It's a mineshaft modern design era
Architects may go and
Never change your point of view.
When I run dryI stop awhile and think of you
So long, frank lloyd wright
All of the nights wed harmonize till dawn.
I never laughed so long
-Simon and Garfunkel
Back when I was an unformed ball of clay I decided that I wanted to be an architect when I grew up. At times even today I think I might have been rather good at it. I can draw quite well, and when I was a kid I worked out some fairly impressive designs for houses, cars, airplanes and boats.
Then, somebody told me a lot of architecture was about math. Mathematics and I did not get alone well, so I scrapped the idea. Kind of stupid because later in my student career I actually got reasonably decent at math. But, that’s another story.
I like the basic precepts of good architecture – you know, function before form, and all of that John Ruskin stuff that flew in the face of the ghastly ersatz Gothic stuff of Victorian times. But, I’m not anal enough to think that sometimes form works on my sense of esthetics in a positive way – sort of like the science-fiction elements of the Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona.
Frank Lloyd Wright, however, enchanted me more than so many others. So modern and so powerful and so simple were the Wright statements. I’ve only seen one Wright structure in my life, and that is the cultural centre (or whatever it is) on a hillside in Marin County, north of San Francisco. It captured my soul the instant I saw it.
My interest in Frank, as an aside, became even more pronounced when I learned that he was grandfather, and mentor to a degree, to Anne (All About Eve) Baxter, the yummiest ‘older woman actress to ever tread the boards in my esteem. But, as I said, an aside.
When I am in Victoria I spend my time at our apartment in the James Bay area. Nice spot to be, and replete with some of the finest representative examples of Victorian and Edwardian gingerbread that can be found in these parts. Truly, some fascinating houses that I would not want to pay to heat. But, they have all the geegaws and accoutrements of an earlier era, including elements like widows’ walks, which give a certain Addams Family ambiance.
Pleasingly, some of the newer houses going up in the neighbourhood are faux Victorians, and that keeps the area to its theme. Good stuff. Sort of like the restrictions in Chester, England, which demand that if you erect a new structure within the town walls, that is acceptable, provided it blends perfectly with all the black-and-white half-timbered authentic Tudors that already exist there. We don’t do that sort of thing much in our hideous plastic and aluminum siding dwellings that spring up in our ordinary neighborhoods.
What I find distressing is the paucity of imagination in contemporary architecture. There is a phenomenon around here in both public and commercial buildings that a designer friend of mine a few years ago referred to, disdainfully, as “mine-shaft modern.” That is, lots of heavy timber work and none of the ‘guts’ of the structure, like pipes, or ducts, or flues encased in a cosmetic covering but all of its functionality exposed.
The first one of note to use the MSM esthetic was the local college, North Island College, which actually won a national architectural award. Consequently, since it seemed to be such a design winner, everybody bought the same cookie-cutter and virtually all buildings erected in this community, and others in coastal BC have opted for the MSM. No originality afoot. When the foundations are laid, you know what the damn thing is going to look like. It will be wood-frame, lots of cedar, exposed timbers and an alpine sort of roofline.
In point of fact, in terms of my sensibilities, it’s dead ugly. It was ugly to begin with, and the bastardized later versions show no inspiration whatsoever.
Maybe it’s good that I didn’t become an architect. I think I would have found it frustrating.
Labels: Hardly grace and beauty abundant