In 1588, the Italian military engineer Agostino Ramelli wrote Le diverse et artificiose machine, a book featuring sumptuous engravings of siege engines, hydraulic-powered fountains, and other machines, most featuring huge, toothed gears alongslide complicated skeins of weights and pulleys. Among these was the revolving, stationary book wheel, a machine we know primarily through an oft-reproduced engraving showing a man reading a succession of books in a wooden, Ferris-wheel like contraption. Ramelli described the machine as one “where a man can view and read a large number of books without having to move from one place.” A closer look at the engraving suggests that by “place,” Ramelli was not referring to the actual book wheel, but rather a library. This explains the half-emptied bookshelf appearing some distance away from the device, a reminder that Ramelli’s wheel had a limited storage capacity and that it had to be used in proximity to a large number of books. Subsequent critics, however, did not focus on the book wheel’s storage capabilities but rather on the fact that the device could only accommodate books of a limited size and weight. The inventor Nicolas Grollier de Servière proposed that the individual platforms for holding books should not be part of the wheels’ larger geared mechanism, but be individually suspended on moveable shelves. Nicolas’ son Gaspard published a version of this modified device in Recueil d’ouvrages curieux de mathematique et de mecanique (1719). The accompanying engraving is remarkable because, unlike the one from Ramelli’s Le diverse et artificiose machine, the half-emptied bookshelf is barely visible, hiding in between the book wheel’s shadow and a drawn curtain. Two of the moveable shelves appear at the bottom of the image, a reminder to readers that this new version of the book wheel could accommodate more kinds of books—provided that they come from elsewhere.
Happy birthday, Paul Rudolph (23 October 1918 — 8 August 1997).
Rudolph, former dean of the Yale School of Architecture, is best known for his use of concrete and complex floor plans.
On Yale’s campus, he famously designed the Arts & Architecture Building — a nine-story Brutalist masterpiece with a distinct, hammered concrete aggregate facade. The building, completed in 1963, now houses the Haas Family Arts Library.
Tavernier, Melchior, d. 1641. Theatre contenant la description de la carte generale de tout le monde, 1642.
Houghton Library, Harvard University