Today’s guest blogger is Philip Briggs, an architect and reader. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his family and many books.
For many, an ideal getaway from their workaday world is to lie on the beach with a good book. Personally, I would keep the book but ditch the beach in favor of an urban space: maybe the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal in New York, a café on Venice’s Piazza San Marco, a bench in Saint Paul’s Rice Park, or under the canopy at the Menil Collection Museum in Houston. Well-designed places, both grand and modest, are a source of joy for me.
|Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy – |
Napoleon called it the ‘finest drawing
room in Europe.’ I think I agree.
Although I can hardly describe myself as a writer, I have also always loved reading. Both fiction and nonfiction serve as my portal into many different worlds. Works of literature in particular create inhabited and realized worlds, not unlike a work of architecture. It occasionally occurs to me that these two realms of creativity are further related: that the experience of architecture has parallels in the world of the narrative for both the creator and the audience.
Visual arts such as painting or sculpture can concern themselves with a singular expressive idea, not unlike the effect of a short poem or a lyric. In contrast, a meaningful fictional narrative brings together many elements – the characters, the settings, dialogue – to create a compelling and plausible world for the story to occur. None of these crafted elements are intended to stand alone: they exist to serve the larger purposes of the story.
Grand Central Terminal, New York – Majesty and serene
proportions for the harried daily commuter.
(Original photography & stitching by Diliff, horizontal correction by Janke)
Similarly, a work of architecture consists of many constituent parts but ultimately it is to be appreciated and experienced as a whole, an integrated entity. Architectural design considers many issues such as constructability, programmatic functions, aesthetic considerations, and (unfailingly) the budget. If any of the critical aspects are weak or unsatisfactorily resolved, the building usually fails in its mission as architecture. A well-designed building combines its elements gracefully, achieving harmony and order that belies the great effort made during its design.
|Landmark Center- Rice Park, |
Saint Paul, Minnesota – An elegant urban space framed
by lovely buildings – a current destination on sunny days.
I have heard it said by many a critical reader that a particular book “did not flow.” Interestingly, this is a comment I also hear in architecture: it can be directed at a disjointed building exterior, an uncomfortable interior space, or a confusing pathway of circulation (lots of signs = bad architecture). The true measure of architecture is not its impressiveness or the fame of its architect. It is how it serves as a setting for the lives of people. Once a building or a novel is created, it is no longer the home of the architect or the writer. This new creation will now be defined by perceptions and experiences – by the building’s occupants, the story’s readers. In the built environment you, dear reader, are ultimately the protagonist of the story. And if it isn’t working – doesn’t “flow” – you can’t help but notice it.
|Menil Collection, Houston, Texas – An esoteric front porch, |
an artistic shelter from the Texas sun. (Photo by Lian Chang)