Sunday, 23 May 2010
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Resolves are tested from the off on the second day as, we make our way across a wet field, the mist only revealing the looming, incomplete task at the last minute. Unlike me, rain arrives early and sets in for the day. As we gain height and reduce our cache of building materials the mental challenge becomes more prevalent. The ongoing puzzle continues, essentially; finding a stone that will bridge the gap to the previous layer (ala typical running-bond brick wall), nestle right into position without any rocking and create as flat a surface to build from as possible. But more than that, at this stage frustration is never far away, with fewer and fewer stones available I continually find myself trying the same stone in the same position. At this point it seems to have become impossible to judge whether or not a stone will be appropriate without actually trying it in every conceivable orientation.
It is unsurprising that to see the completed wall is rather satisfying, however, when the last stone was laid and we stood back I was quite taken back by the sense of pride and achievement. No doubt this was partly due to the physical and mental input but I think it was also partly attributable to the iconic, if understated, nature of the subject in our British consciousness. Having been part of the building crew it’s hard to believe just how solid this structure is and not a single hammer or chisel left the back of the land rover throughout the course of the weekend. This particular method of walling is one for the purist, the stones are used unaltered and no pinning on the outside faces is permitted. Rising out of the earth, the wall modestly stops at the top, task complete. No flourish of vertical coping stones here.
Friday, 30 April 2010
I’m currently reading John Ruskin’s ‘The Stones of Venice’. Naturally, I skipped straight to the famous essay, ‘The Nature of Gothic’. I’m sure I will write a more conclusive post on the essay but until then something worth considering: Ruskin observes that Architecture is not received by the public with the same excitement of, say, a new piece of literature or a new painting from a renowned artist. There are two points that can be immediately drawn from this view. Firstly, the image of architecture received and enjoyed with the same intensity of these other arts. I think this is a very pertinent objective for architects, after all, architecture is arguably a larger part of our lives than any other art form, at least it plays a more constant role. The second point, which I see as crucial, is that the measure here is the response of the general public. That huge majority which is all too often over looked in architectural design. It’s the old problem of architecture occupying a position equivalent to an in-joke, a private exhibition unlocked only to those who have had the education to appreciate it. I’m not suggesting some kind of x-factor for architecture, simply that the views of the ‘layman’, as it were, are valid. Pleasing the public should be part of the goal, and where possible why not include them in the design process.
Interesting that these two contemporary issues should raise their heads in a mid-nineteenth century essay, possibly a reflection of the antiquated status of parts of our approach.
Wednesday, 21 April 2010
So, a brief, topical (to me) observation of the French language; I’ve always found that the lingo one encounters in France is very recognisable as the one most of us studied to some degree at school, which cannot be said for many languages read from a text book (or listened to on those strange cassette recordings of somebody supposedly going about their day) in an English classroom. French could be described as a very ‘pure’ language. The French are very proud and indeed protective of their language, as with much of their heritage. To many this attitude may seem to have resulted in a rather ‘small’ language. Initial observations of this are that it is easy to pick-up, usable, familiar. Further inquiries reveal the subtleties, with a language consisting of fewer words the emphasis on expression is far greater, and the latter is probably a key attribute to French’s reputation of beauty. This use of expression (for want of a better word) over vocabulary is demonstrated in many corners of the world. The famous single word utterance of many Native American languages, for which James Fenimore Cooper uses the literation ‘Hugh’, is used in varying applications, all differences being conveyed in the tone. In English we have such a rich language, built up over the centuries by integrating many others. Gaelic, Latin, Germanic and of course French, must be the big four. But I wonder if such a broad vocabulary could have led us to being slightly bland in our expression.
Wednesday, 7 April 2010
Building Dens is one of my fondest and most integral childhood memories. The vision that most prominently springs to mind is one of a roof constructed from harvested sweetcorn stalks beneath the late summer cover of a Crab Apple tree. The fruit of which is a fantastic source of ammunition to repel any way-fairing little sisters. I was never one for free standing dens in exposed locations, I always favoured building off of something more permanent, a shed or a fence. The previously mentioned den was in my favourite spot, against the back of a shed on the edge of the garden with the opposing side open to the wheat field, a source of both cover and an escape route. This location aided in one of the key requirements of even the most basic den, to act as a wind-break. There is nothing like moving into protection from a chilly wind, except possibly the feeling created by separating oneself from the rain by the smallest margin. Dens do this to varying degrees, a sheet of tin or plastic may provide complete resistance with minimum thickness whilst capturing that wonderful sound of rain abruptly reaching its destination. A more organic solution, no matter how well built up, will almost always drip, which in its way also adds to the joy in that tiny degree of separation between shelter and the elements.
Dens are fantastic indicators of location and season. They are constructed out of what ever is at hand, and kids don’t have any pre-programmed preferences towards materials, a scrap of plastic bag, the current height of unsightlyness for the eco-driven fashion conscious, is happily incorporated into the waterproofing. Whether in a wood, field, scrap yard or urban wasteland, all materials are considered. In the winter the rural den becomes much more exposed and materials can be scarce. I often found the big lumps of earth churned up by the ploughs excellent in the construction of a dry stone wall style bunker.
A peculiar phenomenon among the tenants of dens (or ‘dennents’) is the quality to be found in objects that are left in the den, they go through a change, take on new traits. Like ancient explorers they forever step aside from the society they once belonged to. Often they never return, if they do they are weathered and aged, never the same again.
In some walks of life of course dens are a more serious business. Roaming shepherds are notable dennents. From the simple A-frame with roofing shingles of a French shepherd to more solid structures and everything in between, an eclectic mix of shelters can be found in rural areas all over the world charting the passage of shepherds seeking refuge. Some are left in place for the next time, some are taken along and re-erected tent-fashion while others are purely constructed for the current situation and abandoned.
A fine barrier between life and death, the fruits of a child’s imagination or a place of belonging in a faceless urban backdrop, the den is international and highly local, basic and sophisticated. Oh to be a child again and den once more.