Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Manhole Covers in Japan - a Connection between East and West

Manhole Cover in Kobe KItano, photo taken by me in 2009

It has been a rainy summer. Lots of the outdoorsy activity weren't feasible and now that autumn is getting closer I feel even more comfortable with visiting exhibitions in Berlin instead of, say, collecting leaves and chestnuts...
For a Far East lover like I am, the Hukusai Retrospective at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum and the "Asian Pacific Weeks" are a sort of art feast.

Yesterday I was at the Rotes Rathaus to visit "Art Under Our Feet" a manhole covers photo collection by the Berlin based goldsmith and industrial designer Annette Stroetmann.

The history of manhole covers dates back to the late 19th Century, when a modern sewing system was built with the assistance of western engineers like the Berliner James Hobrecht, who was a canalization's expert.

[...]there is more to manhole-cover design than meets the eye. The most important function of the raised design on manhole covers is not to look good, but to provide traction for the traffic moving over it. This is particularly important in wet weather, when manhole covers can be treacherously slippery, especially for two-wheeled conveyances such as motorcycles, scooters and bicycles. A good design, in terms of preventing slippage, will have multidirectional lines for better grip. Designs should also be recognizable no matter which direction they are viewed from, and have lasting appeal, since manhole covers last for decades at least, and often much longer [...]

From "Manhole Covers" in The Japan Times 12/16/2008

It is important that the covers don't get blown off by pressure created inside the sewer when there are heavy rains, becoming a dangerous object but also leaving a hole on the pavement in which people might fall.

Of course the functional aspect didn't prevent Japanese and foreigners alike to become a bit obsessed with the manhole covers and create a "manhole mania", emphasizing their esthetic in the first place.

You can take a look at Annette Stroetmann's photos here
Or, for more photos, check the book "Drainspotting, Japanese Manhole Covers"
Blogger Muza-chan dedicated some posts to this topic in her blog Muzachan's Gate to Japan, too.
Painted Manhole Covers at