Monday, December 7, 2009

Old Buildings, Fall Semester Edition

N.'s deep interest in old buildings has continued and developed all this fall and winter. For example, he has learned about the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders. Thanks to the Random Encyclopedia Entry, followed up with library books, he learned about International architecture, which he enjoyed very much, though he still says he prefers old to modern. Thanks to our National Geographic subscription, he studied Angkor Wat intensely for a week. He has also become acquainted with Indian temples, primarily through the Taj Mahal. My sister and her boyfriend took a trip to Athens and we had been studying a bunch of books on the ancient buildings of Athens, so N. loved seeing those buildings show up in my sister's photos. Every trip to the library nets books about buildings, whether cathedrals or skyscrapers. One day we were looking at a picture of a building designed by Renzo Piano and I reminded N. that he was one of the architects of the Centre Pompidou; N. shouted "Renzio Piano Building Workshop!" and began excitedly paging through a book on skyscrapers to the final page, an architect's rendering of the London Bridge Tower (apparently also derisively referred to as The Shard), upon which construction began in 2009. He loves making these kinds of connections.

A colleague asked me what exactly N. likes about cathedrals and old buildings, what draws him to this study. I found it difficult to answer because I am really not sure myself, and that is not the kind of thing he could articulate if asked. I think part of the appeal is taxonomic, as with his earlier (and ongoing) passions for construction vehicles and trains; that is, he seems to really love to learn categories and types. He can tell you whether a cathedral is Norman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, or Neo-Gothic, and he knows a cathedral's different parts, from nave to apse/chancel to transcept, etc. He also seems to enjoy the interplay between type and variation, in other words when a building has most of the features of one type, but departs from type in a few details. This is especially true in his daily drawings of buildings, the seemingly infinite variations of cathedrals, churches, factories, etc. he comes up with (photos of this fall's drawings coming in a future blog post). And I think he enjoys thinking about and trying to understand the idea of history. He's commented repeatedly that buildings that we think of as old were new when they were built. It is exhilarating to begin to grasp the scope of the past.

Throughout the fall, wherever we go, we have been looking at old buildings:

Train tracks leading to abandoned tobacco factories in our city. We walk among these factories regularly because N. is fascinated by them.

A bit of very old cobbled street near the old tobacco factories.

The entrance to the grand Art-Nouveau headquarters of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, built in 1929. This 22-story building was the tallest in the South when it was built, and it was designed by the architects who went on to build the Empire State Building. (Incidentally, it is now for sale!) Last year, the receptionist wouldn't let N. and me in the lobby to look at the Christmas tree set up there and made us look at it through the street windows instead. The lobby reeked of stale cigarette smoke.

Salem College, the oldest educational institution for women in the United States (1772). I think this building dates to the mid-19th century, but I can't remember for certain.

N. was very intrigued by these typical Old Salem windows that are neither Gothic nor Romanesque.

The underside of a modern bridge built in the style of the late eighteenth-century Moravian settlers of Old Salem. N. and I regularly argue (in fun) about whether it is old or modern.

Entrance to what is now the Sun Trust building in Durham, NC.

Duke University Chapel.

Another view of the Duke Chapel.

One of N.'s drawings of the Duke Chapel. (There is a cloister on the side that you can't see in the above photos.)

The American Tobacco campus, now redeveloped as office space. I like the mixture of buildings in this photo.

Court House in Durham.

A church in downtown Durham that N. liked.

The old Kress department store, downtown Durham.

The Library of Congress, Washington D.C. N. LOVED this! It was so fun to take him to it!


The Old Post Office, Washington D. C. Another one N. really loved. We went up into the clock tower for a great view of the city. (Architectural style: Richardson Romanesque)

Side-view of the Old Post Office.

The National Cathedral, Washington D.C.!!!! (Neo-Gothic)

Another view of the National Cathedral.

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