Saturday, July 10, 2010
Yesterday I submitted my plans to the County for a building permit. I've struggled to make this house pleasing to God. Now we'll see if it's pleasing to the building inspector.
So I have a little time again to write. I'll talk about the house plan as a whole. I think this will be the last post where I explain the design. Words fail. Included here are six images of plans from the drawing set.
Main Floor Plan
This house could be described as a “courtyard house" - the indoor spaces are grouped around an outdoor space. But the courtyard here is not completely enclosed; it opens to the street. This is a welcoming gesture. The building offers an embrace.
The courtyard is also an expression of humility: The core of the property and the house is not building but nature. The floor is earth, the ceiling is sky, the light is God’s.
The courtyard could more appropriately be called a cloister, since it was this element of monasteries that most inspired the design. This is a consistent feature of monasteries from ancient times through today. I learned this from an extras DVD that came with the film, “Into Great Silence.” I was amazed to find there a substantial section with photos and even architectural drawings of many monasteries built over the past two thousand years. (Was this just for me?) I made several pages of notes and sketches about this information. One feature I especially liked was the outdoor space enclosed by the living quarters of these monasteries. A covered porch typically wrapped around the edge of the open space too.
Floor Pattern Plan
The covered porch in my design also wraps around the entire courtyard. But the house itself wraps only around three sides of this porch. Here I’ve made a revision to the monastic tradition that I think is needed. This place is not about secluding ourselves from the world, but about building a place of light and love that everyone is welcomed into, and from which we go out to serve. It is a node of worship from which we go, and to which we invite others to come. The word “cloister” comes from the Latin meaning "bolt" or "lock." In my house this lock has been opened.
Besides the cloister there are two other major plan elements of this house - completing the trinitarian plan (of course!). One I’ve described some before: the Great Room. The other is the rest of the interior space, the part that wraps around the courtyard, and includes all the functional elements: kitchen and dining, bedrooms, bathrooms, utility, laundry and storage. We can call this the domestic space. This is the “house” of the “church house.” It has everything the house needs to function as such.
Reflected Ceiling Plan
The Great Room is a different kind of space entirely. It is the “church” of the “church house.” It is the holy place. It’s significant that the house doesn’t need the Great Room. It could function just fine without it. But on another level it is essential. If the domestic space is the body of this house, the Great Room is its soul. Everything practical can get done in the domestic space; the Great Room is about the spiritual – which gives the practical its meaning and reason for being.
Not that I imagine nothing practical happening in the holy place, or that nothing spiritual will happen in the domestic space. Quite the opposite. Church and house are joined here precisely so that they will bleed into one another, inspire and inform each other, so that the holy and the domestic, worship and life, become one.
In the ancient monasteries too church and house were married. The church often sat at the center of the monastery complex, near the cloister where the residences were. Architecturally the two places were quite distinct from each other, the church often a cathedral and the residences compartmentalized and small, like dormitories. Because of the church’s location in the middle of the other structures, it had few windows looking into the surrounding grounds; instead the windows were high, and the ceiling lofty. By contrast the residential cells open onto the courtyard on one side and out to gardens and the world beyond on the other. The church looks up, the house looks out.
I like this symbolism, so this is the case in my house too. Whereas the domestic space has a floor-to-ceiling glass wall looking onto the courtyard, the Great Room has, besides a few small windows in the walls, a 9 x 9 foot skylight looking straight up. So the largest window in this space is not actually the one in the east wall (at a "mere" 5 x 5 feet) but the one in the ceiling.
In many ways the domestic space and the Great Room are exactly opposite architecturally. As the holy place, the Great Room is about perfection. The geometry is pure. It is a perfect square in plan, symmetrical around four axes. Its major proportions both in plan and section are governed by the “divine proportion.” By contrast the domestic space is organized much more loosely, deferring in large part to practical concerns. Whereas the Great Room is a single pure space, the domestic area is essentially a hallway connecting a series of rooms. The hall and rooms wrap the courtyard. The gesture here then is movement and passage, whereas the gesture of the Great Room is stasis and arrival. One is journey, the other is destination. Both work together to define the square of emptiness at the center.
Also in the contrast between these spaces there is a feeling that they are the same kind of space in different stages of development. The Great Room is what the domestic space wants to be. The one is becoming, the other is being. This is a nebula, that’s a star.
In fact their constructive DNA is the same: a 16-inch brick module determines the location of walls, columns, doors, rafters – every architectural element – in both areas. Also the huge single skylight over the Great Room seems to look back to its own formation in the three smaller skylights over the three bedrooms.
Furthering the stark contrast between the holy and domestic space is the type of construction of each. In the history of building there are two basic structural systems: post and beam, and bearing wall. The Great Room is made primarily of stone and brick bearing walls. This is the way the Temple of Solomon was built: exterior masonry bearing walls with wood beams for the roof and wood board finish on the inside. The domestic space on the other hand is structured of steel columns bolted to beams such that no bearing or shear walls are necessary.
These physical features of the house have spiritual parallels. And here is where I'm ever aware of the insufficiency of words. It's like the prophets in the Bible describing visions God gave them; the verbal descriptions almost don't make sense, pale in comparison to what was seen with the eyes. Nothing substitutes for being there. If words could capture it, there would be no need for visions.
So I'll just give some hints. Many parallels should be obvious. Others I have yet to discover myself - an experience I've come to expect if God is involved. I didn't consciously intend the three-part plan, and now I'm starting to see that the trinitarian reference goes further than that: The Great Room is like the Father, being perfect, secure, unchanging, everlasting. The domestic space is like the Son, since He "grew in wisdom and stature," and connects everything to the Father. And the courtyard, with its invisible yet present space is like the Holy Spirit. Though each element is distinct, they flow together into one.
In the contrast between the Great Room and the domestic space I see my and your stark contrast from where we are to where we should be or will be. The domestic space is the caterpillar (or better, worm), the Great Room is the butterfly - speaking both of the transition from sinner to saved and from this cursed life to the next where all things are new. Also I see the destination of a church, a body of believers, starting from nothing, formless and void, and growing in relationship with one another, loving and serving one another, confessing sins to one another, bearing one another's burdens, running towards the goal of unity, being of one mind, becoming the answer to Jesus' prayer.