That often perplexing discipline known as modern architecture gets a thorough inspection from Tom Wolfe this month in Harper's, wherein the master of the bon mot waxes whimsically in a piece aptly titled "From Bauhaus to Our House."
Bau-wow indeed! If you've ever wondered why office buildings in particular always seem to look alike, look no further than Wolfe's admittedly personal take on the topic. What we have here is "The Painted Word" applied to three-dimensional creations, and undoubtedly there will be much wailing and railing from architects who feel their craft is being slighted here -- and in next month's second installment. Whatever Wolfe's limitations are in analyzing the topic, he repeatedly redeems himself with parenthetical information that, in his usual southern gentleman's style, eclipses the major body of his material. Thus we learn that:
"During one stretch at Weimar, the Bauhaus diet consisted entirely of a mush of uncooked bresh vegetables. It was so bland and fibrous they had to keep adding garlic in order to create any taste at all. Gropius' wife at the time was Alma Mahler, former Mrs. Gustav Mahler, the first and foremost of that marvelous twentieth-century species, the Art Widow! The historians tell us, she remarked years later, that the hallmarks of the Bauhaus style were glass corners, flat roofs, honest materials and expressed structure. sBut she, Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel -- she had since added the poet Franz Werfel to the skein -- could assure you that the most unforgettable characteristic of the Bauhaus style was 'garlic on the breath.'" Periodicals for the Period
One of the major developments in the magazine business since the death of the weekly version of Life has been the growing success of specialized publications that define their audience a tad more succinctly than Life did in its days of 8-million circulation. Although this might seem to imply the creation of publications with rather limited interest, in the best instances it simply means that the subject material is more focused, and not necessarily to the exclusion of the uninitiated reader. Three good examples:
National Fisherman is a monthly crammed with information that speaks to the professional while offering to the layman a good glimpse at what's happening legally, electronically and architecturally in the fish biz. Where else could a reader find out that the Japanese use three-mile-long fishing nets or what's being done to affect the status of Americans vis-a-vis foreigners in the frozen fillet market? Not to mention a 16-page supplement, reminiscent of "The Whole Earth Catolog," that list hundreds of books ranging from "Yacht Joinery and Fitting" to The Capsize Bugaboo" to "Heavy Weather Cooking." It costs $15 a year from 21 Elm St., Camden, Maine 04843.
Fine Homebuilding is about the best magazine for anyone who wants to heed the advice of Plato: At some point in his life, every man must build a home. (Yes, his may sound chauvinistic, but remember that Plato was particularly interested in men.) Here's a nexus of information on building stone walls, fireplaces, passive solar collectors and even a Frank Lloyd Wright owner-built home. Unlike most similar publications usually aimed at homesteaders and back-to-landers, this one is decidedly pitched at mainstream capitalists. Six issues for $14 from The Taunton Press, PO Box 355, Newton, Conn. 06470.
Polaroid CLOSE-UP is a slick, beautifully designed, large-format magazine published a few times a year by Polaroid for people interested in instant photography.Each issue generally contains sumptuous portfolios of color and black-and-white photographs, as well as technical information on new Polaroid products that are so understatedly sold, it's hard to believe this is a commercial publication. Even harder to believe to the price: free, though worth at least $5 an issue, from 549 Technology Square, Cambridge, Mass. 02139. Getting the Bugs Out
Two important notes from Science magazine, the weekly highbrow from the American Association for the Advancement of Science:
City dwellers will be pleased to know that three scientists at the State University of New York in Buffalo built a tiny treadmill to test the energy consumption of cockroaches. Ten insects were exercised once a day for 20 minutes, during which time they achieved speeds of up to seven feet per minute. (Seems like the little buggers can move a lot faster in a kitchen than on a treadmill.) The results, you ask?
Data for cockroaches fall close to the regression line for small mammals. The same is true for crabs. These data also fit the regression line for bipeds and quadrupeds. Consequently it appears that the energetic economy of pedestrian locomotion may be similar among animals of the same size regardless of the number of legs involved or the nature of the circulatory or respiratory system used to supply the aerobic requirements."
The June 19 issues also introduces a new term to the field of physics:
"Neologistic particle physicists have given the world quarks, gluons, color, flavor, charm and bare bottom. Not to be outdone, their brethren from the realm of superfluidity offer the . . . boojum?
" . . . According to the Reverend Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, the boojum is an insidious species of snark, the hunters of which 'softly and suddenly vanish away.' [Cornell physicist N. David] Mermim, clearly a soul mate of Carroll, was the first to recognize the boojumish nature of a certain phenomenon in superfluid helium-3."
After much arguing, Mermim published an article using the term boojum in Physical Review Letters, after a similar reference had been deleted from the Journal of Low Temperature Physics. Who says editors are uncompromsing? Picture Perfect
Life and Death:
The June issue of Life is a good example of monthly photojournalism at its best: riveting portaits of chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit, Ku Klux Klanners and pandas: extraordinary images by J. Ross Baughman of the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador under siege; a marvelous essay on the heirs of photographer Edward Weston, snapped by Brian Lanker; a new atlas of outer space; wonderful pictures by Terry O'Neill of three Beatles assembled at Ringo Starr's wedding to Barbara Bach; and a well-written essay by Willie Morris on returning to the South.
Meanwhile, the June issue of Panorama -- the magazine's last -- is filled with the usually delightful mix of stories that has made the monthly the best place to look for bright magazine coverage of TV. Kudos to editor David Sendler, whose intelligent approach to a normally idiotic medium will be missed. Mademoiselle Grows Up
Mademoiselle has switched format drastically, from perfect binding to saddle stitching, downplaying fashion coverage in favor of brightly displayed articles on feeling good, pleasing one's lover, etc. Looks like a blatant attempt to copy the successful formula of Self . . . Goshen Litho of New York has purchased Oui from Playboy . . . and Conde Nast is expected to begin republishing Vanity Fair, the up-scale fashion magazine that was folded into Vogue almost a half-century ago.