Sunday, March 20, 2011

Destruction After Construction

Brickwork started last week for the three walls behind the stone wall, which will complete the space of the Great Room. Above is a shot of some of the bricks I asked the mason to tear off of one of the new walls. Here's what the wall looked like before:

See the problem?? I didn't either, until I got home and checked my drawings - which, yes, show every single brick in this wall. What I noticed is that the mason started the first course wrong off the footing. And by "wrong" I mean that the patterns I designed for the wall would not work out farther up. The particular pattern here is correct - traditionally called the "Flemish bond," where each course, or layer, is made up of an alternating rhythm of "headers" and "stretchers" (the end of a brick, then the long side of a brick, then the end, then long side, etc.), and this rhythm alternates as the courses go up the wall. The craftsmanship is great, too. He simply started the bottom course with a stretcher in the center of the wall instead of a header, which means that this alternating pattern would terminate a course too low, or too high, compared with what I drew. The patterns in these three walls go through several transformations from bottom to top and they all blend together.

My first thought after realizing this was that the whole wall would have to be demolished and rebuilt to fix the problem. Then I realized that only the top two courses would be visible, so gritting my teeth I decided I'd just ask the mason to take off those two courses. I didn't call him right away, which I think is good; I need time to think about these things. Also, an interesting string of questions had occurred to me, which I hope will always occur to me in cases like this: What if the mason inadvertently did me a favor here? What if starting the wall on the opposite coursing yields a better design than the original? So I spent some time that night revising my drawing of this wall, shifting the pattern a course down, then a course up. But I wasn't seeing a better design. I realized that I could "make it work," meaning probably no one but me would ever notice the difference. But it wasn't better; the original design had a special order and harmony about it that was lost by changing the coursing. It's like the difference in writing between the right word and the almost right word.

So I concluded that the "test" for me in this is to nicely and graciously tell the mason to demolish and rebuild a portion of this wall. This makes sense as a test, because I hate it. I have to tell a person who's an expert in his craft to tear apart his work. It's also a special test of confidence in my inspiration: Do I really believe this design is the result of God's work in me? If so, how could I not tell the mason to fix it? It wasn't even all his fault - my drawing doesn't show the bottom three courses of brick, because they are below grade. It's possible to deduce the pattern on the first course from the patterns above, but still, I should have known better than to leave out of my drawing the bricks that begin the entire wall.

Well, he was a good sport. We met on site the next evening and I clarified the problem. He offered that actually only the outer course (of three) have to be cut out, since only they will be visible. Good - I had been hoping he would see an easier way. Here is the wall after it was fixed:

See the difference?? I wouldn't either, if I hadn't drawn it myself. But if you look at the fourth and fifth courses up from the ground, you can see that they don't alternate like the others; they are "stacked," stretcher on stretcher, header on header. This puts the pattern back on track for everything that happens above. So I'm happy, and now my mason knows that, yes, I am that obsessive.

And now some pure progress: the continued growth of the stone wall:

This last shot shows the result of "daylight savings time": when I stop by on my way home from work now I get to see this west-facing wall staring at the setting sun. There is something this wall shares with Stonehenge - it's a pile of rocks on earth conversing with a light in heaven.

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