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Crystal and Arabesque: Claude Bragdon, Ornament, and Modern Architecture Hardcover – March 28, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


“Bragdon is posthumously fortunate to have Massey write his intellectual, architectural and aspirational biography. The first book-length treatment of Bragdon and his world is as clear, complex and compelling as one of Bragdon’s own terreracts, or four-dimensional cubes.”
—Design Observer

“Few biographies of architects achieve such balance between buildings and ideas, events and concepts as this one. Crystal and Arabesque provides an important study of an endlessly fascinating albeit largely forgotten figure of architectural modernism. Because of Bragdon's participation in social, political and scientific discourses, this book will appeal to a wide audience, including readers interested in biography, American studies, design history, theatre and performance studies, and the history of science.”
—Spyros Papapetros, Princeton University

“In this beautifully argued book based on a rich exploration of original material, Massey recognizes in a little-known turn-of-the century American architect a body of work that challenged the core of modern architecture with its normative emphasis on rationalism, its prohibitions against ornament, and its narrowly instrumental view of technology.  Massey's combination of interdisciplinary breadth and substantial knowledge of architecture guarantees that his excellent book will make a significant contribution to architectural, art, and cultural history.”
—Sylvia Lavin, University of California, Los Angeles

“A definitive biography coupled with an interpretative and aesthetic analysis.”
—New York-Pennsylvania Collector

About the Author

Jonathan Massey is associate professor in the Syracuse University School of Architecture.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press; 1st Edition edition (March 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082294362X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822943624
  • Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 1 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,237,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Massey is a historian of modern architecture. He trained in architecture at Princeton and UCLA, then worked in the offices of Dagmar Richter, Frank Gehry, and others. After completing a doctoral degree in 2001, Massey joined the faculty at Syracuse University, where he teaches courses including a global survey of architecture since 1500, lecture courses on American architecture, and seminars on Buckminster Fuller, space and sexuality, and organicism in modern architecture. He currently chairs the Bachelor of Architecture program, ranked among the top two undergraduate professional architecture degrees in the nation.

Massey's research examines the ways architecture mediates power by giving form to civil society, shaping social relationships, and regulating consumption. His articles have focused on architecture and political reform; ornament and sumptuary regulation; and the roots of sustainable design in the work of Buckminster Fuller. His book _Crystal and Arabesque: Claude Bragdon, Ornament, and Modern Architecture_ examines the techniques through which American modernists engaged the new media, audiences, and problems of mass society.

Massey is currently writing a book-length study of organicism in modern and contemporary architecture. With colleagues at Syracuse, he is also developing a digital edition of the drawings and papers of Marcel Breuer and testing the potential for digital media to sponsor new modes of collaborative research, teaching, and learning across disciplines.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Charles N. Clutz on December 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A native Rochesterian, I read this book with great expectations! I grew up with Bragdon's architecture from the Maplewood Branch, YMCA, Rochester Chamber of Commerce Building, Bevier Memorial Building to the New York Central Station, First Universalist Church and West garden and Pavilion at the George Eastman House. These gave me the basis for Bragdon's multi-disciplined output.

One might assume from the title "Crystal and Arabesque: Claude Bragdon, ornament and Modern Architecture" that Jonathan Massey deals primarily with ornamentation. This is not he case. Ornament is always integrated within the larger context from historic elements to 20th century designs (illustrated with Bragdon's own pen and ink work). Bragdon was a contemporary of Louis Sullivan (the Forward to Sullivan's Autobiography of an Idea is Bragdon's) and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Massey delves into Bragdon's work on the Fourth Dimension, his influence on ornamentation (Projective Ornament) and how these translated into his Festivals of Sound and Light which were held in Rochester, New York City's Central Park, Buffalo and Syracuse. These were large public gatherings which attracted thousands of people during the first World War.

Bragdon had a disagreement with George Eastman regarding the use of color for the Rochester Chamber of Commerce Assembly Room. As a result, he decided that his career was finished in Rochester and he left for New York City. He had a distinguished careeer as a stage designer, primarily with Walter Hampden. His work is reminiscent of the designs of Robert Edmund Jones (The Dramatic Imagination).

Jonathan Massey clearly shows why the work (including his books, which remain in print) of Bragdon - author, architect, lecturer, philosophor deserve to be better known.
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Format: Hardcover
One of Claude Bragdon's less well known structures was the second clubhouse of the Irondequoit Canoe Club. It was on the east side of Irondequoit Bay at the foot of Inspiration Point which rises more than 150 feet above the bay. It was only accessible by boat from Newport House on the other side of the bay. The first clubhouse burned in 1902 but was promptly replaced in 1903 with a new design by Claude Bragdon on a shoreline site 437 ft. wide at the base of the slope, owned by member John S. Wright. The clubhouse plan dated Dec. 1902 (at the Univ.of Roch. Dept. of Rare Books), shows a two story building 50x38 ft. with a 13x42 ft. extension in the rear for kitchen and housekeeper rooms. Downstairs were reception and dining rooms, each with a fireplace, and a boat room for 30 canoes. Upstairs were 8 private sleeping rooms and 2 bunkrooms for 14 men and 6 women. Many windows made it bright and airy, but no interior water closet was shown. The first floor was at ground level, supported by buried cedar posts. A novel feature was an acetylene gas plant for lighting. Unfortunately, ICC did not plan for extreme Lake Ontario water levels beyond normal seasonal variation; their low- lying land and building were open to flooding. The land chosen at the foot of Inspiration Point was only about 18 inches above the average water level as they knew it; floods would eventually rise six feet above that. From the lowest low to the highest high, the lake has a historic range of 6 ft. with an average annual variation of 1.7 ft. High water progressively exceeded the average high in 1908, 1929, 1943, and 1947. Deforestation and increased runoff took their tolls in the Great Lakes region.Read more ›
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