Courtesy of Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning
by Keith Bretzius, Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning
A new wave of thinking in architectural theory is emerging thanks to a rare collection of books, an exhibition, and the curiosity of Andrew Holder, an assistant professor of architecture at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.
"I guess you can say it is ironic,” says Holder as he looks down through a glass case displaying a book. “I teach computer-aided design but I have a passion for the aesthetic qualities of drawing. Nothing compares when defining shadow, tone, depth and dimension to that of pen and ink on paper. It’s completely different from that of a computer and as architects we can learn a lot from these drawings."
Holder is referring to the twenty-one rare books on the picturesque currently on display as part of a Taubman College exhibition titled, In the Garden Grows a Lump: Rare Books on the Picturesque. The exhibition will run until February 28, 2014 in the Taubman College Gallery.
The picturesque challenged prevailing aesthetic ideas about the experience of nature,” adds Taubman College exhibition director MaryAnn Wilkinson. “The intention of the picturesque was to influence the relationship of buildings and their settings, emphasizing irregular forms, interesting textures, and asymmetrical shapes.”
The books in the exhibition are organized into sections depicting a group of novel, but extremely important features of the picturesque. Illustrations of clumps, lumps, diversions and strange buildings all serve to provide focus on reviving them for use in contemporary architectural practice. These manuscripts, dating back to the 18th and 19th century, are on loan from the University of Michigan Library Special Collections.
Together they constitute a major collection of significant works, featuring the pioneering work of William Gilpin (1724-1804), Humphry Repton (1752-1818), and George-Louis Le Rouge (1707 – ca.1790), Pierre Boitard, John Claudius Loudon, John Buonarotti Papworth, J.G. Parkyns, John Soane, Gjisbert Van Laar, and John George Wood.
“I am glad that the library was able to provide Andrew with a wide variety of examples of landscape design representing the picturesque," said Rebecca Price, Architecture Librarian for U-M and one of the organizers of the exhibition. “These books are rarely on public view, and we were thrilled by the opportunity to show them off in an exhibition.”
Through Holder’s beautiful exhibition design, viewers are drawn to unique walnut display tables that are imbedded into sloped, “lump”-like surfaces. To view the books, visitors must clamber up the “lumps” in many cases, creating a sense of unbalance, as if they themselves are part of the landscape.
At a critical time in landscape design, the picturesque initiated a shift away from the controlled, geometrical shapes traditional to French design to the more naturalistic forms of the English style.
Given the amount of work and the sense of resolution in the exhibition, one would think the show is the end result, but Holder’s desire to share the books with the public is only phase one of his plan.
These books have a strong connection to architecture and can inform how students think about architecture today.” He adds, “Many students have a tendency to see the figure - a body or a building - in isolation. The figure works differently in the picturesque by giving us a way to think about all things as part of the whole.”
Holder, who came to Taubman College after teaching digital design at UCLA, stresses he wants to challenge the recent trends of digital design in architecture and look at things from a different perspective. “My goals are to capitalize on this momentum, garner wider attention for these books, and get new discourse started.”
Holder hopes the exhibition will travel and that individuals in the architecture and design community will continue the conversation – and it is happening. John Macarthur of the University of Queensland, the preeminent scholar on the Picturesque, came to Taubman College on January 14 for a lecture, and plans are in the works to bring important scholars to the College for workshops, critiques and scholarly discussion in the coming month.
While others may look to historical architecture like Corbusier or the Modern period, my goal is to use the picturesque and this exhibition as a backdrop for more conversation on how this period of design can inform architecture,” noted Holder.
The exhibition is organized by Assistant Professor of Architecture Andrew Holder, along with co-curators and advisors to the project Rebecca Price, Architecture Librarian, and MaryAnn Wilkinson, Director of Exhibitions Taubman College. Installation and design assistance was provided by Claus Benjamin Freyinger, James Chesnut, and Nick Safley.
The exhibition has been generously supported by a grant from the University of Michigan Office of Research (UMOR) and The Guido A. Binda Lecture and Exhibition Fund. Manuscripts are on loan from Special Collections at AAEL and Hatcher Library. Manuscript conservation and repair was provided by the University of Michigan Library Conservation Unit.