Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Going Postal

For some reason, I'm finding this fascinating. The Zone Improvement Plan "ZIP" codes to expedite postal shipment on addresses in the United States was first proposed in 1944 by postal worker Robert Moon. It was put into voluntary effect in 1963, and became mandatory in 1967.

The 10000 ZIP codes begin in the heart of New York City at 10001, and presumably spiral more or less outward from there.
The 20000 ZIP codes begin in the heart of Washington, DC (though, oddly, not at the White House or the Capital Building).
The 30000s in Atlanta, Georgia, though starting at 30002; there is no 30001.

That all makes pretty logical sense, but here's where it gets interesting.

The 40000s begin in Louisville, Kentucky at 40003.
The 50000s in Des Moines, Iowa.
The 60000s in Chicago.
The 70000s in New Orleans.
The 80000s in Denver, Colorado at 80002.
And the 90000s start in Los Angeles.

The lowest numerical ZIP code is 00501, but that's for an Internal Revenue Service facility located there. Adjuntas, Puerto Rico is also quite low at 00601, but since Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, this was likely a wild card like the IRS location.

Following the logic above, the 00000 ZIP codes should probably be considered to begin in Springfield, Massachusetts--strangely, not Boston--at 01001.

Ryan Witte

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Slippage

1895--St. Louis, Missouri
 
Ernest Hogan
Black musicians playing in big bands performing the music of the Great John Philip Sousa and his ilk, on their off hours, for fun and personal expression, begin "ragging" on the strict compositions. They infuse the standards with rhythms derived from their West African roots. This gives rise to Ragtime, a genre named by Ernest Hogan from Bowling Green, Kentucky, who puts some of the new style down on paper. In 1897, Scott Joplin composes "The Maple Leaf Rag," which will become one of the most treasured songs of the style. Ragtime will go on to take ample advantage of a new technology, the player piano. Its structural base is the flat, barren (though often bombastic) composed melodies of the marches, behind and underneath which swirling, jumping African rhythms are set free to rearrange the expressive interpretation of the notes.


Circa 1910--Paris, France
Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler

Pablo Picasso sets the gaze of the artist free to roam around its subject, depicting it from numerous different vantages at once, rather than remaining fixed in place as it had been for thousands of years, bound as it was to the shackles of a motionless observer and classical perspective. He, along with many other concurrent artists, invents Cubism. Its foundation is the flat, static picture plane, these are still traditional paintings, after all. But beyond it, the unmoored eye swirls and floats freely around the depicted subject. 


 


1912--Paris and Milan

Unique Forms...
Marcel Duchamp and the Futurists disengage the depicted scene in an artwork from a singular moment in time. Instead, they portray the passage of time as it occurs in the movement of their subject. Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase becomes a controversial sensation. Umberto Boccioni's Unique Forms of Continuity in Space becomes a quasi-manifesto of sculptural form to rival the one on paper written by his compatriot, Marinetti. Their foundation is the flat, static, singular art object. Beyond this, the experience of time slips back and forth fluidly and freely.




1917--New Orleans, Louisiana

Although what we would come to know as Jazz had been evolving for at least a century or more, its emergence into popular, universal consciousness is difficult to pinpoint. I mean that to say, not just among white audiences, but also among people of Central and South America, Europe, perhaps even Eastern Europe and Asia, and elsewhere outside the Black Diaspora of North America. I am not a Jazz historian, and I'd never pretend to be. Nevertheless, Black musicians incorporate a very important feature into their performance style: improvisation. One musician at a time in a troupe is set free to express his or her own interpretation of the recognized melody. Above the flat, consistent, foundation of the song structure, as the remaining musicians hold steady, an individual performer is set free to express his or her individual interpretation in a fluid and unconstrained manner.

 
1921--Vienna, Austria

Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg abandons the tenets of western classical music and adopts the 12-tone scale often found in Eastern musical history. Igor Stravinsky and many other incredible composers will eventually follow his lead. Its foundation is the basic, flat structure of composed, orchestrated music. Beyond this, the arrangements of notes in a phrase become free and unconstrained by the regulations of keys or traditional chords.

 







1927--Garches, France
Villa Stein

Le Corbusier creates the Villa Stein, for Gertrude Stein's sister-in-law and her husband. Aside from a few sculptural protuberances from the front facade, it is an unapologetic plane. The window sashes are nearly flush with the wall, which appears to dematerialize into a paper-thin sheet of construction. Meanwhile, Corbu invents a "machine for living," whereby he disengages the elements of the house from their traditional moorings. A fireplace, for instance, was normally rooted to a masonry chimney, and for its support therefore rooted to a structural wall. Walls are no longer necessary structurally, which means that all the other elements of the building can be cast adrift. For Corbu, the static foundation is the relentlessly flat facade, beyond which the elements of a living space can swirl around, unencumbered, free to find their natural location.


1929--Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona Pavilion
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designs a pavilion for the International Exposition in Barcelona. He disengages the building from its reliance on gravity, something that could only occur to an architect working in the Industrial Age. Disengaged from gravity, wall planes and structure--which had heretofore been synonymous--can be discrete elements of the building. Wall planes and structural elements are now separated from each other. Ignoring gravity, he can also turn architectural composition on its side; there is no longer any vertical symmetry as it was for hundreds of years, but horizontal symmetry abounds. The book-matched marble has seams at about five-feet from the floor, exactly at eye-level. Reflecting pools mirror the surfaces above. His base is the flat ground plane. Above and from this base, the arrangement of architectural space is free to swirl around, unencumbered, to find its place in the free expression of structure and enclosure.


©2017, Ryan Witte

Monday, October 17, 2016

Questions

I'm very conflicted right now. I have long considered Gordon Bunshaft a hero. He was head of SOM for easily five or six of the most important buildings ever to go up in New York. And I realize he was likely more a decision-maker than a creative force, but...I mean...just look at what SOM accomplished under his control!

It has come to light that there was a phenomenal female architect at SOM, Natalie de Blois, who had enormous stylistic impact over some of the firm's most important landmark buildings. It's even been said that she did most of the work, while Bunshaft took all the credit (and I've heard this said about other SOM projects, as well).

I'm very torn between my worship of a hero and the knowledge that someone else might have been responsible for his glory. It matters that she was female only really because it's such a male-dominated profession. I get that SOM is a huge force, with many minds contributing to final projects. I'd also like to say, regardless of who came up with various ideas, good and not so good, that maybe it was Bunshaft's sense of style and taste that meant the good ideas would pass through and get built, and the bad ones wouldn't.

I have a lingering fear, however, that the only reason I might be reluctant to bring Bunshaft down a peg or two, in this case, is motivated by misogyny. Why do I not want to accept that this woman might have been responsible for some of the greatest buildings in New York? Is it because I hold Bunshaft in such high regard? Or is it because subconsciously, embarrassingly, disgracefully, I don't think a woman could have done it?
Would I have a problem accepting that some minor employee at SOM conceived Manufacturer's Trust Company Bank, and not Bunshaft, if it was a man? I honestly can't say. But I want to examine my own biases. I sincerely hope I'm not allowing bigotry to affect my understanding of our history.