Category: Inspiration

Robert Maillart’s Ingenious Concrete Creations

. Few have mastered the art of structural concrete as completely as Robert Maillart (1872-1940). This visionary Swiss civil engineer was responsible for numerous breakthroughs in the early 20th century that pushed reinforced concrete to its limits. To him, concrete structural design was truly an art rooted in the quest for economy.   Maillart is…

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Machu Picchu’s Remarkable Water Supply and Drainage Systems

. Water is key to civilizations past and present. Built atop a mountain without the aid of metal tools or wheels, the city of Machu Picchu is a testament to Incan ingenuity. The city’s builders captured and regulated the flow of a spring through a system of conduits and fountains, adding drainage and flood-prevention measures.…

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Urban Water Systems: The Great Sewer of Ancient Rome

. Constructed in Rome over two thousand years ago, the Cloaca Maxima (literally “greatest drain”) is one of the oldest large infrastructural projects in the Eternal City, predating its famed aqueducts and paved roads.   Built from massive blocks of volcanic rock and limestone, the monumental vaulted tunnel is large enough for a person to…

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China’s Ancient Canal that Continues to Amaze

. Not many engineering feats can rival China’s Grand Canal. Stretching over 1,770 kilometers from Hangzhou to Beijing, this waterway shockingly holds the title for both the world’s oldest and the world’s longest canal. For much of its 2,500-year history it was China’s central economic artery, helping to unify the vast country. It was here…

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Across Architecture: I.M. Pei

. Over a career spanning more than 50 years, architect I.M. Pei has contributed to global architecture culture with a series of bold yet restrained modernist buildings that, at their best, productively engage their local context.   As practicing architects, we like to pay our respects to the masters of our field, even if our…

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Bridging Modernism: The Work of Othmar Ammann

. As the engineer of six major bridges in New York City, Swiss-American engineer Othmar Ammann (1879-1965) made a lasting contribution to the urban landscape. With the recent repurposing of his Bayonne span to allow clearance for larger ships, we’re considering how his work reflected a shift to a modern aesthetic in public projects.  …

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Vernacular Architecture of Makkah

  This post is one in a series on the vernacular architecture of Saudi Arabia’s Western Region, known as the Hejaz, which includes the important pilgrimage towns of Makkah and Madinah as well as the economically important city of Jeddah.   The plan and character of the Holy City of Makkah (Mecca) was shaped by…

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How Mass Timber Is Making Wood Construction Viable Again

. Thanks to new innovations in wood construction, one of the oldest building materials may become the building material of the future. “Mass timber” products such as glued laminated timber and cross-laminated timber are being used for increasingly large structures. They offer environmental and cost benefits — and they don’t burn like ordinary wood.   Although…

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Water Management: How the Ancient Nabataeans Built a Desert Paradise

. The 2,000-year-old city of Petra, Jordan, known for the magnificent temples carved into its red sandstone cliffs, is also home to an incredible feat of hydraulic engineering. An extensive water supply system turned this ancient city into a man-made oasis supporting a substantial population.   At its peak, Petra was the thriving capital of…

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A Salute to Fumihiko Maki at 90 Years Old

. The esteemed Japanese architect continues to produce warmly modern buildings that blur influences from the East and West. His thoroughly modern design sensibility is tempered by a regard for the human scale, as seen in the traditional architecture of his home country.   Fumihiko Maki was born in Tokyo in 1938. He experienced the…

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Book Review: Construction Matters

. Construction Mattersproposes that architects consciously think about spatial design as an expression of technological innovation.   The thesis of Construction Mattersis clearly established by its openings sentence. “The materials of construction establish the essential shape and character of architectural space.” Author Georg Windeck suggests that innovations related to four elemental materials — brick, concrete,…

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Muqarnas: Geometric Ornament in the Service of Dome Design

  The muqarnas, rooted in function, became a powerful sculptural element in Islamic architecture, yielding beautifully intricate compositions of solid and void. Ancient and medieval craftsmen learned to achieve breathtaking results by applying three-dimensional geometric patterns to the underside of domes, half-domes, and vaults.   At first glance, it seems that the muqarnas could almost…

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