intense study of the organic structures that would provide their inspiration, becoming intimately acquainted with the character of petal, leaf, and stem:

Beautiful lines are the foundation of all beauty. In a work of art, whatever it be, apparent or hidden symmetry is the visible or secret cause of the pleasure we feel. Everything that is created must have some repetition in its parts to be understood, retained in the memory, and perceived as a whole

When it came to adorning household implements such as vases and plates, Grasset insisted that decorative elements exist in harmony with their hosts, sniping that any artist who would distort form with ill considered flourishes should make a bas-relief instead.

Thusly do chrysanthemum stems provide logical-looking ballast for a chandelier, and a dandelion’s curved leaves hug the contours of a table leg.

Grasset’s best known student, Maurice Pillard Verneuil, whose career spanned Art Nouveau to Art Deco, absorbed and articulated the master’s teachings:

 

It is no longer the nature (artists) see that they represent, that they transcribe, but the nature that they aspire to see; nature more perfect and more beautiful and of which they have the interior vision.

 

View Eugène Grasset’s Plants and Their Application to Ornament as part of the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections here. Or find illustrations at RawPixel.

via The Public Domain Review

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

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

Vengo de Japón.” With those words Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo introduces himself to us in “Stone Cut,” the short film from NOWNESS above. Since coming to Barcelona in 1978, Sotoo has not just mastered the Spanish language but converted to Roman Catholicism and dedicated much of his life to laboring on the completion of the most famous building in Spain: Antoni Gaudí’s magnum opus, the Basílica de la Sagrada Família. Not that it was quite so revered when Sotoo first encountered it: “Back in the day, no one really cared about Sagrada Familia,” he says. “There were stones and rubble, but it was mostly an abandoned ruin. This situation lasted many decades.” 

Even the young Sotoo himself had no interest in the architect of Sagrada Familia, but “back then it was mandatory to know Gaudí’s name. Slowly, my interest in Gaudí started to grow in me. And today it keeps growing.” As it should: for more than 40 years now, Sotoo has worked to complete what Gaudí left unfinished at the time of his death in 1926, a decade before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. That bitter conflict not only put a stop to the construction of Sagrada Familia for nearly two decades, it also damaged what had already been built: the sculptures of its Porta del Rosari, for example, which it has fallen to Sotoo to restore.




Sculptures constitute much of the elaborate decoration of Sagrada Familia’s exterior and interior, both of which present the viewer with nary a straight line nor a flat surface. Even in the incomplete building, the effect is at once organic and otherworldly. “Gaudí is way beyond where we are today,” says Sotoo, and his filmmaking countryman Hiroshi Teshigahara must have shared that sentiment, having paid tribute to the architect with a worshipful 1984 documentary. The project of realizing the architect’s unprecedented aesthetic vision — the result of a conversation “with God about something very big and profound” — continues to this day, 138 years after the commencement of its construction, which moved slowly even during Gaudí’s lifetime. “My client,” history remembers him having said, “is not in a hurry.”

The current push to complete Sagrada Familia has a more pressing deadline: the year 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death, at which time less than a quarter of the project was complete. (You can see a 3D rendering of the remainder of the process in this video from the Sagrada Familia Foundation, previously featured here on Open Culture.) But that time frame only covers completion of the structure, including the eighteen spires Gaudí envisioned as representing the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists, and Jesus Christ. The decorative elements should be finished by the early 2030s, granting more breathing room to artisans like Sotoo — who, having spent four-decades being reshaped by Gaudí himself, knows that architectural genius can’t be rushed.

via Aeon

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

A New Interactive Map Shows All Four Million Buildings That Existed in New York City from 1939 to 1941

New Yorkers have borne witness to a noticeable uptick in the number of shiny, new buildings going up in the city over the last few years, crowding the waterfront, rising from the ashes of community gardens and older, infinitely more modest structures.

Their developers have taken care to top load them with luxury amenities—rooftop cabanas, 24-hour fitness clubs, marble countertops, screening rooms.




But one thing they can’t provide is the sense of lived history that imbues every old building with a true sense of character, mystique, and oft-grubby charm.

I fear that the occupants of these newer buildings won’t have nearly as much fun as the rest of us searching for our current addresses on the NYC Municipal Archives’ interactive map, above.

Every dot represents a Works Progress Administration photograph of a New York City building, snapped between 1939 and 1941 as a means of standardizing the way in which property values were assessed and recorded.

There are 4,282,000 dots, spread out between five boroughs.

Does that sound densely packed?

You should see it today… there’s been a lot of vertical build.

This unassuming fuel oil plant near Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal has given way to a 430-unit building boasting a yoga room, spin studios, and valet services for those in need of dry-cleaning, laundry, apartment cleaning, or dog walking…though sadly, no on-premises motor oil. We find that omission somewhat surprising for such a full-service residential development on the banks of a Superfund site, whose clean up is estimated to tip the scales at $500 million.

We also wonder what the occupants of the above buildings would have made of the glassy 25-story complex that opened on their coordinates earlier this year. Is it just us, or does it seem a bit disingenuous of its developers to trumpet that its location is “the epitome of New York City’s authenticity, with over a century of rich history, where the world’s sartorial and culinary trends are born”?

(You can find us a few blocks away muttering into our chopped liver at Russ and Daughters, a venerable food shop that looks much the same today as it did in 1940, though you’ll have to confirm with a bit of research on your own if you don’t want to take our word for it, the WPA “dot” revealing little more than a man with a stick and several moving vehicles.)

Our final stop is one of many architectural ghosts to haunt the Hudson Yards colossus, the self-described “epicenter of Manhattan’s New West Side… a beacon for creative professionals, a hub for fashion, design, communications and art.” In addition to a much reviled $200 million shawarma-shaped “3-dimensional public space” and state of the art wine fridges, amenities now include diagnostic and antibody testing “performed by top medical professionals.”

It’s telling that in the summer of 2020, prospective tenants were offered incentives including two months’ free rent and a $2,000 gift card.

Proof, perhaps, that New York will continue as it always has—a city in constant flux. The prevalence of modern high rise buildings in dystopian fiction gives us pause….

Explore the Street View of 1940s New York here.

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

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