January 19, 2006

Current Event: Cowardly or Courageous II

I'm off school this week thanks to the kooky quarter system I'm on, so there will be no Thursday Travesty or Triumph. It's too much like school. However, I do think that I will bring to your attention a certain current event that should probably be reduced to a dichotomy.

nutzwerk_2.jpgThe situation is this. A small German IT Firm, Nutzwerk, has apparently banned complaining. (As a side note, their "statements" page titles brief testimonials about the firm's effectiveness "we are going to wipe out viruses", "special innovation prize won by a wide margin", and, my personal favorite, "competitors: none"; right; back to the ban on complaining). Nutzwerk's employees have a new clause written into their contract which specifies that "moaning and whingeing is forbidden except when accompanied with a constructive suggestion as to how to improve the situation." The architect of this policy is Ms. Ramona Wonneberger (pictured at left), who apparently came up with the idea after taking a bunch of employees out to a comedy to get them to lighten up a bit. She's apparently fired two employees so far for violating the anti-anti-cheer policy and another has left voluntarily. I suppose I should mention that she apparently has started a website to promote her principles of enforced cheer, known as "Be Happy", which I have been unable to locate, probably because it is in German and I don't speak that language (nor do I feel the need to put in the effort to find it).

So, is Ms. Wonneberger behaving in a Cowardly or a Courageous manner? My opinion below.

Answer: Wonneberger's not a fascist or anything (its not like her poor employees have to work for her) and I certainly don't want to encourage the growth of the borish practice of constant complaint, but instituting a rule banning complaining is just as cheerless an act as the complaining she's banned. She needs to wake up and smell the existential crisis. Cowardly.

January 12, 2006

Thursday Travesty or Triumph VIII

"The Isola Bella still seems to many too complete a negation of nature; nor can it appear otherwise to those who judge of it only from pictures and photographs, who have not seen it in its environment. For the landscape surrounding the Borromean Islands has precisely that quality of artificiality, of exquistely skilful arrangement and manipulation, whic seems to justify, in the garden-architect, almost any excess of the fancy. [There is] an almost forced gaiety about the landscape of the lakes, a fixed smile of perennial loveliness. And it is as a complement to this attitude that the Borromean gardens justify themselves. Are they real? No; but neither is the landscape about them. Are they like any other gardens on earth? No; but neither are the mountains and shores about them like earthly shores and mountains. They are Armida's gardens anchored in a lake of dreams."

-Edith Wharton, in Italian Villas and Their Gardens

Isola Bella_1.jpg

Well, the number of replies to TTT finally dropped to zero last week. Maybe its because I did it on Friday and everyone's thinking about heading home on Friday. I dunno. isolabella_5.jpg (Although Colin (sorry Colin, but I don't think we've met) said he thought the blog was a triumph and Julian (it was funny because Julian had just come up in conversation with Joe) dropped by to mention Blood Brother Ted, which is always permissible. Everybody could use more Blood Brother Ted.)

Anyway, today's Travesty or Triumph is Isola Bella, a small island in the lake country of northern Italy (not to be confused with the small island by a beach off the coast of Sicily). As long as anyone knows who the islands (there are actually two islands there, Bella and Madre) have belonged to, they have been the property of the Counts of Borromeo. During the Renaissance, the current Count turned his attention from Isola Madre, which had always been the focus of his family's improvments, to Isola Bella. The work that Count began was finished by his son, who constructed what could probably be considered the Disneyland of the 17th century.

Isola Bella features both a massive palace at one end and a long garden that is filled with statues, towers, and smaller buildings. The statues and towers are only part of the ridiculous level of picturesque imagery that covers the island, laid out on ten terraces that descend from the palace toward the lake. I suppose I should also mention that the island is populated by white peacocks. Does that seem like an important detail?

(one very last picture in the extended entry)

isolabella_6.jpg

January 6, 2006

Thursday Travesty or Triumph VII

Well folks Thursday Travesty or Triumph is a bit late this week but at least its here. Most of the Travesty or Triumphs are places that you could potentially still visit, but this week's potential Travesty or Triumph existed for only a brief period of six months in 1893, even though it had taken three years, 28 million dollars, and over forty thousand laborers to construct it. Yes, as you guessed, today's Thursday Travesty or Triumph is the 1893 World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago. (It was named the Colombian Exposition because it was intended to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World, although it was a year late). I think it will be hard for anyone to argue that the space is an aesthetic tragedy, so what I was thinking the question would be is more along the lines of whether constructing it but only leaving it up for six months is a Travesty or a Triumph (see Christo (i.e Gates in Central Park) perhaps for a contemporary comparison?).

From May to October of 1893, an estimated 27.5 million people visited the Colombian Exposition, which gave it a far greater impact on our nation's psyche than its brief existence might suggest. The painting at right (click for a larger version) was completed in 1894 by Theodore Robinson, an American Impressionist -- I think it gives you a better impression of what the space was like than most photographs do. Contemporary visitors were awestruck by the cleanliness and serenity Colombian_3.jpgof the massive exposition, which occupied 633 acres and had 14 main buildings with total floor space of 63 million square feet. The whiteness of the architecture (which was intentionally temporary and consisted basically of skeletons with facades) presented an extreme contrast to the grimy grays and blacks of contemporary industrialized cities like Chicago, Pittsburgh, and New York. The choice of white as a paint color was intended to speed up the construction of the Exposition originally, but was so well received by the architects that the use of coal as a power source was banned at the Exposition so that the purity of the white would be preserved. At night, 120,000 incandescent lights lit the Exposition and reflected off the water of the Grand Basin -- a display that must have been incredible to its first viewers, as the Colombian Exposition was the first significant deployment of outdoor electric lighting in the United States.

colombian_4.gif

The Colombian Exposition's demonstration of a unified Beaux-Arts vision for city planning led directly to adoption of the Beaux-Arts style across the United States in the first decade of the 20th century, so perhaps the style (particularly of the Court of Honor) seems rather familiar to modern Americans, who are used to seeing echoes of that architecture, particularly in Washington, where the revival of baroque principles in the Beaux-Arts style led to the renovation of DC's landscape.

I could go on and on about the Colombian Exposition because I find it fascinating, but in the interests of my final projects finishing before they are due, I think I will simply refer you to a couple of my sources: "The World's Colombian Exposition", "Interactive Guide to the World's Colombian Exposition", and a book, Devil in the White City, which I have not read but have heard is excellent from several classmates and a pair of teachers.