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Alexander Learns Architecture: An Invitation

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Hello My Friends,

It has been decreed, not by myself or Peter, but by Common Wisdom (hopefully you’re familiar with his work), that if I am to take part in running an architectural design firm I should probably learn a thing or two about architecture. Under the influence of Mr. Wisdom, I have decided to acquiesce to this undertaking. However, before I begin I thought it might be wise to lighten the burden and invite a few friends along for the journey. It will be a long road, but I think will be worth it.

If you choose to come with me, I can assure you we will see the most amazing sights, meet the greatest architectural figures of the past, and perhaps  even understand what they thought it took to make a building great. And, you’ll be learning history which is a far cry more than most architectural students these days. This is an area that irks Peter. He has said, “Today architectural schools don’t teach history because they don’t want to stifle creativity; instead they prefer to breed students who have no understanding of proportion; they just know how to make LEED Certified rubbish.” I may have taken some liberties with that quote, but you can usually catch him saying something like this under his breath when he sees a piece of contemporary garbage architecture. So, if you come with me, I guarantee you will learn all you need to comfortably be the smuggest person wherever smug architects hangout.

On second thought, I can make no such guarantee. I have chosen a book that came highly recommended titled Origins of Classical Architecture by Mark Wilson Jones. I have quickly come to realize that this is far above my head. Anything I say in these posts will most assuredly be almost entirely incorrect. For this reason, I have decided to take it slowly. Aside from this week, where I will share a simple concept, I will spend several weeks on definitions. This way we can truly be learning together as I currently have very little idea what Ionic means or what an acroterion is, or who in tarnation that Vitruvius guy is.

Now for our first lesson:

I have chosen an excerpt from Jones’ book, but it is actually from the pen of Edwin Lutyens:

To be right you have to take and design it…you cannot copy: you find if you do you are caught, a mess remains. It means hard labour, hard thinking over every line in all three dimensions and in every joint; and no stone can be allowed to slide. If you tackle it in this way, the order belongs to you, and every stroke being mentally handled, must become endowed with such poetry and artistry as God has given you… (Jones, 2014, p. xiii)

This is a very important concept at DanielHouse. Peter strives to be original in his work. He considers each work as a unique creation. However, there should be a certain consistency that reflects himself in someway. Furthermore, he hopes his work pays homage to the millennia of architectural knowledge that already exists. In fact, Jones feels similar. Almost immediately preceding the Lutyens quote, Jones says the architectural establishment seems “intent to spite itself by cutting off its roots in history, as if out of amnesia might spring a brave new environment.” (Jones, 2014, p. xiii) This is not to say that all buildings must look like the Parthenon. It means that the contemporary world does not exist alone, rather it stands upon centuries of progress and knowledge that should not be discarded. These two quotes should be taken together. Creativity and originality are good goals, but there is no reason history must be sacrificed to achieve them. At DanielHouse, our goal is to create something that could stand as a unique creation, and could also be equally appreciated 2000 years ago as it could be in 2000 years, while being comfortable to live in today.

End of Lesson One

In future “Alexander Learns Architecture” posts I don’t intend to create opinion pieces. Today, I just felt it was important to give a sense of why I care to learn anything about architecture at all. When someone points to the place where a column capital meets a frieze, I want to know 1) what that means, 2) why it exists, and 3) how it came to be. I don’t intend to be become an architect, or even an authority on architecture. I just want to speak the language, and it's more fun to learn together.

I'll see you next week (maybe in two weeks),

 

A.D. Spalding

 

Bibliography

Jones, M. W. (2014). Origins of Classical Architecture. New Haven: Yale University Press.