Ventfort Hall

On the last day of my trip I took some time to visit two Gilded Age mansions, called “cottages”, though they are anything but the image the word cottage conjures in my mind. Ventfort Hall, the subject of today’s post, was the cottage of Sarah Morgan, sister of J.P. Morgan. Yeah, that J.P. Morgan. So already “not a stereotypical cottage” should be flashing in your mind.

From an information design standpoint, one of the really neat things was seeing the floor plans and grounds of the home, which had significantly deteriorated since it 19th century construction and necessitated significant restorative work.

First we have a map of the grounds, originally over 26 acres, since reduced to just under 12.

Lots of running around room there…

These kind of maps help you appreciate just how much has been lost in the century-plus since its construction. In particular greenhouses and other mansions’ farms made the estates partially self-sustaining. The butlers weren’t doing Whole Foods runs, except they did have to go to town to get the specialties and the meats.

In addition to the landscape architecture we also have the floor plans for two of the four floors of the mansion. This is the ground floor, or first floor. Most of this is open to the public as part of the restored summer home, though some parts are closed for staff and volunteers. Some parts remain original, though significant damage has meant that other parts are wholly new, but to the best reconstruction of what was.

But where’s the mancave?

The first floor, or the second floor in American parlance, held most of the bedrooms, including the two masters, his and hers.

I want the big room.

This floor has two rooms, Caroline’s Suite and the Honeysuckle Room, that are presently off limits to visitors. But you can peer in through the open doorway to see what the original conditions were like before the restoration, spoiler, not good.

Also not accessible to visitors are the floor above, which contained mostly servants quarters and a few additional guest bedrooms, in particular two directly over the master bedrooms.

Finally the basement is also not accessible, but is where the kitchen, boilers, &c. were all housed. You can peak in through the outside windows and catch a glimpse of the kitchen. But hopefully it’s restored and opened someday, because apparently beneath the veranda was an entire bowling alley. Because don’t all great homes have bowling alleys?

It’s funny because I’ve always enjoyed architecture, so much so that I thought I wanted to be an architect growing up. Then I realised I’d have to do maths and I said nah. Now I work with data. Go figure. Also, whenever I’ve looked at apartments or places to live, whilst photos are super helpful, I’ve always valued floor plans more. They help me appreciate the true dimensions and thus visualise myself and my stuff in the spaces. And that’s why these sort of displays are super neat when visiting famous homes.

It’s also funny because my present one-bedroom flat could almost fit entirely within the billiards room. Oh, the Gilded Age.

Credit for the piece, as in the design, goes to Arthur Rotch.

Philadelphia’s Changing Skyline

Yesterday I mentioned how I spent Monday researching some old family properties in Philadelphia. In some cases the homes my family owned still stand. But, in many others the homes have long since been replaced. But that’s the nature of city development.

That got me thinking about an article published earlier this month at Philadelphia YIMBY where the author created an animated .gif detailing the Philadelphia skyline from 1905 through 2020. This screenshot captures the overlay of 2020 atop 1905 from the south of Philadelphia.

Kind of how it’d look from the sports complex.

But the gem of the piece is the animation. Implicit in the graphic but unmentioned is the text, which is understandably centred on the architectural designs of the skyline, is the history of Philadelphia.

In the old days, well before 1905, the city was concentrated along the Delaware River because it was—and still is—a port city. But as those shipping businesses were replaced by banks and financial companies which were replaced by other offices and manufacturing headquarters that were themselves replaced by corporate highrises and so on and so forth, we can see the centre of gravity shift westward.

The mass of buildings by 1905 has shifted away from the Delaware River and is concentrated to the east of City Hall, the tallest building until the 1980s. But you can see the highest and largest buildings moving more to the left in every frame. Though in the latest you can see some new largely residential highrises built along the Delaware waterfront.

It’s a great piece.

Credit for the piece goes to Thomas Koloski.

The Fire at Notre Dame Cathedral: Part Trois

On Tuesday I talked about a small article published by the New York Times that looked at the cathedral fire. I lamented that there were no immediate graphics explaining what happened. Just give me two days. Tuesday we had the BBC piece and then yesterday the New York Times published a more extensive look.

As the user scrolls through the piece, a 3-dimensional model reveals the key structural elements whilst text explains why that part is being focused upon in the story.

Wood beams do not make for preventative measures.
Wood beams do not make for preventative measures.

I do not know if the dramatic, black background helps. It might create contrast the designers deemed helpful against the light-coloured illustration. But that is probably my only real point to make about the piece. Otherwise, it is a very thorough and helpful guide to the architecture and how that helped the fire spread.

Credit for the piece goes to Larry Buchanan, James Glanz, Even Grothjan, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Allison McCann, Karthik Patanjali, Yuliya Parshina-Kottas, Jeremy White, and Graham Roberts.

Revealing the Past Through a Heatwave

The United Kingdom has been…well, enjoying is not the right word for me, so let’s just say witnessing a heatwave. And it is having some unexpected consequences. In short, things like grass will behave differently in extreme conditions when planted on soil vs. when growing atop stone, wood, or other non-natural features. This helps identify foundations and alike for long-forgotten structures. The BBC has a nice piece looking at some work just like this discovered across the British Isles.

The house was known about, but the details are still fascinating.
The house was known about, but the details are still fascinating.

Credit for the piece goes to Paul Hancock and PH Aerial Photograph.

Rotting Wooden Beams

Earlier this week a balcony collapse in Berkeley, California killed six Irish students. The building had only been finished in 2007 and was barely ten years old. While the investigation is ongoing, the Los Angeles Times reported on what might have been the cause: dry rot.

Dry rot
Dry rot

Credit for the piece goes to Rong Gong-Lin II.

The American Shopping Mall

This past weekend Al-Shabab, the Al Qaeda affiliate based in Somalia, threatened shopping malls in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. This threat carries a certain amount of weight given the deadly attack Al-Shabab launched against the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya a few years ago.

So what to look at today? Well, a few weeks back a colleague sent me a link to a Bloomberg article about the American shopping mall. The article examines the makeup of stores, the people shopping, and the regionalisation in the food court(s). On a personal note, I was glad to see that King of Prussia received a mention.

Auntie Anne's in KoP? I'd rather Philly Pretzel Factory
Auntie Anne’s in KoP? I’d rather Philly Pretzel Factory

Credit for the piece goes to Dorothy Gambrell and Patrick Clark.

Building to View London

A little while back, the Economist posted an interesting slideshow piece that showcased the intricacies of London’s skyscraper problem and how many areas are restricted to preserve lines of sight. The user can click through each view and see just where on the map the view falls.

Viewing London
Viewing London

Credit for the piece goes to D.K., L.P., G.D., P.K. and R.L.J.

The Tallest of the Tall (in Los Angeles)

I have always had an interest in architecture. And so this piece from the Los Angeles Times is just because I like to indulge myself every so often, a look at the five tallest buildings in Los Angeles.

Map of the five tallest buildings
Map of the five tallest buildings

Credit for the piece goes to Scott J. Wilson, Matt Moody, and Anthony Pesce.

Bloomberg’s New York

For those of you who read this blog and are not from New York, Mayor Bloomberg is done later this year; he is not running for reelection. So now is the time for retrospective and plaudits for the long-serving mayor. The New York Times published a piece this weekend examining how all of Bloomberg’s changes for redevelopment have reshaped the city of New York.

Rezoned areas of the city
Rezoned areas of the city

Credit for the piece goes to Ford Fessenden, Tom Giratikanon, Josh Keller, Archie Tse, Tim Wallace, Derek Watkins, Jeremy White, and Karen Yourish

Washington Monument

Last summer an earthquake rattled the East Coast; I felt it while lounging on the beach at the Jersey shore when I was on holiday. But Washington got hit pretty hard. The Washington Monument lost some stones. I just lost an iced tea that spilled. But, the Monument is now going to be closed until perhaps 2014 for repairs. This infographic from the Washington Post details where the damage is found on the Monument and how the slabs will be repaired.

Damage to the Washington Monument
Damage to the Washington Monument

Credit for the piece goes to Cristina Rivero.