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Maps and views blog

5 posts categorized "Architecture"

05 August 2020

Mapping as poetry: looking at ‘Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas’

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Can maps express poetry? French architect Le Corbusier believed so. In Towards a New Architecture, his influential work on Modernism of 1923, he selected this image of an aeroplane cockpit - an aviation map surrounded by dials – to illustrate what he called poetic facts:

Poetry lies not only in the spoken or written word. The poetry of facts is stronger still. Objects which signify something, and which are arranged with talent and with tact, create a poetic fact.’

Vers une Architecture, Le Corbusier

Vers une Architecture, Le Corbusier, 1923. BL General Reference Collection 07815.h.26.

Could a map even be a poem? This recent purchase by the Map Library suggests it can.

Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas, Chieko Shiomi, 1966

Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas, Chieko Shiomi, 1966. Shelfmark not yet allocated. Image courtesy David Rumsey Map Collection.

Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas, was made in 1966 by Japanese artist Chieko Shiomi (later Mieko). She had recently moved to New York to join colleagues in the Fluxus network, a community of artists around the world dedicated to experimental performance work, whose members included George Maciunas (the founder), John Cage, Joseph Beuys, Richard Hamilton and Ian Hamilton Finlay. Shiomi organised a series of ‘Spatial Poem’ events, in which she invited Fluxus colleagues to perform a specific action and then post a response back to her in the mail. This map documents responses she received during the second event, and bears the following subtitle: ‘This is the record of various directions to which people were simultaneously moving or facing around 10pm (Greenwich time) October 15th 1965’.

In Shiomi’s own words,

There are time gaps, since this Event took place all over the Earth. I sent the participants a list of time gaps in different places and asked them to report what direction each of them was facing at the same particular moment. While there were simple reports such as they were facing the ceiling, a newspaper, or a television, there were also interesting interpretations and calculated performances. Maciunas sent a report saying that he brought a swivel chair into an elevator and pressed the button to go up. While the elevator was ascending, he was rotating at high speed on the chair. Thus he insisted that he was directed toward all three hundred and sixty degrees while ascending. Somebody else reported that his direction varied because he was chasing a mouse that had entered the bedroom. Or a person told me he was "going from his 4th glass of beer to his 5th glass of beer," and yet another reported that she was "going in the direction of simplification." [Text courtesy MOMA].

Portrait of Chieko Shiomi

Portrait of Chieko Shiomi at the first Spatial Poem event, 1965, New York. Image courtesy MOMA.

Visually, it's the sort of map you might encounter in a dream. Modern and ancient motifs appear side by side, and create an atmosphere at once familiar but strange. These two wind faces hark back to a World Map of Ptolemy from 1482.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Detail of Ptolemy World Map, 1482

Details of Spatial Poem No.2 (above) and of Ptolemy World Map, 1482 (below). BL IC. 9304.

A woodcut figure, who hovers over Los Angeles and aims an early sextant at the Pacific Ocean, first appeared in 1677 in Nathaniel Colson’s The Mariners New Kalendar (BL General Reference Collection 8805.bb.35.). An earlier version of the image, reproduced below, is taken from John Seller’s Practical Navigation of 1669.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Image from Practical Navigation, John Seller, 1669

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2 (above) and image from Practical Navigation, John Seller, 1669 (below). Image from Wikipedia.

A number of curious compass/clock devices adorn the map – one forms a cartouche with the map’s title, while others mark different times around the world. These have been adapted from the diagram of a sixteenth-century survey instrument used in the construction of mine shafts. The original appeared in De Re Metallica by Georgius Agricola in 1556.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Image from De Re Metallica, Georgius Agricola, 1556

Details of Spatial Poem No.2 (above) and image from De Re Metallica, Georgius Agricola, 1556 (below). Image courtesy Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Jumping forward through the centuries, a contemporary window pane in Copenhagen is shattered by a ball.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2.

Alongside this evocative mix of images, the text responses received by Shiomi have been ordered into shapes and spirals that convey the momentary locations, directions and population distribution of Fluxus members as well as any modern infographic.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2.

Returning to Le Corbusier’s words – if poetry is found in an object which signifies something and is laid out with talent and with tact, then surely it resides here in Shiomi’s map.

05 May 2020

Crystal Palace Marvel

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The Eiffel Tower, Seattle’s Space Needle and the Atomium in Brussels – these instantly recognisable landmarks are must-see iconic attractions. Whilst original and daring in style, they also have something else in common - they are all architectural structures specifically designed for the Expo World Trade Fairs and maps relating to the first World’s Fair can be found within the British Library’s collections.

It all started nearly 170 years ago when The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, was opened in London on 1 May 1851 by Queen Victoria. And what a spectacle it was! In the months following the grand opening ceremony over six million visitors marvelled over the spectacular show. The exhibition was housed in a gigantic glass and cast iron structure constructed to Sir Joseph Paxton’s design. The largest covered glass structure built at the time it was quickly dubbed the Crystal Palace and immediately became one of London’s major landmarks featuring in numerous maps and plans. 

Maps Crace Port. 7.263

Map of London with view of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park inserted within the title panel as a central feature. Maps Crace Port. 7.263

The idea of organising an international event to celebrate the achievements of modern industrial technology received wide support from prominent patrons including Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) who was appointed as President of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 specifically formed to manage the preparations. The Commission chose Hyde Park in central London as a suitable site for the exhibition.

Maps Crace Port. 10.15

Map showing the land in central London purchased for the Exhibition. Maps Crace Port. 10.15

The event was recognised as an opportunity to showcase Britain’s industrialisation and modern technological advancements to an international audience. The exhibition’s building was actually one of the most spectacular exhibits. Paxton’s ingenious design used prefabricated components of glass and cast iron which were assembled on site. It not only met the criteria for a temporary, simple and inexpensive building but by taking advantage of natural light it also cut down the cost of maintenance. It offered incredible flexibility and even incorporated parkland features within. Rather than cutting them down Paxton enclosed all the full grown trees from the allotted land and made them the main feature of the central exhibition hall highlighting the enormous dimensions of the building. The hall also featured a stunning eight meter tall crystal fountain. Total floor space covered an area of nearly 13 football pitches (ca. 990,000 ft2 or 92,000 m2) with exhibition spaces on the ground floor and galleries providing over ten miles of display capacity.

Maps Crace Port. 7.267

Souvenir illustrated guide map showing the Crystal Palace location in Hyde Park in relation to other London landmarks. Maps Crace Port. 7.267 

The exhibits included a wide variety of scientific and technological innovations as well as cultural objects. Over 100,000 items from every corner of the world were on display including Johnston’s Geological and Physical Globe, the first physical globe which won awards for the content and the stand (whose carved figures represented the four continents). Among the exhibits there were hydraulic presses, steam engines, microscopes, barometers, stuffed animals, French tapestries and furniture, even the priceless Koh-i-Noor diamond sent from India. 

Maps 28.bb.7

The Crystal Palace Game. By S. Evans. London, [1855?] Educational game published to commemorate the reopening of the Crystal Palace on its new site. Maps 28.bb.7 

The Great Exhibition was incredibly successful and made a profit way above expectations. This enabled the Commission to acquire land in South Kensington and aided the establishment of the world renowned London museums. 

After the closing of the Exhibition in October 1851 the structure was dismantled and rebuilt in an enlarged form on a site in south London. The reconstruction was documented by a photographer Philip Henry Delamotte, his work provides a glimpse to what the Crystal Palace looked like.

Tab.442.a.5

Photograph of the Crystal Palace by Philip Henry Delamotte. 1855. Tab.442.a.5 

The Crystal Palace soon became a hub for cultural events, exhibitions and concerts. The venue was seen as a place of culture and learning, it contained series of themed courts on the history of fine art, and the surrounding grounds even featured life-sized sculptures of dinosaurs and extinct animals by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. The residential area surrounding the new site was renamed Crystal Palace and two railway stations serving the site were opened.

Maps 5380.(4.)  (3)

Detail showing layout on the new site in Sydenham with carefully designed grounds and the Crystal Palace railway station. Ordnance Plan of the Crystal Palace and its Environs, Southampton, 1864. Maps 5380.(4.) 

The Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire on 30 November 1936 and never rebuilt, nevertheless the Paxton’s design established an architectural style employed in later international fairs and exhibitions and started a long history of World Fairs. 

04 April 2018

Shipwrecks and Piracy: John Rocque’s 1750 Map of Rome, part two

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In my last blog I noted how John Rocque’s 1750 map of Rome could be considered both a personal memento for the grand tourist who likely commissioned it – Sir Bourchier Wrey – as well as a useful map for travellers.

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John Rocque, A Plan of Rome, (London, 1750), British Library Maps K.Top.81.22.

My post today will look at events surrounding the production of Rocque’s map of Rome. The ensuing story reveals this London mapmaker to be a rather ruthless opportunist…

 

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Giambattista Nolli, detail of Nuova Pianta di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.8.TAB.

In 1748 the Italian cartographer Giambattista Nolli produced a landmark map of Rome. It came in two sizes: a monumental twelve-sheet map entitled Nuova Pianta di Roma, and a reduced single-sheet version called La Topografia di Roma. Scholars sometimes refer to them respectively as the Pianta grande and the Pianta piccola for short, and copies of both can be found in King George III’s Topographical Collection.

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Giambattista Nolli, La Topografia di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.a.

The incredible detail of Nolli’s Pianta grande ensured that it was still being used in some form for over 200 hundred years.[1] The story abroad, however, was another matter entirely: in terms of sales, it was a bit of a flop. Among the reasons for this disappointing turnover, at least in Britain, was the quick-witted John Rocque.[2]

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Giambattista Nolli, detail of Nuova Pianta di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.8.TAB.

As was common in the eighteenth century, Nolli and his associate Girolamo Belloni attempted to raise funds for the project by seeking advance subscribers.[3] Nolli handled the domestic sales (i.e. the Papal States), while Belloni was responsible for international sales. To this end Belloni travelled across Europe from 1747 to 1756.

Before publication Belloni procured a meagre 59 subscribers abroad. Though we don’t know exactly how many of those came from London, the figure for Paris, by comparison, was 6. By the end of 1756 Belloni recorded that he had sold a grand total of 459 copies abroad. This was a rather disappointing return for a project so long and so dear in the making.

Despite this, the popularity of the map in London was high, relative to other European cities, perhaps reflecting Rome’s status in Britain as the Grand Tour capital. It might have sold even better still, were it not for John Rocque.

Among the first shipments sent out around May 1748 was a batch of 48 maps (or 56, according to a second note) en route to London that were lost in a shipwreck.

Belloni, it seems, did not react quickly enough to this setback, but Rocque did. For in 1750, after a fairly brisk turnaround, Rocque published his own map of Rome, a compilation of the Pianta grande and the Pianta piccola.[4] Even though Rocque did credit Nolli in his title, this was bare-faced plagiarism designed to capitalise on Belloni’s slowness in supplying the London map market.

Seeing an example of Nolli’s map in 1750, the artist Canaletto, in London at that time, remarked: “many gentlemen have already been provided with it by another hand”.[5] Though it is far from explicit, Canaletto was surely referring to Rocque, since he was the only mapmaker who had made a copy by this date.

Thus with a keen eye for an opportunity, John Rocque stole a march on his rivals: what was Nolli and Belloni’s loss was his gain. The eighteenth-century map market could be a ruthless place.

 

[1] In fact, it formed the base of plans of the city by the Italian government until the 1970s, see Ceen, Allan, ‘Nuova Pianta di Roma Data in Luce da Giambattista Nolli l’Anno MDCCXLVIII’, http://nolli.uoregon.edu/nuovaPianta.html.

[2] The details of the history of Nolli’s map come from Bevilacqua, Mario, Roma nel Secolo dei Lumi: Architettura, erudizione, scienza nella Pianta di G.B. Nolli «celebre geometra», (Naples: Electa Napoli, 1998), especially pp. 49-52.

[3] For more information about the subscription model, see Pedley, Mary Sponberg, The commerce of cartography: making and marketing maps in eighteenth-century France and England, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), pp. 84-90.

[4] There is some uncertainty among map historians concerning how long it took to prepare copperplates for printing, with estimates ranging from a few days to many months. Contrast, for example, Pedley (2005), pp. 53-56, and Carhart, George, ‘How Long Did It Take to Engrave an Early Modern Map? A Consideration of Craft Practices’, in Imago Mundi, Vol. 56, No. 2 (2004), pp. 194-197.

[5] “essendo già stati provisti molti Signori Personaggi da altro mano”. My translation; see Bevilacqua (2005), p. 52.

16 October 2017

Shoreditch according to Goldfinger

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A remarkable new acquisition has arrived! Planning your neighbourhood  is a proposal on twenty display boards for post-war reconstruction produced by an architect Ernő Goldfinger and Ursula Blackwell in 1944 for the Army Bureau of Current Affairs.

1. Title page low res

Planning Your Neighbourhood. Title page. British Library Maps C.49.e.82.

Goldfinger, educated in Vienna and Paris, played an important part in the development of the modernist movement in Britain. His appreciation for the Brutalist style and unconventional designs (including the Alexander Fleming House at Elephant and Castle, Balfron Tower at Poplar, and Trellick Tower in west London) often upset the general public. Allegedly, the author Ian Fleming, who was Goldfinger’s neighbour in Hampstead, was so opposed to the design of terraced houses in Willow Road, that he named one of the James Bond novel villains after the architect.

Planning your neighbourhood captures an air of optimism in which the designer presented the utopian vision of improved post-war city life. The district of Shoreditch in East London, heavily damaged through enemy actions and “overcrowded and disfigured by slums”, was a perfect candidate for post-war reconstruction. The proposal incorporates maps, aerial photos and diagrams to visualise the concept of comfortable modern housing that caters for all. The idea was that anyone, young and old across different social classes, would enjoy living in the “vertical city”.

2. Shoreditch low res

Aerial view of the damaged site in Shoreditch. Board 11. Planning Your Neighbourhood. British Library Maps C.49.e.82.

The set opens with a comparison of country and city life stating that in towns “the advantage of neighbourliness is lost”. The solution suggested by Goldfinger is the creation of neighbourhoods composed of residential units, in line with principles of planning concept introduced by Sir Leslie Patrick Abercrombie and John Forshaw in their Greater London Plan, which promoted development of self-contained communities.

Goldfinger’s scheme advocates vertically built cites over traditional outward expansion. He compared a footprint of a tower block against a street of terraced houses, demonstrating the advantage of the modern approach.

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Board 10. Planning Your Neighbourhood. British Library Maps C.49.e.82.

The importance of planning is strongly emphasized, with the planner having to carefully consider a design which allowed for different sized apartments, depending on individual family needs, and appropriate amenities located nearby. Goldfinger also thought about green spaces and recreational facilities such as local cinemas and swimming pools, playgrounds, cricket and football grounds – all conveniently situated in the centre of the neighbourhood within an easy reach from home. Also, with safety in mind, he introduced the idea of segregated traffic with high speed roads exclusively reserved for heavy vehicles (including buses and trucks), and slow roads for horse carts, bicycles and pedestrians providing safe access to nurseries and schools with no crossing of traffic required.  

  4. Traffic low res

Board 8. Planning Your Neighbourhood. British Library Maps C.49.e.82.

The reconstruction of post-war Britain was less ambitious than Goldfinger estimated and his Shoreditch scheme was never built. One could argue it was realised on a ‘mini scale’ as Trellick Tower Cheltenham Estate in west London completed in 1972 with its own doctor surgery, nursery, school, laundrettes, and shops. Loved or hated, it became one of London’s landmarks and has been given Grade II listed status by English Heritage.

By the mid-1970s concrete tower blocks were no longer perceived as a model for urban regeneration. What originally was intended to provide a solution to the housing problem and growth of a healthy strong community in reality became the main factor for social alienation, crime and creating serious safety hazards.

Unfortunately Planning your neighbourhood was acquired too late to be included in our Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line exhibition held in November 2016 to March 2017 but the set is available for ordering through the online catalogue.

09 March 2015

London through the artist's eye

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About 40% of the King’s Topographical Collection consists of views. Many are drawings and watercolours by enthusiastic amateurs who were keen to record decaying churches, great houses and old buildings. But the work of some of the finest artists working in England in the 18th century such as Paul Sandby, William Pars, Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker, John ‘Warwick’ Smith and Thomas Jones is also represented.

Most of the views in the collection are printed, but no less splendid for that. In the 17th century, the Bohemian exile, Wencelas (Wenzel/Vaclav) Hollar was the acknowledged master of the etching, a printing technique involving the application of acid to copper. His works are well represented in the Collection which also contains 16th-century engraved views which were once in the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657).

Perhaps most spectacularly, George III’s reign saw the perfection and spread of the aquatint, a printed hand-coloured process imitating watercolour. British artists were in the vanguard and were anxious to present their best work to the King. As a result the King’s Topographical Collection contains perhaps the greatest group of the highest quality aquatints anywhere in the world.
The sections of the collection relating to London and the South-East contain handsome views from the 16th to the 19th centuries with fascinating stories attached to them.

Maps K Top. 24.11-2-2.
Frans Hogenberg, [Exterior of the first Royal Exchange seen from Cornhill], ca. 1570.  Maps K Top. 24.11-2-2.

There is more to the large engraved view of the First Royal Exchange than meets the eye. The view was created, shortly after the completion of the building in 1569 by the artist and engraver Frans Hogenberg. The inscription mentions that it was paid for, as a benefit to the public and an adornment to the City, by Sir Thomas Gresham, whose grasshopper crest adorns the top of the weathervane. What it doesn’t say is that the building was meant as a challenge to Antwerp, where Hogenberg had been living until he was expelled because of his protestant beliefs in 1569. He may have felt that this print was a way of getting back at his persecutors. The building was certainly viewed as a thorn in the flesh by the Catholic powers of Europe. When in 1572 Hogenberg was commissioned to prepare a reduced copy of a map of London as the first town view in a multi-volume atlas of town views and maps, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, it was omitted – only for the publishers to be compelled, two years later, to insert a miniaturised version of this view to show the location of Gresham’s Royal Exchange.

Maps K. Top. 28.9-e.Wenceslaus Hollar, On the North Side of London , 1664  Maps K. Top. 28.9-e.

The next image moves a century later, to the summer of 1664, when Wenceslaus Hollar was seeking refuge from smells and diseases prevailing in the city. He moved to the fashionable suburban village of Islington, from which he made a series of exquisite little etchings of the view towards London. This view is dominated by old St Paul’s Cathedral, as seen from the North rather than across the Thames and lacking its steeple that had burnt down in 1561. Hollar shows it two years before its destruction in the Great Fire. In the foreground can be seen a group of Londoners practising their archery on the site of what are now the elegant Georgian houses of Canonbury. Though they doubtless regarded the archery as a sport, it had long been one of the compulsory skills of the members of the citizen militia, the trainbands, who a generation earlier had defended London against the armies of King Charles I.

Maps K. Top 26.5-r

S.H. Grimm, A drawn View of the Distribution of His Majesty's Maundy by the Sub-Almoner, in the Chapel Royal at Whitehall, 1773.  Maps K. Top 26.5-r

A little more than a century later, on Maundy Thursday, 1773, the King’s Almoner, the Rev. Sir Richard Kaye, the King’s Sub-Almoner, distributed the royal alms to needy pensioners in the Banqueting House in Whitehall, which was then used as a royal chapel. He gave 35  pensioners 35 specially minted silver pence each, reflecting the King’s age in  1773.  The King, dressed in red, looked on from a gallery: unlike today, the monarch  did not actually distribute the alms. Kaye commissioned a Swiss artist, Samuel Hieronymous Grimm, who had moved to London 5 years earlier, to depict the scene in watercolour. Grimm produced two large watercolours which are widely regarded as his masterpieces and exhibited them the next year, 1774, at the Royal Academy. There they were seen by George III – who was captivated by them. He tried to get Kaye to present them to him – but Kaye would not listen. George tried again and again to get Kaye to change his mind over the following decades but with no more success. Finally, in 1810 Kaye bequeathed them to George in his will – if he were still interested. By the time Kaye died, the King himself had gone incurably insane, but the watercolours were placed in his geographical collections, the trophies of a pursuit that had lasted nearly four decades.

Maps_k_top_21_31_5_c_port_11_tab (detail)William Daniell, A View of the East India Docks1808.  Maps K . Top. 21.31-5-c. Port.II. Tab

Aquatints enjoyed their heyday just as Great Britain was experiencing a technological revolution and our last two views commemorate different aspects of it. The first, an aquatint by William Daniell, shows the newly-built East India Docks, designed by John Rennie and Ralph Walker, that had just been constructed on the Isle of Dogs in East London. A masterpiece of engineering, it – with the West India and London Docks – gave London the capacity to absorb the goods that were flooding into Great Britain, making London the greatest trading city in the world. Had they not been built, the Thames alone could not have accommodated all the ships, which would have been compelled to go elsewhere. The River Lee is seen entering the Thames to the left and across the river is the site of the O2 Arena.

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Augustus Charles Pugin, engraved by J. Hill, View of the Excavated Ground for Highgate Archway,  1812.  Maps K Top 30.1-1-g.

The second aquatint, by Augustus Charles Pugin, the father of the man who decorated the interior of the present-day Houses of Parliament, commemorates a disaster. In around 1800 John Rennie proposed that one of the first by-passes should be created. It would enable horse traffic to avoid the steep slope of Highgate Hill, along the main road North from London. The new road would run along a cutting at the side of the hill until it disappeared into a tunnel beneath a ridge that ran east from Highgate. Rennie’s geological researches were faulty however, and in April 1812 the tunnel collapsed in spectacular fashion, much to the glee of the gossiping classes. This print shows the aftermath. A year later, John Nash constructed a permanent bridge over the chasm and its descendant continues to carry traffic to and from Highgate, while the Archway Road thunders beneath.

This is just a fraction of what is contained in the King’s Topographical Collection and there are many more treasures to be uncovered. We are now fundraising to catalogue, conserve and digitise this collection and you can help us by making a donation today at www.bl.uk/unlock-london-maps. If would like to learn more about the project and how you can get involved, please get in touch with Rachel Stewart (rachel.stewart@bl.uk) and me, Peter Barber, at the British Library (peter.barber@bl.uk).