Sunday, March 6, 2011

Going Vertical

Concrete has been poured for the stone and brick walls around the great room. Here it is still wet. Something appropriate about a mountain in the future holy place.

A day or two later I found a pile of rocks in my driveway. Beautiful sight.

My mason decided to build a temporary wood frame so he could get a perfectly flush interior surface on the stone wall, since the roof structure and interior walls have to frame to it. This wasn't considered as a strategy before, and the problem of framing to a rough granite wall has always been a major concern of every builder that has looked at this. Thanks to my mason for taking this thorn out of my side.

...The Temple of the great God that is being rebuilt with large stones. (Ezra 5:8)

When the workers laid the foundation of The Temple of God, the priests in their robes stood up with trumpets, and the Levites, sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise God... (Ezra 3:10) Okay, so there wasn't a lot of praise and worship coming from this father and son team of masons that first day. When I showed up a few hours into their work, they looked weary, and instead of the boisterous "excited to have work" hello I was expecting, they gave me a short glance that said something closer to "WTF." The stone looked quite a bit larger than I was expecting, and their first remark to me was that it was a lot heavier than they were expecting.

This is all fine, design-wise; in fact I think I like the larger stones better. This was my first hint of just how massive this wall is (Is this what a father feels like when he realizes his son will outgrow him? And outlive him?), and that's how it should be. But architects don't often think about the effect of their design on the people who will actually build it. Sure, my mason picked out the actual stone, so I'm surprised that he was surprised at its weight. But I hope this experience will cause me to consider from now on the impact my designs have on the backs of the people who build them.

When a job turns out to be much harder than expected, it's only natural to start asking why it was designed this way. After going on for a while about how heavy the stone is, the father mason said to me, "You building a bomb shelter? If they had this for the Civil War they never would have gotten in down here!" Since he said it laughing and then changed the subject, I assumed it was hypothetical and didn't explain. Not that I was prepared to go into the symbolism of ancient church architecture anyway. My immediate internal feeling was satisfaction that this wall has the protective massiveness that I intended. But it's hard to imagine how to explain that this is a symbolic fortress, to protect against the symbolic "bombs" of sin and evil. Would this inspire him, or just piss him off more? I might find out before this project is over.

End of day one of stone work. They told me there is a stone in the pile that is too big for a person to move. The father joked (I think) that they'll have to get a horse to drag that stone to the wall. Dude, if you bring a horse to my site to pull a rock, I'll give you a hug. And take lots of pictures.

A final thought that occurred to me as I walked away from the site this day was what my fellow architects would think about this wall. (Always a dangerous thought, I know - "please God, not man" - but don't worry, I'm over it.) I think especially about the more avant-garde designers I went to school with, and the architects on the cutting edge of the profession today. I imagine them pointing out to me that this is the 21st century, not the 1st. We can build much lighter now. Embrace technology! Be progressive! Make curves and folds and crinkles! We can build with polycarbonate and fog!

I'm all about using the latest technology to build never-before-seen forms - but not as a goal in itself. My goal is not about technology or originality, but about the truth and beauty of God and his creation. Sometimes that goal will require the latest technology, or even technology that doesn't yet exist, and sometimes it will require a pile of rocks. Sometimes the most progressive design move is to reject what is "progressive."

On the other hand: Could this be the first true load-bearing stone wall for a house in 21st century America? Of course that's not the point, but it would be a fun fact. Also, this wall has only just begun. Right now it may look like a ruin unearthed in Scotland, but as the nine different openings begin piercing its thickness in an apparently random array, it will seem quite a bit more... creative? Progressive? Otherworldly? Whatever you want to call it. It is what it has to be.

I'll close with this video from this first day of stone work. In case you can't hear it, the father (who his son invited down from New York for this work) declared that this first day of work will be his last on this project. Next victim?


  1. see it's proving to be a place of growth, learning and strengthening already. suffering usually accompanies those things too.

    the wall looks awesome --- I am glad you didn't go into the symbolism - they might have hurt you. definitely go into the vision with them -- when they are finished.

    :) it's beautiful so far!

  2. We'll let you know when we come to town, we'd love to have communion and out there with you!

  3. march 6 to march 20 = two weeks without an update! :-) How's it's coming? We check way too frequently. Miss you guys. Ps. I started a blog recently, so you can keep up with some of our happenings, too.

  4. dude, i was in the middle of writing today's post when you wrote this comment ;) good timing. and yes, you check too frequently. but knowing people check inspires me to keep posting. this is a project in and of itself! -after keeping up with construction, design changes, invoices and, oh yeah, my full-time job, it can be hard to get to this regularly.

    great to hear of your blog! i'll bookmark it. every english major needs a blog ;)