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Nikolaus Pevsner - greatest architectural historian ever?

Susie Harries’ Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life is an interesting book because it focuses on my hero’s personal life rather than his lecture notes. Nikolaus Pevsner (1902–1983) was born in Leipzig into a com­fortable and cultivated Jewish family. Father Hugo (1869-1940) was a fur merchant and mother Annie Perlman (1876-1942) was a pianist. Pevsner attended Leip­zig, Munich, Berlin and Frank­furt Universities.

It was clear in his diary that Nikolaus Pev­sner wanted to be a real German and was embarrassed by his parents’ Judaism and his father’s association with trade. In 1919 his bril­l­iant brother Heinz committed suicide, so Nikolaus aband­oned Judaism and con­verted to Lutheran­ism that same year.

Receiving his PhD in 1924, Pevsner married Karola Lola Kurlbaum, daughter of the respected appeal judges in Germany. It was a life­­­long, sometimes unstable marriage, with 3 children. Lola was al­so Jew­ish but considered herself 100% Prussian and hoped to raise her husband up to her own cultural standard.

Pevsner's doctoral thesis, Leipziger Baroque (1925) was a study of It­alian man­n­erist and baroque painting. Soon he was working as As­s­istant Keeper at Dresden Gallery (1924–8), assisted the dir­ec­t­­or of the Dresden International Art Ex­hibition in 1925 and became lecturer at Göttingen University in art and architectural history (1929–33). Loving English art, he travelled widely in England in 1930.

Back in Germany Pevsner found elements that were admirable about the Nazis, indicat­ing how much his outlook on art history matched theirs. And he really DID support Goebbels in his drive for pure, non-decadent German art. Apparently he said of the Nazis in 1933 "I want this movement to succeed. There is no alternative but chaos".

Yet to the Nazis, Jewish-born Pevsner’s 1921 conversion to Prot­est­antism was nothing; he would always would be a Jew. And his passion for med­iev­al Saxon sculp­ture, the glory of German art, didn’t prove his Germanness either. The young man was caught up in the ban on Jews being employed by the Nazi state and lost his job at Göttingen in May 1933.

In 1934 the family emigrated and friends found Nikolaus a research post at the University of Birmingham. In 1936 he est­ablished his name by publishing Pioneers of the Modern Design, the single most widely read book on modern design.

He had no social life and little sleep. After a day looking at buildings and taking endless notes, Pevsner worked on his notes at night and planned the route for the following day.

Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life 
by Susie Harries
Random House, 2013

Isle of Wight
one of Pevsner's Architectural Guides

He wrote mostly about English architecture, yet what he really admired was the modern functionalist German style. Pevsner traced the evolution of the C20th architect­ure from sev­eral sources, from William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movementArt Nouveau and Victorian architecture, to Walter Gropius and his Bauhaus colleagues who broke with the past! Be still, my beating Bauhaus heart!

During WW2, Huyton Liverpool was an internment camp for prisoners of war. “Enemy alien” Pevsner was imprisoned there in 1940 and was not released until the Director Gen­eral of the Minis­try of Information intervened. Then Pevsner settled in London and caught up with the other German speaking refugees: Walter Neurath who founded Thames & Hudson art pub­lishing, and art historian Ernst Gombrich.

I agree that architecture was the most important of the arts because it was the most closely connected with family life. Sad­ly Pevsner found that the study of archit­ect­ural history did not win as much academic in­terest in Britain as it did in Europe. Social changes, the power of the Church and the Nobility, the rise of the estate of burgesses and eventually the emergence of the urban pro­letariat, underpinned his Outline of European Archit­ec­ture (1943).

By war's end, Pevsner was established as an art-historian who loved “soothing, civilised” England, becoming a British citizen in 1946. But it was not until the UK was safely post-war that Pevsner told his children about their Jewish Russian-German heritage. Or that the grandparents had been killed in Leipzig in WW2.

Pevsner joined the acad­em­ic staff at the Univ­ers­ity of London and also edited Architectural Review (1942-45) which ran until 1957. The Pelican History of Art, und­er Pevsner's general editorship, became one of the most authoritative works on the visual arts in English. From 1949 to 1955 he was Slade Prof of Fine Art at Oxford (1968-69), and a Fellow of St John's College Cambridge.

[Apart from Nikolaus Pevsner, my art history students were asked to read the brilliant works of Aby Warburg, Erwin Panofsky, EH Gombrich, Adolf Katzenellenbogen, Otto Kurz, Fritz Saxl and Rudolf Wittkower. Note that they were all trained at German-speaking universities!]

Pioneers of the Modern Movement
by Nikolaus Pevsner, 1936

Nikolaus Pevsner and his books, in 1980

Pevsner was, and is best known for editing the monumental series, The Buildings of England (1951-74). Intending to cover every single building of architectural interest across Britain, he wrote 32 of the books himself and 10 with collaborators, personally visit­ing every building he described. A further 4 of the original series were writ­ten by others. This series became Pevsner Architectural Guides.

In 1958, Pevsner became founding chairman of The Vict­orian Society for the study and protection of Victorian and Edward­ian art and architecture, thankfully saving houses, churches, railway stations and other Victorian monuments.

In 1959 he became the first Professor of the History of Art at Birkbeck College, University of London. He focused on A History of Building Types 1976, cov­ering national monuments, government build­ings, town halls, law courts, theatres, libraries, museums, hospit­als, prisons, hotels, banks, warehouses & offices, rail­way stations, market halls, exhibition buildings, shops and fact­or­ies.

This Mittel-European Jew of Russian descent became a Protestant Englishman, knight of the realm, lecturer at the BBC, academic and publishing phenomenon, founding-father of academic architectural history in Britain. Pevsner died in London in 1983, memorialised in Church of Christ the King, Blooms­bury. He was buried in St Peter Wiltshire churchyard.


Hagia Sophia - beautiful church, mosque and museum

Byzantine Church
The Byzantine Empire was vast, powerful civilisation traced back to 330 AD when the Roman emperor Constantine I (272–337) dedicated a New Rome. Constantine I had been a pagan before he con­verted to Christian­ity and after he died, his son Constantine II saw Byzantine needed its own temple. Thus Hagia Sophia was consec­rated by Constantine II in 360.

The wooden-roofed basilica was damaged in 404 by a fire that er­up­ted dur­ing a riot. In Eastern Europe, where the Orthodox church flour­ished, the Greek Cross design(+) dominated. In contrast to the long nave crossed at one end by a tran­sept, Eastern churches had 4 wings of equal size, out of a central, square cross­ing.

The restored buil­d­ing was re-dedic­ated in 415 by a great orthodox bel­iever Emperor Theo­d­osius II. His architrave of 12 sheep rep­res­ented the 12 apostles of Christ, in front of the monumental entrance.

By 532, Emperor Justinian I had ruled the empire for 5 years. But people resented Justin­ian's high taxes and wanted him out of off­ice. When a riot spread across the city, the rioters chanted Nika-victory and besieged the Emperor in his palace. After moving loyal troops into the city Justinian brutally put down the rebellion.

A month after the 532AD Nika Insurrection, Justinian began re­building Hagia Sophia. In 537, he entered the completed build­ing saying Solomon, I Have Surpassed you!, a reference to Solomon’s Great Temple in Jerusalem. Rising along the shore of the Bosph­orus Sea, the cathedral was the most important Byzant­ine structure.

To build Hagia Sophia, Just­inian turned to Anth­emius of Tralles & Isidore the Elder. In time the men did get the magnificent domed roof to stand and it looked to be “susp­ended from heaven by that golden chain”. [It col­l­­apsed 2 decades later and an architect had to rebuild a roof].

The sunlight em­­anating from Hagia Sophia’s 40 windows surround­ing its lofty cup­ola, 
suffusing the interior and irradiating its gold mosaics. Magical!

Alas Hagia Sophia, finished in 537 AD, couldn’t survive the earth quakes of 557 and both arches and the main dome collapsed. It would not be the last earthquake.

When Hagia Sophia re-emerged, the longitudinal bas­il­ica had a 32-metre main dome supported on pendentives & semi-domes! The dimensions were imp­ressive for any structure not built of steel: 82 meters long and 73 meters wide.  There were 3 aisles separ­at­ed by columns with gal­l­eries above, and great marb­le piers rising up to support the dome.

32-metre main dome

The original decorations were originally very sim­ple. There were a number of mosaics that have been added over the centuries - images of the imperial family, of Christ and of diff­erent emperors. In the 8th & C9th, there was an Era of Icon­oclasm (726–87 and 815–43 when imperial legislation barred figural imag­es) that resulted in some mosaics being destroyed. Instead the cross was pro­m­ot­ed as the most acceptable decorative form for Byzantine churches.

When the decoration of the interior of Hagia Soph­ia resumed, each emperor added his own image.
Note the mosaic on the apse of the church showing a huge Virgin Mary with Jesus (867 AD).

Now to the C11th when the Byzantines suffered losses in both its West and East lands. At first the Byzantines coop­er­ated with Crusaders against Turks & Arabs. But after the 2nd & 3rd Crusades, Crusaders couldn’t recapture Jerusalem.

In 1204 the 4th Crusaders, led by Venetian Doge Enrico Dandolo, invaded Constantinople with his giant navy. The Doge plund­ered the city for 3 days. Relics of the True Cross, gold art, plates, chal­ices and furn­ishings were sent to churches in Venice, Germany and It­aly. Venice’s four bronze Horses of Saint Mark came from Hagia Sophia.

Ottoman mosque
The next chapter in Hagia Sophia’s history began in 1453 when the Byzantine Empire ended and Constantinople fell to the armies of Mehmed II, the young sultan (23) of the Ottoman Empire (1444-46 and 1451-81). Hagia Sophia was looking tragic, yet the Christian cathedral made a strong impression on the new Ottoman rulers. The last Christian emperor, Constantine XI, bid farewell to his peop­le, prayed in Hagia Sophia, rode into battle and died.

Sultan Meh­med entered the city, giving his soldiers 3 days to loot the churches and houses. In Hagia Sophia, he dest­royed the Christ­ian altar and converted the church into a mos­que by adding a minbar, mihrab, mad­rasa, chand­elier and wooden minaret. The Big Cross on the dome and the bell tower were of course remov­ed by The Ottoman Conqueror.

Hagia Sophia underwent many changes in the reigns of each Ottoman Sultan. Mehmed II’s first wooden minaret was rebuilt by Selim II (1566-1574). Sultan Bayezid II (1447–1512) erected a narrow white minaret with brick stone on the southeast side of the mosque min­ar­et. The other two identical minarets on the western side (60 ms) were built by Selim II and Murad III, both of whom commis­s­ioned Mimar Sinan the Grand Architect (1490-1588).

Four slender minarets, 60 ms tall

Suleyman the Magnificent (1520–66) put two candlestick beside the mihrab, taken in his Hungarian campaign. A marble muez­zin plat­form and al­abaster urns were added, in the reign of Mur­ad III (1566–95). Later Mahmud I (1696–1754) added a school for children-madrasa and a mosque lib­rary adorned with Iznik tiles and bronze grilles.

Mosaics were mostly covered with plaster. In 1847, a restoration was started by Swiss archit­ects Giuseppe & Gaspare Fossati (1809-1883), the men who had earlier been official arch­itects at the St Petersburg court. The broth­ers uncov­ered the hidden mosaics, show­ing all the gold to the Sultan. But the Sultan didn’t dare dis­p­lay Orthodox images.

Around the dome, a callig­rapher created 8 wooden green round­els 
bear­ing the names of God, Mohammed & grandsons; and four caliphs.

Present-day museum 
Throughout Byzantine and Ottoman history, the building served as the Imperial Church or Mosque where Emperors were crowned, vict­or­ies celebrated and Sultans prayed. The Turkish Republic was proc­laimed by Mustafa Kemal At­at­ürk in 1923. As a step en route to a secular country, the Turkish govern­ment “dereligionised” Hagia Sophia and turned it into a museum in 1934. Research, repair and restoration work still cont­in­ues, as does tourism. Since 1985 Hagia Sophia became part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. For magnificent photos see here.


Charles Lindbergh: from national hero to racist anti-hero

Charles Augustus Lindbergh (1902–74) was born to a well known fath­er: Charles August Lindbergh (1859–1924) had been a US Congress­man from Minnesota from 1907-1917. Father vigorously opposed American entry into WWI and opposed the 1913 Federal Reserve Act/the nation’s central banking system.

But it was the son who became famous for his historic, solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic in May 1927 on the Spirit of St Louis. After his flight, Lindbergh received public ador­at­ion in newspapers, magazines, universities and radio shows. In July 1927, Lindbergh was promoted to colonel in the Air Corps of the Officers Reserve Corps.

Charles Lindbergh, May 1927 
and the Spirit of St Louis

He was equally well known because of the kidnapping and tragic murder of his tod­dler in 1933 by Richard Hauptmann. His life and the trial were reported so sensation­ally by the press that, in 1935, the family fled to Europe.

The U.S military asked Lindbergh to travel to Germany a few times between 1936-8. While the rest of the world seemed to crumble, Germany showed its impressive, organised vitality. He became convinced that no power in Eur­ope could defeat the Luft­waffe.

In 1938 Am­er­ica's ambassador to Germany hosted a din­ner for Lindbergh with Ger­many's air chief, ex-pilot Hermann Göring, and 3 pivotal figures in German aviation. At this dinner Göring presented Lind­bergh with the Comm­ander Cross of the German Eagle. Lindbergh felt very proud.

At the urging of US Ambassador to Britain Joseph Kennedy, Lindbergh wrote a memo to the British, warning against any military response by Brit­ain and France to Hitler - France was militarily weak and Britain over-reliant on its navy. He urged that they strengthen their air power to force Hitler to redirect his aggres­sion against Asiatic Communism.

After the outbreak of war, Lind­bergh published an article in 1939, con­demning American involvement in the war. But he was not a pacifist… he strongly favoured a war between Germany and Russia! Lindbergh believed that civilisation depended on peace among Western nations, and therefore on united streng­th. He gave a nationwide radio address in which he called for American isolationism, indicated his pro-German sympathies and made clear anti-Semitic statements about Jewish ownership of the media.

 Charles Lindbergh inspecting Luftwaffe aircraft in 1937.

Lindbergh was awarded the Comm­ander Cross of the German Eagle

In Oct 1939, after the Canadian declaration of war on Germany, Lindbergh made another nationwide radio address criticising Canada for drawing the Western Hemisphere into a European war! The entire continent needed to be free from the dictates of European powers!

This American icon became a spokesman for the nativist and isol­ationist group, America First Committee, in late 1940. He spoke to excited and packed out crowds in Madison Square Garden and in Chicago's Soldier Field, with millions listening by radio. His basic point was that America had no business attacking Germany. A war with Germany would be bad for the USA… for the white races.

Re Krist­al­l­nacht he published in a racist essay in Nov 1939, re-stating that Western nations “can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possess­ion, our inheritance of European blood.” He was very con­cern­ed that the pot­entially gigantic power of America, guided by uninformed idealism, might enter Europe to destroy Hitler. Americ­ans had to realise that Hitler's destruct­ion would lay Europe open to the barbarism of Soviet Russia's forces.

Lindbergh returned to the USA in 1940 and was re­cruited to speak on behalf of America First, an antiwar group who saw WW2 as an awful consequ­ence of WW1. The group attracted a wide range of supporters, from celebr­it­ies to pac­if­ists to xenoph­obics. At its peak, it had 800,000 members, many in the Midwest. Lindbergh was the ideal spokesman: charismatic, brave and heroic. 

In his 1941 testimony at the House Committee on Foreign Aff­airs opposing the Lend-Lease bill, Lindbergh proposed that the U.S neg­otiate a neutrality pact with Germany. Pres Franklin Roose­velt publicly disparaged Lindbergh's views as those of a defeatist and appeaser. So Lindbergh resigned his commission as a col­onel in the US Army Air Corps.

At an America First Committee rally in Des Moines Iowa in Sept 1941, Lindbergh spoke to a huge crowd. He blamed three forces for driving America into a global conflict that no patriotic American wanted.
1. he rebuked Ch­urchill and the desperate British for turning to America to assist in fight­ing the Germans.
2. he singled out the Roosevelt administration for opposing Germany.
3. and, most of all, he argued the Jews were agitating for war. The greatest danger to this country lies in the Jews’ large ownership and influence in U.S motion pictures, press, radio and government.

There was a backlash in the American press in response to the speech; even the isolationist America First Committee had to apol­ogise for the aviator’s remarks. The end of Charles Lindbergh’s political aspirations was coming.

Charles Lindbergh addressed the America First Committee meeting 
Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1941.

Two weeks after Lindbergh’s attack on American Jewry’s abuse of power, the SS Einsatzkommando and their Ukrainian allies murdered 33,000+ Kiev Jews at Babi Yar Ukraine. Meanwhile Charles Lindbergh was still warning the US against the excesses of Jewish power.

Anti-Semitism was well known in Lindberg’s time; his attitudes were not seen as offensive by some parts of the American community. He had never made a secret of his interest in eugenics, nor his racial attit­udes. But by 1941 he had gone too far. Because of his favourable reports about Nazi Germany, Lind­bergh was seen as a Nazi sympath­iser. Lindbergh had to resign his military commis­s­ion at the demand of Roos­e­velt.

Since Lindbergh believed the U.S military's sole role was to defend the Western Hemisphere from attack by foreigners, the attack on Pearl Harbour in Dec 1941 was a terrible shock for him. When the Japanese attacked, Lindbergh asked to be recom­mis­sioned but Roose­velt refused. So it is interesting that Lindbergh did take part in fighter bomber raids on Japanese positions in 1944.


The Plot Against America is a novel by Philip Roth (2004). It is an "alternative history" in which Pres. Roosevelt was defeated in the 1940 presidential election by Charles Lindbergh. Read The Great Raven  for a great review. And see a trailer for the tv programme.


Levittown USA - dream homes for families? or communist hell?

In 1929, Abraham Levitt founded a real-estate development company called Levitt & Sons who built mostly upscale housing on Long Is­land NY. Pre-WW2 first son William Levitt (1907–94) became company president, and the house designs were done by second son Alfred.

From 1946 there were two urgent pushes to the housing market: America's post-war prosp­erity and the baby boom of 1946-51. Mass product­ion strategies William had learn­ed building military housing could work for domestic housing, so they purch­ased a 7 square mile tract of Long Island’s fields New York. Levittown’s very existence was dependent on an important act of American community development: the 1948 Housing Bill, which freed up bill­ions of doll­ars in credit and gave many families the chance to get a 5%-down, 30-year mortgages in the first place.

Starting as America’s proto-­typical post-war planned community, the Levittown project began mass-producing single-family homes, fore­sh­ad­owing a wave of migration from cities. For middle-class WW2 ex-servicemen on G.I loans, Levittown was an affordable dream, a chance to escape the city’s crowded blocks.

Advertisement for beautiful Levittowner houses
Note the support for ex-servicemen

Building one house every 16 minutes at its peak, the company used mass manufactur­ing systems. Non-unionised and unskilled workers moved from house to house, each performing one of the highly specialised steps in the total assembly process, using standardised materials. It was certain­ly efficient; they completed Levittown’s 17,311 detached family houses by 1951. 

The Levitts’ American dream had an aesthetic uniformity, each house being based on one core architectural plan. The development event­ually con­tained carefully laid out symmetrical roads, public swim­ming pools, baseball fields, parks, shopping clusters in the cen­tre, churches and schools. And a Veterans Memorial Park.

By mid 1952, families were moving in at 500 per month. The first homes sold for $7,990 with a 5% down payment (0% for ex-servicemen). Most of Levittown’s male residents happily commuted to good jobs in Manhattan. But crit­ics had grave reservations: Harper’s called the lit­tle Levitt house “American suburbia reduced to its logical absurd­ity”, and a “uniform environment from which escape is impossible”. Did the critics not understand that ex-servicemen needed peace and security for their families, above all else? 

Each house was differently shaped or differently oriented on the block

The critics were wrong. Houses in these developments were less alike than the blocks of flats and the old pre-war bungalows which lined the city streets. In any case, though Levitt built cheapish, fully funct­ioning houses and built them well, he left almost every­thing else to the new home owners. They were encouraged to custom­ise their homes, whether of the standard utilitarian Cape Cod de­sign or another. Excited families focused on their own int­erior décor­ation, windows, rooflines, land­scaping and paint colours to show their ind­ividuality and creat­iv­ity. What families most wanted was a sun­ny, grassy back yard for their children, free from city poll­ut­ion.

Levit­town life had its comm­unal aspects and shared regulat­ions eg no homeowner could fen­ce off a private yard from the shared green and the lawns had to be mow­ed every week. And they had a strong sense of shared resp­on­sibility. They would babysit, drive neigh­bours around, help out with mortgage payments if needed.

British and Australian historians always had trouble understanding the intense American loathing of Levittown. The “general lust for con­formity”, and a “blind, desperate clinging to safety and sec­ur­ity at any price” was the equivalent of calling the Levitt project as socialist and dangerous. Based on the horrors the ex-servicemen had seen in WW2, safety and security sounded like ideals, not a socialist threat. To my baby-boomer ears, bedroom communities of housing developments in the ind­ust­rial­ised North sounded enticing.

Why did Levittown become known for its “complacent racism"? The Federal Hous­ing Administration, established in the 1930s, had refused to insure mortgages in black neighbourhoods; they incentivised the construct­ion of suburban communities with the promise of fin­an­cial help, provided that they exclude black buyers. William Levitt cooper­at­ed, partially ensuring that Lev­ittown was quickly successful. It was a question of economics, not racism, he said. Now note the following Levittown clause: The ten­ant agrees not to permit the premises to be occupied by any person oth­er than members of the Caucasian race. But the employment and maintenance of other than Caucasian domestic servants shall be permitted.

As William Levitt personally rejected racism, there could have been only two explanations to Levittown’s racist entry laws. Firstly Levit­town was following the powerful soc­ial customs of the era, since it would certainly fail to at­t­ract residents if he rejected those cus­toms. Secondly the growing power of Sen Joseph McCarthy and his col­leagues was controlling peoples’ views, by terror, from late 1940s on.

War memorial
and open park land

As a result Levittown’s population was 100% white. It seemed that Brown v Board of Education (1954) and the nation­wide racial integration that followed hardly touched Levittown.

In 1957 the Wechsler family members were committed humanist activists who found a perfect black family to buy their Levittown house; Bill and Daisy Myers were a young, educated couple with children and a GI loan. The Myers purchased the 3 bedroom house for $12,150. They moved in secretly, but very soon a mailman knocked on their door and asked to see the owner. “It happened. Niggers have moved into Levittown”, the mailman screamed.

Nearby a house was rented out to serve as Confederate Club House for the racist resid­ents of Levittown, who saw the arrival of non-whites as an end to their idyll. This Lev­ittown Bet­terment Comm­it­tee flew the Confederate flag and “prot­ect­ed” an all-white Levit­town! It wasn’t long before the Wechslers’ ex-home was defaced by the KKK and crosses were burned on lawns.

The Myers had support from Quakers, the American Jewish Congress and William Penn Centre. White couples baby­sat the Myers’ children and helped clean up the wreckage. Finally the State Att­orney General got involved, issuing a formal complaint against the racists in Confederate House.

Calling Levittown “communist” was not as laughable as I thought. Though the American government tried to address the severe housing short­age by launching public housing programs, they were vic­iously vil­ified by right-wingers as a form of social­ism. Sen McCarthy him­self called housing projects “breeding grounds for commun­ists”. Furthermore critics compared the architectural uniformity of Levittown as reminiscent of the conformity of Communist China.

Shopping Plaza, the open-air complex at the centre of Levittown New Jersey 
Built 1958-60

To many, suburban Levittown became a symbol of American modernity; to others, Levittown was a symbol of conformity and exclusion. At least the children who grew up in Levittown New York (1947-51) and its descendants (Penn­sylvania 1952, New Jersey 1958 and Puerto Rico 1963) were shaped by very secure and innovat­ive environments.


Tiny houses in USA and Australia - feedback from users

When the Tiny House Festival Australia was held in March 2019 in Bendigo Vic, the aim was to investigate the lives of those who wanted a simpler and smaller life.

With a third of greenhouse emissions coming from build­ings, living in an eco-friendly tiny home drastically reduced one’s carbon imprint. In cities with expensive housing costs, tiny houses could be part of a solution to the perennial housing problem, as well as improving urban density and environmental sustainability.

I will repeat the important financial, lifestyle, maintenance, environmental and recreational advantages of tiny houses:
A. They could be owned faster than normal mortgages
B. Tiny homes could be made on wheels for easier travel.
C. They were less expensive to build and easier to maintain.
D. Tiny homes could be more creative with storage.
E. They could be built from eco-friendly, recycled material.
F. They used solar/wind power better than standard homes.
G. Designing a tiny home was simple, & easily upgraded.
H. Having a tiny home on a property could create more outdoor space for family and animal fun.

A pull-down wall bed/Murphy bed is a great space-saving solution for small bedrooms. 
No stuffy sleeping loft required at night and just a small couch during the day.

And I will repeat that demographically, interest in tiny homes focused on single women 50+ due to widowhood-div­orce, emp­loyer bias against older women or poor super-annuation. Older single women could see themselves in an indep­endent tiny house on property belonging to an adult child, while maintaining their independence and privacy. Many said they would be happy to live in a small community with comm­unal gardens. And since the strong demand was for urban liv­ing, the most important driver was too expensive property in pre­f­erred area. Then came: wanting to reduce overall debt, not wanting a mortgage, wishing to downsize and housing that was too expensive.

The motivations for tiny house living were thus predomin­antly ec­on­omic. Environmental sustainability and conscious consuming were seen as the second-most important benefits. Building and maintaining standard 4-bedroom houses was time-consuming and environment-destroying.

An airy veranda adds space to the tiny house in a warm climate

In 2019 families’ actual experiences in tiny American homes were examined. The advantages are listed above.. and here are the reported disadvantages, both administrative and design-focused:

1. Living full time in a tiny house is illegal in some cities
2. One could go small using a minimal lifestyle at home.
3. Supply is high but demand is small, and it might take a long time to re-sell. It's not that marketable; people desire space, bedrooms and bathrooms.
4. It's difficult to host overnight guests.
5. Getting a mortgage would be difficult. Most lenders want a dwelling built to code by professionals and to have a certain minimum space.
6. Where is the tiny home to be parked? On rented space or private­ly owned land?
7. The return on investment is next to none.
8. Most tiny homes can accommodate only 1-2 residents.
9. Expansion options might require council approval.
10. Storing tools for home- or car repairs is difficult.
11. Having a beloved bouncy dog would be very difficult.
12. A small house is much too small for neonatal noise.
13. It gets stuffy and hot in tiny house sleeping lofts
14. Climbing the ladder to get to the sleeping loft can be steep and risky.
15. Most families have a lot of stuff and can't rent storage space for it all.
16. There isn’t enough floor space to have even a well behaved party.
17. Escaping toilet and kitchen smells is almost impossible.
18. Storage of clothing, manchester, toys and books is hard.
19. Washing laundry, and hanging it up to dry is difficult.
20. Appliances for tiny homes are often more expensive.
21. Where does rubbish go? Even those trying to live a zero-waste existence use disposables to make a tiny house work.

Inside a tiny display home
Sydney’s Tiny Homes Carnival 2020

I would still definitely live in a tiny house, as long as my preferences are met:

The pull-down wall bed must be located at the end third of the tiny house, at ground level. I would not like to climb up to a stuffy, hot sleeping loft touching the ceiling, nor would I like to risk steep stairs at midnight.

To make the formal living room less squashy and the living space more airy, sliding glass doors on the side of the tiny house must open onto a large veranda.

There will be no guests sleeping overnight, and my labrador puppy will have his kennel on the veranda.

Readers are invited to visit this year's Tiny House Festival Australia at the Bendigo Racecourse, on 21-22 March 2020. The festival is exciting and Bendigo is gorgeous.


Adolphe Sax - brilliant musical instrument inventor

Antoine-Joseph Sax (1814—1894) was born in Dinant in French-ruled Belgium, the oldest of eleven children of Charles Joseph Sax and his exhausted wife. Throughout his childhood Antoine aka Adolphe suffered a series of life- threatening accidents. Even his parents believed that their son would not live for long.

Both of Adolphe’s parents were musical instrument designers and hence he became interested in this career from a very early age. In fact he started making his own instruments at an early age and exhibited his flutes and a clarinet at a competition at 15. The adolescent redesigned a flute as well as a clarinet and took part in a competition with those two designs as his entries.

And he also learned a great deal about musical instruments when he studied the flute and clarinet at the Royal Conservatory of Brus­s­els. After university, Adolphe started designing music inst­rum­ents professionally and while his parents stuck to what they were most experienced in, Adolphe decided to look at how to design new inst­ru­ments. In 1835, when he was only 24, Adolphe designed a cleverly improved version of the bass clarinet.

 A carte-de-visite portrait of Adolphe-Joseph Sax

In 1842 Adolphe moved to Paris in order to pursue his dream of becoming a musical instruments designer; he needed a bigger stage than Belgium. There he exhibited the saxophone, a single-reed instrument made of metal with a conical bore, overblowing at the octave, which had resulted from his eff­orts to improve the tone of the bass clarinet. The saxophone, the only woodwind instrument made of brass, was patented in 1846.

With his father, Adolphe progressed on three instruments: a] the sax-horn, an improvement on the bugle horn; b] the saxo-tromba, the instrument that produced a tone between that of the bugle and the trumpet; and c] the sax-tuba. He was clearly one of the most creative musical instrument inventors of the C19th, a young men who also enjoyed adding his surname to his instruments.

It was the saxophone that made his reputation and secured him a job, teaching that instrument at the Paris Conservatoire in 1857. The composer Berlioz was delighted.

Many of his instruments came about as a response to a growing belief among the authorities that French military music was in decline.  His prototype saxophone received rave reviews almost by accident. At a demonstration, Adolphe was so concerned that his unfinished instrument might fall apart that he lost his place in the music. Holding a single note while he refound his place, the audience thought the long note was deliberate and, never having heard such a thing before from a brass instrument, applauded wildly.

A year later Adolphe wrote to King Louis-Philippe’s aide-de-camp, suggesting the army could reform military bands by integrating Adolphe’s instruments. In 1845 a public test was arranged, setting a band of Adolphe’s instruments against a more traditional military band. The jury overwhelmingly voted for the ex-Belgian, giving him a virtual monopoly on French military instrument-making overnight.

Later he improved several instruments and invented others, but un­fortunately he did not establish a legal basis for their commerc­ial exploitation. Sax’s band, consisting mainly of saxhorns that had been improved by him, was nominated the winner. The composition of his band became the guide for the re-organisation of French military bands. Soon many of his instruments were accepted for the French army bands.

Sax’s workshop sold c20,000 instruments between 1843 and 1860, but not everything went well. One of his most important inventions was the saxophone, an inst­ru­ment that was patented and remains his greatest invention. However, many of his patents ran into trouble as his rival instrument makers questioned their legality; starting in 1848, a long series of litigations against the originality of Sax’s instruments started. For years Adolphe was involved in lawsuits with competing instrument makers seeking to have his pat­ents revoked. Soon the endless legal costs involved in the process drove him to bankruptcy, three times

Saxophone produced by Sax

He was living in miserable poverty, but luckily Camille Saint-Saëns petitioned the Minister of Fine Arts to provide Adolphe with a small pension. At 79 Sax died in Paris in Feb 1894, and was buried in the cemetery at Montmartre. Adolphe was mourned by his partner Louise-Adele Maor and their 5 children. One of their sons, Adolph-Edouard Sax, went into the same profession as his father.

Saxhorn instruments spread rapidly across the world, long after Sax died. The instruments’ valves were accepted as state of the art and are still largely unchanged today. The saxophone, with its new timbre, won over many composers of the time and, somewhat later, became a great favourite of young jazz musicians who had never heard of Sax. Clearly the saxophone took a century to win enough professional respect to be accepted in a music con­ser­v­atory (in 1942).

Adolphe Sax statue in front of the
Sax Museum, Dinant, Belgium


Book review: Melech Ravitch and Yosl Bergner in Australia

Anna Epstein has published a very readable and viewable book, “Melekh Ravitsh: The Eccent­ric Outback Quest of an Urbane Yiddish Poet from Poland (2019). She edited the stories and images to cater to my personal passions: art, history, Australia and the Jewish world! Thank you, Anna.

Zacharia Bergner (1893-1976), pen name Melech Ravitch, was a Yiddish poet, journalist and cultural activist. He translated the works of his loved fellow-writer Franz Kafka. In 1933, as Fascism spread across Europe, Melech waved to his family and left for Australia, with three goals. Firstly he wanted to raise fund for Yiddish schools in Poland, and later to create a Yiddish school in Melb­ourne. Secondly he was responsible to look for empty land in Australia, in order to re­set­tle German Jews under imminent threat from Nazism. Thirdly he wanted to get his family out of Europe, quickly.

After living in Melbourne, and visiting Sydney and Brisbane, Melech Ravitch crossed the Australian outback from Adelaide to Darwin. He set out for the Northern Territory, armed with a letter of introd­uction from Albert Einstein, journals to write in and a Box Brown­ie. Across the Central Australian deserts he took 90 Box Brownie photo­gr­aphs, annotated in Yiddish. Of course he travelled across the Australian outback wearing smartish clothes and shoes, complete with bow tie - perhaps because he wrote Yiddish articles describing Aus­tralia for a Warsaw newspaper.

Decades later son Yosl was inspired by these photos to make a series of paintings. I loved the photos in the book, but a complaint - I would have lov­ed more photos from Mel­ech’s time in Carlton (Melbourne) and around Darwin. And this raised another issue. How does the reader of a family biography know which information came from the father and which came from the son? And which was more reliable?

With raging anti-Semitism in Europe, the Freeland League for Jewish Territ­orial Colonisation formed in Lon­don in 1935. Its mission was to search for a homeland, if The Holy Land dream failed. An Australian pastoral firm even offered vast tracts of land for settlement in the Kimberleys, extending from North Western Australia. Mel­ech Rav­­itch was involved in a serious invest­igation of the Kimberley Plan which had seemed promising. It ended up not going any further, just as other poss­ible remote Jewish homelands (eg Ecuador, Uganda, Madag­as­car) had done. In any case Prime Minister Curtin, with bipartisan political support, formally rejected the Jewish Kimb­erley Proposal in 1944.

Ravitch's attitude to Aboriginal communities was mixed. In the huge Northern lands  there lived only 25,000 people, a small minority white. Yet when asked how the Aboriginal Problem would be resolved if a Jewish settle­ment was successfully created, he said “The blacks cannot be regarded as the owners of the land. A crazy idea! They are on the lowest rung of civilisation. They could be allotted a few thousand square miles of land and be taught to work the land.”

Melech Ravitch in the outback with his Italian driver and Aboriginal assistant
Photo dated 1937
Monash University
Melech Ravitch with a young Aboriginal woman in the outback
Photo dated 1937
Monash University

Yes his words matched horrid colonial attitudes of the time, but look at the sensitive photos Melech had taken on his trip, and the caring Yiddish he wrote. The look of dispossession in his Aboriginal subjects' eyes reminded Ravitch of the plight of the Jews back in Poland. Both were dispossessed peoples, linked in their dream of a better world.

Melech’s wife and his children, Yosl and Ruth (born in Vienna and raised in Warsaw), moved to Melbourne in 1937. 17-year-old Yosl was with his best friend Yosl Birstein. The teenagers travelled to Australia, ar­r­­iving when this country had not yet recovered from the De­p­res­s­ion. Like many others, Yosl belonged to the gener­at­ion of people up­rooted from home and forced to create a new home else­where.

With his family altogether, Melech Ravitch helped establish Mel­bourne’s first Yid­dish school, Peretz, in 1937 and became its first prin­cipal. In 1938 Melech travelled to Arg­ent­ina, Mexico and New York before settling in Montreal in 1941, where he became in­volved Yiddish literature, education and cultural activ­ities. Mel­ech seemed a poor husband/father, but he left a meticulously recorded legacy of his life here.

Yosl worked in unskilled jobs in Carlton fact­or­ies, while studying painting at Melbourne’s National Gal­lery Art School.. until the outbreak of WW2. Then he joined the Australian Labour Co. because he was ineligible for the regular army. He was stat­ion­ed at Tocum­wal, on the Murray River. Later, at the import­ant Anti-Fascist Art Exhibition in Melbourne (1942), he presented emotional paintings titled TocumwalAboriginal Man and Two Women.

After the war, Yosl once again worked in Melbourne. Yosl and his art friends focused on social real­ism with a fight for liberty and justice. He befriended Judah Waten, the novelist and short story writer who had come to Australia from Odessa in WW1. Waten’s story collection, Alien Son, became a classic in Australian literature. Waten influen­ced Bergner on many issues, possibly on Aboriginal matters, but his stories shared the experiences of Jewish migrant families in Austral­ia. NB I needed an index, Anna!

Yosl Bergner, 
The Alice Springs to Kimberley trip in 1937
120 x 139 cm
painted in 1990

Book cover
Yosl Bergner, The Dedicated Photographer, 1990,
100 x 91cm
from Melekh Ravitsh in the Kimberle

Did Yosl paint Aboriginal scenes against a background of oppression in Poland? His canvases called Vil­lage on Fire, Over the Ghetto Wall and Fathers and Sons, were clearly Polish. But the tacky clothes, depression, dark environment and hunger could have just as easily represented Aboriginals in Fitzroy 1941. A great discovery for me. 
Meantime, Yosl's sister Ruth had a successful career as a modern dancer, and a life­ relationship with Australian artist James Wig­ley. Wigley continued to paint, exhibiting at the Kadimah Cultural Centre along with Yosl Bergner, Vic O’Connor and Noel Coun­ih­an and associating with the Social Realist group. He contributed three paintings to the Anti-Fascist Exhibition in 1942.

Anna's book is available at Readings St Kilda, Carlton and online; The Avenue in Elsternwick; Thesaurus in Brighton; Jewish Museum and Heide.



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