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.
Glass artist Ben Young (previously here and here) just shared a glimpse of his latest sculptural works made from layers of cut laminate window panes. The bodies of water depicted in Young’s work are usually cut into cross-sections akin to textbook illustrations, creating translucent geometric islands that can appear both monolithic or chamsic.
“I hope viewers might imagine the work as something ‘living’ that creates the illusion of space, movement, depth and sense of spatial being,” Young says. “I like to play with the irony between the glass being a solid material and how I can form such natural and organic shapes.” The self-taught artist, furniture maker, and surfer has explored the properties of cut glass for over a decade at his Sydney studio. Here’s a bit more about his processes via Kirra Galleries:
Each of Young’s sculptural works are hand drawn, hand cut and handcrafted from clear sheet float glass made for windows, then laminated layer upon layer to create the final form. He constructs models, draws templates, makes custom jigs and then cuts the layers with a glazier’s hand-tool. The complexity comes from the planning phase, where he says “I do a lot of thinking before I even start to draw or cut.” He then sketches the concept by hand and creates a plan using traditional technical drawing techniques: “I work with 2D shapes and have to figure out how to translate that into a 3D finished piece. Sometimes my starting point changes dramatically as I have to find a way to layer the glass to create certain shapes.” The texture and colour of the glass varies in every piece according to its thickness and arrangement.
Churning and frothing just below the old wooden floor of a former movie theater in San Gimignano, Italy, a mysterious vortex of ominous black water seems to perpetually drain into nothingness. The artwork is a new iteration of artist Anish Kapoor's Decension installation that appeared earlier this year in India. The former cinema and theatre space is now the home of Galleria Continua that hosted the exhibition. Kapoor shared about the piece:
All my life I have reflected and worked on the concept that there is more space than can be seen, that there are void spaces, or, as it were, that there is a vaster horizon. The odd thing about removing content, in making space, is that we, as human beings, find it very hard to deal with the absence of content. It’s the horror vacui. This Platonic concept lies at the origin of the myth of the cave, the one from which humans look towards the outside world. But here there is also a kind of Freudian opposite image, that of the back of the cave, which is the dark and empty back of being. Your greatest poet, Dante, also ventured into a place like that. It is the place of the void, which paradoxically is full – of fear, of darkness. Whether you represent it with a mirror or with a dark form, it is always the “back”, the point that attracts my interest and triggers my creativity.
Several years ago, Russian graphic designer Ruslan Khasanov was cooking with oil and soy sauce when he stopped to appreciate the strange relationship between the two fluids as the pooled and mixed in unexpected ways. The observation lead to his creation of Pacific Light, a sort of experimental music video meets science project that captures the up-close interactions of ink, oil, and soap. Khasanov just released a follow-up video—now with glitter!—called Odyssey. Music by Ilya Beshevli.
“If one is talking about sculpture then scale and skin is everything,” declared Anish Kapoor. He was speaking from India, the birthplace of the acclaimed sculptor, where his latest installation was part of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The skin of the object is what defines it, he goes on to explain, while scale creates a certain mystery around the object. Kapoor’s latest work, Descension, has both of these elements.
Unexpectedly set into the gallery floor is a large, seemingly endless hole. In it, a vortex of black water perpetually froths and churns. The whirlpool alters the form, or skin, of the water creating a fury of liquid that invades the walls of the gallery. Descension was on view in a corner room at the Aspinwall House in Fort Kochi, a meaningful location because the room opens to views of a peaceful sea that creates a striking contrast to the powerful whirling vortex. (via Designboom)
Fascinated by the mysteries of the ocean his entire life, photographer Pierre Carreau (previously) documents the power and serenity of ocean waves in his now decade-long project AquaViva. After obtaining a business degree and going into IT, Carreau dramatically changed course in 2004 and moved with his family to the Caribbean island of St. Barthélemy where he now photographs waves as an artistic pursuit.
Carreau’s high-speed photos capture waves that appear frozen in time, giving them an almost sculptural appearance. “Water is amazing,” Carreau says. “Basically it has no color, but through reflection and refraction it can possess all of them, the entire spectrum of light.” More from his statement about AquaViva:
Carreau observes that the photographic images of AquaViva may sometimes be perceived as objects rather than as two-dimensional representations. The play of light off the multitude of facets and curves on the water’s surface gives the image a sculptural quality that enhances the sense of stillness and power. This simultaneous depiction of roiling movement and suspended kinetic energy parallels the dual nature of the oceans and of water itself: life-giving and yet dangerous, inviting and yet fearsome, primordial and yet ever-changing and always renewed.
Seen here is a collection of new photos from 2014 mixed with a few earlier shots we had yet to feature on Colossal, and there’s plenty more to see.
Researchers at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics led by professor Chunlei Guo have developed a new type of hydrophobic surface that is so highly water repellent, it causes water droplets to bounce off like magic. Unlike earlier hydrophobic surfaces that rely on temporary (and slowly degrading) chemical coatings such as teflon, this new super-hydrophobic surface is created by etching microscopic structures into metal with the help of lasers. Potential applications include airplane wings that resist icing, a whole new type of rust proofing, or even a toilet that wouldn’t require water. Watch the video above to see the surface in action, and you can read Guo’s research paper here. (via Sploid)