Friday, 11 October 2019

Waste management

Sewers aren't things most of us think about or are even aware of (until they overflow, of course) but how did this really important part of any cities infrastructure develop. Stephen Halliday's fascinating book reveals in words and illustrations how the heroes of Victorian engineering and architecture created the groundwork for what is still in use today under our streets.

The fear of cholera and the smell of cities was the driving force behind the idea of putting egg shaped conduits below ground to carry waste away. Joseph Bazalgette was the engineer who solved the problem for London and by 1868 the city had sewers north and south of the Thames and all for about £21 million. Paris, like London, had a river flowing through the city and regarded by many as a convenient sewer until George Haussmann and Eugene Belgrand were commissioned to design something to solve the problem. Their sewers were unique because they became a tourist attraction, page eighty-two has a picture of ladies and gentlemen sitting in a boat pulled along by sewermen. Unique because the sewers only collected water and debris from streets and didn't handle human waste. In 1883 it was estimated that 25,000 Parisian wells were polluted during heavy rain.

The author considers the history of underground sewers in several cities around the world like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Tokyo, Melbourne, Prague, Hamburg, Berlin all illustrated with historical photos, diagrams and maps (almost five hundred in all). Chicago, in 1855, had a problem because the city was a just a few feet above Lake Michigan and lacked the gravity to take wastewater into the Lake. The solution was to raise the level of streets nearest the Lake. George Pullman (who created sleeping car trains) installed six thousand jacks under buildings and raised them slowly each day until there was enough space below to put in pipes to the Lake at a steeper angle.

The book's last section 'Revolutions of purity' brings the story up to date by examining contemporary sewage works and what to expect in the future. In London the sixteen mile Thames Tideway Tunnel will collect the overflows from thirty-four outfalls that currently go into the Thames after heavy rain. New York has a sixty mile 'Tunnel No.3' to improve the cities water supply, vacuum sewers are in use in Norway and Sweden and Japan was a rather expensive Toto Toilet with a heated seat and warm water to use instead of paper.




Tuesday, 8 October 2019

The way we were

So how did we live in 1942? The Christmas Book was obviously not as comprehensive as a full Sears catalog but this 224 page book still gives a good impression of what must have been in millions of homes, especially the seventy-five pages of toys. Some of these are quite impressive, a Marx dial typewriter, portable phonograph, movie projector (and a selection of movies like Mickey Mouse, Popeye, the Three Stooges, Our gang, Charlie Chaplin) kitchen appliances: Prosperity stove, Coldspot refrigerator, Kenmore washer. As the country was now at war toy tanks, battleships, cardboard fighter planes were available and how about a Junior air raid warden kit for $1.10.

I was surprised at how little everything cost, though the average wage in 1942 was $36 a week. Sears was proud of their low prices and three pages list the ceiling price as decided by the Office of Price Administration, everything in the catalog is always below these prices. The most expensive item I could find was a Platform rocker at $24.88 (Ceiling price $28.08) hundreds of everyday household items cost between a few cents and three dollars.
The book is paperback size unlike a normal Sears catalog and it's nicely produced with sixty-two pages in color and printed on a reasonable matt art paper. For those of a certain age this will make an ideal present under the tree.



Thursday, 3 October 2019

The leading style of the century

The book is a remarkable visual record of over four hundred houses that accurately convey the feel and scope of mid-century modern around the globe. Predictably the US has the most examples, one hundred and fifty (Canada has ten) and the mid-century style could be said to have originated there, especially in California where creative architects, including several Europeans, designed houses that took advantage of the pleasant climate and featured open-plan living like the well known Case Study Houses, several are included. The next largest collection is the UK with forty-one houses.

The book divides the world into nine regions with Europe in two sections and 151 homes, Africa and the Middle East have fourteen and the Far East thirteen, Central and South America fifty-one. Australia and New Zealand twenty. Each house has one exterior photo and sometimes the addition of one or more interiors. The captions include the structures name, architect, location and date followed by the author's very comprehensive background detail about the property and designer. The back pages have a Timeline, Glossary, Bibliography and Index.

I thought the Timeline (1945 to 1974) over twenty pages, was quite fascinating. Each page has twenty largish thumbnails and it's possible to see and compare how architects created individual homes with the mid-century chracteristics of a horizontal look and large windows. There are nine or more circular houses, a style favoured by John Lautner, several architects broke away from the format and designed roofs that curved over a property or looked like wings. A couple of oddities are included, Finnish designer Matti Suuronen and his 1968 Futuro House looking remarkably like a science fiction space ship and Charles Deaton's 1965 Sculptured House near Denver, Colorado. (The caption says the design was vaguely based on a clam shell with a final coating of synthetic rubber mixed with crushed walnut shells and white pigment.)

This is a lavishly produced book with seven hundred large photos and printed on a good matt art paper. It could well became the standard reference for this important and influencial house style.