Joe Raskin

Urban Photography by Joe Raskin

Born in Queens, New York, Joe Raskin is a photographer, an avid urban explorer, and chronicler of New York City. He has posted on his blog over forty-eight thousand photographs of the greater New York City region, which he shot while wandering its boroughs over a period of seven years. Raskin primarily documents the varying architectural styles of the city’s buildings, but also shoots images of its subways and commuter railway lines. 

Raskin is a graduate of York College, City University of New York, where he majored in political science; he received his Masters Degree in Urban Studies from Queens College in New York. Although he attended a  photography class while at York College, Raskin considers himself self-taught. Originally starting with a Kodak Brownie camera, his primary equipment choices now are the digital Panasonic Lumix and the smaller, digital Casio Exilim. 

Prior to his retirement, Joe Raskin served as assistant director of Government and Community Relations at the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York. He is the author of a book on the history of New York’s subway system entitled “The Routes Not Taken; A Trip Though New York City’s Unbuilt Subway System”, published in 2013.  Now a resident of the Chelsea neighborhood on the west side of Manhattan, Raskin previously lived  over thirty years in the neighborhoods of Sunnyside, Rochdale Village, and Astoria. 

Influences on Raskin’s work include the works of Arnold Eagle, a photographer and cinematographer known for his socially concerned photographs of the 1930s and 1940s; Todd Webb, whose photographs documented architecture and everyday life in cities; and, in particular, the work of Berenice Abbott, best known for her photographs of New York City architecture and urban design of the 1930s. A portrait photographer of cultural figures from 1920 to 1940, Abbott was a central figure between the photographic circles and cultural hubs of Paris and New York.

A life-long history buff, Raskin’s photographs document how New York City grew in  its expansion from just the downtown areas into each of the boroughs. This expansion was, in a large part, enabled by the rapid growth of its extensive subway and rail systems. Although Raskin documents many historical, architectural styles of buildings, he finds classic city housing, such as Art Deco Bronx apartment houses, Mathews Model Flats row houses, and brownstones and townhouses, the most intriguing to photograph. 

“I’ve always looked at the paintings of Edward Hopper and the photographs of Berenice Abbott as a reference point for my photographs. They seemed to be more intent on showing the environment of an area. When a person was in Abbott’s photographs or many of Hopper’s paintings, they were part of the overall scene, rather than the subject. If someone shows up in one of my photographs, it’s more of an incidental matter more than anything else. They’re part of the background, a component of the overall scene.” 

—Joe Raskin, Art in New York City, July 2012

Joe Raskin’s photographs can be found on his blog located at:  https://wanderingnewyork.tumblr.com

Top Insert Image: Joe Raskin, “North View of 90th Street, Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights”, Queens, New York

Bottom Insert Image: Joe Raskin, “Apartment Building, Highbridge”, Bronx, New York

Pier Luigi Nervi

Architectural Designs by Pier Luigi Nervi

Born in the Alpine town of Sondria in June of 1891, Pier Luigi Nervi was an Italian engineer and architect known for his innovative use of concrete and thin-shelled structures. In 1913, he earned his degree in engineering from Bologna’s Civil Engineering School, and upon graduation, joined the Society for Concrete Construction. Nervi considered building construction to be both an art and a science, and as such, dedicated his career to the innovative use of reinforced concrete.

During World War I, Nervi served from 1915 to 1918 as a lieutenant in the Italian Army’s Corps of Engineering. After the war, he worked, beginning in 1923, as a civil engineer in both Bologna and Florence. Nervi’s first significant work was the Augusteo Cinema Theater on the Vomero hill in Naples, which  was completed in 1927. This work was followed by Florence’s Stadio Artemio Franchi, originally named Studio Giovanni Berta. Built between 1930 and 1932, its boldly cantilevered roof and helical staircases won critical acclaim and popular attention throughout Italy. 

In 1932, Pier Luigi Nervi formed a contracting firm, called Società Ingg. Nervi e Bartoli, with his cousin, engineer Giovanni Bartoli, with whom he would work for the remainder of his career. In 1935, Nervi won a competition held by the Italian Air Force for the construction of a series of hangers to be built throughout Italy. His conception of the hangers as concrete vaults with huge spans of reinforced concrete, constructed at low cost, were built between 1935 and 1941. After finishing the first hanger in Orvieto, he improved the design of the hangers in Obertello and Torre del Lago by using precast ribs, a lighter roof, and a modular construction method.

Nervi’s conceptual designs continued to grow through his search for new solutions to structural problems. Through his research, he developed a material of his own invention, a dense concrete called ferrocemento, which was heavily reinforced with evenly distributed steel mesh that gave both lightness and strength. This material played a vital role in Nervi’s design for the Palace of Labor, a collaborative project with his son Antonio Nervi for an exhibition space at the 1951 Turin Exhibition. A prefabricated structure in the form of a corrugated cylindrical arch, the Palace of Labor contained eighty-five thousand feet of exhibition space under a roof divided in sixteen structurally separated squares edged by continuous skylights. Sixty-five foot concrete columns were fixed in the center of each square and held these squares through small arched ribs. The use of arched ribs became a characteristic of Nervi’s oeuvre.

Pier Luigi Nervi’s solutions to construction problems was always direct; he transmitted the stresses developed within his structures to the ground by the shortest path. He used insights from his study of geometry to develop a new form of shell construction, one which generated three-dimensional lattices from concrete ribs. Nervi’s innovative use of pre-made concrete modules was cost-effective and resulted in both functional and ornamentally-geometric structures. Although his primary concern was never aesthetic, his works achieved a forceful expression to a great degree. Nervi introduced a creative three-dimensional quality into architectural design by his use of warping surfaces, folded plates, and intersecting planes. He emphasized functional needs, the technology of construction, knowledge of materials and statistics, and efficiency in building as the mainstays of an architect’s career.

Nervi was awarded Gold Medals by the United Kingdom’s Institution of Structural Engineers, the American Institute of Architects, and the Royal Institute of British Architects. in 1961 Harvard University appointed Nervi  to the Charles Eliot Norton Chair of Poetry. Towards the end of his career, Nervi, assisted by his two sons, the engineer Antonio and the architect Mario, confined his activities to design work in association with other architects. He died in January of 1979, at the age of eighty-seven, in Rome, Italy.

Nervi’s works include the UNESCO headquarters in Paris; Milan’s Pirelli Tower which was the first skyscraper in Italy; the Palazzetto dello Sport in Rome; the Sacro Cuore Bell Tower in Florence; the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco,;the cylindrical Australian Square tower, at the time the tallest concrete structure in the world; Vatican City’s Paul VI Audience Hall; and the Australian Embassy in Paris. 

Susi Leeton

Susi Leeton, The Birch Tree House

Susi Leeton graduated with honors in a Bachelor of Architecture Degree from Melbourne University. After gaining international experience in Rome and Singapore, she returned to Melbourne and began working on a range of residential, retail and commercial projects. In 1997, Leeton established her office, Susi Leeton Architects and Interiors, where she has creatively explored both urban and rural settings. 

Susi Leeton Architects and Interiors is a small practice, located in the South Yarra area of Melbourne, Australia, which focuses on high-end residential projects. The practice encompasses all the disciplines of architecture and interior design: conceptual design, regulatory, town planning, engineering, documentation, and furnishing. Working with clients on a holistic level, the practice ensures design continuity within strict budget parameters throughout the project. 

The Birch Tree House is a sculptural, four bedroom, family home approached along a pathway aligned with a row of birch trees. The entry is sheltered within an arch containing an oversized door. The focus of the house is towards the northern wall of large steel sliding doors which open onto the yard with its large oval pool. The volumes of space are soft, sculptural forms that overlap and intersect creating workable family zones both inside and out. 

Natural light and soft materials, whose finishes were deliberately refined and tonal, were selected to create a chiaroscuro of light and shade. Texture was a main consideration in the design. Natural limestone, oak timber flooring, polished plaster walls, and linen curtains were the understated palette. The walls of polished concrete create a shimmering effect throughout every space. 

Birch Tree House was on the 2020 shortlist for the Australian Interior Design Awards. Construction was done by Visioneer Builders, an Australian award-winning construction group located in Richmond, Victoria Province, which is  focused on unique, highly-specified single residences, multi=residential developments and commercial structures. 

The photography was done by Felix Mooneeram, a freelance photographer from the United Kingdom with a focus on design, architecture and lifestyles, and Nicole England, a Melbourne-based architecture and interiors photographer who has worked with many of the industry’s top architects and designers worldwide. 

Yerebatan Samici: Basilica Cistern

The Yerebatan Samici  (Basilica Cistern)

The Yerebatan Samici, or Basilica Cistern, is the largest of several hundred cisterns located beneath the city of Istanbul in Turkey. Built in the sixth-century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, it is located one hundred-fifty meters southwest of the Hagia Sophia and currently maintained as a tourist site.

Before the construction of the cistern, a public building serving as a commercial, legal and artistic center, called the Stoa Basilica, was located  on the site of the large public square at the First Hill of Constantinople. After assuming control of the empire in 324 AD, the Emperor Constantine built the Basilica Cistern on that site. The cistern served as a water filtration system for the extensive palace complex of Constantinople and other public buildings on the hill. After the Nika Riots of 532 destroyed nearly half of the city of Constantinople, the original cistern was rebuilt and enlarged during the reign of Emperor Justinian.

The Basilica Cistern/s chamber is about ninety-eight hundred square meters and is capable of holding eighty-thousand cubic meters of water. The ceiling, nine meters in height, is supported by twelve rows, spaced five meters apart, of twenty-eight marble columns, with capitals of mainly Corinthian and Ionic styles. The majority of the columns, carved and engraved from various types of marble and granite, were likely brought to Constantinople from other parts of the empire

Entrance to the Basilica Cistern is reached through a descent down fifty-two stone steps to the water storage. The source for the cistern’s water supply is the current Eğrikapı Water Distribution Center in the Belgrade Forest, located nineteen kilometers north of Istanbul. The water’s long journey includes a one-thousand meter run through both the Valens and Mağlova Aqueducts to reach the storage basin of the cistern.

The Basilica Cistern has undergone several restorations since its foundation. During the eighteenth-century reign of Ottoman Emperor Ahmed III, architect Muhammad Agha of Kayseri oversaw a major restoration in 1723. A second major restoration during the nineteenth-century was conducted during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II. The Metropolitan Museum of Istanbul also undertook two repairs to cracks in the masonry and damage to the columns, the first in 1968 and the second in 1985. 

During the 1985 restoration, fifty thousand tons of mud were removed from the Basilica Cistern, and platforms for tourists were built to replace the former tour boats. The cistern was opened to the public on the 9th of September in 1987. It has appeared as settings in fiction novels, video games, and films, including the 1063 James Bond “From Russia with Love” and Jean-Baptiste Andrea’s 2013 thriller “Brotherhood of Tears”

Étienne-Louis Boullée

Architectural Design by Étienne-Louis Boullée

Born in Paris in February of 1728, Étienne-Louis Boullée was a architect, theorist, and teacher. Though regarded as one of the most visionary and influential architects in French neoclassicism, he saw none of his most extraordinary designs come to life. 

Throughout the late 1700s, Boullée taught, theorized, and practiced architecture in a characteristic style consisting of geometric forms on an enormous scale, an excision of unnecessary ornamentation, and the use of repetitive columns and other similar elements of regularity and symmetry. Boullée’s focus on polarity, offsetting opposite design elements, and his use of light and shadow were highly innovative for the period.

Boullée studied under architects Germain Boffrand of the Académie Royale d’Architecture, and Jacques-François Blondel of the Ecole des Arts, where he studied until 1746. He was immediately appointed a professor of architecture at the newly established Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées, under its director, civil engineer Jean-Rodolphe Perronet, This professorship gave Boullée access to public commissions and an opportunity to engage his architectural vision within France’s social and economic progress.

Étienne-Louis Boullée was elected to the Académie Royale d’Architecture in 1762, and was appointed chief architect to Frederick II of Prussia. From 1762 to 1778, he designed a number of private houses, most of which no longer exist, and several grand Parisian hotels, which included the Hôtel de Brunoy, demolished in 1939, and the still-existing Hôtel Alexandre, on the Rue de la Ville-l’Évèque. 

Boullèe’s reputation and vision as an architect rests mainly on his teachings and his drawn designs which span the years from France’s Revolution in 1784 to Napoleon’s rise to power and Egyptian expedition in 1790. Boullée’s project drawings, as a collection, represented  the necessary institutions for an ideal city or state. They displayed no direct political affiliations with any of the reigning doctrines or parties during this span of time; rather they adopted a belief in scientific progress symbolized in monumental forms, a dedication to celebrate the grandeur of a Nation, and, more often than not, a meditation on the sublime sobriety of death.

During this period, Boullée produced a continuous series of elaborate architectural designs beginning with a metropolitan cathedral and a colosseum for Paris, both designed in 1782. He designed a monumental-sized museum in 1783, which was followed by a cenotaph, or memorial tomb, for Isaac Newton in 1784. The design for a new reading room at the Royal Library was finished in 1785; and in 1787, Boullée finished plans for a new bridge over the Seine River.

In the late 1780s after the Revolution, severe illness forced Boullée to retire to his country house outside of Paris, where he finished the final architectural designs of his career. These included design plans for: a monument in celebration of the “Féte Dieu”, one of the most popular of the Revolutionary festivals; a monument to ‘Public Recognition’; and plans, finished in 1792, for both a national and a municipal palace. In silent protest against the terror spread by  the Revolution, Boullée also designed a reconstruction of the Tower of Babel which took the from of a pure cone on a cubic base, with a trail of figures winding in a spiral, hand to hand to the top; this sturcture would by seen by the nation as a symbol of hope for a unified people with a common language.

Étienne-Louis Boullée died in Paris on February 4th of 1799, at the age of seventy. During his life, he taught some of the most prominent architects of his day including Jean Chalgrin the designer of Paris’s Arc de Tromphe, and Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand, who anticipated the use of simple modular elements in construction,. Boullée’s book “Architecture, Essai sur l’Art”, a collection of papers, notes and letters arguing for an emotionally committed Neoclassicism, was posthumously published in 1953.

‘Yes, I believe that our buildings, above all our public buildings, should be in some sense poems. The images they offer our senses should arouse in us sentiments corresponding to the purpose for which these buildings are intended.” — Étienne-Louis  Boullèe

The Darmstadt Artists’ Colony

The Darmstadt Artists’ Colony

Between 1899 and 1914, the Mathildenhöhe (Mathilda Heights) of Darmstadt, a city in the state of Hesse, Germany, was the site of the legendary Artists’ Colony. It was founded by the young and ambitious Ernst Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse, who was the grandson of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and brother to Alexandra who married Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia. 

Grand Duke Ludwig was determined to turn his state into a cradle of modern design and art on the highest level. To attain this goal, he commissioned some of the most talented artists of the time to become members of the Colony, including Vienna’s distinguished architect Joseph Maria Olbrich, one of the Vienna Secession founders, and self-taught Peter Behrens, who would become Germany’s top architect in the decade to follow. 

Situated close to the city centre, the Artists’ Colony became a sensational experimental field for artistic innovations in which the sovereign and a group of young artists realized their vision of a fusion of art and life. Their intention was to revolutionize architecture and interior design in order to create a modern living culture with an integration of both housing and work space. The whole human life-style was to be reformed to gain in beauty and happiness as well as in simplicity and functionality.

Beginning during a period when art existed for the sake of its beauty alone, the progress of the Artists’ Colony was slow; however, after 1901, the program gradually became more rational and realistic. This change was evident, among other things, in the numerous buildings created on the Mathildenhöhe from 1900 to 1914. Though at first the artists concentrated on the construction of private villas, they later created apartment houses and workers’ homes in an effort to face the arising questions of their time’s life and housing.

The ensemble of the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony is considered today to be one of the most impressive records of the dawning of modern art. Its appearance is still marked primarily by the buildings of the architect Joseph Maria Olbrich, who notably created the remarkable silhouette of the Colony, facing the city of Darmstadt, with his Wedding Tower and the Exhibition Building, both completed in 1908. 

The Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt is basically an open-air museum where the artwork is present in the form of its buildings, fountains and sculptures. At the same time, Joseph  Olbrich’s 1901 Ernst-Ludwig House, the former studio house and spiritual centre of the artists’ colony, is now a museum that presents fine and decorative art from the members of the artists’ colony. The unique integrity of the building complex is today a first-class cultural attraction, and the lively. contemporary centre of the Darmstadt’s cultural landscape. 

Note: The original Artists’ Colony group, headed by Joseph Maria Olbrich, included painter, decorative artist, and architect Peter Behrens; decorator Hans Christiansen; decorator Patriz Huber; sculptor Ludwig Habich; visual artist Rudolf Bosselt; and decorative painter Paul Bürck. Between 1904 and 1907, the group was joined by ceramicist Jakob j Scharvogel, glass blower Josef Emil Schneckendorf, and book craftsman Friedrich W Kleukens. 

After Joseph Olbrich’s death in 1908, architect and designer Albin Müller led the group. Under Müller’s leadership, the group expanded with majolica craftsman Bernhard Hoetger, goldsmiths Ernst Riegel and Theodore Wende, and Emanuel Margold, a student of painter Hans Hoffman.

Mary Fraser Tytler-Watts

Mary Fraser Tytler-Watts, The Watts Mortuary Chapel, Compton, Surrey, England

Born in November of 1849 in India, Mary Seton Fraser Tytler was a Symbolist craftswoman, designer, and social reformer. She spent her early years in Scotland, being raised by her grandparents, before moving to England in the 1860s. In 1870 Tytler studied at the South Kensington School of Art, and later studied sculpture at the Slade School of Art in 1872 and 1873. Initially a portrait painter, she associated with the Freshwater art community on the Isle of Wight, becoming friends with Julia Margaret Cameron, a British photographer known for her soft-focus portraits of Victorian men.

Mary Tytler met painter George Frederic Watts, who was thirty-three years her senior, and married him in November of 1886 in Epsom, Surrey. After her marriage, Mary Watts worked in the fields of Celtic and Art Nouveau, producing pottery, bas-reliefs, metalwork, and textiles. Watts exhibited her work in The Woman’s Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago, Illinois. Through the Home Arts and Industries Association, she created employment in the rural communities; she also trained workers in clay modeling, which led to the establishment of the Compton Potters’ Guild in 1899.

Mary Watts designed, built, and maintained the Watts Mortuary Chapel in Compton from 1895 to 1904. It is a chapel in an Art Nouveau version of the Celtic Revival style. The main structure is inspired by the 11th and 12th-century Romanesque architecture; but the terracotta relief carving and painting is Celtic Revival. Virtually every village resident was involved in the chapel’s construction, with local villagers, under Watt’s guidance decorating the interior with a fusion of art nouveau and Celtic influences. George Watts, Mary’s husband, paid for the entire project and painted the allegorical “The All-Prevading” for the altar just three months before he died in July of 1904. 

Mary Watts strongly supported the revival of the Celtic style, the indigenous artistic expression of Scotland and Ireland. In 1899, she began designing rugs in this style for the carpet company Alexander Morton & Company, which was Liberty & Company’s, the luxury department store, main producer of fabrics. Watts pioneered the department store’s Celtic style with designs for the Celtic Revival textiles, carpets, book-bindings, and metal work.

Mary Watts was President of the Godalming and District National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society and convened at least one women’s suffrage meeting in Compton, Surrey. A firm believer that everyone should have a craft with which they could express themselves, Mary Watts died at Limnerslease, her home in Compton, on the sixth of September in 1938. Her remains are buried in the Watts Mortuary Chapel.

Note: The Watts Mortuary Chapel at Compton, Surrey, is managed by the nearby Watts Gallery, dedicated to the paintings and sculptures of George Frederic Watts. The chapel is open Monday to Friday (8AM to 5PM) and Saturday to Sunday (10AM to 5:30PM). There is no entrance charge.

Wat Samphran

Wat Samphran, a Buddhist temple in Amphoe Sam Phran, is located about forty kilometers west of Bangkok in Thailand. The seventeen story temple is known for its gigantic dragon which curls around the entire height of the building. The dragon contains a staircase, which, due to its poor condition, is no longer in use.

The founder of the temple, after a seven-day fasting meditation, realized the design of the structure. The 80 meters tall building honors the number of years that the Buddha manifested on the earth. A large figure of the Buddha resides on the third floor and a shrine to the Goddess of Mercy is located on the grounds of the temple.

Glen Iris House

Steffen Welsch Architects, Underground Rain Water Collecting Pool

Combining art with technology and social responsibility, the Australian frim of Steffen Welsch Architects uses sustainable materials like hemp and rammed earth while embodying the ideals of Bauhaus architecture to staggering results. This is their underground pool created by harvesting rainwater. In addition to rammed-earth houses that generate their own energy and capture their own water, they also build modern abodes like the Glen Iris House, a two storey modern Californian-style house in suburban Melbourne. .

Thomas Heatherwick

Thomas Heatherwick, The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town, South Africa

British architectual designer Thomas Heatherwick created Sout Africa’s biggest art museum by holllowing out the inside of a historic grain silo building. Zeitz MOCAA opened on September 22 of 2017 and is located at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront.

The museum is housed in 9,500 sq metres of custom designed space, spread over nine floors, carved out of the monumental structure of the historic Grain Silo Complex. The silo, disused since 1990, stands as a monument to the industrial past of Cape Town,  at one time the tallest building in South Africa.

The galleries and the atrium space at the centre of the museum have been carved from the silos’ dense cellular structure of forty-two tubes that pack the building. The development includes 6,000 sq metres of exhibition space in 80 gallery spaces, a rooftop sculpture garden, state of the art storage and conservation areas, a bookshop, a restaurant, bar, and reading rooms.

The museum will also house Centres for a Costume Institute, Photography, Curatorial Excellence, the Moving Image, Performative Practice and Art Education.