At one point in my life I spent hundreds of hours thinking about one kind of architectural space and how it might have been made manifest in a theater in the sixteenth or seventeenth century in England.
It was a space most often occupied by men of great audacious learning or power or prestige. Men with whom I often have little in common. Men who are accustomed to getting what they wish for at a moment's notice. Men who tirelessly demand and demand things--the type of men against whom I often grow intransigent and closed off.
This space was also occupied by a meeker, curiouser sort of human; the lone student or scholar laborious in his actions, or more likely, his imaginations. The student in love with words or symbols or possibly paper or leather. The smaller, less audacious space was made of wainscoting with a paper- covered (sometimes glass) window to let in what little light was available to the small room.
The space in question? The Renaissance study.
While curio cabinets of skulls and teeth and compasses and astrolabes are of interest to some, they are not so much to me. However, once these curiosities are said to have been housed in a four (or more) walled space that was also home to books, maps, quills, paper and vellum, then my own curiosity grows and I want to know more about the space: who owned it, what was in it, why they might have had what they had, and if it is at all possible to reconstruct the space or the things that were in it.
I was told bitingly that I was "simply an antiquarian and that's all," once.
My response was this: "Whatever else can I be?"
There is a point to this.
During a long walk two weeks ago, I wandered into a bookstore and saw an issue of Dwell, remembering immediately the gift subscription I had bought in a moment of what I thought was creativity--but was little more than an additional year onto what will probably be a lifetime subscription.
I immediately purchased the magazine. Something about it was calling to me.
I have written elsewhere how the clean lines of the modern aesthetic soothe and instill a calm (in me) that is nearly inarticulable. There is a beauty, and a developed, but not imposed, order that just touches the nexus of the sublime. This beauty and developed order is intoxicating when applied to architecture, but more specifically to houses, and even more particularly to areas in houses that I find to be central spaces: kitchens, living rooms and libraries (if one is indeed fortunate enough to be able to have a library).
There are those who say that this aesthetic exorcises warmth from a space and replaces it with a sterility that is uncomfortable. Or there are those who confuse the modern with truly avant garde, perhaps even the bizarre.
There is, in these detractors of modernist aesthetics, of course, the imposition of judgment, the negation of true disinterest and a suspicion of that which is unknown. All of these intuitions are, indeed, fine. I just cannot relate to those feelings or criticisms.
And as I read through the magazine, taking solace in the lines and the clarity and the warmth and the possibilities of space, I encountered something that pushed me back to my great architectural love--although this time, it has a very modern twist.
(The Blundell house)
Francois Perrin of Air Architecture designed what he is calling a 'guest house' for an anthropologist. But in my uninitiated mind, it is a capacious reimagining of the Renaissance study. This space evokes the majesty of the "great man's" study while maintaining the warmth and presence of the meeker man's study.
To the critic who ensconces himself (or herself) in the security of capital T tradition--no, this space is not for you--even though some of your traditional needs could certainly be met in the space.
It is not for you.
But for those of you seeking a connection between earth and sky, humans and material culture, and light and learning that culminates in a space, then this study, this 'guest house', is, indeed for you. If am ever able to meet Monsieur Perrin and build a space such as this for myself, I will certainly invite any of you to spend as much time in it as you desire.
(interior. The Blundell House)
(I think that Shakespeare would approve of this space. Happy Birthday, WS.)