Joel Levinson was in his second year studying architecture at the University of Pennsylvania when he heard two students talking like they weren’t up to anything good. These being construction enthusiasts, however, their illicit conversation turned out to be a far cry from planning house parties while they were perched in the library stacks. Instead, the whispered dialogue was more of the drawing board variety: “They were talking about attaching triangular shapes in their otherwise orthogonal and blocky building designs.” Levinson remember. At the time, Levinson was intrigued. But today, he credits the moment with having catalyzed his lifelong interest in what he calls “diagonality” or, more simply, the study of diagonal lines.
Soon after this chance encounter, Levinson began to notice that diagonal shapes and vectors were pretty much everywhere he looked, in the magazines he subscribed to with the work of his teachers (including Louis Kahn and Robert Venturi). Of course, diagonal lines weren’t exactly invented when Levinson was a student in the 1960s. But they may have seen a new wave of popularity in the visual zeitgeist. Since then, Levinson has continued to time their occurrences over the decades, while balancing his own career and architectural practice. With plenty of newspaper clippings, some writing work, and a website later, Levinson decided to take things to the next level and turn his massive archive into an online museum.
Buy now for unlimited access and all the benefits that only members can enjoy.
This effort, which was recently launched, is officially billed as the Virtual museum of diagonal daring. But despite its digital format, the online business includes its own imaginary museum floor plan. It is through this portal that visitors can click on separate “galleries”, all organized by disciplines and themes or by chronology. There are sections devoted to architecture (unsurprisingly), fine art, landscaping, interior design, and more, as well as treasures of images from ancient Egypt. , the computer age and many intervening historical periods.
Through the Levinson Portal, interested users will find photographs of urban skyscrapers such as the Hearst Tower and works of legendary artists, including Frank Stella. There are also images loaded with diagonal lines that fall somewhere in between – examples of artwork that show architectural works, as well as artistic renderings of humanity’s Herculean building efforts during various periods of progress. “What I hear from everyone is first that they even have trouble pronouncing the word diagonal. But then I get a call and they say, ‘Wait, I see it everywhere,’ ”says Levinson. “People have been blind to this very ubiquitous geometric technique.”