Among the most charming and beloved buildings in Cambridge is the old Lampoon Building (Lampoon Castle), where Harvard’s famous yuk-yuk club, the Harvard Lampoon, graduated, years ago, the founders of National Lampoon magazine. The building, designed by Edmund Wheelwright, a relation of one of the original Lampoon’s founders, opened in 1909. Its newspaper mocked everything and was, much like Jonathan Stewart’s The Daily Show today, the source of news for many young Americans. That may be a joke, too, but for our purposes it is neither here nor there. (But first let me add that in the photo at left, it is smoking one of those e-cigarettes. Naughty, naughty!)
The National Lampoon Building is a good example of the wit of classical architecture. But as with every building worthy of being called a building, let alone architecture, there is a serious side of the Lampoon. It was listed No. 5 on a list of ridiculously phallic buildings. (Oops, that sentence would be better off elsewhere.)
Time may have aged it gracefully, but time also plays tricks, and the Lampoon Building needed a stay in the hospital. It hired the Boston firm of Albert, Righter & Tittmann for the work, and ART hired Hammersmith Studios, the forge run by Susan and Carl Close, who until recently were my fellow board members of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art’s New England chapter.
Susan has sent me news of their work in modifying the building to create another exit, which included work on the railing of the balcony of the Lampoon. The picture on top is of one of the open-book cartouches on its balustrade. Part of the job required fabricating the cartouche, which is an ornament designed to bear an inscription.
A book makes a fairly witty cartouche, an architectural use, you might say, of litotes – a term in rhetoric that means emphasizing something by understating it. For example, a lovely woman might be referred to as “not unattractive.” This is something that might be considered a species of jargon by the inhabitants of the castle. Humor requires knowledge, hence the book. Here is Susan’s description:
To make the cartouche we used a process called repousse, a French term that means to work the metal from behind then flip over and work from the front. By hammering from behind it will raise the metal on the front, then, working the metal on the front, you hammer the form back in and start to get the curve shape of the book’s pages. This process is done over and over again before the metal is worked into the shape shown. To bring out the lines of the book on the front, a process called chasing was used – pushing the metal back in – basically the opposite of repousse.
Obviously, as you can tell from the top photograph, the result of the work below lends a sort of impish natural grace to the balustrade.