Towers

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The building from street level.

Since returning from Providence I’ve found the imposing bulk of the Industrial Trust Building increasingly occupying my thoughts. It doesn’t take much to get me fixating on a particular building, especially if it’s big and old and sufficiently distinctive in its styling. The Industrial Trust Building fulfils these criteria with the added bonus of being mentioned in HP Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark. Photos of the place as it is today are numerous, but you can also find some older views which show the building as it was before being crowded by more recent structures. There’s also a very detailed photo showing the lantern/beacon design which is covered in bas reliefs, and seems to sport an air-raid siren.

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An ad from a page with a number of views from the building’s earliest days. I was hoping that favourite architectural renderer Hugh Ferriss might have produced a drawing but Ferriss tended to work on more grandiose projects for companies in New York and elsewhere.

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An undated postcard.

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Two prints from a screen print series by Ian Gilpin Cozzens.

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The Metropolis of Tomorrow by Hugh Ferriss

The Metropolis of Tomorrow by Hugh Ferriss

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Crowding Towers.

The work of architectural renderer Hugh Ferriss (1889–1962) has appeared here before. The Metropolis of Tomorrow (1929) was a major influence on the architectural style I deployed in the Reverbstorm series, together with Berenice Abbott’s photographs of New York City in the 1930s. Ferriss’s hazy proposals for cities of the future are more visible today than they used to be thanks to the popularity of those sites that enjoy outmoded visions of the future.

Flickr has been a good source of Ferriss’s drawings in the past but the Internet Archive recently posted the entirety of The Metropolis of Tomorrow, pages as well as pictures. The book appeared a couple of years after Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and shares that film’s idea of the future city as a kind of superannuated New York. Skyscrapers were still a relatively new idea so this seemed a natural development at the time, as did the concept of super-highways and rooftop aerodromes. Human beings in Ferriss’s future are either ant-like specks or they’ve vanished altogether among the massed ranks of towers which often look more like less like buildings and more like Art Deco spacecraft. Lang’s vision was dystopian only in the way it relegated its workers to the underworld, while Ferriss’s proposals were wholly optimistic. Looking back we’re more aware of the shortcomings of such ideas, and from my perspective it wasn’t so difficult to bring out the latent menace inherent in these megastructures. Ferriss’s metropolis, like that of Fritz Lang, is a fun place to visit but you wouldn’t necessarily want to live there.

Browse the rest of the book here or download it here.

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Overhead traffic-ways.

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Apartments on bridges.

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Evolution of the set-back building: second stage.

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Verticals on wide avenues.

Continue reading “The Metropolis of Tomorrow by Hugh Ferriss”

Paolo Soleri, 1919–2013

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Hexahedron, The City in the Image of Man (1969).

“We must build up, not out,” said Soleri. “The problem is the present design of cities are only a few storeys high, stretching outward in unwieldy sprawl for miles…turning farms into parking lots, and waste enormous amounts of time and energy transporting people, goods and services over their expanses.”

Paolo Soleri, visionary architect, dies aged 93

For obvious reasons, Paolo Soleri’s plans for kilometre-high megastructure cities towering over green landscapes were popular in science fiction books and magazines in the 1970s. Soleri’s solution to unstoppable urban sprawl seems eminently sensible despite the difficulties of building anything on this scale; complaints about undesirability can be countered (in Britain at least) with dismal stories such as this recent report. Or maybe it’s better to live in a Hong Kong shoebox? Soleri devoted most of his life to thinking about how architecture could better serve our limited planetary resources; with Arcosanti he was leading by example.

• LA Times: Paolo Soleri, architect of innovative city Arcosanti, dies at 93
• Arch Daily: Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti : The City in the Image of Man
Architect Paolo Soleri – a life in pictures
• Flickr: Arcosanti, An Urban Laboratory

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Babel IIB, The City in the Image of Man (1969).

Previously on { feuilleton }
The paper architecture of Brodsky and Utkin
Hugh Ferriss and The Metropolis of Tomorrow

Reverbstorm: an introduction and preview

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Reverbstorm: 1994–2012.

Art, intellectual pursuits, the development of the natural sciences, many branches of scholarship flourished in close spacial, temporal proximity to massacre and the death camps. It is the structure and meaning of that proximity that must be looked at. […] But there is a […] danger. Not only is the relevant material vast and intractable: it exercises a subtle, corrupting fascination. Bending too fixedly over hideousness, one feels queerly drawn. In some strange way the horror flatters attention, it gives to one’s own limited means a spurious resonance. […] I am not sure whether anyone, however scrupulous, who spends time and imaginative resources on these dark places, can, or indeed, ought to leave them personally intact. Yet the dark places are at the centre. Pass them by and there can be no serious discussion of human potential.

George Steiner, In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture (1971)

Reverbstorm is an eight-part comic series which I began drawing in 1990. Last week I finished work on the final section, and also completed the layout and design for the collected edition, a 344-page volume which Savoy Books will be publishing later this year. All the artwork has been scanned afresh, re-lettered and, in a few places, improved to fix compromises and print errors present in the published issues. This unfinished project has been hanging over me for so long that I make this announcement with some relief. The book will be published without a foreword so this post can serve as an introduction for the uninitiated. But before I get to the details, some history.

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David Britton was the writer and instigator of Reverbstorm, the series being a continued exploration in the comics medium of his Lord Horror character. Lord Horror is an alternate-history equivalent of the real-life William Joyce, a member of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s whose propaganda broadcasts to Britain from Nazi Germany during the Second World War led the press to dub him Lord Haw-Haw. The first five-part Lord Horror comic series, Hard Core Horror, showed the evolution of Horace William Joyce, aka Lord Horror, from charismatic politician to Nazi collaborator; the final two issues of the series concerned Horror’s involvement in the Holocaust. In Britton’s mythos James Joyce is the brother of Horace Joyce while Jessie Matthews, a popular British musical star of the 1930s, is Lord Horror’s wife. (Britton’s Lord Horror novels are examined in detail by Keith Seward in his Horror Panegyric essay.) My fellow artist at Savoy, Kris Guidio, drew the first four issues of Hard Core Horror; I drew issue five which was less a comic story, more a portfolio of static scenes of death-camp architecture. The series was well-received by regular Savoy readers but mostly ignored by the British comics world, with some justification: the comics were a glossy production but the narrative was very erratic, even technically inept in places. At Savoy the series was regarded as a failed experiment, Kris’s drawing style and flair for cartooning being more suited to the broad humour of the Meng & Ecker strips. But Dave liked what I’d done with the final issue and felt we could try something new that was also more original than a fictional skate through recent history.

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In addition to producing comics in the late 1980s, Savoy had been recording a number of eccentric cover versions, most of them sung by PJ Proby. A music journalist, Paul Temple, came to interview Proby about the songs and stayed in touch. He subsequently approached the company with a song of his own entitled Reverbstorm, a bombastic number best described as “Wagnerian Northern Soul” which Savoy recorded in 1993. (Temple recounts the origin of the song here.) This gave a title to the new comic series that Dave was planning, the story outline being expanded from a scenario that he and Savoy colleague Michael Butterworth had sketched out when a film company showed some fleeting interest in Lord Horror. Kris Guidio and I worked on the opening pages, the initial idea being that Kris would continue drawing the Lord while I would do everything else. Once I’d convinced Dave that I could draw his Lordship to his satisfaction I took over the series while Kris carried on with the Meng & Ecker comics. I spent most of 1991–1996 drawing the first seven parts of Reverbstorm which were published as separate comics during that period. The first issue came with a CD single of Paul Temple’s song which was sung by Sue Quinn but credited to Jessie Matthews. (It’s now available on iTunes.) The last part of the series was always going to be something that differed from the preceding sections but I didn’t know how this might manifest until 1997 when I painted a series of monochrome double-spreads intended to form backgrounds for Dave’s text. That’s where the series stalled after the paintings had improvised themselves to such a degree of abstraction and incoherence that I didn’t feel able to continue. The breakthrough came a couple of years ago when I started scanning all the artwork into the computer and thinking again about the series. I realised I could complete everything now that my computer graphics skills were adequate enough to complement the earlier issues whilst also adding something new.

Continue reading “Reverbstorm: an introduction and preview”

The paper architecture of Brodsky and Utkin

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A Hill with a Hole.

Searching around for Kafka images yesterday turned up a reminder of the etchings of Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin, a pair of Russian “Paper Architects” who channelled their frustration with the intransigence of Soviet authorities in the 1980s into a series of remarkable drawings. As with much architectural fantasy, these are part unrealistic exaggeration and part serious proposal, with the viewer left to decide whether the world really needs a hill with a hole.

Princeton Architectural Press published Brodsky & Utkin: The Complete Works by Lois Nesbitt in 2003 which is no doubt the source of the available scans. Of those, there’s a small Flickr collection here, while the late, lamented Nonist had a post about the book which repeats some of the same imagery. For more about Russia’s other paper architects see Russian Utopia.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of François Schuiten
Hugh Ferriss and The Metropolis of Tomorrow