Friday, September 7, 2012

The Smiling Building

The installation of the interior wall boards is underway. They are (and will remain) unfinished tongue-and-groove southern yellow pine. My concept for this house's finish details is now visible. As explained in an earlier post, "Revealing," these boards don't cover everything. They hold back to leave exposed the 4x12 beams above, the steel columns, the ipe wood strips next to columns and beams, the brick edging, even the edges of studs at doors and windows.

Every element is given its own visual presence, is seen fulfilling its unique role, but also works carefully with the others towards the single goal of defining a room.

That's something else happening as these boards go up - the true space of each room is becoming visible. The place feels very different now; walls that were transparent yesterday, barely suggested by a stud every 16 inches, are opaque and impassable today.

This is good, not just because a bedroom needs to be private, but because the careful order I gave the place is felt not just visually but bodily. I can't just walk through a stud wall wherever I want; both my eyes and my body now have to follow the order I was inspired to give the place. And what lovely barriers they are, with their constellations of knots, their cosmic swirls of color, that I did not give them.

Here we can see another way the studs are allowed to express their presence - the rows of nails in the boards, just as with the exterior siding.

One of my favorite examples of a reveal is the inside corner where a steel column is imbedded in the wall:

At the center is the column (the actual structural support for the room) then the half-inch ipe strips, then the end studs of the walls, and finally the finish boards. It's like a pealing away to reveal what's beneath, a visual hint as to what the place is actually made of. Which is why, in the earlier post, I called these reveals "little apocalypses."

The concept of the reveal follows my more general goal of honesty or truth. I wanted to be honest and expressive about how everything goes together, rather than to deceive and conceal, as is the typical practice in construction today.

Another way to think of these reveals is anthropomorphically. When we open our eyes or smile, we reveal inner parts of our bodies - eyes, teeth, tongue - along with our inner state of consciousness and emotion. I hope that this house also, by the nature of its openings, appears to be awake and smiling.

There is another important function for these wall boards that is clear now: to be a canvas for sunlight.

Sometimes sunlight hits the walls from windows, sometimes from skylights, but either way it now has a solid surface to fall on. So in a manner of speaking these walls are painted - with ever moving and changing natural light from above.

Once the electric lights go in, the walls will be a canvas for that light as well. I look forward to the golden glow emitted through the glass wall when the lights shine on these boards after dark.


  1. God chose to live in a tent...

  2. My guess is that Anonymous refers to the manger, to John the B's lifestyle, to the desert mothers and desert fathers, to Job, to the Israelites in the desert, and to Jesus, who, as Shane Claiborne points out, spent the larger part of his life homeless, or, to put it in modern terms, couch surfing. The lesson of the sparrows and the lilies of the field reminds that whatever is material has only one Source and the material will forever only reflect flickers of what everything ultimately rests on. This leaves building anything even semi-permanent problematic, and attaching to it even more problematic. The uncomfortable news and the comforting news is that nothing lasts except that Source, and if we don't hold that in our hearts today, then tomorrow we will get reminded. Annie Dillard ponders the utter wastefulness of nature, supreme beauty getting wiped out overnight by a frost, only to come back ever more brilliant in a matter of days (Andy Goldsworthy often celebrates this). Though the pious have lived in tents, they have lived in almshouses, and hospitals and ships and orphanages and cathedrals. True, a tent puts less between the soul and God. It also tempts the mind to become preoccupied with the body's hardships. I'm thinking it matters less where we are than who we are and what we are doing, and each of us has been given different walks toward the heart of God. One of the challenges for us is to see the beauty in another's path even when it contrasts with our own, yet that is what we are called to do.

  3. Thanks, Claudette. There's a lot here, and I wonder if you can apply these thoughts more specifically to this project. I think I get what you (and perhaps Anonymous) are saying, but I'm not sure how it relates to this house. Everything material is ultimately impermanent, which for me makes the distinction between a "tent" and any other structure ultimately meaningless. And contrary to what I think Anonymous (and Shane Claiborne in another place) is implying, God hasn't expressed much of a preference for one level of impermanence over another - he was pleased to provide the design for both the Tabernacle of Moses ("tent") and the Temple of Solomon ("permanent"). But all levels of (im)permanence in inspired material creations "reflect flickers" of the Divine, as you say, and that's a main point of this project - not to create something permanent, but to display God's glory in yet another place, add another flower to the field, so to speak, for however long (or short) he decides to allow it.