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

Monday, January 16, 2017

A tribute to an incredible landscape architect

Who is this man ?

Roberto Burle Marx

August 4, 1909 – June 4, 1994

A Brazilian landscape architect, plant propagator and painter who was known as the designer of the Copacabana in Rio de Janiero.

Burle Marx was a modernist painter and garden/park designer.

Here are some classic designs of his...

but what I didn't know...

was that he also 
designed some 
beautiful stained glass

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Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Ndebele wall designs

The Ndebeles are an African ethnic group living in South Africa and Zimbabwe known for their artistic talent, especially with regard to their painted houses and colorful beadwork. Not much is known about these people except that they originated from the larger Nguni tribes who make up almost two thirds of the black population in South Africa. Ndebeles are thought to have travelled from Natal to the Transvaal region and settled near Pretoria in the 16th century. Rivalry between families caused one group of Ndebele to go farther north into Zimbabwe. Of the groups that stayed in South Africa, the Manala and the Ndzundza, it is the latter who developed abstract house-painting schemes and who are recognized globally as the Ndebele of South Africa.


The Ndebele people were formidable warriors who often subdued the smaller chiefdom's and assimilated them into Ndebele society. Intermarriages ensued and cultural exchanged happened. It is believed that early Ndebele house structure and house-painting strategies were adopted as a result of these relationships. According to a few sources, the Ndebeles suffered a horrible defeat in a war against the Dutch-speaking settlers – the Boers, just before the start of the twentieth century. Forced into an oppressive life, the Ndebele people started using expressive symbols to secretly communicate with each other. These paintings became an expression of both cultural resistance and continuity. The Boer farmers did not understand the meaning and viewed this cultural art as decorative and harmless and thus allowed it to continue.
The wall paintings are always done by the women, and this tradition and style is passed down in the families from generation to generation by the mothers. A well-painted home indicates the female of the household is a good wife and mother. She is responsible for the painting of the outside gates, front walls, side walls, and usually the interior of her home.

Women at the Ndebele Cultural Village, Loopspruit, Gauteng, South Africa. 

The initial wall art designs and symbolic forms were derived from centuries-old Ndebele beadwork forms and patterns. Earliest wall art shows tonal patterns painted by the women with their fingers on mud walls of their cylindrical houses. Prior to the French introduction of acrylic pigments into South Africa in the 1940s, only natural pigments were used. Monochrome ochres, browns, black, and limestone whitewash were the initial hues. The walls had to be resurfaced seasonally, after the summer rains washed away the natural pigments.

The Ndebele wall designs have evolved over the years showing increasing external influence. In one example, a huge BMW logo was found painted on a house. However, in the remote Nebo area of the Northern Province one can still see the traditional black soot lines, limestone whitewash, and red and dark red brown, now complemented by sky blue, deep blue, yellow-gold, green, and occasionally pink.
One of the best places to see this form of art is at Mapoch, about 40 km west outside Pretoria. Another Ndebele village well worth a visit is Mpumalanga, situated in eastern South Africa, north of KwaZulu-Natal and bordering Swaziland and Mozambique.















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Friday, January 6, 2017

What is the oldest continually inhabited town/city in the United States?

some people would say St. Augustine, Florida (founded 1565)

St. Augusitine IS the oldest EUROPEAN continually inhabited settlement.

BUT THIS IS THE OLDEST ... by 500 years !!

to be fair, it is one of two or three settlements -

The photo above is of 

Acoma, New Mexico

the other settlement is...

Shongopovi, Arizona

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see... we think in Eurocentric terms
but both of these settlements have been continually
inhabited since around 1000 by Native Americans !!

another great site is Walpi

Perched on a narrow finger of First Mesa in the heart of the Hopi Nation in northwest Arizona, Walpi is the mother village of 11 surrounding Hopi settlements. Originally established in the thirteenth century at the base of the mesa, Walpi was moved to its current location as a defensive measure after the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish in 1680. The village was built using hand-trimmed sandstone and earth. The roofs consist of lestavi (structural beams) and wu’na o’ye (smaller poles resting on the lestavi) capped with layers of brush and clay. The village has retained its historical integrity by avoiding the introduction of running water and electricity, and the walls of its buildings are still hand-plastered by local women. Walpi leads the surrounding First Mesa villages in religious rituals and is also the residence for the Kikmongwi, the village leader. It is a significant Native American site that represents traditional Hopi architecture and identity.

During the 1880s and 1890s, Walpi’s inhabitants began migrating to more contemporary houses in the nearby village of Polacca and its permanent population slowly dwindled in the twentieth century. Many Polacca families retain ownership of their houses in Walpi, but they are now used predominantly for public ceremonies. Tourism began to develop at the site in 1985 and became an important income stream for the community. Over the years weathering, insufficient maintenance, and the use of modern construction materials like concrete block and plywood have compromised the integrity of the site. Some buildings in the village border steep cliffs and finding a way to preserve and reinforce them is necessary for the safety of the village. The Hopi community would like to restore the site using traditional materials and methods.

Traditional roof installation protects the historic fabric of the village
Following Walpi’s inclusion on the 2012 World Monuments Watch, WMF partnered with the village community to organize two heritage workdays that drew attention to the basic maintenance practices required to keep the site in good condition. Volunteers cleared trash from the base of the cliffs on which the village is perched. Similar activities were held during Watch Day in October 2012.

Early in 2013, WMF collaborated with the Walpi Village Administrator to develop a pilot project to reinstate traditional roofs on two houses that, save for their roofs, retained all of their original construction materials. Almost all the original roofs at Walpi were removed in a HUD-funded improvement project in the 1970s, and they were replaced with contemporary plywood-and-tarpaper roofs that have now reached the end of their functional lives. The project is in the development phase.

Walpi Village is a vital community embodying the traditional Hopi way of life. Its protection and conservation are essential for community members as well as in providing visitors with an important living illustration of the tribe’s rituals, architecture, and history.

source: World Heritage Fund

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

the art of the Mardi Gras Indians #2

Some chiefs have moved the design paradigm in new directions. One of those is 

Victor Harris

Big Chief of the Mandingo Warriors

Harris spent 18 years with the Yellow Pocahontas, always “running flag.” However because veteran Ray “Hatchet” Blazio, who Harris greatly admired, held the first flag position in the gang, he realized he could never be the number one flagboy. After a time, he began describing his own position as “flag of the nation.”

When he did this, he says, it marked the beginning of his stylistically African approach to design that continued when he started his own gang, commonly called simply Fi-Yi-Yi. “I was on that path,” the chief explains. “I was heading that way. I already changed some of my ways of masking {as a flagboy} by having a shield instead of a flag.”

A certain heartbreak still remains in Harris’ voice when he speaks of being “banished” from the Yellow Pocahontas in 1984. He won’t speak of the reason as he remains loyal to the gang – “I just love these people” – though one could speculate that his pain led him to perhaps greater things.

“Everything seemed hopeless to me — I had no tribe,” Harris remembers.” I was banned from the Yellow Pocahontas which was my community, my livelihood and everything else. And I loved masking Mardi Gras Indian. The only thing that I could do was to pray.”

“It was at night, I was all alone. I turned off every light in the house, the clock that was ticking, I stopped that from happening. I made sure the TV and the refrigerator were unplugged because I didn’t want to hear a humming sound. I just wanted to be alone with the spirit in the dark.

I woke up that next morning and I felt very good and I just started stretching and flexing my arms and started to say ‘Yi-Yi.’ Suddenly I stopped and then I said ‘Fi-Yi-Yi’ and the third time I screamed it ‘Fi-Yi-Yi.’ That was the first time the word was ever mentioned.

That’s when the spirit hit me.
That was my given spiritual cultural name and it represented Africa.”

Victor Harris - 50 years of dedicated Service
by Geraldine Wycoff
Louisiana Weekly
March 30,2015

Big Chief Harris has masked for 52 years - each year making a new suit from scratch. He wears a full face mask covered with shells, strings of beads and "stones".

here are some close-ups of his style of beadwork




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Monday, January 2, 2017

The wisdom of Earl Moursund, Professor Emeritus

Looking at Spatial Composition

I have been working on a book of concepts based upon the work of a professor from the University of Oregon. When I was there for graduate studies, Earl Moursund taught ARCH 415G "Fundamentals of Spatial Composition". It was a mind bending course taught by a rare true master. Thirty five years later, I surprised Earl by sending him copies of the book I put together. In big bold letters was his name - I was told it was very emotional for him (you earned it Professor Moursund!!). 

Here are some studies I did for that class. 

We were asked to look at Tigbourne Court in Wormley, Surry in England. 

The architect was Sir Edwin Lutyens (who later laid out the plan for the capital of New Delhi, India). 

The structure was completed in 1901.

front view

side view

front entry

entry to garden

the book is available from Amazon

(yes it is advertising!)

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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