Home      

Home1971275202122
 
Title: Books

Pages: 82-83 and 85

         

Author: Editorial

Text: Books

Humanism perceived

Perception of the environment B Gooday; University of Birmingham centre for urban and regional studies occasional paper 17, 1.50

The Centre for Urban Studies at Birmingham was established in 1966. This paper is among seven new titles to appear this year: other themes include migration, industrial location, social patterns, employment problems and green belts. The output is impressive in its scope and demonstrates the virtues of research undertaken within a sustained interdisciplinary setting.

Traditionally, early papers in a new field take the form of a survey of literature. This paper is no exception. The author seems to have reviewed his subject well. He has been catholic in his choice and has not attempted to confine his subject matter to some dogmatic definition of what perception studies should or should not be. The literature - much of it American - is discussed under a number of headings: perception and environmental quality; hazard perception; urban images; perception from routes; perception of barriers; micro-areas and personal space: perception of far places; preferential perception; perception, participation, and education. The author's declared intention is to make a contribution towards the "humanisation' of the environment and the processes by which we mould it.

Thus: "The planner has too often been expected to design and reconstruct urban areas on the assumption that he has correctly assessed or has been provided with correct assessments of, the needs and aspirations of the people for whom he is carrying out the work - the future residents and users. But does the planner really have much idea of how new populations will react to his designs and does he know the elements of dissatisfaction which caused these people to leave their previous area of residence?... The wide range of perception studies noted (in the paper) offer a variety of opportunities for the sharpening of tools presently used in social planning on the community urban, regional and national scales."

"Perception" is the art of mapping the multifarious stimuli of the external world onto varieties of mental schemata. As Liebnitz was aware this is fortunately no one-to-one affair:"...the infinitely wise author of our being arranged it for our good, when he so arranged it that we should often be in ignorance and among confused perceptions, in order to act more promptly by instinct and in order not to be disturbed by too distinct sensations of a multitude of objects...How many insects we swallow without noticing them, how many persons we see, who, having too penetrating an odour, are annoying, and how many disgusting objects we should see if our vision was penetrating enough!" Perception studies will inform us about our ignorance, our prejudices, and our poverty of mental constructs about the world around us. I doubt that they can provide us with material for that deep structural knowledge of the environmental systems which we desperately need in order to steer ourselves clear of disaster. Be that as it may, author is most persuasive and goes some way to penetrate the stubborn psychological barriers I have concerning the worth of such studies. My own view is that we should give priority to the study of our schemata, our theories and models of the world. It is these that seem so inadequate and which condition the way we perceive the environment about us. This is the tradition of scientific humanism which leads to "humanisation". The reverse is not true. "Humanisation" itself cannot lead to humanism but only to the sentimentality of Balzac's Comedie Humaine.

Lionel March

Behind Wren

Christopher Wren by Kerry Downes: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 2.50

It has often been a cause of surprise that Wren should have turned with such apparent ease from the pursuits of the astronomer and scientist, in which fields he had reached a high point at Oxford before the age of 30, to the practice of architecture, in which he had no formal training.

There was then no architectural profession as such, and in one of the most important parts of the present study Kerry Downes has set out to examine the atmosphere of the time. While it is, of course, no new discovery that the formidable barrier which now comes between science and the arts is a relatively recent creation it is most usefully and clearly shown in this book that the age of Wren was a period in which experimental philosophy held sway, the new Royal Society (of which Wren was one of the founders) provided a distinguished forum for learned discussion, and men of high intellectual ability had a wide range of interests. Among Wren's contemporaries many architects were also, for example, engineers, scientists, or philosophers.

Wren considered that there were "two Causes of Beauty: natural and customary"; natural beauty derives from geometry and it emerges clearly in this study that the geometrical basis is the paramount strand in his designs. Mr Downes examines Trinity College Library as perhaps the best example of his thought-processes, demonstrating that for Wren measurable order was the basis not only of construction but also of beauty; that his art was not destroyed by this approach is due to his calibre as an artist matching his intellect. The Library demonstrates also by its marked difference in treatment between the two elevations that Wren was more concerned with the visible and practical aspect of the budding than with its metaphysical unity.

Frequent reference is made to French influence; relatively little of this can be attributed to the first-hand experience of his one foreign journey but there were also numerous publications and the interests of his royal master. Dutch sources, quoted for a number of buildings, prompt the suggestion that Robert Hooke, who had more specific links with Holland, might be responsible at least partly for a few works attributed to Wren; his case is a good example of the difficulties and fascination attached to correct attributions.

As other books have covered the documentation and listing of Wren's work and its architectural assessment Mr Downes has abstained from providing a catalogue in his own and accepted an unrepresentative selection of works to illustrate his study. Dr Margaret Whinney's recent book on Wren attends more to the buildings and their style, derivation and relationship, so that Mr Downes' work comes opportunely as a companion volume elucidating the background to Wren's work; it is attractively produced, with more than a hundred illustrations, bibliographical notes and index.

Stephen Marks

Bath at the crossroads

Georgian summer by David Gadd; Adams & Dart 3.15

Bath is a sad city resembling a faded actress living almost entirely on her past. Still beautiful but bewildered by the present, she needs a new role to inspire a new generation. In Georgian summer David Gadd has rehashed the traditional stories regarding Beau Nash and others of the eighteenth century social scene of Bath into an entertaining if familiar dish. He has also admirably reviewed its architectural evolution. The merit of the book. however, is towards its end. There the author pulls his readers from the Georgian and Victorian ages into the present. Then he demands, "What now?" Must the city be condemned to the role of a museum? Or can Bath, while preserving her Georgian architecture, acquiesce to modern development and so become an inhabitable place for the living rather than for bewigged ghosts?

Mr Gadd assaults the familiar image of Bath as the dull resort of conventionality and conservatism. "It was never meant as a place of retirement for the elderly," he writes. Bath "was built by young men for the enjoyment of those whose spirit was youthful and whose mood was gay". The founding fathers were Richard (Beau) Nash, John Wood and Ralph Allen. All three were young, original and impatient of obstruction when they planned the new city and society to replace the stinking shanty town around the abbey.

Nash, who came to Bath at 29 had, wrote Goldsmith, "an impenetrable assurance." Wood, arriving at 22, was supercilious and unpleasantly aggressive in his ambition to rebuild the city in Palladian splendour. Allen meanwhile developed his quarries, ignoring warnings from his elders that the local granular limestone was useless for building. Wood's son

(Caption)

Pensive cat with disgruntled fish, from Kalighat Paintings by W G Archer (HMSO 3.50). Kalighat art, blending nineteenth century British print techniques with those of Bengali scroll paintings was produced between 1800 and 1930 for sale to pilgrims visiting the local shrine.

John, another inspired young man, fulfilled his father's dream for the Circus, adding his own masterpieces the Royal Crescent and the New Assembly Rooms.

It was early in the nineteenth century when propriety, conventionality and other middle-class virtues began to establish themselves in Bath until it degenerated into what Mr Gadd describes as "the graceless respectability of the Victorian Age". Then early in the present century arose some hideous architectural monuments to such philistinism dominated by a monstrous hotel.

And now, in this decade, Mr Gadd predicts the death or suspended animation of Bath unless there is adequate modernisation together with car control, "now as important as birth control". He finds much of the new construction which imitates the Georgian to be "intolerably offensive". He protests against agitation to save buildings that aren't worth saving but pleads for some new construction with a style and character which "might make a positive addition to the beauties of the city in the idiom of our own age". While Bath's essentially Georgian character must be preserved, there is room for the architectural ideas of the young men of our own generation. Finally, the author further offends the many advocates of the holy immutable Bath by welcoming the University of Technology established in 1966 after furious opposition.

John Walters

Standing practice

Exhibition design: theory and practice by Arnold Rattenbury; Studio Vista, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 95p

This is about the production of exhibition stands. It takes the growth of one from an idea to exhibit through every stage of development up to the complete stand, cleaned of and occupied by the client. It is a book neither for students nor for the very experienced; it is, in fact, a summary of all that a young assistant might learn in his first two years.

The title, though, is a little pretentious. In his first paragraph the author explains that he is going to write about "the advertisement in three dimensions of a company's product or service" or, in other words, exhibition stands as opposed to exhibitions. He goes on to write about production and not design; practice but not theory. Mr Rattenbury knows that exhibitions can be magic: he says so in his last paragraph. So where is the theory of design, the magic of steering people physically and emotionally, the psychology of selling ideas to a client and the client's products and ideas to the public? Where are the methods of communication used on a stand, the encompassing of all communications media - graphics, the spoken word, photographs, drawings, projection, television - the lot?

None of these are in the book, and by his very omissions he has highlighted the prosaic and led me feeling that, although Gillian, Gary, Geoff, the old firm and Len Williams (to whom the book is dedicated) might enjoy it and learn something from it, it has very little to offer to other students and addicts of the exhibition world. I wish it had.

Giles Velarde

Sourcery

Sources of illustration 1500 1600 by Hilary and Mary Evans: Adams Dart 5 Victorian illustrated books by Percy Muir; Batsford, 6

The market is now so flooded with coffee-table books masquerading as definitive studies or original source material that the casual though serious browser in an art bookshop is hard put to it to wade through the candyfloss to get down to the genuine article. Luckily for the student or graphic designer there are a few London bookshops who can be counted on to have done the sifting out already. Sources of Illustration should get front window display for being just what it is entitled. For, I feel, mistaken ethical reasons the publishers do not say on the jacket blurb that the authors run one of the best picture source libraries in London. Begun on an amateur basis of lending to friends needing historical references, about six years ago the Evans' opened their collection for public use. Response was at first slow, giving them time to fill up gaps, with the result that all the material used in their book comes from their own collection.

The book ranges comprehensively from crude chapbook woodcuts to the most sophisticated and delicately shaded aquatints. Unlike many laymen, the authors distinguish accurately the technical difference between a woodcut and a wood engraving. This comes in the preliminary section on methods and techniques of printmaking, showing appropriate examples of printmaking explained in the text, but also giving informative drawings of such esoterica as "smoking" a copper plate before working on it. It might seem unnecessary to give technical information in a book on the sources of illustration, but the structure, strengths and weaknesses of each method dictate the result, as much as modern photogravure and mechanical halftone process.

Perhaps the only gap in the book which includes silhouettes, cartoons, engineers' drawings of gunnery, and ironmongers' catalogues - is the absence of those strange eighteenth century trompe l'oeil portraits assembled from, say, vegetables, or the French series on trades in which the seller is constructed out of his own wares. Wenzel Hollar is quoted only by one of his well known Thameside topographical views, and not also by his series of ladies in national costume, or his miniature still-lives of fur muffs, a lace handkerchief and a hovering butterfly: this last type of print might perhaps have defeated even the authors' idiosyncratic filing system. Titles like "Fashion", "Illustration as a Social Document" are to be expected; but "Water and Stone" is just such a file heading as an illustrator might use, and I am sure will find well documented in this book. The days are long gone when one could pick up a cheap old print in Farringdon Road book market, so a source book such as this, and collections such as the authors', now have to provide our needs instead.

Graham Greene writes in his autobiography of the development of his literary tastes with authors like G A Henty, Rider Haggard and Stanley Weyman. Perhaps I was born after my time, for Mr Greene is more than two decades older than myself, but these authors were also my own childhood library. Every Sunday my father gave me the previous day's picking from Foyle's second-hand bookshop, and I grew up in the world of The Fifth Form at St Dominic's, and the Boys Own Paper annuals from the first issue in 1879 up to the turn of the century, when, my father assured me literature "fell off rather badly". But I found little about this ordinary matter in Victorian Illustrated Books.

Possibly this is a little unfair to the author, who is writing for collectors more interested in Cruikshank or Beardsley. But even within Mr Muir's own brief there is a lack of comprehensiveness. Lots about Punch illustrators, and its history, but nothing about Diogenes, Judy. Tomahawk - all magazines selling to a large public at the same time. Jules Verne is not even mentioned although his books first appeared, serialised in English in the Boys Own Paper, often illustrated by French wood engravings much superior in delicacy and technique to anything else in contemporary English magazines. Within his own field Mr Muir is, as one would expect, highly informative and knowledgeable.

Rosalind Dease

How primaries grew up

Primary school design by Malcolm Seaborne; Routledge Kegan Paul, 1.50

Careful thought lies behind this slim book which summarises the evolution of primary schools over the last 120 years. Malcolm Seaborne, also author of a major study The English School, its architecture and organisation 1370-1870 is now principal of Chester College of Education, and is one of the few educators who feel sufficiently convinced about the relation of education to design to make this subject a major study.

In Primary school design the material is arranged under five types of school plan - the one room plan and its derivatives, the central hall plan, veranda and quadrangle plans, the corridor plans, and compact and open plans. At first one fears that the plan forms rather than education have been made the subjects, but this is not the case. However, I think it would have been preferable to discuss design under periods of time, because it is social events and Acts of Parliament that have set the pattern for school building.

At each stage the educational climate and the progress of design are neatly summarised and the conclusion one draws is that until recently there has been no effective association between pioneering educators and designers. The simple pattern of the book is overstretched in the post 1945 period, and whether the most significant plans are discussed and illustrated is open to argument. However, the author's fairness and accuracy are always praiseworthy, as is his resistance to becoming a pressure grouper. Ten plans are illustrated and are treated as case studies, in which perhaps commonplace detail occupies too much valuable space - particularly as Malcolm Seaborne holds so many views that school designers feel should be developed.

Buildings, he says, have too long been taken for granted, so all schools is some degree inhibit or demand improvisation. How to get the best balance? Space per pupil and furniture are perhaps more important than endless argument about plans.

(Caption)

A ladder for teamwork, a brazen jellymould and a fork for inept spaghetti eaters: three ideas hopefully patented by tongue-in-cheek French sculptor Jaques Carelman From his Catalogue of Extraordinary Objects (Abelard Schumann, London 1.50

The need for design to be associated with work on curriculum development and school organisation (instead of separately). These are just three examples that strike a sympathetic chord, particularly at a time when a cynic in following Mr Seaborne's story could say planning is going round in circles. Historically the education time lag has been slow and the design lag even slower. But now that architects have got the bit between their teeth, educational clarification and leadership is even more essential Malcolm Seaborne's record is useful, but we need leadership too.

David Medd

Terminal depression

Living with the computer edited by Basil de Ferranti, OUP, 90p

"It is still just possible," says Basil de Ferranti, "as it is early days yet in the history of this extraordinary tool, to cover a fairly large part of the computer field in one book". Just how much he has managed to cover may be judged by the book's exceedingly slim format. It's by no means an A-Z of the computer world and the homely title belies what is really a rather superficial survey of past history in the computer acceptance stakes. Summing up the majority of the eight authors' contributions it would be easy to say that computers can perform almost any calculative, informative and distributive function, they are already performing them to a growing extent in public and private sectors and they're going to do it more often and better in the future.

Some of the scarce meat in this work is provided by Ted Schoeters, who predicts a sixfold increase in installation sales by 1980 but a 30-fold bonanza for the service bureaux. This means that future users will be installing terminals instead of the actual computers, a situation that British telecommunications may be unable to cope with. The Post Office, steadfastly clinging to outdated forecasts and immediate concern to rectify the post-war neglect of communications, seems satisfied that voice line capacity will be sufficient to deal with the computer Klondike. Not so the computer network men who have been screaming for high capacity landlines for years. On the other hand, the capability of computers is increasing at such a rate that future business may well be conducted with a small computer at hand for day to day work and able to link with massive bureaux.

More disturbing inferences are at play in the opening chapter by G Cuttle on the possibilities of computer automation in the home. Anything more like a mindless machine orientated environment would be harder to imagine- Bobby and me and the baby and the computer makes four. If the telephone and television are only the tip of a very big iceberg, as he suggests, I for one am prepared to live the life of a recluse. As a whole the book may well fill in the background to what is becoming an increasingly complex and jargonistic jungle. It is lively and largely well written but far from dispelling misapprehensions of a computer takeover it may well sow the seeds of total depression at its inevitability.

David Rowlands

 

 

about        contact        terms of use        image credits        © 2008