If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it

I drive to work everyday.  If I see a pot hole I avoid driving over it, if possible.  The really bad ones are fixed within a couple of weeks.  The rest wait for the pot hole fixing time in the NYC.  I know Americans and Italians view infrastructure differently.  Visiting Rome, for the second time in four years, the same pot holes exist; now they are bigger and more dangerous. The sidewalks, if they exist, are uneven and cracked by tree roots and shoddy repairs.  Walking around Rome is like strolling through an obstacle course surrounded by graffiti.

On Monday night, John Ochsendorf, Director of the American Academy in Rome, offered to help us understand why buildings stand up.  Should we worry about the cracks in Pantheon built in 126 AD.?
From historical records, the Pantheon has withstood almost 2,000 years of earthquakes and other natural stresses.  According to Ochsendorf, his analysis of how the Pantheon was built, plus computer projections about how much stress the dome can withstand; the notion that adding metal rods, which is the most common modern intervention, will do more harm than good.


The Q’eswachaka Rope Bridge in Peru handwoven by Incas out of grass is 118 ft. long and hangs 60 ft. above a canyon.  Every June the bridge is re-built by the same family who has been reconstructing it for several generations: 700 men and women from the surrounding communities come to the Festival of Construction of the Bridge.
Ochsendorf talked about the bridge.  His tests suggest that the main cables can support 16,000 pounds.  The Peruvian government built another bridge. Constructed of metal to replace the Q’eswachaka Bridge.  The community was not invested in the bridge, did not use it and therefore, it was not taken care of and is now rusting away.

The Gustavinos were a father and son team who built over 1,000 buildings in US. including the Boston Public Library, Carnegie Hall, Ellis Island Immigration Hall and The Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station.

Proposal for droneports in Africa that will deliver medical supplies. The photograph is a prototype that was built in conjunction with the Norman Foster Foundation for the Venice Biennale.

Ochsendorf’s lecture was a brief history of tile vaulting.   Not only how amazing tile vaulting is a way of building, but how it can provide a blueprint for the future.  Working with Norman Foster Foundation, Ochsendorf and a team of architects and engineers have used these ancient techniques to develop prototypes for low-cost, locally made vaulted buildings in Africa.

City Hall Subway Station with tile vaulting by the Gustavino Company – now closed to the public.

What does any of this have to do with pot holes in Rome?  I think Romans and maybe all Italians, understand the disintegration of natural  and man-made processes and tolerate it.  You might call this attitude inertia or you might call it a magnificent understanding of evolution.

Even though it’s made of humble materials, the geometry and pattern of brick makes it possible to achieve beauty.”  John Ochsendorf



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