Recti/Curvi – Linear

8 September 2017 – Straight lines and curvy lines, in other words.

And they don’t come much straighter than this.

Yes, the sewer cover itself is round, thus curvy, but its design (if we may dignify the imprint as such) is very, very straight-line.

Brett Lockwood, in his eclectic and perceptive WordPress blog, O’Canada, recently had a whole post about heritage sewer covers.

This is not a heritage cover.

Even so, it is on display at the Museum of Vancouver for a purpose. The MOV, dedicated to helping us connect more deeply with the city, wants us to think about grids, and what they mean.

The display then muses about straight lines, and curving lines. What do they tell us about the cultures that use them, favour one over the other?

Consider this other Vancouver sewer cover — the work of Musqueam artists Susan Point and Kelly Cannell, commissioned by the City in 2004.

Curvilinear indeed, and deeply meaningful.

The whole rectilinear / curvilinear dynamic enters my mind — indeed, my way of connecting with the city — more deeply than I realize at the time. A few days later, my friend Louise and I are on University of British Columbia grounds, visiting first the Museum of Anthropology and, later, the UBC Botanical Garden.

I stand by the reflecting pond, I look at the magnificent MOA building — so perfectly “nestled in its landscape” as its architect, Arthur Erickson, pointed out — and I am struck by its lines.

Its bold rectilinear lines.

The reflecting pond is all gentle curves, the pathways as well, also the grassy hummock framed by those pathways. But oh, that building.

I see, too, how it echoes the post-and-beam construction of traditional Northwest Coast Aboriginal buildings — and of the mid-20th century sculpture complex in this compound, with its poles and buildings, the work of leading contemporary First Nations artists.

First you see the post-and-beam, the powerful horizontals & verticals. But then you also see the curve of the eyes, the other curves of the carved figures. And you think — well, I think — that perhaps, yes, we do reconcile the curving and the rectilinear, both often and well.

But for that MOV exhibit, I would never have noticed, never have thought about it.

Louise & I walk on down Marine Drive — 17,000 footsteps that day, I want you to know! — to visit two more UBC attractions, both of them part of one entity, the UBC Botanical Garden.

First, the Nitobe Memorial Garden, considered one of the most authentic outside Japan.

The gentle arch of the bridge, made oval by its own reflection. And, to the right, among the trees, the strong, simple, straight lines of the Tea House.

On to the main site of the Botanical Garden, where we follow our whim to its northern lobe, the North Gardens. This route takes us through the Moon Gate.

By now you’re seeing with my eye, aren’t you! Horizontals & verticals, powerful & rectilinear.

And then, drawing the eye and the feet, the distant curve of the moon gate.

Once there, again by whim, we search out the Physic Garden. It is small, beautiful, enclosed by the straight lines of its traditional yew hedge. The garden itself, a showcase of the medicinal plants of medieval Europe, contains 12 concentric beds, with a sundial at the centre.

Curve upon curve — but also the triangular gnomon (pointer), arrowing the sun’s faint shadow straight-line to 2 p.m.

I do take the MOV point about conflicting symbolisms, in those grid vs curving sewer covers.

But I also take heart in all the subsequent evidence that we do often, both in architecture and in nature, reconcile the curve and the rectilinear very nicely indeed.

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  1. Penny, nice essay and neat grounds on these campuses. Rectilinear and curvilinear shapes abound in the man-made environment. Because of that I get why some architects, such as Frank Gehry, play around more with curved forms, which seem to predominate in the natural environment. Love the manhole cover by Susan Point and Kelly Cannell and the design of the MOA building, by the way. πŸ™‚

    • I’m with you re Frank Gehry, having spent years as an AGO volunteer and seeing how visitors & the rest of us relax into those warm curving lines. And I think it’s because of my time around the AGO, where Gehry’s transformative work enabled functionality as well as beauty, that I admire Erickson’s MOA building all the more: quite frankly, it fits into its environment better than the AGO, but, like the AGO, it is also highly functional.

      • Wonderful observations, Penny. I’ve not spent much time in the AGO but have visited more than once and it’s a lovely structure.

      • It’s slightly blodgy on the outside I think, since Gehry (native son, indeed native to that exact neighbourhood) was expanding/transforming an existing structure — but his vocabulary was entirely joyous. All the curves, and in warm wood; all that natural light; the soaring arcs of glu-lam in the Galleria Italia (the glass balcony), with its glass wall that brought the street into the building and made streetcape the structure’s final wall. (Contrast that with the ROM additions.) Have you visited Koerner Hall, in the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto? Do that, for the acoustics & music, but also for the architecture…

  2. I saw some cool T-shirt printing from these manholes…this is one…

  3. Oops sloppy fingers the curve one is beautiful….happy walking Penny! Smiles hedy

  4. Mick

     /  11 September 2017

    I love those two sewer covers! Since the Nitobe Memorial Garden is also mentioned, I shall tie in the two by saying that manhole covers are becoming increasingly popular over here in Japan, with tourists (and interested locals, like myself) photographing them and municipal authorities using them to promote their cities.

  5. A lovely post that slipped far down my inbox in a moment of inattention. For which I’m now grateful, because I got to read your exchange with Brett. I love the way you take the insights offered by the museum into your wanderings elsewhere. Sewer covers are an unlikely inspiration (although Poland does them well: a warrior mermaid in Warsaw, and a boat in ŁódΕΊ) and they’ve taken your eyes to interesting places. You’ve made me wonder about straight lines in nature. Now I’ll be on the lookout in that direction. Your pairing of functionality and beauty in Gehry’s work prompts me to suggest that often beauty emerges from functionality – I think of my odd attraction to industrial constructions: brickworks towers, silos, a lineup of cranes, bridges. I’m always pleased when Indigenous people and their dispossession is acknowledged (too rare here) even if it’s mere words like “unceded territory”, which I presume means what I think it does. As always, a thought provoking, varied and beautifully constructed post.

    • I share your mixed reaction to the ritual observance of “unceded territory.” As if merely acknowledging it is unceded is al that’s needed.

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