You can’t argue with a guy who begins a talk with, “I want to share with you what excites me.” Una Volta A Roma (When in Rome ) was the title of John Ochsendorf’s remarks at the Rome Prize Ceremony for winners of Rome Prize (American Academy in Rome). The photograph to the left is dining al fresco at the American Academy. “When others looked down at their food; I looked up and wondered what was underneath the plaster.” Ochsendorf.
Ochsendorf is Professor of Architecture and Engineering at the MIT. He spends his time on the history and technology of traditional masonry structures. An expert on the mechanics and behavior of masonry structures, he collaborates with art historians, architects and engineers on assessing historic monuments.
If you think this is a boring subject, you would be wrong or at least it’s not boring when John Ochsendorf talks about it. What is the oldest load- bearing vault, one inch thick? It’s Islamic from12th century Spain. Have you ever wondered what is underneath Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel? It is a vaulted ceiling. When others look at the artwork, Ochsendorf thinks about what’s underneath the painting.
He wants to know why institutions don’t believe in their structures. For instance, The Dome of St. John The Divine was built in 1909, is 3 tiles thick and is doing just fine. Trajans Market, 2,000 years old, was recently reinforced with steel strapping, why? The Pantheon, which is as beloved as any structure in Rome or the World, was built in 126 AD and is doing just fine. What are they thinking? In trying to convince the people who maintain these structures, that they are stable, Ochsendorf is using 3-D printing, making exact models of these ancient structures to illustrate their stability.
The current exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, Palaces for The People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile was curated by John Ochsendorf. You may not know the name Guastavino, but I guarantee, you have been in many of their buildings.
I am a bit of tile freak. Members of my family have been involved in the restoration and preservation of architectural tile for years. They are responsible for my sparing knowledge and compulsive interest in the subject. I am not impartial, when I say you should see the exhibition. I can’t help myself.