Fading Time (Devil’s Mountain II)

One of the most fascinating buildings in the old listening station on the Devil’s Mountain is the Villa. That’s my name, I don’t know what it is called, or as what it was used for. We are free to imagine.

Dark corridors eventually lead to brighter rooms, where the colors of the outside graffiti is blinding.

Then, the main room, in faded colors, with shards from a faded time. Who can sit on a chair like this?

And was that lamp used to take away the light?

It seems like all the happiness has been removed from this place.

And yet what has been left behind appears to be waiting for something, for someone.

Is this how the place looks like where we will eventually go?

Or is it us that will be like this?

The Canvas (Devil’s Mountain I)

One of the concise views one can have of Berlin these days is from the top of the Devil’s Mountain (Teufelsberg), the artificial hill that consists of rubble from the ruins of World War II.

The conciseness decreases when stepping back, inside the structures on top of the former US listening station from the Cold War.

So we enter a place of fascinating decay and devastation that has become in its entirety a canvas.

The ruin as a design pattern for our self seems an aporia, but not so: as in many paradoxa, there is synthesis.

Descending further we witness that light and dark not only coexist, they require each other,

and they require a canvas.

Otherness (Sanssouci I)

Frederick the Great’s summer residence Sanssouci features a vast park with all kinds of interesting buildings and sculptures.

Uncommon plants, angels, truncated heads, fauns – all in some form of isolation, for individual contemplation, and all with a sense of esthetic that is not quite our own anymore – suggest that Frederick consciously made an attempt to deal with the Other, the unfamiliar, the strange and alien.

The Chinese Pavilion appears to give an idea of the sophistication of other cultures, using a sense of beauty that was his — not necessarily theirs.

Then a rondel with six busts, a Roman emperor, a philosopher — and four Africans, in white dresses and awkward postures.

Is this how Frederick wanted to see them, and us to see them, too? Then something strange and dangerous has happened here. Esthetic ideals themselves are being colonized.

If our sense of beauty is that fragile, if it allows that imposition so easily, shouldn’t we learn to become more aware of it, and to resist?

When looking itself has become an aggression, isn’t it necessary to see even the familiar differently, to unlearn our sense of beauty, and to begin again, by offering presence?

Happy Birthday (Chanterelle, Again)

DSC 1251

Another day of heavy rain and warm weather did it, the chanterelles have come out, just in time for my daughter’s birthday, who, alas, just left again.

DSC 1253

My first serious harvest this year was enough for two toasts (with Phantasia, a wonderful local goat cheese, and aragula sprouts),

DSC 1259

as well as a small salad with roasted vegetables.

DSC 1261

Let’s see what else July will bring.

Winter in Summer

After all the spring wildflowers are gone, there is not much left blooming here. So these little flowers came as a surprise when I found them on my Pate Hollow Trail.

What we have here is Chimaphila maculata, or the Striped Wintergreen (an odd name for a summer wildflower).

Endangered, it says for Indiana.

This has been my first time with this rare misfit, and I hope it is here to stay.

The End of Spring

With the end of spring, the Brood X cicadas are finally gone, together with their song.

After 17 years under ground (17 years — a measure of life?) they have emerged for a final dance.

It’s precisely choreographed, and slow.

Who taught them all this?

Then, after a very long embrace, they rest. They now have all the time in the world.

Here are 30 minutes of cicada song, fading into rain at the end.

The Library of Babel II

Today we are taking the 2-dimensional floor plans of the Library of Babel  to the third dimension. The simplest way is to use a single floor plan and copy it for every level of the library. For instance, last time’s finite hexagon becomes a daunting infinite tower, at least in our imagination.

Babel hex 01

One could also do the same with several separate hexagons, but the resulting library would consist of several buildings, which, while not explicitly prohibited by Borges, seems unacceptable.

Doublyplus 01

But there is another possibility. For instance, using the arrangement of hexagons in horizontal lines, and repeating them vertically (as on the left above), but then, on the second floor, using the same floor plan albeit rotated by 90º (as in the middle), and then repeating this periodically, we arrive at a single building where it is sometimes necessary to climb up, walk across, and then down again to reach a different room on the same floor.

Nearby places can sometimes be terribly far away.

In the double floor plan up above on the right we see that this can be done by aligning the vestibules in a square pattern, leaving star-shaped Voids. Below is a partial view of this magnificent library:

Babel3The condition that the staircases in the vestibules extend infinitely in both directions is quite limiting, even if one doesn’t require that each staircase can be reached at every floor. A good strategy for designing even more complicated libraries is to begin with a floor plan that includes hexagons and squares, and use on each floor a different subset of these squares and hexagons as vestibules and galleries. For instance, we can start with this Archimedean tiling that has large dodecagonal Voids:Archi2 01


One individual floor then could look like this, seemingly giving each gallery three exits to vestibules with staircases, one of which, however, will be blocked off by a bookshelf on two of its sides:

Third 01

This floor plan will be rotated by 120º on each subsequent floor (about the center of one of the dodecagonal Voids), creating a single labyrinthian library.

Here is a deliciously maddening view into the resulting skeleton of this library. I haven’t closed off the inaccessible staircases yet, so please watch your step.


Happy are those of us who can get lost in a single book like in this Borgesian library. 

The Library of Babel I

In the story The Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges describes a library whose design follows near axiomatic principles:

It is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries. In the center of each gallery is a ventilation shaft, bounded by a low railing. From any hexagon one can see the floors above and below—one after another, endlessly. The arrangement of the galleries is always the same.Babel2

One of the hexagon’s free sides opens onto a narrow sort of vestibule, which in turn opens onto another gallery, identical to the first—identical in fact to all. […] Through this space, too, there passes a spiral staircase, which winds upward and downward into the remotest distance.

If we remove all the cosmetics, we might end up with a design like the above, clearly unsatisfactory. Nothing is said about the underlying geometry of the library, Euclidean, spherical, hyperbolic, or even more esoteric. We will assume that the universe is Euclidean, for now, because this is still interesting enough. In this first post I will discuss the floor plans of a single floor. The combination of hexagonal galleries and square vestibules suggests that we are looking at floor plans that can be derived from this Archimedean tiling of the plane:

Babel 1

Of course the triangles will be Voids, and we have too many square vestibules. We get one more clue (or axiom) from Borges: Twenty bookshelves, five to each side, line four of the hexagon’s six sides […]

This means that each gallery has just two vestibules where one can enter or exit. As all galleries are identical, this leaves us with three distinct possibilities how a gallery can look like.

Babel straight 01

If we assume that the vestibules are placed at opposite sides of a gallery, our floor plan will necessarily look like the one above (which is used in the top image, too), representing a favorite labyrinth of Borges, the line (!). In the other extreme case, when the vestibules are at adjacent sides of each hexagon, there are two possible floor plans:

Babel 60

As a single floor plan, neither looks exciting, but we’ll see. There is one more option when between the two exits to the vestibules there is just one wall with shelves, like so:

Babel 120a 01

And fascinatingly, this last options allows for much more intricate floor plans, like this infinite double spiral:

Babel spiral 01

Next time we will investigate how the connections between different floors makes the life of the librarians even more exciting.

Correspondences (Badlands XI)

In the Badlands a natural focus is the horizon, a verbose border between sky and ground, between dream and reality.

But if we look carefully, there are more forms of dialogue everywhere.

The horizon seems to show the solitary visitor the limit of the inhabitable space, itself unreachable.

And these other dialogues seem so small and irrelevant, being mere events, they only constitute time.

But I think this is all misconception. Every dialogue takes place at a horizon.

Prairie milkvetch (Astragalus laxmannii )

And only this: inhabiting the horizon: allows to define each other’s position.

Northern Cryptantha (Cryptantha celosioides)