Architect, Landscape Architect, Urban Designer, Land Use Planner, Environmental Observer

Saturday, December 31, 2016

the art of the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans #1

Some of the work of the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans rises to art. 
I will feature one Indian at a time. 

This post is about the remarkable beadwork of


.   .   .

Truly Trulli !!

In southern Italy lies the town of Alberobello 

with a form of stone buildings called "trulli"

The first trulli showed up in the prehistoric age; they had already been present in settlement in the Itria ValleyTholos, typical constructions used to bury the deceased, also began to spread over the same territory.

Still, the oldest trulli we know of today are at Alberobello, dating back to the 14th Century: it was during this period that what seemed but an uninhabited land was assigned to the ownership of the first Count of Conversano by Robert d’Anjou, Prince of Taranto and then King of Naples from 1309 to 1343. The tract of land was given as a reward to the young Anjou noble for his service during the Crusades. Soon after, the area was repopulated with entire feudal settlements, transferred from nearby (like that of Noci).

According to some research, however, rural settlements had already risen up around the year 1000, on both sides of a river that now runs underground. The habitations gradually grew into villages, later called Aja Piccola and Monti.

The trullo’s dry-wall construction, without mortar, was imposed on new settlers so that they could dismantle their shelters in a hurry: an efficient means to evade taxes on new settlements under the Kingdom of Naples, and certainly a good way to deter unruly lords. Yet most historians agree that this building technique came about due to the area’s geographical conditions, abundant with the limestone we now see in these constructions.

Around the middle part of the 16th Century, the community of Monti was already occupied by about 40 trulli, but it was only circa 1620 that Alberobello acquied the physiognomy of a settlement that was independent from neighboring Noci. It counted a population of 3,500 towards the end of the 18th Century. In 1797, the village obtained the title of "Royal City" from the King of Naples, Ferdinand IV de Bourbon. The city derived its name from the Latin phrase silva arboris belli, that is “wood of the tree of war.”

but how are they made?

the caps take on different forms

and they are often painted with symbols

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the Heart of Soquel: part 1

the behind the scenes story of the design of a county park...

For almost three years I worked for the Redevelopment Agency of the County of Santa Cruz part-time...  For the majority of that time, I worked as the primary designer on a small park that was between a creek and retail stores in a small town.

There were plenty of constraints - the project is located in a flood plain, the creek is a protected biotic restraint, there is a confusing and inadequate circulation for automobiles, a dangerous and unclear pedestrian circulation, the town post office is within the area, as well as two restaurants, a bar, a sporting goods store and an antiques shop at the corner.

The redevelopment agency had bought a run down mobile home park with lots of pavement and the town plan called for a park area and parking to replace it.

I remember numbering the alternative plans I drew up - I think it was 27!

It was sausage making.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Animal QUIZ

what mammal has all of these qualities?

1. They can dive a mile deep in the ocean with an average dive of 1,000 - 1,500 ft.

2. They can hold their breath for up to 60 minutes in the ocean.

3. They live in the ocean but breed on land.

4. The males can weigh as much and be as long
as a Volvo station wagon.

5. The pups have a nine month gestation period.

6. They travel in the ocean from British Columbia to California.

7. They dive for squid who have bio-luminescence
in the darkness of the ocean.

8. The milk of the female contains 55% fat.

9. The babies can be born weighing 70 pounds.

10. The adults do not eat for three months while on land.

11. They were hunted to almost extinction to about 100 animals 
and now have a population of 160,000.

adult male

adult female

young pup

the Elephant Seal

Hundreds of thousands of northern elephant seals once inhabited the Pacific Ocean. They were slaughtered wholesale in the 1800s for the oil that could be rendered from their blubber. By 1892, only 50 to 100 individuals were left. The only remaining colony was on the Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja California.

In 1922, the Mexican government gave protected status to elephant seals, and the U. S. government followed suit a few years later when the seals began to appear in Southern California waters. Since that time, elephant seals have continued to multiply exponentially, and they have extended their breeding range as far north as Point Reyes. Today, there are approximately 160,000 northern elephant seals.

The first elephant seals on Año Nuevo Island were sighted in 1955, and the first pup was born there in 1961. In 1978, 872 were born there. Males began to haul out on the mainland in 1965. A pup born in January 1975 was the first known mainland birth of a northern elephant seal at Año Nuevo; 86 pups were born there in 1978. By 1988/1989, about 2,000 elephant seals came ashore at Año Nuevo, and the number of seals breeding and giving birth on the mainland is still increasing. During the 1994-95 breeding season, approximately 2,000 pups were born on the mainland.

Breeding Season
The elephant seal breeding season begins at Año Nuevo in December, when the first males arrive. From fourteen to sixteen feet long and weighing up to 2 1/2 tons, these huge bulls engage in violent battles to establish dominance. The successful bulls do much of the breeding, with most of the duty falling on the "alpha" bull at the top of the social ladder.

In late December, the females begin to arrive and form "harems" on the beaches of the Reserve. Much smaller than the males, they average ten to twelve feet in length and weigh 1,200 to 2,000 pounds. Three to six days after she arrives, the female gives birth to the pup that was conceived the previous year. Normally only one pup is born to each female, and she nurses for 25 to 28 days.

Ordinarily, a mother nurses her own pup, although if they are separated another female may adopt the youngster. Feeding on its mother's rich milk (55% fat), the pup grows from approximately 75 pounds at birth to 250-350 pounds in less than a month. Some resourceful pups nurse from two or three females. They can weigh 600 pounds and are aptly called "super weaners".

Mating and Gestation
Females come into season and mate about 24 days after giving birth. However, the fertilized egg does not implant in the wall of her uterus for about four months a rare phenomenon called "delayed implantation". The theory is that the female is so weak after nursing and fasting that she doesn't have enough energy to nourish the egg. Since the seals' gestation period is seven months, this delay means that the young will be born after the female reaches her breeding ground the following year. The pups could not survive if born at sea. Adult females may mate several times before returning to the ocean, abruptly weaning their pups by desertion. By mid-March, most of the adult seals are gone, leaving the pups behind.

When the weaned pups are four to six weeks old, their original coat of black fur molts and is replaced by a shiny new silver coat. Soon afterward, they begin learning to swim in the shallow offshore waters or ponds formed by rainwater. They are very curious and rather awkward and somewhat afraid of the water at first. But they learn quickly, spend more and more time swimming about, and then, during the last three weeks of April, they go to sea one by one and disperse northwestward. They feed off the coast of northern Washington and Vancouver Island in British Columbia and do not appear on land again until September.

Pinnipeds, like other mammals, must replace old skin and hair. Most animals shed hairs year-around, but elephant seals do it all at once. The molting process is so abrupt in the elephant seal that it is called a catastrophic molt. During the spring and summer months, elephant seals return to Año Nuevo for their annual molts.

April to May - Females and juveniles
May to June - Sub-adult males
July to August - Adult males

At sea, elephant seals typically dive 20 minutes to a depth of 1,000 to 2,000 feet in search of food: rays, skates, rat fish, squid, and small sharks. The maximum recorded depth is 5,015 feet by a male in 1991. The females eat nothing while they are giving birth, nursing, and mating, and the males go without food for up to three months at that time. They are preyed upon by killer whales and sharks.

Females give birth for the first time at an average age of 3-4 and have an average life expectancy of about 20 years. Males are mature at five years, don't reach high rank until 8 with prime breeding years between 9-12. Males have a life expectancy of 14 years. 

source: Ano Nuevo State Park, California State Parks

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Quilts and Quilters of Gee's Bend

The women of Gee’s Bend—a small, remote, black community in Alabama—have created hundreds of quilt masterpieces dating from the early twentieth century to the present. 

Resembling an inland island, Gee’s Bend is surrounded on three sides by the Alabama River. The seven hundred or so inhabitants of this small, rural community are mostly descendants of slaves, and for generations they worked the fields belonging to the local Pettway plantation. Quiltmakers there have produced countless patchwork masterpieces beginning as far back as the mid-nineteenth century, with the oldest existing examples dating from the 1920s. 

Enlivened by a visual imagination that extends the expressive boundaries of the quilt genre, these astounding creations constitute a crucial chapter in the history of African American art.

Gee’s Bend quilts carry forward an old and proud tradition of textiles made for home and family. They represent only a part of the rich body of African American quilts. But they are in a league by themselves. 

Few other places can boast the extent of Gee’sBend’s artistic achievement, the result of both geographical isolation and an unusual degree of cultural continuity. In few places elsewhere have works been found by three and sometimes four generations of women in the same family, or works that bear witness to visual conversations among community quilting groups and lineages. 

Gee’s Bend’s art also stands out for its flair—quilts composed boldly and improvisationally, in geometries that transform recycled work clothes and dresses, feed sacks, and fabric remnants.


who could have produced these works of modern art?


(1916 - 2010)
Alberta, Alabama

After her mother’s death, Nettie Young’s father married her friend, quiltmaker Deborah Young. At age eighty-five, Nettie Young continues to tend to the farmlands surrounding her home, one of the original “project houses” built in the late 1930s.

.   .   .

I was raised up in a place they called Young’s, the old Young plantation. My daddy’s father had been a slave named Irby but was sold to the Pettways, so my daddy was named Pettway, same as all the others owned by the Pettways. Daddy had lived down in the Bend. When he got grown he was free from the Pettway ownership and could go where he wanted to go, and he went up to the Young plantation to work. He farmed up there—you called it sharecropping, what he did. Later on, he got where he could rent the land, but that wasn’t much better.

I grew up in the renting time. Then when I got married we did some rent farming from the Wilkinsons. They had bought all the land around up there. Then we moved down to this house in 1945. Old Man Wilkinson had bought this house in a auction and wanted my husband, Clint Young, to live in it. We was living up in Wilkinson’s pasture in a common wooden shack, and this house was a whole improvement. So, Old Man Wilkinson sold it to us for $4,000, higher than the cost was supposed to be, thinking we’d fall behind and he could take it back. But we was able to keep up the payments, and later on, the government, the FHA, give us the loan, so we was able to get the house and keep the house ever since.

I started working quilts when I was a child. My mother would have me sit with her, and I was watching her and putting scraps together, doing like she was doing. She’d drop those scraps at her feet, and I’d be picking them up. My mama looked at that thing and told me I did good. I felt good, like I had done a big job. I always loved sewing. I made all my children’s clothes. Didn’t need a pattern. Same with quilts. If I seen a dress or a quilt or something I liked, I can make it. I just draw it out the way I want it. In the quilting bee time, I started using patterns, but I shouldn’t have did it. It broke the ideas I had in my head. I should have stayed with my own ideas. 

I kept making quilts all the way up to last year. I still got the feeling every now and then to sew, but I just don’t have the mind to do it now. My hands are good, but I ain’t quite got the spirit—not like before, when I’m always ready, day and night. Age got me."


photo by Linda Day Clark,  2003

In 2002, as a freelancer, I was assigned by the New York Times to photograph the women of Gee's Bend Alabama for a story on their amazing quilts. Their quilt work had just broken the boundaries of craft, and soared into the realm of fine art with rave reviews. Of their Whitney Museum of American Art quilt exhibition, the New York Times wrote that the quilts, originally made for warmth, turn out to be some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced. The art critic went on to say that this maybe the last moment to record and celebrate what is one of the countries most idiosyncratic and vivid living art traditions. I agree, but I also see a much bigger, more culturally significant story. It's a compelling mix of the tragic, triumphant, and genius. These qualities have been acknowledged in their artwork, but I see it manifest in other significant and ways. 

So, in 2003, I went back on my own, stayed with the quilters and began to piece it together. Most of the people have lived there all their lives. They are proud landowners, born to the sharecroppers, born to the slaves, who originally inhabited the plantations of Gee's Bend. Generation after generation has stayed, and until now, few outsiders have moved in. This has helped to create a surprisingly complex and unique way of life. They have weathered slavery and can tell the story of the middle passage from first hand accounts of blood relatives. They survived the injustices of the sharecropping system, the perils of the depression, and the powerful racism that stranded them on the bend of the Alabama River.

"Flounder" Houses of St. Louis, Missouri

Let’s first get something straight: the famous flounder house style in St. Louis did not originate out of an attempt to trick the tax man into thinking a house was incomplete, therefore lowering a homeowner’s bill. 

.    .    .

But what the distinctive, fish-shaped housing style does represent is a unique moment in the 19th century in St. Louis when vernacular architecture thrived in the city.

Originating in the period during and in the decades after the Civil War, the flounder style house took its name from the profile of the building when observed from the street or alley. In some people’s eyes, the tall, right triangle roof line took on the shape of a flounder, a species of fish with a similar profile. In more technical terms, flounder houses possess shed roofs, in which a roof angles down from a taller exterior wall to a parallel, shorter wall. Unlike more complicated roof types, like a gabled or hipped roof, the shed roof common to a flounder simply required carpenters to lay roof rafters from one wall to the other, eliminating the need for a more complicated ridge or hip structure. Likewise, the shed roof allowed for a house to be built right on the property line without worrying about issues of drainage affecting a neighbor.

But of course in St. Louis architecture, nothing is ever that simple, and the flounder style of construction developed numerous, fascinating variants around the city. 

shed roof version with side upper balcony

shed roof version with attached wood addition

hipped roof version

hipped roof version with stone base

Consequently, the Cultural Resources Office, a department of the St. Louis Planning and Urban Development Agency, has begun the process of documenting all of the flounder houses in the city. Leading the effort is Jan Cameron, Preservation Administrator; so far she and her staff have identified at least 260 flounder houses and variants throughout the city. Logically, most are located within the heart of 19th-century St. Louis, east of Grand, but the style has also been found in what would have been the rural outskirts of the city back then.

Besides the traditional flounder house, Cultural Resources has identified variations on the original simple shed roof. Some flounders have a gabled roof, but then mysteriously, only one side of the gable is complete and the other side is only constructed half way to its logical completion. Originally, on many examples of this style, there was an open gallery (now filled in on many houses) that completed the gable roof. Likewise, and arguing against simplicity being the sole reason for flounders, some houses of this style have a gambrel or hipped roof.

Why does this matter? For a city such as St. Louis that constantly emphasizes its prosperity and influence during the 19th century, surprisingly little of the built environment from the 1800s as a percentage of the total building stock of the city survives. Swept away primarily by urban renewal or replacement by early Twentieth Century construction, the buildings remaining from the decades around the Civil War are treasured reminders of what St. Louis used to be.

Unfortunately, because of their age, abandoned flounders often suffer from severe neglect and deterioration, placing their fate in jeopardy. Just recently, a flounder in the Gravois Park neighborhood was lost due to its ostensibly advanced disrepair. Likewise, muddling with inappropriate siding, such as a well-preserved but abandoned flounder on Utah in the Benton Park West neighborhood, makes preservation more difficult. After all, who would want to save such an “ugly” building? But fire insurance maps reveal that under the white asphalt siding is a brick flounder, certainly worth saving.

Perhaps another motivation for saving these 19th-century houses (and this author has covered other endangered houses from the 1800s before) revolves around the relative simplicity of these houses. Not particularly large, and frequently placed right along the property line, the flounder opens up significant space for gardens and other outdoor activities on a relatively small city lot. Their small, efficient design, often with a party wall, should prove desirable to those looking to save money on utilities. Ultimately, Cameron and Cultural Resources hope to submit the flounder style to the National Register, opening up the possibility of tax credits for owners who renovate these distinctive houses. And more importantly, this unique and rare housing style will receive the respect it has long deserved.

Finding St. Louis' Famous Flounder Houses

by Chris Naffziger 
St. Louis Magazine
March 4, 2015

.   .   .

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sana'a, Yemen

A World Heritage Site ...

Situated in a mountain valley at an altitude of 2,200 m, the Old City of Sana'a is defined by an extraordinary density of rammed earth and burnt brick towers rising several stories above stone-built ground floors, strikingly decorated with geometric patterns of fired bricks and white gypsum. The ochre of the buildings blends into the bistre-colored earth of the nearby mountains. Within the city, minarets pierce the skyline and spacious green bustans (gardens) are scattered between the densely packed houses, mosques, bath buildings and caravanserais.
Inhabited for more than 2,500 years, the city was given official status in the second century BC when it was an outpost of the Yemenite kingdoms. By the first century AD it emerged as a centre of the inland trade route. The site of the cathedral and the martyrium constructed during the period of Abyssinian domination (525-75) bear witness to Christian influence whose apogee coincided with the reign of Justinian. The remains of the pre-Islamic period were largely destroyed as a result of profound changes in the city from the 7th century onwards when Sana'a became a major centre for the spread of the Islamic faith as demonstrated by the archaeological remains within the Great Mosque, said to have been constructed while the Prophet was still living. Successive reconstructions of Sana'a under Ottoman domination beginning in the 16th century respected the organization of space characteristic of the early centuries of Islam while changing the appearance of the city and expanding it with a second city to the west. The houses in the old city are of relatively recent construction and have a traditional structure.
As an outstanding example of a homogeneous architectural ensemble reflecting the spatial characteristics of the early years of Islam, the city in its landscape has an extraordinary artistic and pictorial quality. Its many-storied buildings represent an outstanding response to defensive needs in providing spacious living quarters for the maximum number of residents within defensible city walls. The buildings demonstrate exceptional craftsmanship in the use of local materials and techniques. The houses and public buildings of Sana'a, which have become vulnerable as a result of contemporary social changes, are an outstanding example of a traditional, Islamic human settlement.
Described by historians, geographers and scholars of the early Islamic and medieval eras, Sana'a is associated with the civilizations of the Bible and the Koran.
(source: UNESCO)

doors and windows

 people of Sana'a

.   .   .


Recommended Books

  • - Precedents in Architecture
  • - City Comforts
  • - A Pattern Language
  • - The Architecture of Happiness
  • - Architectural Composition
  • - Design Language
  • - Elements of Garden Design
  • - Chambers for a Memory Palace