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What is Architecture?

Perhaps a recent commenter was correct in thinking I wouldn't learn much about being an architect just from re-reading Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead."  But at least the book has me thinking in terms of architecture, a different perspective for me. But let's resist rushing off to build philosophical skyscrapers...

1. My host in Patagonia took me on a walk to the ruins of a stucco hunting-cabin. It was used as recently as 15 years ago, but now Mother Nature is rapidly reclaiming it. The main room was about 50% bigger than my converted cargo trailer.

Spartan? Not compared to the Outdoors where the hunters spent much of their day. 

Beautiful? Not really. The appliances and materials are not significantly different than modern ones. There are no exotic shapes, structures, or colors.

So then why did I feel a small lump in my throat when inspecting this little cabin and the neglected cemetery outside it?

2. Down the street from me there is a house that I fawn over every day. Somewhat old, but not to the point of being "historical", cute, or exotic; a simple gable roof-line of corrugated metal; nice porches on two sides, held up by wooden poles.

Although the house is beautiful in a classic ranch sort of way, no architect would be the least impressed with it. 'Beauty' doesn't seem like the right issue. This house exudes integrity, somehow.

It seemed strange to be so bowled over by something as stately and sedate as 'admiration.'

3. Down the street from my rental lot in Yuma there was a house that made me flutter my eyelashes every time I walked by. It was just a block-shaped stucco house, but they had huge overhangs on the east and north side. They also had a redundancy of arches that might seem pointless to some people.

Imagine finishing a bicycle ride with the boys on a warm morning in Yuma. You are trying to make the season last longer before you flee north, where it is cold and rainy until July 5.  You sit in that luxurious shade and catch any breeze the comes through the arches. How glorious!

On my daily dog walk in the desert, there was one crucial angle where I could actually see through three layers of arches. Everyday this inflamed my imagination. Recall Edmund Burke's "...The Sublime and Beautiful...":
"Judgment is for the greater part employed in throwing stumbling blocks in the way of the imagination, in dissipating the scenes of its enchantment, and in tying us down to the disagreeable yoke of our reason.

Hardly any thing can strike the mind with its greatness, which does not make some sort of approach towards infinity; which nothing can do whilst we are able to perceive its bounds...

 A clear idea is therefore another name for a little idea."
Three layers of arches can inspire so much? Well, we use only three dots of ellipsis in mathematical notation, when describing an infinite series. I guess that those three layers suggested infinity to me as I walked off into the desert. The remarkable thing is how emotional and exciting it was.

4. Rarely does a normal house make a positive impression on me. The rare exception occurred once when visiting a Canadian couple in Loreto, Baja California.  A house with at least five different degrees of indoorsiness! Other than that, the house was normal and uninteresting.

Perhaps it is time to come up for air. Think about examples like this or other rare structures that actually inspired you over the years. Next time, let's put it all together and try to explain things. 


Ed said…
"... five different degrees of indoorsiness."

I need some explanation, word pictures, that describe what you saw.
John V said…
Here are some RV-like houses that may tickle your fancy...

That may be as close to sticks and bricks as you ever get again (grin).
Oh my, you really know how to rattle my chain with the useless houses on that website! Now I want to go on a rant against the cutesy-wootsie!
In descending order of Indoorsiness:
1. A dark bedroom, with few and small windows. Thus quiet in noisy Mexico, and cool for the siesta.
2. A normal kitchen.
3. A dining room with huge windows, covered with with screens and shutters.
4. A living room/family room with several open arches instead of screened windows.
5. A patio with a pergola for shade.
6. An outdoor garden with bugamvillas and a fountain to drown out the noise from those damn Mexican roosters.
John V said…
No kidding. That's one of the sillier things I've seen in "housing".
Jim and Gayle said…
Sorry we failed our homework assignment;-)
You didn't fail. In keeping with the spirit of Burke, I decided it was better for the reader to imagine the situation instead of being spoon-fed a picture.
XXXXX said…
I wouldn't begin to comment on columns and fireplaces, converted cargo vans or mansions, for the heart of it all is the meaning of having a dwelling. And it's pretty much a no-brainer from there, once that importance has been recognized, to realize that people would always want to make their home as beautiful as they could, in whatever way that meant to them.
Out of a book I have about traditional symbols, the house is defined as a world center; the sheltering aspect of the Great Mother, an enclosing symbol, protection. In Jungian terms it becomes a descent into the darkness before rebirth and regeneration......take that psychologically not literally.
I always love coming home. I constantly look at houses the way you have talked here.......always being aware of the psychological impact of certain architectural features. I always see their potential......even the one you pictured above. How did it look new, who built it, and OMG, who is buried in the abandoned cemetery (not off task here for it holds clues to the inhabitants.)
You may think you didn't care about beauty when you built your current home, but can you deny that it is a thing of beauty to built it with your own hands, you built it economically, you built it to be consistent with your personal views on how to live and you no longer are saddled with features you find unworthy.. Did you not build it with some thought to the you enter the door, there is the kitchen. Personal quarters are in the back. Like any other house, this is a comfortable design.
You used plywood, if I remember correctly, even though advised against it, because you like the smell of wood and, although plywood as a finish is unconventional to most, you don't give a crap about that, so for you, this is a form of beauty as well.
I know I tend to see more beauty in a Spartan cabin than a mansion that looks like a magazine picture. These living spaces are supposed to be beautiful but one couldn't even put their feet up on the coffee table. I tend to notice run down places and wonder about who built it, who lived there throughout the years and I tend to see its potential once again, money being no object.
There is a book for children called "The Little House". It won an award of some kind when it was first published. It's a beautiful story......
XXXXX said…

I agree that a house can have "beauty" in a non-visual way. That is what I think of the house that had "integrity."