Archive for August, 2009

Today, the New York Times published an olfactory map of Manhattan — “Smells of New York City.”

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The map (above) is a more ironic version of the olfactory cartographies that first emerged in Victorian London and Second Empire Paris. One of the most interesting of these is Hector Gavin’s “Pestilent Disease Mist of Bethnal Green,” his map of the odors in that struggling area of London from his book Sanitary Ramblings (1848).

In 2005 I viewed an original edition of Gavin’s map (slightly unfurled below) in the majestic Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University. The reddish brown areas illustrate his perception of the odors of feces and undrained sewerage.  It’s an incredible work of documentation, individual curiosity, and olfactory paranoia. It’s also an interesting work of history, as Gavin understood the odors to be products of this particular neighborhood’s past (and this, of course, moves through the New York Times cartography).

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Excellent histories of the map, and the history of olfactory cartography include Robin Evans “Rookeries and Model Dwellings” (in Translations from Drawing to Building) and  a terrific book by Erin O’Connor Raw Material. You can also read a bit about the map (with one of the finest reproductions we could find) in the chapter on gas inSubnature: Architecture’s Other Environments.


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It’s one of those truly under-rated odors. It seems very old books always have it, but in new books it’s a more volatile smell and must be savored quickly. This past week I’ve been enjoying smelling (reading, looking, and holding) an advance copy of my new book — Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments. If you missed my description of the book from earlier posts; you can read a little about it here and here. The book will be released in October, so please pre-order and hold tight; I promise, it will arrive soon.

A quick post to tell you to check out this animated history of the Parthenon. It’s quite good, and having recently written about the Parthenon, I enjoyed the dramatic (and saddening) depiction of its bombardment by 17th century Venetian mercenaries. But the biggest tragedy depicted in this film is the dismantling of the remaining statuary by teams hired by Lord Elgin. “She” (the Parthenon) speaks towards the end. Oh, and it’s directed by none-other than Costas Gavras