The Crack that lets in the Light

The Crack that lets in the Light


If a journey begins with a single step, so an architect’s design begins with a single line. Yards multiply to become miles, lines on blank paper may emerge as no more than a walk to the bus or expand into a great adventure. A journeyman’s best attempt, or a path of discovery to paint a masterpiece 

Is this first line a wall separating space, inside from outside? A break in that line, an opening, a doorway connecting two sides of the line. Or a window, the source of light framing a view, the crack that lets in the light; sunlight and warmth to bring comfort and life. What has determined the placing of the first line, the second, the third? It takes a multitude of lines to conceive, depict, define the space that may become a place. The sculptor feels the rock before him to see the David within. The writer listens to the day-dream words that join, one after another, to tell of an idea; a poem or a story to inspire imagination from first to last line. The colour of sound, single notes becoming a chord, a melody, rhythm, instruments, orchestration to burst on our ears as soul-enriching music. The coda, a summation to hold the complexity of the whole, resounding beyond the conclusion. Drawing in two dimensions, seeing in three dimensions, building the space on paper. A good line, a bad line, better line, worse line, through trial and error, gradually become the best lines. Line on line creating a Giacometti complexity of texture followed by a release of abstract clarity. One decision after another, scale, balance, proportion and relationships. Lines that become shapes, materials, colours and tones.

Is this line to be the floor on which the occupants will stand? How will it be bounded by walls, windows and doors? How will it connect to other rooms and to the natural world outside its confines? What will the sense of arrival to these lines feel like? Will it welcome the visitor with open arms, or will it define a barrier saying “keep out”; exclusivity over inclusivity? Will it excite, invite, surprise and say “stay”, or be locked and metaphorically bolted? 

Will these spaces provide welcoming shelter with comfort, shade, warmth, light, aspect and delight? Will they be for domestic life, work or play, generating care, culture or entertainment? Will they be for conversation, government discourse, judgement, democracy or authority? In what social context will this place of lines find itself within a wider climate and landscape? What will it contribute to that context and what meaning will it assume? Factory or farmhouse, mansion or workhouse, resort or prison, all hold nuance of interpretation. Temple, church, mosque or synagogue, whichever way they face, reflect the beliefs and symbols of their worshipers and, outsiders. 

If the first purpose of building was for shelter, what came next; places for meetings, civil organisation or sacred edifices? Stone circles were used to record and understand the movement of the sun, moon and stars, enabling measurement of the passing seasons and hence the year in time. Thus, they created both symbolic and sacred connections beyond daily life. Pyramids that still confound us with their astronomical and geometric precision created a gateway to the afterlife for Pharaohs; the ultimate of sacred symbols. More everyday buildings hold equally profound symbols in human life. The bazaar, souk or street market anywhere in the world is a symbol of community as well as trade. In France, every village, town or city has a ‘Halle’ (market hall). A covered meeting place where people gather with pride to trade local produce. The market is a symbol of the community, regional identity and the national passion for food. It probably scores equally with the ‘Marie’ (Town Hall) as a symbol of the Republic.

When does a post become a column? Power, wealth and social division. Once upon a time, a man building a shelter for family or livestock erected a post, several posts and beams cut from trees to construct his building. Was this the first true vernacular? A stone column may fulfil the same task as a structural support, but it is more a symbol of power. The stone has been quarried; a specialist skill. It has been cut and fashioned with expertise. It has been transported at cost. Throughout the centuries and across cultures, the column has become a symbol of power and wealth.

As buildings and settlements advanced beyond personal purpose, specialist builders, stonemasons, bricklayers, carpenters, tilers, roofers, all became necessary skilled craftsmen. The master builder evolved with the need to understand trade crafts, materials and geometry. The invention of a profession evolved, and they called the trained professional, ‘architect’. Do architects design buildings or symbols? Are their creations fulfilling a useful purpose, or have they become mere products, investments, units for people to sleep or work in? The choice partly belongs in the hand and mind of the architect; the balance tips over with regulation,cost and the degree of engagement of the client. Regulation impacts architecture for better and for worse. Escape from fire is fundamental and it is tragic when rules are broken; standards fall short and too often it takes a disaster to shake out complacency. 


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