Guastavino

July 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Had an eventful week. Went to Cambridge to visit new niece. It really is amazing to see babies right when they’re born. They’re so tiny and new and helpless and adorable.

While there I met with professor Capozzola, a history professor at MIT. I’m a really terrible academic in the sense that I don’t really look up other people in the field, even if I’ve scheduled to meet with them… I’ve made this mistake on several occasions. I’d like to chalk this up to the fact that as an historian my sources are usually either primary or theoretical… (not an excuse, just an explanation) and I haven’t yet properly familiarized myself with the work that’s already been done on my topic or ‘field’ (i.e. Philippine American studies), which in my case very seldomly overlaps with the work being done in my discipline (i.e. Architecture History).

Anyway G. Wright actually was the one who urged me to contact Capozzola, and since I haven’t yet met many Americanists working on the Philippines I sent him an email. I went to a pretty interesting lecture he delivered at Columbia on Filipino veterans of American wars… the manongs in the Tenderloin in uniform! This was followed by spotty email correspondence, and then finally on this trip I got to have an actual conversation with him, which was great. He’s probably one of the nicest and truly curious academics I’ve ever met. He was also able to respond to my dissertation prospectus. This was doubly great since I haven’t really been able to talk about it with anyone besides my advisors really. Actually I did do a little research on him… but weirdly I didn’t go to his bio page and went straight to WorldCat which is where I found that he wrote his undergrad honors thesis on Progressive Era monuments, which is of course one of my favorite things to talk about/ lecture about. Anyway, as always I talked too much and didn’t listen enough. It wasn’t until after our meeting that I actually went to his bio page where I was surprised to find that he curated a show on Guastavino—the man responsible for bringing the ceramic Catalan vault to America. Anyway, now I wish I had known this before since I am of course obsessed with the Catalan vault (as it was known before Guastavino)… and the fact that it was a technology that was really born out of constraints. Not that shooting the breeze about this would have been a particularly productive tangent or anything…

Anyway, this detail of his bio initiated a search to find a paper that I wrote when I was getting my masters on the use of the Catalan vault during the Franco era—particularly in the work of Francisco Cabrero, who like Guastavino (but later) elaborated this technology of scarcity into fantastic forms, though Cabrero’s forms were far more restrained. Actually, what is so fascinating about Cabrero’s work is how it negotiated between the necessary curvature of the ceramic vault and a modern bias towards rectilinearity. Maison Jaoul is of course another example of the use of the technology in lean years, in Corbusier’s case in the years immediately following WWII. As with Cabrero’s work, Corbusier’s also announces a departure from a more abstract modern architectural language. Sadly, when steel became more readily available in Spain Cabrero turned his back on these types of formal negotiations, opting instead for long straight steel framing. Corbusier, however would embark on his adventure in Chandigarh where he would have to engage scarcity on a far grander scale.

The image above is new research into free form thin tile vaulting… proof, I guess that the technology hasn’t been exhausted. I prefer the Guastavino and the Cabrero, but still I love low tech explorations of structure… which since Michele’s studio has been another obsession (Heinz Isler, Gaudí, and Saarinen, and more recently Ushida Findlay, &c). Not that this isn’t a trendy topic… FOA has pretty much exhausted it, but still.

In any case… as I was saying what meeting C.C. really underscored was the fact that I know next to nothing about American-Philippine studies. And so I’m finally diving again into some of those rarely touched volumes that have been patiently awaiting me on my bookshelf…

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