Duck Duck Book

55 – unbuilt america
07.20.2008, 12:03 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Unbuilt America : forgotten architecture in the United States from Thomas Jefferson to the space age : a book / by Alison Sky and Michelle Stone ; introd. by George R. Collins.
New York : McGraw-Hill, c1976.
[MCL call number: 720.973 S629u; one copy, no holds; one copy reference only at Central Library]

Architects are planners — they are not traditionally responsible for doing the work of organizing and carrying out construction of their designs. In the course of their training and professional lives, most architects have designed buildings, monuments, or even whole cities that have never been built. Unbuilt America collects more than 200 designs that remain in the idea stage, each with illustrations and a description written by the architect, a contemporary critic, or a later historian.

The book’s contents are heavy with unbuilt creations of the 1960s and 1970s, for example: General Electric’s undersea community Bottom-Fix (page 100), Bruce Goff’s design for a Cowboy Hall of Fame shaped like a pile of horseshoes around a stake (page 106-107), James Lambeth’s hillside passive-solar village (page 158), Claes Oldenburg’s Design for a Tunnel Entrance in the Shape of a Nose (page 196), and several fascinating designs for structures celebrating the United States bicentennial (pages 248-261). But older unrealized plans are included too, notably Jacques J. B. Benedict’s Summer Capitol for President Wilson (pages 42-43), Frank Hemle and Harvey Wiley Corbett’s Restoration of King Solomon’s Temple and Citadel (pages 128-131), and Robert Stacy-Judd’s plans for cityscapes based on ancient Mayan architecture (235-237). All in all, it is an intriguing orientation to a series of curious and beautiful buildings and city plans.


55 – you are here
07.20.2008, 12:02 am
Filed under: history & geography

You are here : personal geographies and other maps of the imagination / Katharine Harmon.
New York : Princeton Architectural Press, c2004.
[MCL call number: 912 H288y 2004; three copies, no holds]

A map is a compelling thing, and it does not have to be true in scientific terms to give powerful testimony. It is relatively common for novels to begin with a map, showing something like the neighborhood in which the murder occurred, or the geography of a fairyland. And we encounter nongeographical and other conceptual maps regularly in other places too — the zodiac that is sometimes featured on Chinese restaurant paper placemats, or the diagram of the path to clarity displayed in Church of Scientology storefronts.

You need a map to understand the geography of a completely imaginary place, especially if you’re not the imaginer. Here are some examples from my own cultural influences: What if I want more information about the assets of the four countries of Oz? How can I get a feel for the lake in which the Swallows and Amazons sailed, see where Christopher Robin and Pooh had their adventures, or find out that Professor Plum did it in the library, with the candlestick? I need a map.

Diagrams of human anatomy, religious maps showing the dangers of loose morals and the benefits of a virtuous life, battle maps, and even those Family Circus cartoons showing little Billy’s path all around the house and yard in one afternoon are still more examples of imaginative maps revealing shapes and relationships in much the same way as traditional “real” maps show national interests, property, routes of travel, and weather predictions.

In You Are Here, Katharine Harmon has collected scores of maps and map-like representations of ideas, feelings, states of being, relationships, time, and more. Each chapter collects maps on a particular theme, with an introductory essay by a different writer. Some of the book’s examples are very clearly maps; others require some suspension of disbelief, some allowance for creative license. Some are in fact self-conscious works of art; others were created for humorous purposes, to teach, to inspire, or to convince others of a deeply held belief. Here are some of the maps I found most notable:

  • “Falls of Eternal Despair,” a map showing the river of death as it slides off the plain of sin and wretchedness over the waterfall into the depths of hell. (page 44)
  • “Map of Americana,” a 1929 map by illustrator John Held, Jr. shows the 48 contiguous states as vast central area thinly populated with gas stations, hot dogs, and opportunities to purchase orange drink, surrounded on all sides by a dense ring of rum runners and bootleggers. (page 84)
  • “Surrealist Map of the World,” another 1929 map showing the countries of the world, centered on the pacific, but with Ireland dwarfing the island of Britain, a giant Easter Island looming over a teeny Australia, just two cities marked (Paris and Constantinople), and no sign of the contiguous United States. (page 118)
  • A map of Los Angeles with cartoon faces showing affluence, the unemployment rate, urban stresses, and the proportional representation of race in each part of town. (page 138)
  • A nice lithographic-style poster of a restaurant table surrounded with the evocatively lettered names of the various components of a meal, two friends, their chairs, napkins, meals, drinks, conversation, and warm feelings of friendship. (page 134)

55 – archaeology in washington
07.20.2008, 12:01 am
Filed under: history & geography

Archaeology in Washington / Ruth Kirk and Richard D. Daugherty.
Seattle : University of Washington Press, c2007.
[MCL call number: 979.7 K59a 2007; two copies, no holds]

It’s not always obvious at first, but there is a lot hidden in any inhabited land to show evidence of the people who have lived there over time. The area now occupied by the state of Washington is large, and it has supported human communities for many thousands of years. The exact range of time is a matter of some dispute, since scientists have competing theories about how people arrived there, and many indigenous peoples maintain that they have lived in their homelands from the beginning of time. But regardless of whether archaeological exploration in Washington can reveal traces of human habitation stretching back 14,000, or 20,000, or uncountable years, there is no doubt that there is plenty of evidence to show that people have been there, and have made an impact on the land.

Archaeology in Washington provides a friendly, sensible introduction to archaeological sites in the state, as well as to the state’s history of archaeological exploration, controversy, and accomplishment. One interesting story relayed in the book is the discovery and excavation of the Manis mastodon. In 1977, a couple living in the northern Olympic Peninsula began excavating a mucky portion of their land with a backhoe, with the intention of creating a pond where migrating water birds could rest. When Emanuel Manis dug up a pair of what seemed to be tree trunk sections from about six feet below the original surface of the site, he and his wife Clare Manis noticed the broken tips of the two chunks were white at the tips. They realized the chunks could be tusks, and called the an archaeologist at Washington State University who happened to be working on an excavation at another site on the peninsula. Seven years of excavation work later, bones of three mastodons had been recovered, along with seeds, bits of wood, other animal remains, and various human tools. Clare Manis eventually donated the site to the National Archaeological Conservancy.

Overall, Archaeology in Washington has the mainstream, open minded sort of bias familiar to readers of well-written American middle school text books — information is presented clearly, in a logical order that is meant to encourage the acquisition of knowledge, nearly every page contains at least one beautiful and useful photograph or illustration, the bibliography is helpful and the index decent, and although the writers definitely present their own perspective in subtle ways, matters of scientific and political debate are laid out in a more or less objective fashion that allows readers to mostly make up their own minds. You don’t have to know anything much about archaeology, or about Washington’s human past to understand this book, but you should know quite a bit about both when you have finished reading it, and it is interesting just to leaf through and look at the pictures.