Hark, a noble local Nobel!

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Computer Lab by Philip Johnson was Brown’s first modernist building. (midcenturymundane.wordpress.com)

Congratulations to Brown University for the Nobel won by one of its physics professors, Michael Kosterlitz. Moreover, congrats to Kosterlitz himself. His Nobel threw me for a loop. It was, I thought, for a discovery in topography, as if he’d discovered that Providence was built on seven hills so that it might be, topographically speaking, like Rome, which was also built on seven hills. But no, Kosterlitz discovered something in the field of topology, which has nothing to do with land forms or maps.

According to a story in today’s Journal, “Brown scientist shares Nobel Prize in physics,” Kosterlitz used “the physics of topology, a branch of mathematics that studies objects whose basic properties remain the same even if they are distorted or deformed, such as during bending or stretching.” Sort of like the process undergone by “truth” or “facts” during a U.S. presidential campaign, especially this year. But this year it has been discovered that they can be not just bent or stretched but broken, and it makes no difference at all. Maybe Kosterlitz deserves a Nobel in poli sci, too.

The seven hills of Providence: College Hill, Smith Hill, Federal Hill, Tockwotten Hill, Constitution Hill, Weybosset Hill, Christian Hill and Neutaconkanut Hill. The seven hills of Rome: Aventine Hill, Caetian Hill, Capitoline Hill, Esquiline Hill, Palatine Hill, Quirinal Hill and Viminal Hill.

The Computing Laboratory, which I have included just to bring an iota of architecture to this post, opened in 1961 at Brown, was designed by Philip Johnson, already a celebrity architect (and a Nazi). It was intended to house an IBM7070, whose computing power, if I may be allowed a guess, would fit into your iPhone. The Computing Lab, on George Street, is now part of Brown’s Applied Math Department. It is actually one of the few modernist buildings I can abide, and much nicer than Johnson’s later and more well-known building at Brown, the List Art Center on College Street, a Brutalist erection completed in 1971.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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