The Philosophical Apprentice

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Archive for the tag “Britannica”

Encyclopaedia Britannica Prompt for the Day of 23 January 2013 – Aare River

Our first river in the Britannica project is the Aare River in Switzerland which is aAare and Reuss rivers

tributary of the Rhine and the longest stream (183 miles [295 km]) entirely within Switzerland; it drains an area of 6,865 square miles (17,779 square km). The river rises in the Aare Glacier of the Bernese Alps in Bern canton, below the Finsteraarhorn and west of the Grimsel Pass, in the south-central part of Switzerland. As the Aare flows north past Meiringen, the river cuts through the scenic Aare Gorge. After turning west, it expands into the glacial Lake Brienz. The river is canalized at Interlaken above its entry into Lake Thun, at the lower end of which the river flows northwest in a deeply entrenched valley and almost encircles the medieval core of the city of Bern. It turns west to Lake Wohlen and then flows north to Aarberg, where it is diverted west by the Hagneck Canal into Lake Biel. Continuing northeastward, the river parallels the foot of the Jura Mountains. Below Brugg, the Reuss and Limmat rivers join the Aare before it enters the Rhine River at Koblenz, Switz.

Philosophers associated with the Aare River include Jean-Jacques Rousseau who spent time along Lake Biel and, also, Albert Einstein who, for a while, lived in Bern.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Prompt for 17 January 2012-Aardwolf

Today”s prompt is on the African Aardwolf. I thought I was fairly up on my African fauna but I have never even heard of this strange creature. I wonder if they are as loathsome as the hyenas they resemble?

aardwolf (Proteles cristatus), insectivorous carnivore that resembles a small striped hyena. The shy, mainly nocturnal aardwolf lives on the arid plains of Africa. There are two geographically separate populations, one centred in South Africa and the other in East Africa. [Credit: Simon Trevor/Bruce Coleman Ltd.]

The aardwolf, whose name in Afrikaans means “earth wolf,” is yellowish with vertical black stripes and a bushy, black-tipped tail. Standing less than half a metre high at the shoulder, it varies in length from 55 to 80 cm (22 to 31 inches) exclusive of the 20- to 30-cm tail. Weight is from 8 to 12 kg (18 to 26 pounds). Like the hyena, it has a long, coarse ridge of erectile hairs along the length of the back, sturdy shoulders, and longer front than hind legs. The aardwolf, however, is less of a runner and has five toes on the front feet instead of four. The skull is not as robust, but the sharp canine teeth and strong jaws characteristic of hyenas are retained and wielded in aggressive interactions. The cheek teeth, however, are mere pegs adequate for crunching its insect diet, which consists almost exclusively of harvester termites. When the aardwolf smells termites or hears the rustle of thousands of them in the grass with its sensitive, pointed ears, it laps them up with its sticky tongue.

Although aardwolves forage alone, they live in breeding pairs that defend a territory marked by secretions from the anal glands. When attacked they may fight, and a musky-smelling fluid is emitted. Shelters can be holes, crevices, and abandoned porcupine and aardvark burrows, where usually two or three cubs are born during the rainy months, when termites are most active. Cubs are weaned by four months and have left their parents’ territory by the time the next litter is born. The aardwolf is most often classified in the family Hyaenidae, but some authorities place it in a family of its own called Protelidae.

It appears that like myself few people have heard of Aardwolves. Even the spellchecker failed to recognize it. However, there is a MUD called Aardwolf though it has nothing to do with the African Aardwolf.

Speaking of MUD – that is another concept that I have never heard of before. It looks for the most part like the old fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons but played online though apparently you can do other things besides fantasy such as training and education. I am a bit leery of “virtual life’ but am interested in learning more. Maybe I will read Sherry Turkle’s Life on Screen.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Prompt of the Day for 16 January 2013-Alvar Aalto

I’ve always enjoyed reading about architecture and so I am very happy that the second entry in the Britannica project is about Alvar Aalto, a prominent 20th century architect from Finland.

Alvar Aalto, in full Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto   (born Feb. 3, 1898, Kuortane, Fin., Russian Empire—died May 11, 1976, Helsinki, Fin.), Finnish architect, city planner, and furniture designer whose international reputation rests on a distinctive blend of modernist refinement, indigenous materials, and personal expression in form and detail. His mature style is epitomized by the Säynätsalo, Fin., town hall group (1950–52).

Early work

Aalto’s architectural studies at the Technical Institute of Helsinki were interrupted by the Finnish War of Independence, in which he participated. Following his graduation in 1921, Aalto toured Europe and upon his return began practice in Jyväskylä, in central Finland. In 1927 he moved his office to Turku, where he worked in association with Erik Bryggman until 1933, the year in which he moved to Helsinki. In 1925 he married Aino Marsio, a fellow student, who served as his professional collaborator until her death in 1949. The couple had two children.

The years 1927 and 1928 were significant in Aalto’s career. He received commissions for three important buildings that established him as the most advanced architect in Finland and brought him worldwide recognition as well. These were the Turun Sanomat Building (newspaper office) in Turku, the tuberculosis sanatorium at Paimio, and the Municipal Library at Viipuri (now Vyborg, Russia). His plans for the last two were chosen in a competition, a common practice with public buildings in Finland. Both the office building and the sanatorium emphasize functional, straightforward design and are without historical stylistic references. They go beyond the simplified classicism common in Finnish architecture of the 1920s, resembling somewhat the building designed by Walter Gropius for the Bauhaus school of design in Dessau, Ger. (1925–26). Like Gropius, Aalto used smooth white surfaces, ribbon windows, flat roofs, and terraces and balconies.

 [Credit: Zahlenmonster]The third commission, the Viipuri Municipal Library, although exhibiting a similar dependence on European prototypes by Gropius and others, is a significant departure marking Aalto’s personal style. Its spatially complex interior is arranged on various levels. For the auditorium portion of the library Aalto devised an undulating acoustic ceiling of wooden strips, a fascinating detail that, together with his use of curved laminated wood furniture of his own design, appealed both to the public and to those professionals who had held reservations about the clinical severity of modern architecture. The warm textures of wood provided a welcome contrast to the general whiteness of the building. It was Aalto’s particular success here that identified him with the so-called organic approach, or regional interpretation, of modern design. He continued in this vein, with manipulation of floor levels and use of natural materials, skylights, and irregular forms. By the mid-1930s Aalto was recognized as one of the world’s outstanding modern architects; unlike many of his peers, he had an identifiable personal style.

Finnish pavilions for two world’s fairs (Paris, 1937; New York City, 1939–40) further enhanced Aalto’s reputation as an inventive designer of free architectural forms. In these designs, both chosen in competition, he continued to use wood for structure and for surface effects. Also during this period, in 1938, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City held an exhibition of his work, showing furniture that he had designed and photographs of his buildings.

 [Credit: Iittala Group]Aalto’s experiments in furniture date from the early 1930s, when he furnished the sanatorium at Paimio. His furniture is noted for its use of laminated wood in ribbonlike forms that serve both structural and aesthetic ends. In 1935 the Artek Company was established by Aalto and Maire Gullichsen, the wife of the industrialist and art collector Harry Gullichsen, to manufacture and market his furniture. The informal warmth of Aalto’s interiors is best seen in the much-admired country home Villa Mairea, which he built for the Gullichsens near Noormarkku, Fin.

Mature style

The decade of the 1940s was not productive; it was disrupted by war and saddened by his wife’s death. In 1952 he married Elissa Mäkiniemi, a trained architect, who became his new collaborator.

Aalto’s commissions after 1950, in addition to being greater in number, were more varied and widely dispersed: a high-rise apartment building in Bremen, W.Ger. (1958), a church in Bologna, Italy (1966), an art museum in Iran (1970). His continuing work in Finland, however, remained the measure of his genius. Many of his projects involved site planning of building groups. Two such projects were the master plans of colleges at Otaniemi (1949–55) and at Jyväskylä (1952–57). Aalto’s experience in planning originated early with such industrial commissions as the Sunila cellulose factory (1936–39, extended 1951–54), which included workers’ housing and was a triumph of comprehensive planning.

 [Credit: GEKS]The single work that epitomizes Aalto’s mature style is perhaps the Säynätsalo town hall group. Modest in scale in its forest setting, it nonetheless asserts a quiet force. Its simple forms are in red brick, wood, and copper, all traditional materials of Finland. Viewing it, a person feels the achievement of a perfect building, in that the essence of the time, the place, the people, and their purpose is brought into focus by the awareness of the architect.

Aalto received many honours. He was a member of the Academy of Finland (Suomen Aketemia) and was its president from 1963 to 1968; he was a member of the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne from 1928 to 1956. His awards included the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture from the Royal Institute of British Architects (1957) and the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects (1963).

Assessment

 [Credit: © Zygimantas Cepaitis/Fotolia]Aalto, whose work exemplifies the best of 20th-century Scandinavian architecture, was one of the first to depart from the stiffly geometric designs common to the early period of the modern movement and to stress informality and personal expression. His style is regarded as both romantic and regional. He used complex forms and varied materials, acknowledged the character of the site, and gave attention to every detail of building. Aalto achieved an international reputation through his more than 200 buildings and projects, ranging from factories to churches, a number of them built outside Finland.

Aalto’s preliminary plans were freely sketched, without the use of T-square and triangle, so that the unfettered creative urge for inventive shapes and irregular forms was allowed full play before functional relationships and details were resolved. The absence of theoretical rigidity revealed itself in his final designs, which happily retained the spontaneity and individuality of his early sketches. As a Swiss art historian expressed it, he dared “the leap from the rational-functional to the irrational-organic.” Since Aalto’s staff was small (some six to eight architects), all of the work bore the imprint of his personality.

Aalto wrote little to explain his work, but his architecture conveyed a variable, lively temperament, free from dogma and without monotony. His work was said to express the spirit of Finland and its people, primitive yet lyrical. His friendships with such artists as Fernand Léger, Jean Arp, and Constantin Brancusi may have nourished his fondness for curvilinear shapes. While his work was never compulsively innovative, neither was it static. His late designs showed an increased complexity and dynamism that some regarded as incautious. In particular, his work of the late 1960s and early 1970s was marked by splayed, diagonal shapes and clustered, overlapping volumes. Energy and imagination were ever present.

For me, Aalto’s work, from what little I have seen of it, is not bad for a modernist architect. Aalto is one of the few modern architects who appears to not have deliberately set out to make ugly buildings. At his best, Aalto manages to combine modern abstract geometrical forms with beautiful materials like brick and wood and create something charming, as he did with own summer house.

I don’t care for his larger projects as much, though his extensive use of brick and simple shapes reminds me of a lot of non-offensive architecture I grew up around on college campuses in the South, like the University of Florida for instance.

I do like Aalto a lot in that he didn’t succumb to the common megalomania found in architects throughout the last century. And people are beginning to appreciate that. Covering one of the first retrospectives of his life and work, an article in the New York Times reveals that

Even in his lifetime Aalto was something of an outsider. Born in 1898, he was 10 to 15 years younger than the Bauhaus leaders
who were transforming architecture and design in the 1920s. He also did most of his work in Finland. Most important, his
architecture was defined by a humanist philosophy more than by a distinct style.
While inspired by Modernism, he grew wary of that movement, noting in a speech in London in 1957 that, “like all revolutions, it
begins in enthusiasm and ends in dictatorship.” Even so, in the years before his death in 1976, he could not escape the backlash
against Modernism prompted by the banality of much postwar reconstruction.
Aalto’s reputation recovered. And it did, the Barbican show suggests, because his hand can more easily be seen in the natural
materials he used – wood and brick – and the details of his designs than in the overall look of a building. He was, one might say, a
friendly architect, concerned with people more than power, with pleasing more than impressing.
“We should work for simple, good, undecorated things,” he explained further in his 1957 London speech, “but things which are in
harmony with the human being and organically suited to the little man in the street.”

Tom Wolfe couldn’t have said it better in his classic From Bauhaus to Our House.

Here are some additional resources here, here, and here.

For a philosophical look at Aalto’s rejection of corrupt modernism see here.

Finally, I have attached a journal dedicated to preserving modern architecture. It includes some good information on Aalto and, furthermore,  I couldn’t resist the irony. When did the modernists ever care about preserving anything from the past?

Encyclopaedia Britannica Prompt for 14 January 2013-Aachen

Aachen is a city in northwestern Germany close to the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands.

It was a royal residence of the emperor Charlemagne, and it served as the principal coronation site of Holy Roman emperors and of German kings from the Middle Ages to the Reformation. The Palatine Chapel, a masterpiece of Carolingian architecture, is incorporated within Aachen Cathedral, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978.

Originally a Roman spa called Aquisgranum, Aachen rose to prominence in the late 8th century during the rule of Charlemagne, becoming his favourite residence and a centre of Western culture and learning. From the coronation of Otto I in 936 until the 16th century, more than 30 German emperors and kings were crowned at Aachen. Aachen was fortified in the late 12th century and granted municipal rights in 1166 and 1215, and it became a free imperial city about 1250. Aachen began to decline in the 16th century. It was too remote from the centre of Germany to be convenient as a capital, and in the 1560s the coronation site was changed to Frankfurt am Main. Aachen was frequently at odds with the emperors during the Protestant Reformation. In 1656 the city was devastated by a great fire.

Aachen hosted several peace conferences, including those ending the War of Devolution (1668) and the War of the Austrian Succession (1748). Occupied by Napoleon’s army in 1794 and annexed by France in 1801, it was given to Prussia after the Congress of Vienna (1814–15). The city was briefly occupied by the Belgians after World War I. It was severely damaged in World War II, and it became the first large German city to fall to the Allies (October 20, 1944).

The noteworthy medieval churches of St. Foillan, St. Paul, and St. Nicholas were destroyed or heavily damaged during World War II, but their reconstruction began almost immediately afterward. The Rathaus (town hall), built about 1530 on the ruins of Charlemagne’s palace and containing the magnificent Hall of the Emperors, was also damaged and restored.

 [Credit: © Huber/Press and Information Office of the Federal Government of Germany]Aachen Cathedral suffered relatively little damage in the war. It incorporates the distinctive Carolingian and Gothic styles. The Palatine Chapel (built 790–805) of Charlemagne, modeled on San Vitale (in Ravenna, Italy), is Carolingian in style, and the choir (c. 1355) and subsidiary chapels are Gothic. In the gallery of the chapel is the marble throne thought to have been Charlemagne’s; it was long used for coronations. Charlemagne’s tomb is marked by a stone slab over which hangs a bronze chandelier presented by Frederick I Barbarossa in 1168. The cathedral treasury contains examples of fine medieval workmanship and sacred relics (including the supposed swaddling clothes of Jesus, as well as his crucifixion loin cloth) that are displayed to pilgrims every seven years.

Other notable landmarks are the Suermondt Ludwig Museum and the fountain, surmounted by a statue of Charlemagne, in the market square. The International Newspaper Museum has exhibits of newspapers from the 16th century to the present. There are numerous educational institutions, including the Rhenish-Westphalian Technical University, founded in 1870, the earliest in Prussia. The nearby hot springs are much frequented; Schwertbad-Quelle, in the suburb of Burtscheid, is the warmest spring in Germany, with an average high water temperature of 169 °F (76 °C).

Aachen is a rail hub and the industrial and commercial centre of a brown-coal-mining region; almost every type of heavy industry functions in the vicinity. Manufactured products include machinery, electronics, chemicals, plastics, textiles, glass, cosmetics, and needles and pins. Pop. (2003 est.) 256,605.Aachen Cathedral: location

In the history of philosophy Aachen played an important role in the preservation of classical culture when Charlemagne brought English scholar Alcuin to Aachen. Alcuin introduced the tradition of Anglo-Saxon humanism into Western Europe and thus began the Carolingian Renaissance which Kenneth Clark would later claim allowed Western Civilization to survive by the “skin of its teeth” (1) .

(1) Clark, Kenneth, Civilization.Harper & Row, New York, 1969, pg 18

 

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