michael mullady

Each handmade, architectural ornament in Howard Weisenthal’s exhibit of historical building materials is a testimony to architecture appreciation. The exhibit, which is on display in the lobby of the Architecture and Environmental Engineering Building, showcases a variety of pieces from Weisenthal’s personal collection.

One piece, from a building in Philadelphia, is a worker’s permanent handprints. His long, big fingers imprint the clay as he presses it into the mold.

Molded clay and cast iron, heavy, crude materials, were transformed into 75 graceful objects of simplicity and symmetry. Although made to be beautiful, Weisenthal, a Cal Poly architecture professor, stressed that they are not decoration, but important structural elements of a building.

“Decoration and ornamentation are not the same thing,” he said. “Decoration is for hiding something, ornamental is for adorning something, not hiding it.”

The collection features a variety of cast iron tie-rod stars. Weisenthal said the stars originated from the Federalist era when stars were prevalent. The cast iron stars are anchored on the exterior of the building at each floor level.

“Learning about old buildings is an important part of learning architecture,” Weisenthal said.

Students contributing to the exhibit said it is important to learn the history of some buildings’ architecture as a science and as an art.

“Buildings are, after all, about people and their experience of a building,” said Steve Miller, an architecture sophomore. “It is important to understand how we are affected by our surroundings and environment, how environment affects people and progress for humanity. I want to make some small contribution to that progress,” Miller said.

The exhibit is a collection of artifacts and architectural elements from Canada, Great Britain and the United States. The pieces’ history span over 200 years. The collection includes 40 brick pieces, 20 cast iron relics and 15 delicate terra cotta elements. Also on display are students’ drawings in the beaux arts style.

The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, is on display currently and can be viewed until Thursday, Feb. 16 in the lobby of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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