Across India an entire category of architecture is slowly crumbling into obscurity, and you’ve probably never even heard it. Such was the case 30 years ago when Chicago journalist Victoria Lautman made her first trip to the country and discovered the impressive structures called stepwells. Like gates to the underworld, the massive subterranean temples were designed as a primary way to access the water table in regions where the climate vacillates between swelteringly dry during most months, with a few weeks of torrential monsoons in the spring.
Thousands of stepwells were built in India starting around the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D. where they first appeared as rudimentary trenches but slowly evolved into much more elaborate feats of engineering and art. By the 11th century some stepwells were commissioned by wealthy or powerful philanthropists (almost a fourth of whom were female) as monumental tributes that would last for eternity. Lautman shares with Arch Daily about the ingenious construction of the giant wells that plunge into the ground up to 10 stories deep:
Construction of stepwells involved not just the sinking of a typical deep cylinder from which water could be hauled, but the careful placement of an adjacent, stone-lined “trench” that, once a long staircase and side ledges were embedded, allowed access to the ever-fluctuating water level which flowed through an opening in the well cylinder. In dry seasons, every step—which could number over a hundred—had to be negotiated to reach the bottom story. But during rainy seasons, a parallel function kicked in and the trench transformed into a large cistern, filling to capacity and submerging the steps sometimes to the surface. This ingenious system for water preservation continued for a millennium.
Because of an increasing drop in India’s water table due to unregulated pumping, most of the wells have long since dried up and are now almost completely neglected. While some stepwells near areas of heavy tourism are well maintained, most are used as garbage dumping grounds and are overgrown with wildlife or caved in completely. Many have fallen completely off the map.
Inspired by an urgency to document the wells before they disappear, Lautman has traveled to India numerous times in the last few years and taken upon herself to locate 120 structures across 7 states. She’s currently seeking a publisher to help bring her discoveries and photographs to a larger audience, and also offers stepwell lectures to architects and universities. If you’re interested, get in touch.
You can read a more comprehensive account of stepwells by Lautman on Arch Daily.
Shijingshang Park－Beijing, all images by Stefano Cerio
In Stefano Cerio's series “Chinese Fun,” he explores the facades of amusement without an audience’s reaction. The photographer enters areas built for fun and leisure in the off months or closing hours, exploring the absurdity that creeps into the architecture of entertainment when there is no one to enjoy it but a single camera.
Within the series the Italian photographer explores amusement parks, water landscapes, and sports grounds set in front of the background of gray skies and atop rain-soaked cement. The images were taken in the four cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao, and Hong Kong, and show a colorfully decorated food stand with an anthropomorphic hamburger, an overflowing basket of fruit the size of a car, and various rides that look like absurdist pieces of architecture when not in use.
Cerio’s photographic work has increasingly focused on the theme of representation, and he explains his work as “exploring the boundary line between vision, recounting the real and the spectator’s horizon of expectation, [and] the staging of a possible reality that might not be true but is at least plausible.” Through these examples he views places of leisure as “the other,” locations built for the suspension of day-to-day life.
Some of Cerio’s works will be included in the Fondazione Volume! in Rome from September 23 to November 3 and a composite book of this series, Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun, is available in the US starting tomorrow. (via Hyperallergic)
Treausure Island PirateKingdom-Qingdao
Shilaoren Bathing Beach－Qingdao
Shanghai Happy Valley-Shanghai
Polar Ocean Park－Qingdao
It’s daunting to witness the labor poured into a 365-day creative project, be it taking a daily photo, doing a quick sketch, or even writing a few lines. Edinburgh-based artist Charles Young (previously) gets particularly high marks for completing his daily paper model project that he started a year ago today as a way to explore design, architecture, and model building.
Every single one of his 365 models were designed, cut, and assembled daily using 220gsm watercolour paper and PVA glue, with many of the structures incorporating moving components that Young photographed to create quick animations. The pieces are frequently infused with bits of whimsy and ingenuity, probably the result of any undertaking requiring so many different random ideas. Although he’s now stopped working, Young hopes to eventually display the cityscape somewhere in its entirety. You can find more of his paper architecture on Etsy.
Dan Pauly builds guest cottages, playhouses, garden sheds, and saunas all appearing to be perfectly suited for an enchanted forest. The small, asymmetrical buildings have a long slanted roof, crooked chimney, and charming front window with built-in flower box. Each cabin designed by Pauly and his company The Rustic Way is built with reclaimed wood, each piece restored to reflect its natural weathered condition.
Pauly’s woodworking history goes back four generations, back to the 1800s when his family emigrated to the US and built several barns in Minnesota (some of which are still standing). This history is embedded into Pauly’s fascination with reclaimed wood. “As I uncover an old barn or shed,” Pauly says, “I realize that it could be the same lumber that my great-grandfather used more than 100 years ago. I think that respect for the craftsmen and craftswomen of the past, and for the wood they used, make a difference in each new piece I create.”
You can see more of Pauly’s cabins on The Rustic Way’s Facebook page. (via Twisted Sifter)
Trying to pin down exactly what makes these urban landscape paintings by British artist Nathan Walsh (previously) so unusual is difficult, in part because of the variety of techniques he employs to get from a vision in his mind to the final, exacting artwork.
Starting with his own photographic references, Walsh first draws an elaborate blueprint of sorts by establishing a horizon line and a host of perspective strategies that varies from piece to piece. This is followed by several months of painting with oils to achieve the final landscape that appears to be a strange hybrid of both illustrative and photorealistic styles. Photography, architecture, and painting converge to create a “painted world which in some ways resembles the world we live in,” says Walsh. “The work aims to create credible and convincing space which whilst making reference to our world, displays its own distinct logic.”
Walsh is currently preparing for a group show titled “Cityscape Paintings: Looking from the Outside In” at Bernarducci Meisel Gallery in October, followed by a solo show during the same period in 2016. You can follow more of his work in progress on Facebook.
Artist Calvin Seibert (previously) recently completed a new series of his geometrically precise sand castles on the beaches of Hawaii. A professional sculptor, Seibert seems to borrow angular ideas from Bauhaus architecture or the flair of Frank Gehry. How he’s able to control the sand so perfectly is anyone’s guess, it certainly puts my traditional upside down bucket method to shame. You can see more of his work over the last few years here.