Luckiest kids in the world

I stumbled across this video of Jay Walker’s library in which two lucky little blighters get a personal tour of my personal version of Heaven. If there was a grown-up version of Make A Wish, I’d ask to go there. But it’s just as well I can’t go because they’d probably have to call the SWAT team to get me out and I wouldn’t want any of the books to get damaged in the ensuing fracas.

Thursday Tweets

A lot of good things appeared in my Twitter stream today and I thought I would share some of them here. First of all, two classics have been adapted into graphic novels, The Odyssey (via @rogueclassicist) and Don Quixote (via @batpoet). I suppose adventures stories lend themselves to a visual format, especially in the male-dominated graphic novel/comic book market. What are the chances we’ll see a graphic Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice?

The online book community is mourning the loss of Michael S. Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg. He is said to have invented the ebook, and began by hand-typing classics such as Homer, Shakespeare, and the Bible into his computer and posting them online. Now the work is carried out by an army of volunteers all over the world using scanners and optical character recognition. However the human touch is still required, and you can help by joining Distributed Proofreaders. If you are the sort of person who notices the typos in today’s poorly edited books, you’re just the sort of person DP needs! There’s a nice community of book lovers there and it’s a great way to give back to the world of books.

Finally, have you ever noticed that some languages sound faster than others? Have you wondered if they are saying more or if there is just a lot of “filler” in the language? Well, according to some recent research [here’s the whole paper](via @StanCarey), it seems that the information density of a language is inversely proportional to the speed with which it is spoken, with the end result that languages (at least the ones that were tested) dish out roughly the same amount of information in the same amount of time. In other words, languages that sound faster don’t really say more than languages that sound slower. I don’t know if this research is conclusive or has been confirmed elsewhere, but it makes me wonder if the brain has an optimal speed for taking in verbal information, regardless of language. I do know one thing for sure: my brain is not fast enough to take in everything on Twitter!

Brideshead Revisited: The Chapel

‘You see, there’s nothing to see. A few pretty things I’d like to show you one day—but not now. But there’s the chapel. You must see that. It’s a monument of art nouveau.’

The last architect to work at Brideshead had added a colonnade and flanking pavilions. One of these was the chapel. We entered it by the public porch (another door led direct to the house); Sebastian dipped his fingers in the water stoup, crossed himself, and genuflected; I copied him. ‘Why do you do that?’ he asked crossly.

‘Just good manners.’

‘Well, you needn’t on my account. You wanted to do sightseeing; how about this?’

The whole interior had been gutted, elaborately refurnished and redecorated in the arts-and-crafts style of the last decade of the nineteenth century. Angels in printed cotton smocks, rambler-roses, flower-spangled meadows, frisking lambs, texts in Celtic script, saints in armour, covered the walls in an intricate patter of clear, bright colours. There was a triptych of pale oak, carved so as to give it the peculiar property of seeming to have been moulded in Plasticine. The sanctuary lamp and all the metal furniture were of bronze, hand-beaten to the patina of a pock-marked skin; the altar steps had a carpet of grass-green, strewn with white and gold daisies.

‘Golly,’ I said.

—Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Castle was based upon Madresfield Court in Worcestershire, where Waugh spent time as a youth. The chapel was originally built in 1865 by the 6th Earl of Beauchamp (a member of the Oxford Movement), and later decorated in the Arts and Crafts style as a wedding present to the 7th Earl (a major patron of the Arts and Crafts movement) from his wife. It’s a good thing she didn’t find out that he was gay until much later, otherwise we might not have such an architectural beauty to admire. The chapel is considered by many to be the fullest and finest expression of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Click to enlarge.
Madresfield Court chapel

Madresfield Court chapel detail

The house also has a magnificent Arts and Crafts library, full of books that the family actually read. Unfortunately, the family is rather private and so there are few good images of the interior online, and none of the library that I can find. Here is a tantalizing description:

Working later from their Cotswold base in Chipping Camden, the master carvers Alec Miller and Will Hart created scenes on four doors and two large bookcase ends which amount to Ashbee’s most successful scheme of interior decoration. The Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life form the centre of a series of images – the monkish scholar, the musician, the reaper, the doctor–which allude to the many different paths to learning and wisdom.  Yet there is wit too: amidst the root of the Tree of Knowledge the hunched figure of the book thief rubs shoulders with the lowest forms of animal life, the toad, the rat and the weasel.

You can read more about the library and house in this pdf guide book. There is also a book on Madresfield containing more pictures and a history of the house and family, which goes back almost 1,00o years. Madresfield has another literary claim to fame: A past legal battle over inheritance in the family is said to be the inspiration for Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.

More Modern Library Architecture

The WebUrbanist has just put together a collection of fifteen “dazzling” modern libraries from all over the world. It’s a diverse assortment, from the Anchorage “washtub” to Prague’s purple and pea green amoeba. Seattle is there, of course, as is Jay Walker’s library. Two interesting libraries missing from the list are Salt Lake City’s main library and the Vancouver Public Library. I haven’t featured the latter before, so here it is:

Vancouver Public Library

Vancouver Public Library

Salt Lake City Public Library: "Where Democracy Happens"

Photo Timothy Hursley

“A dynamic civic resource that promotes free and open access to information, materials and services to all members of the community to advance knowledge, foster creativity, encourage the exchange of ideas, build community and enhance quality of life.”

I discovered this gorgeous new library at QuizzyLizzy’s Web 2.0 Experience (perhaps this is Library 2.0?). What makes this one special is the huge public square (really more of a curvy triangle) where people can gather, hold festivals, and listen to lectures at the outdoor amphitheatre. You can also walk along the top of the curved wall at the right of the picture to reach the rooftop garden and enjoy the 360° view. The indoor spaces sound wonderful too, with lots of natural light and views of the Wasach mountains. The library runs programs to bring together diverse groups and to create links with other cultural institutions in the city. They aimed high with this library, and it looks like they hit the bull’s-eye.

You can read more about it at the Salt Lake City Public Library website, and take a tour of the architecture at a weekly dose of architecture. If you’re really lucky you’ll get to go there yourself!

Buckhead Library Update

In February I posted about the Buckhead Public Library, a modern architectural gem in the city of Atlanta, which was in danger of being replaced by a parking garage as part of a massive new development. Thanks to all the public opposition, the library board voted to reject the offer to purchase the property, and the County did not include the purchase in their new library plan, effectively quashing the deal. Moreover, they plan to spend $150 million to renew and expand their library system, including the building of eight new libraries. Way to go Atlanta!

Buckhead Public Library

The British Library’s Architect-Philosopher

Here’s a marvellous article about the British Library’s architect, the late Colin (Sandy) St John Wilson. It is full of quotable paragraphs, but I think I’ll stick to this inspiring comment from the man himself:

A great library is like a coral reef whose exquisite structure as it grows proliferates a living network of connectedness, and its ramification is all of a piece, like knowledge itself – the knowledge that bridges the endless curiosity of the human mind, from the first pictogram to the latest microchip.

Do read the whole thing at The Guardian.

via Rare Book News

They Paved the Public Library, Put Up a Parking Lot

Sticking with library issues, Book Patrol posted about a public library in Atlanta which may be bulldozed to make way a huge new mixed-use development. The problem with this is that the building is a work of art. The Buckhead library, built in 1989 and designed by Scogin-Elam, has won multiple awards for its avant garde architecture. Now a developer wants to buy it from the city and replace it with… wait for it… a parking garage. It’s not all bad news, though. The developer has very generously offered to build a new library on top of the parkade, with access via an elevator.

(I’ll just wait while you all finish wailing in horror and despair…)

You can help by signing a petition to save the library. And do pop over to Flickr to see more photos of Buckhead’s exciting architecture. Atlantans don’t seem to know how lucky they are to have a building like that in their midst. I suppose the developer has to get rid of it because it would make the rest of the development look cheap and soulless. People will accept crap if they don’t know anything better is possible.

UPDATE: There is a detailed news article about the library’s impending doom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Here’s a colourful quote:

“That library, to my way of thinking, was an abortion the day it was dedicated,” Fulton County Commissioner Tom Lowe said. “I am a lover of art. I can even stand abstract art. But God darn, who in the world would build something like that? There ain’t no damn artistic value to that library.”


Photo Scott Moore

Photo Scott Moore