One of the great enjoyments of rambling around the blogosphere is the discovery of new stories and connections and simply the journey you take in the process. I was fascinated by Geoff Manaugh's recent post on BLDG BLG on an artificial island in Montenegro's Bay of Kotor whose construction began in the 15th century. The island was built of rocks thrown into the bay as a foundation for a chapel, and the tradition continues today:
Throwing stones into the bay and, in the process, incrementally expanding the island's surface area, has apparently become a local religious tradition: "The custom of throwing rocks into the sea is alive even nowadays. Every year on the sunset of July 22, an event called fašinada, when local residents take their boats and throw rocks into the sea, widening the surface of the island, takes place.
It seems that Manaugh happened upon this by chance ("Somehow this morning I ended reading about an artificial island and devotional chapel...") and his comments set me off on my own serendipitous journey. Towards the end of the post was the following comment:
In fact, it doesn't seem inaccurate to view this as a vernacular version of Vicente Guallart's interest in architecturally constructing new hills and coastlines based on a logical study of the geometry of rocks.
This idea intrigued me and I followed the link to Barcelona architect Vicente Guallart's site; I looked at the project titled "Howtomakeamountain" and found myself somewhat bemused, as is often the case when I try to penetrate the prose of creative design and architecture. The project addresses "The re-generation of Denia’s Castle hill," Denia being a town in the Costa Blanca overlooked by an 11th century castle. Part of the project description reads as follows:
The limestone of the hill and its rhombohedric crystals of calcite enabled us to conceive, at multiple scales, a crystalline genesis for the project. A coherent system, from the structure itself to its outer limit, that responds to a single system of crystallization.
In this way, the skin, like soil in the hills, directly reflects the internal logic of the mass and its interaction with the environment.
In this case, the rhombohedric system generates a hexagonal geometry that will be the geometric base of the ‘gene’ (a hexagonal micro-topography that can be combined all over its faces) that will initiate the process of constructing the skin. This gene will set in motion the re-generation of the hill.
Bemused? However, I was interested in the illustrations, amongst which were several superb and meticulously observed pen and ink or pencil drawings of what would seem to be Alpine and glacial geology, for example:
Associated with these were various illustrations that appeared to show a geometric analysis of the mountain form and architecture (and a clear reference to Guallart's "rhombohedric system"):
Finally, I could see the source of these illustrations: "Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, Le Massif du Mont-Blanc." Now this came as something of a shock - I had come across the work of Viollet-le-Duc on several occasions, but never as an observer of glacial geology and mountain structure. He was a 19th century French architect, best known for his exuberant and imaginative restorations of ancient buildings, amongst them Mont-Saint-Michel and the medieval fortress city of Carcassone.I say "imaginative" for Viollet-le-Duc's "restorations" were, and continue to be highly controversial - more often than not, the results bore little resemblance to the original; he wrote that restoration is a "means to reestablish [a building] to a finished state, which may in fact never have actually existed at any given time." This is certainly true of Carcassonne:
But le-Duc was a highly respected practitioner of both architectural reality and theory, considered to be one of the fathers of modern architecture and a known inspiration for Gaudi. But Mont Blanc and geology? I continued my quest and discovered that in 1876, towards the end of his life, he published the results of his time spent observing, documenting, and drawing the Mont Blanc massif. The entire text and illustrations are, miraculously, available online (in French) at http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5400922n.image.langFR.f6.vignettesnaviguer. I've only begun to look at this work, but as a contemporary of Ruskin and an example of the fascination of the times with mountains and the concept of "the sublime" (so superbly described in Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind), le-Duc's observations are fascinating. I thought back to my own travels around the Mont-Blanc region a couple of years ago, and looked at my own photographs through the spectacles of le-Duc's geometrical "deconstruction."
And it would seem that le-Duc's observations of glaciers are today of value in reconstructing glacial retreat in the Alps - his work endures in many ways!
Continuing my journey, I then discovered a "novelette" that le-Duc had written shortly before his death. Histoire d’un dessinateur (literally, story of a drawer - in the artistic sense) is the tale of a young lad, the son of a gardener, taken under the wing of his father's employer, an artist whose own son has none of the talents of the gardener's boy. The story is summarised at http://www.gombrich.co.uk/showdoc.php?id=107 where I came upon the following description and illustration:
The book then follows his pilgrimage through geometry, trigonometry, botany, anatomy, zoology, perspective, etc. Much of this is an admirably clear account of these disciplines and their practical application, substantially illustrated with careful and detailed diagrams and drawings, such as the one in which we see little Jean tracing the contour lines of a sandheap while M. Majorin sternly watches him, measuring rod in hand.
Ah, the joys of serendipitous discoveries, journeys, and connections!