Sunday, September 4, 2016

The shell of life.

" Memory is such a complex matter. Its not just mental, but physical. Its embedded in the landscape itself. Buildings are deeply interwoven with people's experiences - with their sense of identity, if you like."

 Otto Laird,  page 248 of Nigel Packer's, 'The Restoration of Otto Laird.' 

Otto, the fictional central character in this short book, was a Jewish refugee who fled the holocaust in Europe to find both an education and brilliant career in post war Britain and is now a distinguished aging architect living in semi-retirement with his second wife Anika in Switzerland. He returns to London to help the campaign to save the decaying Marlow House, the concrete modernist masterpiece of his early career and an embodiment of his youthful utopian vision, but which is now scheduled for demolition unless a case can be made for its social and cultural worth. Whilst he is there he revisits the places and memories associated with his first wife Cynthia and his own dystopian emotional life and manages, both by accident and design, to rebuild and restore relationships with significant others, especially his estranged son Daniel, and ultimately to be reconciled with his own inner self.

The books gentle urgency comes from the synchronicity in the aging process between a specific human body and life and a specific building and environment and it explores processes of both personal and collective memory as a potential agents in restoring, reconciling and aligning both inner emotional and psychological well being with the outer forms of architecture and space that form the theater for relationships of fulfillment, self knowledge and letting go.

Buildings and places, however large or small, are hinges on which we hang so much of our transient emotional life and although they sometimes survive us, like the hard outer shells of soft inner shellfish or crustacea, they too have no ultimate permanence, despite appearances to the contrary.  

The new rainwater collection tank (above) has arrived and looks very large, very green and very plastic. When it is finally installed it will need to be associated with some kind of creeping, hanging plant to soften its presence.  'P' has cut and fitted the reclaimed Travertine marble window sills in the living room and securely fitted the plates of cement board over the windows to create a better profile and surface for lime plaster. I packed the space behind with hemp insulation. (below)

 By making the small courtyard floor out of half brick 'cobbles' set into sand and lime in a grid pattern instead of the herringbone pattern I used in the hall, I can use as many of the reclaimed old bricks as possible and fit all those that come out of the house back into the fabric of the building when we shortly break the wall out to fix the new French windows into the living room. This traditional solution should create a very pleasant pattern, with tension between both regular and irregular shapes and colours and minimize both cost and waste without compromising either aesthetic quality or practicality. With gravel it would be difficult to brush the leaves up from the beach and chestnut tree or maintain in a weed free state.