I’ve made my point in the Timeless House that we are what we build. Our buildings offer a telling narrative of who we are and what we believe and value. I’ve re-contemplated this idea as I consider casino construction techniques. If you’ve been to Las Vegas, you know what I mean. They famously recreate or copy famous places; New York, or Paris for example. Just across the Texas border in Oklahoma we have the Winstar World casino.
This Winstar is called the “world” casino and they use the world theme as a way to tie together the rambling space; London, Madrid, Beijing, etc..
This type of ”themed” construction is unfortunately contagious. It encourages well-meaning homeowners that they can rebuild Versailles in New Jersey or build an English castle in Nebraska. I’m not discouraging or disparaging dream building. Some dreams need to be built and realized. Unfortunately, it doesn’t promote creativity or craftsmanship. Creativity is discouraged to create something new but rather find a way to create a cheap copy. This type of construction also discourages craftsmanship because the building methods are not improved, instead foam and paint are used to create everything.
Here is a picture of the side of the Winstar as they were constructing Chinese tower.
Sadly, its clear that the casino is really just a ”tent”. Like a Hollywood set, there is nothing “real” here. These foam and decorated surfaces do not promote fine craftsmanship, in fact they actually encourage us that we don’t need to know how to craft because with these products we can make anything.
Casino construction is like a virus. It encourages us that it is easy to “rebuild” the great buildings of the past. These are buildings that discourage craft, corrupt design and cheat us of beauty. Casino construction is narrating a sad tale about who we are and what we believe. We can do better.
How much do you think you could write about the steel square? I suspect many of you have to ask what a steel square even is, never mind writing about it. I was reminded of this ancient and vital tool as I prepared for a recent talk. I have said before that we have forgotten how to build, and I wanted to back it up with some hard facts. What is a concrete example of something we have forgotten?
One of my favorite examples of our lost skill is this picture.
- Greek and Roman Orders
It is from the 1926 addition of Audel’s carpentry books. This picture is a worksheet that lays out the proportions and details of the Greek and Roman orders. The proportions, as many carpenters understood in 1926, helped determined the layout and size of moldings in a room. I suspect most architects couldn’t put this type of sheet together today. It is an example of a forgotten skill.
The steel square is another example of the lost art of building. This simple tool used to have a much greater role on the job site.
You may know it as a framing square. It is the simplest of tools, a right angle. This would have been used in Egypt on the pyramids, in Greece at the Parthenon and used in Renaissance Italy by Andrea Palladio.
In the 1870′s a man named Fred Hodgson wrote a 2 volume set of books on the steel square. Yes, 2 books! Turns out you can do a lot with this infamous shape.
I reviewed the books this weekend. Like other early builder manuals, a lot of time is devoted to using geometry. The book covers very simple tasks like the layout of stair treads, to very complicated exercises like double pitched roofs and elliptical arches. Turns out a steel square in the hands of smart craftsman can be quite useful.
Today the calculator is used in place of the steel square. Are we worse for not knowing how to use a steel square? Maybe not, but I would caution the carpenter who thinks is a better or improved craftsmen because he has bypassed this ancient tool. Technology encourages hubris. Technology makes us think we are better or more advanced than we really are. Remember, the best designed and longest lasting buildings (Greek and Roman temples, Gothic cathedrals) were constructed during a time of very low technology. Our technological pride causes us to look past this telling fact. . . We still have much to learn.
The Pantheon in Rome was built 2000 years ago. How many of our buildings will still be standing in 200 years?
I believe one of today’s more compelling pieces of art is by the artist KAWS and his famous “Companion”. It was outside the Modern Art Museum here in Fort Worth a little over a year ago. It captured me from the moment I saw it. In fact, I continued to think about it for a few days and returned to take a few pictures of it. I was reminded of this piece this weekend because we visited the Modern for an exhibit on NY art in the 80′s.
Here is one piece from the exhibit, this is Barbara Kruger’s untitled work which captures the “greed-is-good” attitude of the 1980′s. It is about the search for meaning in a seemingly meaningless world.
It is a play of course on the philosophical idea, “I think therefore I am”. This 80′s spin on this idea is striking.
Great art moves us, it challenges us and causes us to reflect. The Companion does it for me because it captures the present age so well. What KAWS has done is given us a glimpse of Mickey and Disney world, behind the scenes. The cartoon figure is a blend of Mickey Mouse and a clown. He appears to be in distress, possibly weeping, but why?
I think we all know why. The façade we put up in life, the utopian ideal that many of us feel compelled to project is false. There is a happy face we share with the world but behind the scenes, there is actually a great deal of shame and sadness in our lives. The Disney world we all want others to see, and the projection of fulfilment and happiness we may share on Facebook is only part of the story.
KAWS I believe is giving us a glimpse of ourselves. This figure is a mirror that highlights the reality of a plastic world, a false world that we should all question and challenge instead of perpetuating.
I share this with you on a blog about Timeless Building because the parallels to the McMansion are very real. We are building “impressive” larger house that are a false façade. They are false either because we can’t really afford what we just built or what we built will not last and is thus very temporal.
I think as a culture we need to explore and pursue eternal values, we need to delve into what is beautiful and pursue eternal beauty. Important things to consider if nothing else.